Happy Heavenly Birthday, Tyler.

Tonight we are gathering at DC Prime, a restaurant in Ashburn, Virginia, on what would have been the 21st birthday of Tyler Joe Young. Having lost his life to a tragic fentanyl overdose at 19, Tyler could be one of the many smiling faces in People Magazine’s recent Special Report “Deadly Drugs in the US: Faces of the Fentanyl Epidemic”. Except there’s simply not enough room on its pages for so many we now celebrate in absentia.

On April 6, 2022, the DEA issued a letter expanding its 2021 public safety alert, disclosing that fentanyl continues to be seized at record rates. Its 2021 haul included “15,000 pounds of fentanyl […] which is enough to kill every American”. Pause and read that sentence again. “Enough to kill every American.”

Overdoses can result from an amount the size of the head of a pin, and traffickers leverage its highly addictive qualities by incorporating it into everything from fake prescription pills to the spectrum of street drugs. Tyler simply took a pill that looked like Xanax and went to sleep in his bed at home. He never woke up.

My in-person time with Tyler was brief, but I felt I knew him far better. I experienced him over the years through loving stories from his mother, my colleague and friend. He was brilliant, creative, funny, and kind. And in the midst of living his extraordinary life, he sometimes battled addiction in an effort to quiet his extremely active mind.

If you have enjoyed reading my blog, please click the link below to learn more about Tyler and to make a donation to a memorial fund at the Inova Keller Center in honor of Tyler. The fund supports mental health and substance use disorder treatment programs for children and adolescents.

Please Donate at: https://us-p2p.e-activist.com/3084/give-p2p/117929/julie-and-jeff-hines-fundraiser-in-honor-of-our-son-tyler

If you’d like to see Tyler in action, check out his tongue-in-cheek You Tube video where he spoofs a social influencer reviewing a Waterpik. Or his “Food Review” of Skittles, which clearly takes place in his bathroom, as he delivers the dead-pan line, “I’m in my kitchen now”.

Tyler’s departure was unplanned, and he left us wanting more of him. Let’s work toward reducing the number of others that do the same.

To forget is to live without lesson.

A priest once told me that God forgives and forgets, but the human condition and its challenge is that we have to try to forgive while we may be unable to forget. I think that’s true. It is human to remember, whether it is our own transgression or that of another. And it is both our burden and our opportunity to try to construct a better future even though these memories remain. Our universe only cares about what we do in the present. It doesn’t care whether we did a good job yesterday.

The more I experience, the more I understand others, and my role in their world. A few weeks ago, I walked slowly across the grocery store parking lot. A car approached my general direction. To the driver, it must have looked like I was taking my sweet ol’ time. In fact, I was going pretty fast considering how I felt. On that day, the grocery visit was all I would have energy to do, and I was at the tail end of the trip. I thought of all the people I’d watched slowly cross the street in front of me over the years. My impatience muttered things like, “Anytime now”, “Yeah, no rush, we’ve got all the time in the world. It’s not like I have to be somewhere.” In the not-too-distant past, I always had to be somewhere, like 5 minutes ago.

I had another such awakening years ago, driving our dog to vet visits during her cancer treatments. In my 6-speed roadster with a loud, vibrating engine, I’d try to go a little slower and shift gracefully so our beautiful girl would have less discomfort during the ride. Those trips changed me forever. I realized that we have no idea what’s going on in the car next to us, what kind of day the driver is having, or what they’re dealing with. I stopped wishing the “idiot next to me would learn to drive”. I figured out that maybe I should be a little more kind and generous with the road.

I’m grateful for these lessons, because they’ve added a little more compassion to the world. Don’t misunderstand – I still have my days. But I’m better than I was for these miles walked and driven. That only happened because I’m willing to acknowledge these lessons, despite the fact that the “knowing” makes me cringe a little more when I do have a moment of impatience, or sigh deeply when I remember acting less than my best. If we truly grow, yesterday’s actions and choices won’t always align with the people we are tomorrow. We’ll need to accept that, and sometimes to forgive ourselves. I suspect given the stresses of the past couple of years, this universal need will be more keenly felt.

“We are going to make mistakes – own them, make amends, and move on.”

Matthew McConaughey, Greenlights, 2020

So what can we do with this painful misalignment? When it happens – and it’s going to happen – say, “Thank you”. Remember that forgiveness is good. Be kind to yourself and let it wash through you. Make amends if you can, but don’t ruminate about it if you can’t. Stop trying to forget. Forgetting, while we’d all love to, would mean abandoning the lessons that help us grow. Coming face to face with the reality we lived before we knew better can be tough, but it just means we’re more aware. It doesn’t mean we are bad or unworthy. It’s a necessary part of the journey towards greater humility.

Closing our eyes hoping the past goes away robs us of our chance to learn from our mistakes. Be brave. It’s through these lessons that the gravity of our prior actions can drive us to be our better selves tomorrow.

**Photo by Penny Shellhorn-Schutt. Thanks to Maria Ulbricht at The Holistic Woman for permission to use her photo of a modified Exalted Warrior. The Warrior poses in yoga chronicle a warrior’s journey that ends in compassionately accepting regretted past actions, which results in renewed life and wholeness.**

Half-way Day is Here!

I began this blog because so many words and thoughts spinning in my head wanted to come out. Life had become more precious after my brush with cancer. I relished realizations, cherished memories, and felt closer to family and friends than I had in years. I didn’t know who would read or care about my stories, but I knew they needed a home outside of me. Unlike journals that I’d kept to myself for many years, I believed these thoughts should be shared. That’s how 190 Days came to be.

My first post went live on July 1, the day I began chemotherapy. Why “190 Days”? Those of you who read my first blog post likely guessed that my 190 day journey is about my road to preventing a recurrence of a cancer my surgeon successfully removed. My treatment is expected to take place over 6 months, and it was preceded by a port placement surgery about a week before. Altogether, about 190 days.

I have learned so much on this journey, which has reached its half-way point. I have completed 6 of the 12 cycles, and 95 days. The best lesson was how kind and supportive people can be, and what a difference that can make. I was unexpectedly surprised by the compassion and generosity of family, friends, and neighbors who learned of my surgery and path forward. They were all especially creative in the ways they supported me, offering things I never would have considered asking. That safety net was a great comfort. Just knowing made me stronger, and gave me more confidence to be there for myself.

Below are some of the (many) highlights, which I’m sharing in the hope that they help others be creative in supporting their own family and friends.

  • Offering Rides to Appointments: Neighbors offered to take me to and from surgery, to and from appointments, or other places I needed to go. I took two neighbors up on a ride to and from the hospital, and was touched by how much it lifted me to see their faces on either side of my surgery.
  • Dog Walks: Neighbors offered to walk my dog. My 80 lb. bundle of love can be a handful so I went a different route. But had he been a small guy I would have said yes. My dog seemed confused about me not walking him and playing the way I used to, so getting to spend time with a neighbor would have been a treat for him.
  • Picking Up Groceries and Prescriptions: Although I had grocery delivery down pat thanks to the pandemic, the offer to pick up groceries or take me grocery shopping could have been a make or break if I’d lived in an area without good delivery, or if I needed something quick. Picking up prescriptions after surgery is huge. If you can’t drive or you don’t feel up to it, having someone drive you there to get them is priceless.
  • Watering Gardens: Some neighbors offered to water my garden. It’s no small offer. I have a modest townhome without much yard. Still, I’d been a stop on a local garden tour earlier this year, and I had lovingly planned and planted annuals and pruned and nurtured more perennials than you could shake a stick at around all three detached sides of my home. The offer to water, even from those who weren’t gardeners, was so touching because I felt like they “saw” me. They knew it was something I cared about, and they cared enough about me to try to help me keep it.
  • Small Kindnesses: Things like offering to meet me anywhere I wanted for lunch made staying in touch easier. Another friend met me for walks, which was good for me physically and just a good way to catch up and have fun. And she let me set the pace. My dental hygienist knew of my condition because she did my pre-chemo checkup and cleaning. She saw me in the lobby twice since when I took my sons for routine visits. Each time she came over and asked me how I was doing – and not just a cursory ask. She met my eyes with hers and I could see she cared, and was there for me if I had issues to ask about or share. These small kindnesses really made me feel cared about.
  • Being There With You and For You: Family and friends local and distant offered to be there for me at the hospital or during recovery, or to take care of my family. It was such a comfort knowing that I could launch a Plan B if needed! One friend offered to stay in a nearby hotel and come and play scrabble with me during my hospital stay. Another offered that I could call at any time and they’d fly in that day. Cousins I love but rarely see offered to fly or drive in from other states to be there for us. If you are able to offer this kind of support, offer it and repeat the offer a few times, so they know you mean it. Those offers made me feel like Popeye eating a can of spinach. It instantly pumped me up.
  • Treating You Like a Person…Instead of a Sick Person: What was most impressive about the offers and goodwill was that they weren’t accompanied by a “poor you”, “you can’t do this without me”, “I feel so sorry for you”, “you better lean on me”. It was more like, “Hey, I’m here, I’m on your team – just let me know when to get off the bench and start playing – I’m ready!” That’s empowering. That’s the best kind of help you can give.
  • Caring Conversations: I spent hours texting and talking to caring friends and family after my diagnosis, and in the early cycles of chemo. Those who had been through cancer and/or chemo, or had helped someone close to them were uniquely helpful. Hearing their journeys, advice, and tips helped me make good decisions, and helped me take more control over my journey. “Gratefulness” is too small a word for how I feel about these people. I know that recounting their stories involved revisiting difficult experiences and emotions. Some were distant scars, others fresh wounds. They dug deep into their hearts past their own pain, took my hand in theirs, and put their great wisdom into my small palm. They were courageous and inspiring, and continue to be so.
  • Respecting Wishes: I am generally a woman who knows what she wants. So I really appreciated family and friends who respected my boundaries in words and in practice. The words were just as important as the practice because of the comfort they brought and connection they maintained. Some of the best articulations:
    • “I understand you don’t need anything…, but if that changes just let me know”. Well, it did change, and that “just let me know” made all the difference.
    • “Whatever you decide, I’ll be there for you.” We don’t always make the choices that others would make. It’s huge to know someone will be there for you 100% without judgement despite that, and that you won’t lose the relationship along the way.
    • “I’ll respect your wishes”. When someone wishes the answer was yes, but it’s no, acknowledging that they hear your “No” and will do as you asked alleviates anxiety.
  • Prayers and Healing Thoughts: Even if you aren’t very religious or don’t subscribe to the idea of healing energy in the universe, the power of spending time with positive thoughts does make a difference. I loved when people said they were praying for me. I really didn’t feel like I could do it effectively for myself, so it was a boon to have someone else pulling for me with the Big Man Upstairs. Sometimes people shared the prayers they said, and they were beautiful. Like this one: “May the angels surround you and go before you, with you, and after you, and protect you and divert any harm away from you and your family.” If you don’t want prayers (or even if you do) there are plenty of other healing options. Laughter is the best medicine, and it’s easy to come by and to share in the form of funny gifs, jokes, hilarious conversations, or comedic movies. Reiki and other methods of healing energy can help physically and mentally, and have worked for me.

The mentions above really helped me with the big “C”. But one of the special surprises for me was about another “C” – connections. It happened in a new way for me when I began to blog regularly. I enjoy not only the creative process but also the connections I’ve made with those whose blogs I read and with those who read what I write. I’ve also found that I’m reconnecting with my past, and connecting my past with my present more gracefully. I was helped along by the fact that when I told friends and family I was going to blog they were supportive instead of telling me to pay attention to other things or worrying about what I would write.

Connections come in many forms. For some it may be art, or music, or a book group, or zooms or lunches or walks with friends. But it’s important to feel that connection to something that stirs your soul, and I’m grateful to those who have encouraged me to and supported me in doing so.

And now, continuing on this road, let’s see what the next 95 days will bring. Thank you for being part of the journey this far!

A Blue-eyed white ragdoll cat peers out of a cat condo.

Kicking irrationality to the curb

The journey of 1000 miles starts with one thought: “What if I stumble, fall, and can’t get up?” Threats to mortality invite that sort of anxiety. That’s what happened the morning I came to believe that I should take precautions not to fall into my cat’s litter box. Before my bathroom mirror, fresh sutures a few inches from my collarbone, I slowly looked down and remembered the litter box tucked under the counter. I stood wide-eyed considering the threat it presented to my new – albeit temporary – vulnerability. What to do?!

I’ve had a cat – one cat or another – for over 30 years. I have NEVER fallen INTO a litter box. I can’t fathom logistically how it could happen. If an intruder came in and cornered me in my bathroom, and my only chance of escape was wedging his chest into the litter box, I would need Ocean’s 11 planning to make it happen. It’s not wide enough for a chest. You could pretty much do planks over the litter box, and you’d still be fine.

Still, at that moment two months ago (at the time of this writing), the fear was real. It’s been awhile since I felt as if “anxious” was the word to describe my constant state. I left that behind long ago, and was taken aback when it revisited. So when I spoke with my oncologist and she asked if I had any questions, my question was, “Does this anxiety get better?” I wasn’t as concerned about whether the progression of treatments would wear me down physically. I just needed to know I’d be myself mentally again. And fortunately, she gave an emphatic, “Yes!”

That has been true. Now, two months later, I see the litter box for what it is. But time doesn’t have to pass for us to challenge our own irrational thoughts. Asking the questions, speaking concerns out loud, and getting support from our team – whether medical providers, family, or friends – is what does it. Challenging our irrational thoughts reduces them to what they are…just thoughts. Let them pass and get back to real living.