Author, Speaker and Entrepreneur

Author, Speaker and Entrepreneur
Valerie Anne Burns

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Holiday Firestorm

   
     
     The familiar holiday decorations are up in downtown Santa Barbara, but their glow has been dimmed not only from smoke and ash, but a collective sadness from the town's inhabitants. The streets are empty of happy shoppers and tourists visiting paradise. I've been aware for some time that paradise is relative. A seven-year drought may present sunny blue skies giving the impression of perfection, but no nourishment for its vegetation and wildlife presents dire results.
     Beginning on Dec 5th, I was sequestered for five days in my small space while the Thomas fire raged nearby. I took the advice of keeping windows shut, and wearing a mask outside. For the first time in my life, I walked around running errands with a mask secured to my face. As I observed my fellow SB residents, a few without sunglasses revealing panicked eyes darting about, I felt the impact of an emergency situation. I'm sure my own eyes were a combination of fear and despair, although one of my eyes was bright red from a broken blood vessel after an ash particle made its way in. To notice everyone in masks while smoke suffocates Santa Barbara and ash falls like snow; Armageddon comes to mind. Millions of ash specks containing fragments of trees, homes and personal belongings; animals who couldn't escape, all blanketing hundreds of thousands of acres from Ventura to Santa Barbara. It's so overwhelming and brings up feelings of helplessness.
     What have we done to our environment? Climate change has given us warning signs, but it's always easier for many Americans to wear blinders and jump in their gas guzzling SUVs. I've been an activist for the environment and protection of our wildlife for more than thirty-years. We are fortunate to have driven people and organizations around the world devoted to the cause. It's a speeding train though. This last year severe hurricanes crashing in anger, as well as fierce fires have destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres; taking out homes and killing people and animals are gargantuan flashing warning signs! As our masks run across our faces, the White House is too busy serving the rich and corporate polluters to take strong action.
     Everyone talks about keeping those prayers going whenever a natural disaster occurs. It drives me to madness. I respond by saying, 'sure, keep the prayers going but it's crucial to take action'. I'd prefer to see a post response to the various natural disasters about a petition that was signed, representatives that were called; exhibiting dedication they have to their part in healing the planet. The irony is that a divine power created our planet in the most intricately and astoundingly beautiful way, and it's human hand that's destroyed it. I can't imagine a better way to honor victims of a natural disaster and the Divine Creator than making the care of our planet a priority.
     The Thomas fire has cost well over a 150 million dollars, and more than eight thousand firefighters working to put it out. Staggering. If great strides had been taken and government funds toward reversing climate change began decades ago, the strain of state and federal funds for the multiple disasters occurring would be better spent. But this would be challenging for the short sighted greedy people of power to look at the big picture. Initiating a long term plan for the health of our planet and all that thrive here seems like the most logical and smart action to me and the majority of others living and breathing on earth. But it's too much to ask of narrow minded talking heads abusing power. We need brilliant thinkers and progressive visionaries in seats of power.
     Through the generosity of a good friend, I drove north a hundred miles to San Luis Obispo with my red eye and migraine. When power began to go out in my little place and I no longer had a fan or air filter to keep some form of air flowing, I felt like a trapped animal. Stress increased and claustrophobia took over. All my doctors tell me I need to heal and PTSD is common for all I went through during a four-year breast cancer journey. I could feel myself becoming triggered and there was no air to breathe. It took my friend saying, "Get out" before I realized the intensity of the situation. But I felt guilty leaving. I worry about everyone dealing with the fire, animals that can't be saved, the glorious Santa Barbara mountains and hills, landscape, and majestic trees.
     I returned home December 15th where black ash floated and a gloom covered the town and people. I was sealed in and when I woke the following morning and walked to my little living room with a big picture window, Dorothy of Kansas came to mind. There was a fast rushing of smoke flying by at 40 mph. I stared, trying to wrap my head around what I was seeing. I was barely awake and hadn't had strong black tea or espresso yet. Was it brown fog? No, it was smoke and the winds had picked up to 65 mph in the hills while I was sleeping creating an extreme turn for the already fierce fire. I was terrified.
     Everything in town was cancelled. My volunteer duty that day for State Street Ballet's performance was shut down when the Granada theater was on possible evacuation. Further mandatory evacuations went into effect and all of us were on voluntary evacuation. No one could say where the fire would go next. And, hazardous air was unavoidable. Anxiety was palpable. Because of a longtime friend I met at college (fashion institute) seeing my posts and fire worsening, she contacted me from the east coast wanting to see me safe. She and her daughter funded my second departure. I left again for the same welcoming Lodge in SLO the following day with my mask, migraine, blood shot eyes, and broken heart. My small white car was black with ash and soot. I went to a drive through car wash so I could cleanse the blackness before racing to 101 North. When I came out, a fire truck was in front of me. I drove by, stopped and looked up to the fireman behind the wheel. I put my window down and said, "thank you". He nodded with a "you're welcome". I closed my window to keep the flying ash from joining the accumulated ash inside my car for several days, and began my exodus as I broke out in tears.
     Fifteen days later and the fire is only 50% contained. Firefighters sense some control now, but not expected to be fully contained until January 7th. Dry sundowner winds are expected this evening through tomorrow. There's no rain in sight to assist the fire fighters and rinse away the black rage of this relentless fire. Holidays are getting close but a bright celebration of joy feels odd.
     Our brave firefighters and emergency workers are my sparkling moments of gratitude and beauty in the face of a monstrous fire and fear. I think Christmas is about warmth and connection. I feel so incredibly blessed to be deeply connected to my awe-inspiring and generous friends; to all involved in fighting the fire and to my valiant community of Santa Barbara. I will make efforts to stay grounded and smile with a warm hello to everyone I come across in local businesses, whomever I pass in the street, and thank our heroic firefighters every chance I get. The holidays seem surreal in the face of all this devastation, but I'll find holiday spirit to share where I can.

Keep on swimming through life,
Valerie

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A Need for Breath and Breeze



A Need for Breath and Breeze

(Formerly "Breeze Bliss"-Re-written and updated for the times)

     
     I don't know about you, but I have to remind myself to take deep breaths since I gasp for breath in these stressful times. While 'trying' to heal from a long all-consuming breast cancer path, I have to deal with Trump only adding to my anxiety and PTSD. It's not in my nature to stand by and simply watch the disgrace, and battle for the soul of this country - I sign petitions, call my representatives, while observing all I believe in continue to spiral into the abyss. So that I don't end up in a psych ward, sit paralyzed on my sofa for eternity, I must find ways to counteract the mayhem going on in the outer and inner world.
     When I feel a nice breeze rush through my hair and brush against my face, I'm transported. A cool breeze wakes me up, and a warm breeze ignites sensual senses. A quick swirl of wind moves me to close my eyes and take it in. Autumn temperature, especially when a wind picks up and delivers rain emboldens me to feel refreshed. Let's say I yearn for that rain in what remains to be a parched Santa Barbara. I've been coming to a sudden stop during power walks to notice bold late afternoon color in the sky. We have to seek those moments of beauty to deal with what challenges us.
     It's been far too long since this mermaid has been in her beloved tropics. Swimming, sailing, and snorkeling in that pristine turquoise water would be particularly healing. It might even erase Trump's ugly orange face from my mind and provide (however briefly) a reprieve from daily abominations coming from his creepy racist mouth; ah, what a relief that would be. It would also assist healing of scars I wear outside and the internal scars that hold on like clinging barbs. I'd like to swim deep in clear warm water amongst sea creatures living life as they're created to be - I am more than weary of human creatures in the White House and elsewhere acting opposite of living life in divine creation. I need to balance my restless and tattered soul in lapping waves.
     It's time to feel a strong, balmy breeze all around me while the sun sinks into the blue. It never fails to give me the sense that all will be well. When I was a teenager living on Key Biscayne, out at night on my bike, or meeting friends at a deck bar right on the sand as waves softly rolled toward us, I'd drift into a calm state. After dark, the T-shirt, shorts, and flip flops worn during the day transitioned into night. Even if it became cool enough for a sweater, those breezes blew in a tropical manner. And the scent of clean salt water, along with tropical blossom filled the night air as the moon rose over a darker shimmering blue.
     The temperate breeze and sea is a part of me, running through cell and bone. When I visit the tropics after moving to California decades ago, the stirring sensation is reignited in me. I no longer favor the hot humid summer days I can barely withstand, but the comfortable balmy air is lovely forever. I especially recall the beauty of being in the Bahamas, and sitting at the bar during sunset for the daily tropical cocktail. The bar held a cross-breeze that was perfectly positioned for patrons to be embraced by the velvety winds. I closed my eyes, willing myself to freeze frame this intoxicating feeling.
     A similar moment to hold in my recall senses, was during a stay in Honolulu Hawaii. On one of my trips there, I flew in the early morning hours, and due to the time difference, was sitting with my friend by noon on the patio at the Halekulani. Jet lagged and exhausted, I was revived in an instant. The Hawaiian trade winds carried me through lunch to the beach below where I dove in gorgeous water, still warmed by the sultry breeze on my skin. At night, blowing through the sheer curtains, that same breeze lulled me to sleep.
     Until I find myself in the tropics again, I'll be aware of Santa Barbara's autumn breeze and take deep breaths to clear my mind and visualize what brings peace. The winter brings rain that washes away dust and provides water for a thirsty earth. The days become a breathtaking crystal clear. Crisp, clean air energizes the spirit, and we all need our spirits continually reignited.
     When you experience moments that blissfully transport you and ignite all your senses, close your eyes and take it in, telling yourself, "I will remember this." When I've gone through the toughest struggles, I pause, gently shut my eyes and envision a euphoric experience. It's been especially helpful to everything from simple daily challenge to the times I would lay on a gurney frightened before surgery, or the continued challenge of getting a needle into my tired veins. Even now, when I go in for a monthly IV to boost my immune system, the nurses are aware that I check-out to envision a blissful memory that calms my nerves. My eyes are closed and I think of swimming in perfect turquoise water as a warm breeze encircles me. What exhilarating memory do you possess that would have the ability to carry you to a tranquil and beautiful space?



Keep on swimming through life,
Valerie

Sunday, October 29, 2017


Everything Happens for a Reason?



     Rumi's quotes have a way of being especially profound to me. He is a beloved figure for good reason. Although he was a poet, mystic, and scholar five hundred years ago, his words resonate as if written today. Personally, I like the fact that he was born one day after me, September 30th. A fellow Libra born in 1207. Astounding to think how many centuries ago Rumi entered the world.
     Especially with pervasive social media, there are many phrases and quotes, often from someone you've never heard of, thrown around and posted these days. I don't believe there's absolutes. I also don't believe in phrases for convenience to discount raw truth and honest feelings. Maybe there's some truth to the law of attraction. But it's not gospel. If it was, I challenge anyone to explain a two year old with brain cancer, a nine year old with leukemia, or innocent people being on the receiving end of abuse. Young children are still in the fantasy side of their brain missing the rational side to even have the capacity for 'law of attraction'. Did they attract illness and pain into their sweetly innocent lives? No. When I think of the torture I went through; indescribable pain from surgeries and assault to the body that rolls into humiliation - to my veins not working any longer, I shudder at the thought of any child (anyone young or old) going through that. Never, would I dare to say an insensitive statement as, "it was meant to be". It happens and acceptance is what we strive for.

You left ground and sky weeping, mind and soul full of grief. No one can take your place in existence or in absence.” Rumi

     A few years back, I saw a movie that was based on a true story. It was probably during surgery recovery number three. The main character had gone through the loss of a baby and later her husband was kidnapped for ransom in a foreign country. I'll never forget what the character says when the authorities are interviewing her, "I use to believe that everything happens for a reason, now I believe things just happen." This resonated with me and quite honestly took a layer of heavy guilt off my shoulders. I had people ask me what I did to attract cancer in my life? I had one woman who'd never met me before, and was a guest in a woman's circle I was a member of ask me, 'what contract did I sign with the Universe to bring cancer in my life'? I took my exit. I got in my car and drove home. It was a better option than going off on this woman. May I just say, no one going through a severely challenging and life threatening ordeal wants to hear that. A close friend of mine told me that the next time I heard someone say something similar to very clearly tell them to, "fuck off."
     What are we to think of the disastrous situation of our country? Did the racists who came out of the shadows feeling they finally had a voice with Trump attract him into the White House? I feel like the country is falling into a dark shameful hole and no matter how many times I sign petitions or call my representatives, Trump and his complicit cronies don't disappear. Not only do they not disappear, their destruction increases daily. I feel like I'm chasing a speeding train intent on destroying the environment, wildlife, women's rights, racial rights; not to mention the lack of acknowledging the need for strict gun laws. Is this disgrace and annihilation meant to be? Once the Impostor's out, it will take years to undo the disastrous effects to citizens, our health, the air and water; position ourselves as a progressive nation in the world again. Why are we attracting soulless racists running the country in 2017 hell-bent on moving us backwards at least fifty-years?  If the ugliness of a narcissistic, fraudulent man running America is happening for a reason then I search for that answer. All I can come up with is, that this Impostor is waking up a lot of people who've been otherwise complacent; uniting us to fight for a better and beautifully progressive country. We can't look away, we must face the beast.

"The moons stays bright when it doesn’t avoid the night." Rumi

     I can't avoid the night. I shine light on what's true. On a daily basis, I deal with chronic pain and fatigue. I've fought my way through cancer twice, but have yet to find a way to rid myself of a genetic immune disorder. I know strict routine keeps me from disappearing altogether, but it's not a joy ride. I often experience an isolating and lonely path. There is a Wonder Woman in me that pushes my life forward. After my eighth surgery and recovering at home, I received a sweet card from a friend of forty-years. We've seen each other through every imaginable life occurrence and all the milestones. I called to thank her for the meaningful card that made me cry. My scars inside and out felt as though they were lit up by fluorescent light. In extreme vulnerability, I knew if I was out in public, everyone would know! My friend asked if I noticed my picture on the stamp. I turned over the envelope and it was Wonder Woman peering out from the postage. It buoyed me to believe I have resilience and noticeable chutzpah.


"The wound is the place where the Light enters you." Rumi

     I power walk, stare at my beautiful orchid, hug my doggy friend tight but it doesn't fully erase my anxiety or hurt; or wondering if I can get back on track to believe again in my visions manifesting. Nor does it completely erase anger and worry for my country and fellow citizens. However, I notice beauty even in the most ordinary and simple ways. It's a saving grace. Today, at the hint of daylight, it was hearing the first anxious bird singing hello to the morning. We must find our ways to feel peace while healing ourselves and our planet. This country is in turmoil and determined destruction worsens. A small effort counts for a lot. I call my representatives and sign petitions. I respect my environment and never abuse or overuse natural resources. I connect with cherished friends who give a damn about many things, including me. I love being allowed to be my irreverent self. Laughter is an extraordinary upper in the midst of such disgrace and discourse taking place in Washington. Taking action lifts the spirit. We have to remember how we've been shown over and over that one person taking action for good has created enormous change.
     Staying connected to love and standing up for my values propels me to live to fight another day, to rest another day, to enjoy the autumn breeze, to be aware of what people care about; to stare at the hawk flying above me high in the sky; to know that each breath is a gift; the intricately designed nature of our planet keeps us moving through the world from sun up to the bright moon rising in a dark sky.
     I don't know that everything happens for a reason. I don't know why some of the kindest people on our planet go through excruciating experiences while some not-so-kind people escape the wrath. I don't know what it's like to pass to the other side. I do know genetics and environment play a part in health. I don't know law of attraction fits every life occurrence, but do believe many things in life are simply a mystery and random acts do occur. I do know for myself that creating balance in life, staying open to sweet surprises, working daily at letting go of hurt; and marveling at the miracles of nature keeps me grounded and focused on being one with spiritual light - searching for that place in me that Rumi came to understand where I know that 'I am not a drop in the ocean, I am the entire ocean in a drop' is a spiritual goal I'll hold close.


Keep on swimming through life,
Valerie

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Tricky Despair and a Full Moon Over the Ocean

   
     When 11:00 a.m. arrives on a Sunday, I do what I can to be in my car and listen to "The Moth"  NPR (88.7) out of LA. A few weeks ago, I caught a personal story by a man who was bright, ironic and spoke about what I feel to be true; much of what I write about in my book and blog. I'm sure it was serendipitous to hear his story. I'm a big fan of 'speaking stories', and after having the privilege of being selected to perform one of my own personal stories for a local 'speaking stories' event, I hope to do it again. It's both cathartic and exhilarating.
     While the storyteller's personal tale on "The Moth" was different than mine, he does speak about the significance of specific beautiful moments that make life worth living. He was close to committing suicide on a beach in Southern California when he was in his twenties. This would later bring him to pursuing a position at a suicide hotline center in NYC. Had the director known he'd attempted to take his own life, he wouldn't have been able to work there. His description of the director and the plain, no-nonsense center was amusing. His sweet sarcasm tugged at my heart. I'm also a champion of witty sarcasm. I can't help myself; it's a devoted love of smart humor.
     The storyteller describes how he was sitting in his car on that fateful night drinking Tequila and working up the courage to do the act. He then explains that he's not the kind of man that can drink hard without much effect. It was the fact that he got sick from being a lightweight, when it comes to drinking, that ended up saving his precious life. He got out of his car, a mess, and decided to take a last swim in the ocean to clean himself up.
     But he found himself immersed in the sea on a warm night with a full moon lighting his way. He was overwhelmed by the beauty that surrounded him. He was gently caressed by salty water and the sound of waves. While staring at a powerfully magnificent moon, he knew that he would never attempt suicide again. He said that life is about taking in and appreciating those extraordinary times. He added that life gets hard again, but another glorious instance comes your way making it all worth it. He repeated that a remarkably breathtaking occurrence surprises you and life is good again.
     I agree, and is ultimately the reason I'm writing my book and blogging. It is about moving through life with the intention of keeping our eyes open to be swept away in an exquisite experience. Embrace it, and remember the encounter so you can recall it when hardship appears to be never-ending. In the midst of a world (our country) in turmoil, and when turmoil falls upon our personal lives, it's possible to undergo a shift (however brief) when we're willing to open up. Heart-stirring observations in nature can ignite all our senses creating a feeling of being fully present and alive. A spectacular visual, sensual scent, touch; and racing heart sensations are all memorable adventures.
     When I set out to write, I made a promise to myself to speak raw honest words, even if it would result in risk of humiliating vulnerability, judgment, and/or criticism. In full disclosure, I've recently been in paralyzing despair. Depression is a trickster, visiting me in waves. I've surrendered and refrain from fighting the swell that overtakes me. There have been a couple personal matters that have been a hard hit to my heart. It's especially so since there was an exciting opportunity that built me up high only to have a further fall when it fell apart. I hadn't felt that elated in decades over a possibility with inspiring potential.
     I've been told that emotions and trauma bubble up after a life-threatening journey where survival and auto-pilot are daily companions encouraging you to put one foot in front of the other. There's good reason that the survival part of our brain takes over. What I've been through is further compounded by what I'm currently facing, and highlighting what is already an unclear path to make my way through.
     Now that a four-year journey, which includes the diagnosis of breast cancer, eight surgeries, and complications resulting in a brutal assault to me physically, mentally, and emotionally have passed; I'm not sure-footed or completely connected in life. The brain power to micro-manage all the details and be an advocate for myself is another sphere of exhaustion. I've been told by the professionals that emotions (PTSD) could very well catch up to me, and it has. I'm also not the same person or woman. I'm trying to figure out how to be in life again, where the flow is, where my business is after abandonment for many years, and if I will ever fit in. It becomes a vacuum of isolation and often a disconnection to the everyday activities and people when navigating life during and after cancer. Many of us meet abandonment head-on from an extended medical path few can deal with.
     I'm aware that I'm fortunate to be alive with a new chapter in front of me. I just need to take slow steps to investigate what that will be. Even when in the middle of the journey, everyone would tell me that I looked like the picture of health. I never let my organic warrior lifestyle go, but few know what a person goes through unless they've been there themselves. I know not many can grasp the health survival I was spinning from that deeply infiltrated my inner world.
     When I grew up on the island of Key Biscayne off Miami, it became a refuge of beauty for me. I lost my mother as a toddler to breast cancer, and grew up in an emotionally barren environment. Beginning when I was very young, I discovered ways to spark my heart and to feel less alone by not only hugging my cat too much, but the allure of my surroundings - A strong balmy breeze wrapping me in its velvety embrace, swimming in clear green water where I'd dive deeper like a mermaid to feel cooler water, and walking on the sugary sand at sunset when the last of the beach goers disappeared. And, of course, a full moon in Miami is indeed something to behold.
     A golden full moon resting on the ocean in Miami was an enchanting visual to store in my memory bank. Like the storyteller on "The Moth" says, to be in or by the ocean (anywhere on the planet from my perspective) when a full moon lights your way in a shimmering glow, a hurting heart and spirit can transform into peaceful bliss. There's a full moon tomorrow, September 6th. And, my personal favorite, the harvest full moon will be resting on the pacific ocean in Santa Barbara (and glowing wherever you may be) is around the corner on October 5th. Embrace it, and marvel at its beauty.


Keep on swimming through life,
Valerie
   

Monday, July 31, 2017

Possibility


Possibility


     I am fond of the word, 'possibility', and favor it over the word, 'hope'. I seek and stay open to opportunities that inspire excitement for a unique possibility down the road. Faith and hope have merged to become the perfect blossom of possibility.
     July, 2017 is the four-year mark since I was diagnosed with breast cancer and four-years that I've been on an extended journey enduring eight surgeries and complications. I can now look ahead for what is possible in this next chapter of my life. I've been on a personal path that required me to press the button for auto pilot, keep my head down, and suit up in armor for the next challenge; the next painful medical blow as they kept coming. I wasn't sure if it would end.
     Presently, I'm coming out of a heavy fog as the pain from this last and final surgery subsides, and I can clearly see that I'm at the tail end of an ordeal. I notice that colors are brighter, and a smile crosses my face in an easier manner. I'm in need of developing a stimulating and meaningful purpose. To ensure this, I'm pursuing a few healing options.
     The most important one, was to begin my first support group with women who've been on a similar path to deal with unavoidable trauma. Who has time to deal with that when you're in the thick of it and on your own? It sneaks up on you later when the auto-pilot survival button is turned off. I don't have time to waste and risk trauma showing up later and stopping me from experiencing life in joyful expansion. I want to be whole and healed in mind, body, and spirit. Admittedly, I have days where I wonder if I'll ever be the same, and know my heart may take longer to mend. I allow myself to feel the waves of sadness that hit me at unexpected times. I've lost a chunk of my life, and I'm ready to do whatever I can to embrace possibility wherever and whenever it may show up.
     There is a particular event on the horizon that could propel me into manifestation of a vivid vision I've had for many years. I'm aware that it's not only a miracle, but a gift that I'm alive today. With that said, a brave risk on any level is nothing compared to what I've been through. I now look toward the type of challenges that inspire love, purpose, creativity, evolving, and worldly adventures. 
     I have to believe in my dreams to stay connected on a planet spinning so fast in time, I pause to catch my breath. If I remain as sheltered, isolated, and disconnected as I have from facing a life-threatening journey (known for squashing dreams), I fear I will shrink and disappear. The trick is to find my way back to a reinvented life and livelihood. I must look forward and trust that great things will unfold to achieve even my most idealistic and romantic dreams.
     I may not have all of the same dreams as I did in my twenties, but new-found dreams have emerged that feel aligned with my core. Before I know it, the mermaid essence part of me may just swim across the oceans to another continent for exploration fulfilling boundless curiosity and passion. Desires evolve and shift as we change; life changes us. There may be dreams we began with from years past that have fallen away, but we can choose new aspirations and transform into an even more exquisite butterfly breaking out of its cocoon.
     I would encourage anyone to allow your imagination to take flight in both daydreaming and night-dreaming. Intriguing possibility could meet you right around the corner. Life is fragile and fleeting. Sometimes we need to throw our fears up to the gods and take the biggest chances of our lives.


Keep on swimming through life,
Valerie



Wednesday, July 12, 2017

There are Those Times

There Are Those Times



     I'll admit it, I go through periods when I want to isolate and disappear. It is these very episodes where I feel permission to admit my lapse of optimism to a handful of friends. Everywhere you turn, there are posts, books, blogs, shows, and strangers that will need to set you straight on living in perpetual good spirits - if not, you risk being thought of as not living up to a spiritually evolved place in this day and age. I'll just say it, it's not always coming up roses.
     I just went through my eighth surgery, albeit a less major one. I took a cab in the dark early hour of 5:00 a.m. to Cottage Hospital. I'm so versed on the routine that I'm considered a pro. My pre-op nurse, Grace, has been with me seven of the eight surgeries. We're old friends. She knows my four-year history well and waits on me with care while we catch up on our lives. I like hearing about her hippie life outside the hospital. I love her. She makes sure the anesthesiologist does the IV because she's seen my fragile vein issue, and looks out for me.
     Grace asks if I have a family member or friend to retrieve while I wait for the moment when rolled in for surgery. The staff and doctors prefer this because they like to know there's someone there for you not only for moral support, but just in case something goes wrong. It also helps to lower the anxiety. This was the first time I took a cab instead of having a ride from a friend, and pretty sure the cab driver wouldn't be my significant person. I realize it's my own insecurities, but it's kind of embarrassing to reveal there's no one. It's a stabbing reminder of being without family. Once Grace had me settled in the bed with a toasty blanket, she asked if there was someone in the waiting room she could go and get for me. I replied with a quick, "no". It's the first time I came without a friend in tow.
     I had friends from out-of-state keeping in touch with me via text. It's always been helpful that my closest posse of exceptional friends are two-to-three hours ahead of west coast time since my surgeries have been at the crack of dawn in California dreaming hours. As I wait and nerves surface, my cell phone is my best friend. It's a calming distraction texting back and forth. As my overnight bag and other belongings are put into a plastic bag, my cell remains next to me in the folds of that all-to-familiar fetching hospital gown. I had an additional distraction all the way from Rome, Italy. Our unusual happenstance connection turned intriguing. Newly installed WhatsApp became a touchstone from my Roman friend. Because he's Italian and a doctor, his messages were not only charming, but medically smart. As I saw two hours pass, I realized both anesthesiologist and surgeon were running late. I watched the clock tick to 7:15 which was the scheduled go-time. It wouldn't be long before I'd be rolled into that freezing, sterile, and efficient room.
     I'm always chatty with my nurses and doctors. I feel it's my duty to keep up the witty humor I'm known for, and they love to have a little color (or off-color in my case) mixed in with their long day of working hard on their feet serving others. The bigger truth, is that it assists me in pretending I'm not scared because I've walked this journey so long and often that it could be perceived as no big deal. But, wit and certainly a smart-ass, has forever been my armor. It's how I survived loss in fledgling years, young school years with bullies and insecurities, and a father whose temper shook me to my core. At some unknown moment, the neediness will eventually seep in like a little demon tearing down my confidence and battered, scarred self.
     The anesthesiologist showed up and had to be versed on vein and narcotic challenges. IV needle slipped in without too much pain since he numbed the area. He started me with what they like to call a 'margarita' before the bigger guns put you out. My clever Roman doctor friend asked me if I could feel him holding my hand virtually. The last thing I remember before swimming into unconsciousness was texting my response, "I do, I do". If he'd asked me if I wanted to marry him in the next text as I was falling into that vulnerable drug haze where everything drops away, I would've repeated, "I do, I do."
     I woke up in post-op where patients are wheeled in still out in some whirling euphoria before waking to reality. In post-op one assigned nurse waits for you to wake up and say hello. It's my eighth time, and I give the answers before the questions come even as I drift in and out. My pain on a scale from one-ten was an eight, and so forth. Their sole job is to control the pain with the good stuff. I arrived at 9:30 a.m. after a two-hour surgery. My room wasn't ready since there were late releases. I remained in the post-op space for five hours turning out to be a comfortable womb. My personal nurse and I chatted about all sorts of things, including the texts from Rome. One came in asking what the nurse was giving me in the IV for pain. I responded by saying, "Demerol". Anything else would cause me to throw up for hours. He didn't recognize the drug because it wasn't the Latin word. My nurse gave the Latin version. He responded in a text by saying, "Ah, yes, this is what we give American girls to make Italian men look better." One sarcastic loving humor to the other, and why, regardless of the different cultures, we connect - sharp humor is the optimal way for me to connect. The nurses enjoyed a belly laugh by his description. Post-op room was surprisingly slow on this day of June 30th, 2017.
     One of the nurses without a patient assigned to her came over to ask me if there was something I really wanted - Well, that was a big question and my greatest dream ran straight across my mind like a film scene. Instead, I asked for a large Peets coffee from the coffee bar in the lobby. She was happy to take a walk downstairs to purchase coffee, and it was delicious. The new lobby of Cottage Hospital reminds me of a 'W' Hotel. My assigned nurse gave me a smoothie made with almond milk before I put that dark, strong coffee in my system. I was chatty under the drug of Demerol easing the pain. It was time to go to my room at nearly 3:00. It's the same floor I've been on eight times, and nurses came by to say hi, give me a hug, and remind me how amazingly strong I am. It's been a long path of various rooms on this same floor and a total of 60-days in the hospital. Even nurses that weren't assigned to me said, "you look familiar". Everything was familiar.
     I was released the next day and picked up by a friend who made sure I got home okay. She set up my TV and provided a DVD player. Since I am admittedly lame when it comes to setting up technology and hadn't bothered with it since moving in a couple months ago, it was a huge help. There I was, once again home alone from the hospital. I had been in much worse shape from past surgeries with drains hanging out of me than this time around. This alone was a blessing.
     Regardless of the fact that I made it out alive for the eighth round of surgery, a breast cancer survivor, had a roof over my head, friends from afar in touch with me; I felt so alone it was palpable. I was no longer in the controlled pain environment with my familiar, caring beloved nurses. I was facing myself and recovery on my own and left to figure it out. The activity of getting home and adjusted caused the pain to hit with a wallop now that all the drugs from the hospital were wearing off. I thought I'd get by with Ibuprofen, and Valium for calming muscle pain. My all-organic green nutribullet packed with chard, parsley, ginger, lemon, half an apple and few blueberries certainly didn't do it either. Bent over with pain, I went for the Percocet. Within twenty minutes that narcotic threw me into a whirling space of nausea and the most undesirable place for we mere humans - throwing up for two hours. There wasn't anyone to reach out to locally so I powered through as I always do. Two weeks post-surgery, and I'm still in that heart-stopping pain.
     I would not want to admit my utter despair to those who wax optimistic life quotes (often from authors we've never heard of), and suggest that you accept nothing other than whatever it is that you are experiencing in the moment. I pulled in and isolated. I'm nesting in my new place where I often wish the powerfully noisy traffic would stop so I could ground my self in peace and be wrapped in the noise of nature only. I notice that my paper towel holder is still not hung, and the other handy tasks undone. As a story editor, I could run entire movie scenes in my head, but handy-woman I am not. So, rather than focus on what still needs to be done, I stare at my beautiful orchids and fresh hydrangeas cut from a friend's bountiful bush in the most beautiful shade of lavender.
     In a moment of panic, I actually drove to the Mission before I should've been driving, thinking I could light a candle to assist my healing and lessen the pain. Unbeknownst to me, they haven't had candles in the church to light for years due to safety issues. The door was locked. I'm the farthest person from being Catholic, but I purchased the candle in the gift shop filled with tourists. I asked the sales person what to do. I brought the Saint Guadalupe candle home, set my intention, and let it burn to the end which took nearly four days. I called the Unity prayer hot line. I couldn't reach out to anyone local, not only because I was far too vulnerable, but because of frailty from too long a medical road. And, it makes sense because I've been going through this for four long years. It's not only worn me out to the bone, but understandably is wearing on others.
     I'm not practical by nature and therefor leave myself wide open to discouragement and devastation. I seek ways to put band aids on my heart. But I'm perceived as a strong person who can take anything life throws at her. And, I have, but not without the residue of heartbreak and trauma showing up when it feels like it. I give the appearance of looking great and doing well. It's wonderful to be given the compliment, but people don't know what goes on inside a person. I was taught as a young child to buck up, be strong and fix yourself up to show you have the world by the tail. This is a family trait and what my dad did to survive. He also drank to survive. My mother died from breast cancer in her thirties in an era where shame surrounded the diagnosis. I can only imagine how deeply she hid her fear and broken heart.
     Granted, it's impossible and unfair to expect others to be acutely aware and empathize when they have not gone through anything like it themselves. Most, just want to hear that it's all fine. I've also been told that I attracted it into my life, and what did I do to attract it. One time, a stranger stated that I had made a contract with the Universe to go through the long painful journey of breast cancer. I can assure you, I did not. If I was ever to hear someone say this to a person suffering, I would not hesitate to say, "fuck off." No one deserves to be judged when facing illness, loss, etc.. What could my mother have possibly done to deserve to die leaving a husband and two toddlers she was in love with behind? I have seen every age, every walk of life, the most optimistic beautiful people; some healthy their whole lives until struck with a life threatening illness, rich or poor, be stricken with cancer. I write in honesty to honor others, and will fiercely protect anyone who hurts. I encourage compassion whatever your history, beliefs and state-of-health.
     Eventually, I'll find myself back to seeing life in full technicolor, but not right now. Presently, I do what I can to control the gnarly pain and ignore the gnarly scars. I can't always sugar coat what is real in the moment, and know there are others out there who feel it necessary to hide their anguish, for whatever difficulty they may be going through, so they make others feel comfortable and not be perceived as a burden. We get there, back to the place of seeing exquisite beauty in life, but in our own time. Sometimes we need a gentle hand to help us put that band aid on our hearts until we're ready. Better to feel what is true for us than shove it down into layers of the spirit we may not be able to unearth later resulting in a shut-down heart. Inevitably, a broken spirit and/or a heart covered in steel armor cuts us off from leaping into exhilarating adventures. When true feelings and fear are not expressed, it may be a challenge to live courageously, and notice the roses of life in full bloom. From my own humble experience, this is how I see it. I close my eyes to surround myself in glowing light and hold those in pain in golden healing light as well.



Keep on swimming through life,
Valerie
   

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Differences, Division, United


Differences, Division, United



     It fascinates me to observe the differences in all of us. We human beings have two legs, two arms, bodies, brains, ears and eyes. What's seen in the eyes is an endless mystery. The differences in voice, personality, nature, and what's important to us can range to such a vast variance. I've observed people ever since I can remember. I'm curious by nature and am known for asking many questions because I'm truly interested in people. It includes long-time friends as well as the incredibly remarkable conversations I've had with strangers. Some people are uncomfortable with this, but it's often how I learn, contribute, and grow. It also opens doors in my writing.
     Billions of us are walking the earth individually moving and maneuvering to our own drum beat. How can this be? Even as I write this at my coffee spot, I notice the idiosyncrasies of everyone around me. The gestures, laughter, and speech prove to be unique. One is showing her distinct personality and style by many tattoos, short hair and a masculine look. She has the sweetest nature with a broad white teeth smile and works harder than anyone. Another woman dressed for work is taking her lunch break with a designer cup of coffee. She's enjoying her quiet time. I notice a man casually dressed and perhaps on vacation in Santa Barbara who's adept at eating heartily while carrying on a lively conversation.
     These few observations are a small frame of what can be noticed from the outside. Even more curious, are the treasures that lie deep within the recesses of the heart, mind, and spirit. Some of us wear our hearts on our sleeve while others are highly skilled at hiding deeper emotions or possess an easy going persona. I envy and admire lighthearted natures. I have my days when I feel as if I'm more floating rather than being weighed down. But, not only do I have my own wounds like everyone else, but fail at hiding most of it. I also feel the hurts of the planet, and my mind and heart are often preoccupied with these thoughts. Through every enlightened path I've practiced, the absolute truth is the expression of love, and finding balance. I'm searching for balance on a daily basis.
     The state of our country and who's running it has caused many of us to witness a severe imbalance to what is just. We stand up and speak out, fight for what we believe in. I wonder about those who support the policies and actions against middle and lower class America, the health of our planet, wildlife, etc. I think about it daily. I take action daily, but feel separated and, at times, alone in the process. We are so divided. How did we get to a place in history where we've gone backwards instead of leaders moving this country forward in a progressive fashion? What brought about the divided differences? In my entire life as a voter, citizen, and human being, I've never seen the country (world) in such an obvious dark time. I also believe it's brought out a notable uniting of people standing together for what they feel is right and has to change for the good of mankind. I've seen this at the marches. It's filled with folks standing as one, and it suffuses my heart with hope.
     I contemplate how we carry our wounds. Traumatic imprints early in life can cause shadows. I think environment, parents, individual nature all play a part. I have a tendency to take on other's hurts and want to contribute to their healing. Maybe it's because I know what it's like to be both supported and alone. When I'm around someone I've grown fond of and see, sense, and feel armor around their heart, I want to take a chisel and break it apart. As I continually work at living life with an open heart, I want those who land in my life, to do the same. It's a cliche to mention that "life is short" in this writing piece. Lately, after an arduous journey that could've taken me beyond the oceans of this world, I truly feel within every cell of my being, that time sails as if in a perpetual strong wind you can't possibly stop. I'm no longer at an age where there's plenty of time to grasp those dreams and deep desires. I'm deeply aware that I'm closer to the 'short' in the old wise saying of, "life is short". 
     The rest of the years could be our best time of life whatever our age may be. Hopefully, people worldwide will come to an awakening to unite together for a more enlightened world during and after the current dark state of affairs.
     Interestingly, I left the coffee spot after the above writing to have an unexpected 'united' experience on my beach power walk. The tide was out far enough to get on the beach and feel the cool water on my feet where my exercise mingled with sea air and a gorgeous temp and day. Ahead of me, I spotted a seal sitting on the shore and in the sand of the public beach. I was surprised. As I grew closer, I noticed several people standing at a respectful distance observing the seal. As I passed, I saw blood. I stopped, turned and joined the others. There was a man on his phone. He informed me that the blood was from the birth sack. I asked him if he was calling a rescue team. He thought I was a part of a rescue team because of my World Wildlife t-shirt. Another man came by and pulled out his wallet carrying the Marine Mammal Rescue number showing it to be sure the correct number was dialed.
     We were concerned the mama seal was in distress. A message was left. There were about ten of us beginning at twenty-something to seventy-something. All differences, divisions and other concerns disappeared. We were focused and united in compassion. We were united in the beauty of nature. We were united in the goal to see the seal safely give birth to her baby so they could both swim free and happy at sea. I felt heartened by the kindness and united front. I continued my walk and when I made my U-turn to head back, the man who made the call told me the seal swam back out. She may have been scared by the people and beach activity. We both exchanged our shared hope that she swam back in the ocean because it was all part of her birthing process. I saw our seal friend just out past the waves and sent her love and blessings for well-being, as well as the gift of new life she was presenting to the sea and miraculous flow of mother earth.


Keep on swimming through life,
Valerie

     


    

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Living Through Color



Living Through Color



     When I first walked in the unit I've now moved into, my eye went straight to the industrial white semi gloss walls everywhere. Semi gloss is rarely used in homes any longer. It immediately reminded me of the many sterile walls I'd been surrounded by, which sent a chill up my spine. Most medical institutions paint in clinical white or green semi gloss because it's easy to clean. The thought of living in a similar environment would have brought up trauma memory. I knew what I needed to do as a first step to generate beauty in my apartment.
     I nearly raced to a paint store visualizing color, and it had not only been a long while since I had my own space, but color that I love in my 500 sq feet place. I conspired with a friend who shares my fondness for design, decorating with vibrancy, and all things beautiful and efficient. I asked her for the specific orange she'd used in the kitchen years back. It has the exotic name of Micado, and it's a sunburst orange reminding me of the deep apricot glow presented late afternoon in Florence. I drove to various paint stores to hunt for exactly what I wanted to transform my small nest. I'm not one of the decorators that believes color can make a small room look smaller, and there are many elite designers that would agree with me. I believe bold coloration defines a space. 
     Through the living room and hallway, I picked Magnolia (cream) to which I added a few drops of red oxide for a punch of glow. Additionally, I chose a perfect shade of Sage for the bathroom with orange accent accessories; and my favorite blue in the bedroom with a deep green undertone, discovered again after disappearing for a few years, only to rise again in the computer at Osh. This exceptional blue gives me the feeling of waking up at the bottom of an ocean looking up to promise. Feng Shui thought believes that a bedroom should be in a color you cherish that adds a sense of romance. I'd go further by saying, a bedroom should feel sumptuous in decor and texture.
     Fabric came next. Resourceful and budget oriented, I know how to search and find the perfect fabric pattern (keeping bigger pieces neutral like sofa, chair, etc.) to tie in all the hues creating a flow not only in my home, but a flow within myself. One fabric I coordinated all my paint and accent colors. It displays blossomed joyful flowers providing the exact flare and statement I desired to make. 
     Since I was a very little girl, lonely for a mother who left the world far too early, I've found ways to surround myself with whatever could nurture me in the moment. Cats, definitely cats. The warm tropical sea on Key Biscayne offering breezy sea green to aqua colored water, and skies from cornflower blue to midnight blue as a storm came in. Sunsets were a gift of flamenco pink and orange creamsicle. The beauty of color fed me then, and will for as long as I remain on our vulnerable planet. When I've had many days in the past, and far too many days in the present, where staying under the covers is all I want to do, I find my way back to what I know brings me encouragement.
     I write in my book, "Caution: Mermaid Crossing", how it's moments of elegance, connection, passion, and a willingness to be open that's kept me alive; that's kept me going. During the most grueling four-year plus medical journey, that's felt endless when I would stare at those sterile walls, I sought the friendship of my hummingbirds in contrast to feed my soul and fill me with hope, inspiration, and healing energy. When these bird angels would fly to my hand for nectar, and hover with wings going so fast they were translucent, I'd have close proximity to study the vibrant colors; fuchsia, iridescent emerald green, royal purple, scarlet red, and deep orange. These exquisite colors were inspirational and deepened my adoration for wildlife; as well as providing artistic ideas for home design, wardrobe, and an imprint of sense memory I'll never lose.
     When I lived far up in the hills of Santa Barbara, where the hummingbirds were plentiful, there was one that stood out in vibrant orange. He or she revisited me every spring, and was smaller and shyer than the others if you can imagine that. It also made a sound that came out like a squeak rather than the usual familiar clicking sound. I waited for the moment that this iridescent orange hummie with soft cream accent and green wings would come to my hand. Weeks went by. One afternoon, home from a surgery with drains tucked in my underwear, I stood near the feeder with hand held out holding a small red spice cap of nectar. Right before I gave up to find the sofa again, 'squeaky' came to me. I studied the colors inches from my heart. In retrospect, I realize that subconsciously, I chose all the colors in my treasured hummingbird - Color so memorable in its splendor, I recreated it in my space.
     With the worse behind me, it's my hope that I find faith again and that I make the effort to live a more colorful life than ever before - to color far outside the lines, and bring a spark of color to others. Especially since I've survived a challenging journey and losses that still sting at times, I look toward a new chaoter. I yearn to seek things that make me feel alive and full of wonder - Connection that surprises, swimming in aqua marine water that sweeps me away into another living world, sitting in that cafe in Florence deep in the afternoon where the orange glow drops on my wine glass; or something close to home where I snuggle with a child or animal. I urge you to look for the unexpected around the corner - The gift of chemistry and kissing for hours any time of day, enveloped by an autumn breeze, finding the perfect color that brings you comfort and delight; or whatever lofty pursuit brings radiant zest in your life. Color far outside the lines and feel the sensation of catching the perfect wind in your sails that creates a dynamic opportunity for the soul to soar.
   


     

Keep on swimming through life,
Valerie

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Seven, Seven, Seven


     For the last several weeks, the number seven has been on my mind after realizing how much it's come up. I've had seven surgeries completing the process after a long road with breast cancer and complications. I'm also in the middle of my seventh move in seven years. All my belongings were in storage for the second time resting in a 10X10 storage. The photos, artwork, my mother's china, cherry wood family furniture, the gift of Herend china that was often displayed in Downton Abbey; are all proof of a life lived. I can't say that I've missed my possessions, but now that I'm unpacking, I feel like I'm opening a treasure chest. While unpacking, I'm also unloading to fit into a small living space. It feels good to lighten my load as if making room for new adventures.
     I've been more nomad than permanent resident this last seven years. This would have to do with my diagnosis, medical journey, and most especially, finances. I was on an important waiting list for seven years which finally came to fruition. I feel as though I'm on a roller coaster of change, and barely taking a breath before the next one rolls fast into my life.
     It's also the year 2017. And then there is the fact that the body completely regenerates every seven years. We have seven chakras, and perhaps mine are re-balancing since I've come through the other side of cancer. Scientific proof shows that cells of a human body change every seven years. Seven year cycles are significant and occur the moment we're born effecting us emotionally, physically, and mentally. "There is a natural release of energy every seven years which encourages you to move forward and make changes." innerself.com
     I find myself having to take pause and look into the meaning of number seven. In one of the interpretations below, it mentions that if a number keeps showing up in your life, pay attention. I've been consumed in a move, but taking advantage of using this blog to pay attention. It seems obvious to me that I must look at this as a sign. Ultimately, I feel there has been a completion on a multitude of areas in my life. The number seven, in spiritual terms, indicates both completion and a new beginning. I feel that I'm embarking on a new beginning. My instincts tell me I'm now on a path full of surprises and receiving good things, as well as interesting opportunities coming my way - A path very different than the one I've been on this last seven years - A path of purpose and passion. It's time. 

     When I looked up the spiritual meaning of the number seven here are a few of the intriguing findings that I discovered. Although different roots, there's a similar take:

Seven is the number of completeness and perfection (both physical and spiritual). It derives much of its meaning from being tied directly to God's creation of all things. According to Jewish tradition, the creation of Adam occurred on October 7th, 3761 B.C. (or the first day of Tishri, which is the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar). The word 'created' is used 7 times describing God's creative work (Genesis 1:1, 21, 27 three times; 2:3; 2:4). There are 7 days in a week and God's Sabbath is on the 7th day. 

Angel Number 7 is an exciting and important message to receive. Its meaning is thought to be one of reinforcement and encouragement. If you are finding that this number is being presented to you, then you should feel a sense of pride and comfort. Your angels are proud of the decisions you have made. They feel that you are on the correct path and are capable of fulfilling your divine purpose. From sunsigns.org

Number 7 resonates with the vibrations and energies of the ‘Collective Consciousness’, faith and spirituality, spiritual awakening and awarenessspiritual enlightenment,spiritual development, mysticism, intuition and inner-knowing, inner-wisdom,psychic abilities, the esoteric, inner-selves, deep contemplation, introspection, eccentric, religion, thoughtfulness, understanding of others, natural healer and healing, secrets, myth, ritual, peace, poise, emotions and feelings, inner-strength, endurance and perseverance, persistence of purpose, the ability to bear hardships, quick-wit, the loner, solitary,  isolation, long-sighted, the non-conformist, independence and individualism, intentions, manifesting and manifestation in time and space and good fortune. From numerology.com

Keep on swimming through life, 
Valerie


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Whatever it Takes


     I have found that whatever gift you can give yourself to lift the spirits, however small the budget, eases anxiety or sadness when life becomes overwhelming; even unbearable. I began this earnestly before my first surgery. Facing a radical double mastectomy, and knowing I'd be in the hospital for a long while, I needed comforting self-care and a happy task I'd have control over. When you put yourself in the hands of others, you are forced to let go, to hand yourself over in their care. Being unconscious for several hours on several surgery occasions, I often wondered what went on, what was said? I contemplated my surgeon's concern at the fifth surgery when a staph infection circled back around; something he'd never seen. I was so sick, hallucinating from a high fever, did my rock-star surgeon say something to his capable assistants and nurses about the endless complications? I'll never truly know. It was an emergency surgery so I didn't have the luxury of pre-surgery pampering and prep organizing.
     The only thing I had control over during my journey, was to ensure a healthy routine and gifting myself little joys. Knowing I was facing a life-threatening and life-changing initial surgery, I took myself to the nail salon for a pedicure. Oddly, it gave me strength. I usually choose red, and recall choosing a cherry red prior to that first surgery. Why would it matter that I had a pedicure before surgery and, as it turned out, twenty-two days away between hospital and a full-care facility? While lying in the hospital bed, I liked the cheery and polished color on my toes. It brought in a sense of dignity to a vulnerable and, at times, undignified circumstance. Physical therapists and nurses would comment. It made me feel better, so why not?
     It sprouted a ritual. I made an appointment for a pedicure prior to every scheduled surgery. I wasn't able to do this for the emergency surgery since making sure I lived took precedence. I would also carefully wash my hair, exfoliate my skin with a lovely scrub, and give myself a mini-facial, which included a reviving moisture mask. Looking back, I realize that self-care, call it vanity if you like, is important to me. But, going deeper, I know that I was terrified, and humiliated by the assault to my body and femininity. There are extensive scars inside and out, but I've learned to make things that support myself a priority. The pampering steps, being united with nature, and my tropical visualizations, provided small frames of peace during the Tsunami that entered my life. 
     Rich espresso, walking on a glorious day, snuggling with animals, pedicures, a great movie that moves me, connecting and laughing with friends are high on my list of self-nurturing. I carry on with my small frames of soothing rituals daily. Moments of beauty = Moments of joy.
     Last week, although tired, I drove down to the waterfront to meet a friend for a walk. I'm a power walker and he's tall so it's a good match. We set out by Fess Parker Hotel walking along the water over to the Biltmore shoreline. It was after 6:00 when we began so the sun was low, a warm wind picked up, and the wild flowers were in bloom. The temperature, even after the sun set below the ocean, was 75 degrees. And as the walk lasted more than two-hours, twilight fell upon us. The sky was the most exquisite blue and the shore had a purple-blue tone that only twilight presents. Still warm at dark as stars began to flicker, and feeling the spring ocean breeze, I felt nurtured to the bottom of my soul. I've included a photo below that captures the essence of the shoreline spring walk.
     What are your self-nurturing joys?

      

Keep on swimming through life,
Valerie

Monday, April 10, 2017

                            
                                        Organic Warrior                                                        

     It was the 80’s, and I had recently moved to LA where I caught the movie business bug. At the time, I was working for Cheryl Ladd as an assistant in a guest house all on my own – answering calls, reading scripts, fighting boredom, and occasionally heading down the hill with Cheryl for lunch or shopping on Sunset Boulevard - And then, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Every instinct told me not to have the surgery, but everyone else was intent on me going in for the surgery, including Cheryl.
    My assigned Oncologist, at a women’s clinic, recommended it. He forgot to take the class in bedside manner, and I didn’t feel comfortable with him, making my decision easier.
    While my friends were out partying, and hitting the newest LA restaurants and clubs, I was home juicing moving into an organic lifestyle. I was probably one of the first people in line at the new Beverly Juice Club for a daily shot of wheat grass. I was also douching with wheat grass, and getting colonics in the one clinic I could find doing the task. I embarked on a macrobiotic diet, which some liked to refer to as, macro-psychotic.
     Cancer was taboo in my family, we never talked about it. My mother passed away when I was three-yrs old of breast cancer - and now, I was labeled with the ‘C’ word.
     So, I was going to fight it, beat it and not do the surgery which could’ve resulted in a hysterectomy at twenty-eight. I was excommunicated from the women’s clinic for going rogue. I gave myself 6-months to do this cure. I was also doing yoga, rebirthing, which at the time, was very in. And I did beat it and have never had an irregular pap smear since. I’ve stayed on the healthy diet and lifestyle, but it furthered my role as an outsider because I was on a different path. A genetic autoimmune condition, not diagnosed at the time, caused fatigue. It was my mission to find my way into great health because I had a lot of dreams, and wanted to see those dreams manifest.
     I had cured myself from cervical cancer, but continued to struggle with pain and fatigue causing me to schedule my life around the symptoms. It began a questioning of my mental stability… by me and others. Even though I was fun when I did go out, I was still an outsider, never really finding my way into the LA inner circle.  
     Decades later, after life took me in a different direction in Santa Barbara, I’ve stayed on the healthy path for all these years. Way past divorce, and working on finding a new niche for myself, I went in for my annual in July, 2013. I’ve never missed one. A lump was detected. I was absolutely convinced it would be a cyst. There was no-way it was going to happen to me because I did all the right things-- sacrificing good times out, strict routine, exercise… maybe a glass of wine and piece of chocolate a week. I went in the next day; organic optimism in tow, for 4-hours of excruciating breast biopsies. Still convinced results would be benign.
     I got the call - Not only did I have a stage one cancerous tumor in the right breast, but one in the left. A 5% category, something I didn’t even know existed! Immediate assumption of a genetic disposition. Now, not ever knowing my mother, I was angry with her for the genetic inheritance. Regardless of my best efforts, cancer caught up with me again. When I returned home with my diagnosis – a defeated warrior - I walked out on the porch, looked to the sky where hawks fly, and threw my hands in the air yelling, “That’s it, I’m off God!” -  I was off sugar, and now I was off God…
     A week later, further tests in an MRI showed another area more than an inch of pre-cancerous cells. How does all this happen in one fucking year? - Going rogue this time was not an option. - I was facing a radical double mastectomy. As I began a painful journey, a sadness swept over me thinking of my mother. I longed to have her with me. She must’ve felt so isolated too, esp. going through it in an era where there was little support, and even a sense of shame surrounding breast cancer.
     I decided to be fierce, as I always am, in honor of my mother. But I was living on another planet, an alien, living in a medical world. I was on auto-pilot, often driving with drains and traces of pain meds… not recalling how I just arrived somewhere. - An auto-pilot alien who got through seven major surgeries, long recoveries, reoccurring staph infection in the breast that nearly took me out, and 60-days in the hospital.
     I found solace in nature’s beauty to get me through. I continued to use my humor, and a biting humor was fitting for the journey. I never forgot to put my lip gloss on even when I went out the door with drains in me where it would be just another dr. appointment. It’s fascinating what we humans can endure. Strength would run out though, and there were dark nights when I wanted to just give up. And yet, there’s something so deep inside me that kept forcing me to put one foot in front of the other… even if it was moving from the bed to the sofa where hummingbirds chirped outside the door.
     I continued my juicing, organic eating, but I couldn’t drink wheat grass ever again… I can still taste it from 30-years ago. I’m staying on the healthy lifestyle, and still want to believe that my dreams can come true… maybe not as many of them as I had in LA, the producer I’d become with my love for story – the underdog finding their way through insurmountable challenges to rise triumphantly.
     And then, I’ve come to realize… I’m the underdog, and I found my way through. I’m getting on the other side, and nearly recovered from a three ½ year journey. - I’m looking to those dreams again, that idealistic faith, and a way to believe in the divine positivity of life on this planet.
     I’ve come to a full acceptance that I am a truthful troublemaker, cementing my ‘outsider’ title, and perhaps that’s how I’ve conquered all that’s been before me. Isolation has given me a great deal of time to reflect, and be very observant of all that is around me –
     My spirit was fed by the beauty of nature, the beauty of friends by my side; including my colorful hummingbirds, that would take nectar from my hand. These tiny bird angels are fierce, they’re territorial, observant, they’re often solo… and they carry on in this most spectacular energetic way. They’d connect by looking directly into my eyes. They were my teachers, and I believe they are a part of the reason that I’m still alive today. I was giving to them as they were giving to me.
    
     And now, I look out to the ocean with that never-ending boundary, and hope that I’ll be on a sailboat soon… feeling free, and doing those exotic travels and creative adventures I always imagined myself to do.



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*Note: This personal story was initially voice recorded in a stream of consciousness and then transcribed in writing for a Speaking Stories event I performed on April 5th 2017.

Keep on swimming through life,
Valerie
© April, 2017

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Need for Breath and Breeze

Breeze Bliss
(updated)

     
     I don't know about you, but I have to remind myself to take deep breaths since I gasp for breath in these stressful times. While 'trying' to heal from a long all-consuming breast cancer path, I have to deal with Trump only adding to my anxiety and PTSD. It's not in my nature to stand by and simply watch the disgrace, and battle for the soul of this country - I sign petitions, call my representatives, while observing all I believe in continue to spiral into the abyss. So that I don't end up in a psych ward, sit paralyzed on my sofa for eternity, I must find ways to counteract the mayhem going on in the outer and inner world.
     When I feel a nice breeze rush through my hair and brush against my face, I'm transported. A cool breeze wakes me up, and a warm breeze ignites sensual senses. A quick swirl of wind moves me to close my eyes and take it in. Autumn temperature, especially when a wind picks up and delivers rain emboldens me to feel refreshed. Let's say I yearn for that rain in what remains to be a parched Santa Barbara. I've been coming to a sudden stop during power walks to notice bold late afternoon color in the sky. We have to seek those moments of beauty to deal with what challenges us.
     It's been far too long since this mermaid has been in her beloved tropics. Swimming, sailing, and snorkeling in that pristine turquoise water would be particularly healing. It might even erase Trump's ugly orange face from my mind and provide (however briefly) a reprieve from daily abominations coming from his creepy racist mouth; ah, what a relief that would be. It would also assist healing of scars I wear outside and the internal scars that hold on like clinging barbs. I'd like to swim deep in clear warm water amongst sea creatures living life as they're created to be - I am more than weary of human creatures in the White House and elsewhere acting opposite of living life in divine creation. I need to balance my restless and tattered soul in lapping waves.
     It's time to feel a strong, balmy breeze all around me while the sun sinks into the blue. It never fails to give me the sense that all will be well. When I was a teenager living on Key Biscayne, out at night on my bike, or meeting friends at a deck bar right on the sand as waves softly rolled toward us, I'd drift into a calm state. After dark, the T-shirt, shorts, and flip flops worn during the day transitioned into night. Even if it became cool enough for a sweater, those breezes blew in a tropical manner. And the scent of clean salt water, along with tropical blossom filled the night air as the moon rose over a darker shimmering blue.
     The temperate breeze and sea is a part of me, running through cell and bone. When I visit the tropics after moving to California decades ago, the stirring sensation is reignited in me. I no longer favor the hot humid summer days I can barely withstand, but the comfortable balmy air is lovely forever. I especially recall the beauty of being in the Bahamas, and sitting at the bar during sunset for the daily tropical cocktail. The bar held a cross-breeze that was perfectly positioned for patrons to be embraced by the velvety winds. I closed my eyes, willing myself to freeze frame this intoxicating feeling.
     A similar moment to hold in my recall senses, was during a stay in Honolulu Hawaii. On one of my trips there, I flew in the early morning hours, and due to the time difference, was sitting with my friend by noon on the patio at the Halekulani. Jet lagged and exhausted, I was revived in an instant. The Hawaiian trade winds carried me through lunch to the beach below where I dove in gorgeous water, still warmed by the sultry breeze on my skin. At night, blowing through the sheer curtains, that same breeze lulled me to sleep.
     Until I find myself in the tropics again, I'll be aware of Santa Barbara's autumn breeze and take deep breaths to clear my mind and visualize what brings peace. The winter brings rain that washes away dust and provides water for a thirsty earth. The days become a breathtaking crystal clear. Crisp, clean air energizes the spirit, and we all need our spirits continually reignited.
     When you experience moments that blissfully transport you and ignite all your senses, close your eyes and take it in, telling yourself, "I will remember this." When I've gone through the toughest struggles, I pause, gently shut my eyes and envision a euphoric experience. It's been especially helpful to everything from simple daily challenge to the times I would lay on a gurney frightened before surgery, or the continued challenge of getting a needle into my tired veins. Even now, when I go in for a monthly IV to boost my immune system, the nurses are aware that I check-out to envision a blissful memory that calms my nerves. My eyes are closed and I think of swimming in perfect turquoise water as a warm breeze encircles me. What exhilarating memory do you possess that would have the ability to carry you to a tranquil and beautiful space?

Keep on swimming through life,
Valerie