Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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Six years ago on June 19, 2012, my life was forever changed! That was the day when it went from “you have cancer” to “your surgery was a success.”  Six years as a survivor … so far so good!

Unless you have experienced cancer, or another horrible disease, you cannot begin to grasp the reality of the disease. Some days I am amazed that I am still functioning after those very harsh treatments for Triple Negative Breast Cancer. I have had chemotherapy and radiation, felt like death, fought the best way I know how, never gave up, prayed always, worshiped every Sunday, laughed a lot, cried just as much, worried, not worried, mourned new losses, enjoyed life, lived each day to its fullest, and gave the best of me. I have come to love me! I am a new me with a new normal … remember my Plan “D” …or is it “E?”

I have found strength that I once thought was beyond my reach! I have accepted that I am different from many others! I have made priorities and dismissed as much negativity from my life as possible. I have fallen deeper in love with my Heavenly Father and His Son, my husband who is always in my thoughts, my children and grandchildren who keep me going, my family and friends who give me hope, and most of all … life! I have met other survivors who motivate and inspire me! Yes, my life was and has forever been changed since six years ago when I heard those words “you have cancer.”

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and so I have been thinking about my life since that day and how many blessings I have enjoyed!  Yes … there are many … and from many areas!  Let me share one of my biggest blessings other than my family.

How a community treats each other says much about who we really are. Respect, compassion, service, kindness and integrity hold our society together. I am so blessed to belong to many communities (my little town, church and family communities) that really care about each other.  Just check out Facebook any day and you will find prayers offered up, good deeds being done, or money being raised for someone in our community.

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I am thankful to belong to such a community … They have been and are a daily blessing!  When I needed lifted there were so many people with acts of kindness for me that touched me in such a way that motivate me to pay it forward as best I can, every single day!

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Here’s the moral of my blog today … we ALL can give compassion, encouragement and hope. So to really spread and honor BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH, let’s all make an extra special effort to lift and bless others with our smiles, our hugs, compliments, and kindness. We can be generous with our time, treat others like they really do matter, and be sensitive to their feelings and their needs.   More often than not, these are things that do not cost money.  Rather, they are gifts of our love, and of our self. Through these simple actions we can ease the difficulties of those we love.  We are all in this together! …So let’s see what we can do! Look around yourself right now and find someone that needs support, encouragement and hope. You have it within yourself to give.   If you want to be happy and to get your mind off your own problems … do something for someone else!   Real happiness doesn’t come from selfishness, but by being selflessness.  Everything you do comes back around.  In life you get what you put in.  When you make a positive impact in someone else’s life, you also make a positive impact in your own life.

ALSO … Let’s not forget to thanks those that help us through our difficult times … They deserve to know how wonderful they are too!  Be the reason someone smiles today … then two people feel better!

Just saying! …

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Lessons from Life

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In a couple of days I will be 72 years old … WOW, I am old!  At this age, I wish that I had known some of things I have learned over my life just a bit earlier.

One of my all-time favorite books is “Ten Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Went Out into the Real World” by Maria Shriver.  When I purchased the book my immediate thoughts were … come on Maria, the real world … what would you know about the real world?  Maria grew up a Kennedy and married one of the biggest movie stars of all time! That aside, it got me thinking: What are some things I wish I would have known before going out into the real world? So, here are three of mine:Phyllis 1

  • Life isn’t fair. My mom’s favorite come-back line.  What did she know?  I remember thinking that I would grow up and show her that those who work hard and do what is right are the real winners.  Well I guess she showed me!  Life isn’t fair!  Too many times the bad guy wins.  People play favorites.  Good people die young.  Good people get really sick.  Good people get dumped on every day. Even President John F. Kennedy realized this fact of life when he said: “Life isn’t fair.  It never was and never will be!”  It’s hard to accept but we should still strive to do our best, work hard, dream big, and above all … do what is right!  Life is hard! And do it definitely isn’t fair.  That fact really hurts like hell sometimes.  But if you focus on what is within your power to change for the better, you can be happy even if it isn’t fair!.

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  • Pleasing others gets you nothing. Most of the time, people liking or disliking you has nothing to do whatsoever with sensible thought. Some people will dislike you, no matter how well you have done, and others will love you unconditionally no matter what you have done. We tip toe around life by doing things in order to please others, not because it’s what we believe in. We go through days thinking about how other people might be judging us. How are these pants going to make me look? What will my friends think if I spoke out? Are those people talking about me behind my back? Just remember that it’s better to be loved by a few people you care about than to be liked by everyone.  Forget about worrying about what other people might be thinking about you.  They aren’t concerned about you.  They are way too busy worrying about what you and other folks think of them.

Mistakes & Failures

  • Mistakes and failures are actually good. Failure is not the end of the world.  People seldom care that you fail … they have their own challenges and lives to worry about. Success in life comes from not giving up despite mistakes and failure. It comes from being persistent. Negative experiences, mistakes and failure can sometimes be even better than a success because it teaches you something totally new, something that success could never teach you. Whenever you have a negative experience ask yourself: where is the opportunity or blessing in this? One negative experience can – with time – help you create many very positive experiences. Remember that first time you tried to ride your bike … you fell off, bruised your knee and cried a bit. But you got up, brushed yourself off and got on that bike again and eventually you learned how to ride it. If you just use that same perseverance instead of giving up after you fail, you will learn and experience more success. Remember that mistakes are proof that you are at least trying!  Folks are always telling me that we learn from our mistakes.  Well if that is true … I decided that I should soon be a genius with all the mistakes I have made in life!  Mistakes are your greatest teachers!

My three lessons aren’t the positive things anyone would like to focus on, but they are true. These were lessons that I learned after getting into the real world. We need to be aware of the bad things in life and choose to stay positive through tough times.  It’s sometimes hard to do, but you be a whole bunch better with positive thoughts. That’s why I say that life is worth living no matter how expensive or painful the lessons I’ve had to learn. Life is good and I know that I can still make it better! I’m so glad that I learned these life lessons. I hope you can live and learn too!

Just saying …

One Day More

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“Let each thing you would do, say or intend be like that of a dying person.” – Marcus Aurelius

I love that quote!

My daughter Kimbo taught a lesson at church a few weeks ago entitled “One Day More.”  She posed the question: “What would you do if you only had one day to live?”  This hit home because I have been thinking a lot lately about my actions, reactions, and thoughts.  After her lesson, I asked myself if my actions are the same now that I have been given more time since my Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) diagnosis in May 2012.  TNBC is very aggressive and has a poor prognosis compared to other types of breast cancer.  A large percentage of people with TNBC have a re-occurrence within the first three years.  I just passed my six year mark of being declared NED (No evidence of disease) and my doctors at Duke consider me one of their success stories.  Yes … I have been granted more time for the second time in my life … the first was in 1964 when I had to have an emergency “Venous Cutdown” after after a surgical procedure because I was hemorrhaging and in shock!

We know death is inevitable … we just don’t know when it’s our turn.  This is one thing in life that affects each one of us … whether we are rich, poor, gay, straight, Christian, Atheist, black or white … in the end, none of us survive in this life.  If we lived everyday with this in mind, I believe it would change our actions, reactions, and thoughts. I know that every moment counts … but I still need to remind myself every once in a while that the small stuff really doesn’t matter.

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Let me ask a few questions… If you knew that it was the last time you would ever speak to your friend, relative, or neighbor, would you change the conversation? If you knew you’d be seeing them for the last time, how would you feel? How would you interact with them? Would you grumble, complain, criticize, hold grudges, have a chip on your shoulder?  Would you gossip about others? Would a big car, a nice house, a high-paying job, a cool computer, the newest iPhone, or nice clothes really matter?  I’m not saying they aren’t important … but just ask yourself if they would matter on your last day on earth.

If you were going to die tomorrow, how would that change things for you? Would you let go of the petty stuff you hold on to? Would your priorities change? Would your thoughts change?

What would matter to you? I know what would matter to me!  If I knew it was my last day to be alive (and it could be!) I would cherish every moment.  I would love my family and friends and take time to be with them.  I would live in the moment and enjoy life to the fullest. I wouldn’t waste a moment worrying about things that are out of my control.  I would just appreciate the moments I have been given.  That is what I’ve tried my best to do since May 19, 2012.

When was the last time you told your family and friends that you love them, or spent quality time with them? If you are going to die tomorrow and you are given just one phone call, who would you call and what would you say? … What are you waiting for? … Go call them now! (I do not mean text them either!)

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I challenge you to live like every second is your last. Life is already too short, there is no need to waste our precious time. Live, love, appreciate, and be in the moment. Let go of all the negative thoughts, grudges, hate, gossip, and worry because after all, if it was your last day, those things would not matter. So… make time for the things that do matter. If you give your best effort to live this way, you will be happy.

This life that you have been granted by a loving Heavenly Father is a gift.  A gift to be cherished.  Enjoy it now … to the fullest.  Do what matters now! Live every day like it will be your very last! Didn’t someone make a hit song about that?

Just saying ….

Hope Makes a Difference

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I have been told over and over in my life that “information is power” … maybe so, but I firmly believe that there is power in Hope!

Let’s go back in history for a moment.  On December 17, 1927, the USS S-4 submarine was conducting routine drills off the coast of Massachusetts and attempting to resurface when it smashed into a U.S. Coast Guard destroyer. According to Wikipedia: The sub sank immediately, and drowned 34 of the 40 men on board. Six men in the forward torpedo room survived and communicated with divers by tapping in Morse code on the sub’s hull, but severe weather delayed the rescue and the trapped survivors died after three days.

From this torpedo room the trapped men did their best to communicate with anyone that would be able to help them.  While crews worked diligently on the surface to free the sailors from their underwater prison, divers were sent into the water to see what options they had.  While underwater, one of the divers heard tapping that was determined to be Morse code.  The sailors inside the torpedo room kept repeating the same question, “Is… there… any…hope…?”

For the men in that torpedo room on that submarine, hope was the difference between life and death.  They hoped to be rescued.  Hope is the only thing that is stronger than fear!  Quoting Dieter F. Uchtdorf: “Hope is like the beam of sunlight rising up and above the horizon of our present circumstances.  It pierces the darkness with a brilliant dawn.”

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Throughout my life Hope has given me the power to keep moving, to fight another day, and to put one foot in front of the other.  Hope has always given me a quiet assurance that my circumstances can and will change.  We need to be positive and remember that anyone without hope lives in defeat.

Look at your life … I look at my life quite often!  By looking we will see that hope has the power to change everything.  It may not be the difference between life and death, as it was for the sailors on the submarine, but the outcomes of our decisions drastically alter our future.

When I think about hope I always think of the words from Jim Valvano at the very first ESPYs in 1993, when he received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.  Last month as my family was leaving NC Special Olympic Village on NC State’s Campus, in the dark I walked past a life size statue of Jim Valvano.  I immediately asked my son to take a photo of me and Jim.  It was a good teaching moment for two of my grandchildren when they me asked who was “that man.”

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I have never been a NC State fan … but I am definitely a Jim Valvano fan.  His words of Hope carried me through my Triple Negative Breast Cancer treatments six years ago.  I know I have recited this to you many times … but it is definitely worth repeating:

“When people say to me how do you get through life or each day, it’s the same thing. To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special. ….. It’s so important to know where you are. I know where I am right now. How do you go from where you are to where you want to be? I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal. You have to be willing to work for it. ….. I urge all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. To spend each day with some laughter and some thought, to get your emotions going. To be enthusiastic every day and as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Nothing great could be accomplished without enthusiasm,” to keep your dreams alive in spite of problems whatever you have. The ability to be able to work hard for your dreams to come true, to become a reality. ….. My motto is, “Don’t give up . . . don’t ever give up.” And that’s what I’m going to try to do every minute that I have left. I will thank God for the day and the moment I have. If you see me, smile and maybe give me a hug. That’s important to me too. … I know, I gotta go, I gotta go; and I got one last thing, and I said it before, and I’m gonna say it again. ….. Cancer can take away all my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.”

No wiser nor profound words ever spoken.  When we have hope we see a different future for ourselves … one where our problems, issues and failings are not the leading headlines in our lives.  But we must remember that hope requires us to be patient and let our loving Heavenly Father work out the details of our circumstances.

I love the words of President Russell M. Nelson from a devotion he gave at BYU.  He said: “If we will cling to the anchor of hope, it will be our safeguard forever.”  I love that word: FOREVER!

So, let me ask the question:  What can having hope do for you? From my years of experience, I believe I have the answer!  Hope shines its brightest when you are looking for the light at the end of a tunnel of despair. 

Hope will motivate you when you are discouraged and feel lost.  Hope helps you endure hardship when you feel that no one cares.  Hope helps you climb the mountains of adversity when no one seems to be helping. Hope will energize you when you are tired and feel you can’t go on.  I am so thankful that I have allowed hope to guide me each day of my journey here on earth. I can never thank those in my life who shared their hope with me and kept me optimistic. Now it’s time for you to give Hope a place in your life.  It’s worth it!

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Hope is a force that’s wild and free. It can’t be contained; it can’t be explained. When things are at their darkest, remember that hope is at its strongest. Never underestimate the power of hope.

Just saying …

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Advice to my Younger Self

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It has been a long time since my last blog post. I’ve been busy enjoying life, but I’m certainly ready to return to blogging! A special thanks to all the folks that have encouraged me to get back to my blog (mainly you Brother “A”).

I have had ideas to blog about, but I was never around a computer when those thoughts came to me… and I refuse to type a blog on my small iPhone keyboard. Trust me… you wouldn’t be able to read it! Unfortunately, by the time I got in front of a computer, the thoughts had vanished… blame it on OLD AGE! But this topic has made its way from my brain, to the computer, and now to your device! Here we go…

We all have had at least one event in our lives that caused an awakening of sorts… a point where you begin to see what really matters most in your life. This has happened six times in my life: my father’s suicide, my mother’s death, my husband’s cancer diagnosis and death, my younger sister’s death just two years ago, and my own Triple Negative Breast Cancer diagnosis six years ago last month. Each of these events profoundly changed my life. They forced me to assess my life to see where I succeeded, where I failed, and what opportunities I missed. It forced me to define what I loved and what changes I needed in my life. From this, I would make a new plan for the rest of my life. I believe I am now on “Plan G!”

While driving home from Wilmington last Sunday night, I began thinking about my life and where I thought I was headed. I thought that if I could go back in time, I would pay more attention to some of the real-life advice my mother had given me. My mom did not have the best life, but she made a difference in the lives of many. Growing up, she would repeat things over and over again… but like any other kid, I never took them seriously! But now that I am older, I realize the value in all that advice she gave me. It provided guidance for my ever-changing life. So, as I drove home, I considered three pieces of advice my mother gave to me that had the biggest impact on my life. And now I can share it with my grandchildren… and you!

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1. Believe in Yourself – The best advice my mother gave me was to not let other’s opinions about me change who I am… but to believe in myself. Oh my gosh… as I left the house I would hear her say, “Remember who you are and what you stand for!” … then she would always add “a daughter of God!” And now my kids have heard me say that thousands of times too! She stressed that it doesn’t matter what others think of you… it’s what you think of yourself that really matters. People’s opinions should never matter in who you believe you are as long as you carry yourself with high morals, respect, and good character. Everyone encounters highs and lows… but these things do not last forever. I have learned that by believing in myself, I can enjoy the peaks, pull myself out of the low valleys, and keep moving forward. Everyone has regrets. But along with believing in myself, my mom reminded me that “who you are today does not define you forever.” That advice alone has carried me through life and helped me believe in myself. Every day is an opportunity to be better than the day before. Some of the best advice I’ve heard is from a speech by Jeffrey R. Holland.  He said:  “God is eagerly waiting for the chance to answer your prayers and fulfill your dreams … just as He always has.  But He can’t if you don’t pray, and He can’t if you don’t dream.  In short, He can’t if you don’t believe.”

2053162. Be Respectful and Loving to Everyone – My mother always preached to look for the good in people… it is easy to find. Then she would say to let that good rub off on me. She always reminded my sisters and me to be kind, be empathetic, be compassionate… and then she would say: “be strong in your conviction—stand up for what is good in the world.” How many times have I heard her say… “Be in the world, but not of the world!” She must have known what the world would be like now that I’m grown. She loved to quote the Bible too. “Do unto others as you would like them to do to you!” Her message was to always show love and respect to everyone who comes into your life no matter their circumstance. We are all human. We all bleed red, and we all come from the same loving Heavenly Father. I believe my mom was the first person to ever tell me that “people will forget how you look but they’ll never forget how you made them feel!”

image3. Never Lose Hope! – I can hear her right now preaching: “Life is hard! Never give up or lose hope. And never ever underestimate the power of prayer.” My mom taught me to pray very early in life and to rely on Heavenly Father’s love, guidance, and help! That’s probably the biggest and best advice she ever gave me. My spiritual upbringing has guided me and helped me through life innumerable times. I’m definitely a believer… as I have said many times, Heavenly Father loves you… but I am definitely his favorite! I can prove it by the blessings he gives me every day.

Well, I guess I did listen to the advice given to me so many years ago! To recap: believe in yourself, be loving and respectful to all, and NEVER lose hope! Pretty good advice for any and every one. So glad my younger self listened a wee bit!

Just saying…