31 October 2011

On Being Honest

My blog is evolving as am I.  When I started out, the idea of Inside the Pomegranate was to promote my jewelry business, Pomegranate & Eye.  So I wrote about jewelry, and occasionally about our homeless outreach to the streets of Skid Row.  And then cancer happened, so I started writing about my feelings and dealings with colon cancer, and then breast cancer, mastectomy, reconstruction.  And then there was  the garden, and the illustrations.

Tonight is the eve of my 2nd reconstruction surgery.  Tomorrow, my surgeon will finish what he started back in May.  Surgery is on a good number line up day:  11/1/11 at 1:00 p.m.  : )   It's outpatient.  And then I'll be off work for the rest of the week.  I am not afraid....I'm beyond that now.  After undergoing so many surgeries this year, I'm okay with this one.  But there is one thing that I'm dreading, and that's the "drain" that he said I "may" have to have after surgery.  I'm going to try to think positive ....but that is really a big drag.

So back to the blog.  I was thinking about all that I've written about, and all that has yet to be written.  The cancer is almost over...and so are the illustrations.  The garden is lying dormant til the Spring.  But there is an issue that I've had to deal with my entire life and that is.....:::::drumroll:::: my weight.  And just like I thought it would be good for me to "go public" with my cancer, I think there's a need for going public with the issues that keep the weight on.  So here we are.

Over the course of the past two years, I have lost a lot of weight.  Slowly, but it has come off.  I've worked really hard at it...and now I'm at a point where I'm about 15 pounds from my goal, and I just can't seem to get that motivation.  So I joined Weight Watchers online thinking that  I would follow the program and be held "accountable" for my actions/food choices.  So I started the plan and found that during the day, I was doing great.  Logging everything that I ate, drank, etc.  But the evenings were a different story all together.  That's when the snack monster wakes up.  But here's the deal.

It would be okay with me if I snacked and accounted for it.  But what happened over the course of this first week is that I found myself "cheating" on my accountability.  There would be nothing wrong with eating something if I wanted to eat it.  But what's got me is that I gave in on a number of times, and didn't want to log it...or didn't want to be "honest" with how many points or what I ate.  So what's that about?  Why this need to be perfect to myself?  I mean, no one else sees my food journal.  No one in my household cares whether I have a cookie or not.  Isn't the whole idea of writing down our intake so that WE have a look at what we're doing?

Anyways, you get the idea.  It is really bothering me and so I thought I would work on it here, on the blog, and be honest with it.  Do any of you struggle with this?  If so, I'd love to hear from you.  I am going to focus this week, on being honest with myself.  It's going to be a tough one as I'll be home recuperating from surgery this week, so the temptation will be there.  But so will you.

27 October 2011

Taking Steps toward Fitness, Wellness and Fighting Cancer

I wanted to share this article with you from guest blogger, David Haas.  It's about the benefits of fitness & eating healthy during and after a diagnosis of any kind of cancer.  We all know that each type of cancer has its limtations, but if we can keep a healthy body, we have a better chance of overcoming this awful disease. 

I was encouraged to post this, tonight especially, because I just returned from our Kick Off Meeting for Team In Her Shoes.  Those in attendance saw the benefits of "getting up and getting our move on!" in order to help against the fight for cancer and enthusiastically signed up for the walk.  

Although there are only a couple survivors on our team (me being one), we all discussed how cancer has touched ALL our lives. So we've committed to walking in next year's 39 mile Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.  And we've committed to getting healthy along the way.  It's a great combination: A great cause, a commitment to eat right, and MOVE!  A win/win!  There are, at this time, 15 of us signed up for Team In Her Shoes! I am blessed to be in the company of such caring and compassionate women and men. 
Here is David Haas' article!  Feel free to leave your comments!

Exercise and Fitness for Cancer Patients

If you are suffering from cancer or undergoing cancer treatment, it is crucial that you keep working your muscles as much as possible. Usually cancer patients require a lot of bed rest and this can weaken muscles, stiffen joints, cause breathing problems, and result in mental changes.

That National Cancer Institute recommends moderate exercise, such as walking every day for 30 minutes, as it helps reduce fatigue, pain, nausea, diarrhea, anxiety and depression associated with the treatment and disease. Exercise also helps to enhance mood, reduce the chances of recurrence, and helps to increase survivability. However, before you embark on an exercise routine, consult your oncologist.

The oncologist takes into account the patient's fitness level before the diagnosis, the current energy levels, the type of cancer the patient is suffering from and the treatment he/she is undergoing before developing an exercise regimen. To start with, the exercise can be just simple stretching exercises that help to exercise joints. These can be performed in bed by the patient without help from someone, or by the caregiver. Gradually, as the patient feels stronger, the exercise may get more vigorous, such as walking, swimming or cycling. Exercise also helps cancer patients combat the side effects of cancer therapies and increases the feeling of well-being. However, the patients should not overexert themselves or they risk other complications.

Whether a patient is suffering from breast cancer or an uncommon disease like mesothelioma, exercise will benefit that person in different forms.

It is best to start exercising as soon as possible after cancer diagnosis and treatment. Studies show that cancer patients tend to slow down after diagnosis. Fatigue, depression, anxiety and feeling nauseated from the disease or treatment make patients less active. And, most patients end up leading a sedentary life. However, to combat these side effects of the disease and treatment, exercise is a must; and it also helps in the recovery process.

Since every patient is different, a different set of exercises is recommended. Cancer survivors benefit from weight training and aerobics, while cancer patients should try doing flexibility exercises initially before moving to more vigorous exercises. It is best to opt for activities that you enjoy and it may also help to exercise with another person, who has the same fitness level as you. Working with an exercise buddy will help keep you motivated.

However, if fatigue overtakes you, it is advisable to rest for some time rebuilt your energy levels. Then attempt to do the exercise again, but slowly.

While the benefits of exercise for cancer patients are immense, it can also result in strains, soreness and sprains. So, be careful while doing the exercises. At the same time, no patient goes through cancer treatment to spend time lying on the bed. Talk to your oncologist today and set an exercise regimen that you can do every day, or at least 5 days a week.

18 October 2011

Be Mindful of What You Pray For

If you're on Facebook, you know that for the past several weeks, I've been diligently working on completing a series of illustrations for a children's book -- a commission from the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church in New York. 

I am welcomed by my church family

I've always wanted to be an illustrator for children's books.  My degree is in illustration.  Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to be an illustrator, my ability to "self-promote" and market myself  was terrible.  And so the years went by and I, like all to many, have ended up doing all sorts of jobs to pay the bills.  My current job has me working in the field of excess and surplus lines insurance.  Prior to that, I was a teacher; a medical transcriber, a court reporter's transcriber, an interpreter, a bookkeeper, a retail store manager.....and then always on the side I've done my art, jewelry and crafts.

This is the frustrating thing.  Art is my passion.  Helping people is my passion.  But there are bills to be paid as well as a mortgage.  As grateful as I am for my job, I always feel like I don't belong.  My work environment is very nice, and I work for and with very nice people.  But it's not me.  So one day last year, during a particularly stressful lunch hour, I stopped for a moment, closed my eyes and said a prayer that went something like this:

I light a candle

"God, I'm thankful for the ability to work...and for my job.  But I'm feeling so down.  You know that I love to be creative.  Please help me to find a way...a creative outlet ...where I can do my art and bring Glory to You through it."

That was pretty much it.  I went back work, and few weeks went by.  And then one day I received an email.  It was from the head of the Department of Religous Education at the Eastern Diocese.  They were wondering if I was the same person they had met 15 or so years earlier who did illustrations.  I flashed back years prior when I had gone to a Sunday School conference.  At the time I was teaching Sunday School, and our guest speakers were going to be two women from the Eastern Diocese who were going to talk about the new curriculum that our diocese was also using.  I remember taking my portfolio with me back then in the hopes that they might have work for me.  I met with Elise and Nancy, and showed them my illustrations.  They loved them, but "Unfortunately, we just redid all our books."  But they kept my samples.

I kneel

Flash forward and there I was reading the email.  Elise said she had tried to find me, but didn't know how.  (I had remarried with a name change, changed my address, phone, etc.)  But just by chance, there was a Californian who was working in her office, and she recognized my past-married name on the sample and said, "I think I'm friends with her son on Facebook."  She emailed my son and got my email address...and the rest is history.  The illustration job is for a toddler's book -- one that will be kept in the pews of the various churches for children to read during church.  They show panels of a child's view of Armenian Orthodox church. 

Could my prayer have been answered in any better way?

I pray

I started the illustrations last year.  And then, over the course of the year with all my health issues (gallbloadder surgery, colon cancer, breast cancer..etc.) I had to take a break.  Just a month ago, we revisited the project and decided that the "end of October" would be a good deadline for Christmas publication.  And so the clock is ticking.  It's actually good timing as I'll be having the second part of my reconstruction surgery on November 1. 

I often think of this course of events....my prayer, the way I was found, the fact that my illustration samples were even kept all those years.  I don't believe in coincidence.  I believe in prayer.  I believe in sincere requests.  And I believe that all things will happen not in our time but in God's.

Here is a look at my illustrations so far.  There are 12 year...I have 3 to go:

I sing

I smell the incense

I recieve the Kiss of Peace

I receive a blessing

I give my gift

I receive Holy Communion

I kiss the Gospel

I make the sign of the cross

07 October 2011

A Health Update

Hi Everyone,

Just wanted to loop you all in since I've been public about my breast cancer so far.  The second part of my reconstruction is scheduled for 11/1/11 (great number line up, no?)...would be pretty cool if surgery was at 11:11, but not so...but maybe 1:00 p.m?

So the appointments are going to start up again, for blood work up, EKG, history and physical, surgical consult.  Ooooofffffff!!! Too many appointments.

This surgery will be outpatient at the office of my plastic surgeon, Dr. Saul Berger.  I'll go in on a Tuesday, and be off the rest of the week.  I am hopeful that this will be my last surgery for the year!

One of my favorite passages from the bible, Psalm 23, says, "Yea, though I walk THROUGH the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me....."

It doesn't say, "though I walk around it...." or "though I skip it altogether..."  but we walk through it.  Together. 

From one apex to the other is always a valley. 
Sometimes you have to go through things and not around them. 
Something to think about.

05 October 2011

A Song, a Dance, and a Blessing

This past Monday evening was our monthly homeless outreach to the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles.  I think we're in our fourth year of the project now: feeding and clothing our friends that are down on their luck.  Over the course of the past year, we've noticed more and more people living on the streets.

Each of us that attends has our own stories to tell of our experiences.  Since we are spread out between the three cars that we take, we each hear the stories of those that wish to tell it; that is, if we wish to listen. 

On a dark street, we were passing out soup.  We had a lot of clothing this time thankfully, so we were able to provide warmth right before the cold weather.  It's raining today, and I'm thinking of our friends out on the street.  I hope they are staying dry.  As I was handing out water and snacks, this very nice looking older gentleman came up to me.  I asked him if he could use some snacks, maybe some soup, dry, for the next day.  He was appreciative, taking the soup and snacks in a bag for later.  He gave me a sweet smile and said, "I am an artist.  You should check out my YouTube video.  Singing.  That's the talent that God has given me."  I was interested and asked his name.  "My name is Octive Fellow Soul."  He spelled Octive for me.  : )   He told me he was homeless and trying to get discovered.  He told me to check it out again.  "My name is Octive, I'm a fellow, and I have soul!"  And he turned a corner and was gone.  So I came home and checked it out, and to my surprise, there were several videos of this Octive.  All taken by people who he had come across in the street, from L.A. to New York.  All taken by people whose lives he had touched to the point that, like me, they wanted to put it up on the web and share it with others.  Watching this video brings me joy.  Here is a man who is given a talent and despite the bad breaks in life, despite the fact that he has no home, he is staying positive doing what he loves best.  Singing, entertaining.  So here is my friend Octive (as seen on YouTube) singing Goody Goody. 

The evening wore on.  People were truly grateful for us being there.  At one stop, Suzie helped a woman who was challenged trying to keep herself clean while living on the street.  She was self-conscious and concerned about her hygiene.  I imagined the difficulty of that -  going from having a bathroom and a shower in my home, to living on the street where the only place you could go to bathe would be the local shelter. 

Our final site was the most crowded.  Imagine pulling up to a street where people are living on the sidewalk, some in tents, others in boxes, still others on just the concrete itself.  There are people that know the ropes, and there are those that are learning.  As soon as we pull up, the people come up to the cars.  We yell out, "HOT SOUP!  WATER!", the tailgate opens, the thermoses come out, and people line up.  I end up handing out snacks and water to those that are waiting, while the others serve the soup, or fit people with clothing and shoes, blankets, etc.

I noticed this one man sitting on the sidewalk.  He was wearing some shorts and a tshirt.  He had no shoes.  He was barefoot, but was airing out his socks.  He sat there staring into space.  When I approached him with some hot soup and water, he seemed confused.  He didn't speak English and tried to tell me something in what sounded like Korean.  I didn't understand but motioned to the clothing car where he could get clothing.  He brightened up as if he remembered something he could say to me in English..."Ayana kissue"   He was smiling!  I want to kiss you?  Is this what he was saying?   He was smiling and started following me to the car.  Okay Awkward...I jokingly turned to him and said,   "Uh, no thanks!"   He sat back down to his soup.  A few minutes went by and I went to get him a pair of socks.   I put it down next to him.  The light went on.  He nodded.

Over the next 15 -20 minutes, we tended to many many people.  The clothing car was super busy as people were in need of warmer clothing now.   By the time were were about to leave that site, I looked at my friend on the sidewalk.  Was it the same man?  There he was....Dancing!  He was so happy!  He had received a pair of jeans, socks, a pair of nice black shoes, and a new shirt.  Not able to contain his happiness, he was dancing in place, showing us his new outfit. 

There are many stories like this.  So many lives that are in need.  And so many that just need a connection.  Someone to talk to.  Someone to share their talents with.  Someone who will listen.  We've been doing this for years now and it never gets old.   The need is so great, and not only for the homeless but for us who need to be there because it helps us to walk in their shoes.  We don't approach our homeless brothers and sisters out of pity, but as a sense of family and of community.  We are all related in this family called humankind.