Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lessons From A Bike Ride

One of my favorite all-time activities is bike riding and I tune my old red mongoose every year. While not pretty, new or shiny, it still works! On these beautiful Fall days, I have taken my bike for the ride around Marblehead Neck and I stop at Lighthouse Park which overlooks the harbor. There I watch the water and immediately feel a sense of calm come over me. It has been a mixed week physically and emotionally. The good news is that I am five days out from 24/7 itching - what a relief to have that mostly gone and to get a more restful sleep at night. I had just about exhausted my deep breathing and visualization techniques, readying for the cuckoo factory! I have felt grateful for this move towards my healthy self. On the other hand, I have been very tired and one of my cancer predictors came back improved, but not yet normal. The other test was missing from the lab, thus needs repeating. What I began to feel was "will this ever change", "will I need to do chemo again", "will I ever be cured"? As I focused on these questions, I became trapped, somewhat anxious - not good feelings. As I peddled along the road, I peered out over the water and looked at the beautiful estates, trees and rocks, and came back to a place of comfort. All of a sudden, I made the connection between riding my bike and my questions. When one rides a bike, it is important to stay focused and to look ahead, but not too far ahead - ah, the key! I was able to recognize my old behaviors of taking my past experience, making it my present and predicting my future as well. I am well, I am still in the process of healing and I do not need to hold onto fear which will only magnify the liklihood of creating my future with my past! I spend a good part of my day when not working with clients, using the quantum physics medicine theory of visualizing my health and my life as I want it, seeing it as already accomplished. The technique has brought me this far in my healing journey and will continue to do so. An interesting aside to all of this is the "theme" of the week. I often find that my clients come in with different stories, but similar themes or paths to wellness that must be transformed and they are usually themes that I, too, am wrestling with. I am often giving advice and at the same time, taking notice to do the same. How interesting and no coincidence, indeed! The take-home message here is to really pay attention to the activities you engage in and see the common threads to your thoughts and emotions. It is all tied together. Now take a bike ride before the snows come! Julie

Saturday, October 25, 2014

State Of The Union: Medical Care in MA

What a wild ride I've been on with navigating the healthcare world during these past two years and even more so, since May of this year. On May 23, my older daughter turned 26, which meant that she could no longer be on my insurance policy. Now the fun - or shall we say, not so fun began! I have had the same insurance for a number of years because the coverage was good, alternative services such as food sensitivity and some alternative GI tests were also covered. The price was reasonable for someone self-employed with a family. Then as 2014 started, these tests were no longer covered, compounded medications and supplements were also taken off the list. The starting of the demise of inclusive services. When May 23 arrived, my daughter had already done her homework about choosing a plan, being sure the company paperwork was submitted and on that day our entire family policy was cancelled. I knew first because when I went to renew prescriptions, I was told I had no insurance. The process began. I could not be found in the database by name, date of birth or social security, and yet, I had been with this company for years. My daughter's policy was now my old number and she had wrong data attached to her brand new policy. I started with customer service, but after one month of no return calls, I asked to speak with a supervisor. We made a little headway, then he was gone for extended holiday and no-one took over my case. Start all over again! The next person promised to keep me updated weekly on progress, but that never happened. I was informed that we may have problems for the entire year. During this time, I overpaid bills to doctors, pharmacies etc. I had requested my monthly statements since I was not receiving them. I worked on this while in my "hotel room", as I called it at the Newton Wellesley Hospital, dealing with my own poor health. Once home, I called to request updates on issues that never were solved, thus decided to write the president and CEO. He never returned a call or letter, thus I sent the same letter a second time, certified, return receipt requested. He received it alright, but never responded. I had stated in my letter that I hoped to work out these issues without having to contact the insurance commissioner's office and my state rep and thus decided to follow up with a call. I was transferred to the ombudsman's office and we talked. I requested what seemed reasonable to have 3 months waived from premiums given the money, time and stress that was spent on this fiasco for myself and my daughter. Again, I received no follow up from the ombudsman, until finally an email stating that the issues would be resolved in 3-4 weeks and that the company would not honor my request regarding some restitution. It is now mid-October, almost the end of the year! The very next day, I received a demand letter to pay over $6000 in premiums or my policy would be cancelled in 15 days. While in shock, I chose to contact the insurance commissioner's office, to contact my state rep and he has been very cooperative with me to assist me during this time. While all of this has been going on, I had labs done at the Brigham 2 weeks prior to my doctor visit and when we met, he had not received them, nor could they be found on the site. I called, only to be connected to answering machines, then disconnected. After attempting this for a number of times, I called the operator expressing that I needed to speak with a person in the lab, not an extension, because my labs were lost! Upon speaking with the lab person, she realized that the labs were faxed to a phone and not a fax. She told me that it would be done right away. A day goes by and no labs at my doc's office. I start the process yet again and when I explain that the lab had mistakenly faxed to the phone and that I needed these reports, she told me "when I have time". With my jaw at my feet, I told her that this was unacceptable, that it was now three weeks with lost labs and I that I am dealing with cancer, she still stated "when I have time, by the end of the day." She was not compassionate, sounded irritated and did not apologize for any mistake on their end. I asked to speak with a supervisor and she stated to be the supervisor! Wow - well this is a long and detailed blog, BUT, the upshot is that the state of healthcare here in MA is not so pretty. I feel lucky enough to know how to address some issues being a provider myself and feel very concerned for people who just don't know how to deal with the system - a system that is very broken at the moment. While I still do not know the outcome of the Harvard Pilgrim fiasco and have dealt with less than compassionate lab folks at the Brigham, I do know that there are ways to not be in a place of victim-hood: Gather your data Be assertive and persistent Look outside the box for assistance - governing agencies, state representatives If we all begin to assert our displeasure, we may begin to make some momentum in creating a healthcare system that does work for the people. Rah-rah! Julie

Monday, October 20, 2014

Music, Me and A Content Grateful Heart

About two weeks ago, I posted "Untouchable and Fake" and this blog was about my connection and confusion about music in my life. It was a painful process, but such a cleansing one at the same time. Last evening, I was invited to sing with my old group at St. John's, my former parish. I was so excited to be singing with my friends, to see my pastor and pastoral associate, both of whom have been tremendous and non-judgmental support to me and my girls for many years. Just a week ago, my former music director asked if I would lead the practice, as he was directing a musical in another town and would be running late. I laughed and said "sure", but you know it's been almost two years and my guitar "chops" are rusty, not to say my singing voice! We laughed and I made the commitment. As I thought about it, I felt like this would be fun and I have my professional musician buddy, one of my best friends, who would carry the guitar parts while hiding my less than professional sound, set up the sound system etc. No sweat! A few days later, we learned that he had a gig scheduled unexpectedly and would not be there. Wow - was this "opportunity/challenge" placed in my lap at the right time. Do I revert to perfectionistic tendencies, getting anxious about how it would work out OR would I take this as time to have fun, time to play and pray? I chose the latter and pulled out my music, guitar and started to play and sing. Surprisingly, it didn't sound bad at all. In fact, I was impressed that I picked up where I left off pretty well and was enjoying my practice time each day. To back up a bit, a few weeks back, I decided to join the Festival Chorus here in Marblehead - a group that performs during the holiday season. No try-outs, just come as you are. I thought the chorus would be easy, but the director had us singing in Latin, French and German, at tempo, on the first night! So while not easy, I am having a blast trying to learn these "wicked fast" scales! On Saturday, after finishing with clients for the day, I had a guitar in one hand and Bach in the other! Sunday arrived and I met my friends at church. We practiced, worked out a few kinks and got ready for mass. I was not anxious, I was not judging how this was going to be and I was having a blast. One of the songs that I requested to sing was Grateful and this song has such special meaning to me because I am grateful for the many blessings in my life - one of which is music! Just for today, play your favorite tune on the radio, I-Tunes, your I-Pod - just do it and see how you feel! Julie

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pizza With A Twist

Who doesn't like pizza! I decided to try the cauliflower crust version tonight and it was a fun experiment. The next time, I will add some ground flax or chia seeds to the mix - or even a little of both - to create a more stable crust. The flavor was quite nice and while the cauliflower did hold together with the egg and cheese as binders, it did lack a bit of the crispiness that a flour crust offers. I also find for myself, that bulk is needed to create the feeling of fullness for me, thus a salad and extra oven roasted peppers, round out the meal. To make the crust, the cauliflower needs to be processed into a rice-like consistency. It is then mixed with an egg, 2-3 ounces of grated or shredded monterey jack cheese - I use pasture-fed dairy products - healthier and more digestible. Mix in a pinch of basil, parsley and oregano and form into a ball. As I mentioned, I will add 2-3 Tbl ground flax and/or chia next time and let it set for a few minutes to create the gel-like consistency. Flatten the crust on a pizza pan and bake 450 for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, scramble ground buffalo or grass-fed 90% lean ground beef and add crushed tomatoes and more basil, oregano, parsley and garlic. Too the crust and sprinkle with parmesan or shredded mozzarella. Return to the oven to melt the cheese, remove and let it stand for 5 minutes before serving. What a fun meal and of course, this pie can be creatively changed with different meats, veggies, spices and cheeses. For example, I sometimes saute chicken strips with frozen, thawed and drained spinach. I then add some organic ricotta and parmesan, garlic, mixing all together and top the crust accordingly. Put on your creative cap and have fun! Julie

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Facebook, Face Value and Reflections

It's been about a week since a photo taken of myself and my daughter had many likes, comments - all positive stuff. It was two weeks out of the hospital and I was on a short, but sweet outing - Fashion Week opening in Boston. Oh how I used to love the fashion scene, still do, but have not been to a fashion show in years. What's been interesting is that since I've left the hospital, I've had mixed results in my progress. Thankfully, my blood values are improving - a sign that the chemo and support has worked. Halleluia! On the other hand, my quality of life and side effects from the reaction to the chemo have lingered, really disrupting how I feel on a day to day basis. The swelling is gone, my blood pressure is now more normal than in years, but this itch and dry, rashy skin is 24/7! It is so uncomfortable that I lay awake at night, scratching. Now, of course, the "old me" tapes come barraging my brain - be thankful, don't complain, just grin and bear it - you know, the old stoic me comes rushing in to take over. But no, in this very moment, I am tired, worn down, feel pretty "shitty" - and it is OK. Even my daughter tells me, "Mom, you are still in recovery and have a whole year yet to go." I guess that part of me that wants it done and over with takes over at times. What I felt about the Facebook messages was part of the reason that I've never signed up before. It tells only the good. It is an imbalanced perspective of the reality of one's life and it magnifies the discrepancy of how one might be feeling, potentially increasing the negative feelings even more! My girls and I have have talked often about social media and the potential damaging effects on one's emotional health. Since I work in the area of mental health often - eating disorders, bipolar, depression and anxiety - I am very sensitive to understanding these underpinnings. And here I am, experiencing a bit of that chasm in reality myself! On the other hand, I had a conversation with two other friends - one from high school and the other, a new friend from late Spring. Both of these folks had struggled with deep depression and it was through Facebook that friends and family reached out to provide support and connection. It gave me another perspective to think about. What I've pondered since that time is that social media is only one facet of reality and it is important to always be conscious of that. "Image" is not who we are, yet it contributes to how we are seen. It also does help connectivity on one level and this is part of our culture - like it or not. It does play a positive role, as is seen in my dialogue with others. The take-aways for me and for you are to look inside first, do that check-in by closing your eyes, breathing in deeply, feeling connected and grounded to the earth and feel your aliveness, feel your feelings without judgement and then you will be able to graciously accept the feedback of others in your life. In peace and gratitude, Julie

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Untouchable and Fake

As I listened to my Spirit and Song songs, a contemporary spiritual collection, I began to sob while listening to "Bread For The World", written by Bernadette Farrell. It brought back so many memories of being part of the choir, contemporary music groups and finally the leader of the Contemporary Music Ensemble at our church. This community was a safe haven, a fun place, an area where I could teach, give, lead and be a member for the many years where outside, life was insecure, frightening at times, always with a twist of challenge. My tears grew to the point where I felt like I might pass out, but knew that I would not. It was cleansing, albeit painful. I wanted to say "I'm sorry" for using this venue to be good, look good, hold a place in heaven, BUT, my throat chakra let me know that I did not need to say sorry, but to stay connected to the pain of transformation, to also be so grateful for being willing to look at and increase awareness about my actions in the world. Rapidly, information came into my mind - The Velveteen Rabbit (which I've talked about in former blogs), perfectionism as protection, my upbringing. As I sort it out, I am even more aware how my upbringing led to perfectionism and that this separated me from others - always practicing to be better, but not really engaged with others because they may find out the truth - I'm really not perfect! The Velveteen Rabbit - a great read even for adults! - the skinhorse being stripped of his outer beauty, was really beautiful on the inside and had meaning just for being! While I've touched on these themes over and over in my life, I felt it on a visceral level yesterday, integrating the body-mind-spirit aspects even more. So what does music have to do with all of this! I've been singing since grade school, have excelled with having a pretty voice and as I grew, I developed a real affinity for spiritual music of all types - classical, contemporary, christian, jewish, buddhist. If it has meaning and an interesting sound, I'm sold! But why have I not been singing much this past year and half? I could say illness and that is certainly one reason - I've not had energy, time, and at times, even the lung capacity to sing without becoming dizzy. But there was more and I think I've found part of this reason. I felt fake - as if my singing was a way to make others think of me as perfect, good, worthy. After all, a church singer has to be good! I feel that I peeled that layer yesterday as painful as it felt. I do love spiritual music, I do have a good voice and I have been/am a conduit bringing the message of God and inspiration to others. My mission may have started with self-protection even without knowing it, and my mission continues as part of who I really am. How that will play out, I'm still not sure, but just for today, I feel content with accepting those parts of myself that I may not like or have liked yet have learned to love. My wish for you is to allow the rise and fall of the wave of feelings, as intense as they may seem at times. You will not crumble, you will not die, you will be more real, just like the skinhorse! Peace, Julie

Thursday, October 2, 2014

More Kitchen Creativity - Oh La La

Last weekend, I attended a lovely jazz garden party and brought a fabulous spinach-artichoke dish made with all organic ingredients - need I clarify this! Of course, there were artichokes left over and thus, I've been brainstorming what to do with them. Decided to make a chicken dish with a lemon-garlic sauce. Check this out! Saute chicken tenders until browned. Add halved artichokes. Make a lemon sauce with 2 Tbl organic lemon juice, 1/4-1/3 cup water, 1/8 tsp garlic powder and heaping tsp cornstarch. Mix well and pour over the cooked chicken/artichoke mixture. Remove from heat and coat well. Dice a few sundried tomatoes and top with a few pepita seeds. Shred sweet potato and bake on oil-coated sheet at 425 to cook. Serve with any leftover veggie - I had some oven-roasted yellow peppers. Mange!