Archive for October, 2013

Life After Breast Cancer

Posted: October 31, 2013 in Uncategorized

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Health and Fitness – The Huffington Post
Life After Breast Cancer
Now that it’s been more than three years since my diagnosis, and I’m more than halfway to that five-year “cancer free” prognosis, I can look back and see how God worked in my life during those first dark days and the months of treatment. I want to share this to encourage women – -or their friends and family members — who may be early in this process, when it’s often the hardest to have perspective.

Some of the facts I’ve learned about breast cancer also bring encouragement. While the American Cancer Society reports that the chance of developing invasive breast cancer at some time in a woman’s life is around one in eight (12 percent), the good news is, it’s no longer labeled a terminal disease. Thanks to improvements in treatment and early detection, millions of women are surviving breast cancer today.

Millions of women have gone through it, and they have survived. In every community across America, there are breast cancer support groups and there is help, information, and plenty of hope to go around. It helps so much to arm oneself with information for this battle, and to surround oneself with “soldiers-in-arms,” because a battle it is!

I will never forget the night before I took my first round of chemotherapy, I made the mistake of reading all the side effects that were going to happen. When the nurse drove the needle into my chest port, just looking at that full bag of toxic, poisonous drugs hanging on the IV stand, I was absolutely overwhelmed. I remember thinking, “Lord, I’m already a quadriplegic and I deal with pain. I feel like you’ve abandoned me here.” Yet, as I watched the IV with its steady drip of poison seeping into my veins, the Bible had an answer for me. From Hebrews chapter 13: “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'” I can’t begin to tell you how much that verse helped me on that first day in the chemo clinic.

With that first day in chemo, I began the prayerful habit of looking to God’s Word for emotional balance, and by saying out to the Lord: “Thank you that I’m not alone. You are here, bearing my burdens and caring for my needs. You have not abandoned or forgotten me. You give me strength for this challenge.” Just rehearsing those truths was so powerful — even sitting slump-shouldered in a big chemo chair. So take heart, the Lord of the Universe is in the good fight with you.

I also discovered that when I employ God’s Word in my prayers, His peace keeps me from emotionally throwing in the towel. When feeling near to the point of emotional defeat, I was encouraged again by the book of Hebrews, this time in chapter 10 where it says to anyone who is fainthearted, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” And, oh, what he has promised – our sufferings in this world aren’t even worth comparing with the glories that lay right around the corner on heaven’s horizon. So today don’t throw away your confidence; you will be richly rewarded!

I also found it helped to have a courageous friend to look to for an example. I remember after I had my mastectomy for my breast cancer, my doctor implanted a catheter port in my chest wall — my quadriplegic veins are pretty thin, and this little port is like a small checker underneath my skin into which they can stick a needle to either draw blood or give chemotherapy.

But a port needle is a big needle! I remember the first time I had to take chemotherapy, it really hurt when they stuck it in. I looked around at some of the other people hooked up to their IV’s and wondered if it hurt them as much as it did me. When I went in for my second round of chemotherapy, I cowered when they approached me with that big needle. But then I watched the nurse stick the woman next to me: I couldn’t believe it; she didn’t drawback or flinch or anything! It didn’t seem to bother her at all.

I remember thinking, “if she can handle it with grace, I sure ought to be able to.” That woman inspired me, and so I asked the nurse, “Is there something I can do like her to make this less painful?” to which she replied, “Just take a deep breath right before I stick you; then let it out quickly when I plunge the needle in.” And you know what? It worked! I didn’t feel anywhere near the pain I did before. And now, many months later, as well as many port flushes later, I’m like that woman I first saw in the chemo clinic — I don’t flinch or anything. I found her courage.

I once heard someone say that human beings naturally lean toward cowardice and fear – you hang around someone who’s afraid, and it will breed fear. Spend time with someone who is cowardly and you begin to feel timid and cowardly too. But if you spend time with someone who is brave and courageous, guess what: Their courage will breed courage in you. And God knows this. It’s why he says in Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” God knows that when we are brave, we influence others to be brave. So we’ve got a command, God commands us to be courageous; be strong; be brave.

And we need to especially be courageous when others are observing the way we face our trials, whether they be cancer, family crises, job loss or whatever. You never know who you can inspire with the hope and courage that you show as you take on your battle and endure. And I hope my words today have done just that for you.

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Health and Fitness – The Huffington Post
NYC To Raise Tobacco-Buying Age To 21
NEW YORK — NEW YORK (AP) — Smokers younger than 21 in the nation’s biggest city will soon be barred from buying cigarettes after the New York City Council voted overwhelming Wednesday to raise the tobacco-purchasing age to higher than all but a few other places in the United States.

City lawmakers approved the bill — which raises from 18 to 21 the purchasing age for cigarettes, certain tobacco products and even electronic-vapor smokes — and another that sets minimum prices for tobacco cigarettes and steps up law enforcement on illegal tobacco sales. “This will literally save many, many lives,” said an emotional City Councilman James Gennaro, the bill’s sponsor, whose mother and father died from tobacco-related illnesses. “I’ve lived with it, I’ve seen it…but I feel good today.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is a strong supporter of the tough smoking restrictions, has 30 days to sign the bills into law. The minimum age bill will take effect 180 days after enactment.

“We know that tobacco dependence can begin very soon after a young person first tries smoking so it’s critical that we stop young people from smoking before they ever start,” Bloomberg said in a statement.

With Wednesday’s vote, New York is by far the biggest city to bar cigarette sales to 19- and 20-year-olds. Similar legislation is expected to come to a vote in Hawaii this December.

Officials previously shelved a plan Bloomberg unveiled with fanfare earlier this year: forcing stores to keep cigarettes out of public view until a customer asks for them.

The city’s current age limit is 18, a federal minimum that’s standard in many places. Some states and communities have raised the age to 19. At least two towns, both in Massachusetts, have agreed to raise it to 21.

Advocates say higher age limits help prevent, or at least delay, young people from taking up a habit that remains the leading cause of preventable deaths nationwide. And supporters point to drinking-age laws as a precedent for setting the bar at 21.

Cigarette manufacturers have suggested young adult smokers may just turn to black-market merchants. And some smokers say it’s unfair and patronizing to tell people considered mature enough to vote and serve in the military that they’re not old enough to decide whether to smoke.

The tobacco-buying age is 21 in Needham, Mass., and is poised to rise to 21 in January in nearby Canton, Mass. The state of New Jersey is considering a similar proposal, and the idea has been floated in other places, including the Texas Legislature.

E-cigarette makers say their products are healthier than tobacco, and a trade association leader bristled at the city’s proposal to prevent people under 21 from buying them.

“Is 21 the right number? People can join the Army at 18,” said Ray Story, founder of the Atlanta-based Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association.

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Health and Fitness – The Huffington Post
Jessica Simpson Is ‘A Lot More Confident’ After Welcoming Her Second Child
Jessica Simpson has been open about the criticism surrounding her weight following the birth of her first child, Maxwell Drew.

But after welcoming son Ace Knute in June, Simpson is more confident than ever. The new mom admits she’s back on Weight Watchers and feeling amazing four months after giving birth.

“When I had Maxwell I gained a lot of weight. More than I thought I would,” she explains to Tumblr’s MomFeeds blog in a new interview. “And when it came time to try to take it off, it felt overwhelming. Stepping on the scale and seeing that number was really scary.”

“With a toddler on the run and an infant to look after. I knew I needed a plan that’s simple and fits into my life, along with the support that’s so important to my success,” she continues. “I know Weight Watchers works, so I got on the plan again.”

And the plan is working — Simpson is reenergized, but giving her body the time it needs to readjust to a workout routine.

“I’m a lot more confident this time around,” she tells MomFeeds. “With Maxwell I didn’t think about the weight I was gaining, and the first time I stepped on a scale and looked at the number … I mean, that wasn’t a number I had ever even considered … and I was faced with a pretty serious truth. But since I had already done Weight Watchers, I didn’t put on as much weight with Ace and I just know a lot more now.”

Simpson has been candid about her insecurities following her first pregnancy, explaining in a blog post on, “My pregnancies (especially my first with Maxwell) were well documented and my struggles with my weight and body image have played out in front of the world. As hard as that has been, the hardest part is to realize that with all the hurtful and harsh criticism from others, I have been the hardest on myself.”

Now the 33-year-old is focusing on herself and easing her way back into her busy schedule.

“I’m taking it week by week so I don’t get frustrated with myself,” she tells ABC News in a new interview. “If I had a long-term goal, and that’s all I thought about it, I think it would set me back more. So I really, every week, try to make sure I stick with my points and get four workouts in. That’s my goal this week, and I hope that I can lose from that. If not, I’m going to keep on going and try it the next week. So far, so good.”

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Dear Fear, I’ll Win

Posted: October 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

#bodybuilding #weighttraining #muscles

GPS for the Soul – The Huffington Post
Dear Fear, I’ll Win
Have you encountered a person or an experience that you feel changed your outlook on life altogether, even years later?

I initially began this blog post focused on how certain events in our lives make or break us, how they can send us down one path or another. But after not really feeling right about the direction that the post was taking, I had an unexpected realization: A circumstance isn’t what makes or breaks us; it’s our response to it that does does.

I had freshly come out to a select few family members (three months earlier, to be exact), and my emotions were all over the place. Yet I was about to embark on a journey, opening myself up, mind and soul, to everything that had always seemed impossible.

A former colleague simply grinned and whispered, “Bonzai, baby,” while I second-guessed my decision to connect with someone I’d known for six months — 1,600 miles away. Now, I am not a huge risk taker by nature, but at the time, no decision had ever seemed more right.

I had become emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually attached to someone, which of course made his physical appearance all the more endearing. I am not writing this piece to express my desire for a change in past events, but merely to reflect on emotional strength and how this circumstance changed the direction of my emotional compass — for a lifetime.

I’ll admit that I knew deep down that it was not “in the cards,” nor would anything really come to fruition, but I fell — and I fell hard. On the return trip home, I wore my baseball cap low to hide my wrinkled and depressed expression, and a pair of sunglasses to conceal every tear that fell.

After coming out I could not, and would not, fathom speaking about my feelings. However, I found myself choking back tears during a late-night conversation with my mother. Of course, she did not know what to say or how to comfort me, bless her heart.

This experience hindered me and took the wind out of my emotional sails for the better part of two years. I wondered what I could have, should have, or needed to have done to make it work. Was it a reflection on my existence as a human being? Had I opened the box of my emotional deck of cards and shown my hand for nothing?

The truth is that the repercussions of that trip were horrible — for a very long time. But in reflecting on what has come to pass, it was very well worth it. I realized that I had actually placed “blinders” on, to my own detriment, during a very healthy lesson that life was teaching me despite the emotional roller coaster that I had to ride. I learned that the more attached I became to what I thought I had, wanted to have, or wished I had, the more vulnerable I felt when I was faced with the reality of losing it all.

Since that time, I’ve dated, searched, and, yes, even managed to fall again — although, for a significant period of time, I did not recognize that I was looking for that same person, that same circumstance, and that same emotional attachment in a world where that would never be possible.

Fear is one of the biggest obstacles that any of us will ever face, and boy, it has been an incredibly terrifying, grim, and, yes, beautiful test that started five years ago.

So I wanted to reflect on the events of the past five years of my life, which masked themselves as “distractions,” and send a letter directly to what has kept me from succeeding all along: fear.

Dear fear,

I’m winning.

When you told me that I had no talent or voice, I began to speak and became the first in my family to educate minds.

When you laughed at my writing and suppressed my passion for the written word, I began journaling my memoir.

After shouting at me for years that the alcoholic, dishonest, and angry genes would follow me wherever my life may lead, your voice is slowly becoming hoarse.

None of your selectively placed doubts voiced by former colleagues will hinder my work. They will actually brew my motivation.

The supposed rejection, criticism, and binding standards that sewed my creativity shut have given way; the stitches have already been removed.

Since telling me that God would vacate the seat that He made in my heart if I simply explained my sexuality to those who represent His love for me here, your lie has instead created a much bigger chair for Him, and more love for me here on Earth.

After you told me that my love, love that I have always known, was wrong and that my feelings never would bring me joy, I allowed myself to fall, was broken, and have risen again.

You took from me someone I loved, and the hypothetical stability of something lifelong, but it won’t close off my ability to love again anyway.

Shame put on me by others, and by me, won’t focus my vision on faults: I now recognize your strategy and close my eyes to that shame.

As I browse pictures, old and new, hating myself and seeking out every flaw, mistake, subtle difference from a time before and beating myself down with my own criticism, I want to say that beating is ending, and I’m learning to love what I have been given.

As you yell about my influence and how it is quickly fading, I’m now silencing your attacks with everything I have.

Doubt you brewed within the closest of my friends started the construction of the highest walls, never built before, but they are cracking at the smallest inkling of the process of letting go and beginning to trust people again.

You once strangled away my emotional conscience, but that numbness is wearing off, and I am believing in myself again.

You see, my eating disorder taught me to be insecure in my own skin, hate who I saw in the mirror, and dread each day that I was not striving to make my body “perfect.” Being gay meant that I wasn’t worth the very breath that I took; it meant a lifetime of loneliness and desperation. But I will not accept the self-fulfilling prophecy. Sexuality issues combined with an unshakable faith made for an interesting concoction, and sadly, that combination is one that often leads to the unthinkable in many people’s lives.

After learning how to deal with “normal” life again after intense therapy for my illness, and after accepting myself as a gay man, I wholeheartedly believe, as a person who wears his heart on his sleeve, that I am nothing but sincere in my feelings.

So instead of shadowboxing the fear(s) in my life, I want to send a strong message to fear, and to the future: You have made me better, and, I willwin.

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After Breakfast

Posted: October 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

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GPS for the Soul – The Huffington Post
After Breakfast
It’s no surprise that we lose sight of the things closest to us — most of all loved ones. Not that we stop loving them in the day to day, but we lose the larger context of their depth and beauty that comes from first meeting. But luckily, the tides of experience throw us about, so that we chance to re-see those we love freshly. This poem records such a moment between me and my wife Susan.

After Breakfast

Like all things that live together,
we bump into each other but some-
times, when going to the store or wait-
ing at the bank, I’m far enough away
to see you completely. Like now. I’m
in New York and you’re in Michigan,
and the way this bird swoops from an
alcove out into the light, the way no
one notices but a small child who
stops and points — it all reminds me
of the day we met. Something flew
out of you and I was stunned that
something in me flew out to meet
it. Even when we sleep, the things
we draw out of each other
circle under the moon.

A Question to Walk With: Try, if you can, to see someone you love freshly. Then open a conversation with your loved one about this rhythm of closeness and larger context, and tell them how you see them.

For more Poetry for the Soul, click here.

For more by Mark Nepo, click here.

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GPS for the Soul – The Huffington Post
Live in the Present and Enjoy the Journey of Life
By the time most of us are adults, we start to live a good part of our life somewhere outside the present. Even when we’re not physically doing anything, we tend to spend a lot of time exercising our mind by thinking about what has already happened or what might happen or what we want to have happen, rather than enjoying what’s happening at the current moment.

I have a friend I’ve known for over 20 years who seems to spend her entire life racing from one activity or emotion to the next without ever being fully present. She’s always running late, talking a mile a minute on several different topics or having an emotional meltdown. Sometimes when I’m with her, I feel as if I’m in one of those zany dreams where you keep jumping from one unrelated scene to another, with no beginning and no end — just continuous but different streams of consciousness. I want to say to her, “Stop, look, and listen!” And while she might hear my words amid the clutter in her mind, she’s already deleted them and moved on to some other thought. When you live your life in this manner, it might feel exhilarating at first, but you can’t possibly focus on anything or anyone right in front of you. Your life journey becomes one big blur of images with no meaning.

Life is most enjoyable and meaningful when you are present in every moment. Living in the past or future, as we often do, only serves to drain your spirit. The past, whether successful or full of failures, is done and over with. You can’t change it. Worrying about the future is also a burden. No matter how much you plan, life is uncertain and the future is unknown. It makes no sense to spend your time worrying about something you truly can’t control.

So instead of living in the land of “I could’ve, should’ve, would’ve” or “what if,” try living in the land of “I am,” because now is the only moment you can affect and enjoy. Take some time to notice every detail in the backdrop of your daily life — the colors, the smells, the people. Savor every moment. Like snowflakes, no two are the same, and can never be recreated.

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