Eenie, meenie, miney moe. Pathology report, here we go. Anatomy of a decision.

Eeinie, meenie, miney moe. Pathology report, here we go. Surviving breast cancer.   “Without adjuvant treatment local regional progression, distant spread and death are risks.” What would you do? My breast surgeon was expecting to find a 3.5 cm tumor – but found a 4.8 cm tumor instead. Pathology later uncovered an additional 2 cm tumor – hidden in the dense breast tissue that she removed. No indication in any of the many imaging tests prepared us for either surprise. Sentinel lymph node report, clear of cancer. Nine additional lymph nodes clear of cancer. Blood also clear of cancer. My surgeon said I’d made the right call to go for the complete mastectomy with no nipple sparing as the tumor was irregular in shape and attached to my nipple. (Imaging tests had indicated that I was a candidate for a lumpectomy with radiation. Hmmm.) Good news so far, right? Always nice when I make a good decision and God knows this was not an easy one. (See Kiss My Breast Good-bye.) It appears, however, that my life and death, decision-making muscle is being put to the test once again. Seems I have no clean margins. Or, in doctor-speak, margins of the tissue removed from my breast test positive for cancer. So, though the cancer party-crasher stayed local and never left the house, it played to the edges of the walls that contained it. Doctors don’t like dirty walls. I get that. My breast surgeon gets it, too. That I am disappointed because, all along, I have been weighing in on quality of life issues and risks that can present down the road as a result of invasive cancer treatments. And that I have been nutritionally proactive with alternative approaches since diagnosis. (A decision that, I believe, kept the cancer contained in the breast – through months of delaying insurance coverage complications, I might add.) But her job is done. She took all that she could take – short of muscle. Now I must consider what the radiation and chemo oncologists bring to the table.
Full breast radiation (hello, it’s gone) with 20 weeks of chemotherapy and 10 years of hormone treatments.
Still leaving me with a 10% chance that the cancer will return within 10 years and not guaranteeing complications will not be present in other parts of my body as a result of the triple-treatment hit. I am really wrestling with this decision, guys. Focusing on the fact that the tumors and all my breast tissue are gone, this feels like they are engaging the canons where a few well-placed snipers might do. But there don’t seem to be any snipers available. I know of women who are going through this cancer treatment regimen right now who still have their breasts with sizable tumors. (My prayers go out to those of you who have already made these tough decisions. You have my respect for the courage you express, everyday, to show up for yourself and your loved ones in the ways you have decided are best.) Survive as Yourself from Bernadette's Musings from the Messy Room on Breast Cancer Remember when I told you that if I blog about ReaLLy meSSy STuFF it will be for us to build muscle? Well, roll up your sleeves because I’m not playing alone. This is where my decision-making drama with cancer becomes your decision-making drama with [fill in the blank.] You make decisions every day. Now, what if every decision you made mattered – even ones that are not in a life or death category? Like the preference ones that say, “I want this. I like that.” Or the reaction, “Stayed up too late. Hit snooze. Reschedule that appointment.” ones. Even avoidance, “Let someone else make that decision.” ones. And lets not forget those coin-flipping, daisy-petal-picking decisions. Most decisions move you easily along while on cruise or autopilot. Others put you on notice, requiring stand-up attention. Sometimes, you know why you made a particular decision. Sometimes, you are clueless as to the criteria that motivated you. (Was alcohol involved?) But here is the one, most consistent thing about any decision you will ever make – and why you want to pay attention. You will live with the consequences. Life is an assumption we make while dying. Death is an assumption we make while living. Your decision.
When your decisions no longer matter, you stop living.
Make a decision to pause for a moment and take that last sentence in. Eeinie, meenie, miney moe. Pathology report, here we go. Decisions on breast cancer. I am making a decision to get comfortable with the question mark that now resides where my breast was. It offers a gift that reminds me of the preciousness of each day – found in every decision I make. How will I use my time today? How will I love today? Who will I laugh and cry with, today? And, as a nutritionally proactive woman who intends to beat this thing as naturally as she can, what will I eat and not eat that will strengthen me, today, while I wait two weeks for the results of another test that I asked the oncologist for? Why? Because, no matter who rolls the dice, I will be the one living with the consequences of my next decision. Not my doctors. I’m not an expert. I’m just a messy muse blathering on in a messy room – with dirty margins. Thank God, I don’t need to be an authority to make decisions matter. I just need to be the author of my own life. I have no more time to entertain ghostwriter decisions made on my behalf – unless they come through Grace and The Divine. I have a proposition for you. Walk alongside me for the next few days and take note of your decisions – like they matter. Consider three decisions – big or small – that you will make matter this week. And you are welcome to share them in the comments below! Here are some decisions that mattered to me this week.
  • Helped a friend organize her studio so she can move into the next level of her business. I played prima donna while “helplessly” sitting, pointing and suggesting. She did the heavy lifting that doctor's orders wont let me do. (5 lb. limit.) Amazingly, I found I can be a prima donna and maintain a friendship.
  • Gave myself a two-hour break from this dang compression bra that I am supposed to wear 24/7 for 6 weeks. I promise you, I did not do jumping jacks. And my poor right breast was very grateful.
  • Standing by my June decision to not feed the cancer by staying off dairy, meat, and refined sugar. I feel so much better and, surprisingly, not deprived at all. I made another decision that I did not have to be 100% perfect about this. For me, the need to hit the mark perfectly originates from fear – thus feeding it. Besides, 95% lets you have dark chocolate and eat out with friends.
  • Asked for the ONcoType DX testing, even after the oncologist said it wouldn’t mean anything because my margins were dirty. He finally understood that it was an important part of my decision-making process.
  • Met with a Doctor who specializes in oncological physical therapy to help with the aftermath of chemo (should I go that route). Right now we are focused on reclaiming range of motion in my mastectomy arm – and NOT getting lymphedema.
Now it’s your turn. As always, I am grateful for your visits and appreciate your comments. Remember, sharing is caring. If you found something here that inspired, you may know someone else who will feel the same. XO Bernadette

Breast Cancer Bites. Kiss My Breast Good-bye.

Breast Cancer Bites. Kiss My Breast Good-bye. I find myself on the merging ramp to a mastectomy and wishing to yield, for just a moment, before this breast becomes a blurred memory in the traffic flow of life. She is the part I must release to protect the whole but she will not go without notice or appreciation for what she held space. There is a body of experience in this sweet breast of mine. She and her sister were late bloomers. No doubt, I got that premature training bra because my mother was tired of fielding questions that always started with a whiny “When???” As intimate partners go, both breasts have been first class beyond their champagne-glass classification. But she is the one that held space over my heart. For that I grieve her loss. I would love to kiss her for all that we’ve gone through together – but she is not that large nor I that agile. Sound strange?
Our bodies are living, breathing temples that hold space for a fusion of body, mind and spirit – from the most elemental level to the most sublimely sacred that life has to offer. And each part speaks to aspects of experience that leave imprints – clues – as to how we maneuver through and integrate events from the significant to the mundane.
From the time she first popped onto the scene, this sweet gal of mine protected my heart from, as well as expressed it to, inexperienced curiosity seekers and seasoned explorers until she found the one who gave her no need to shield and every reason to expand into a union of body, heart and spirit. She is visible, palpable evidence of an evolving woman’s journey into and through the greater portion of womanhood – edging into crone. Granted, she does not hold the life-sustaining importance of a lung or heart but she holds emotion-sustaining space for what works – and what doesn’t – in choices made to love and nurture self and others. Choices for expression, play, creativity, sensation, flirtation, exhibition, pro-creation, courage, pride, compassion – just pull out a dictionary and read on. You will find a piece of her on every page. She never nursed a child but experienced the loss of two miscarriages. She was with me through betrayal, reunion, divorce and death. She was present to those who honored and dishonored her, to those who gave love and withheld love. She registered the difference between body-to-body encounters and body-to-heart lovemaking. Eaten away by cancer, she is not looking particularly attractive by today’s standards but she is beautiful to me, for she kept vigil at the altar of my heart. And she is taking the hit for the cancer of disappointment, grief and good old-fashioned stress. Her final act of nurturing is one of surrender, as she and I hope to contain the damage with her removal. She will be replaced by a re-constructed stand-in, made to mimic her and topped off by a knotted piece of skin and tattooed nipple. (Somewhere, I hear Joni Mitchell singing, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot ... don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone?”) Trust me, though I joke, I do not feel flip about this loss – one that rides on the tails of an overlapping grief for Ray, who lost his battle with cancer in March. (See Life. Death. Breast Cancer.) Surely there is a ritual fitting for this part of my body that represents sexuality and sensuality – courtesan and Madonna alike? This part of me that society deems a symbol of my femininity, both object and recipient of pleasure and sensual sensation that now speaks more to the simple pleasures found in life. Right now, it’s hard to register how I will respond when this part of my body is no longer able to feel the hot water from the shower or the itchy sweat from yard work, the pressing purr of one of my kitties or the clutching ache of grief. So much in this world carries on without notice or appreciation – body parts included – until there is a failure or challenge in the system. After which, maybe, we wake up and realize how much we took for granted and strive to correct that with gratitude for what is left. (Kind of like people in our lives.) Is this post self-indulgent? Perhaps. But you know what? I don’t care. Because, by now, I hope you realize that I am also casting light on LIFE and how we race through it – with or without body parts. There are too many precious moments lost in the flip of a calendar. Too many fast good-byes, the depth of which don’t register until it’s too late. This is one good-bye that will not be lost in the blurred shadow of cancer. Indigenous cultures offer rites of passage marking significant transition points – and this gal of mine is going to get one. I don’t know what other women have done to mark the point of life-before and life-after cancer, but would love to hear any stories you are willing to share. And I mean that for any type of cancer or life altering dis-ease. For now, I will savor her, throw her this virtual party (as well as one at the local coffee shop) and kiss her a mindful good-bye. She resisted gravity’s pull pretty darn good. I will strive to do the same without her. For every bit of love that she now hands over to her sister and me – for every woman who lost or is losing this intimate partner, as well as any other – I kiss my breast and yours for what they held space. And, even if all your parts remain intact, take a moment to extend some gratitude with a little self-pampering, sweet ones. Sharing is caring. If you found something here that inspired, you may know someone else who will feel the same. XO  

The Only New Year’s Resolution You’ll Ever Need

The Only New Year's Resolution You'll Ever Need It’s that time again, and I am offering you the only New Year’s resolution you will ever need to make.
Live your life like you mean it.
Yep. That’s it. Resolve to live your life like you really mean it. Don’t wait to mean it when you fall in love. When you’re out of school. When you have money. When the kids are grown. When your hand is forced by age, or disease, or death. Don’t wait to live your life like you mean it when challenged with some outside circumstance that suddenly opens your eyes. (Like we usually do.) And certainly don’t live your life like you mean it because I told you to.
YOU are the meaning-maker in your life so live your life like you mean it – the way you mean to live it.
Make eye contact every morning with that you looking back in that mirror and mean it, even if just for a moment. Make eye contact with everyone you meet, every day, and mean it. Not as a series of foreheads and noses and lips and ears. Look life in the eye, and all the other folks that show up with you each day, like you mean it. And, when you do, pay attention. You just might be surprised at all that you can be and do and feel. Put this locomotive at the head of the train. Don’t lead with cabooses. (As cute as they look, save them for wishes.) If you put this resolution up front, all the other desires, intentions, determinations – and even wishes – will hook up and follow at their appropriate time. Think about it. This resolution directs you like the Golden Rule. When you love your brother as yourself, when you do unto your sister as you would do unto you, all the rest that’s right or wrong naturally comes into view. The who-what-why-when-where appears organically. And because you are living your life like you mean it, you won’t miss it. If you do, you will circle around and get back on track – or you will find someone that can help you. Living your life like you mean it – like it matters – supports the healthier diet, more fulfilling job, expanded education, improved relationship, shift from depression, or whatever fill-in-the-blank resolutions you might have. The ways and means to accomplish your goals will introduce themselves at the best possible time because you mean it. (Some might appear inconvenient at first but, because you are living your life like you mean it, you will recognize the wisdom in the timing.)
“Matter is Spirit moving slowly enough to be seen." – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
If life matters, you matter. If life matters, how you spend your time giving meaning matters. You give life the meaning and the mattering. You give matter meaning. (Am I messing with your mind? Yes. Make it matter.) It’s  almost 2017. And you are reading this for a reason. Lets ring this one in together. Lets take a deep breath, right now, and slowly exhale like we mean it. Nap like we mean it. Play like we mean it. Hug like we mean it. Seek help like we mean it. Accept help like we mean it. Be amplified – or ambivalent – like we mean it. Divine Source and the universe love to support matter and the meaning in the matter. Spirit loves to conspire on your behalf. Check it in. “This is what meaning looks like to me when I do _______.” Then send out the signal loud and clear. Resolve to live your life like you mean it this year. May 2017 abundantly bless you with meaning so all that matters will come to you. Dream awake. Be amazed. With Love ... and I mean it. Bernadette XO Click on the pic below if you want to know more about my intuitive mentoring services. Muse Fusions Intuitive Reading Special Meaning-maker thoughts? Questions? Share them here! If you like this post, then please LIKE and SHARE because together we CREATE a better world! And be sure to SUBSCRIBE to my Messy Room for more musings and inspirations to come!

Art as Life: Tear a Page. Turn a Corner.

Inspiritus at Lourdes Mixed Media Art by Bernadette Rose Smith Ever find yourself heading in a particular direction only to hit so many speed bumps, detours, or cul-de-sacs along the way that you start to question whether you should proceed? Maybe you can recall more than one “where is that road again” trip. Perhaps you are in the middle of one right now. Or, maybe there is one right around the corner waiting for you. (You do know you are not reading this by chance, right?) Well, get comfy. While you ponder that, I will tell you a short story about Inspiritus. Why? Because, whatever your journey, it is a story that points to a moment we share – that moment when we hear the whispers and feel the breath of the Divine moving through us. Inspiritus Mixed Media Art by Bernadette Rose Smith Inspiritus Breath Mixed Media Art by Bernadette Rose Smith I was not in the neighborhood for inspiritus. I was aiming for a project that I hoped would address a livelihood concern. Inspiritus – the altered book pictured throughout this post – was a spirited calling on the carpet. It started with a phrase that kept popping up in my journal and my thoughts. Like a song verse you can’t shake. “The words are the leaves. The deeds are the fruits.” A polite way for the Divine to say, “Talk is cheap. Show me.” Inspiritus Altered Book Cover by Bernadette Rose Smith It was generously reinforced with one dead end after another in my livelihood venture. I have acquired enough wisdom to know when to stop and listen. (You know, that point where you start seeing stars from hitting that brick wall one too many times?) That’s when this poetic collaboration hopped onto a page in my journal one morning, starting with the verse:
So much happens before a leaf is born and from your pages a word is torn...
Inspiritus Altered Book Love by Bernadette Rose Smith “What a delightful thump on the head,” I thought. And with that invitation came the rest.
root upon root. ring upon ring. matters hidden until, in spring, from root to trunk to limb to branch a leaf is born, adorned to dance in sun and breeze and cloud and storm until its partner bud is born. coaxed to blossom. blossom to fruit. how will you harvest what came to root?
Inspiritus Altered Book by Bernadette Rose Smith My life flashed before my eyes. Okay, maybe not that dramatic but pretty dang close. Lets just say, in the following weeks, the writer-me burned through a lot of pages on the topic of compromises, adaptations, justifications, rescues, distractions, and all manner of negotiation devices used to make peace with myself when confronted with the needs and concerns of others always coming first. Whether for lack of courage or just plain fatigue, my frail manipulative attempts to wrestle a corner of time to follow my passions and use the divine seeds given me met with delay upon delay, year after year. From brunette to my now “platinum blond.” Inspiritus Altered Book Contemplation by Bernadette Rose Smith Somewhere in all that writing reverie, the artist-me stepped up. She’d had it. “Enough already! I got this. Let me show you without all the words. The big annual art show is coming up in 7 weeks. You love altered books so make one. Give this poem a home and then send it on its journey. All of your adult life you have set me aside for more concerns than I can count. I am tired of living in the shadows cast by others and your livelihood-concerned, placating-all-others self. There is no one looking over your shoulder but you now. So what’s your excuse? When will there ever be the perfect time? How will I ever trust you? Talk is cheap. Show me you love me. Lets plant some seeds.” Inspiritus Altered Book Seeds by Bernadette Rose Smith Inspiritus Altered Book Mixed Media Seed Spread by Bernadette Rose Smith Well just ouch me! Enough of my story. Now I am going to ask you to think about yours and invite you to answer some questions. Inspiritus Altered Book Mixed Media Matchbook Drawers by Bernadette Rose Smith Leaves eventually give way to harvest a new experience. What seeds are you planting in their compost? Are they ones you came in with? Or ones others have handed to you along the way? The thing about the seeds accepted from others is that, at first, they seem easy because they come with instructions. But look carefully. Those seeds are often attached to strings and expectations that lead to resentments and guilt if not planted to the satisfaction of the original seed bearer. They can land you in tending a field that will not sustain you or the seed bearer. (Funny about that, eh?) Inspiritus Altered Book Mixed Media Ladder Spread by Bernadette Rose Smith The thing about the seeds we come in with is that they don’t often come with instructions. We have to do a little investigating to find the proper climate, soil, nutrients, as well as healthy partner crops with which to plant them. We have to be aware. Watch the weather patterns. Be attentive to pests and weeds. But the seeds we came in with will sustain us and place us in fields that will also sustain others. Inspiritus Altered Book Mixed Media Harvest Spread by Bernadette Rose Smith What’s in your seed pouch? Do you know? Have you checked lately? Now is the time to dig deep. When your seed-planting time on this earth is done and you are standing in front of the Master Farmer, will your pouch be empty? Or still full? Inspiritus Mixed Media Altered Book Hidden Matters by Bernadette Rose Smith The blogger-me says, “Thanks for the visit and share any seed thoughts you wish to cast for others to harvest!" The writer-me says, “Let my words be the leaves that your deeds may bear fruit.” The artist-me says, “Look at the pictures. They will nourish your soul.” Musings from the Messy Room Subscribe Photo If you like this post, then please LIKE and SHARE because together we PLANT a better world! And be sure to SUBSCRIBE to my Messy Room for more musings and inspirations to come!  

Messy Love: Are You a Definer or a Refiner?

Messy Love Definer or Refiner Here’s an idea to play around with. The next time someone or something upsets you, ask yourself, “Does this define me or refine me?” Why? Because your answer determines how you move through the experience and the baggage you carry afterward. Let’s see what Webster has to say about these two words.
Define: to determine the limits or nature of; describe exactly.
Hmmm. “Determine the limits” seems pretty limiting. And “describe exactly” is a crazy-making quest. I don’t know about you but my life – and upsets – defy any exacting description. This defining business is feeling a bit tense.
Refine: to free or become free of impurities. To make or become more polished.
To “become free” and “more polished.” All right. I’m exhaling here. This feels like something I can grab hold of when grappling with an upset. How a Defining Moment Becomes a Refining Moment. Stop. Ask the question. “Does this define me or refine me?” Make a conscious decision. Then proceed in the direction of your answer. When my ex husband left to explore a relationship with another woman – back in the days of Bernadette’s Pages – you could say his act defined our marriage (failed), himself as a man (untrustworthy), and me as a wife (not good enough). Failed. Untrustworthy. Not Good Enough. Now there’s a tidy package that determined “the limits or nature of” what happened between us. Had I accepted this view as my definer I would have gotten stuck, acting out patterns of betrayal, anger, resentment, bitterness, guilt, shame, remorse, confusion, mistrust, defensiveness … and I guarantee you that Bernadette would not be sharing in this blog. But this Bernadette? She asked the question. Again and again and again. As many times as it took for her to drop the definers, pick up the refiners and proceed in the direction of her happily-ever-after. Death-Sentence Definers. Hiding in the past, present and future are relationships and circumstances that beg to define you. If you’re having trouble getting beyond an upsetting someone or something you might be trapped in a definer zone. That’s where the person or situation defines you in a way that you are not comfortable with – many times under radar. A definer like this, with no follow-up refiner, can feel like a death sentence.
I saw Ted at Starbucks with Susan. (My ex must be right; I’m boring.) Samantha got the promotion. (My father was right; I’ll never amount to anything.) They didn't call me back for that second interview. (I am too old.)
Are You Really Upset For The Reason You Think? This world offers lots of legitimate reasons for upset, though illegitimate definers are more common culprits than you think. (Maybe Ted and Susan were planning a surprise party for our voyeur – but skewed definers are a topic for another day.) Whether caused by the real world or the one in your head, it’s key to note there is a difference between the upset of pain and the upset of suffering. Suffering is a choice. A mental attitude based on fear and often supported by a definer.   Messy Love: Are You a Definer or a Refiner?It hurt when my ex left. Real bad. I was in pain. But it was my definers that made me suffer. Not his leaving. Once I got them to surface, I saw the classroom and an opportunity to cut through the crap – all the excuses that kept recycling the past into the present relationship. Surprisingly, defusing my definers opened the door to a refining process that allowed us to reconcile and make it another eighteen years. Defusing my definers also allowed me to recognize that divorce, for reasons that extended beyond our control or recovery, was ultimately in our best interest if we were to continue to grow. (Now there's a heavy duty definer-refiner playground.) If You Get Nothing Else From This Blog Post, Get This! A reason to pause the next time something or someone gets under your skin and ask yourself,
  • Does this define me or refine me?
  • Does this define me in a way that I don’t like?
  • Do I have to accept this definer?
  • Can I use this to refine me? (Make me a better person, artist, dog lover … free me from negative relationships, jobs, speeding tickets … Get the idea?)
Trapped in a Definer Zone? Ask. Decide. Proceed.
  • Does losing this marriage/relationship define or refine you?
  • Does losing this job define or refine you?
  • Does your childhood define or refine you?
  • Does your health condition define or refine you?
  • Does an addiction define or refine you?
  • Do your children define or refine you?
Here’s to replacing those definers with refiners that lead you to living your best life yet! As always, I welcome your comments. (They won’t define me but I might use them to refine me.) And, if you like this post then LIKE it and SHARE it. It won't define you if you don't but it might refine someone if you do. XO

Messy or Magical: YOU Be the Reason for the Season

Bernadette's Musings from the Messy Room Messy and Magical Holiday Message I find myself off the map this holiday season, alone with my kitties and the “ghosts of Christmas past.” Caught in reflection and releasing attachment to stories that cannot – need not – be revisited, repurposed, or recycled. Being mindful not to compare what my “reason for the season” looks like to those displayed around me. Just quietly aware of the many nuances of human experience beneath all the hustle and bustle, and living with the sense that it is okay for me to be alone this year. That it is, indeed, necessary. There is a freedom that comes in recognizing that there are times when tradition serves us well and other times when it simply does not. This is a “not” year. I am grateful to recognize that and embrace the gifts it has to offer and not grasp for the questionable recreation found in re-creations of the near or distant past. Guess you could say this is a “we three kings disoriented are” holiday. (I am not without a sense of humor. When my GPS is down, I look up.) If you are off the map this holiday season, this is the deal – what I know to be true. First of all, you are not alone. Secondly, whether through tradition or ritual or breaking all the rules of thumb, you are the magic-maker found in every season of your life. So, wherever you are this year, make it count. Love anyway. Laugh anyway. Be present anyway. This may be one of those silent whisper gifting kind of holidays. Find peace with the pieces and joy in the little pleasures found on the fringes of your day-to-day activities. Some years we have to enjoy the trimmings while the gift is "made ready." Those three kings may be disoriented but they do deliver. They look up, too – and they will find you where you are. Be ready to receive. I know I am. Peace be with you this season.