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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How to Decide What to Keep

Julie Owsik Ackerman

Like so many of us, I find myself overcommited, stretched to the limit, running from one thing to the next, wondering how I'll possibly get it all done. Like cleaning out the closet, I need to start eliminating things from my overstuffed life.

Something Elizabeth Gilbert wrote on her Facebook page helped me in deciding what to keep and what to throw away. She said something like, if it fills you with a feeling of light and possibility, keep it, otherwise, chuck it. One of my own tests:  if you love it or need it, keep it.

I've just begun this process. Some things I know I want to keep: my coaching business, where I help both writers and non-writers with a variety of writing challenges -- overcoming writer's block, preparing college applications, sharpening writing skills, getting words out of the head and onto the page. I love this work.

But as my writing commitments have grown, I have decided to let go of writing for 4 Broads. Though I have loved being a part of the community here for the past two years, I am no longer able to post here regularly and write for my own blog. I hope you will come visit me there, at Anything for Material, Goddess willing, my novel will be finished and published one day very soon, and I will let the 4 Broads audience know about that. And you will still see me in the comments here too.

The nice thing about letting go of something is it gives someone else the opportunity to use it. I hope that the Broads will find an amazing new Broad to write here. I look forward to seeing how the blog will grow and change. It's been a privilege to work with such smart and funny broads.

How do you decide what tangible or intangible things to keep or discard? Is there anything that you have outgrown?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Life is Like a Box of Crayons

Lately, I’ve thought a lot about a conversation I had years ago with a doctor where I worked. He was complaining about some change he didn’t like, and I said something like, “Maybe it would help to think of this as one of those opportunities to learn.”
He glanced at me sideways, and in his gentlemanly southern accent drawled, “You know Carol, at this point in my life, I just don’t think I need another opportunity to learn.”
As I learn to live with cancer, I can really relate.
A recent piece of advice I’m trying to follow is that you can’t have cancer 24 hours a day. When I first heard that it didn’t make sense. Slowly, it’s starting to sink in. I’m still the same happily married me, surrounded by devoted family and supportive friends, a beach addict living in a shore town I love, a writer, coach, and educator who is blessed to do work that fulfills me. Cancer is just one part of me now—it only blots out the rest if I let it.
If you’ve read PEACE BY PIECE, you know there’s a line where Maggie says, “I’ve never had a box of 64 crayons.”
A reader recently told me that after reading that line, she thinks Forrest Gump’s mother might have had it wrong. That instead of chocolates, life is like a box of crayons—full of choices every day to pick the color of our mood.
That feels a lot like another way of saying that I don’t have to have cancer 24 hours a day—that cancer doesn’t have to tint my every waking thought and attitude.
Years ago, after Jim read the line about 64 crayons in a very early draft of PEACE BY PIECE, he bought me a green and yellow box of 96 crayons—equipped with a built-in sharpener. For over a dozen years, that box has sat on my desk reminding me of Jim’s unwavering support. No one ever colors with my crayons, but browsing through the colors often recharges my creative batteries.

And, now I have a new way of thinking about the 96 colors in that box. As I learn to live with cancer—one day at a time, one color at a time—I will try to focus on all the shades of gratitude that remind me I’m still me.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Remembering Tommy: He'll Always Have a Seat at our Table

Tom is the little guy in front with brothers and cousins 1991.
Aunt Chris Brady

Our family is grieving the loss of a son, brother, grandson, nephew, uncle and cousin. We’ve been with him on an emotional roller coaster for more than two years now, and sadly for us, the ride ended on July 10.

Thomas Stepek, age 30, learned he had a rare sarcoma cancer in 2012. I will never forget the phone call from my sister telling me about his diagnosis; the heartbreaking fear and grief in her voice spoke volumes. Thus began a journey with Tom and his family of good times like weddings, births, holidays, and beach time offset by hospitals and doctor visits, and everything you don’t want to know about cancer.

Death brings an end to his suffering, but dammit, we were not ready to give him up just yet. He gave us so much hope because no matter what cancer threw at him, he hit back with courage, humor and grit.

Tom was a professional chef, and his illness forced early retirement, so if there was a silver lining to this cloud, those of us outside his immediate family had more quality time with him. I think we all wanted to overdose on Tom, poaching invites to his family home so that we could hug and kiss him one more time, and enjoy his gourmet cooking.  

Cooking at the shower; his mom watching.
Tom’s meals showcased his art and talent. He catered my daughter-in-law’s bridal shower in May. I will never forget his energy hopping on one leg as he prepared eight small bite courses.  He channeled inner strength that day to give us an unforgettable meal. Always an optimist about his illness, he told me that day that he wanted to do more catering to stay active and to have a purpose beyond fighting cancer.

Tom had lost his leg to amputation soon after his diagnosis, and he made the best of that situation, learning to use a prosthesis until the wasting from chemo took that help away.  He suffered from the phantom pain that you hear about with amputation, still feeling your lost limb because your brain doesn't know it's gone.

I think that's how we all feel today as we settle into a new chapter without Tom, still sensing his wonderful presence in our lives because our brains and our hearts will not accept that he is gone.

Thanks to the many caregivers who gave us extra moments with Tommy, especially the doctors and nurses at Fox Chase Cancer Center, who gave him hope and kindness, and peaceful final hours with family and friends.