Thursday, October 22, 2015

Changing Perceptions...My Own

Note:  I wrote this post on Monday.  Due to technical difficulties (do not get me started on the Wi-Fi issues at my house...argh!) I am just now posting it.  So pretend it is Monday morning when you are reading this...


2nd Note:  Thank you to all of you who have visited www.sparklesandspitballs.com and checked out my shop.  I appreciate all your support.  Things are coming along nicely and I am enjoying myself immensely.  If you haven't checked it out yet, please do!


Okay, now on to the regularly scheduled, but really late, post:



I have never been the most confident person.  I can’t walk into a room full of people I don’t know and just start talking to people. I was painfully shy as a young child and even now myself to be relatively introverted (I said relatively, for all of you who are chuckling at that one!)  Sure, as a teacher I am more than willing to put myself out there…I sing, I dance, I act silly, anything I can do to make learning fun for my students.  But take me out of the classroom, I’m always afraid people are watching me and judging me.  I was always the cautious child, I didn’t really take risks and I certainly wouldn’t try anything new unless I knew I was going to be successful at it.  What would people think if I tried to do something and failed miserably?  It was easier not to try.

 When I hit my 40’s, that fear started to diminish.  I started realizing that I had spent 40 years worrying about what other people thought, valuing their opinions of me more than my own.  But even still, it was hard for me to come out of my shell, to put myself out there and talk to people I didn’t know or try something I had never done before.  And then came my diagnosis.  Suddenly I was in a whole world that was new and risky and really, really scary.  I had doctor’s appointments and tests and I had to advocate for myself, which I had never had to do before.  And once I had my first surgery and I wasn’t able to talk for months, I had to do all that nonverbally. 

I won’t rehash all the details of what has gone on in the last ten months, those stories are all in previous blog posts.  Suffice to say, it has been a journey to find me.  For many months I felt lost.  In the last few weeks, since I made it through those first three months post radiation and then got my all clear, my new birthday, I feel like I have become a new person.  I am more confident than I have ever been in my life.  I am putting myself out there, taking leaps that would have paralyzed me before.  I went through hell and I made it through and I am better because of it.  Of course, I wish I had been able to get through to this new me without the pain and the disfigurement and the fear, but I don’t think I could have.

This past weekend was my 25th high school reunion.  I know I talked about it before, when I was deciding whether I was going to go or not.  Eventually, I made it my goal.  I needed to get myself feeling well enough to make it to the reunion.  And I did.  I went to the reunion and had the most amazing time.  But it is the months leading up to the reunion that have been the most important to me.  I have made connections with people that were unexpected and are so special. 

In high school, we all fell into niches.  We found our group of friends and it was the rare person who could comfortably move between those groups.  I was not one of those.  I had my group of friends that I was comfortable with, those who knew me well and who I could be silly and out there with and really just be me without fear of judgment or derision.  I knew who the kids in the other groups were, but never went out of my way to befriend them, and they never approached me either.  I didn’t dislike them, I just wasn’t comfortable stepping outside that comfort zone.

In preparing for this reunion, I connected with one of the women who was organizing it and we started talking.  It was a simple offer to help, to do what I could from behind my computer.  But that one little step brought me to a new friend.  This was someone I don’t think I ever had a conversation with in high school.  I don’t know if we had any classes together, don’t think our paths really crossed.  But suddenly, here we were, texting regularly, catching each other up on our lives, like we had been friends forever.  She sent me regular check-in messages, making sure I was feeling okay, and listening and encouraging me when I wasn’t.  One of the highlights of the reunion was getting to give her a hug…which we did several times throughout the evening.  We live minutes away from each other and I expect that our friendship will continue to grow. 

I started thinking about shifting perceptions during the reunion, as I had conversations with various people.  I talked to people I had never talked to before, not in high school, not at the previous reunions.  And I heard things that surprised me.  I introduced myself to several people and each time I was met with “Oh, I know who you are.”   They saw me, they knew who I was, they wanted to be my friend way back then, but I was so shy, I was afraid to step outside my circle.  I wasn’t as invisible as I thought I was.

Before the reunion, when we were trying to make sure everybody knew about it, I sent out messages to a bunch of people, most of whom I have not spoken to in nearly 25 years.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I didn’t hear back from everyone, which was to be expected.  The people I did hear back from…it was just amazing.  We had these fabulous catching up conversations and I am just blown away by the people these kids I knew so long ago have become.    And to see some of them at the reunion, my heart is just so full!

Even before the reunion, I was shattering my own perceptions of myself.  As you know, I have started an Etsy business.  This is a whole new world for me.  I have been a teacher for so long and I’m comfortable there.  I know what to expect and how to manage my days.  In starting my business I have had to learn to promote myself, to be a little shameless about handing out my card or mentioning my products.  I have ideas that have to be created, tested, refined.  I have new skill sets, like drilling holes in glass (who knew?) and taking product pictures.  Sometimes things work.  Sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes they fail miserably and end up in the trash.  And guess what?  The world didn’t stop turning because I failed.  No one pointed fingers and laughed.  In fact, absolutely the opposite happened.  As I shared my failures, new ideas evolved, new strategies for making my products work, new techniques to try.  I have grown so much in the last month, just from this little craft business.  It has pushed me far beyond what I thought I could do.  A little push outside that comfort zone is a very good thing.  And a shift in perception, a new perspective on who I am, is also a very good thing.

A little backtracking to something I posted on Facebook last week…many of you know that I have become a part of a group of Facebook that is comprised of various oral, head, and neck cancers and their caregivers.  It is a safe place to ask questions, vent, and celebrate, sometimes all at the same time.  It is a group I go to whenever I need reassurance and to just hear that what I am going through is “normal.”  I don’t know anyone in the group, that is, I have never met any of them personally.  But over the last ten months, I have gotten to know many of them quite well and often relied on them when things were particularly difficult.  One of those people was a man named Jim.  He was just a little older than me, father of two, and had a similar diagnosis and surgeries.  While I was fortunate and only had to do radiation, he needed both radiation and chemotherapy.  I finished radiation about three weeks before he did.  Jim was brash and funny and honest.  And unfortunately, his body was not able to recover from all the trauma it had been through and sadly, Jim passed away last week.  His death hit me hard.  It really shook me to my core.  At no time during my illness did the thought ever occur to me that I wasn’t going to make it, that I wouldn’t be here to raise my kids.  And here was this shocking reminder that things could have gone very differently for me.  His passing made it abundantly clear to me how truly lucky and blessed I am to still be here, to be recovering, no matter how slowly it may seem to be moving.  It made me realize that no matter what the future holds for me, and I really don’t know what that might be, I will be fine.  Sure, it sucks that I’m not eating yet and it sucks that I still have my trach, but none of that matters.  I am still here to hug my kids and kiss my husband and shop with my mother and pester my brother.  I’m here to laugh with my friends and advocate and educate and simply live.  And so, this man I have never met will be with me always, reminding me of all my blessings.  If you are reading this, you are one of those blessings.

Okay, this has gone on long enough today, but before I go, I have a challenge for you.  Think about the longheld perceptions you have of yourself.  Are they still valid?  Do they need an update, a reboot?  What would happen if those perceptions changed, if you took the restrictions off?  Just food for thought…but let me know what you are thinking, I can’t wait to hear!

Love and sparkles to you all,

Gayle

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Happy Birthday to Me!!!


So have you seen or heard that lottery commercial, the one where the announcer says, "It was an ordinary day...until it wasn't."?  That is how I am feeling because yesterday was just an ordinary day...until it wasn't.  Last night I was catching up on Project Runway with my daughter, my mom got home and came in to chat with us...and I noticed I had an email from my doctor.  I didn’t say anything as they commented on the clothes coming down the runway, but I knew what this email was, what it had to be.  Of course, an uncooperative Wi-Fi and shaking hands made things challenging, but when I finally got it to open, this is what I saw:

Hi, your recent scans are clear of cancer. Just post treatment changes. This is good news.

Of course, that isn’t all it said.  The actual email runs about four pages long, as it includes all the notes from the radiologist (and has some interesting little factoids, but that’s a story for another time, nothing horrible, I promise!)  But it didn’t matter about all that.  All I could focus on were the words “scans are clear of cancer.”   Clear of cancer.  And suddenly, I could breathe again.  A big deep breath, free of worry that I might have to start all over again.  With tears in my eyes, I paused Project Runway (sorry Heidi and Tim, I was having my own make it work moment) and showed the email to my mom.  It took her a moment to focus, but as soon as she did, she was breathing again too.  Smiling and breathing.  E. took the news in stride, trying not to seem too excited (she is almost twelve you know, we must not think anything about our parents is cool!) but I could tell how happy she was.  Steve was still in the boys room, trying to coax them to sleep, but as soon as he came out, I greeted him at the door with the news.  Another deep breath and a smile.  You could almost actually see the weight coming off his shoulders.

So here is the part that might give you goosebumps or you might just shake your head at me and think I am being silly.  I knew I was going to get my results yesterday.  You know how there are dates you never forget, the good ones and the bad ones…the day you get proposed to, the day you get married, the day you find out you are going to be a parent, the day you lose a parent, the day you realize the fertility treatments didn’t work and then the day that they did, the day you find out (unexpectedly!) that you are going to be a parent for the third time, the day you find your dream house, the day you find out you have cancer.  Add all those days to holidays and anniversaries and birthdays, those are a whole lot of days to remember.  Well, yesterday was one of those days, even before I got my email.  Yesterday was my dad’s birthday.  If he were still with us, he would have been..okay, I won’t say because my parents shared a birth year and I’m sure my mother wouldn’t appreciate me announcing her age to the entire world.  My dad has been with me this whole way, making his presence known at various times.   I knew that yesterday would be the day because I knew that he wanted to be a part of the good stuff too.  So now, Dad and I share a birthday.  For the last eight years, October 7 has been a difficult, hard to be happy day, because it’s hard to be happy when you miss someone so much.  But now October 7 will be forever be a happy, celebration day because it is the day my life started over!  As I write this, it occurs to me that of course Dad was involved in this…I think he was peeved that we weren’t properly celebrating his birthday, so he wanted to make sure we did it right from now on!  (Wonder where I get that Type A, controlling stuff from?)

I know that this is not over.  I am not done cleaning up the trail of destruction the cancer left behind.  I will never be done, there will always be some effect…it changed me.  Physically as well as emotionally.  I am not the same person I was ten months ago, not even close.  I look different, I feel different, I am different.  I have a lot of work to do, hard work, work on my speech, my swallowing, my stamina, my emotions. But now I can concentrate on that work without feeling like something is hanging over my head.  And that my friends, is a very good feeling.

I have so much more I want to say but I need to get moving with the rest of my day.  I have orders to fill (yay!) and work to do.  I was actually in the middle of a blog post yesterday when I had to leave to play dance mom, so expect another post either later today or tomorrow.  And thank you for the love, the texts, the messages, the comments on my FB post.  Having all of you out there supporting me has made this whole thing just a little easier.  You are one of the blessings that I count regularly.

Love and sparkles,
Gayle

Sunday, October 4, 2015

It's Alive!!!

Hi Friends...

First, can I just say the response to my last post was overwhelming.  The number of texts and emails and messages and high-fives I have gotten is amazing.  Thank you for having my back!  It warms my heart to know that so many people are on my team...and how many people wanted to take those girls out back behind the woodshed and give them a good wallop across the backside.  (Okay really...I have never lived anywhere with a woodshed, so I'm not sure why that phrase popped into my head, but it seemed to work there!)

An interesting discussion did come out of this.  Obviously my boys are too young to read my blog and my daughter is not usually interested...she is living it, why would she need to read about it.  But this post was different and I insisted that she read it.  Bad words and all...she knows I'm not perfect and I know she has heard those words before.  (We did have quite an interesting discussion about the phrases "meth head" and "crack whore."  I think I did a pretty good job explaining them without actually having to define the word whore  Not sure I could have managed to get through that one!)  She read it and then went off and did her own thing for a while.  A few hours later, in the car on the way to dance (because we are always in the car on the way to dance!) she asked me some questions about why they behaved the way they did and why people were so mean.  She had some interesting insights...I forget sometimes that my little girl is not so little anymore.  (Insert sad face here!)  She said she thought that their parents must not have done a very good job with them and that she thinks they must not feel very good about themselves to treat other people like that.  Now, I know better than to gush over her about things like that (so not cool, Mom!) but inside I was gushing like crazy.  She promised that she would never, ever, ever behave that way toward another person.  And I totally believe her.  This year has changed us all so much.  Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my own stuff that I forget about the impact all of this has had on the whole family.  I'm glad kids are so resilient...while I will never forget this year, they will be able to push it to the back of their minds and mostly forget all about it.

But now, the real reason for today's post...drumroll please...My Etsy shop is officially open!!!  Yay!  It has been a couple of weeks filled with lots of applications, paperwork, product trial and error, market research (thank you to those friends that let me badger them constantly!) and tons of time taking pictures and writing policies and listings.  A big thank you to my VP of all things Technical (Steve, if anybody was wondering) and my legal department (again, if you are wondering, that would be my mom!)  Without their help, my ship would have already sunk!  I have a few items already listed, with more to come in the next few days.  I expect to add items pretty regularly, so please, check back often.  The address is www.sparklesandspitballs.com.  Right now I am maintaining two separate sites, this one and the shop, but soon you will be able to find both in the same place...how convenient!  So, come visit, drop me a message through Etsy Conversations, leave me a review, and shop if you find anything that makes your heart skip a beat.  Don't see what you are looking for?  Send me a message and together we can come up with a custom listing for you!  Thank you for all your support on this.  While the last few weeks have been busy and even exhausting, they have also been exhilarating.  I'm a small business owner!  Who woulda thunk it?

That's it for now...don't forget to tell all your friends about www.sparklesandspitballs.com and the badass, meth head crack whore who is the crazy lady behind it all!

Love and sparkles to you all,
Gayle

P.S.  For those of you keeping score, I am still waiting for the results of my scans.  Anxious, nervous, hopeful, impatient.  All at the same time.  As soon as I know, you will know!  Cross my heart! --G.