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

Why Learning is so Important to Healing

I facilitate a dissertation support group call for those embarking on this exciting journey of academic exploration. I love the group experience because I get as much as I receive, and it keeps me in the loop with emerging thought leaders. I love hearing the topics the students are taking on for their monumental projects, and as each topic is revealed I become entranced by the concept of possibility.

Learning to me is all about possibility. It’s the one aspect of our lives that requires dedication and attention. Learning is a conscious process that serves not only our brains, but influences our lives in so many ways. The experience of learning provides solutions for the challenges that stand in our way. They are the clues we seek out when curiosity keeps tickling our brain. More importantly, learning helps us heal. It allows us to shake bad habits, establish new habits, and expands our thinking and our worldly experiences.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” The idea of “live as if you were to die tomorrow” has been prominent in our age of spiritual awakening. Tim McGraw’s song Live Like You Were Dying epitomized that notion. There have been books about “living in the now” and a host of movies emphasizing the same point. But what about “learning like we are going to live forever”?

Learning is what keeps us engaged. Researchers show that one of the ways to ward off Alzheimer’s disease is to keep learning new things. Learning a new language, learning to knit, learning to play an instrument creates new neural pathways. It allows us think different. It expands our repertoire of experience providing us with new stories to tell.

The “practice” of learning refreshes our soul. It challenges us and provides us with new opportunities for mastery.   Learning is the rich soil of possibility. It allows us to take on the role of student. A place where we are nurtured encouraged, and anything is possible. It calls us to participate fully, expend some energy, and make space for something new.

We can’t fix or fight every challenge presented to us, but we can learn how to cope. We can learn new ways of approaching these challenges lessening the burdens. We must learn to enrich the lives we’ve been given. Making the most we’ve been given is part of the rent we pay for living on this planet. Keep learning and tell me what you find!

Diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness?  Looking for education, support, and inspiration?  Visit

Want to learn something new?  Expand your healing horizons through art?  Visit

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

Do You Need Open Heart Surgery?

There’s a lot of craziness in the world; just watch the news, read the paper, or listen to your neighbors describe their experience of the world.  It can be confusing, disheartening, and depressing.  You could simply stop talking to friends and family or cut out the media from your life, but that’s not a cure, just taking care of the symptoms, not the root of the problem.  The problem isn’t the world events; it’s our interpretation and assimilation of these facts and stories into our souls.  Following the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness it’s easy to cut yourself off from the world because there has been a psychic injury, but following that course of action could lead to serious consequences.

When I ask, “Do you need open heart surgery?” I’m not thinking about cracking your chest open to physically do surgery.  I’m thinking about ways for your to open your heart to the life you have been given.  The idea of opening your heart is not to lie down and take it; but a way to expand what’s now possible in your life given your new circumstances.  It’s about having the courage to embrace a scary world while trying to find an explanation that may not even exist.  It’s about opening your heart to the new visions you may acquire since your diagnosis and as Tim McGraw sings allow you to “Live like you were dying”. 

Following open heart surgery most cardiac patients go to cardiac rehab.  If you were going to open your heart, what would your rehab look like?  What would it take to allow you to expand your world so that you can maximize your quality of life.  I know it takes making some concessions, but I’m also wondering if you limit yourself in one area, where can you expand your world in other areas.  It makes me think about when I first started quilting.  The quilting instructor told us that she only bought 1/2 a yard of any given fabric no matter what was required in the pattern.  She believed if she limited herself in one area it would encourage or force (depending on your world view) to come up with creative solutions.  It forced her to create new pathways to get to her goal.

What new pathways are you going to create following your “open heart” surgery?  How can you open your heart to care, attention, and love you may not have experienced in the past; not because it wasn’t there, but because you were too busy doing other things.  What will your heart-felt rehab experience entail?  I’d love to know how opening your heart helps on your journey to health and healing.  Send me an email at

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

Cracked Open

There are events in our lives that as a culture we all remember like the day Kennedy was shot (if you’re old enough to remember).  On a more personal level there are experiences like graduations, significant birthday celebrations, weddings, and other momentous occasions.  Unfortunately, for those diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness, a period in your history that stands out is when the doctor says those magic words, “I’m afraid to tell you but…”.  When I facilitate groups and members tell their diagnosis stories there is an understanding, an empathy, and most of all compassion amongst the group members because everyone remembers the day that their world stood still (even if just for a moment).

So what is it about your diagnosis that cracks you open?  Well it’s obvious that whenever we experience a trauma (and a diagnosis is a trauma) the assumptions we had about life are shattered.  It doesn’t mean that you disintegrate; it just means there is a vulnerability that may not have been conscious prior to that point in your story.  It’s this vulnerability that those who believe their illness was a gift focus on as they move along on their journey to wellness.  I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease as a pre-teen so I grew up with an illness (which I’ll address at a later date), but vulnerability can be the doorway to deeper understanding of your soul.

Over the past 25 years I’ve seen individuals and families reach new levels of self-knowledge, connection, and joy following the diagnosis of a health challenge.  This is where quality of life and relationships becomes the frontrunner for your time and attention.  It also allows you to focus on those things that Tim McGraw sings about in his song, Live Like You Were Dying.  It’s not about the big momentous things, but individual experiences like how you speak to others, how you relate to your family and friends, and most importantly focusing in on what brings you joy.  Let’s face it, joy sparks the immune system and that is important on your journey to wellness.

I know it’s scary to delve into those vulnerable places, and that’s why doing it with support is so important.  It’s about having someone who will accompany you on your journey so that when the surprises happen, and they will, you have someone who can always point your toward your own north star.  It can be a friend, a health and healing coach (such as myself), a spiritual director, a psychotherapist or anyone you trust in and has your best interest at heart.

What have you found to be unearthed vulnerabilities since your diagnosis?  If you’d like to share your experience you can leave a comment below or email me at

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

Two Facts and One Big Question

There are certain things in life or habits that we pick up as a result of being around certain people for long periods of time.  When I got down to San Antonio in July I bought myself a little notebook.  It’s cheap and the pages are glued in to the binding.  I open and close this notebook a lot and some of the pages are coming out in clumps so I’ve taken to using tape to reattach the pages to the binding.  I stuff loose pieces of paper and post-it notes about things I find intriguing or questions I need answers to, and then this morning it hit me.  My grandmother had a little book that she used as both an address book and for some notes.  She had it for years and eventually took to using a rubber band to keep it together…mine isn’t quite that worn. (Thanks for allowing me to have my personal bi-centennial minute)

Anyway, I was going through my notebook and one sheet of paper fell out and it had two statements.  The statements are…”Everybody Dies” and “But note everyone lives”.   Here’s the big question…”Why?”   After I caught my breath, I began thinking about how powerful these statements are standing alone, but when you put them together into one, “Everyone dies, but not everyone lives”, the enormity of that statement is frightening.  It doesn’t really surprise me, but when you think about how many people are really “living”, but simply existing there’s a profound sense of sadness.

I guess that’s why it took me by surprise when I first started doing this work that so many of the clients/participants would talk about their diagnosis as a gift.  It wasn’t about the quantity of time left in their life, but the quality of the time left in their life.  It punctuated Tim McGraw’s song, “Live Like You Were Dying”.  What if we lived that way before we had a health challenge?  What would life be like for you now?  I’ve heard many people discuss their lives as black and white before the diagnosis and full of color following their diagnosis.  It’s kind of like the movie, “Pleasantville”, where everyone turned to color when they started “feeling”.

So are you living and not merely existing?  What are you doing and how are you feeling that lets you know you’re alive?  What gives you life?  I’m not merely speaking about health, but what brings you to life?  What excites you?  What part of you is infectious (and I don’t mean medically?) I hope you’ll share your journey with us!

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

Thoughts on the Journey

I have to applaud writers of any kind because often bring forth ideas that are held by the collective consciousness.  It’s the feelings or ideas we all have but often don’t say out loud and then we hear them in a song of a movie and feel validated, intrigued, or simply free.  I felt that way when I was watching a movie titled, “To Save a Life”.  The story is about the impact of teen suicide on a young man struggling with the normal challenges of being a teenager.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that it was a Christian film, but if you could remove pigeonholing the film for those ideologies you’ll see the themes and messages are universal.

Toward the end of the film the youth minister (I think it was him) say, “Life’s a journey, not to a destination, but to a transformation”; that was a pause the movie moment.  When I heard that line I immediately thought about those of us diagnosed with a chronic or other life-altering illness, because if it’s only about the destination you’ll miss so many opportunities along the way to experience health and healing.

You may be asking if it’s really possible to experience transformation after the diagnosis of an illness and of course the answer is YES.  Transformation may be on other levels aside from the physical.  It may include emotional, spiritual, social, and even financial transformations.  I wrote a post a few weeks ago speaking about the difference between getting better and getting well.  So if getting well isn’t an option based on the diagnosis and getting better is the goal; then how will you experience transformation? 

It’s possible that you develop new levels of compassion and understanding.  You may become a better listener to your family and friends.  You may break out of our shell and become a bit more adventurous.   If you think about Tim McGraw’s song, “Live like you were dying”, you’d understand the types of transformation I’m discussing.  I encourage you to listen to that song because it discusses his own transformation after his father famous baseball play Tug McGraw died of a brain tumor. 

Thing about what your transformation might entail and what steps you’d like to take to make sure they materialize.  It’s a process, not a one time event.  Our lives are forever transforming; that’s what we call growth.

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

Unrealistic Expectations

Life is precious!  Unfortunately many don’t understand that until they have been touched either personally or by someone close to them with a chronic or life-threatening illness.  We never imagine in our wildest dreams that life was to include suffering; that is unless you’re a Buddhist.  So why don’t we fight harder for our lives?  Why don’t we try and develop as many resources as possible to create peace in our mind, body, and spirit?  It’s a difficult question to ask and if you live in a Western industrialized culture the answer is easy, we think the Universe owes us a good life.  Our culture promotes a narrow focus that leads to entitlement and misguided assumptions.

This post isn’t about shaming anyone into doing anything different.  Actually, it’s about recognizing the sanctity of life.  The catalyst for these remarks is the crash of an Air France jet going from Brazil to France.  The plane went down 400 miles north of a Brazilian island.  The reports state that they experienced bad storms resulting in the crash.  Today they are still looking for signs of the plane, but we need pay respects to the 228 people on board the flight.  They had no choices about when their life would end, how it would end nor did they have any possible way to reverse any of the decisions they had made before getting on that plane. 

As long as you continue to wake-up each day you have a choice to make decisions about your life.  Maybe it’s like Tim McGraw’s song “Live like you were dying”, or maybe it’s just about creating a gentler more peaceful you.  It doesn’t matter what changes you make or if you make any changes at all as long as you’re conscious of the life you lead daily.  There are no do-overs.  There is no room for living a life full of regrets.  Those people boarding that plane didn’t know they would die.  They didn’t know they wouldn’t ever see their families again.  They did have time to experience terror, but that couldn’t change the outcome.

Please take a moment during your day and offer a prayer and a moment of silence to honor the 228 lives lost in the crash.  Then give yourself the gift, the honor, and the strength that comes with leading a conscious life by getting in your body, experiencing your emotions and understand that you’re a spiritual being having a human experience.