Posts Tagged ‘self-care’

I think about my mom a lot in September.

doris-channelmarker-headshotI went to stay with her in September of 2000, not knowing how long she had, because she wanted to die at home instead of in a hospital, and I had told her I would help make that possible.

Also, September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. The month of teal. Because not all women’s cancers are pink.

I take ovarian cancer very personally. So should you. How can a disease that starts by destroying your female balls, to use the blunt words of Dr. Christiane Northrup in Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, not be personal?

Five years before that September, after nearly a year of general achiness, fatigue, and fevers that started with deep chilling and ended with drenching sweats within the space of a couple of hours, over and over again, Mom’s doctors could find no infection to explain what was going on. An immunologist thought it might be autoimmune and treated her for rheumatoid arthritis, which helped temporarily but then the symptoms roared back. (The treatment was methotrexate, which also happens to be a chemotherapy drug.)

So he sent her to the Mayo Clinic. There, they spotted some irregularities on her ovaries and scheduled her for surgery, which revealed stage 3 epithelial ovarian cancer throughout her abdomen. They removed — debulked — all the cancer cells that they could, plus both ovaries, her uterus, her spleen, and omentum. That’s the fatty pad on the front of your abdomen. (We learned a lot during those years.) After she recovered from the surgery, she started her first round of chemo.

Seven months later, back in Minneapolis in a snow storm, Mom had her second-look surgery to see if the chemo had had its intended effect. The doctors were satisfied and optimistic and declared her in remission, but she would need to have ongoing regular CA125 blood tests to watch for indications of recurrence.

Eventually the CA125 level rose dramatically. It was back. Over the next five years, Mom went through multiple rounds of different cocktails of chemo, with periods of varying length in between when the count was low again. Eventually the cancer ate a fissure between her bowel and vagina, which meant she learned how to live with a colostomy. Finally the chemo had weakened her so much and could give her so little hope of living longer that she said no more.She chose to live the rest of her days well and then when her time came, die peacefully. That’s when I went to stay with her. She died five months later.

Ovarian cancer is not as prevalent as breast cancer, but it is deadlier because early detection is so much harder. Ovaries can’t be examined from the outside, like breasts , and there is no screening test. (A PAP test checks for cervical cancer, not ovarian.) Researchers are working on that, because catching it early increases survival rate.protect-your-privates

In 2015, 21,290 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the US. In the same year, 14,180 women died from ovarian cancer. Once diagnosed, chances of living five years are 45.6%. (Source: Ovarian Cancer National Alliance) My mother made it past that mile-marker, and died 6 months later.

Subtle symptoms exist. According to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, The most common are:

  • Bloating
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Pelvic or Abdominal pain
  • Feeling the need to urinate frequently
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Menstrual changes
  • Back pain
  • Pain during sex

Obviously these can all be caused by other, more minor things. That’s why this disease is so sneaky.

If you experience any of these things more than usual for two weeks, call your doctor. You will notice my mom’s symptoms of achiness and spiking fevers are not on this list.   I suspect that earlier, more subtle symptoms had escaped notice, and this was her compromised immune system trying to fight back.

The lifetime risk for any woman to develop ovarian cancer is 1.4%. Mine is 5% because one of my first-degree relatives had it. Other genetic factors can increase the risk for other women. (Ovarian Cancer National Alliance) Besides genetics,  risk factors include:

  • Increasing age
  • Menopausal hormone replacement therapy
  • Obesity
  • Menstrual and reproductive history. Starting your periods before age 12, going through menopause after age 50, giving birth to no children or having your first child after age 30, or having never taken oral contraceptives all increase your risk of ovarian cancer.

I share this information to honor my mother but mostly because as women it’s important to tune into our bodies and participate actively in our own health. There are no guarantees against cancer, but with knowledge we can give ourselves a better chance.

The two links I’ve provided, to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, both have more information and resources, if you want more.

Here’s to our health.

I still miss you every day, Mom. I love you.




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I moved here a year ago. I started a new job that I thought I would stay with for, say, four more years and then I could retire. I had it figured out.

But “it wasn’t a good fit,” as they say euphemistically when a job sucks the life out of you. I totally respect the organization, but this type of work, especially in this place, is no longer healthy for me. So I’ve resigned, effective at the end of August, without a next job lined up. #stepoffaith or #desperation.

When you’re burned out, you don’t look for the same kind of work that burned you out.Therefore my search now is as much about a change of direction as it is about finding new income.

I believe in calling. I also believe mine is changing.

I crave a whole life. Not compartmentalized. Shalom giving and growing, for myself, for those I love, for the world.

What needs to happen to get there?

First, a lot of prayer. Also, trying to tap into the resources God has made available to me.

I’m doing personal work with a career coach and a counselor, which involves homework. Meditative, thinking, feeling, writing homework.

I have books I want to read or reread and actually do the exploratory exercises they recommend. In case you’re interested, they are:

One thing Michelle, my career coach, is helping me with is the workup to an Etsy business. This involves a line-in-the-sand date by which to research, write a business plan, create more of the products that my friend and I want to sell, set up the account and all the social media marketing pages, and write an editorial calendar and some blog posts to get us started.

Pretty exciting, because my creativity wants really badly to come out and play.

But I also have to support myself in the process. And by support I mean both income and self-care. My days don’t seem to have enough hours to do it all, but taking a step or two every day toward my new life is part of supporting myself in both ways.

So what did I do today, this Sunday, this day of rest? I paid attention to my spiritual health. I bought some luscious peaches, ice cream bars, an avocado, and a gorgeous red pepper. I had some conversations with family members. I texted with a couple of friends. I worked the Chicago Tribune Sunday crossword. I watched an episode of The Gilmore Girls. I filled out a job application. I did laundry. I made notes on potential blog topics, which is part of homework. And here I am, writing this one.

Finishing this job well is important, but I am looking forward to being free of it so that I can move more fully forward, even if I can’t see all the steps yet.

Steps. Onward.




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I spoke at a breakfast Rotary Club meeting this morning. The club meets at a rec center about 30 miles from my house.

To get there I rose early, put on some confidence clothes — today a sleeveless LBD with a black/gray/white flowy scarfy cocoon thing over it, because it’s July and 90 degrees  was predicted but I’m a teeny bit self-conscious about the crepiness (not to be confused with creepiness) of my upper arms — and gave myself plenty of time to get there because you never know with Denver traffic. This is something I have continued to try to outsmart since moving here 11 months ago, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

The traffic was not bad, the sun was up, it was a glorious summer morning. I found the place with only one missed turn. The rec center was off a main street in a fairly new development on ground that used to be Stapleton Airport before it was replaced by DIA.

Kudos to city planners for the way they have redeveloped that area into mixed use areas of retail, office, residential, and open space. (Except that like everywhere else in Denver, housing costs are through the roof, making it very difficult for lots of people, even if the area includes a few mixed income/affordable housing units.) This center was  on open space. Lovely day, like I said.

I went inside, met people I had only emailed with before, ate some fruit and a scone with my coffee, made some follow-up-worthy connections, and gave my talk. As I left, I passed the area devoted to stair-climber machines and treadmills. They were full.

I thought as I walked out into the fresh bright air, why would people pay membership fees, drive their cars however far, park and go into a building and exercise on these machines, when they could just take a walk down the lovely streets and on the trails set up for walking and running? This is Colorado, where it’s sunny, like, 300 days out of the year. People move here in droves for the gorgeous weather. And it was morning, so it wasn’t too hot yet.

What am I missing?

And then — and then — we have more people than ever being put on mega-doses of vitamin D by their physicians after they are deficient in that essential nutrient. Spending 30 minutes in the sun a day meets our daily requirements, or so I’ve been told. Look it up.

What I saw this morning is not peculiar to Colorado. You can go anywhere in America and observe the same thing. It’s a symptom of something. What would you name it?

As Brian Wilson said, “I guess I just wasn’t made for these times.”



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Potato salad for breakfast? Why not? We order eggs and hash browns all the time when we eat out.

I made potato salad last night, and it was my supper, along with a bowl of blueberries, au naturel. A good portion of both, lest you think I’m wasting away here.

Actually, I’m not eating potato salad again for breakfast, but I thought about it before I remembered the leftover canned pumpkin in my refrigerator that need to get used up. So I made some pumpkin oatmeal various-flours bread, which is in the oven as I write. I can anticipate the potato salad for lunch.

In a pinch, in a hurry, I might buy potato salad from the supermarket deli. But I don’t like it as well. It’s usually too goopy for my taste, more like mayonnaise with some lumps of things in it.

I make potato salad like my grandma and mom made potato salad. No written recipe, which bothered me as a newlywed but doesn’t any more. Eventually you get it.potatoes eggs

Here’s what went into yesterday’s batch:

4 good-sized potatoes that I had found in the produce clearance bin at the supermarket about a week ago. Peeled, chopped into the size pieces I wanted for the salad, boiled in water until tender. More than once I’ve cooked the potatoes too long and they’ve more or less disintegrated when I stirred together the salad. No worries. At a pot luck one time someone asked me for my recipe because they liked that I used “mashed” potatoes. It’s called not setting a timer. Oh, and don’t forget to salt them. I often forget. You can salt  afterward, but it’s a bit less even than salting the potatoes in the water.

4 eggs. These were farmers market eggs, laid by happy hens that get to toddle around a pasture instead of stay squeezed into a cage or pen. The cost of the eggs probably ate up the savings on the potatoes, but well-treated hens matter to me, and the eggs taste better and are better for you, I believe. My grandmother had chickens, and I grew up with farm eggs.

Some sweet onion, chopped up.


Some sweet pickle relish, maybe 1/4 – 1/2 cup, with juice. Grandma would have chopped up sweet pickles she had put up herself from cucumbers she grew in her garden. In my gardening days I would have done the same, but now I just try to find sweet relish that is not made with high fructose corn syrup.

Enough mayonnaise to moisten it all, but not so much that it drowns it. I use olive oil mayo these days.

A healthy squirt of mustard. Yellow, brown, whatever you have. This time I had brown.

Stir this all together in a big bowl. Add more mayo if it’s too dry. Taste it. Add more mustard or salt if you think it needs it. Or more pickle relish juice. It’s your salad.

I like real food. No purist, but I try to eat as close to real food as I can, given the rest of my lifestyle. I like my potato salad. It’s one of those common sense things that got passed down to me, just hanging out with women whom I loved who knew how to do stuff.

I think Mom and Grandma would be okay with eating potato salad for breakfast, too.




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I didn’t go to the grocery store to educate a checker. I just wanted to pick up a few things, including some produce. I was pleased to find rhubarb, because I want to make a rhubarb custard pie. A pass past the clearance shelves to see if there were anything I couldn’t live without, which there was not, and I headed for the checkout. I usually don’t use the self-checkout even when I can, preferring instead to cast a vote for a job for a living person. The checker whose line I chose seemed at ease and efficient, but when she took the rhubarb out of the basket, she said, “Now you’ve stumped me. Is this red celery?”trimmed rhubarb

“It’s rhubarb.”

“Oh, okay.” Then she picked up the cauliflower. “This isn’t cabbage, is it?”

“Nope. Cauliflower.”

As she finished ringing me up, she said, “I’m not really up on my vegetables. Mainly because I don’t eat all that many vegetables.”head of cauliflower

My intention in telling this story is not to be critical or make fun of this young woman, and the bagger who wasn’t much more knowledgeable. I tell it because I believe this is all too common. School children don’t know what a potato is, even though they eat tons of French Fries and chips. They can’t tell a pear from an avocado.

This is a handicap. A learned — or lack-of-learning — disability. The cure? Garden. Neighborhood gardens. Garden with friends or parents or kiddos. It doesn’t have to be big. If you don’t have any other space, plant something in a container on your patio or balcony. Your friendly neighborhood garden center will be happy to coach you.

Patio container with soil and new lettuce plants

Newly sprouted lettuce on my balcony

Also cook. From scratch. We live in a time, as Michael Pollan, author of Cooked, has said, when we Americans spend more time watching other people cook on television than we do actually cooking.If you’ve never cooked anything, don’t start by trying to do what those celebrity chefs are doing. Look up basic instructions and recipes online, and just try something.

You don’t even have to cook to cut up the cauliflower and dip it in ranch dressing. (You might even try making your own ranch dressing. It’s cheaper and better than the bottled stuff.) Eventually you might even step out and bake a pie from real rhubarb. 

Cooking, too, can be fun with someone else. Kids love it, especially when it’s a shared activity.

Obviously this is about more than giving correct answers on a pop quiz on vegetables. No one debates the nutritional benefits of eating vegetables, which is what this checker told me she does not do. We gain power to care for ourselves and our families when we have a working knowledge of actual food (as opposed to food-like substances, again to quote from Michael Pollan), how it grows and how to prepare it.

So you’re welcome Ms. Checker. Glad I could introduce you to some of my friends today.

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I’m trying an experiment. It’s inspired by Jen Hatmaker’s book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, in which she chronicles her journey of a different kind of fast for each of seven months. Why would she do such a thing? Isn’t that kinda crazy and extreme? She writes that her decision came out of the question, ” Where have I substituted The American Dream for God’s kingdom?” Her plan for 7 was to be “an exercise in simplicity with one goal: to create space for God’s kingdom to break through.”

Now, in many respects I’m already Ms. Simple. Some of Jen’s fasts wouldn’t make sense for me. Clothes, for instance. She writes about how appalled she was when she actually inventoried her wardrobe and was faced with how obscenely abundant her clothing options and therefore her clothing spending were. I, on the other hand, for example own three pair of jeans: one paint-spattered and holey, one blue denim, and one black denim. I’m still wearing my husband’s black socks to work, and he died six years ago. Hey, they’re warm, have worn like iron, and mostly don’t show under my slacks. No, they don’t work with dress shoes, but I barely ever wear dress shoes. Bunions and hammer toes are not welcome in my life. Just sayin’.

But going on this kind of a journey, opening up space for growth and movement with God, really appeals to me. Maybe my frugal nature will mean that my discipline somewhere along the way will be to add something instead of taking it away. I don’t have it all figured out yet. But I’m starting with food.

Jen carefully chose seven whole foods to limit herself to for a month. I already eat very little processed food and meat, enjoy lots of fruits and vegetables, and major on whole grains instead of highly refined. My goal will be to go without wheat or sugar this month. April 1 was the first day, and my first challenge came within hours, when my colleague Sean delivered to my desk the bag of dark-chocolate covered dried cherries I’d ordered maybe a month ago from his daughter’s high school band fundraiser and then forgotten about. “After this,” I told myself, and opened the bag. So good. I’ve had some each day. Until today. Because I felt so sluggish yesterday after I indulged in some. So they’re going away. Then my dear friend/cousin/soul-sister Becky and I decided to share Easter dinner, and the first thing out of my mouth was “Let’s just order pizza.” As good as that sounds, we’ve made a different plan. My part is to bring broccoli salad from the deli. It probably has sugar in the dressing. I’m at peace with that. it’s Easter after all.

Along with the dietary change, I want to see what exploring the concepts of bread, wheat, and sweetness, metaphorically speaking, reveals to me.

Today I read Psalm 81 because my concordance told me it has a reference to wheat in it. Just starting simple, you see. And by golly, it speaks to sweetness too. Sweet music, specifically, expressing joy and praise. So hmm, what if when I get the urge for chocolate or pie, I at least turn on music or better yet make some? Take a joy break? Consider the sweetness of God’s love for me?

Further in the psalm God says he desires to feed his people with the finest of wheat. That set me to wondering what the finest of wheat was in Biblical times. Thank you, Google, for filling me in. Given how different modern wheat is from ancient grains and how it’s prepared now, it makes sense that the vast majority of the types of carbs we eat have such an adverse affect on our health. We are settling for dust — too often contaminated dust at that.

I’m also on a quest to find raw, unfiltered, local honey.

I hope you’ll read Jen’s book, but be warned, it could shake you up. And that’s a good thing.

I’ll let you know how this goes.

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I like the actual physical act of writing with a pen, if it’s a decent pen. And I keep a journal in addition to blogging. As I’ve been writing with a fountain pen in my journal, I’ve noticed something interesting. I’m observing the right margin again. See, for years I’ve ignored it in the interest of making the book last longer. Ever the good steward, that’s me. Thrifty. Don’t waste paper and all that. But fountain pen writing slows me down, and the look of the page seems to matter more. Why is this?

Margins set off the words like matting sets off the picture in a frame. Is it that the act of writing with actual ink awakens the artist? I wonder.

I’ve been pondering those margins. Too much of my life is running clear to the edge, ignoring the need for margins. Hence life lacks a certain attractiveness and I crave beauty. Too much is crammed onto each line, or into each day, and I feel mentally messy and chaotic and exhausted. Burnout is a lack of white space.

Good steward, did I say? Hmm, maybe of paper. But not so much of myself. Which is more valuable? (That’s a rhetorical question, just to be perfectly clear.) Will I ever finish learning that lesson?

There is something to be said for living full out. I have written many times in my journal that that is my desire, made it my prayer. And yet. I must also create new margins in my life and rediscover the beauty of old ones in order to sustain a full out life.

in The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, Tony Schwartz has written that we are made to pulse, not to run continuously like machines. Full out, then rest and play. Repeat.

Sounds like margins to me.

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