Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

All You Need is Love

Can the title of a Beatles’ song really be the key to happiness?  Is the least common denominator in life really love?  Is it possible to overcoming daunting challenges if you have the love of your family and friends?  It may seem simple but once again the words of a child are so simple and poignant that if you didn’t believe in reincarnation as in the Dalai Lama before you definitely will after I tell you this story.

Oprah had a story today about families facing homelessness.  They followed a family, a mom and three kids, through their day leaving the shelter for the day program and then back to the shelter in the evening.  The reporter doing the expose on the homeless/tent city phenomenon was Lisa Ling, one of the nations most competent and gripping journalists in the country.

During the interview Lisa pulls the young boy aside to ask him some questions.  While chatting she acknowledges that tomorrow is the boy’s birthday…he’ll be 11.  She asked him what he wanted for his birthday that would make it a great day.  He thought and answered, “Since we don’t have to pay rent I think I may have a really great birthday…all I need is a birthday cake and love”.  I could just see all the home viewers reaching for their Kleenex box because this young boy’s answer was so on point.  He had whittled life down to a five word phrase.  He has come to understand that love will get his family through this crisis.

Back to your life and health challenge.  How does love help you as face your chronic of life-threatening illness?  Do you have a personal mantra like “all you need is love” that helps you through the night?  Do you believe that love can be just as healing as medication?  What properties do you believe love has, for you, that is healing?

I’m sad when life’s most important lessons come from the mouth of a child.  I would have thought that with all my life experience, training and spiritual practice that I too could have come up with a short phrase that speaks volumes and captures the essence of Universal wisdom.

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

The Dating Game

Do you remember the television show, “The Dating Game” with Bob Eubanks?  If you’re too young or don’t remember let me refresh or infuse your memory.  A bachelor or bachelorette would sit on one side of a screen and three potential, anonymous, dates would be on the other side of the screen.  Each potential date would be asked a series of questions and then the single person would select one of the three for a date.

What would it be like if we could pick our healthcare team like this?  Give three potential healthcare providers the opportunity to answer the same question or different question in front of two other providers…what do you think would happen?  This isn’t about seeing who can come up with the best treatment plan, but it does speak to chemistry between you and the healthcare provider.

My internist recently left the practice where I receive care.  I was mailed a list of providers with the doctor’s picture and short bio, but really, how much does it tell me.  The information reads more like a personal ad than a way to receive medical care.  The last line of the three potential physicians read like this…NO JOKE!

In her spare time, Dr. H. enjoys spots and spending time with her family.

In his leisure time, Dr. H enjoys football, basketball, playing guitar, reading and spending time with family.

In her leisure time Dr. W. enjoys spending time with family, outdoor activities, training for triathlons and knitting.

Is this supposed to make me feel safe and secure in their hands?  Do people really pick their providers based on what they do outside the office?  If that were the case I’d want personal as well as professional references on dependability, level of compassion and trustworthiness, just to name a few.  Personally, I’d like to know that my provider is engaged in their professional world by being involved with professional organizations, sitting on boards of health nonprofits or writing books on their specialty.  I have enough friends, but finding a great provider can be tricky.

Since I’m not going to date my healthcare provider I think it’s reasonable to say that “The Dating Game” is probably not the best way of selecting a physician.  If it were a real game show and I could win prizes then I’d say “let’s play”.   For now I’ll settle for the rock-paper-scissor method of selecting a physician…very scientific don’t you think?

Posted in Uncategorized

What Makes You Come to Life?

There is a difference between being alive and living.  Being alive means that the blood is pumping, the heart is beating and the brain is functioning.  Living is about what you do in the world that allows you to make your mark on the world.  The difference is crucial because there are many who aren’t facing a health challenge who go through the motions and one might ask, “what kind of life is that?”

It’s clear that when facing any kind of health challenge you may not be dancing till dawn, hiking 14,000 foot mountains or running marathons, but we each have thing that brings us to life.  Gives us the feeling of exhilaration without being fake.  It’s that pilot light in our soul that keeps burning even when the spiritual and emotional temperature around us may be cold.

I don’t want to beat this point into the ground so there are some very basic questions.  What keeps your pilot light on?  A pilot light that stays lit is much easier to control than one you have to ignite.  How do you protect it from extinguishing?  If you do have to re-ignite your pilot light what’s the spark that sets the flame burning?

Share your stories with us because the world would be a much different place if more people knew about their inner pilot light and kept it burning strong.

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

The Blob

Do you remember the movie “The Blob”?  I remember watching this movie for the first time and loving all the oozing stuff overtaking the world.  The problem is that for many facing a chronic or life-threatening illness, the blob is confusion, overwhelm and certainly anxiety.  It can take over and leave you at its mercy.  Are there ways to clean up the blob?  Is it even necessary to clean it up?

Facing this type of far reaching turmoil, the clean-up job can take some time and if you don’t know where to start you may just let it continue avoiding more overwhelm.  The first place to stop is containment.  You don’t want these feelings of anxiety, overwhelm and disarray extend its boundaries.  You need to start creating borders or a container for these unfavorable feelings.  It’s like putting a baby in a playpen, the child can roam anywhere it wants within the confines of the playpen.  The same is true for your feelings of overwhelm or powerlessness, contain them.

Following containment comes the time when you have to figure out how are you going to make the road ahead manageable.  There are many ways to do this but they all take work and it’s up to you to roll up your sleeves and put in some sweat equity.  You are the one who will need to begin a spiritual practice, an artistic endeavor or some other structure that will reduce your level of anxiety and allow you to proceed with your day and your journey to wellness.  We’re not talking about creating an internal autocratic society, but structure prevents us from those unyielding feelings of floating and drifting in a sea of confusion.

You’ll need to build structure into the system because going through treatment means having as much on autopilot becomes a blessing.  I understand that you’re not alone in this world, so getting others to understand the complexities of your life is often cumbersome, but I assure you the anxiety and overwhelm are more consuming.  You may need to crack the whip for a short period of time as you establish the structure, but I assure you that once people see the benefits of having a structure their anxiety levels will reduce and you’ll begin to establish a harmony that is welcome and overdue.

It’s easy to get consumed by the blob because it has no understanding of boundaries.  Start with containment, move into structure and then take the leap and begin mopping up the mess.  If you stick to your guns the blob will retreat.  The anxiety and overwhelm will shrink and your life will develop a level of calm you may never have experienced before in your life…it’s a shame you had to confront a health challenge in order to learn these lessons, but they are universal so use them in all areas of your life.

What blob are you trying to contain?  What have you done to contain your personal blob?  Have you began creating structure in your life and if so has it helped?  Don’t be shy, we all need to learn each other’s strategies for dealing with the blob!

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

And the Oscar Goes to….

Did you watch the Academy Awards last night?  It was a long awards show with lots of time to nap.  Just a warning I often come up with thoughts based on associations.  Fortunately, for me, I can link all the parts of the association so I’m going to do that for you now so I can get to the meat of the issue.

Kate Winslet won the Oscar for Lead Actress for her role in “The Reader”.  Kate Winslet was also in the movie “The  Holiday”.  In “The Holiday” Winslet’s temporary neighbor is played by Eli Wallach.  Wallach and Winslet go out to dinner and Wallach (who had been a screenwriter for 40+ years) says to Winslet…”In films there’s the leading lady and the best friend, you’re a leading lady but you keep playing the best friend”.    Wallach’s character also focuses on the importance of gumption and that all the films he recommends that Winslet’s character watch, all the women have gumption…do you see where this is going?

Following your diagnosis you need to decide if you’re going to be the lead or the best friend.    Being the lead in the movie of your life or simply your life means having gumption.  It’s about not giving up on your beliefs, values and ideals.  It means that you have the right and the imperative to question each and every person involved in your care.  It provides you with the energy to make healing a priority amongst a thousand competing issues.

Why is all this so important?  You are the best person to portray you in your life.  There are no stunt doubles, no stand-ins and certainly no do-overs.  Every day our lives are done in one take, without editing (that often gets us in trouble).  We can choose to be a headliner or an extra in the world and since you’re unique, is there really any discussion about which role you need assume?

I remember a book about cinema therapy titled “The Motion Picture Prescription: watch this movie and call me in the morning”.  Cinema is derived from real life experience.  The stories are rewritten to make them interesting but the overall theme and the lessons learned remain the same.  Your life is worth a movie so it’s important to think about the message you want to send to the world.  As we saw last night even underdogs get to have their day of victory (“Slumdog Millionaire” winning picture of the year).

When you hear the announcer in your head read the words, “And the Oscare goes to”, make sure the name that’s read is yours.  Take that walk of fame and stand center stage being the best you there ever was or will be and feel the power that generates for healing and wellness.

Posted in Uncategorized

Nature vs. Nurture

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!

Can we be taught to care?  Aside from parenting is caregiving something we know or something we’re taught?  If we think about nature, we know that animals pick their mates for different reasons.  The females pick males they think will be good protectors and providers.  Males pick females they think will give birth to healthy offspring continuing their genetic lineage.  But what about things that parents teach their children…how do they know when they’ve done their job?

I mentioned earlier in the week that I spent a week with my sister-in-law and her kids helping her while her husband was out-of-town on business.  The kink in the armor is that the day before I arrived one of my nieces was hospitalized for an eating disorder.  Knowing that the hospitalization was looming was the reason for my trip, because everyone needs help, especially in times of need.  My role was to be a safety net for my sister-in-law throughout the week.  To close the gaps in schedules, meals and bedtime; allowing her to be a great mom to all the kids, including all the daily visits to the hospital.

During the week I received a call from my dad and I didn’t get a chance to speak with him until I returned home.  He simply wanted to thank me for taking care of my family.  He wanted to know that he appreciated the compassion and commitment to my family.  I was honored, humbled and joyful because he was thanking me for what he and my mother taught me…family first.  My parents taught me that it’s easy to put words in the air, but it’s the actions that follow that determine your character.

I’ve had the opportunity this year to see my parents in action.  My uncle was dying of melanoma in May of 2008.  My dad talked to my uncle frequently but it was the day my aunt called and said he’s taken a turn for the worse that my parents jumped into action.   My parents got on the next flight to be with my uncle and aunt…that’s what family does.  What I realized when my father blessed me with his call he was saying to me, the lessons stuck.  I had once again demonstrated the assimilation of caregiving into my soul.  I’ve always been the caregiver, but I think it’s also one of my parent’s greatest legacies.  It’s one of the things being one of their sons that I’m most proud of…the lesson that family comes first, actions speak louder than words and no one should go through strife alone.  Love and connection are the two greatest capacities we hold as human beings and there is strength in numbers.

So is it nature or nurture?  I think it’s a bit of both.  I believe that every family has a culture and this is mine.  What’s your family culture?  Is your caregiving knowledge and beliefs innate or learned?  What activates your caregiving tendencies?

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness


When you were in school did you ever take an egg carton and plant seeds?  I can recall going to the egg carton, sitting on the window sill, everyday waiting for that small bit of green to peak through the surface of the soil.  The day germination was visible was always an exciting time because it represented potential (at least that’s the meaning I give it as an adult).

The question for today is how long does it take for relationships to germinate?  I know you’ve had thousands or hundreds of thousands of interactions with people over the course of your life and you still wonder when or if someone will reach out.  This question becomes even more pertinent following the diagnosis of a health challenge.  It can be lonely facing  a chronic of life-threatening illness and just like when you were a kid you internally search your soul waiting for that bit of green to come through the soil.

As you’ve probably guessed planting the seed is always the first step.  Sometimes plants send roots down before sending the stem up, proving germination has happened.  The roots or the foundation of your relationships is just as important as what it yields.  So why this discussion?  Yesterday I received two phone calls from people in my artist guild.  I’ve been a member for over six years and this is the first time anyone has called.  Yes, I just completed my terms as President of the organization so my profile was a bit more pronounced, but I guess that’s about planting the seed and allowing the roots to grow.

Yesterday I experienced germination!  I must say along with surprise was glee.  One of the callers just called to tell me about a magazine she thought I’d enjoy because we’re both drawn to artful magazines for inspiration.  We talked about a host of topics but it came down to someone spent time and energy to let me know they were thinking of me.  I would imagine there are a host of physical attributes that kicked into gear following the call, but overall it made me feel connected.

Feeling connected, especially during a time of your life when you may feel the most isolated is as medicinal as any medication in your cabinet.  It’s reinforces that feeling that you’ve made your mark not only on the world, but on the heart of another person.  Can you think of anything more uplifting and life affirming than that?

What seeds are you planting?  How will you know when germination has taken place?  What does it mean to your health to experience the germination of relationships?

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Meaning Making

I’ve sat in enough support group meetings that the phrase, “everything happens for a reason” must be tattooed on my forehead.  The big part of the phrase is to make meaning of a difficult situation.  It’s too easy to take a cliche and try and apply it to our lives.  How many times have you heard, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?”  I understand the desire, the need even the ache of trying to create meaning from a terrible experience, but what if it just is.

I remember many years ago my mother read Harold Kushner’s book,  When Bad Things Happen to Good People”.  She was so disappointed because when she finished the book the answer given was…because it does.  Do we run the risk of creating a life of judgment if we begin to adhere a self-induced meaning to our tragedies or challenges?  Why do we need to make sense of the challenge instead of looking inside to discover, acknowledge, validate and explore the tools we’ve acquired over the course of our lives.  Does a toddler who gets sick need to make meaning from the experience?  It’s the parents who begin that process and maybe it goes on for years to come, but the reality is- it happened.

It’s to easy and wastes a lot of time to create explanations for the Universe.  Can I really decipher the code that explains why me and not my brother became the genetic dumping ground for our family?  I remember years ago when in college, I was meeting with my dorm director during one of our director/Resident Assistant meetings.  I confided in him that I was questioning whether or not I wanted to have children for fear of passing my auto-immune disease on to this unsuspecting life.  He responded calmly and eloquently by saying, “don’t you think you could also teach the child how you’ve learned to handle the challenge and show the child that adversity doesn’t mean detriment?”  It’s more than twenty years since he spoke those words and throughout my career have relied on those words of wisdom.

Do you need to make sense of your health challenge?  What explanations or rationales have you created since you’ve been diagnosed?  Does your meaning alleviate suffering or pain or does it simply placate the soul so you can face the challenge another day?  Do we need to have a meaning for the health challenge or can we look at the bigger picture and make meaning out of our lives and what do we need to accomplish before we leave this earth?

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Can Life be Finite and Infinite Simultaneously?

Life is full of dualities, I guess that’s what makes it so interesting.  We go through various stages throughout our lives that come with its own set of questions about life and longevity.  Adolescents believe they’ll live forever causing some very bad decisions.  Adults reach a point where they have fewer years to live than they’ve lived bringing up issues of mortality.  There are no easy answers so how is life finite and infinite at the same time?

Working with clients facing health challenges for over twenty years I’ve been privy to many individuals tug-o-war with these issues.  I hear lofty goals that even with good health would probably seem daunting and yet there is this urge or drive to accomplish, accomplish, accomplish.  I ask my clients to do the 168 hour exercise.  There are only 168 hours in a week, no more no less.  If you start with the number 168 at the top of the page and begin deducting the number of hours you spend on specific activities you’ll eventually come up with a number that is what you have in the bank for additional activities.  Remember that you have to deduct the number of hours you sleep, work, run errands, etc.  It’s surprising how fast we gobble up the hours.

This brings us to a deeper question, “How effectively are you using the 24 hours we call today?”  Just like the 168 hours in the week, we’re blessed with a mere 24 hours in each day.  We don’t get to stretch out the time, add to it or create more time.  Each day is finite and each day is a perishable commodity, once it’s gone you can’t recapture the time.  With that in mind begin to ask yourself if you’re using your 24 hours as effectively as you can or as effectively as you would like.  Are there things you feel you’re doing that are robbing you of increasing your physical, emotional and spiritual stamina?  Are you feeding your body, mind and soul the highest quality nutrition it deserves?

This isn’t about judging whether or not your actions are good or bad.  Whether you are facing a health challenge or not, every day counts.  When faced with a health challenge you have activities that will eat up more of your time so with the time you have left, how are you living your life?  If you are living your life mindfully there is an experience of the infinite.  Each moment of the day can be filled with wonder and amazement.  Simplicity becomes the thing you cherish most because it holds the bounty for achieving healing and wellness.

There is no potion that will allow us to live forever and whether or not there is a fountain of youth remains to be seen.  The Universe gives us daily, weekly and annual parameters that can’t be changed.  The only thing that you can change is how you spend those hours, days, weeks, months and years.

Are you utilizing your 24 hours to the best of your ability?  What would make it easier to capture the magic of the day?  What would bring you peace so that you can cherish what really matters?  How will you that carry over to your next 24 hours?

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Out of the Mouths of Babes

How is it that children have so much wisdom and yet we often discount their insight?  Does it really takes years of experience to come up with conclusions that probably seem simple to the child and yet we as adult painstakingly need to churn the ideas before reaching the same conclusion?  I had one of those A-Ha moments this past week while visiting my family.  This is a moment of true confessions.

My niece was hospitalized this past week for an eating disorder.  At the age of 13 she is perilously thin and definitely in need of professional help.  I visited with her on Friday evening and she seems comfortable in her surroundings.  She may not physically be comfortable following the placement of the feeding tube, but she’s coping.  I went to the hospital with her mom and three siblings.

When it came time for us to visit she had been in the hospital a week.  Her siblings were anxious about seeing their sister in distress, but we had all been discussing her developments throughout the week.  While driving my 10 year old nephew blurted out clear as day and without reservation, “I never thought we’d be one of those families”.  It took me by surprise.  He elaborated by saying, “you hear about bad things that happen to other families and you just don’t think it will ever happen to you”.  (Amazing insight for a 10 year old)

I got to thinking a lot about his statement as the evening progressed.  The truth is that no one ever believes they will be impacted by illness, addiction, or injury.  We want or need to believe that we were granted immunity at birth or we’d probably live our lives in constant fear; waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Do we create a false sense of security or do we simply play the odds betting that we won’t wind up being the body captured by the bad things that stalk humans around every corner?

On my way home I sat next to a family from New York on their way to Vail for a family vacation.  Just as we were landing the mom started talking about how life is a gift that must be acknowledged every day.  The days when things are going well can’t be overlooked because there’s no guarantee that tomorrow will be as pristine as today.  When facing a chronic or life-threatening illness developing a soul sense will be one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.  Providing a haven for your mind, body and spirit to meet, interact and dialogue will provide you with a sense of peace that will enhance healing.

I don’t know why my niece is struggling with an eating disorder.  I hope that she will come to understand her relationship with her body and if she chooses to share that with the rest of us then I’d be honored to bear witness to her life.  For now, we are one of those families and all I can do today is hold her in my thoughts, pray for her to create a new normal and begin living this precious life she’s been given.  There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for her that would help her heal.  I know she won’t be able to read this, but I’m hoping that energetically she receives my love and hope for her journey to wellness.