Confessions of a Single Mom with Cancer Entry #8

This confession could get me in trouble. And, I don’t know if this is something that is going to eventually wear off or if it is here to stay. But it’s real.

8. I’m tired of acting like I care about things I don’t really care about.

I know that might sound harsh, but the more I’m reengaged in the real world, my old world, the more I feel like this. See during chemo, I wasn’t out much. I had to protect my immune system, so even though I worked throughout, I wasn’t in nearly as many meetings or discussions with people. I was hardly allowed in public, so I wasn’t really engaged in a lot of random conversations. But now that I’m past the immune risk phase, I’m venturing out more and my schedule at work is beginning to look like it used to – back to back meetings, all day! And with all that interaction comes this reality check.

I remember having this feeling once before – like the things that used to seem important to me felt less important. That was when my dad died of lung cancer. My dad died on December 10, 1999, right before Y2K. That morning, I was on my way to Chicago from Texas with my sister to see him because we knew he was really sick, but he passed away before we got there. Like I said, it was December, so I stayed quite a while, spent the holidays there and didn’t come home until the new year. When I got back and returned to work, I remember thinking how silly and trivial things seemed to me. I’d sit in meetings and internally shake my head as others passionately debated the words to use in a communication or the event location or paper for an invite. Anything. Everything. It all seemed less important. It felt that way because at that point, I realized how precious life was and that it wasn’t promised. I understood that people and relationships, love and commitment were important. But this stuff? Not so much. It was hard. I remember wondering then if it would pass….and it did.

The feeling I have now is similar – but different. Now, it’s not just the loss of someone else that is making me feel this. In some strange way, I think it’s somewhat of a loss of myself. When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you lose something. Something within you. For some people, this is bad – they may lose hope, dreams, excitement, trust. But for me, I lost my desire to fake it. I want everything to be real. I want everything to be alive. I know some things you just have to do, but I’ve lost my flair for the perfunctory. Webster’s definition of perfunctory – used to describe something that is done without energy or enthusiasm because of habit or because it is expected.

I don’t want to do things out of habit. I want to do things out of love, excitement, passion, compassion, caring. I don’t want to do things because it’s expected. I want to do the unexpected. Surprise someone with a kind word, or smile. From the simple to the grand, I guess I want to live more vividly. And something about acting like I care about things that I don’t doesn’t feel right, good or vivid.

It feels perfunctory – from the Latin perfungi – to get through with. And that’s exactly what I don’t want to do. I don’t want to just get through with life or any part of it. I don’t want to feel that about work, about things I do with the girls, about time I spend with friends. That to me is not living. Not anymore.

Every moment actually does feel more important to me now. So even if it’s just a meeting or small talk or whatever, it feels like a moment I’ve been given back. A moment I should make the most of. I want to give 100% to each moment. So, I no longer accept the idea that you just have to do somethings. I no longer agree to just do things because I’m supposed to or it’s expected of me. I spent the first 42 years of my life doing that and I was really good at it. It’s now time to see if I’m good at this instead. This truly living life to its fullest and not wasting a single moment way.

Because even though I got over this feeling 15 years ago, I was right back then. Life is precious, unpredictable and not promised and that is NOT lost on me.

 

 

 

Confessions of a Single Mom with Cancer Entry #7

There’s this strange pressure you feel after the cancer diagnosis to figure yourself and your life out. I’m sure it’s probably universal, especially if you have a pretty good prognosis from the beginning. You immediately start thinking about life after cancer. It’s part of what I think pulls you through.

So as you’re trying to figure out what you’ll do next and differently, you’re forced to look back on what you’ve done. As I started doing that, I discovered something about how I’ve approached life that I hadn’t expected. I realized that a lot of my life – not just cancer – had just happened to me. I hadn’t necessarily made things happen. So as I think about the future, it’s becoming clear to me that:

7. I’m so much more in control of my life story than I realized.

This may sound really crazy in the midst of something I obviously had no control over. But as I sat in a meeting today, listening to some people’s stories of themselves, I realized I can do so many things and frankly, I’ve prevented myself from doing them. That’s not necessarily bad. I’ve had 3 jobs over the past 20 years. My first lasted 13 years and if the company hadn’t been bought, I’d probably still be there. I like stability, and that has served me well. But there are other things I’d like to do and probably could. Other chapters of my story.

So I had to start thinking about why I don’t or why I didn’t.

The bottom line is FEAR – in many different forms, or for many different reasons, but when it comes down to it, I’m afraid.

Afraid of failure.

Afraid of disappointing others.

Afraid of making a fool of myself.

Afraid of being unsure.

Afraid of being unstable.

Afraid I won’t be able to provide for the girls.

Afraid I’m not as smart, good, or special as I think I am.

But maybe it’s not just fear. Maybe it’s also that I’m comfortable.

Comfortable knowing I’m pretty much guaranteed continued success on this path.

Comfortable knowing that paycheck is coming on the first and the fifteenth.

Comfortable not having to get to know new people.

Comfortable not having to learn new tricks.

Comfortable feeling smart and being experienced.

Truthfully, most of the changes I’ve made in my life have been somewhat forced. So I didn’t have time or the choice to be afraid and in most cases, things had actually gotten UNcomfortable. I didn’t make them because I wanted to. I’ve changed jobs because I had to. I’ve moved because I had to.

I want to make a CHOICE to do something different. I want to CHOOSE a new venture or company, even though I’m secure in my current one. Instead of reacting to what life has handed me, I want to pick my cards and make my hand. I’ve been blessed because the hand I’ve been dealt has been a good one. But imagine how much better it could be if I was driving it – with a little bit of faith. And yes, it could go bad too – but being able to accept more RISK in my life is important. Maybe I’m ready, because the last six months have been a lot about the RISK of recurrence and reducing it, but also accepting, there’s going to be some level of RISK! What I hope is to increase my ability to accept it in my life choices too.

I believe there’s a freedom pass for me, right now, in the midst of this, and it won’t last forever. I believe everyone can accept my need to make different choices for myself. I believe nothing seems that scary right now as I begin to put this behind me. I believe I deserve to live a full, unconstrained life. I believe it’s time to be uncomfortable and ignore my fears. I believe it’s time to be more trusting and have greater faith.

I believe it’s my turn to start making choices and writing my own story. Today. It’s time.

Confessions of a Single Mom with Cancer Entry #6

I have to admit, I’m really embarrassed to confess this one. But it’s really important because it’s one of those things that although the cancer diagnosis has brought it to my attention….I’m going to have to work REALLY hard to remind myself of the lesson, once this is all behind me.

6. I’ve always been focused on my looks – not my health.

In my adult life, I have been overly concerned about my weight. I got it honest. My mom’s been on a diet ever since I met her. So the minute I started putting on some extra pounds, sitting around in corporate America, I jumped into the extensive list of weight loss remedies. And over the years, I’ve probably done them all. I tried to put together a list of the diets I’ve been on and I’m just hoping I didn’t miss anything. Here we go:

Quick Weight Loss

Weight Watchers

The Lemonade Diet (back when Beyoncé was in high school)

3-Day Beets Diet

HCG

Nutri-system

SlimFast

The Cabbage Soup Diet

The 3-Day Diet

Apple Cider Vinegar Diet (now that’s desperate)

Atkins

Detoxing

Juicing

The Daniel Fast

And don’t get me started on the exercise list:

Beachbody

P-90X

Insanity

T-25

Tae Bo

A Marathon (yes 1)

Spin Classes

A personal trainer

Private Workout Circuit training (like Curves but not)

24 Hour Fitness Gym Membership

Yoga

Many of these are not inherently bad for you. Some of these are really great for you and wonderful for your health. But I’m admitting I never did any of them FOR my health. I did all of them for my dress size. So many times, I was trying to lose weight for the next girls trip or a reunion or a big event. Never did I stop and say – your weight is unhealthy and could lead to significant health issues. Nor did I think about the damage yo-yo dieting and my fluctuating weight could do. I didn’t think about how eating healthier could make me healthier. I only cared if it would make me skinny.

All of this from a woman who most people would never have considered overweight. I have thought, now, that some of that ridiculous dieting could have had some influence on my current situation. Not that any one of them caused the cancer, but any one of them could have impacted my body environment that was already prone to cancer. I also realize that changing my eating habits for life versus until I was the right size definitely could have had a positive impact on my situation and ultimately my health.

And even though I now recognize how ridiculous it was that I was so focused on wanting that magic pill to make me the size I wanted to be. I found myself jealous when I saw a girlfriend the other day who looks great and when I asked her what had she been doing her response was starving herself.

I was jealous, because what so many people don’t know is that most women on breast cancer treatments gain weight. The steroids and other drugs cause you to retain water, reduce your metabolism and increase your appetite. On top of that, you’re fatigued and probably don’t feel like working out and if your stomach is queasy, all you really want to eat is a loaf of bread…every day! So the treatment to save my life has put on some significant pounds.

I shouldn’t care about that, but this confession is real. I’ve been more concerned about my looks than my health and I’m still struggling with that now. I know I need to change the way I eat now – not to be thin but to promote an environment where cancer cannot thrive and return. Things like starving myself and eating beets for 3 days straight might help me lose weight but they won’t help me live longer.

I have to completely change my mindset about what food means to me. For me, this is life or death. This is no longer a choice or something I can wait around and take care of when that big trip is just 6 weeks away. I have to do it now and I have to do it forever. That sounds scary and hard, but so did chemotherapy and I did that. So did radiation and I’m doing that. I thank God neither one of them were forever, and what I know is that I never want to do them again.

So I’ll change my mind about food, health, exercise, stress. Because I can. Because I’m still here. But I’m not going to act like it won’t be hard. So I’ve confessed it now. Keep me honest.

 

Confessions of a Single Mom with Cancer Entry #5

I don’t know if I’m alone in this or not, but it’s not really nice. So I’m just going to go ahead and say it, I’ve always thought my daughter had a sort of annoying personality. She’s really excitable and over the top about everything. She has to be the center of attention. Loud. Goofy. Unfocused. And I’m not going to lie – I can get easily annoyed with that personality. And rightfully so, if she was 25, 30, 35. But she’s 10! What was wrong with me? The truth is, I think it was more about me.

5. I’m projecting my own insecurities onto my daughter.

I’ve been using this adult gauge to judge and measure my daughter. She’s SUPPOSED to be all those things – loud, easily excited, goofy. It may not even really be her personality. Some of it may just be attributed to BEING A KID! She’s still searching for who she is and what she will be like. Of course she is. So am I! But I’ve been acting like she should have already arrived. How unfair. And it took me 10 years and cancer to realize it.

I now recognize that I actually get uncomfortable sometimes thinking about how she appears to others. Does she seem well parented, well disciplined, smart, polite, dressed well, clean? That’s all about me. I’m really thinking about what others think about me as a person and a parent, not her as a child.

I think about what she wears and how it looks – not if she’s comfortable and how it makes her feel about herself.

I worry about if other kids like her or not or if she’s difficult to be friends with. And some of that could be valid, but it’s still not about how she feels. It’s about how I feel cause she’s never once come home saying she doesn’t have any friends and nobody likes her.

My daughter is not insecure and somehow hasn’t been programmed to even care that much about what people think about her, which is a gift. So why am I practically teaching her to burden herself with these thoughts and concerns?

Today as I watched her on the volleyball court, I saw an excited, sort of uncoordinated, overly dramatic, loud 10 year old flailing around the court. For the first time, I didn’t wish she’d act differently. For the first time, when she looked back at me, instead of giving her the look to settle down and chill out, I smiled at her and encouraged her excitement.

Despite me, my daughter wants to enjoy her childhood, which she deserves. She wants to not be perfect and worried about how people perceive her. She wants to be loud and snort occasionally. I’m not sure when I stopped celebrating who she was as an individual or enjoying her childhood with her, but I’m happy to say I started again today.

Confessions of a Single Mom with Cancer Entry #3

I’m just going to get right to the point on this confession.

3. I don’t spend enough time with my kids.

I know a lot of people don’t like to talk about this one, cause often times there isn’t a good solution to the problem. But if you don’t face it you’re not even going to try to improve it.

I hadn’t faced it until it was thrown in my face. During this cancer journey, I’ve had the luxury of being home more and spending more time with my kids. And even though there were times I wasn’t feeling so great, I learned Me at less than 100%, 90%,70% vs. No Me – is better for them. For us.

With my busy, full time job, I spend very little time with my kids during the week. Let’s do the math.

Mornings!

They get up at 6 am and we’re out the door at 7:30, so 1.5 hours every morning. And that clearly can’t be considered ‘quality time’. Most of it is spent rushing them around, getting them ready, fixing lunches and breakfast and finding out about things that should have been done the night before. It may just be my house, but the mornings are more like a little hurricane than a trip to the park.

Evenings!

On regular days I get home between 6-6:30 pm. Bedtime’s at 8:30 if we’re lucky, so 9 at the latest. So I get 2-3 hours with them after school.

Daily Total!

Anywhere between 3.5-4.5 hours altogether. Unfortunately my job requires at least 2 evening events a week. On those nights I may be home by 8 pm or 11 pm. Either way, I hardly get any evening time with the girls those days and only a total of 1.5 hours of their 14 hour (minus sleeping) day.

Weekly Total!

At that rate, on an average week, I spend a total of 15 hours a week with them. Sometimes, I spend that much time with my employees in one day. Am I raising employees or my children? Yes, I know I get the weekends, but as a single mom, we don’t even get all of those!

There are a lot of issues with this situation.

~Who are my kids with during the other 10 hours of the day? At school, in the after school program, with the sitter, at activities. Do I believe the messages they’re being sent support the way I’m trying to raise them? Are they being poured into with love and positivity, appropriate discipline, learning and health. Not always. I know that.

~I find the more time I spend with my kids, the better people they are. They are nicer to each other. We share more love, smiles and hugs. It’s not because I’m perfect. It’s because I’m what they need. I’m who fills their spirit up. That’s important to acknowledge and therefore try to impact.

~Some people will argue it’s about ‘quality’ not ‘quantity’. You don’t get quality time when you have NO time. Quality time defines HOW the time is spent, so it has to start with TIME!

As my cancer treatments are coming to an end, I have some choices to make. I already see people trying to pile on the night events and travel. I have to set boundaries for myself and my family. Even something as simple as committing to only one night event a week and max 3 for the month. And sticking to it! I have to take a long hard look at how I can build more flexibility into my work schedule and ask for it if necessary. If it’s not possible, I may need to start thinking about if it’s time for a more drastic change.

We can’t make more time. That’s a fact  – One a cancer diagnosis will throw in your face, even with an outstanding and blessed prognosis. We can be better with our time. We can be more impactful with our time.

And we have to face it and try. Being present is critical. Again, will my kids turn out ‘ok’ with our existing schedule and chaoticness. Yes. But like I said before OK is not good enough for them or me. Anymore.

Happy Father’s Day Single Working Moms!

Maybe it’s a little strange to be starting a mom’s blog on father’s day, but, then again maybe it’s not. I think it may be the perfect day to start offering tips and techniques to single working mom’s everywhere who are working hard to do it all. So, here we go…

The Single Mom’s Guide to Leaning In was inspired in part by Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. The book got a lot of attention. Probably because Sheryl Sandberg happens to be the COO of Facebook but I believe also because women crave information about how to be better, do more, succeed and achieve for the benefit of our families. We want to know what we need to do to be our best and it’s usually not even for us, but for those we love and care for everyday. I enjoyed the book and could definitely relate to many of the experiences Sandberg highlighted as she gave ideas to women who are trying to break through the glass ceiling at work and find their way into boardrooms and corner offices.

But something struck me in Sandberg’s book, something I’d heard before and we’ve all heard before. That thank you statement to her husband, Dave. The one that says, ‘for making everything possible’. Hmmmm….really? Was everything not possible without Dave?Could Sheryl Sandberg really not have become the COO of Facebook and a satisfied mother of 2 children without Dave?

Now this is not a criticism – I bet Dave is a great guy and an outstanding partner. It definitely seemed that way from the stories Sandberg shared in her book. But what does this mean to me a hardworking single mom trying to get the most out of her education, career, passion and commitment too? Does it mean that it’s not possible for me or any other single mom because I don’t have a Dave?

I believe too many of us may believe this. We believe that there’s no way to become the COO, CEO, President or Executive Director of a Fortune 500 company, big business or organization- unless we have a Dave. But, I think you’re wrong. I think it takes work, tricks, techniques, ideas, planning, creativity and perseverance. But I think even we, single moms, can make everything possible.

With 30% of families with children being led by a single parent and 85% of those parents being moms. We better find a way or make a way to make it possible!

I want to help you. I want to help make your dreams, plans, career ambitions and overall happiness come true. This blog is for single mom’s like me – with big jobs, big dreams, deserving kids and a lot of hope. It will give you applicable tools, techniques and tips on how to lean in at work and at home. The goal is to help you soar in the work place and achieve your goals while still providing the loving and balanced home I know you want to give your kids.

Now, this was just an introduction to what we’re going to do here. The rest of this blog will be something you can use. I’ll give examples of ways I’ve made my life easier and more effective a couple times a week, but everyday I’ll give a Single Mom’s Lean In! Tip of the Day! I want single mom’s everywhere to comment, give suggestions and speak up. This is our chance to help one another.

And maybe one day you’ll be on a stage or write a book and when you give your thank you’s, you’ll say, “To The Single Mom’s Guide to Leaning In – thanks for making everything possible!”

Happy Father’s Day – Single Moms!