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Happy New Year!!!

Happy New Year!!!

I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as making a ‘life.’ ~ Maya Angelou

People have the tendency to look to the beginning of the calendar year as a time make a change in their lifestyle whether it is to set goals for your education and career, health & fitness, self-enrichment or a combination of all three. The belief is that once mid-January has passed, making a commitment to any kind of change is less effective than at the beginning of a new year, which symbolizes a clean slate.  In the past, I too have fallen into this trap. I now know that my plan of action does not have to coincide with a specific date (January 1), or event (50th birthday), or place (rock-bottom).

It just has to commence.

Career & Education: If you are in a traditional work environment, you spend at least eight hours of your day at the office. That is one third of your workday, or one half of your time awake assuming you get eight hours of sleep per night (does anyone?). It would therefore be ideal if you actually enjoy what you do to earn a living.

When I was in high school, my parents stressed the importance of getting a traditional education to secure a job in a traditional career such as teaching, law or medicine although my interest was in the creative arts, particularly drawing and designing. My career path led me to the field of Advertising which afforded me a certain level of creativity to satisfy my interests and need to be artistically stimulated and productive. Years later when my daughter expressed a fascination with the culinary field at the age of six, I actively encouraged her, and she later developed a keen interest and extraordinary skill in Art. She has now graduated from culinary school, and has combined both her skills, resulting in her producing custom-designed cakes and pastries that are currently in demand…and in turn experiencing satisfaction in her career of choice.

The old adage “If you love what you are doing to earn a living, you will never work a day in your life,” has never been truer. My advice to students today, is to pursue their dreams and to ensure that they are really choosing the path they love, and not what someone else would love them to do. There are many more non-traditional career options today, than back when I was a student in school.  Take advantage of them.

Health & Fitness: The landscape of Jamaica has undergone a change in recent years. Health, Diet and Exercise seem to be the Buzzwords of the Day. More persons are taking charge of what they do with their bodies – both positively and negatively. This is supported by the Jamaican Government’s current Jamaica Moves Campaign which has sensitized many citizens to the importance of being active in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, reducing incidence of non-communicable illnesses.  We all want to live longer and this is seen as one way to achieve this goal.

Enrichment of Self: Activities of Enrichment of the individual have become more commonplace than ever before. Classes in drawing and painting, photography, Reiki, ceramics and jewelry –making, are far more available than a few years ago.  These activities can provide a balance and fulsomeness in our lives which at times overwhelm us with the day to day (and sometimes mundane) tasks we face and execute.

My affinity for nature and exercise synergize with my love for hiking, running and photography, yielding unforgettable images of nature on my various jaunts. These serve to recharge my energy cells when my internal battery is running low.

Before any of these lifestyle changes can be achieved, however, there has to be a starting point, and this can be the most difficult part of your Plan of Action for Change.

My recommendations to increase the odds of you achieving success are to:

  1. Actually Make a Plan: Your plan should be detailed enough to clearly state what you would like to achieve, but simple enough that it is not insurmountable.
  2. Set Your Goals: The first part of your plan should state the goals you wish to achieve. Completing each goal will result in increasing the odds of your plan’s successful execution.
  3. Set Timelines…but realize that inevitably these may need to have some fluidity as Life may intervene. Setbacks are not roadblocks, but can be used to re-evaluate the plan of action.
  4. Understand that Failure is not Fatal. You may not always succeed, however each time you surmount an obstacle, it will make you stronger (as long as you do not quit at that point).
  5. Re-evaluate: You should re-evaluate your plan from time to time to ensure that your original intention or objective has not changed and that you still have it as your priority. If your goal is no longer what you had initially identified, feel free to modify. Just as goals may change, so can you.

Your “New Year” begins when you put your plan of action into place.

Happy New Year!!!!

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A Life Sentence.

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough. ~ Mae West

Years ago when I was a child, I overheard my mother talking about someone who had “The Big C” with a friend of hers. At the time, I had no idea what that was, but her words were whispered with a fear which made me realize it was something to be dreaded and avoided at all costs. Back then few people spoke openly about Cancer and a diagnosis of this disease was akin to being given a death sentence. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my automatic response was fear…fear of pain, fear of sickness, fear of not seeing my daughters graduate from college, fear of unfulfilled dreams, and fear of death.

No one knows when they are going die, and no one has control over that date. What we can control, however, is how we live. I have learnt to appreciate every moment, seeing each day of life as a gift. As this year comes to an end, I look back at all the gifts I have been given…and continue to receive.

Good health.
This may seem strange to be identified as a gift considering my diagnosis, but I have not felt sick one day since my diagnosis and surgeries, and I believe this is due to my change to a healthier lifestyle and subsequent weight loss, pre my diagnosis. I am still running regularly, going to the gym and participating in hikes whenever I get the chance…all while undergoing weekly chemotherapy treatments.

Love for nature.
The great outdoors provides a wealth of opportunities to experience the best of what nature has to offer. I am like a child in a candy store (or in Jamaica, a pickney in a sweetie shop) every time I get the opportunity to photograph sunrises, sunsets, flowers and majestic landscapes. For me there is no better way to start the day than an early morning run which ends with a spectacular sunrise.

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Love of music.
There has never been a moment when I am feeling down, that I have not been able to raise my spirits through listening to music. The combination of poignant lyrics, soothing melodies and harmonious instruments, seems to have potent healing powers for my soul.

Love of God.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. ~ Philippians 4:13
This is my mantra.

Supportive family and friends.
You never know until you experience trauma, loss or some kind of misfortune, who will step up and offer support, understanding and guidance. l am surprised not only by who has stepped into my corner, but also completely overwhelmed by how many are in there with me. My “little” corner houses an entire village of supporters and well-wishers.

Reggae Mrathon (15)

One of the questions I am asked most often is how can I be positive and cheerful given my situation. My answer is how can I not be? I am blessed every day I wake up, and I look forward to the day ahead with anticipation of new experiences, encounters and making the most of every hour alive.

Living with cancer is not a death sentence. It is a life sentence.

The Season for Giving…and Receiving

For it is in giving that we receive. ~ St. Francis of Assisi

Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. I love decorating the house (and every bush and tree nearby); buying the right gift for each friend and family member; eating Christmas pudding and drinking sorrel; gathering with friends and family; the smell of the Christmas tree and baking permeating the house; the endless Christmas carols floating through the air (sometimes as early as September), and going to Church to reminisce and give thanks for the original Christmas.

 

While it is nice to receive gifts at Christmas, it also seems to be a time that people become kinder, gentler and more compassionate towards one another. My experience this year, however, has shown me that it is not only at Christmas that people give, and there are many more gifts I have received than those that are prettily wrapped and placed under a tree. These gifts include:

A listening ear.
I have received many phone calls, text or WhatsApp messages from friends and even acquaintances asking how I am doing now. As simple as this may seem, the volume of these calls and messages have indicated to me that many people do care, which has been very heartening. I am more than willing to reassure persons that I am fine and to dispel any myths that persons with cancer are always sick and in pain, as this has not been my experience.

A helping hand.
While I can still do most things I did before my diagnosis and subsequent surgeries, offers to take me to Chemotherapy treatments, to pick up my daughter from school, and to take me to events that I may not want to go to alone, are more valuable to me than the most expensive piece of jewelry.  I recently ran the Reggae Marathon 10k, and while I was happy to complete the race, I was more overwhelmed by the volume of congratulatory messages, and the number of persons who supported me in this endeavor.

Time.
Sometimes a ten-minute visit can lift my spirits for an entire week. The fact that in this day of instant messaging, face to face visits seem more to be a thing of the past, increases the value of that visit when someone takes the time to come and see you. I truly appreciate all those persons who made the trek up my mountain, no matter how short the visit.

Patience.
Although it may seem that I am always positive, (and 97 percent of the time, I am) there are occasional days when I drag my feet as I struggle to withstand the onslaught of self pity which threatens to rear its ugly head. It is at these times, your patience and understanding that my sharp words or morose demeanor are merely temporary, help me to overcome this challenge.

Prayers.
The amount of persons who have indicated they are praying for me, has been astounding. Not only family and friends, but also acquaintances and persons who have never even met me, continue to keep me in their prayers. If prayers really lift you up, I am somewhere near the Moon by now.

The remarkable thing about giving these gifts, is that in giving them, we can receive gifts in return. In spreading my story and encouraging women to get their mammograms done, to date over 30 persons have told me they have done so, of which two of my biggest supporters have found a suspicious early stage mass, which each one is dealing with. I continue to share my story in the hope that more persons will get tested and therefore encourage others to follow.

 As Christmas comes this year, I wish you all Peace, Love, Joy, Good Health and the giving and receiving of gifts all year round.

 

Life Changes.

Sometimes when you are in a dark place, you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted. ~ Unknown

A few days ago I was reflecting on how much my life has changed over the last few months. Things which used to be high on my priority list, have lost their importance with a new set of priorities emerging to fill their space. A diagnosis of breast cancer, while not necessarily a death sentence, has evoked a shift of mindset as I search for a sense of purpose and meaning for my life.

I have discovered several things on my journey down this new path:

A Source of Inspiration.
Many people ask how I can remain so positive and upbeat about my diagnosis. Years ago when a high school friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, her doctor told her she had six months to live. Instead of being paralyzed by the news, Katrina sat down and created a list of things she wanted to accomplish, including seeing her daughter graduate from Harvard (she was a freshman at the time) and reuniting our high school graduation class, most of whom had drifted apart over the years. She contacted many of us, and word spread of the upcoming reunion in Jamaica, which she singlehandedly organized from California while undergoing numerous experimental treatments. Over 50 of our classmates from all over the world showed up and it was an overwhelming success.

Katrina accomplished every one of her goals and had to create a new list, before she died seven years after her diagnosis. The year she died, I formed a Relay for Life team in her honour, and our team of 30 persons raised over $100,000 towards Breast Cancer Research. Having seen what Katrina accomplished through sheer determination and grit, has inspired me to not lie down and wallow in misery, but to be positive, and hopefully inspire others the way she inspired me.

A New Family.
Breast Cancer survivors are a unique group of persons who have a wealth of strength and resilience which I have been blessed to experience first hand. I have been contacted by several survivors who have not been hesitant to provide me with support, advice and guidance. With this month being dedicated to Breast Cancer Awareness, I have seen and heard many stories of resilience and support which give me hope in the face of darkness.

Breast Cancer Ribbon

Who you are is more important that what you have.
It is funny how material things lose their importance when faced with your own mortality. There is nothing more valuable than your relationships with others. My relationship with God, family, friends, co-workers and even acquaintances supersede any physical possession I may have, or wish to acquire.

The importance of Diet and Exercise.
Some people have commented that if I (who lead such a healthy lifestyle with diet and exercise as an important focus) can get breast cancer, then why bother to live healthily? My answer is that I have no idea what would have happened had I not changed my diet and lifestyle four years ago. My recovery from two surgeries in what seems to be a remarkably short time span, I attribute to my body being in peak condition.

My journey of Life continues as I travel my new path with gratitude and plans to bloom wherever I am planted.

Mother's Day 2016 137

The Glass is not Half Full. It is Refillable.

Since writing about my breast cancer diagnosis, I have been overwhelmed by positive responses, encouragement and well wishes from family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and even persons who have never met me. I am humbled and grateful for the support of each person who has rallied around me with prayers, positive thoughts and caring advice. I was deeply touched when a friend told me that she admired my attitude towards my diagnosis, indicating that for me the glass was not just half full, it was refillable. Those words led me to consider what exactly I would be refilling in my glass.

Pouring Water Into Glass On Blue Background

Hope.
Maya Angelou once said that Hope and Fear cannot exist in the same space at the same time. You have to invite one to stay. I choose to fill my glass with Hope.

Purpose.
I strongly believe that my diagnosis at a time in my life when I have never been more healthy or fit, can send an important message that if it can happen to me, anyone is susceptible. My main reason for sharing my story was to encourage other women to do their mammograms, so should they find themselves in a similar situation, they will receive an early diagnosis, giving them a greater chance of full recovery. Since my last blog was posted, ten ladies have indicated that they plan to get their mammograms done, with one already completed. A male friend has also said he plans to have his prostate checked as soon as possible. I hope there are many others also planning to take preventive action.

Goals.
There are many goals I would like to achieve in my life: places to visit, races to complete, photography books to publish, hiking challenges to embark upon and new skills to learn. Some people would call this a bucket list but I consider this to be my glass filling list.

Prayers.
The most overwhelming response I have received is the multitude of prayers offered as groups of prayer warriors, family, friends and strangers have taken on my case as if it were their personal mission to ensure my complete recovery. There will always be room in my glass for prayer, not just for me, but also for all those desperate for prayers in their time of need.

There is one thing of which I am certain: My glass runneth over and over and over.

A Detour is not a Dead End

No journey or road is always smooth and straight without bends. There are dips, turns, hills and obstacles encountered along the way. This was never more evident to me than now. I have chronicled my story…my quest for a healthier and happier me in this blog where I relate what I have learnt through the experience of my battle with weight gain and subsequent health issues, hoping to help others who might be experiencing a similar struggle. This week my journey took a sharp left turn down a dark and narrow, pothole-filled road when I was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in my left breast.

In my despair I asked the questions anyone in this situation would ask: Why me? Why now? I am in the the best physical condition I have ever been, I eat healthily, rarely drink, exercise regularly and try to find the positive in every seemingly negative situation I encounter. So my natural inclination once I “recovered” from the shock (if there ever really is full recovery), was to identify all the positives arising from my diagnosis.

1. Support. Every single person I informed about my diagnosis, has been unquestioningly supportive. From the phone calls, to the offers to take me to appointments, to the prayers with me, I have never felt more loved than I do now.

2. Compassion. Persons who have been in this situation are uniquely qualified to offer advice and none I have encountered have hesitated to share their experiences with me. They have been where I am now, and their stories give me strength when my optimism is weakening.

3. Appreciation. I have learnt to appreciate members of the medical profession who face people like me, (and others with even more severe diagnoses) with a cheerful demeanor and offer encouraging and optimistic words.

4. Determination. Being a naturally competitive person, the importance of a challenge plays an important part of my life. While this may not be a 5K, 10K or even a half marathon, there is more at stake here than a best time or even the completion of a race. I am determined to do whatever I need to do to survive, and hopefully to keep inspiring others.

5. Belief in God. As a Christian, my faith plays an important part in shaping my life. I may not always seem to acknowledge the presence or importance of God in my life, however, in times of crisis there is no greater source of comfort.

As I continue on this journey of life, the most important thing I have learnt is that your outlook plays a major part in your outcome. A detour is not a dead end.

Achieving Success at the Gym.

“Success doesn’t come to you…you go to it.” ~ Marva Collins

This morning before my aerobics class, someone asked me why I go to the gym, and what keeps me going back. I have never considered myself to be a typical gym person. I always thought people who went to the gym were young, muscular, fit, and popular. Having signed up at Spartan Health Club as a part of my weight loss/get fit program, I met many kinds of people.  There were women and men struggling with their weight and body image; young ladies who could have entered any beauty contest (and some who did); a blind gentleman who made his way around the machines with assistance from other patrons and instructors; the fastest man in the world 🙂 ; men whose muscles glistened and bulged as they lifted weights … and me. We all had a common bond – the gym was a part of our life.

After I recovered from my first traumatic couple of weeks, I realised that each person is at the gym to achieve one or even several goals. Whether you simply want to get and stay fit, lose weight, socialize or just live, you should make the most of your gym session.

empty gym

Your success at the gym is dependent upon what you invest there.  Your best investments for optimum results are therefore:

  • Consistency – Getting up and going even when it is raining and your bed is warm and comfortable. Don’t forget that the gym has a roof.
  • Determination – Overcome setbacks. If you missed a week or two because of illness or work commitments, try not to use this as an excuse to stop going altogether.
  • Commitment – When you make going to the gym a standing appointment, you are far more likely to go on a regular basis than if you decide to go when you have a couple hours free every other week. Remember your reason for going to the gym in the first place and your ultimate goal.
  • Perseverance – The ability to get back in the (spinning cycle) saddle, even with sore thighs.

I struggle many mornings to get up and go to the gym, but not once have I gone, and regretted going there. That’s what keeps me going back.

Exercise is Medicine.

 

“Exercise should be regarded as a tribute to the heart.” ~ Gene Tunney

When I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, I had no idea what that was. I believed Arthritis was something that old people were afflicted with, and I was not old. What I did know was that it was painful to get out of bed in the morning (the first half hour of my day was spent hobbling around as my stiff joints rebelled at any kind of movement); It was difficult for me to make a fist as my fingers were more like claws, and the fatigue which is a constant part of the disease, threatened to take over my life.

Exercise was therefore the last thing I had any intention of attempting to do. As a result, my weight began to balloon. It became a vicious cycle…the more weight I put on, the less I wanted to move and I therefore put on even more weight, which increased the pain in my joints.

I finally decided that I had to do something to improve my situation. Despite having misgivings about exercising with painful joints, I started walking in the mornings (as well as changing my diet), in an attempt to lose weight. As I began to walk more frequently and I started losing weight, I realized that I was feeling less pain in my joints, which made me increase the distances I was walking, resulting in me losing even more weight.  The cycle was now spinning in my favor.

Eventually I graduated from walking, to running, then joining a gym to add toning and aerobics, which ultimately led to my discovery that I actually enjoy exercising. Today, I still experience some pain and stiffness in my joints, but nowhere near what I used to suffer through before.

I believe exercise is the best medicine because:

·       The health benefits of regular exercise are undeniable. Many studies indicate that people who exercise regularly extend their life expectancy rate;

·       There is no expensive equipment necessary to start an exercise programme. Investing in a good pair of sneakers and a skipping rope when I travel, ensures that I can exercise wherever I go;

·       You can exercise on your own if you prefer, but I enjoy the social interaction of exercising with a group of people who love it as much as I do;
and most importantly,

·       Regular exercise can actually contribute to reducing, or eliminating medication you may be taking for a particular ailment.

I am living proof of this.

 

The Power of Encouragement.

 

“It costs nothing to pay someone a compliment, but it is priceless to the person receiving it.”

Last year, I went to an aerobics class at the gym and saw a young lady who had obviously been struggling with her weight. She would get tired after only a few moves, and stopped frequently to catch her breath before continuing with the class. Several weeks later I noticed that she looked smaller than when I had first seen her and told her that whatever she was doing was working because I could see that she had lost weight. She was really pleased that I had noticed, and told me that she had been working very hard to lose the weight.

This reminded me of the times I would be struggling to stick to the exercise program, feeling that it was all pointless, only to have one person come up to me and say that they noticed a difference. That was all it took to renew my commitment to stick to the plan. A simple compliment was the motivation I needed to persevere.

gym-c

Many times the first thing people feel compelled to comment about when they haven’t seen you in a while, is your appearance, and it is usually the negative aspect of your appearance they find worthy of their comment. They do not realize, or maybe don’t even care about how detrimental this can be to someone going through the weight loss/get fit struggle. I now make it a habit to compliment persons who have made progress, once it is noticeable.

Remember that young lady at the gym? Last month after not seeing her for several months, I saw her one morning and was shocked to notice that she was almost half her previous size. She told me that she had started to come to the gym at 4:30am, she had hired a personal trainer, and was vigilant about sticking to her programme. Her appearance was completely changed, but what was even more striking was how confident she had become.

What I learned from my experience:

·       To never comment on the negative aspect of anyone’s appearance since I do not know their struggle or situation;

·       To only commend someone on their appearance if there really is a noticeable change. The comment is only effective if it is genuine;

·       That it costs nothing to pay a compliment or to give a word of encouragement, but it could be priceless to the person receiving it.

Overcoming Obstacles: Give up…or Get up?

“Obstacles are like steps, when you overcome them, you go higher.” ~ Terry Mark

Sticking to any diet and exercise plan is never easy.  There were many times I would feel that trying to be fit and healthy was too hard.

It was hard to stick to my diet when people would be having their cake and eating it too…right in front of me.

It was hard to get up before 5am to exercise when everyone else in my house was fast asleep.

It was hard to go to a restaurant and order chicken broth, salad with no fat (or low fat) dressing along with a glass of water, when the rest of the table was indulging in rice and peas and fried chicken, doused in gravy.

And it was hard to spend an hour on meal preparation for the next day when I could be on the couch watching “Scandal” or doing some online shopping for things I wouldn’t really be using anyway.

I remained motivated by doing several things:

  • Focused on my REASON: I kept my photos when I weighed the most nearby, so I would remember why I was doing this in the first place;

    fat face pic
    Mrs H Funeral group - edited

  • Set a series of small GOALS: (such as fitting into a dress one size smaller), then rewarding myself (buying a dress in the new smaller size) when achieving each goal;

    Sunset Beach Vacation 112

  • Focused on the REWARD: As I grew to love exercise, my reward could actually be an extra half hour at the gym (which helped me to reach my ultimate goal. 🙂 )
    image1

The most important thing to remember is that a setback doesn’t need to be permanent. Family and friends provided core support during some of my weakest moments. So, find and build your support system, which will make your journey an easier one.

Would you prefer to give up…or get up?