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Saturday, December 31, 2011

525,600 minutes...

     As one of my favorite songs so eloquently asks "how do you measure a year"?  The lyrics so perfectly describe the simple truth....

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes,
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights. In cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.

In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?

How about love? Measure in love...seasons of love.

     That really does sum up how I will "measure" my year...the moments that involved love and joy and care.  Those times that I shared in loving and caring and laughing with family and friends.  Those times I witnessed others caring and sharing their time, energy, love and lives with others in our world.  

     That really is the truest, most sincere and honest measure of the value of the year 2011.  I am choosing to see beyond my own situation with RA so that I can find peace and satisfaction in my life.  It would be easy to simply focus on my own narrow perspective of life with RA.  But in order to have a satisfying life and to successfully manage a chronic disease like RA, we need to step outside of our own individual circumstances and view the world on a larger scale....
      When I think back to the times this year when I was not only happier but actually healthier, they inevitably involve lots of joy filled activities with family and friends...times when I was NOT isolated or alone thinking of my illness and the difficulties associated with RA.
     Don't misunderstand what I mean here....I am not suggesting that we in any way stop being vigilant about the management of this disease.  It remains absolutely critical that we attend to the demands of RA.  That said there MUST be a balance between meeting our health needs and letting our every waking moment be centered around it.  
      Without that balance I believe we will succumb to the disease. Without that balance the challenges that are such a part of RA will become more than we can tackle.  Without that balance, our lives will spin out of our control and we will fall into a state characterized by pain and depression.
     This may seem like an exaggeration but it is not.  Studies have proven again and again that when you focus "outside of yourself" you are healthier both physically and mentally.  I have the honor of working with hundreds of elders who are volunteers in our community and so I see first hand how much better off they are than their contemporaries who are less engaged in life.  They seem to have struck that perfect balance that I aim to duplicate!  
     So as I reflect on this past year and look towards the upcoming one I want to strive to find that perfect balance between successfully managing RA and resolving to not focus so intensely on the disease that it defines and controls my every waking moment.   That is a tough balancing act to be sure!
I am certain that I will "fall off the wagon" in the new year but I hope that I can look back on this past year and recall that those times when I was feeling my best and successfully managing RA, were those times I was also the most engaged in life outside myself!  
    May 2012 bring all of us with RA new treatments, new tools to manage our disease, new friendships, close and lasting ties with our family and friends and maybe just maybe a cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis!


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My dog is a miracle with paws!

     Now it may seem odd to do a blog about RA that pays tribute to Leah, my Bichon Frise, but it will all make sense in a minute.
     As you can see, she is adorable!  What you cannot see (sounds like RA, no?) is that she is deaf, has been since birth.  She also has lots of allergies which manifest in red patches on her coat and red eyes which you can see in the photo.  She is also a bit heavy (can you say chunky) for her breed.  Bichon's are normally 12-15 pounds tops...Leah is 24 pounds!  She looked big from the moment I saw her and over the years she has maintained the weight so I guess this is the size she was intended to be.
      She loves people and would like to come to my office (that is her "chair" above) everyday but it just is not practical and once she comes on any kind of a regular basis there is no living with her afterward as she makes this horrific wailing sound when I leave if I don't bring her!  She does not bark in the traditional sense (well every now and then she does, but rarely) most likely because of being deaf.  
     When we first figured out she was deaf (and it takes a surprisingly long time) I was devastated at the thought that she would not be able to hear our voices and the sounds of the world around her, including those that warn her of impending trouble, like car horns, a growling animal, etc.  Our vet calmed me down considerably however when he explained to me that dogs don't "understand" language in the traditional sense but hear "blah, blah, blah".  They learn tones, etc. to differentiate sounds.  That said he did caution me that she must NEVER be left off the leash or even in a yard with an invisible fence as that would keep her in but not predators out and with her inability to hear she would be very vulnerable.  
     And so my life with my "mutant" Bichon began nearly 6 years ago and it has been an adventure for us both.  She loves lights and wind and fireworks and lasers and snow and her nest of pillows wherever she can make them....
     She is the most tactile, affectionate dog EVER!  If you come to my house be prepared because within minutes she will not only greet you but be in your lap nestled up demanding you pet her or "presenting" you with one of her toys to play tug of war with her.  I am blessed with a dear friend who "dog sits" for us when we travel and so Leah actually has 2 moms - a very fortunate animal indeed!
     She is fascinated with the stars and often sits on the back porch gazing up into the sky...she really does have a unique perspective on the world...
     I truly believe that God gave this very special animal to me for a reason...we are both handling our own challenges and by allowing me to witness how beautifully and perfectly Leah moves through her life without complaint or any signs of distress over the "cards she was dealt" I can witness how I should view my life.  When I feel sorry for myself I can simply gaze at my little Leah and see that no matter the obstacles, we can find joy and love and happiness in our lives.
     Last year, our vet suspected Leah had an enlarged heart and that she was in serious danger.  We took her to a specialist and found out it was not anything serious and she is fine...around the same time I was mis-diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer and for 3 hellish weeks did not know my fate.... and so our mutual saga continues!  It really is amazing how many parallels we have.  When my hands are especially tender or in pain I find that gently petting Leah's soft coat brings me relief and keeps my fingers from locking up.  And since she simply loves to be petted it is a win/win for us both!
I truly believe God sent her my way for a purpose...and she has served me well...I only hope I can bring her half the joy and comfort she brings to my life.  

Monday, December 19, 2011

Life in the fast lane....

     So the holiday season has arrived and for a change I had planned far enough ahead that everything was running smoothly and my life in the fast lane was going at a pace I could manage....until one of life's unexpected events wonderful mother-in-law passed away the night before my husband and I were leaving for a week long trip to DC to celebrate my youngest son's graduation from Georgetown University and my middle son's swearing in as an attorney for the State of Maryland in Annapolis, MD.  Through the grief we adjusted our trip to include the services in Pittsburgh for three days where all of the family and friends converged to pay tribute and celebrate my mother-in-law's 88 years on this earth and deep abiding faith. 
     It always strikes me that funerals, despite the intrinsic sadness they represent, often provide an opportunity for family and friends to gather and reconnect.  Inevitably, someone makes the comment that "why do we only get together when there is a funeral or a wedding?".  Well, it actually makes sense in an odd way.  Throughout history, families have gathered for big events, whether they be sad or happy makes no difference really.  Our lives seem to take us to places that often don't allow for much more than that unless we commit otherwise, which rarely seems to happen in this day and age of "life in the fast lane".  Despite promises to "stay in touch" days and then months and even years will pass and finally another "event" will happen and once again the cycle will begin and the family will gather together...
     At first thought this seems sad to consider.  But then I began to reflect that in today's world where families are scattered to all the corners of the world it really is not surprising and since there is little we can do that will change that we best make the most of our times together and find additional ways to connect.  In our family many of us are on Facebook and are in the Family Group so we can share with one another there via updates, photos, etc.
       We talk on the phone several times a week, email and Skype as well.  Although this may not be nearly as good as the in person contact, it does help to keep us connected. I find that staying it touch, no matter the vehicle, is the key here. 
     And so our trip was really one of highs and lows for our family but through it all we chose to celebrate the milestones of life...some just beginning, some closing one chapter and starting another but all with an eye to the wonder of life and love and family.  It really drives home (in that fast lane) the true importance of valuing every moment you have together no matter the reason for the gathering...relish it, embrace it, and find joy in every moment you are with one another. 
     Take the time this Christmas season to reflect on the importance of family gatherings to your own well being and as always its importance in managing your RA!

Happy Holidays to you and yours!  Nan