Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Love is not wasted time or energy


By Monica Vest Wheeler

The good news was that I knew what to ask.

The bad news was that I knew what to ask.

Yet, when it comes to YOUR loved one … you need wading boots to avoid drowning in the puddles you’re creating with your tears and fears. You have no idea of the depths you’re walking.

All these years of encouraging patients and families to speak up and advocate for themselves … and reminding medical professionals that they need to listen more and ask heartfelt questions … paid off when my mother and I entered that oncologist’s office for the first visit on September 14.

The doctor and staff were beyond compassionate and knowledgable. We explored the knowns … orange-sized mass in right lung consistent with cancer … and unknowns … exactly what type of cancer, explanation of chemo and radiation options down the road … and life expectancy.

And then you turn your life over to paperwork, the calendar and other people’s schedules … and endless scenarios and uncertainty.

We automatically ask, “What can I do?” or “What should I do?”

Yes, I asked myself that as if on cue, but then I suddenly realized the deeper meaning, “What lesson am I supposed to learn from this and what am I supposed to do with it?”

Silly me, the hopeless philosopher …

On the phone eight days later, Mom said, “I hope this isn’t a waste of time and energy for you.” I was not surprised at her statement though reassured her it wasn’t a waste of MY time and energy.

After then saying in a cold, emotionless voice that she could go to a MRI by herself, I said I know she can, only that I wanted to keep everything on my calendar so I was prepared. Ten minutes later, she called and apologized for hurting me. I said I understand, but she said I didn’t. I explained that I understood that she’s being thrust into a whirlwind of activities and people she didn’t want. She didn’t disagree, which was a plus.

This was extremely hard on a fiercely independent woman who had always wanted to do it HER way. I had to keep reminding myself of that fact and that it was not going to be an easy road for either of us … with a river of tears in our path.

And I gave the tissue industry far too much business in October when we heard the test results: non-small cell lung cancer, a tumor on the left side of her neck that caused all the left shoulder and arm pain … and two brain tumors.

The oncologist — bless his heart — explained all the options and how it was her choice on how to proceed.

“Do you want to go hard at it?” he asked.

“I want to stay as active as I can.”

“One thing at a time,” he reassured us.

Yes, all we could and can do.

Order up … one day at a time … with a side of tissues for the daughter ….

Thursday, April 19, 2018

I knew I was intruding but I had to be there

 
 
By Monica Vest Wheeler
 
Bad news has a way of sucking the wind out of your chillin' plans. I only wanted to sit in my sunroom with my baby cats after a week away.

And what a whirlwind it was as I had been home only an hour on Tuesday, September 12. Mom didn't want me to worry while I was on the road, so she waited until I called her after my seven days of travel to Virginia for our first Retreat & Refresh Stroke Camp there and back with a detour to scout prospective camp sites along the way. 

Despite her overall excellent health and some fun photos of us earlier, she told me she had finally gone to the doctor for chest, shoulder and arm pain. She had tried everything over a six-week period to ease the discomfort. After an X-ray, the doctor ordered a CT scan. And the mass on her lung unveiled itself. 

She had signed the paperwork giving the doctor permission to speak to me about her health and get access to any reports. Thank goodness! They were trying to get her into an oncologist ASAP.

We said we’d stay in touch. I love you. I love you.

So, what do I do first? I called the primary physician, and the nurse gave me what information she had.

So, what do I do next? I texted Marylee to let her know what few details I had because we needed backup plans for the FIVE camps I had in the next SEVEN weeks. 

So, what do I do after that? I tell my husband and son that Grandma has cancer and I have no idea what’s going to happen.

So, what comes after that? I called my dear friend Genny and said I’d do a turn and burn — a four-hour drive each way to Indiana — to see Mom on Wednesday and learn more. Genny knows Mom and said she’d come along. She brought stuff for the night; I didn’t because I was certain Mom wouldn’t be able to get into the oncologist until next week at the earliest. And Genny was a perfect and eager support team as she had survived a scary battle with kidney cancer earlier in 2017. She understood the fears and uncertainty.

Mom values her privacy. So, I didn’t tell her I was coming over. She had told me too many times in the past not to come over because SHE said I was busy or SHE didn’t want me to travel any more than necessary.

Sorry, this time, I chose to be the disobedient daughter.

And I needed to do this for ME. I was still grieving the unexpected loss of my dad just nine months earlier. How could this be happening?!?!

On our way, Mom called to say the oncologist could see her in at 12:45 Thursday. She could tell I was in the car and asked if I was driving over. Yes, Genny and I were on our way. Her voice cooled immediately. But I was excited she could get in so quickly. That was good news!

Upon our arrival, I could tell she wasn’t pleased I had come over unannounced, but nothing was said. I knew I needed to stay so I could go to the appointment with her. All we know is it’s a large mass on the middle of her lung, consistent with lung cancer. They said it was the right; she said it’s the left, where she’s been experiencing pain. I couldn’t hug her tightly as she was in so much pain. She will only take ibuprofen though I wonder if she would benefit from more. Not my call to make at this stage.

I couldn’t wrap my head around my only-child emotions. I felt like I was intruding, but geez, I just want to be there. I had to! And I’m not even sure what to say or do.

I asked if she needed any food or other items. No.

I asked if she needed anything done around the apartment. No.

I asked if she’d please reconsider getting text messages so we could communicate easier. No.

As she explained how her cancer insurance policy was for only after the fact, I started to ask if she needed prior approval for anything, but she cut me off, refusing to talk about it anymore. 

I knew I had to give her needed space. Genny and I left and said we’d meet her and my aunt at the oncologist’s office the next day. And I needed some stuff for the overnight stay as my bonus mom Diane opened her heart and home, and the space I needed to process the known and unknown.

And I stayed awake much of that night, sobbing while rocking in my dad’s favorite chair ….

Sunday, April 15, 2018

My mom thinks she should keep a secret


By Monica Vest Wheeler

My mom thinks she should keep a secret. 

However, I have a big mouth and feel the need to share.

Sorry, it’s the storyteller in me, and it’s just too big of a life story to ignore.   

So, she’ll just have to deal with it.

Can you see me thumbing my nose at her right now? Good.

The secret is not that she’s strong.

She’s always exhibited a deep sense of inner and outer strength and a self-sufficient attitude.

Now, that comes in handy when you’re trying to open a jar, take a test or finish a job. It can be vitally important when you need to show yourself that you’re stronger, smarter and braver than you would ever give yourself credit.

We can be strong, but sometimes we can break when we don’t give ourselves a break. I’ve worried about so many things that threatened to fracture her through the years.

The secret is not that she’s stubborn, which kinda ties in with strength.

I hereby declare that she’s the QUEEN of stubborn. Now, that can be good and bad. Sometimes we need to be just stubborn enough to force ourselves through ordinary and extraordinary hurdles and challenges.

If you’re living and breathing, you’re gonna and you gotta face obstacles in this world. It’s all about that learning curve that often resembles a figure eight … that I know she’s navigated so many times, and sometimes purely on instinct and fierce determination.

But it’s a royal pain to ME when you’re trying to convince her to let you help her in a variety of ways, whether it’s physically, emotionally or financially. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count all the times she’s said, “I can do it myself.” I never doubted she could, but it would have made many moments easier for ME if she had accepted my offers.

At least, that’s MY opinion ….

I’ve discovered much about stubbornness in my own desire to keep going despite an often crippling depression. Yes, stubbornness keeps me alive when I decided today wasn’t all that bad and tomorrow can be better, and more often than not, it does not disappoint.

And Mom has never made it a secret that tomorrow really is worth getting up for. As always, she’s right.

Geez. Mothers.

The secret is not that she’s often a loner and prefers to mimic Greta Garbo’s “I vant to be alone.” She’s lived by herself for the 36-plus years since she and Dad divorced. She values her space and privacy. I completely understand.

I likely inherited my introverted personality from her. I was an only child who really liked to be alone. In the solitude of my single digits and teens, I spent countless hours sucking ink pens dry by filling reams of traditional school-lined paper with all the stories that I obsessively had to write.

I don’t recall ever reaching the center of a Tootsie Pop sucker, but I reached the last drop of ink and said good-bye to many a trusty blue, black or red pen. That was long before purple ink made it to the mainstream office supply market place.

And that reminds me that it’s never been a secret that she’s always been somewhat frugal.

She has turned pennies into dimes and quarters into dollars. She cheaps out on the unimportant stuff but doesn’t on what she considers important. Her shelves are lined with off-brand essentials except the good stuff she treats herself to like facial creams, shampoos, laundry detergent and dish soap. It’s always been Dawn in her kitchen and Oil of Olay in her bathroom.

And she gave up a lot of personal stuff and luxuries to make sure I went to college. My parents paid my way so I would have not any student debt to start my life.

I paid attention because I went through college in three instead of four years to save them thousands of dollars. And that was back when private college was only about $4,000 annually.

The secret is not that she’s smart.

That woman was the first in her family to earn a high school diploma. If circumstances had been different, I’m positive she would have gone on to college and been some leader in the education, science or medical fields.

Why? Because she questions virtually everything. She has to know the how and why something works and what will happen if you do or don’t do this or that. I’m confident I got my reporter instinct from her, a trait that has opened the door to a world that often scared/scares me. I “hide” behind my pen and paper, keyboard or camera to infiltrate the “real” world where all the magic happens.

The secret is not that she’s made some mistakes.

Yes, we all make boo-boos along the way, some of which sparked some boo-hoos on difficult days. None of us are perfect, and hindsight — which can only be delivered in the aftermath — can reveal an unfiltered and illuminating view ….

And taught me to look in the mirror often to make sure I do my best to apologize and humble myself when I need to, and forgive and forget the world in hefty doses.

The secret is not that’s she has a sense of humor.

I got my desire to laugh from her. I got my often-quirky behavior from her. My son can vouch that I got the habit of singing to wake him up on many a school morning from his nutty Grandma-ma. Hey, it made me less grouchy when I was a kid, so why not experiment on my own?

And laughter saved many a day when tears might have been easier, though less productive. Laughter makes you think more than weepy eyes. And it burns far more calories.

What else is not a secret in my mom’s world? Hmm, that list can go on for quite some time, and I need more sleep ….

So, now, what is her secret that I’m spilling?

She’s waving the white flag to cancer … on her terms.

Geez. Mothers.

And I have to and choose to accept her decision.

Geez. Daughters.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The price of being too emotional


By Monica Vest Wheeler

Recently, I was told I was too emotional, that I needed to chill.

Well, I'll proudly wear the "too emotional" label because it makes me who I am … who I am finally at peace being.

I'd rather err on the side of humanity and authenticity. I'd rather be transparent than cloudy … even when tears blur my vision.

And because I choose to feel and share those emotions, that makes me less than perfect. I accept the role of being only human.

I gave up perfectionism several years ago, and it was one of my best decisions ever. Taking that load off my body, mind and soul opened the door to so many more life experiences that would have left me far poorer in spirit if I had missed them.

Try it if you suffer from the perfection bug. Cheaper than medicine or therapy. Also extends your life. Guaranteed!

Being "too emotional" is not easy. It can be beyond exhausting. It can make you vulnerable. It can be embarrassing. It can make some people uncomfortable.

Apparently that is what happened to the person who labeled me "too emotional."

I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry …

I've spent much of my life apologizing … for what, I'm not exactly sure. A lot of folks have asked, "What are you apologizing for?" And it's a hard habit to explain. I just wanted to make sure I hadn't bothered or inconvenienced or offended anyone … almost everyone I encountered.

Oh, how ridiculous! And it's an even harder habit to break!

The other day, while saying goodbye to a friend here in Peoria, I got teary-eyed again and tried to hide it. Putting her arm around me, she gave me the greatest gift by saying, "I know you're crying, hon. It's okay."

There are moments and connections and words and love that frequently tickle my tear ducts these days. I guess God wired me with extra tears, and I MUST produce! It's amazing I haven't short-circuited yet.

Maybe it just gives me more power and energy to live … and love.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Caregivers are worthy, too



By Monica Vest Wheeler

I do need more sleep.

But I've realized the past few days that what I really need much more of is more of ME.

Yep, I used the word "more" three times … just like Donna Summer did in the disco age …

The role of caregiver can suck the life out of you. I've seen it happen to the kindest and the most stoic individuals in the world. I've witnessed firsthand the stress of caregiving debilitate the strongest bodies.

Ironically, caregiving can also give birth to the strongest hearts and souls in the universe. For in those moments of monumental physical, emotional and spiritual challenge, a new life purpose can be born.

In more than a dozen years of engaging with caregivers, I've learned that no two individuals and care scenarios are alike. It's all because we have different DNA and experiences. I still find it so fascinating that God keeps coming up with unique fingerprints and souls every second …

After six months of traveling back and forth to Indiana and living 75 percent of my life in the Hoosier state during that time, I've decided that we have a choice to be caregivers or careworriers.

Yep, you heard it here: careworriers.

We can begin to define ourselves by what we think we can and should do. We can give ourselves the title of head cheerleader and then beat ourselves up mercilessly with the pompoms when our loved one isn't cheerful.

We can question our own reasoning abilities when we're arguing on the phone with insurance companies, where we're sure the representatives have been trained to subliminally make us believe we've become stupid after pressing 42 buttons in search of a real human being.

And it's such a tiny request, a live voice …

A live connection …

After you've written a dozen new definitions of the meaning of life … and seem to adopt a new one every few days …

And then start to compose a new theory of your own life … because no one can do it for you … and because you just need to sit down and do it.

It's too easy to be consumed by the challenges that stand in front of you when you care for someone else …

And push aside the ones that are just as important but are hiding … like yourself …

I still don't know what the immediate future holds for my loved one as we take it day by day …

But I know I have to rediscover the core of myself this minute and the next …

Because, as I tell all the caregivers I've encountered over the years …

You are worthy, too.

Yes, I am worthy, too.

And desperately seeking horses to talk to …

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The kids are smarter than the adults



By Monica Vest Wheeler

The kids are smarter than the adults … because their minds haven't been poisoned by politics.

The kids have more common sense than the adults … because their minds haven't been poisoned by greed.

The kids are more compassionate than the adults … because their hearts haven't been poisoned by lies.

The kids are quicker to learn than the adults … because their minds haven't been poisoned by tunnel vision.

The kids see more obvious solutions … because their souls haven't been poisoned by hopelessness.

The kids are willing to spring into action … because their bodies haven't been poisoned by laziness.

The kids want to give … because their lives haven't been poisoned by taking.

The kids want to work together … because their lives haven't been poisoned by lack of compromise and cooperation.

The kids want to live … because they haven't been poisoned by hate.

I choose to be a kid.



Wednesday, February 14, 2018

If you're still searching for the perfect gift


By Monica Vest Wheeler

Valentine's Day is that time when retailers go a little crazy catering to the needs of crazy people in love … in search of the perfect gift … to candy or not … to flower or not … to ring or not …

Whether it's my life experience or the gazillion folks I've interacted with, I've decided that the most sincere form of love for someone else is loving yourself first …

And caring for yourself enough so you'll be there for those who love you.

I've witnessed so many people not take care of their own health or care enough to take basic steps to curb, handle or reverse conditions that can be managed. I've heard every reason and excuse in the world. I've offered a few colorful ones myself …

In 2001, I faced the ultimate self-truth: treat this depression or let it all go.

I like to think I gave my family and friends the best Valentine's Day gift ever that year when I decided to start taking medication and get some therapy to treat myself with the ultimate self-respect I was long overdue …

And give them the real gift of ME that had been haphazardly wrapped for a long time.

Is it laziness that keeps us from taking care of ourselves when we need to? Is it avoidance? Is it living a lie?

I've decided that we can easily feed ourselves a lot of tall tales about who we are and who we can be. Fiction is easier to manipulate than non-fiction, and that's why we keep telling stories featuring the three major culprit characters: Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda.

If you're still searching for the perfect Valentine's Day gift for a loved one, look in the mirror.

Open your eyes to what you may be hiding under the surface.

Open your heart to all the potential of life, YOUR life.

Open your soul to fulfilling the purpose of YOUR life.

And remember, you don't need a holiday on the calendar to give yourself.


Monday, January 29, 2018

When will we learn to think for ourselves?

 
By Monica Vest Wheeler
 
My question for the day: When will we learn to think for ourselves? God gave us free will.

I finally had the opportunity to see "The Post," the current movie about the 1971 Pentagon Papers, a critical turning point in our nation's history.

It should be required viewing for everyone in this country. And everyone should have to write an essay about it.

(I'm really nice because it's not like I'm making you sit down and read the whole Constitution, though it wouldn't hurt us at this junction of our human history.)

I am a child of the 1970s, lit by the fire of an incredible age of journalism. I took an unspoken pledge to research and uncover the truth and facts, and write about them to educate the public so people could make informed decisions. What a sacred vow I accepted when I learned the heart and soul of the journalism field from my high school teacher, Lee Pursley, pictured here inspiring me.

I'm more troubled today about the future of this nation than ever before in my 59 years. I wonder where its common sense has gone by the way people run with rumors and ignore facts. The internet has spawned some of the most ridiculous and vile theories and opinions that have crippled, not enlightened the world … creating blind obedience and dangerous paths to the cliff where people will jump just because they've been told to … because they've forgot how to think for themselves.

One of the greatest lessons of "The Post" is that the First Amendment is the FIRST amendment. And as the Supreme Court said, the free press serves the governed, NOT the government.

Fearmongers and power-hungry individuals who consider themselves above the law are grounding our nation's symbol, the eagle. Just remember this: if you consider yourself right-wing or left-wing, a bird cannot fly with only one wing.

Absolute devotion to one party is dangerous, not loyalty. It blinds you to THE truth, THE justice, THE American way.

That's the trio that earns my undying respect and devotion.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Take a moon pill


By Monica Vest Wheeler

What is the song that "Annie" sings … yes … "the sun will come out tomorrow …"

Yep, the sun is shining whether we can see it or not, depending on how playful the clouds are that day. It's simply there, doing its job, lighting the way whether we choose to see the path or not.

And if we want to continue to "see," we certainly never look directly at the sun.

What we don't observe as often is the moon. It's constantly on the move and changing shapes and playing hide 'n seek. And sometimes, we're simply too tired by the day's end to look for it.

Eh, it will be there tomorrow.

How easily we forget.

We often spend a ton of money on entertainment … flashing lights, fancy moves, fantastic noises. But one of the grandest performances in the universe is right above us, demanding our attention several nights every month.

I'm back in Indiana, caring for my loved one. The other night, she said the moon should be out, and she walked slowly to the window.

"Look," she urged me to join her as she pulled the curtain back. "Isn't it beautiful?"

"Wow, it's gorgeous!"

And we stood there for a couple of minutes in silence, mesmerized by the bright globe breaking through the darkness. It seemed close enough to grab, and we both left fingerprints on the glass to touch it with our imaginations.

It was the best drive-in movie I had seen in eons because I wasn't distracted by all those man-made elements. Both of us were in awe of the universe … and how much bigger than us it will always be.

Sometimes we need to be put in our place to see the bigger picture …

To see that we have a greater role than we usually allow ourselves to play …

To reach beyond our self-imposed limitations …

To indulge in the simple beauty of the earth and sky and heaven.

As she laid down in bed, her smile was bigger than the winter moon …

For what ails you … take a moon pill and call me in the morning.



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Shame on all of us for not stopping bullying







By Monica Vest Wheeler

How many headlines does it take for us to fully examine our personal behavior?

How many more children have to kill themselves before we regain our civility as a society?

Saddened, disheartened, heartbroken, angry, downright pissed … that's how my gut rolled when I read the story behind the obituary of an 11-year-old boy … a Peoria boy who committed suicide after relentless bullying.

It was inexcusable. It was devastating. It IS unacceptable.

Eleven years old.

Shame on all of us for not stopping bullying … at all ages.

Shame on all of us for not standing up to kids who bully.

Shame on all of us for not standing up to the parents who let their kids bully.

Shame on all of us for not standing up to adults who bully.

And stop making excuses for people in power who thrive on bullying. They're not leaders. They're bullies and cowards. Every one of them.

Bullies love to show off how big or important they THINK they are.

They aren't big or important. They're weak and spineless.

Parents who don't teach their kids manners and respect are lazy and selfish. Yep, I'm saying it.

I've witnessed it in person. My son was bullied in middle school. It was heartbreaking. But I took it to the parent of the bully, and she was stunned to learn of his behavior. He tried to squirm out of it, but finally admitted he had emotionally and physically attacked my son. I do give her a LOT of credit for taking a stand and demanding her son apologize to my son.

I took a stand. I held someone accountable.

And he never bothered my son again.

Do YOU take a stand when you see something "bad" going on? When was the last time YOU spoke up when you witnessed cruelty? Or were YOU afraid of what people might say?

Is vanity or pride more important than YOUR God-given conscience? Where are YOUR priorities?

I've also witnessed the tragic consequences of apathy and selfishness by looking into the eyes of Holocaust survivors around this nation. They witnessed the murder of family and friends by hateful, cowardly bullies who ruled by fear.

The Nazis targeted a group of people just because they were Jewish. They executed children in front of their parents. They herded and shot them line by line falling into pits on top of each other's bodies. They stripped them naked and forced them into gas chambers where unimaginable panic and terror likely consumed them before the gas finished the job.

Six million Jewish men, women and children murdered. Six million.

Six million. Say that aloud or does it scare you too much? Say it anyway!!

Six million.

I've been to Germany and seen the buildings full of forms documenting murder and sickening habits of daily lice counts and so much more. I've been to the Auschwitz death camp and walked upon the ashes of victims. I've cried with survivors and been forever transformed by the experience.

I've been involved with the Peoria Holocaust Memorial since 2002 and am proud to witness its relocation to the Peoria Riverfront Museum.

I dare YOU to take a stand and be part of its dedication, its rebirth, at 2 p.m. Sunday April 23, in downtown Peoria. I dare YOU to stick around and listen to one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors who will speak afterward in the museum auditorium.

I DARE YOU to look within those glass stars and triangles and remember that every button represents a life brutally ended because someone else didn't speak up and take a stand. Would you have been one of them?

The bigger question is: who are YOU today?

Do you talk badly publicly OR privately about blacks, whites, Jews, Muslims, Mexicans OR any other population that aren't PERFECT like YOU?

If you do, you're a bully. You're a coward. You're weak. You are NOT perfect. And neither is anyone else.

I will NOT tolerate intolerance any more. And I mean it.

You want more reasons why? I've got two presentations I'd love to share with your group or community. Contact me at info@copeandsurvive.com or 877-267-4640.

• For high school and teen audiences: "Tolerance is NOT a Joke": This presentation ties in the lessons of the Holocaust and how the most horrific chapters of human history exploded out of hatred and intolerance. It includes stories that illustrate the message of how tolerance is respect, kindness, an attitude, takes practice and much more. Young people are encouraged to think before they speak, text and post online and how bullying is reportedly leading to more teen suicides. The overriding theme is that each person — no matter their age — has the power to destroy or save the world.

• For general adult audiences: "Look at YOUR Level of Tolerance in the Mirror": Building upon the above program, this goes into more depth with harder-hitting questions about personal behavior and responsibility, the increasing brutality and insensitivity of social media, and the examples we set for our children.

And lastly, I want you to look into each pair of eyes pictured here.

They're lives cut short all because of bullying, intolerance and hatred …

Let me know how you sleep tonight if you didn't speak up today. 


PLEASE SHARE … your experience of being bullied, no matter where or when or by who, and how you were affected physically, emotionally and/or spiritually. Drop me a line at info@copeandsurvive.com because I want to keep educating the world on the impact and danger of bullying. You can share your story anonymously, if you wish. We can only stop it together. Let's collectively turn our empathy into action.