• fence with mirror

    Painting in the Garden (and other Life Reflections)

    We must cultivate our own garden. – Voltaire

    “Have you thought what you’re going to do with my ashes when you get them back?”

    This was not a question I’d ever imagined being asked, especially by one of my children. So, when Melissa surprised me with that question one beautiful spring day seventeen years ago, it took me a minute to respond even though I had, actually, thought about it. Knowing that my 19-year old daughter would die soon of a cancer that could not be cured, I had thought of many unimaginable things.

    Melissa's Story 13thirty

    “Yes, I have,” I sadly responded. Knowing that she thought cemeteries were lonely places, I suggested that we might spread her ashes over the Grand Canyon where we had recently spent a bittersweet last family vacation.

    “Hmmm, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she said. Seeing my puzzled look, she continued. “Remember how windy it was the day we were there? It would really be gross if my ashes blew back on all of you.” I still smile remembering how hard we laughed at the thought.

    “Do you have a better idea?” I retorted when we stopped laughing.

    “How about the garden?” my always-wiser-than-I daughter offered. It was a perfect plan. She knew we loved to be in the garden but more importantly, I think she knew that tending to and nurturing tender plants and nascent blooms would console my grieving heart when she was gone.

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    And she was right. Over the years, Melissa’s garden has grown from the first small bed, where her ashes rest under the arms of a lovely garden angel, to a rich tapestry of color and texture covering our entire side and back yards. This is my sacred place. The place where I seek and find peace. The place where my soul rests alongside hers. A haven from the day’s harried pace and society’s many conflicts. Here, the world makes sense as days pass as predictably as the seasons change.

    As it has through time, spring’s rebirth grows into summer’s glory and eventually yields to the bronze of autumn and the quiet hush of winter’s snowy cover. I take comfort knowing that this universal cycle will always start anew and that the energy within all living things changes form but never dies. Because this is what I believe, my daughter’s ever-present spirit fuels my resolve to carry on and strengthens my confidence that life does happen with purpose.

    Recently, Melissa’s garden became a respite for a small group of other moms whose lives, like mine, were turned upside down when their children were diagnosed with cancer. We came together on a beautiful summer’s night, planted our easels throughout the garden, and with brush in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, absorbed the quiet solitude as paint took shape on canvas. mary Beth 1

    As evening light started to fade, we stood back and admired our work. The finished pieces were each unique. Different color schemes, brush stroke, perspective, vantage point. But each was inspired by a common bond – the shared experience of motherhood.

    I’ve learned over the years that being a parent and gardening are very similar. Both involve patience, nurturing and the willingness to sometimes overlook pesky, unsightly weeds – or children, in the case of parenting. To do both jobs well, one must have the courage to envision and hope for the future. Neither happens overnight and shortcuts never work.

    But perhaps the greatest similarity is that both parenting and gardening are difficult, exhausting tasks leaving one bone-weary and often disappointed. It’s physically, emotionally, and psychologically draining with little respite, especially when parenting a child with cancer.

    The 18th century French writer and philosopher Voltaire once wrote. “We must cultivate our own garden.”   On this magical evening, four moms whose paths would likely never have crossed had it not been for cancer, heeded Voltaire’s advice. Together, they created art inspired by the beauty around them and their individual life experience. final paintingsIn this holy place, they found their own peaceful patch of earth, savored precious moments of solitude and refreshed their weary souls in the company of friends who understand.

     


     

    This is the wonder of 13thirty Cancer Connect. We support teens and young adults on their journey through cancer and beyond, as well as being a place for parents to connect with each other and build understanding and encouraging community. If your teen or young adult has endured cancer’s treacherous road and you have a need to “cultivate your own garden”, we invite you to join us! The coffee’s always on!

     

    About the Author

    lauren-spiker-1Lauren Spiker is our founder, executive director, and chief visionary with a pulse on what’s happening in the world of AYA oncology. Her dreams are big and bold!

  • Dear Well-Meaning Friend

    When tragedy strikes, people get weird.

    “Everything happens for a reason.”

    “You’re strong! You’ve got this! You’re the bravest person I know!”

    “Maybe it’s going to teach you a lesson?”

    “I’m going to check in on you all the time, and I won’t take no for an answer!”

    “I’ve been doing research for you and you really should be doing (insert latest conventional or holistic treatment here) because I heard that it actually works…”

    We all have those friends who mean well, who care so deeply, and just want to help. But honestly?

    Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all.

    What most of us really need from our friends and family is support. The shoulder to cry on if needed, the hand to hold when the needles are sharp and we are on our last nerve with the nurse who can’t figure out where our veins are, the hilarious memes shared via texts at just the right moment when we need a good laugh — even if it hurts to laugh.

    But not everyone understands that.

    It’s hard to watch a friend or family member go through hard times. We all have this thing inside of us that feels helpless when we aren’t doing something for our loved one. But we also need to remember that not everyone wants to be smothered with attention or well-meaning advice. We need to remember that boundaries are important, especially when someone is navigating through the confusion of illness and healing.

    And as a patient, we might not handle every situation with grace. We might be in a really bad mood and we might lose it over the smallest thing. It’s not an excuse, but it’s still a reality. Medications, exhaustion, stressful schedules, working through “normal” life and the cancer world…it all adds up sometimes and we either snap or shut down for a while.

    So please understand: you are needed. But sometimes you need to be gentle with us. Life is totally different now, and our relationship with you will change along with it. That’s not a bad thing; it’s just different.

    And if you are that friend who has embraced this new normal and walked through the highs and lows with us, never expecting anything from us, and just being there every step of the journey with respect, understanding and love…well, you are a very special and appreciated individual who’s friendship is worth far more than words could ever express. Thank you for everything.

     


    13thirty Cancer Connect is a place where teens and young adults impacted by cancer are living their best lives — TODAY! We get it here. We’ve been through it or are still walking through it. And we are supporting each other in an environment of acceptance, respect, kindness and love. Visit our Rochester page for programs and events, or stop in to the Center to meet the staff and get connected! 

     

    About the Author

    Sabrina Gauer is our Communications Coordinator and Wellness Coach here at 13thirty Cancer Connect! Follow her blog and Instagram for more tips and encouragement for whole health and wellness living! 

  • yoga

    Finding Your Peace – How Rest Can Change Your Perspective

    “Being diagnosed with cancer really opened my eyes to the fact that anyone can have it and that even though we think we have control over everything in our lives, we don’t. What I was forced to learn…was to put myself first. To really honor myself by saying no to the things I don’t want to do…I don’t believe you have to be diagnosed to come to these lessons, but sometimes the catastrophic moments in life force you to focus on the immediate.” Sheryl Crow, from her foreword of Crazy Sexy Cancer by Kris Carr.

    “Now inhale and exhale. Really focus on your breathing, dropping your shoulders, closing your eyes, and bringing yourself to center.”

    I was seated with legs crossed and hands on my knees, yoga mat beneath me. The instructor was patiently and intentionally guiding us through the meditative portion of the class, and I felt my stress lift from my shoulders as I focused on my breath. It reminded me that I hadn’t really thought about breathing that day. It’s a necessity of life, but we too often take it for granted.

    Inhale.
    Exhale.

    Seems so simple, but how often do you forget to just take a deep, cleansing breath throughout the day? How often do you forget to stop living in crisis-mode every time a situation arises?

    How often do you put yourself first?

    Rest and meditation tend to come with negative labels in our busywork society and culture. There’s never enough time in the day to accomplish everything. By the time we’ve raced through our day, whether that looks like doctor’s appointments, school, taking care of children, making dinner, cleaning, dealing with deadlines at work, etc…we crash into bed at night, usually after a few episodes on Netflix, utterly spent.

    But what if we decided to look at resting as a good thing? Sometimes that means actual sleep, and making sure we are getting adequate sleep to heal our bodies (READ: Put the phone on airplane mode and get away from screens before bed!), but other times, that just means being able to say no to the things you don’t want to do. Honor yourself, and don’t be afraid to speak up. As cancer patients, survivors, and thrivers, we are too often allowing other people to make decisions for us (spouses, parents, well-meaning friends, doctors, bosses, and so on).

    But what if you just said “No” when you needed to? Firmly, politely, and without explanation or justification?

    Taking time for yourself and finding your peace can look like spending an afternoon with a good book and your cellphone off. Maybe it’s a gentle flow yoga class with a friend. Maybe it’s journaling and exploring your emotions on paper.

    According to an article published in Psychology Today, meditation, rest, and reflection have scientifically-proven health benefits: “It gives you perspective: By observing your mind, you realize you don’t have to be slave to it. You realize it throws tantrums, gets grumpy, jealous, happy and sad but that it doesn’t have to run you. Meditation is quite simply mental hygiene: clear out the junk, tune your talents, and get in touch with yourself.”

    Whatever helps you to center yourself, breathe, and reflect is the way you heal from the inside out. Letting go of those activities that are life-draining instead of life-giving. And getting alone with your thoughts, closing your eyes, and giving meditation a shot can change your perspective on all aspects of life. You don’t have to give in to the rushed, busywork mentality.

    You can choose to be centered.

     


     

    13thirty Cancer Connect offers monthly yoga, Fit! classes, and massage for parents! Please contact stephen@13thirty.org for more program information and how to register.

     

    About the Author

    Sabrina Gauer is our Communications Coordinator and Wellness Coach here at 13thirty Cancer Connect! Follow her blog and Instagram for more tips and encouragement for whole health and wellness living! 

  • paddlegroup

    Why Support Groups Are Important to Your Health

    Support groups.

    As an AYA cancer patient, those words made me cringe with anxiety.

    My first experience with an AYA cancer support group left me feeling depressed and disconnected. I had sat in a sterile, uncomfortable hospital meeting room with a handful of others who were in various stages of their cancers. As we shared our thoughts and feelings in a painfully awkward circle, it became crystal clear:

    This wasn’t working for me.

    The following months were spent trying to figure out my “new normal” while attempting to get back to “regular” life as I knew it — and it wasn’t easy. I ended up quitting my job, discovering a new passion, and finding myself on an entirely different path than I ever expected.

    But no one really understood me.

    Our teens & young adults at Canadice Lake for our 2016 outdoor program with Pack Paddle Ski!

    One day, I received a phone call from the social worker in my oncologist’s department with the name of another AYA cancer patient who had a very similar surgery to my own. I immediately reached out to her, and we got together over coffee. For the first time since my diagnosis, I felt like I had someone who “got” me! It was an incredible feeling! She understood what I had gone through, could relate to the emotions and uncertainties, and could laugh with me about the changes and challenges of our particular cancer.

    It was the most freeing experience I had had since the diagnosis.

    A few days later, she reached out to me about a group called 13thirty Cancer Connect and the Fit! program. “You need to meet Lauren,” my friend texted. “You’ll love her!” I hesitated, given my previous experience with cancer groups, but I was also curious about 13thirty. So I made an appointment to meet with Lauren Spiker and signed up for the 13thirty Fit! program. The rest, as they say, is history!

    Connecting with others who “get it” is so important to our overall wellbeing.

    According to an article by the Mayo Clinic, support groups are places where we can heal and trust the process of  our journeys in a safe space. The article lists out the following benefits of a support group:

    • Feeling less lonely, isolated or judged
    • Gaining a sense of empowerment and control
    • Improving your coping skills and sense of adjustment
    • Talking openly and honestly about your feelings
    • Reducing distress, depression, anxiety or fatigue
    • Developing a clearer understanding of what to expect with your situation
    • Getting practical advice or information about treatment options
    • Comparing notes about resources, such as doctors and alternative options

    At 13thirty Cancer Connect, we’ve been through it all: diagnoses, doctors, hospitals, medications, side-effects, scars, disabilities, challenges, and triumphs. Our lives have been changed in such a drastic way, but to be accepted and understood in a space where we can thrive together is key on our survivorship journeys. We encourage one another, cheer each other on, believe in each other. Whether it’s through teen & young adult events, parents & caregivers support, hanging out at the Center, being out in the community, or catching up outside of 13thirty, you will find its so much more than a “support group”; there’s a sense of belonging to a family here!

    Visit www.roc.13thirty.org for our upcoming events, or stop by the Center to say hello!

     

    About the Author

    Sabrina Gauer is our Communications Coordinator and Wellness Coach here at 13thirty Cancer Connect! Follow her blog and Instagram for more tips and encouragement for whole health and wellness living!