May You Always Do for Others and Let Others Do for You…

“Connection:  the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”  Brene Brown

I am not known to ask for help very often.  It always seems less shaming to  try to fix the problem quietly on the side than to open up and ask for help.  But as I start to unravel myself, I realize these thoughts don’t get me anywhere.  My thinking that I should have it all together by this age/stage is bullshit.  Guess what?  I don’t have it all together.  In fact, I have so little together right now, it’s a little laughable.

This line in the book, “Rising Strong” has glued itself to me lately.  “The bottom line is that we need each other.  And not just the civilized, proper, convenient kind of need.  Not one of us gets through this life without expressing desperate, messy, and uncivilized need.”

So, here I am.  At another level of courage that feels like rocks in my shoes and bleeding hangnails.  I am sitting at the beginning of many unknowns.  And I am asking for help to start the path.  Money is just a thing, but what a thing it is.  Until we can pay for medical bills and rent with prayers and love, we will need money.  And since I am relying on myself for financial means, my boat is temporarily without a motor.

Here is my request and formulated plan for what the gifted funds will go to:

*My cancer treatments and supplements are the heaviest cost, and in order to keep up my healing progress, those bills are sticking around.  Andrew has generously offered to pay for a portion of them.  I would appreciate being able to cover the remainder so I don’t skip a beat.

*I am currently staying with my parents.  They live in a 55 and older community, and while I may act like a 55-year-old lately, I am not.  I will be looking for a place for the girls and myself so my parents can get on with their retired life and we can start ours.  Because of my treatments, I am not able to get a usual job.  So, I will be trying to get work from home as soon as I am able.

*We will need a car.  Nothing fancy, but a weather sturdy vehicle to get the girls to school and the grocery store.

I am taking responsibility for the choices I’ve made that have led me to this moment and working on those broken pieces.  I will also be working my ass off as much as I can, from healing to recalibrating my new life to parenting.  And when my body has the energy and ability, I will be setting financial and work goals to accommodate my bills and needs on my own.  My goal is to be working by June.

It isn’t flowery and pretty, but it is honest.  The courage needed to ask for this help makes me feel raw and vulnerable, but it is these emotions that make me feel like I am being honest.  Your gifting to our family will be gratefully accepted and used.  All your prayers and love and emotional support are also gratefully accepted and used.  Each goes into a needed bank account, whether physical or spiritual.

My end game is to use my healing as a platform for others to feel support in their time of need.  Asking for help and gifting help is a continual cycle and I will be using your love and support to “pay it forward.”  Much love and light to you, Brita

To donate, here is a link to a Go Fund Me account set up by a very dear friend.  Thank you

How am I Today?

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”  Leonard Cohen

I have had quite a few people ask how I’m doing.  My body, this cancer, my soul, etc.  When my ethereal girlfriend wrote me from dreamy Holland, she asked how I was.  I responded with the usual bullet points.  But she asked me again,” how are YOU?”

We so often become what we’re going through.  We become depression or cancer or we become a bad mom because we’re having a bad day.  I have attached many names to how I’m doing.  But when I go silent, I just am.  When I let all those circumstances and test results and exhaustion also just be, we all settle into our places without needing to defend or explain.

Naturally, this might not satisfy some of your inquiries.  So, I will give you a few bullet points to ease your minds.  This cancer is stage 4, it has “honeycombed” into my lungs (it looks like lots of little alien legs in there).  This restricts my breathing, which restricts my life.  Obviously, God knew I needed to hibernate so it has been snowing and freezing lately and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything out there.

I am seeing a regional specialist alternative oncologist in Portland.  He has supplied me with more supplements than anyone would ever enjoy taking.  He as also forced coffee enemas on me, which I have actually come to love and adore.  I will probably never drink a cup of coffee with my mouth, but its worth it!  I also do oil pulling and take detox tinctures from Germany (German-made tinctures make them feel more effective).  I sit under an infrared light and I take two epsom salt baths each day.

I am also seeing a conventional oncologist with an understanding of the alternative therapies.  Because this cancer is ER/PR+ and is a HER2 nu overexpressor, I am getting biologic targeting agent injections (Herceptin and Perjeta).  While this doctor would like me to take everything in the conventional medical book, I am taking one thing at a time.  I want to see what can work for my body without causing it too much harm.

I am tired.  I’m not sleeping well, which can taint the whole day if I’m not mindful.  I am with my parents for the time being, and their help has been a game changer.  Asking for help has never been my strong suit.  As I’m starting to realize, you can’t go at this life alone.  So, help was offered and I accepted.

Some of you have asked about the various treatments I’m doing and if they’re working.  To be honest, it’s all a crapshoot.  No one can promise anything because cancer isn’t so easily cornered.  Its elusive and unique to each body.  What works for one may not work for another.  You try and then watch, try and then watch.  And since patience is not one of my strong virtues, the watch part is like having my nails pulled out with dirty pliers.

So, you know what I do while watching?  I crack.  Bigtime.  But there is something funny about that saying that the cracks are where the light gets in.  Leonard Cohen forgot the messy middle part.  You crack, you ooze pus and nasty old crap that has been crammed in there for years.  Then you have to clean all of that up before it tries to creep back into that hiding place.  And then the light can get in.  I guess I see why he didn’t use that middle part.  Doesn’t really have a melodic ring to it.  But it has a whole lot of truth!

That is how I’m doing.  I’ve already secured the big pieces, like survival and using this story to somehow help others lost in their own tunnels.  But the daily pieces fluctuate.  More energy or less, a rocking 6 hours of sleep or a night of painful wide eyes, hungry or not, blessed or blah supplements.  It’s all just a rollercoaster.  But it means I’m living, so you gotta give an amen for that!

Dear Cancer, I love you…

“Here’s the real paradox:  you can’t change anything until you love it and you usually only want to change something because you don’t love how it is.”  Brian Andreas

Cancer.  This word most likely has more than a neutral meaning for most of you.  Some of you have had it and some of you know someone who’s had it.  Many of you have lost someone to it.  And for most of you, this word brings fear and loathing.  You might wonder who is crazy enough to admit to loving such a horror.  I am.  Since we’re shooting down this rabbit hole together, I might as well clear up my stance on cancer.

I do know I will be treading on some very delicate toes.  I will not speak for others, but feel it is important to look at this word from a few different vantage points before we race to war on that word.

The first time I went through cancer, I didn’t actually go through it.  I edged around it, poked needles at it and feared it because cancer is scary and uncomfortable.  That cancer did go away, but the message that it was supposed to impart on me was lost.  I doubled up on my veggies and went bankrupt on supplements, because those were things I could control.  And the fear of the unknown lurked behind every corner.  If my doctors didn’t know how I got cancer the first time, how could I prevent it from coming back?

When this cancer came knocking, I unraveled my feelings one by one.  I walked with my fear, hearing its worries.  I held hands with death, understanding that it would always be a part of my life, but it wasn’t reminding me of its presence to scare me.  Death was simply showing itself as a reminder of how important living is.  When I finally came to cancer, we sat across from each other and I stopped running and started listening.

Cancer told me that she was simply a messenger.  The message was that there was something very broken deep inside of me and it was time to fix it.  She told me that I had to go deeper, that this wasn’t a surface issue.  I had to look at my soul and spirit and let them out of prison.  Let them breath, let them sing.  She explained that I wasn’t waking up to all the other internal red flags and external symptoms my body sent so she was sent as the ultimate wake-up call.  Behind this message are very deep roots, traveling back to places of old pain.

When I say that I love cancer, I don’t mean it in the way I love maple syrup.  That sticky goodness can get on any item on my plate and make it infinitely better. Fingers, sausage, coffee; it is welcomed and adored.  The love I am talking about is similar to how I feel about giving birth.  It pushes you to the brink, tests your every ability and everything else fades as you focus on the task at hand.  And if all goes well, the gift you’re given at the end is more incredible than ever imagined.  But that ending is beyond our control, isn’t it?  We do our part and let a higher power do the rest.  That is how I see cancer.

Cancer understands that I do have to kill the messenger, but that to do it in fear or panic is running the wrong way.  So, I am trying to love this cancer to death.  I am trying to understand her, and meet her halfway.  And when she feels like I have absorbed the message she sent, I imagine we will part ways peacefully.

The messy middle of all of this is that I still hate cancer sometimes.  I still blame her for all that is uncomfortable in my life.  As I peel the layers back, I find myself coming to a place of complete loathing for her.  I don’t like what she makes me look at and deal with.  And she stares back at me quietly until I realize that hating cancer is hating my body.  Because these cells that have gone haywire are still my cells.  They’ve simply forgotten how to communicate.  And in these moments of miscommunication with my body, anger ensues.  I now know when anger is coming and resign myself to just being.  I take a bath, sleep, read a book that has nothing to do with health and healing.  And eventually, I come back to peace.  Eventually.

Oh, and did I mention that this cancer prefers to be called Helen?  True story.  In a meditative state, I was conversing with her and she would prefer not to be attached to a name that causes such fear.  She prefers to make this message personal and how better to do that than with a proper name.  I’m sure this gets me a VIP membership to the front row of the crazy club, but I feel like I’m in good company.  The crazy ones are the most fun.

Why I Sunk My Lifeboat

Holy love!  I had already written a post for today, but had to add this part.  I feel completely wrapped up in love, prayers, sweet memories, high vibes and helpful recommendations.  I have a fierce tribe of supporters and I cannot thank you enough for taking a moment to share your heart with me.  Words can’t do my feelings justice, so accept my most sincere gratitude as a token of how deeply moved I am.

I almost didn’t post this as blog #2.  All that delicious love and support made me want to repay you with a sparkly, peppy post about all the optimism I have (old habits die hard).  And I do have optimism.  And this post is messy without a clean ending.  Not messy like the last one.  Messy like it might make some people angry, uncomfortable, depressed.  Honest?  Yes.  But oh so messy.  So, thank you and I love you for continuing on this journey with me as I muddle through.

Now, onto our regularly scheduled program:

“I learned that things don’t always turn out the way you planned, or the way you think they should.  And I’ve learned that there are things that go wrong that don’t always get fixed or get put back together the way they were before.  I’ve learned that some broken things stay broken, and I’ve learned that you can get through bad times and keep looking for better ones, as long as you have people who love you.”  Jennifer Weiner

There is no easy way to pull off a band-aid when its attached to a very sensitive spot.  So, I’m just going to yank it off.  Andrew and I are not together right now.  In both physical proximity and relationship status.  My decision, not his.  Even as I write this, I want to press the delete button to erase this secret.  But honesty is a demanding friend, and this truth isn’t about comfort.  It’s about courage.

At this point, I’m making up the stories that you are telling yourselves now.  “Sweet Jesus, she’s gone off the deep end, did the cancer go to the smart part of her brain?”  “Courage?  Ha!  More like cold-hearted stupidity!”  Now, these stories that I make up are an entire post on its own, but suffice to say, my imagination knows no bounds.  To make it through this post, I am going to turn down the volume on the make-believe conversations that are probably not happening anyway and try to explain as best as I can.

Basically, I sunk my own lifeboat.  I was spending more time shoveling out the water that was streaming through all the many holes that I pretended not to see.  All that expended energy trying to keep it afloat finally became too much.  So, I jumped overboard and let the damn thing sink.  It was messy and ugly, heartbreaking and unavoidable.

So, why go through such pain?  Because stage 4 is no joke.  My body was literally screaming at me to look at something.  “What?!?  What do you want??  What do you need??” I desperately asked it.  And once I starting asking, I wished I could find internal earplugs.

“Dump it all,” my body said.  “Dump your entire life out.  Every relationship, every habit, every controlling issue, every supplement, every stress, every pattern, every security, every comfort, every single thing.”

“Right, I can dump most of that stuff.  Obviously, you don’t mean EVERYTHING?  I mean, kids and husband and healthy eating and stuff like that.  You mean everything but those…right?”

“Dump everything,” my body said kindly, but firmly.

“Ok, but I’m sure you mean to dump it all but my family…right?  I mean, how insane is it to throw out your family?!?”  I asked, laughing uneasily.  I’m a quick cookie, but as you can tell, this wasn’t sinking in.

“Dump.  Everything.”

In one of the scariest moments of my life, I dumped everything.  I dumped EVERYTHING.  And I sat there, holding onto nothing.  All those things that defined me, all those labels I gave myself, all those distractions and comforts that kept me from seeing me as just me.

“Now, if you want to survive, you are only allowed to add those things in your life that bring lightness and joy.  And each light and joy will have a shadow.  Familiarize yourself with their dark sides, know and love them too.  But do not put anything back into your life that is broken, heavy, unbalanced.  Hold each piece in your hand, feel its weight, feel its energy and ask yourself if this is worth having in your life.”  Life wouldn’t take any arguments, and survival is my goal, so I tried it.

My girls were the first thing to be added.  Those little light bringers are two of my biggest teachers, and while the honest part of me wishes I could have a nanny to take care of them during dinner and bath time, they will always be one of my biggest sources of joy.

Next came my relationships.  Family, friends and acquaintances all got a thorough inspection.  Many of you know Andrew.  My husband of 11 years, father to my girls and the unofficial mayor of Laguna Beach.  You all know him as a jolly, golden soul who can make anyone laugh.  He shares his incredible music with the local masses and is always a good time.  What you see is true.  He is that guy.  This isn’t the part where I scar your view of him by sharing some bipolar side no one sees.  But who we are out there isn’t always who we are when the curtain goes down.  Behind that curtain, we hit some bumps that never got smoothed out.  Those bumps became deeply rooted patterns that felt nearly impossible to dislodge from.  This blog will not be my platform for airing dirty laundry about our personal relationship.  But he has given his blessing for me to be honest about us.

So, I asked him for some separation time.  My request shocked even me, but it came from a place that was too deep to deny.  Our relationship has been broken for a while now.  And in true Brita fashion, I had ignored the holes and kept shoveling water out of the boat.  And once I came to terms with my body being broken, I knew I couldn’t fix two major broken things at once.

I don’t know how pitch black could get darker, but it did after this decision.  I now was holding a broken body and a broken life and it just seemed like too much.  Some might wonder why I couldn’t just make it work so I could have that spousal support during this crazy time.  I ached to find the easy way, but I had used up all my get out of jail free cards.  This time, I had to do hard time and there were no shortcuts.  And for one of the first times in my life, I was having to choose me over everyone and everything else (not a small feat for an over-people pleaser).

Is this the right move?  No idea, but I can tell you there is some strange comfort that comes over me when I feel like I’m at my breaking point, making these big, grownup decisions.  I can only describe it as a warm blanket that soothes me.  It doesn’t answer my questions or fix the problems, but it comes alongside me.  God, angels, my higher self; I don’t know what it is.  All I know is it allows me to breath and helps me realize that I am still standing.

The honest and unfair part of it all is that Andrew never pretended to be anything other than what he is.  I did.  I molded myself to fit into his life, becoming something that wasn’t true to me.  And with a broken heart, I have to admit that I wasn’t happy with that life.  I tried and tried and tried even harder, but no amount of trying could make me fit.  I played happy because all the other emotions scared the crap out of me.  But inside, I was so tired.  And that exhaustion eventually overtook me.

*Small side note:  This is only one slice of our lives together.  Was I miserable all the time?  Of course not.  Do I still love him?  Yes.  Did we have fun times and laugh and was it genuine?  Yes.  Did this fix all the broken bits?  No.  Confusing?  You bet your ass it is.

Am I done with my marriage?  I’m not.  How could I be when I am just now figuring out who I am?  Are we going to get back together as soon as I’m healed?  I don’t know.  I now know that my body has some serious boundary lines drawn when it comes to compromising my happiness.  And I will not cross my body anymore.  Once I feel like I am able to work on our relationship, I will.  But for now, my body is asking that I focus on my healing first.

So, where does this leave me?  Exactly where I left off in my last post.  I have taken a massive gamble and ditched all my securities and comfort zones for the dream that a healthier and more beautiful life is waiting for me.  As many rabbit holes go, you’re never quite sure where you’ll come out.  But I’ve got faith.  Faith and a pretty big story.

The Rabbit Hole

“We’ve all fallen, and we have the skinned knees and bruised hearts to prove it.  But scars are easier to talk about than they are to show, with all the remembered feelings laid bare.  And rarely do we see wounds that are in the process of healing.” Brené Brown

This part of healing is the messy middle, the place where shit goes down and if you’re anything like me, you’d prefer to keep your hard-earned, built-up facade of “I’ve got my life pulled together, thank you” as the story everyone believes.

So, what happens when all those broken pieces that you’ve been hiding no longer hold their glue?  Ugly things happen.  Like, those things you fear the most become your shadow.  And your ego is screaming for you to GET OUT and you’re screaming back that you DON’T KNOW HOW TO ESCAPE YOUR OWN LIFE.  And then the lights go out.  I’m not talking about a little power outage with the gleaming full moon to rely on.  I’m talking about a kidnappers black knapsack over your head and you’re dumped deep into a cave in the middle of nowhere.  The darkness that nightmares are built on.

Most people have had a moment or chapter in their lives like this.  Depression, a broken heart, the loss of a child or an addiction that tried to steal your soul.  And if you can relate to this darkness, you can probably also relate to the incredible resistance to show your weeping wounds as an act of vulnerability and openness.  Who wouldn’t rather wait until it has healed, you’ve learned the hard lessons and come out a wiser soul?  Speaking from experience, I will be the first to raise my hand to that.

This will be my 8th blog.  And it will the messiest one yet.  And I feel a little like throwing up, because I want to keep my ratty security blanket wrapped around my heart.  I want to hide the truth.  I want to tell you a story about a really strong, courageous woman who knows exactly what she’s doing and can give advice like a boss.  This is the role I have desperately clung to for the last 5 years (probably longer), spit polishing the surface so no one could see the murky underbelly.  So, why is this blog being written?  Because my story refuses to stay inside.  I’ve started having dreams that literally demand that I open up.  These dreams have told me that it is as much for my healing as it is for others.  Because others need to know that they’re not alone in their brokenness.  These dreams have asked me to crack myself open while going through the messy middle so you can see the pain, and know this depth doesn’t actually drown you.  At least I’m hoping it doesn’t.

If you’ve followed any of my previous blogs, you are familiar with the stories I told, the silver lining I wove into all I said.  Many of you cheered me on and called me brave and strong.  For those that don’t know me, here is the breakdown:  I had a baby, and 8 months later was pregnant with nugget #2.  A week after my 31st birthday and at 6 months pregnant, I found out I was dealing with an aggressive form of stage II breast cancer.  I immediately dove into an Olympic-sized pool of fear that drowned my every intuitive instinct.  It was a brutal lesson that looked from the outside like a healing happy ending (that story can be found here) with lessons learned and a farewell wave to all things cancer.  Because if you look healthy and your blood work shows the right numbers and the doctors that spent $200,000 on medical school tell you that your fine, you’re healed….right?

I’m sure Life smiled with compassion when I bought that line.  Because when someone else tells you the end of your story without you checking those facts out with your own soul, you’re bound to be in for an unfortunate surprise.  The funny thing is, I knew.  Not in concrete facts or a well-honed intuitive instinct, but in the fact that the story didn’t fit me.  I didn’t feel healed.  This healing label wrapped around me like a miniskirt 3 sizes too small.  I kept trying to pull the hem down to cover all the right places because I didn’t want to offend anyone by flashing them with my uncomfortable feelings of doubt and fear.  Because I was told that it did fit.

That healing title kept shrinking every single time I washed it with the hot water of shame and denial.  Shame came from the story I told myself.  That I was a role model that couldn’t drop the ball.  People were watching me, and I needed to show them that I had this whole healing thing under control.  And denial is one of shame’s closest friends, allowing my secrets to hide in the shadowy folds of life.

I want to tell you I don’t associate with these shady characters anymore.  I want to tell you I’ve amended my story, and I’ve patched up the holes that were sinking my boat.  But with honesty and vulnerability as my pledge to you and myself, I won’t lie.  I have strings of shame tied on every fingertip and fear laced around every other day.  But I have broken up with denial.  And while my lifeboat sank long ago, I am managing to swim somewhere.  Where am I swimming to, you might ask? I’m not quite sure, but my intuition tells me that I’m heading the right direction.

So, where is all this leading?  I have been dealt the cards of stage 4 breast cancer.  As my girlfriend Anna said, “Stage 4 just means you need deeper healing.  Which also means you need to go deeper to get that healing.”  And this time, I’m going all the way down this rabbit hole.