Monday, March 30, 2015


The crisis of trauma or illness is overwhelming. You can literally shut down from too much at once. Instantly struck by the sensation of the utter loss of all sensation. 

One moment you are dealing with life, trying to process all the slings and arrows. The next moment you are frozen like a statue as life goes on around you. 

Paralyzed and unable to process even one more thing. Not another ounce of weight, or pain, or hurt, or guilt. Unable to shed even a single tear. You go completely, internally numb.

There is no way of predicting these moments or what will trigger them. No way of knowing how long they will last. You will be at a standstill until something deep inside of you finds the will to move again.

Allow yourself a breather. Walk away. Stare at a wall. Curl under blankets. Allow your body and mind to reset. Don't beat yourself up over it. There is no shame in being overwhelmed.

Truth is you can not function when you can not function. Period. 

So, during these moments, don't try to function. Don't try to face everything at once. Just be. Stand still. Remember to breathe. You will move again.

Sunday, March 29, 2015


Survivors get bruised. A lot.

And for the sake of this post, we will stick to just the physical bruises.

Little bruises. Big bruises. Layers of bruises. Different levels of healed bruises. Every imaginable type of bruise happens.

Blooming blossoms flowering along the skin in brilliant shades of black, purple, red, yellow, brown, and even a slightly sickly shade of green. An abstract Impressionist painting of trauma.

Whether from trauma or illness, needles or I.V.'s, blood thinners or infection, or a general weakened woozy state that makes your footing not so steady so you bump into things a bit more often- bruises are going to happen. Some bruises are super sensitive while others have a dull ache. Some linger for extended periods of time and most are rather unsightly.

(My current bruise blossom is looking rather unpleasant at a week old, and doesn't feel too great either.)

There is not a lot you can do about them for the duration. Usually a bruise is yours to keep for ten to fourteen days.

Treating a bruise is more an art then a science. But there are some tricks that sometimes help in controlling their severity, pain level, speed of fading, and length of stay. Try to find a trick that works for you.

In the first 24 hours:
Ice (even a pack of frozen peas wrapped in a towel or a wet wash cloth helps - no more than 15 minutes an hour)
Compression (ace bandages work well)
Elevation (keep the bruise propped above heart level to reduce blow flow to the area)
Antibiotic Cream (if there is broken skin)

After 24-48 hours:
Heating ( a heating pad, warm wash cloth, or hot water bottle helps. Just don't apply longer than an hour)
- always make sure there is a buffer between you and the heat, like a towel or cloth, to prevent burns
Healing Warmth (warmed water with vinegar compress or warmed herbal comfrey compress - but only if there is no broken skin at bruise site)

Natural Rubs:
Arnica Gel
St. John's Wart Oil
Crushed Parsley Leaves
Aloe Vera

Bromelain (a pineapple enzyme, reduces pain and inflammation)
Vitamin C (helps prevent and lessen the severity of bruising)
Flavinoids (found in carrots and citrus fruits, helps Vitamin C work better)
Vitamin K (green leafy veggies)
Bilberry Extract

For Pain:
but Avoid Aspirin and, some say, even Ibuprofen (as they may thin the blood and make bruising worse)
Bengay (a pharmacist recommended it to me and it sometimes helps)

Always consult a doctor if bruising occurs when you have no apparent source while ill, if bruising occurs while taking blood thinners, if bruising while severely anemic, the bruising is on the face or head, the bruising swells, doesn't heal or fade, and is accompanied by severe pain or a fever.

(Note: I am not a doctor, just passing on information I have learned from my own bruising and some tricks I haven't tried but others have said helped them. Always be sure to seek the recommendations of your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist for more advanced medical advice.)

In the end, bruises are just a body's natural way of dealing with trauma, and if you are bruising, you are still surviving. Being alive, even if bruised, is a good thing.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Rights of Wrong

The actress, Angelina Jolie, who previously had made the decision to have a double mastectomy, recently announced she'd had a laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes as part of her ongoing choice to make preemptive strikes for her survival, based on her family's genetic history of cancer. She made a brave and far from easy decision.

Survivors are often faced with uneasy decisions. In times of trauma, crisis, and illness, a person comes face to face with what is wrong within themselves, either physically or emotionally. And, their survival will often be based on the choices they make about how to face that wrong.

You have the rights to these choices. They are very personal and relative to your unique situation.

Seek as much knowledge as you can and create access to additional knowledge if you need to. Listen to opinions and advice, find second opinions and alternate advice. Ask for help. Learn about your situation, your risks, and know your different choices. Knowledge is power.

Know Your Rights.

You have the right to seek treatment. You have the right to refuse treatment.
You have the right to a second opinion. You have the right to your own opinion.
You have the right to go a traditional route. You have the right to take an alternate route.
You have the right to an accepted drug regimen. You have the right to holistic alternatives.
You have the right to aggressive therapies. You have the right to less evasive ones.

You have the right to include other people. You have the right to make your own decisions.
You have the right to surround yourself with people. You have the right to be alone.
You have the right to discuss what is happening to you. You have the right to remain quiet.
You have the right to be positive. You have the right to be angry.

You have the right to ask for a different doctor. You have the right to request a specific medical professional. 
You have the right to enter rehab. You have the right to have counseling. 
You have the right to try different therapies. You have the right to discontinue a treatment not working for you.

You have the right to call for help. You have the right to call the police. 
You have the right to talk to a lawyer. You have the right to talk to your priest. 
You have the right to search and to reach. You have the right to ask any and all questions.

You have the right to be proactive. You have the right to be preemptive. You have the right to wait and see.
You have the right to be swayed. You have the right to dig your heels in.
You have the right to say "Yes". You have the right to say "No". You have the right to say "Stop".
You have the right to ask for more. You have the right to say "Enough".

You have the right to respect. You have the right to your dignity. 
You have the right to fight, to heal, and to survive. You have the right to ask for a DNR and create a living will.

You have the right to your choices.

Do not give in to the fear or be overcome by the weight of your choices. This is what life is about. It is a journey. We all come to forks in the road. Choose the path that is right for you. It is your life, your body, and your soul.

There is no right choice. There are only your choices and making them may be bravest thing you will ever do.

Friday, March 27, 2015

She Wrote Laugh On Her Arm

When dealing with extreme pain, depression, loss, sadness, and circumstances you feel you have no control over, for some people self-harm becomes an outlet. However, it is a dangerous outlet for coping.

The acts of self-injury are often misunderstood and thought of as suicidal. But, the definition of self-harm is "the deliberate, self-inflicted destruction of body tissue resulting in immediate damage, without suicidal intent and for purposes not culturally sanctioned." 

It includes the intentional cutting or carving of the skin, scratching, burning yourself, punching yourself or objects with the intention of hurting yourself, and embedding objects beneath the skin. It can be done to any part of the body, but most often is performed on wrists, hands, thighs and stomachs. Often places which can be hidden from view.

It doesn't normally include piercings or tattoos, unless those are actually done for the purpose of injury. It is not done with the intent of committing suicide, but people who self-injure if the behavior continues, and the underlying reasons for the behavior go untreated, have a higher suicide rate.

It sounds counterintuitive and counterproductive to hurt yourself while you are having trouble coping with big emotional or physical pain, but some people seek to self-injure as a way to take control back. They feel emotional pain ebb by replacing it with physical pain or create a physical pain they have control over, when other painful things in life become too much to bear. 

It can come from a dark spiral of self, a very lonely, guilt-ridden, and secretive place. 

Most people who self-mutilate hide their wounds, or lie about how they got them. It is a difficult subject for most people to admit to, as well as hard for other people to understand. It is confusing and painful. It can also be an extremely complex cycle to break free from.

But there are survivors. Self-injuries, like all injuries, can heal, if given the chance, the support, and the understanding.

Years ago, I met a beautiful, intelligent, powerful woman, Tommi Dubuque Johnstone, with a painful past and deep scars on her arms. The very first time I saw those long-healed slashes, I recognized them for what they were. I understood what she had done and the kind of dark place she had been in to do it, since I, too, had self-harmed.

But the thing I found the most striking was the tattoo directly below her scars and the curve of her elbow. It said simply "Laugh". 

Upon seeing it, I asked her a single question, "Does it work?" pointing to the tattoo. Tommi replied bluntly, "All the time," and then she actually laughed.

I always remembered that. A reminder to self to help survive and endure. I remember her honesty and bravery. The beauty of it was striking.

I have known her for many years. 
I have watched with joy as her life found great love. (I toasted her at her wedding.) I have been proud of her success. (I toasted her promotions and chosen careers.) I have been moved by her art. (Poems which made me cry and cross-stitching which made me smile, one of which hangs in my house.) And, I have cheered for her genuinely deserved happiness. I watched Tommi fight to survive and win. I have watched her commitment to raise money and awareness to help others survive.

Years later, I got a tattoo on my wrist. Which has many levels of meaning to me, both beautiful and hard, but one of the hidden meanings includes "Don't cut here." And I can tell you, it does work, all the time.

Years after that, she drove from out of state to have lunch with me before my brain surgery and bought a "Team Drake" shirt with a little brain on it to support my survival.

During the hardest parts of surviving, I have fought the urge to self-harm. I have not always been able to beat that urge back. I have faltered. I have cut and bled.

But, I have often pulled myself back from the edge. Stepped away from the abyss, by remembering her "Laugh" and by my own reminder on my wrist. Held on, by thinking of Tommi and another soul I have loved who self-harms, because in knowing their grace, beauty, and worth, I am able to find some of my own.

There is power in knowing you are not alone.

We all suffer. We all know darkness. We all have to fight for the light. We all have worth and value. We can all survive and endure.

There is help. There is understanding. There is support. There are people like you.

Seek a place inside of you that allows you to heal. Reach for people who can help you find that place. Remind yourself every day. You have worth and so does your life. 

Respect yourself and your skin. Laugh. It works.

Seeking support and a deeper understanding of self-injury and depression beyond this site? To Write Love on Her Arms is a good place to start.

(Writer's note: I respect all Survivors' privacy, but when I approached Tommi about this post, she said I could use her name and she sent me a picture of her inspiring tattoo. She also had some eloquent words to say on the subject which were very powerful, which I wanted to share, because they sum up so perfectly what it means to be a Survivor who Breathes Brave which is the root to what I am trying to do here at Survivor Jewelry.

"I truly believe that keeping these sorts of things silent is damaging to our society, perpetuating the notion that self-mutilation is abnormal or freakish, encouraging people to keep their self-harm habits secret instead of seeking comfort and help, often letting the root cause go unnoticed and unaddressed for years or a lifetime.  Because of this, I am extremely open about my own history of self-mutilation and I am honored to have you share a bit of my story here." 

Thank you Tommi, you are truly a brave and amazing woman. It is a privilege to know you and call you a friend.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Everyone has milestones in their lives. Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, celebrations, and many other important events. 

Survivors add to these a unique kind of milestones. Some big, like years in remission, good test results, and clean scans. While some are victories in the ability to accomplish a small basic thing which had been lost, like able to walk through the grocery store unassisted, drive a car, got out of bed, felt less pain, grew hair back, touched my toes, and managed not to cry today.

When you feel disheartened and the road has been too long, try to hold close these precious milestones. Close your eyes, feel that milestone like a smooth pebble in your hand, and see yourself throwing it into a calm, vast lake. Imagine the ripples in the water as it skims the surface and then breaks through, falling into the blue. Feel those ripples expanding out to create waves, those waves rising up and caressing the shore.

Your milestone no matter how small creates a positive ripple effect in your life. See not just the milestone itself, but everything it represents. As we survive, the pebbles of our survival, become the amazing waves of our life.

Today is my birthday. I hurt a whole lot today. But, three years ago, when I had brain surgery, I didn't know if I would ever have another birthday. 

We only hurt while we are alive. So, pain felt on a birthday I didn't know I would get to have seems a small price to pay.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Survivors and the Survivors Who Love Them need to reach out.

Everyone faces struggles and hardships. Everyday someone somewhere feels hurt and alone. 

But, we are not alone. We need to show eachother that. Support matters.

Charity is an important act and one that doesn't have to be about money. There are many forms of charity. Give your time, your support, and your love to someone in need of it. Give one moment of your humanity to another person.

It is that simple.
We can all help eachother survive. 
Be kind today. 
Do something for someone else. 
Do just one thing. Today.
And then tell us about it. 
No matter how big or small or specific or random.
Give a kindness.

We can inspire eachother by helping another. We can inspire another to share, by sharing ourselves. Help someone survive today. It matters.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Random Acts

Kindness is often overlooked, but can truly change one's survival. At moments when we most need help, small thoughtful acts of kindness can make all the difference. Even the smallest, most random of acts can ease another person's struggle in very powerful ways.

Last night, during a conversation with a friend, I mentioned how I found a tweaked photograph of him oddly therapeutic and relaxing. I laughed with him about how all I needed now was the sound of packing tape to be completely Zen.

Obscure I know, but let me explain. 
For years, I lived at a storage facility where I worked and this friend had a storage unit which happened to share a wall with my bedroom. For his business, he did a lot of packing and shipping, usually at odd hours, often in the middle of the night. I would hear the distinctive sound of boxes being taped through the wall and know he was over there. Sometimes, I called him from bed while he worked, because we were both up and night owls. Other times, I would stroll over there in my pajamas, sneak up on him while he was in the "zone" and give him a scare. Then we would hang out talking while he packed and sorted. More often then not though, numerous times a month, I would just fall asleep listening to the sound of that tape. So, even though the applying, ripping, tearing sound of tape can be abrasive for some, it has a soothing affect on me. 

So, I joked with him about how during recent pain, stress, and insomnia, I missed the tape sound. Within a couple of minutes of getting off the phone with him, I got an email entitled "Calm", with just a sound file of packing tape being applied, ripped, and torn. It made me laugh, and I admit, I have listened to it a few times, because it does oddly relax me.

Over the course of surviving stress and anxiety can be overwhelming, so things that are soothing or helpful can be a life-raft to get you through very tough times. And random acts of kindness literally and figuratively can make quite a difference.

Sending me that tiny sound file made me think back on many of the surprising, random acts of kindness I received during my recovery and fight for survival. Both big and small. A lot of them may seem like little acts in the grand scheme of things, but the kindness and support I received from people made a huge difference in my life, my spirit, and the survival of my struggles.

Kindness is important. Thoughtfulness is beautiful. We should all acknowledge and give thanks to these moments of humanity. We should strive to give more of ourselves to others, because our actions make a difference.

I had many people do wonderful things to help me survive. I want to take a moment to mention just a few of them.
(I debated using their names, since kindness sometimes wishes to remain anonymous, so I chose to mostly use initials.)

My friends:

"MJ" sent me the first flowers after my brain surgery and she arranged them beautifully herself. She also paid my rent when I couldn't.

"LD" and "KD" brought me bags of groceries, stocking my freezer.

"OC" took me on a $300 shopping spree for supplies and food, literally saving me from starvation and making sure I had toilet paper.

"JE" bought me a Kuerig machine, which allowed me to make coffee and tea without a lot of effort when I could barely move.

"LW" drove me for coffee and groceries, walked Irish, and took us all to the dog park when I was trapped at home with a useless car.

"DL" sent the sound of tape. 
He also: 
Brought me my favorite pizza when I got home from the hospital.
Said the surgical staples in my head made me look "bad ass", like the Terminator, which made me feel better about them.
Called me every day for months, just to check on me, make me laugh, and help me think of other things when I was fixating on the dark stuff and the pain.
Loaded my moving van by himself, when I couldn't lift anything.
And, on my first single-coverage day back at work after brain surgery, he literally took the day off of his work, drove over an hour to sit there my whole ten hour day, unpaid, just to make sure I made it through safely.

And my family:

Mother and sisters, who held my hand, cooked my food, did my laundry, paid for stuff, brightened my darkness, and held down the fort.

Brother-in-law and boyfriend-in-law, who kept the homefires burning so the fort holding could happen.

My nephew, who watched cartoons with me and drew me pictures of cats, Darth Vader, Cheetoes, and shamrocks.

Tripp who sent me hours of movies and t.v. shows to watch while trapped at home. (He still does.)

Jonathan who spent every day and every night with me, half a world away. Gave me the gift of time. Kept me alive and made me whole.

There were many more small acts of kindness and thoughtfulness along the way, from friends and strangers. Too many to mention them all. But, I am thankful for every single one.

We all need moments of kindness. We all need more of them.
Take the time to be kind, to be thoughtful, and to give thanks.

Random acts of kindness are not random to the person who receives them. They are the very specific moments which help us survive.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Swing Shift

Survivors deal with unique types of pain in the form of pain that overreacts, underreacts, compounds upon itself, or comes from an alternative source.

In a past conversation with a cancer survivor, we talked about how hard it was to explain or even rationalize at times these alternate pains. One of the strange truths of surviving is that when a body endures extreme pain it can reset your pain receptacles. This resetting can cause everything to get out of whack, as if the body no longer knows how to properly process pain signals, either emotional or physical.

You can swing from one extreme to the other with no warning or way to prepare. 

Crying hysterically over nothing one minute, then barely react at all to something much larger and far more painful. Have a severe wound that you hardly register, but suffer immensely from something as insignificant as a scrunchie worn in your hair too long. 

You can be someone who successfully endures heavy pain for long periods, who begins to falter intensely over every minor injury. You can exercise and have strength, but then have difficulty picking up a can of soda or walking ten feet. 

Manage to heal deep gashes and suture areas, then be destroyed by a bruise the size of a quarter. Find you are able to exist with a pain level now that would have sidelined you before, while also find yourself unable to handle the pain from the most simple of tasks.

Bodies and minds are both amazingly resilient and unbelievably fragile. Pain has a strange way of giving strength and sapping it away. It is like riding a roller coaster in the dark, you have no idea when the twists and turns will happen, can't see what is coming, and can't get off until the ride is over.

It is easy to become frustrated or disheartened when swinging between the extremes. You tense up. It can create both an irrational dread and a true fear of simple things. You will find yourself over-thinking activities and basic tasks. It is frankly exhausting. Sadly, the stress and anxiety it creates can wear you down into an even more vulnerable state.

You may not bounce back as quickly as you once did and that may be the case for a very long time. You may suddenly find you bounce in a different direction from alternate sources. 

Try to remain calm and process the sensations as they occur. Allow yourself the moment, but once you ride them out, shake them off. Don't let them have power over you. You can't avoid life while waiting for something that can strike with no warning. You can not prepare for something you can not see coming.

Have hope, because just as surely as you overreact and feel alternate pain, there will be things that evolve to no longer hurt and are easier to bear. Over time the resetting can reset again. You will heal.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Agony of Defeat

Forty-five years ago today, Vinko Bogataj became "The Agony of Defeat" on ABC's the Wide World of Sports, when it showed a clip of his crash during a ski jump in West Germany almost two weeks earlier. 

It was only nine seconds of his life.

But his defeat is cemented in the minds of millions. Those nine seconds came to symbolize the humanity and frailty in us all.

The part of the story you never hear about is that Vinko Bogataj jumped earlier in the day, falling less spectacularly. Yet, he brushed himself off and jumped again. 

In his next fateful attempt, he made it more than 90% of the way down the ski jump in extreme weather conditions before faltering. After his infamous fall, he wanted to try another jump, but the doctors wouldn't let him. He only suffered a mild concussion and recovered quickly.

He continued to ski jump. He went on to coach a World Champion Slovenian ski jumper in the 1990's. At the 20th anniversary of The Wide World of Sports, he received a standing ovation from world-renowned athletes and Olympians. Muhammad Ali got his autograph at that celebration. 

He is married, with two children. He makes woodcarvings and paints landscapes. He is alive and well today, having recently turned 67 years old.

Like Vinko Bogataj, we can not let our lives be defined by our defeats. 

For every agony, we also know victories. We survive and endure. Don't let the agony of defeats keep you from jumping again. You have the ability to soar. Brush yourself off. Life is a leap of faith. Try again.

20th Anniversary Interview with Vinko Bogataj

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Share ~ Your Story Matters

Survivor Jewelry is about sharing your story.
We all have a story to tell. Your story matters. We would love to hear yours. 

Everyone's struggle has worth. No one's pain is bigger or less important then another's.
All of our stories have beauty. Surviving is personal. Sharing your story of survival has power.

Please take a moment to share your survivor story, whether as a chapter, a paragraph, an insight, a drawing, a brave note or poem, ~ a story in part or as a whole.

Tell us how you Breathe Brave. 
Share. Show. Tell. 

You are not alone and there is beauty in realizing that.
We can help each other. It can help you heal to share and in sharing your story could help another. Words have the power to empower. Voices heal.

If you are interested in sharing your story, email it to us at

(Your sharing will be treated with respect and privacy. Please include your name within your email for contact information. However, if your story is shared on Survivor Jewelry, it will be by first name only, unless you specifically request otherwise. Content will not be be changed, but may be edited for length. Submitting your story constitutes permission to allow for Survivor Jewelry to share it so it can help and inspire others. If you have questions, please contact us.)

Shame On You

We live in a culture where shame is commonplace. Where it is acceptable to shame and be shamed, privately and publicly.
Despite the fact that...

"...shame is important because no other affect is more disturbing to the self, none more central for the sense of identity. 
In the context of normal development, shame is the source of low self-esteem, diminished self image, poor self concept, and deficient body-image. 
Shame itself produces self-doubt and disrupts both security and confidence. It can become an impediment to the experience of belonging and to shared intimacy....
It is the experiential ground from which conscience and identity inevitably evolve. In the context of pathological development, shame is central to the emergence of alienation, loneliness, inferiority and perfectionism. 
It plays a central role in many psychological disorders as well, including depression, paranoia, addiction, and borderline conditions. 
Sexual disorders and many eating disorders are largely disorders of shame. Both physical abuse and sexual abuse also significantly involve shame...
shame has been found to be a very strong predictor of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder." ~ Gershen Kaufman, Clinical Psychologist

Life is hard enough. Now imagine trying to heal and survive with all that going on. Imagine coming to grips with internal and external scars with all that additional pain felt just about being one's self.

Shame, guilt, and embarrassment about traumatic events can be crippling literally. They can leave a person damaged almost to a point beyond repair. Collectively we have to combat this.

As people and a society, we have to not only be more accepting of ourselves, but of each other. We have to come to relish our differences, embrace what makes us unique, as well as acknowledge our similarities. We have to fight for the humanity we all share.

Scars, inside and out, should not be a source of shame, but a badge of courage. Surviving shouldn't be a source of guilt, but a call to arms. Trauma should not be a source of embarrassment, but a battle cry.

These should be the starting points to beautiful conversations. We are the roads to our own enlightenment.

Be honest. Be brave. Accept people for who they are. Accept yourself for who you are. Free yourself from shame and shaming others.

We are the Roads to our own Enlightenment Shirts

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Epic Fail

As a survivor, your story will be complex and multilayered. But, often that story will fit, however haphazardly, into four basic chapters. They include "Baby Steps", "Setbacks", "Victories", and "Epic Fails".

Often a chapter will happen when you originally intended to write in a different chapter.

A couple of days ago, after having less then stellar results with more traditional treatments, in an attempt to combat my on-going chronic pain, with the complete support of my Pain Management Specialist, I tried an alternate avenue of treatment in seeking acupuncture. 

I have known a great many people combating trauma who have had miraculous results in alternative therapies. In my own search for healing, I have remained open and willing to seek help in any treatment that could be beneficial.

I was hopeful and looking forward to any chance at some relief. The acupuncturist was nice and listened to my medical history. She answered questions and explained all aspects of the treatment process, including realistic expectations of results. The needles involved only minor sensations and didn't hurt. I got them in my neck, shoulders, back, feet, arms, and my head. One needle location itched a little. They certainly were interesting to look at.

Due to my damaged muscles a few minutes into it, though, I began to have pain issues with my positioning on the table. We removed all the needles and inserted them again while I was seated instead.

It was a little boring. Zen music and low lighting weren't really helping my routine pain. After thirty minutes, I began to get a dull headache, but the treatment was ending. Needles were removed. We made plans for ongoing treatments and return visits.

Within an hour and a half, pain was clustering and radiating across my shoulders and up my neck. It literally felt like I was dying. I could barely stand. Eventually, I collapsed when I tried to walk.

I had aimed for a victory chapter for my story. I would have been content with the fledgling beginnings of a baby step chapter. Instead, I got slammed by a classic epic fail chapter. 

People saw me cry. Strangers saw me cry. (This is a big deal for me. Most of my crying is private, primarily occurring in the shower when I need to let the tears out.) 

I was a mess. I got help. I got meds. I formulated a new treatment plan with my Pain Management Specialist, including additional physical therapy and pursuing botox injection treatments for my damaged muscles, as well as the recommendation I not take the acupuncture route again. 

Sadly, the acupuncture had worked in briefly relaxing my painfully tight, damaged muscles. For the first time in a very long time, the cruel muscle rope-snake up the side of my neck uncoiled. It just also unleashed a super nova of damaged nerve cluster pain. Survivor stories do love their little ironies. 

It was not one of my better days. But, sometimes this happens. The story we are trying to write decides to take on a little artistic license of its own.

We can not erase the epic fails of our stories. We all have setbacks. We will have more of them and hopefully some successes as well. We must keep pursuing the next chapter. Keep hoping for the next baby step. Keep aiming for the next victory.

Do not close the book on your search for a happy ending. Your story is far from finished. We all deserve a happily ever after.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


The four-leaf clover is an uncommon variation of the more common three-leaf clover. (One four-leaf clover found in every ten thousand three-leaf ones.) 

Their uniqueness makes them beautiful and valued. 

According to tradition it brings good luck to find one, especially if it is found by accident. Each leaf signifies something. The first is faith. The second is hope. The third is love. And, the fourth is luck.

Survivors are like these rare shamrocks:

We find our strength and survivor skills by accident. 
We are each uniquely beautiful, despite and because of our flaws.
We have value and worth, even in our weakest, most vulnerable moments.
It takes all kinds of faith to survive, whether that faith be in our gods, in our doctors, in each other, or in ourselves.
It takes hope to fight for our survival, our health, and our hearts.
It takes love to heal, to grow, and to find our way out of the darkness.
And, yes, surviving does take a wee bit of luck, in that a lot of what happens to us is beyond our control.

Breathe deep. 
You are unique and have worth. You are beautiful. 
Have faith. Have hope. Embrace love.
(And, have a Happy St. Patrick's Day.)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Not Like the Other

A lot of us when we were little knew all the words to "One of these things is not like the other" on Sesame Street. We got excited to sing along and figure out what just didn't belong. Some of us, when we grew up, saw the movie trailer for Snakes on a Plane and laughed despite the creepiness of the idea.

There is just something both compelling and overtly obvious about things which are out of place. We notice them. There can also be a disturbing kind of wrongness to something that doesn't belong, an almost instinctual reaction.

Survivors have a unique view of this unease. 

It can come in many forms: An xray or biopsy. A blood test or brain scan. A scar visible in your reflection in the mirror. The emotional scars no one can see, but you never escape the raw awareness of deep within. The disease or tumors lurking inside you. The depression felt when everyone else seems happy. The trauma which makes you feel removed from the rest of the world.

There is a deep sense of loss in the betrayal of your body or spirit that comes from facing that thing inside you which sets you apart. The sense of wrongness of it can alter your view of yourself, change the way you see the world, and create a sense of distance between you and those around you.

When you are the one "not like the other" and it is you who "just doesn't belong", it is a very isolating experience. Lonely and frightening. You can become an interloper of self.

It will not be easy, but try to make peace with the pieces that are different. Incorporate those pieces into the whole of you. Take care with the damaged parts and give them the attention they need to heal. Accept the changes in yourself in a way that repairs instead of condemns. 

Don't let other people's negative views destroy the positively beautiful parts that make you, you. Embrace what the French call "vive la différence" - long live the difference, a battle cry for celebrating diversity.

You may be different then you were, but we are all different from each other. We are unique individuals. We all grow, change, and evolve. There are also parts of you that remain the same. And, as part of humanity, we all have parts of us that are alike.

Fight to survive your trauma, eradicate disease, overcome abuse, enter recovery from addiction, and heal. But, allow yourself the peace of spirit to accept the changes you can not change. 

So, snakes sometimes ride on planes, sometimes something is not like another thing, but you are beautiful and you do belong.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Hail, Caesar

Two-thousand and fifty nine years ago today, Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times, by conspiring peers, friends and enemies. The medical conclusion, after one of the first known recorded post-mortems in history, was that only one of the multiple stab wounds was considered a fatal blow. 

Prior to his assassination, it is said by historians of the time, that Caesar was warned of the impending danger by a seer named Surinna. Later, William Shakespeare immortalized this warning with the dramatic quote, "Beware the ides of March," in his play Julius Caesar.

The seer Surinna was actually a haruspex. A man who divines prophesies by reading the entrails of religiously sacrificed animals, the way some gypsy ladies read tea leaves.

So, what do the stab wounds of an assassinated Roman dictator and a fortune teller who believed animal guts have to do with Surviving?

Two very important things.

Firstly, it only takes one fatal blow to kill you. No matter how many blows or injuries you suffer, only one of them, ever, will be fatal.

And secondly, trust your guts.

Regarding the blows:
Surviving is about all manner of injuries, emotional and physical, that sometimes compound over time. But, no matter how hurt you are, no matter how wounded, no matter how many wounds you receive - it is vital to keep fighting to survive. Because until that final blow, there is hope. There is breath in us yet. We are human. We feel every injury. We hurt. But, we endure. 

Yes, of course, there will be a final blow for us all, someday. It may come in a hospital bed from illness, or in our sleep from old age, or getting hit by a bus full of tourists. That isn't the point. The point is to live every moment in the meantime. Not to waste these moments focusing on each and every blow we received and dreading each one to come. We have the ability to heal, grow, and see beauty. We can feel happiness. Cling to those moments to get you through whatever onslaught of blows you face.

Regarding the guts:
Trust yours. Plain and simple.
If you feel like something is wrong, seek help. If you feel uneasy, hunt for something to ease you. If you feel like there is no point, find one. If you feel lost, take a moment to search for yourself. If you feel there are warning signs, heed them. 

You know you better than anyone else. You know your body, your mind, and your heart. Trust your feelings. Do whatever it takes to make things right inside you, around you, and for you. It is part of how we all survive and a big part of healing for continued survival.

Like the ides of March, there will be bad days with many blows. But, there will also be good days. 

Get through the bad days by clinging to the good ones. Make the good days better by letting go of the bad ones. No regrets. Breathe Brave

Saturday, March 14, 2015


It is important during survival to find sources of support that will genuinely aid in your healing and not hinder it. Sometimes this support can be in life-changing gestures or treatments. Other times, it can be found in those who we bring closest to our hearts during our upheaval. 

But, never underestimate the value of a good nurse.

A lot of survivors end up getting to know a lot of nurses. 

Nurses often get a bad rap. Like all people, they come in a variety of types. Sadly, some are indifferent or inept and others are insensitive or cruel. But, there are more Florence Nightingales out there then Nurse Ratcheds. 

Nurses who can make hard times easier and lessen the impact of scary times. They can see you when you are at your worst and still manage to like you. They help people heal and offer gentle hands for those transitioning through their final days. 

It is a hard job to watch people suffer and sometimes a thankless one.

Nurses deserve our gratitude. 

Especially the ones who:

Apologize when they have to stick you with needles,
Offer you snacks or drinks when you are stuck sitting somewhere too long,
Bring you blankets when cold rooms and treatments leave you freezing,
Wear festive scrubs to brighten dull treatments,
Smile when they see you,
Make boring hours fun,
Remember you without looking at a chart,
Listen to your story,
Share their stories with you,
Help you laugh when you feel bad,
Hold your hand when you know pain,
Check on you often,
Genuinely seem to worry about you,
Relish in your victories,
Console you during your setbacks,
Treat you with dignity and respect,
& are just plain Nice and Friendly.

If you have a nurse who makes your survival easier and less painful, be sure to give thanks.

Personally I would like to thank each and every nurse at the Peninsula Cancer Institute Infusion Therapy Clinic in Gloucester, Virginia. These ladies have truly been Nightingales for me. PCI Infusion Therapy

Friday, March 13, 2015


People have a superstitious fear of Friday the 13th and often face the date with trepidation.

Surviving trauma can be like this. 

In general, we often tend to fixate on the negative, getting overcome with worry and dread. And when dealing with the all too real aspects of a traumatic event, crisis, or illness, darker thoughts can creep up on you to the extreme. With so many bad days to get through, you can find yourself wasting the good days waiting for the other shoe to drop. This fear, whether rational or irrational, can be paralyzing.

But, you can't let these figurative Fridays stop you from enjoying the Thursdays and Saturdays. 

For every bad day, try to remember the last good day and focus on the next good day to come. Close your eyes and imagine an elevator panel missing the 13th button. (A lot of them actually don't even have one.) 

See it as a survival metaphor. Allow yourself the relief of envisioning the better days and skipping over the bad ones. Because, there will be better days. There will. Breathe brave one inhale at a time.

It can't be Friday all the time. You will make it to the weekend.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


Death is part of life and facing death is very much a part of Survivor Jewelry. 

When facing a traumatic diagnosis, there is great anxiety about dying. No matter what survival percentage you are looking at, when those numbers are about you, the ones not in your favor loom very large. 

So, even if you head into battle with a positive mindset, there will be moments when you visit the scariest percentages and sit down with the worst case scenarios. Some of these moments will be born of your own fear and other times they will be given to you by someone who loves you and is afraid for you.

Death anxiety can add a great deal of stress, pain, and worry to a situation already wrought with enough of all three. It can take away from your healing because it changes your focus at a time you need your strength. It can literally blindside you and leave you paralyzed with morbid thoughts. 

During my fight, I have had many conversations with people heroically caught in the whirlwind of this crippling anxiety. I dealt with a lot of friends and family sharing in my own battle who crumbled beneath the weight of what could happen. I spent a lot of time trying to alleviate other people's anxieties while trying to keep a brave face about my own.

If you try to run from the fear, it will only sneak up on you. If you try to exist in denial about it, it will catch you off guard and knock you down. But how you navigate your way through it is vital and very personal to your journey of survival.

Find what works for you and try to find ways to turn the table on the anxiety. Be creative and inventive if you have to. Allow yourself time to cry and time to forge ahead.

For me, I had "AnxieTeas", private, unshared time, where I would allow myself to both breakdown momentarily and formulate a positive plan of action for worst case scenarios. Quiet time, often with actual tea, but usually coffee or a coke, where I could steal a moment to be alone to just feel and think. 

With my brain surgery, there was the threat not only of death, but of severe mental and physical damage. Strokes, memory loss, nerve damage, losing the ability to walk/talk and more. The list of outcomes felt endless. I would often cry, panic, and get very angry, other times I would find myself laughing manically because it all felt so surreal. But, I usually came of out these teas with some little plan.

Someone very close to me became crippled by the worry I would not remember him at all, which then became a true worry of mine. So after an actual tea with him, I had one of these solo teas. During which I came up with the idea to create flashcards with the names and pictures of important people that I loved, in case I did forget. 

The cards existence became about doing something positive for myself and others that both respectfully acknowledged that fear and formulated a plan to against it. (In fact, those flashcards went to the hospital with me, but luckily I came through surgery with my memory intact.) 

After that, the teas became something cathartic for me about cause and effect. 

I worried my life would be in utter disarray, so I cleaned and organized my house, to the extreme. Should some of the worst cases happen, everything would be easily located, accessed, or packed. 

A Southern hostess to a fault, I was afraid of not being able to take care of the people coming to take care of me, so I created maps of everything around me should I be unable to tell people where the grocery store or gas station was. 

I got new sheets for company, stocked up on firewood, and a dear friend gave me a Kuerig machine so I could make coffee for myself and everyone visiting without much effort for mess. (That gadget was a godsend.)

 I made a will, I let people know my living will wishes. I made sure to eat all my favorite foods and tell people I loved them. 

I made Team t-shirts with little pink brains on them, so everyone could feel part of a rally towards something positive. 

I focused on making sure every private meltdown caused something positive to be built from it and shared. It was during one of these teas, I created what turned out for me to be one of the most important rules to my breathing brave. 

I decided, if I wasn't crying, no one else could cry in front of me. Before that, it had gotten to be overwhelming to keep consoling people who were bursting into tears, while I was fighting to keep my world together. So, respectfully I allowed everyone else to be emotional and worried, afraid and sad, but if they felt a good old fashioned cry coming on, when I wasn't crying myself, they got "sent to the hall". 

As shocking as it seems, it actually became something which lightened the mood and gave us all a reason to laugh and be silly, because no one wanted to be the one "sent to the hall". It also gave a special tenderness to the moments when everyone was crying together.

In the end, you have to find a way to live with your fears and death anxiety in whatever way works for you. If it helps you to have everyone cry in a big group huddle, then grab the tissues and hug it out. 

We all have worst case scenarios. We all hope for the best. Just try to remember to do everything you can about the things you have control over and not allow yourself to be swallowed by that which you have no control over.

What helped you? Share it, because it might be just the trick someone else needs to get through it themselves.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Almost Five Billion

It is estimated 67% of the people on the Earth today have or will experience some substantial traumatic event in their lifetime.

That means of the approximately 7 billion 300 thousand people currently on the planet, 4 billion 891 thousand of them have or will experience trauma from an endless list of circumstances, including severe illnesses, war, abuse, accidents, torture, rape, assaults, and natural disasters.

Almost 5 billion people. 
Yet, every single day, survivors feel uniquely alone in their struggles.
Almost 5 billion people. 
Yet, survivors continue to battle with immense depression, shame, guilt, and regret.
Almost 5 billion people. 
Yet, survivors have trouble making their feelings and needs understood.
Almost 5 billion people. 
Yet, survivors often struggle to get help and adequate treatment.
Almost 5 billion people. 
Yet, survivors hide their traumas, their scars, and struggle to cope privately.
Almost 5 billion people. 
Yet, survivors are routinely re-traumatized by simple interactions with people and health-care professionals who do not take the time to understand their situation, who speak without thinking, and who don't know or bother to respect the vulnerable state a survivor often exists in.
Almost 5 billion people. 
And, that number does not include the people who love them and survive with them.

We are not alone. Even when we feel like we are.

One million people commit suicide a year. 
Globally it is the tenth leading cause of death. (Only slightly less in number than car accidents worldwide, and just above in numbers over stomach cancer, colon cancer and liver cancer.)

One million Survivors Lost. Leaving behind the survivors who love them.

Do not give up. You may feel isolated and lost, but you are not alone.

Reach out. Share your story. Ask for help.

If no one takes your hand, or listens, or answers...
Make some noise.
Move on to the next family member, friend, doctor, nurse, therapist, survivor group, or stranger.

Reach again. Share again. Ask again. Make a racket.
And keep doing it until you get the help and support you need.
Don't lose hope.

Each of us is too beautiful, too brave, and too unique to lose. 

Their are almost 5 billion of us, 
more if you count the ones who have stood by us, 
even more if you count the ones who you haven't even met yet who will stand with you... 

Join us. You are already one of us. We breathe brave together.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Running the Asylum

Surviving can make you feel like you are going crazy.

Everything collides at once. 

Emotions swirl. Physical ailments compound. Realities begin to converge. People get tangled. Life begins to take on a surreal quality, which can be extremely overwhelming. Like a lunatic in a padded room, your world feels straight-jacketed and fighting it just leaves you bouncing uselessly off the walls. Everything at once is very, very hard to process. When it keeps coming, it is difficult to find the ability to stop the roller coaster long enough to inhale and calm down.

At times, there is truly only one way to fight the madness. And, that is just to join the asylum.

Go insane.
Totally lose it.
Crack up on occasion.
Run amok. 

Meltdown when you need to. 
Temporarily allow yourself the freedom to go a little bit crazy.
Break a little to remain whole. 

Cry. Stomp around like a child throwing a tantrum. Flop on beds. Howl at the moon. Punch pillows. Yell at God. Dance around flailing your arms. Spin in a circle until you are reeling from the dizziness. Release the Kraken.
Whatever vents it out, calms it down, and pulls it together.

My aneurysm was discovered after I was involved in a "minor" car accident. I had been vomiting and passing out after having been sent home from the hospital the night before. I was back in the emergency room with whiplash and a shaken-baby style concussion. The doctors were concerned by swelling on the side of my neck and gave me an MRI to see if anything in there was about to rupture. But, at the very top of the scan of my neck, the technician glimpsed a brain aneurysm. So, I got sent home. 

(Yes, they do that. Drop a dire diagnosis in your lap, put a cervical collar on your neck to stabilize your whiplash, give you a pain pill prescription, tell you to find a neurosurgeon first thing in the morning since your aneurysm hasn't yet ruptured, and send you home alone at three a.m.) 

Things were starting to swirl.

In pain, hardly able to move, lightheaded, woozy and totally alone, I couldn't even reach anyone since it was the middle of the night. No one was answering their phones. I looked up aneurysm on the computer and started to panic. Those kill people. Hours until sunrise. Hours until I could reach family or friends. Hours looking at statistics about the scary thing in my head.

Things were starting to compound.

Phone calls, frantic family and friends, calling off work, doctors appointments, driving in a neck brace, woozy, hurt, more phone calls, emails, making arrangements, getting tests, needles, scans, developing a burn on my face and neck from all the contrast dyes, 
going to the hospital for a surgical cerebral angiogram for a better look at what I was dealing with, having my nether regions shaved, having a hole cut in my groin, having a catheter snaked up my body into my brain, having the anesthesia run out half way through the procedure maxing out my dosage, lying there awake, my head taped down, a wash cloth over my eyes so I didn't move them while they had a probe in my brain, 
unable to get the hole stitched shut should they need to go into the femoral artery again, unable to move or sit up for eight hours to allow the hole to clot, lifted by three strangers to go to the bathroom in a pan while lying flat on my back, bored, alone, frightened, and finally told I didn't have a brain aneurysm, 
I had two brain aneurysms, wrapped around each other, dangerously intertwined, with a 100% chance of death should one of them rupture, because it would cause the other to rupture seconds later, with a possible life expectancy of about 32 seconds should that occur.

Things converged.

I managed to stay rational talking to the doctors. I stayed in control checking out of the hospital. I held it together with the friend who picked me up. I assured the friends who made me dinner and wanted me to sleep over I was alright to go home alone. I somehow got the car started and began to drive.

Things tangled.

I was driving. I had on a neck brace which I would need to wear for seven weeks. I had whiplash. I could barely lift my arms to hold the steering wheel. I was nearing the end of seven weeks of I.V. iron treatments for severe anemia. I had less then $22 in the bank with Christmas only three and a half weeks away. I had a painful chemical induced burn across my face and neck. I didn't have enough money to buy both the burn medicine and the pain medicine. I had a hole in my groin. I walked dragging my leg behind me like Quasimodo. I hurt. I could hardly move. I needed brain surgery. I couldn't have brain surgery until my damaged neck stabilized. I had to tell all this to people I love who loved me and didn't yet fully comprehend I had a ticking time bomb in my head which could rupture at any time. I didn't have one brain aneurysm. I had two intertwined brain aneurysms in my temporal lobe.

Life became surreal.

I entered the asylum.

I laughed harder and longer than I ever laughed in my whole life. 

It was too much at once. Massive, painful, frightening realities now fully slamming into my already complicated life. Big decisions, big choices, little to no control. More than could be processed at once, yet I was having to face them all right in the here and now. Alone in my car.

I had to pull off the road, because I was laughing so hard I couldn't see. I melted down laughing. Tears rolled down my cheeks, but from utterly uncontrollable laughter. I even thought, "I shouldn't be laughing about this. This is so not funny," but I could not stop laughing. Thinking I shouldn't laugh actually made me laugh harder. It was not fleeting either. I was lost in this surreal place that had so much reality that I began to exist without reality, unencumbered by the passage of time. I laughed and laughed and laughed, because... Of course.

It may seem ridiculous, but parked on the side of the road, just south of Seattle, laughing like a complete lunatic, was the first step to my survival. 

Through the darkest, scariest, and painful of times after, I survived better when I could laugh and lose it, even if only in the form of a smile or giggle for a minute. It anchored me. It allowed me to calm down and vent. It helped me find me in all the craziness. I began to heal when I went a little bit crazy. 

Acknowledge the madness. Allow yourself the freedom to break down for that might help you get back up. 
It is okay to cry. It is okay to laugh. It is okay not to be okay. It is okay to run the asylum.

Surviving isn't about etiquette or proper behavior. It is about surviving anyway you can - however you can.

For the record, as fate would have it, after brain surgery, for months the nerve damage behind my eye made crying so instantly intensely painful, that I couldn't cry at all. 
So... Of course.