Saturday, October 22, 2011

Painting the World Pink!

In case you haven't noticed, the world got painted pink this month.     This is in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.    Over the past few years, the month of October has gotten pinker and pinker as more people, organizations and businesses signed on to be sponsors of all things "pink".   There are now so many activities and fund raising/awareness events that I really can't keep up any more.     Many of them support the Susan G. Koman Foundation while others donate their earnings to the American Cancer Society.    All that I know about are well intentioned and remind women (and men) to know the symptoms of breast cancer and the importance of early detection, with or without symptoms to send you scurrying to your doctor.   

In recent years the type of activities used to increase awareness have gone from somber, survivor centered events to some that are more "in your face" and on the edge of good taste, as well.     Today we have an event in our town called "Bras Across the Bridge" where participants will link new bras (you gotta know they are mostly PINK) across a three mile bridge that spans the Pensacola Bay.     Heavily promoted on radio, TV and newspapers, it is meant to bring a lighter note to the serious side of breast cancer as well as to collect bras for needy women in the community.   

A few weeks ago I was a guest speaker for an event honoring breast cancer survivors and promoting the local version of Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, a mall to mall walk raising funds for the American Cancer Society programs that assist breast cancer patients with much needed services.   It is a great program and the walk just gets more and more participants each year.    During this year's survivor event, a group of women sponsored a "fashion show" of bras, mostly very heavily decorated  with sequins, feathers and lots of bling.     They came out to loud music, strutting their stuff and it was mostly met with hilarious laughter since some of the models were men who were good sports about wearing the gaudy bras on the outside of their clothing.  I would say almost without exception that the fashion show was deemed a hit and the vast majority of the audience laughed their way through the two dozen or more entrants who danced and pranced their way across the stage.   

However, I must add that one lady came up to me during the fashion show to express her dismay and horror at the trivializing nature of the fashion show and the minimizing (in her eyes) of the seriousness of breast cancer.     You see, she was diagnosed with breast cancer not quite a year ago and is still in the midst of her treatment.    She has had about six different surgical procedures and numerous staph infections.      In an almost apologetic tone, she explained that what she was seeing (while well intentioned) was not funny to her.   Her exact words to me were, "Maybe I am just too close to it, but there is nothing funny about breast cancer."   

As a twenty-one year survivor of breast cancer myself, I had to agree with her.   There is NOTHING funny about it, no matter how you look at it.    Yes, you do have to have a sense of humor when you're going through treatment and being able to laugh again is an important part of healing;   however, when you are in the midst of a battle for your life and have had nothing but one set back after another, see no good news ahead of you and are not yet feeling hopeful about your future, the last think you need is for someone to try to tell you how "funny" this all is.     'Cause it's not.  

So with a note of thanks to the those who want to advocate for awareness of breast cancer (or any other kind for that matter), please keep in mind that many people are still in the midst of their treatment and may have a hard time seeing the humor in their situation.     And many thousands of people will succumb to their illness, in spite of advanced treatment available today.    It does not respect your gender, social status or sheer determination to overcome the odds against you.      It is a biological process gone awry, not a demon or a "boogey-man" out to get you.    And when you are fighting for your life it doesn't quite feel right to see people trivializing this disease, no matter how well intentioned they are. 

The next time you see a bumper sticker that says, "Save the Ta Tas" or a three mile line of bras linked together, just remember that breast cancer is a deadly serious matter to some people and when you try to make light of it or reduce it to silliness, you might give some people a good laugh.    However, you should also remember that there is the possibility you'll hurt feelings or make someone who is having a hard time with their disease feel worse or even guilty that they fail to see what's so funny about it.     No one is suggesting that October needs to be a month of gloom and doom when making people aware of breast cancer but we do need to make sure we balance the light hearted fun with a keen awareness of those who are in the midst of their battle and who need our compassion and understanding to get them through their ordeal.   Some time in the future when THEIR future is less murky and uncertain, they might be ready to join you in the laughter, but for now let's give them dignity and respect for the very real fear and threat they feel.   

Happy Trails,

Monday, October 17, 2011

Live, Laugh and Love!

We had the opportunity this weekend to apply this simple prescription to help find the Good Life:  Live, Laugh and Love.   It almost sounds too simplistic to be of real value but there is much truth in its plain, unvarnished approach to finding happiness.   How often do we hold ourselves back from truly engaging in fun and games with our family and friends and then wonder why we don't have strong bonds with them?    This weekend we had a good old fashioned backyard bar-b-que and then played a silly but fun game that had all of us laughing and competing fiercely for bragging rights.

It has been quite some time since Larry and I have had the opportunity to spend an extended amount of time with his sisters.    So recently when his oldest sister indicated she wanted to come from Arkansas for a visit , we quickly hatched up a family get together that included his younger sister, Amy from Opp, AL, Larry's Mom and her husband, Jack, two  cousins from Helena, MS and a niece, Tori,  from Panama City, FL.  Unfortunately Larry's sister, Lisa, could not join us due to a new job but she was invited and was with us in spirit, if not physically!    Our intention was to spend some time with the sisters initially and have the bar-b-que on Saturday that included the other family members who drove over here for the day.   

So we spent the first part of the visit with Linda and her grand daughter, Carlie, just catching up on life and all the things we have missed talking about for the past few years.     It was good to relax with a cup of coffee and just talk about nothing in particular and everything in general to reconnect our lives again.  Then Amy and her daughter, Cayla, joined us on Thursday evening.     We ate supper together and just had a grand time being a family.    It felt good to catch up on all the things everyone has been doing lately and how their jobs were going and to take a trip down Memory Lane talking about the "good ole days".   It was not earth shattering, important news but significant, never-the-less, just to feel the connections and bonds that tie us together.    

When the other family members joined us on Saturday we pulled out the bar-b-que grill, seared some hamburgers and enjoyed the simple fare of a backyard bar-b-que.    Tommie and Rayner (the cousins) brought more cold drinks, chips and a huge four flavored cheese cake to add to the table.    So we all ate plenty of burgers and beans and sat in our backyard enjoying the wonderful October weather we typically have here in Northwest Florida.   The skies were blue, not a cloud in the sky and a gentle breeze held the 80 something degree day in check from being too hot.    It was as if we had ordered the day from the "perfect day" check list.    

Later that night we gathered around a table in the living room and played a highly competitive version of the game, Taboo.   If you've not played this one, you should give it a try.    The object is to get your partner to say a certain word or phrase without using any of the forbidden words on a short list below the word or phrase you're attempting to convey to your partner.  It is much harder than it sounds!    However, it IS a lot of fun and I assure you that, in spite of the competition going on, we all were laughing at least as much as we were plotting to win!   It also activates some brain cells that may have gone unused for a while.    And the endorphins released from all the laughter and good natured ribbing going on had us all in a very good mood!  

At some point during the evening as the night wore on, I got a whiff of something cooking, wondered what it was and almost said something but was involved in the game and didn't say anything.     Pretty soon, Larry came waltzing into the room with a paper plate covered up in Turtle Flavored Chocolate Chip cookies, hot from the oven and filling the whole room with the amazing smell so unique to hot cookies.     It was the first thing that had diverted our attention from the game all evening!    It didn't take us long to empty the platter and call for a refill which Larry happily did, much to our delight.    

Finally, when we literally were propping our eyes open to keep ourselves awake, we decided to declare the evening over and the cousins departed for Mississippi and the rest of us all collapsed in our beds.    We slept soundly until the next morning when I distinctly heard someone say, "Hi, Sam!" and then, amazingly enough, I heard Sam's voice answer back.    Turned out that Linda was Skyping with her son who is in the Air Force and finishing up his assignment to South Korea, hoping to depart for the US in mid-November.     We all took turns talking to him and were happy for the chance to see him and know he is doing well but eager to come home.     It was a great way to end our family together.

Even as the call with Sam was ending,   several of the family members who had spent the night with us were packing up their bags and loading their cars, ready to depart for home.    With hugs and kisses, and declarations that we must do this again, pretty soon our house was quiet as one by one, they pulled out of our driveway.    As I reflected over the time we had spent together for the four days, my eyes fell on a plaque that is hanging over my back door.   It reads:   Live Well, Love Much and Laugh Often.  I could not help but think we had done just that these past few days.   And I couldn't help noticing how good it felt to reconnect with family and realize that it is those connections that help us stay strong and able to make our way through the world.    

The simple fact is that the world is not always kind to us.    Life can be really challenging and difficult at times.    With the love and laughter (and sometimes tears) shared with our family, we can get strength and courage to face almost anything that comes our way.   If you have lost those connections with your family and even some dear friends, I urge you to give the simple philosophy of Live, Love and Laugh a try.    It really can refresh you and make you realize that your Good Life is within your grasp.    But you do have to reach out to get it.    Make the effort.   It's worth it.    

Happy Trails,

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Welcome Fall!

Larry and I have spent the past week at a campground near home working on our camper and just hanging out. We have a camping excursion planned for later this month with Brian, April and the three grandkids in Gulf Shores, Alabama and we are getting our travel trailer ready for our first camping trip with the kids in the new camper. Gulf Shores is a little less than an hour's drive from home and we'll be camping in Gulf State Park. It has recently been rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina sort of re-arranged the pines and picnic tables in 2005. Unfortunately, that area catches a lot of bad weather and since it's near the Gulf of Mexico is a prime target for Mother Nature's wrath.

When we woke up this morning the first thing we noticed was how cool it was. My nose was really, really cold. In a dog, that's a good thing. For humans, not so good. So Larry got up while I pulled the wubie up around my nose and he found the small, ceramic heater we have for cold snaps. They are safe and, in fact, probably safer than turning on the propane heater in the camper. In pretty short order the little heater did what it was supposed to do and got the place heated up nicely. Shortly after that the familiar beep, beep, beep, beep, beep of the coffee pot let us know that our favorite morning brew was ready for us to drink! So life was good!

Having a true Fall/Autumn in the deep south is a "some time" thing. Some times we get it, some times we don't. We who have lived here for most of our lives can remember going trick or treating at Halloween with shorts and tee shirts on under our costumes. We would be lucky if our chocolate candy survived the heat back to the house where we dumped the plastic pumpkin to ooo and ahhh over our treasure. Daddy usually came in to "inspect" our loot and frequently offered to take some of the choicer pieces off of our hands.

Thanksgiving is another holiday that we have been known to celebrate with the windows flung wide open or even cranking the thermostat down to a lower notch so the masses huddled around the groaning table don't perish from the heat. I have spent more than one Christmas trying out a new bicycle or skates in summer clothes, all the while hoping and praying for just one teeny-tiny flake of snow. Never happened. Well, I guess I could concede that one Christmas in 1993 when we had a Family Gathering planned at Pensacola Beach, we did get a tiny smattering of big, fat, wet snow flakes on our trek down to the beach. And it did turn very, very cold on Christmas Eve. The snow was gone before we got to the beach, however, melting the instant it touched the ground.

So having a real cold snap, colorful leaves, the smell of a fireplace puffing an announcement all over the neighborhood that the Gaineys are having the first fire of the season and a hot, steaming cup of cider are cause for real celebration in these parts. When we get to experience REAL fall we send up a loud hosanna! The crisp air, the bluer than blue skies, the faint rustling of leaves are the first inkling we get that the seasons are getting ready to change. They are so rare and yet so welcome. It's enough to make you hug yourself with joy! In fact, I think I saw two squirrels doing a happy dance this morning as they were busily burying acorns in places they are sure to forget later this winter.

I don't know what the weather is like where you are, but as you read this, I hope you're having the signs of fall/autumn all around you. (I realize that for people in the Southern Hemisphere that your seasons are reversed from ours, so just go with me here!) Drink in the beauty that is there and let it refresh your soul. Our calendar year is winding down, but then some of our biggest celebrations are fast approaching. So while the life cycle is ending for many things, the time of joy will be here, too. It really is a bitter-sweet time of year. Take the time to appreciate the regularity of the seasons and all that they offer. I know that this year we're really going to have a fall and I am just so glad to be here to enjoy it! I hope you enjoy it, too.

Happy Trails,