"You look great!" "You look amazing!" "Wow, Marilyn! I can't believe how terrific you look!"
Over the past few weeks, I have heard these words or similar ones repeated over and over again. To say I've been "surprised" or even "shocked" to hear these comments -- let's just say I am happy yet still trying to comprehend the meaning behind those words.
Why? Well, I know I certainly look much different than I did several years ago. In fact, I look much different from how I was between 2002 and 2009. In early 2002, my cancer had spread to the lungs and I underwent major surgery. That certainly affected how I felt and how I looked. There was the overall fatigue and inability to do much physically, so yes... I began to gain weight. I also began chemo in the summer of 2002. While I never completely lost my hair, it thinned out to the point where everyday I gathered up hair from my sleepwear, my pillow and from around the shower drain. Then, as the years progress, I was still sedentary and the weight piled on. When I broke my right femur in 2005, I weight so much that my rehab took longer than anticipated. (At least, that's how I remember it.) The femur break in 2008 was still horrible, but because I had already started loosing weight, my rehab process went much faster. (That is the truth.) Fast forward to today .. I weight what I did after having Adrienne. And yes, I feel great and apparently ... I am looking much better these days.
I guess that's what I can't quite process. In my head, I am still heavier -- I am still having trouble moving about. My body is far from perfect and I'm in pain more than I care to admit. I take so much medication on a daily basis and although most of the drugs I take are necessary ... they keep me moving about -- with pain levels that allow me to participate in classes like spinning, water fitness and Zumba. So, the drugs give me a life worth living because if I were in the horrific pain I could be in, I would not be able to function. Getting out of bed everyday would be impossible. I could not even be typing this blog -- my fingers would cease to work from the osteoarthritis that has mishapped my knuckles. Without my pain specialist and the medications prescribed, I may very likely be in bed most of the time... or perhaps back in a wheelchair unable to move around on my own. As I even think about that option, I must admit it is terrifying. I hated being so vulnerable back in 2005 and 2008 following my femur breaks. Unable to do anything for myself -- being totally dependant upon the aides and techs for everything -- all the personal stuff we humans do on a daily basis. It was a horrible, gut wrenching experience back then and it's one I do not want to repeat.
I remember a moment several years ago when I got out of the car and started to stretch. I bent over to touch my toes. I heard a loud "shriek" like sound coming from both Brian and Adrienne. "What was I doing?" They could not believe what they were seeing. I immediately did it again -- reaching down to my feet -- feeling the stretch down my back. When I got back up, I looked at both of them. "Seriously," I said. "When I tell you that I'm doing water fitness classes. Or I'm at Tai Chi or Zumba. I'm not playing tiddly winks." I wanted them to understand that I knew how important it was to keep exercising. To keep moving. I was talking about my life. If I were to truly follow my mantra -- "Everyday in every way I am getting better and stronger" -- then I had to keep exercising. I know they got the message. They no longer question my quest for better health. (They do ask me to be safe and not overdo things. I honor those logical requests since I know they are said out of love.)
Meanwhile, I am still grappling with the words I keep hearing from those around me. I hear it most often when I enter the Oviedo Y. Apparently, people notice when you are really exercising and getting results. Perhaps that's what is happening and I'm just not totally prepared to accept that I've achieved my goals. That's not to say I can stop and no longer do classes. In fact, it means I not only have to continue but I must really make the effort to remain diligent. I've had a couple of days this past week where my energy level dropped and I simply didn't want to do much. I arrived at the Y unprepared to do anything in particular. However, I finally ventured into a Zumba class and remained there for 30 minutes. (I was ready to call it a day after that session although the class was 60 minutes.) Another day, I arrived and decided to attend a lecture given by Kim Lett, RD, the Y's dietitian. She was speaking about heart health and healthy eating -- the lecture was titled:" Don't go breaking your heart". That was in lieu of another exercise class that ran during the same time frame. I simply was "not in the mood" to exercise. For me, that's unusual but I do have those times where I am"tired" or "hurting too much" or simply "not in the zone" (my head isn't there)... so I've learned to adjust. I listen to my body. I used to do back to back cardio classes and now, I realize that is not always in my best interest. I was actually doing too much and was losing too much weight. (I attended sessions with a dietitian at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Orlando where I learned how to balance my diet with exercise.) It has been a learning curve all along.
Now, I must begin accepting the wonderful compliments that come from working so hard and achieving so much. It's not easy for me. I love complimenting others and giving praise. It is much more difficult for me to accept and appreciate the well meaning words from others. Slowly, I am doing so and I must say -- it feels great! I'm not sure how "awful" or "what I must have looked like even a year ago" but I enjoy hearing all the wonderful things people share with me. The kind, expressive words they say -- the compliments and the smiles I get as well. Both men and women sharing their praises... their compliments and inspiring words. A friend saying: "Marilyn, you look great!" Another one saying: "Marilyn, you inspire me!" Wow! And then, hearing so many others asking: "So when is the book coming out?" To that last question I can say... I am working diligently on that. I intend to publish my book this year. "High Maintenance" will be a success and in no small part, due to the incredible individuals I have met over the past 13 years. (As well as all the friends I have known most of my life and of course, my amazing family.)
As I prepare to leave the house and venture back to the Y for yet another exercise session of some sort (not necessarily a class but a cardio activity plus muscle toning, etc.) I must be ready to "hear" perhaps another kind word or two. When I think about how good it feels when I hear their words, it's like Valentine's Day all-year long. There may not have been chocolates or hearts yesterday -- I did hear the words "Happy Valentine's Day" expressed along with a warm hug -- but more importantly, I am starting to realize that kindness, friendship, happiness and yes ... love -- is year round and not a single day in the calendar. In addition, being able to receive the compliments given by others is essential. (And yesterday, I received several more amazing compliments.) Once we can truly internalize that we are worthy of "compliments" and not feel "guilty" when we hear kind words spoken about us -- it's another way for us to grow. To learn more about ourselves. Even at my age, (And I'm young!) I am still learning more about me everyday. Those around me are helping -- because the journey is not meant to be solitary. Life is meant to be shared with others. Thus, it makes sense that we make friends along the way -- we share good times -- we share kindnesses -- we share a compliment or two. And now I know that I can enjoy those very special words that are meant for me. It's okay to smile, give a hug and say "thank you." (Because you did what you had to do and now, it's being acknowledged... congratulations!)