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Keeping My Bags Packed

***NOTE:  I send my thoughts and a special prayer to all, including my father, who were near, in the path of and/or impacted by Hurricane Hermine.***

Last week, I counted down the days until our family’s annual pre-Labor Day beach trip which is a quick two hour drive from our home.  For our family, the beach is such a fun place.  We love riding the waves, making sand sculptures and, for me, meditating and being at a place of serenity.  Somehow the sun seems brighter reflecting off of the ocean and the rays of the sun seem warmer when my feet are in the sand.  The waves washing up on shore sounds like beautiful music to me.  I packed our bags and watched the weather forecasts, tracking Hurricane Hermine.

Last Friday, the day before departure, I was still optimistic that the weather would hold up.  Although the forecast for beach day was cloudy and in the mid-70s, rain and wind and the onset of the storm were forecasted to hold off until late afternoon.  By then, we’d have spent a few hours at the beach, walked the water’s edge, meditated by the waves and gotten some sweets from our favorite candy store.

Friday night, the forecast changed with rain and the strong winds expected much earlier in the day.  I still held out some, although fading, hope.  I had filled my gas tank and had already packed the car.  I was ready for an early morning departure with little to do except get in the car and go.

I went to sleep hoping and praying that the forecast might change, as forecasts tend to do even over short periods. I was hoping the storm would lose its strength by morning.  When I awoke, the forecast was much the same as the night before.  I tried to get accurate and up to the minute information and thought I might go to the beach later in the day; still hopeful.  As I got the detailed information, it was clear that the storm was too strong and meteorologists urged beachgoers to make alternate plans.

It was evident that the weather wouldn’t be conducive for the beach any day during the long weekend.  This marked the first time in some years that we would miss Labor Day by the water.  I unpacked the car, but I left my packed bags in the corner of my office and chose not to unpack them.  I want to be ready.  The forecast for this coming weekend calls for good beach weather.  Whatever routine we planned to return to this weekend, will be changed if the weekend weather forecast remains the same.  I’m not unpacking my bags because I want to be ready to jump right into the car and make the trip this weekend.  The storm may delay me, but it won’t stop me.

I’ve had many storms in my life; cancer has been the most consistent and biggest storm including my mother’s breast cancer diagnosis, her recurrences and death from metastatic breast cancer; my aunt’s breast cancer and ovarian cancer diagnoses, her recurrences and death from metastatic ovarian cancer; my own triple negative breast cancer diagnosis when my children were four years old and 19 months old.  Throughout my life, I’ve learned that you generally won’t know when a storm will come, when it will end, and the strength and intensity of the storm.  Because I’ll never know when storms will come and go, when they will begin or end and how many storms there will be in my life, I’m leaving my bags packed, always ready and prepared for the end of the storm and always chasing the sun!

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.

A Change in My Surroundings – Part 4 – Inspirational Books Around Me

A few blogs ago, we discussed how a change in your surroundings can replace negative reminders and provide instant gratification.  One of the items on the list was having a music player or iPod speaker to have uplifting music at your fingertips and we provided a list in A Change in My Surroundings – Part 2.  An item on the list was having Bible verses, poems, calming passages posted or framed in your surroundings and we provided a list in A Change in My Surroundings – Part 3.  Another item on the list was uplifting books of hope, faith, courage and peace.  I said that I would share some in a future blog.  Here are a few:

  1. The Bible
  2. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  3. The Prophet by Khalil Gibran
  4. Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss
  5. The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life by Dr. Bruce H. Wilkinson
  6. The Power of Hope The One Essential of Life and Love by Maurice Lamm
  7. Hope Happens! words of encouragement for times of change by Catherine DeVrye
  8. Be Happy 170 ways to transform your day by Patrick Lindsay
  9. Now Is the Time 170 Ways to Seize the Moment by Patrick Lindsay
  10. Inner Simplicity by Elaine St. James

This is not an exhaustive list, but a few to consider.  Please let me know which you like and others that should be added to the list.

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.

A Change in My Surroundings – Part 3 – Inspirational Passages Around Me

A few blogs ago, we discussed how a change in your surroundings can replace negative reminders and provide instant gratification.  One of the items on the list was having a music player or iPod speaker to have uplifting music at your fingertips and we provided a list in A Change in My Surroundings – Part 2.  Another item on the list was having Bible verses, poems, calming passages posted or framed in your surroundings.  I said that I would share some in a future blog.  Here are a few:

  1. Psalm 23 in The Bible
  2. The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr
  3. “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann
  4. “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley
  5. “What It Takes to be Number One” by Vince Lombardi
  6. Prayer of Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 in The Bible
  7. “If” by Rudyard Kipling
  8. “A Bag of Tools” by R. Lee Sharpe
  9. “Don’t Quit” sometimes credited as anonymous and other times credited to Edgar A. Guest
  10. Write your own inspirational, motivational and uplifting words to keep close by

This is not an exhaustive list, but a few to consider.  Please let me know which you like and others that should be added to the list.

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.

Olympic Lessons for Reconstruction

As the sun sets on the 2016 Olympics in Rio and we turn our sights to Tokyo 2020, I’d like to reflect on the last 2+ weeks of intense competition and sportsmanship.  I strongly believe in the Role Model In the Mirror and also find value of lessons from others who are the best at what they do – winners!  Those who have tried, failed, and tried again.  Their tenacity and unwavering dedication and commitment provide some useful nuggets especially as a breast cancer survivor undergoing life reconstruction, adjusting to the new normal, and seeking the very best today and in the future.

I love the back stories of athletes that document their beginnings, their struggles, and everything in between that leads them to the Olympics.  I’m sure you’ve got your favorites, but here are a few of mine:

  • Simone Biles – this 19 year old won four gold medals and a bronze medal dominating women’s gymnastics in her first Olympics.
  • Katie Ledecky – this 19 year old won four gold medals and a bronze medal in some races that weren’t even close.
  • Simone Manuel – this 20 year old won two gold medals and two bronze medals where, in some races, she didn’t seem favored to even get a medal
  • Helen Maroulis – this 24 year old became the first American woman to win a wrestling gold medal. She beat a seemingly invincible opponent and was guided by her mantra “Christ is in me, I am enough.”
  • Allyson Felix – this 34 year old won two gold medals and a silver medal. After a failed baton pass, a challenge and another qualifying run, she won a relay gold medal.  She is the only female track and field athlete to win six gold medals and is tied as the most decorated female track and field athlete with a total of nine medals.
  • Michael Phelps – this 31 year old won five gold medals and one silver medal. He is now the most decorated Olympian with 28 medals.
  • Usain Bolt – this 30 year old (29 during his Olympic runs) completed a triple triple in Rio by winning three gold medals in three Olympics.
  • Claressa Shields – this 21 year old is the first U.S. boxer to win back to back gold medals.
  • Kristin Armstrong – this 42 year old mother won gold (before her 43rd birthday), managing some difficult weather and a bloody nose, in the Olympic cycling time trial; her third consecutive gold.
  • USA Women’s Water Polo team – the team wins a back to back gold medal with Ashleigh Johnson as the first African American goalie on a U.S. water polo team and a coach who lost a brother just prior to the Olympics.
  • Jillion Potter – This 30 year old battled cancer to become a Rugby sevens Olympian.

There are so many other history making and incredible stories, but these are a few that are top of my mind.  Some of the lessons, some of the thread of these stories, are certainly applicable to reconstruction and adjusting to the new normal:

  • See it, Believe it – The athletes visualized and or wrote down their dreams of being great, winning, becoming an Olympian
  • Never settle – The athletes didn’t settle, even launching challenges when, at first blush, it seemed they had no chance of moving forward or winning.
  • Keep going – Obstacles and setbacks didn’t prevent them from trying again and again.
  • No easy path – There were no quick and easy paths; many had to change course in order to move forward and become better.
  • Discomfort can bring forth growth – Many had to leave comfortable situations and surroundings in order to become the best.
  • No shortcuts – There are no shortcuts to a phenomenal outcome; each put in consistent hard work and prioritized their training, research and preparation
  • No excuses – they didn’t use life circumstances, injuries and setbacks as an excuse for not striving for and being their best.

I am always inspired by the Role Model In The Mirror.  These stories and lessons provide some additional inspiration.  As we rebuild, as we adjust to the new normal, remember that there can be many gold medal moments.

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.

In Sickness and Health – With Gratitude to Caregivers and Co-survivors

My husband, Ray, was very excited for us to exchange traditional vows at our wedding 15 years ago.  Little did we know that seven years into our marriage we would live the vows “in sickness and in health” when I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.  On that fall morning in 2008 when I received my diagnosis, he morphed from husband and friend to caregiver and co-survivor.

Caregiver and co-survivor is an often overlooked, but can be a soul saving role.  My husband and I went from celebrating a second honeymoon on a trip to the Caribbean to making life saving and life changing decisions.  Somehow, I thought any serious sickness might come, if at all, when we had great grandkids and were much older.  At 40 and 38, Ray and I, with a 4 year old son and 19 month old daughter, were thrust into new roles.  Ray was the man who provided a shoulder to cry on and prayed for me when my faith was shaken; he was by my side through multiple hospital stays with my bilateral mastectomy, prophylactic oophorectomy and reconstruction and 16 cycles of chemotherapy.  He spent over 12 months as medical researcher, hospital taxi, hospital companion, doctor’s appointment taxi, doctor’s appointment companion, drain tube drainer and bandage changer, and reconstruction cheerleader.  He was the first to compliment me on my chemo bald head and the first to share my excitement when wiry strands of grey hair started to grow back.  He was so attentive at doctor’s appointments; taking notes on how to bandage and care for my bruised body.  And, he seemed to have many elixirs to care for my bruised soul.  He praised me and exalted me.

Through nights of nausea, days of intense pain and exhaustion, sadness, anxiety, hopelessness and despair, I had a steadfast champion and nurturer.  To the man who loved me back to life, to my soulmate who became my soul savior, in sickness and in health.  My gratitude.  My love.

To every caregiver, every co-survivor, every friend who cared and loved through the valleys and walked with you and helped you climb mountains.  May life give back to you all that you have given to those you have believed in and nurtured.

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.

A Change in My Surroundings – Part 2 – Inspirational Music Around Me

Last week, we discussed how a change in your surroundings can replace negative reminders and provide instant gratification.  One of the first items on the list was having a music player or iPod speaker in your surroundings to have uplifting music at your fingertips. I said that I would share some uplifting tunes on my playlist in a future blog.  Here are a few

  1. Rise Up – Andra Day
  2. Just Do You – India.Arie
  3. Roar – Katy Perry
  4. I Trust You – James Fortune & FIYA
  5. Coming Out of the Dark – Gloria Estefan
  6. Fly Like a Bird – Mariah Carey
  7. I Didn’t Know My Own Strength – Whitney Houston
  8. Never Stop – Brand New Heavies
  9. This Is It – Kenny Loggins
  10. Seattle – Mary Mary
  11. Beautiful – Christina Aguilera
  12. Survivor – Destiny’s Child
  13. When I’m Back on My Feet Again – Michael Bolton
  14. The Living Proof – Mary J. Blige
  15. Fight Song – Rachel Platten
  16. Brave – Sara Bareilles
  17. Rise – Katy Perry
  18. My Wish – Rascal Flatts
  19. Through the Storm – Yolanda Adams
  20. Conqueror – Estelle

This is not an exhaustive list, but a few to get you started. Some are songs that I listed to when I wake up, some I listen to when I’m working out; all have helped motivate and inspire me to be amazing in my new normal.  These songs are definitely part of my “soundtrack”.  I hope they prove uplifting for you, too.  Please let me know which ones you like and others that should be added to the list.

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.

 

A Change in My Surroundings

Who you are surrounded by matters (more discussion on this in a future blog).  What you are surrounded by matters as well.  My house holds great memories, but it is also where I lived when I was diagnosed with and battled triple negative breast cancer.  And, I’d like to rid myself of some of these reminders.

There’s no spigot of money, but there are some relatively low cost things that I can do to surround myself by some beautiful and uplifting things that replace negative reminders and provide instant gratification.  Items of beauty and positivity can be a constant source of encouragement, motivation and inspiration.  Here are a few:

  1. Music player or iPod speaker – uplifting music at your fingertips. (I will share some uplifting tunes on my playlist in a future blog).
  2. Bible verses, poems, calming passages posted or framed (I will share a few that I like and that have been motivational for me in a future blog).
  3. Piece(s) of art – preferably one that you create. Watercolor, drawing, sculpture, framed puzzle can all be therapeutic as well as become pieces of art.
  4. Color throughout. Paint can be a quick, easy and relatively inexpensive project, especially if you tackle an accent wall; an accent wall should be the wall that you look at first thing in the morning and last thing before you go to sleep.  You can also add some colorful curtains, pillows or throws (remnants from most fabric and craft stores are sold at discounts and could be a good source for creating some of these pieces).
  5. Uplifting books of hope, faith, and courage. (I’ll share a few that I like and that have been motivational for me in a future blog).
  6. Flowers – if not allergic, a few fresh flowers from the supermarket are not too expensive. If you have allergies, the synthetic flower market has really evolved and they have some that look like the real deal.
  7. A vase filled with colorful marbles or accents.
  8. A vision board (definitely would love to discuss this in a future blog) or a picture of your serenity place (the beach, the woods, a mountain).
  9. Scented candle if not allergic or some fragrance that is tolerable. Plus, the candle market has evolved and some are also actually like works of art.
  10. Pictures of you and your support team that will reinforce the full force that you’ve got behind you.

This is not an exercise in interior design or a makeover, but more a spruce up to help infuse more positivity and uplifting things in your every day.  If you don’t have the time, energy or finances to begin these changes, they are great suggestions to provide to your support team when they ask “How can I help?” “What can I do?” “What do you want?”  You can provide your list and invite their assistance to help you infuse your surroundings with positive reminders and beauty.

Please send pictures and updates of any ideas that you incorporate in your surroundings and also any additional ideas that you have to add to the list.

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.

I Don’t Want to Land on My Feet

I’ve fallen many times.  My mother’s death from breast cancer knocked me down, off my feet.  My triple negative breast cancer diagnosis knocked me down, off my feet.  Growing up, I always heard the platitude that things are good if you land on your feet.  I’m going to remove this phrase from my vocabulary.  I DON’T, I never want to land on my feet again.  I want to fly, high!

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.

Putting the Puzzle Together

Stuck in that place where your life is like a 1,000+ piece puzzle and you just don’t know how to solve it?  As a Reconstructionist™, I’m often consumed with how to put things together to solve this puzzle of rebuilding life after a breast cancer diagnosis, a life threatening illness, a life changing or catastrophic event.

My daughter loves puzzles and my late mother loved puzzles.  I’ve seen each spend hours or just a few minutes to quickly solve a puzzle depending on the type, the color variations, and the sizes and shapes of the pieces.  There are so many ways to solve a puzzle.  I remember my mother would start by picking out all of the corner and outer pieces (any with a straight edge).  She would build the entire frame first and then methodically complete the inner pieces.  My daughter will sometimes dump everything out and first work on pieces that have similar colors and graphics.  She will put together groupings of pieces at a time and then put those groups of pieces together to solve the puzzle and see the Big Picture.

Throughout my life, I’ve seen my late mother and, now, my daughter solve many puzzles; each with her own method and timing.  I’ve been guilty of feeling overwhelmed by the puzzle pieces of this “new normal” and being like an ostrich with my head in the sand.  But, I’ve learned that your head doesn’t need to be in the sand. There are multiple ways to solve the puzzle, some fast and easy and some more lengthy and difficult.  But, solving the puzzle starts when you open the box and dump out all of the pieces and begin to see things take shape.

Think about how you will you get started working on your puzzle right now!

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.

Reconstruction. Picture This.

My children love building bricks, building blocks and manipulatives.  They will painstakingly work on designing them according to the instructions to insure that they look exactly like the picture on the box.  When they get knocked over and shattered and pieces lost, after their anger and frustration, they go back to work.  With missing pieces, I’ve still seen them make great designs.  It may not look like the picture or the ideal image that they had, but it still looks good.

I have to continually make sure I keep this in mind.  Breast cancer and life reconstruction – physical, spiritual, financial – may not look like the picture I once had in my mind.  As I’m rebuilding, I haven’t always followed the “instructions”.  But, I’m still (re)building something phenomenal!

Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.