A hand holds out a glowing piece of a heart shining onto a person's face

My Favorite Things

I'm not quite sure when it all started. Despite being dedicated to planning for our future, everything suddenly stopped in the fall of 2018. I mark this date as it coincides with learning a bulge in the wall of my abdomen was, in fact, a mass.

The mass resulted from metastatic ovarian cancer, which migrated to the area that had once been my umbilicus. We learned that with this action came a trail of cells embedding into the tissues lining my abdomen.

Until that date, I was healthy and actively involved at work. As a couple, we invested in creating joyful moments and experiences of a lifetime. We worked hard and believed that high on life's priorities is a need to carve out time to play hard. But, most important, a strong desire to be together in good times and bad.

It is our choice

Sir Isaac Newton and his First Law of Motion state that objects in motion stay in motion, and objects at rest stay at rest. Our family remained busy and in motion with our respective work, school, and living activities. Never did I intend to become an object at rest.

When the subject of retirement entered the picture, I began a list of committees I could join and presentations I could consider as I wanted to continue to make a difference.

After many years of consideration, I published a book during the pandemic. I finally committed to paper and electronics, a most manageable philosophy. Someone to Watch Over You: Finding Your Strength Within gave the reader tools to trust themselves, heal losses, and build resilience successfully.

Like many of my readers, the news about advanced ovarian cancer altered our direction and created a new and unfamiliar focus. The joy we experienced in planning vacations and unforgettable dinners with neighbors and friends ended.

Dealing with change

Instead, our calendar entries became overloaded with health-related issues, surgery, scans, and infusions. This change was not welcomed; I realized only I could change this.

After several rounds of chemotherapy and now infusions of maintenance therapy, I must admit my mind and body struggle to remain optimistic about life in the future. Not like me, but I started asking, "What's the point of all this suffering?"

When this occurred, I knew I needed to address the person I had become. My instinct was to acknowledge that cancer can take over in creating change.

Time to take the bull by the horns

My suggestion is to begin to acknowledge all of the losses that occur when diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I use myself so that others may address their changes.

For example, my energy level diminished, and neuropathy in my feet and legs created new barriers to safe mobility. GI symptoms changed my view of food and fostered isolation so I could be close to home. I had to take time to address symptoms the best I could and grieve permanent losses.

Once I took this action, I realized my spirit remained ever-present and accounted for. So I decided it was time to look in the mirror and engage in some self-talk. It went something like this:
"Ellen, this is not who you are. You spent a lifetime serving others as a model of love and faith. Now is the time to dig deep inside yourself and find those parts that have always supported you to be your best."

Then I remembered a song from my childhood. During World War II, the Von Trapp family found their way out of danger by fleeing their homestead. Actress Mary Martin reminded us of the power of changing our thoughts. She joyfully reminded all in the family to think about their favorite things.

Once I started my list, the feelings of joy returned. I encourage every one of us to try this out. I know you can do it too.

Remember your favorite things and your times of joy

In recognizing our favorite things, we quickly turn to memories that fill our hearts with gratitude. Allow yourself to smile. And believe that it is possible to find the strength within.

I know we can only live in the now, and the now for many of us includes regular chemotherapy or radiation sessions that can be painful and disheartening.

Yet, I am happy to tell you; you have control over that which you focus. Despite the pain, it is possible to bring back feelings of joy just by remembering.

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