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Archive for July 2008

Hormones, lunch and why life is simply awesome

I had lunch with a friend today who was a hormonal mess. First came the cancer. Then, the hysterectomy. Now comes the tug-of-war with her body as it adapts to a massively changed set of rules. She’s impatient. Can’t sleep. And the post-hysterectomy weight gain is making her feel terrible.

I was thrilled.

Not for her difficulties, but for the glass-is-half-full flip-side of the situation that is becoming more obvious as I watch so many friends deal with cancer. Suzann’s alive. She looks fantastic. Her acerbic wit is still intact and she remains one of my greatest confidants.

So despite how much the new reality of her body affects her, I chalk her story up as a victory. There have been a lot of victories in the decade since the first of my friends was diagnosed with cancer. All of them have had to fight so hard to get beyond their obstacles. All but one of them is still alive.

I lost my friend Bette to ovarian cancer in 2002 and have thought of her almost every day since. She taught me so much as I watched her fight to live while she was dying. Thinking of her grounds me when I get caught up in my day-to-day worries. The hassles of work or daily living are nothing

compared to cancer. The simplicity and reward that she found in her last year by creating a butterfly garden for her neighbors in her condo community showed me so much about life. One day, we went kayaking out to Caladesi Island. It was in the winter, yet she dove right into the Gulf because she thought the water looked beautiful.

So much of us fear diving in because we know it is cold. We miss so much living by holding back. But, Bette really lived until the end. Still, in the end, there was an ending. I miss her. I wish we could do one more lunch.

All these years after her death, I sat with my friend Suzann and thought about how much fun it was to just have lunch and download all of our stories and thoughts. I hate that she’s got to deal with all of these hormonal hassles, but I love that she is here to keep going. I love that we laughed about the mini-hamburgers she ordered for lunch and that we talked endlessly about everything from dogs to sales at Macy’s to our crazy siblings. Lunch was simply great.

It’s that simplicity thing that I learned from Bette.

Persevere. Keep moving forward.

Looking back on it, it seems like a bad dream. I was on my bike, climbing more than 6,000 feet to the 10,800-foot summit of Colorado’s Grand Mesa. I was in really lousy shape at the time – and it was the first day of my annual cycling vacation, The Grand Mesa was the most brutal mountain climb I’d ever experienced, and it was beating me up.

My gang had a saying, “Death before sag.” The “sag” was the vehicle that would pick up the riders who just weren’t up to the challenge. I’d never sagged in my life, but I felt like the time had come. I felt terrible. I hated that ride, I hated those mountains. It did not feel like a vacation, not at all. ohlsson clas

I knew I had to quit.

But, before I did, I came up with a quitting strategy, and it went like this: I had permission to quit, but I wouldn’t until I had depleted every bit of energy I had. I would stop at the next rest stop, and take a very long break. It wound up stretching to an hour and a half – more than I’d ever stopped on a day trip. My plan was to wait it out, then get in the sag car.

After the time passed, I felt like I could go a few more miles. I decided to just keep moving until I could not move anymore. I told myself, “This is not a race. I have all day. I have eight hours until the sun goes down.” I rode four miles, then stopped for awhile. And then, I made up my mind that I would do it one mile at a time. Ride a mile, stop for a few minutes. Ride another mile, then stop for a few more minutes. As I did this, one sag vehicle after another passed me, filled with cyclists who had given up.

One mile at a time, I moved toward the summit. It was not fun, I did not take in the breathtaking Rocky Mountain scenery, I did not enjoy any of that experience, and I am not going to pretend that the life-changing lesson left me with feel-good memories all these years later. I still look back on that day and grimace, and I never went back to ride that route again. But, the moment came when I looked down at my bike computer and saw that I was within two miles of the top, Two miles, and the I knew I’d licked the mountain.

I remember summiting the Grand Mesa in the early afternoon, getting off my bike, pouring an entire bottle of water over my head, then stretching out, flat on my back on the ground.

When I think back to that day of cycling, I am still not sure who was smarter: those who quit or those of us who kept fighting the mountain, despite our misery. I mean, who is smarter? The cyclist who said, “This is my vacation, this ride sucks, I am going to quit riding so my vacation doesn’t suck,” or someone like me who said, “This is my vacation, this ride sucks, but I am too stubborn to stop and so – even if I don’t enjoy one minute of it – I am not quitting.”

The point here is that quitting is sometimes the right decision for the right person in the right time. Timing counts.

Keep moving until it is time to stop. If you quit something when you’ve done all you can, then you really can’t feel like you have failed yourself – only that some of your efforts may have failed.

Fawn Germer is the best-selling author of four books and speaks to corporations and organizations about courages and creative leadership strategies.