Cancer taught me how to live

Terminal illness has a way of awakening our greatest potential. When Cara was diagnosed with breast cancer the parts of life that had lay dormant began to bloom. She was reborn.

While studying to become a computer programming consultant Cara lost sight of everything else in her life–relationships, friendships, family–nothing mattered except getting that certification. “When you don’t lead a well balanced life, the parts that you ignore will come back to bite you, and that’s exactly what happened,” said Cara. “But I passed the exam. I was so excited—I was finally certified. I was going to have the career that I dreamed of.”

About a week later, Cara was home and having a lumpectomy and woke up in the recovery room to a crying surgeon telling her parents that the lump in her breast was malignant. “I went home and stayed there for the entire weekend and sobbed — just sobbed. I thought it was the end of the world.”

But when the doctors said, “We need you to have a biopsy,” Cara didn’t think about her recently passed exams, she thought, “I never took those tango lessons, I never read those books, I never did any of those things, and, I’m not going to have the opportunity to do that anymore–because I thought it was a death sentence.” She quickly learned that she had the ability within herself to turn the situation into something good if she would trust and be open to it.

“I had never known anyone before who’d had cancer, and I just thought that was the end of the world,” said Cara. “I decided I would make a list of all the things that I had never done, and during the recovery period between surgery and chemotherapies, I would do all those things.”

During her chemotherapy Cara went to live on her parent’s farm. She realized the impact your environment can have on every part of your life. It can inspire you, give you hope, and help you be more productive. But it can also fight you, become a source of stress, or take away your motivation.

“Because I had absorbed myself in my career, I had let my house go. I wasn’t decorating anymore. I didn’t even have a bedspread,” said Cara.

While recovering from chemo, Cara’s therapist gave her an assignment… to redecorate the bedroom. “I thought, ‘redecorate my bedroom?’ I don’t have time for that. But it was an experiment that changed my life.”

Cara discovered that “by going back and redoing that place—where I laid under the covers and sobbed for 72 hours, where there had been so much pain—by painting the walls, by redoing, taking down the wallpaper, I was healing the room. Somehow that healing of the room was healing me.”

This transformation got Cara thinking. She started a company called Spicy Spaces to share the joy of helping people see their environment with a fresh eye.

Among the many things on Cara’s list of things to do was catching up on all those books she had been meaning to read. Here are Cara’s 3 essential reads that helped make chemotherapy a bit easier:

1. Love, Medicine and Miracles by Bernie S. Siegel
2. Getting Well Again by O. Carl Simonton
3. Oswald Talked by Ray and Mary La Fontaine

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Cara’s Website

Think Pink!
The National Breast Cancer Awareness Month website lends a helping hand to women coping with chemotherapy-induced side effects and shows you how to get involved.

Check Yourself
The circle, the line, or the wedge? Health Central’s handy instructional video teaches you three ways to give your girls a thorough self-exam.

My inkling for tattoos

For Christina it wasn’t a question of getting a tattoo, it was a decision about personal ethics.

You see, tattoos are a physical representation of something that is a part of the “marked,” something that they care deeply enough about to make a lifelong commitiment. It is a covenant.

Christina came up with the idea of a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. “Whether someone realizes it or not, decisions that you make are always affected by something else, maybe what someone has gone through in the past. The devil and the angel represent that decision making — good decisions and bad decisions and how that all works together. Maybe bad decisions lead you to good things and you didn’t expect that or the other way around.”

The beauty of tattoos is their mystique, the juxtaposition of private and public culminating to show that the person has put a great deal of thought into what they believe in and want people to assume about who they are.

The outline is the most painful part of getting a tattoo. This is in part due to the different types of needles the artist will use for either the outline or the shading. Different parts of your body are more sensitive than other parts: getting a ring of tribal art around your bicep isn’t going to hurt as much as that sea tortoise on your bony foot.

But Christina emphasized, “That is what is ideal about it. To go through a period of turmoil to get something that you want, something that will last and be a part of you forever. You don’t ever forget getting it, and it is connected to you forever.”

For this reason, you shouldn’t get a tattoo just to say you have one. If something is going to spend your whole life with you, you want to feel connected to it somehow. Getting inked can be a great form of closure memorializing a loved one or remembering a turning point in your life.

What to learn more about tattoos? How about starting with a bit of history.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Interested in the Ink?
At Tattoofinder, you can browse for tattoo art ideas and even purchase scale-size graphics if you find the perfect ink!

Tattooed Beauties
Browse through the world’s most beautiful tattooed stars of 2007. Some of them will surprise you!

Should You Do It?
Before you make the big decision to get inked, check out this list of pros and cons of having a tattoo in today’s world.

Over It?
Got some ink back in the day that you wish would just disappear? Learn more about the tattoo removal process here.

Coping with loss: Artwork helped me heal

Liz’s younger sister was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that forms inside the body cavities and around the vital organs–she was not yet 30.

“By the time they found it, the cancer was touching all of her organs,” Liz recalls. “She went through major surgery, which gave her four to five years.”

Liz knew that her entire family would have to help her sister Rebecca through her illness, but she wasn’t sure she would know what to do. But as is the case when caring for somone you love, crisis forced Liz to discover things about herself that she had never explored, including her limitations. Because her sister she was always incredibly hopeful, she did not want people crying around her. “She was very much, ‘if you are going to cry, I can not talk to you,’ and she would not talk to me for a month until I could gain my composure.”

Liz learned to restrict her emtions through helping her sister. Becoming the person that her sister needed, fulfilled her own needs. Although she had recently completed graduate school to figure out who she was, it was the time she spent with her sister that taught her true confidence in her capabilities.

“I think that is what is so amazing about the experience is that I walked away, obviously really grief stricken and really upset that I had lost this person. But I had this experience that tested who I was.”

After her sister’s death, LIz went back to work. Althogh this seemed impossible, she reminded herself, “All I have to do is make sure these kids are safe and that I am teaching them, but my 100% may be different today.” She got to a certain point where getting up in the morning, going to work, and going through the motions became part of the healing process. Eventually motions become beacons of stregth.

The instant she found out her sister was sick, Liz’s idenity as an artist undrewent a transformation. “I was still making art because it’s something I have to do, but all of the critique talk that went on in graduate school went out the window. I found myself making work and taking that time to reflect and quite myself down.”

Her artwork became a physical form of how she was dealing with the pain. It also became a way to integrate part of her sister into her own life. “My sister decided what she wanted to do and she made it happen. Now with my own life, when I sit back at the end of the day and I say, ‘What have I done and where do I want to be,’ it comes down to the fact I want to make art and I want to teach.”

Like many of us who have lost loved ones, Liz kept seeing her sister in all sorts of things and people after she died. Liz and her sisters would believe that Rebecca was giving them a sign if the lights flickered in the room.

The arch continues to change–she’s now at a point where doesn’t need that shape anymore. “The shape I am seeing now is a circle or an oval, and I guess you could say it is completeness.”

Liz just sold her first big piece and it is of an arch. The woman she sold it to asked her to explain what it was. Although she typically leaves interpretation to the viewer, Liz felt like she had to tell her. After explaining the story, the women explained that her husband had passed away from cancer several years ago, it was a beautiful and intimate moment.

Liz’s advice to other people who are helping someone with cancer is, “You really just need to give this person what they need. She told us what she needed and we did it to the best of our abilities. All you have to do is make it through the day, that’s all you have to do.”

There is no easy way to get through traumatic events, but there are some things to keep in mind while time heals the wounds. Understand symptoms, how to care for yourself, and how to recover, check out these tips at the University of Iowa.

Young & Restless
As bewildering as death is for adults, it’s even worse for children and teens, whose life concepts aren’t as secure. Learn how to help the young grieve and cope with loss at DirectGov.

Why Me Wisdom
Blogger Whymommy describes the pleasures and perils of raising two young boys while battling inflammatory breast cancer.

Staying Informed
A devoted husband presents the latest news in medicine, research, and his wife’s heroic struggle against cancer.