Thursday, November 5, 2009

Giving & Receiving - a LONG post

I'm a giver. Always have been. Giving to others has always fulfilled me in ways that nothing else could. I've always wanted to be able to give more but life often got in the way so I would find an opportunity here or there and give - donate time, money, goods, etc to people in need, to friends and family members whom I love. I once moved cross country from Massachusetts to California to show a dying man whom I loved and respected (though hadn't known him all that well for very long) that I believed in him so much that I'd move (permanently) to be closer to him and help him fight cancer (sadly, he died 3 months later - that was 11 years ago). I'm a "big sister" and have been matched to my "little sister" since 2003 and I take her out as much as I can to fun places, out to eat, and I am available to her for support and friendship, keeping my word to her as a mentor. I sponsor friends, families and even strangers who seek support in fundraisers for worthy causes. I buy items at charity auctions - mostly things I don't even need (just ask my husband about a coral antique dresser now being used as Cooper's changing table in his room, or the many pieces of jewelry I've never worn but were purchased to fund a charity). I donate hundreds of dollars (even thousands in some years past) worth of goods each year to The Salvation Army, Goodwill, a local battered women's shelter, and the VA. I just sent a (very) small donation to the LA Regional Food Bank to buy 44 Thanksgiving dinners for the homeless, even though I am operating check to check right now with all the medical bills we're having to pay. I participate in community service events organized by my employer - renovating school buildings/yards, serving meals at the Boys and Girls Club each holiday season, served as a "cabinet member" for the United Way campaign at work, organizing team events to drive donations and service volunteerism, and allocating a sizable portion of my paycheck toward the charity to help "create pathways out of poverty". I always support the local school fundraisers and Girl Scouts too. I love to show my friends and family that I appreciate them by sending them tokens of love and recognition on special days - birthdays, holidays, etc. Sometimes flowers, cards, a gift basket or whatever. I especially love to give people things I've made for them - mainly handcrafted jewelry or accessories (I have a way with beads, I guess). Years ago I was addicted to cross-stitching/needlepoint and would craft things for people and have them framed professionally for holiday gifts. I have fun sending/giving people coupons for products I don't use but I know they do, or giving people things they need which I can no longer keep for myself (a win-win of course) - like when I moved out to California I knew I wouldn't be able to afford to buy a house for quite a while because of the home prices here so it didn't make sense to haul everything from my 4 bedroom CT home out to some dinky CA apartment and at the time my brother was engaged to be married and had mostly hand-me-down mix and match stuff so rather than sell all the stuff I wasn't planning to take to CA I gave it to him for them to use in their home/yard. I assure you, I am not bragging here - I'm no saint, believe me! I don't talk about this stuff very much to anyone (except the big sister part since I want others to become "bigs" too). I'm not even entirely comfortable posting what I've stated above but I feel that if I don't, then I'm not telling the whole picture of how I've come to this place of peace I feel today, right now. So I'll leave it there and hope you will understand, from reading on, how it fits in. I mention my history of giving because it occurred to me recently (during a support group meeting, actually) that giving to others makes me feel really good and that's how I ended up adapting a caregiver personality. It also has occurred to me many many times (since being diagnosed especially) that being cared for and receiving support and gifts feels wonderful too. In fact, the outpouring of love, support and gifts I have received since being diagnosed with breast cancer has been unbelievable to me. I am so grateful for every prayer, every card, every email and blog comment, and every beautiful token of hope and inspiration sent my way that it brings tears to my eyes every time I think about how fortunate I've been to have such generous and caring friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, even complete strangers. I'm not convinced I deserve it, but it feels amazing and I am truly grateful. I will readily admit that my independent personality often makes it challenging to accept offers of help, particularly from those whom I don't feel I've done anything for in order to deserve their help in return - and even if I had, I still always tend to manage on my own because I always have and because I usually can juggle a great many things. Things are different now, albeit temporarily, in that it's hard to manage on my own. I'm beyond exhausted from the treatments and chasing Cooper around when Bob is away, I'm not getting enough sleep, etc. The new challenges and limitations I face each day and the frustrations they bring are an example of what I discuss with my breast cancer support group. Last week we were discussing who we get help from, how it makes us feel, whether we are surprised by who has (or hasn't) stepped forward to help, how our relationships have changed (if at all) by our new needs for help, or simply due to being diagnosed with cancer, etc. From the responses we shared, it seemed as though every woman in the room was a classic caregiver personality - caregiver of others (not of self). Our very wise therapist/facilitator reminded us that the feeling we get from helping others is the feeling others get when they offer to and follow through with helping us (duh!). The lightbulb went on that I need to allow (even force) myself to ask for help from others more often - giving them the opportunity to give to me when I am in need. As if that realization wasn't big enough, with a challenge attached, the therapist offered me great advice in response to a story I told about a recent interaction with a loved one that has repeatedly upset me over the years. She suggested that I serve as my own best caregiver and do for myself that which nourishes me, fills me with hope and love the way I would to do for others when caring for them, and detach myself from those who create stress and pain for me. You probably recall that I have mentioned I'm a fan of Bernie Siegel, MD. Bernie believes in and promotes the mind-body connection. He encourages people to spend time doing what they love so that time passes by without them noticing because that is when we're fulfilled and in a state of unity with our Creator. He teaches patients that our bodies have a very real physiological response to the "live" (or "die") messages we send to it. I want to send very strong "live" messages to my body so I am working on figuring out what makes me feel good, how to take better care of myself - in the same quality fashion I would apply myself if/when caring for others, and to ask for help from someone each week who can help me get some important healing needs met somehow. Anywho...while reflecting on these goals, I realized that I needed to make good on an earlier promise made to myself to get moving - walking actually - every day, whenever possible - and to bring along positive inspirational messages in the form of audio books or meditations on my iPod to remind me daily of the beauty, wonder and miracles in my life and to help me focus on healing and wellness. So far, so good. Tonight I asked my friend Cindy if she would watch Cooper for a couple of hours on Sunday so I can go to church and focus on the message and she agreed to help - thank you, Cindy!! My other friend, Michelle, who happens to also be my chemo nurse at the cancer center, is helping me by giving me my weekend shots of neupogen so I don't have to inject myself. Thank you, Michelle!! And, my friend Tara has been so great helping me get evening walks in on days when I wasn't able to get out earlier in the day with the iPod. Thank you, Tara!! As for the other goal - finding and doing what fulfills me - this circles me back into what I could do for others simply because of how good it makes me feel to help others. Thus, I'm on a giving mission. Inspired by a women I saw interviewed last month on NBC's Today show - Cami Walker - who wrote a book called "29 Gifts" on how a month of giving can change your life (and did change hers). I haven't read the book yet but the day I saw the interview I decided I would spend at least 29 days giving to others. I was in a down trodden slump for a short time recently until I saw this interview and began this project. I was really feeling down about my situation and scared about my future. I'm not saying that I'm not scared anymore - but that since I started focusing on giving to others I have found a renewed sense of hope and joy that I happily cling to. I mentioned on FaceBook recently that I was doing this project and one of my online friends, Patti, went out and bought the book for me! I received it today with the most beautiful note attached, along with a fantastic piece of artwork by her very sweet daughter. Thank you so much, Patti!

I've been deliberately giving gifts away since the week before Halloween. I will eventually post the list of gifts given out but for now, the bottom line is this - giving to others over this past week has helped me tremendously. It's helped me feel good, feel hopeful and feel like I'm making a difference by making people smile and feel appreciated. It's helped me get out of a scary funk I was in that could have sent the wrong messages to my body, and now I'm sending the right messages to it. So, if you want to feel really good, start giving - today. Just find little gifts - things, time, messages, etc...with no attachments or conditions...and give to strangers. You will be amazed at how wonderful it feels for both the giver and receiver every time.

Thank you for "listening" - having your eyes/ears here is truly a gift to me.

7 comments:

  1. you are such an angel. I read this post and feel instantly connected to you, I feel like you get it..you get me..you get what I preach about...it's even the simple smile to the lady washing the windows at work, and watching her face filled with surprise bc someone actually said, hi. I LOVE YOU JULIE WITH ALL MY HEART!!! you are an inspiration, a great soul, a great woman, a great role model. I LOVE YOU!!!

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  2. That was a very well written post. You are an angel and have helped so many people! In fact, during my "oven check" today, I showed the Doctor the bracelet you made me and told her the story of you! :o) How many people can say they were talked about during a "smear"? LOL Love you!

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  3. Your blog posts are a gift to others also, Julie. Your writing is inspirational and motivating to say the least. I am convinced that some day, it will be Y-O-U on the Today show sharing how one's attitude, determination and love are the essential elements to healing whether one has been diagnosed with an illness or whether one believes his/her life "sucks". You give God the glory; you appreciate what He has done and you embrace others whole-heartedly and genuinely. I thank God for you, Julie, and for the life lessons you share. What a powerful realization to discover THE MOST amazing blessing of all is to BE a blessing to God and our fellow humans... No matter how absolutely horrible and awful cancer is, see how a wonderful blossom named Julie has flourished into an incredibly inspiring, beautiful, gigantic flower that so many people are blessed by. My dear friend, you HAVE overcome victoriously!

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  4. Wow Julie. Thanks for giving me a wakeup call. I think we all know these words to be true, and sometimes we just let stuff get in the way. Then we forget for a while. But then a friend like you reminds us of this wonderful truth. Thank you Julie! (hugs)

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  5. Giving to others and helping out really is rewarding. We often live paycheck to paycheck as well, but anytime we are able, we will help others out. Often times it really is the little things like sending coupons to others that you know they will use that is so meaningful because not only are you helping out, but showing that you are thinking of them and remembering things they often purchase. It doesn't bother me so much to live on such a tight budget when I know I am helping others out. That is so wonderful that you are able to apply values to your health and healing. I am a true believer in mind over matter along with Karma. You are such an inspiration and I greatly admire how you have handled this situation. Keep it up. I will continue my prayers for you and your family.

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  6. You don't know me and I don't really know you although we are part of the same ivillage group for our little ones. I have followed your story through your blog since you were on bedrest with Cooper. I don't normally post but today is different. I feel compelled to write to you after reading this post. 2 words...Thank you. You have an amazing gift and touch people you know and also people you don't know in a very profound way. Your messages, that are always so beautifully written,touch people in ways I am not sure, even you understand. Your honesty, sense of humour, integrity and strength are inspiring and have touced my life. I love your message today and will pass it on through my actions. I keep you in my thoughts and prayers, Bonnie from Ottawa, Canada.

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  7. I am getting that book asap. I think that it is a good message and I am thinking of ways to share it with my students. Everyone has something to offer and it is powerful to give to others. You give me inspiration!

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