Why is Recovery the Answer?—Sandy

Recently, while discussing the addiction problem of a friend’s fifteen year old daughter, my immediate temptation was to think that this was unique and different, a special problem that needed to be dealt with in an extraordinary manner.  I thought—there
must be some kind of therapy, magic medication or miracle action which could fix the problem once and for all.  Rescue and fix—that’s the answer.  These thoughts raced through my head and I’m sure through her parent’s minds as well.    How can we make the problem just go away?

 Then in my own life—one week Bill was complaining about a floater in his eye that had been there for nearly a month affecting his vision as he was trying to finish a large wood carving.  His balance and driving skills were rapidly deteriorating along with his peripheral vision.  Off to the emergency room to discover a brain tumor and possible lung cancer.   This all started on Monday and by Friday he was in surgery to remove an egg-sized tumor from his optic nerve.  Life was looking rather bleak—these are not
things I would ask for in my life.   These are gifts wrapped in barbed wire and I only like gifts wrapped in pink ribbon.  Surely, this is unique and special?

 In late March my dear friends lost their beautiful mountain home in a sudden and devastating wildfire.   Theirs was one of the first of twenty-seven homes lost in the beginning few hours of the fire.  Named the Lower North Fork Fire, it started after a controlled burn got whipped into reactivation during one of the windiest days I’ve ever experienced in Colorado.  Wind is relentless; it worms its way into the tiniest flaps and cracks to rip apart a seemingly solid structure.  Then add fire to the mix and there is real trouble.   The controlled burn had been considered safe and contained since it had been conducted nearly two weeks prior.  Even though it had been an unusually dry winter, it was still winter after all.   A few deep pockets of embers were left to flare during the windstorm that happened that day.  What is to be done when everything is
gone—all the material stuff? Isn’t this the worst thing ever?

  My friends said, “The fear of losing everything is worse than the actuality.” When I asked if we could trade gifts they said no, we don’t want yours.  Each of us has got our own “gifts” that give us the experience our own souls crave to complete in this life.

 So here are three things that disrupted my lovely, tranquil world early in the year 2012, each devastating in its own way.   Why is Recovery the answer?  Could it possibly be the answer in all these cases?

 Recovery tells me that my attitude is the only thing I can change and therefore is the only thing I am responsible for.   The 12 Steps give me a way to change my thinking and attitude, but to see what my real habitual attitudes are can be painful and humiliating. The Steps promise I will have a new attitude and outlook on life before I am halfway through Step Nine which is to take responsibility for my past actions by admitting that they have harmed and disturbed others in my life. These things many times hurt me more that they have anyone else.   They make me hide away thinking that could be really harmful to me and others.

 There are things I don’t want you to know about myself.  I share my innermost thoughts and feelings many times in 12 Step fellowship meetings.  It is an incredible and freeing experience and while I wouldn’t wish the way I have felt thought and behaved in my lifetime, it sure is comforting to know that others in the room have thought, felt and behaved just like me.   Oh, the names, dates and places are not the
same but we all know the stories.

 Yet there are still things I don’t want you to know.  I don’t want to tell you that when Bill was diagnosed with a brain tumor and lung cancer; my first thought was:   He’s
losing weight and I’m not! 

 I don’t want to admit that when my friend’s house burned my thought was: They get a new house, what about me?

And of course I think, She at least got to have kids, I could have done it differently which is guess what?  Perfectly!

 Yes, it’s still there—this profoundly lazy part of myself, perhaps it’s the human condition; it’s the shitty little kid inside me who whines and complains.  “What about me? I don’t wanna.  I don’t wanna be the gift.  When am I going to get mine? Get out of my way!”

 The 12 Steps have taught me that I don’t have to live with these thoughts.  They give me a way to recognize and accept those parts of myself because without acceptance there can be no change.   When I attempt to hide those parts of myself they grow and grow in the dark of my belief in the lie and I can certainly gather the evidence that they are true.

 Like the old Chinese proverb “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man
to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”  the Steps teach me a way to deal with the uncertainties of the universe, my  human condition, the shitty little kid and the lie that constantly tries to invade my life.    They teach me how to fish.   The  beginnings of  the change in my  thinking are detailed in our book “Dig Deep in One Place”   but the change  continues today as I journey on this great adventure of finding out who I can be if I just stop believing the lies of  the habit of a lifetime, that whining, lazy part of myself.  I can learn to be the gift.

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“PARTNERSHIP”

August 2012

Florida--August 2012

I wake up in the morning overwhelmed with gratitude.  How awesome to have a partner on this journey.  When all this health stuff came down the real meaning of partnership rose to the surface.  Suddenly Sandy had to take over every area of our lives.  I realized that we are really in this together.   The strength of our relationship became even more obvious.   We are so connected that if I want to know how I feel, all I have to do is ask Sandy.   If I’m exhausted, she’s exhausted; if my back hurts, same with her.   The emotional connection is so strong, it’s almost scary.   How she walks the fine line between taking care of me and not treating me like an invalid child is masterful.

We have our little tiffs but because of our commitment to our spiritual life and our partnership we can actually pause and reevaluate our positions.  What an incredible gift.  So many times she is coming from the east and I’m coming from the west that you think we would be used to it.  As we maneuver for position and struggle to hang on, we discover that many times we are headed for the same place.  This has taken practice and a willingness to stand on the beach when the cannibals seem to be pouring out of the jungle.   My first thought is, I have to FLEE!

Together we  have discovered that it is just the lie trying to freeze us into immobility.  It happens in every area of our lives, from choosing what to have for dinner, to collaboration in our art work; we have to negotiate in everything.  We have a wonderful way to start our day, we make our bed together.  It may sound funny but this can seem like a life threatening situation, even so we have to cooperate to get it done.   So many times we start our day with a laugh at ourselves and the spiritual principles are much easier to practice.

To be blessed with such an awesome partner, to have someone to help me keep the crossroads in sight, to have someone to help keep the lie from owning our days is the most wonderful gift imaginable.   I implore you to be the gift with your partner.  Make every effort to never criticize, fault-find, or blame.   Never say something you can’t  take back.  Always encourage, compliment, appreciate or praise.  If I can’t say something positive, why don’t I just shut up.   There is always a way to be the gift.

God bless you, I love you,

 Bill

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Don’t Miss the Miracle!

 At first I missed the miracle because it wasn’t what I wanted. All the cancer was supposed to be gone. When this wasn’t the case I was disappointed and frustrated. It took a minute to actually sink in. “What did you say? What were the results?” The cancer was stopped in its tracks. There was no new growth and what there was had receded by ¼ to ½ . The doctor couldn’t believe it. For the first time since we met she brightened up. She smiled and almost hugged me. She seemed shocked by the outcome of the PET scan. Her experience is that the usual outcome for cancer like mine is 180° from what we were now seeing. A medical miracle!

For some reason the universe wants me on the love boat for four more rounds of chemo. I may or may not find out that reason but I have found out that if I participate with joy, the outcome is always positive. A positive action cannot have a negative result; that’s the law.

Once again I am startled by my expectations. How long before I can let what is just be? What a great adventure! As I practice creating a space between myself and my reaction to events; I am amazed at how everything that enters my life is for my benefit. This understanding is starting to enter my heart and is changing everything. To joyfully and willingly receive what comes is not my first thought; it was not even possible until I started to wake up. As the awakening progressed so did a creeping horror. My God, I’ve been wrong about almost everything for most of my life. I had been stuck on just one possibility for any given circumstance instead of realizing the Universe provides an infinite number of possibilities for each and every moment. So, to literally have an experience without all the baggage I used to carry around with me brings a peace and clarity I didn’t know existed.

To drop right or wrong, to drop good or bad makes it possible for me to make an honest evaluation and analysis  of any situation.  Every moment in my life is a gift custom made
for me.  Ya, but I don’t want my gift!  How funny, as if I knew what was good for me. This journey goes on, with or without my approval.   When I embrace it, my days are filled with peace and abundance.  When I don’t, there is frustration and bewilderment.  Let the river flow.  I used to think I wanted to know what was going to happen.  Why? To
ease my troubled mind?  No—It was so I could mess with it!

God bless you, I love you

Bill

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“God Bless Everyone, No Exceptions!”—Bill

Living a spiritual life means the exposure of my fear.  I had no idea to the depth my fear went.  It ruled my entire life.  Every thought word and action was based on fear.  Going through the 12 Steps started to show me where the fear was born, where the lie that I am not good enough started.  How could I love you when I was such a piece of trash?

As long as I can remember I did my best to avoid doing something wrong and to prevent punishment.   I wasn’t very good at it and soon started to blame myself.  None of this made for a very good life.   The only escape was through drugs and alcohol.   The amazing thing about addiction is the unawareness of the power of its hold.   I was trapped and could only see you through the haze of my madness.  I had to judge you; it was the only way to keep from looking at myself.   I was able to say to -myself, “Thank God you are so sick; I don’t have to look at me!”  When all this self-absorption crashed under its own negative weight, my selfishness stood in painful clarity.

I took and I took and I took until there was nothing left but hate and resentment.  I had to change my thinking—but how?  I couldn’t do it with this fear filled selfish mind.  The
language of recovery is 180° away from the voice of addiction.  Addiction says take because there isn’t enough; spirituality says give of what you have.  Addiction says criticize, judge, fault-find and blame.  Spirituality says be the gift, encourage, praise, appreciate and bless.

I’ve spent my whole life worshipping the negative and the harvest of that behavior was bewilderment, frustration and despair.  I impacted everyone who came into contact with me.  I can’t plant corn and expect cotton to come up.  What would happen if I planted love light and joy everywhere I went?   God bless everyone, no exceptions!

The responsibilities of a spiritual life scared me at first, but that was only because I didn’t understand.  Responsibility turned out to be as simple as turning aside my judgment and doing the exact opposite thing.  In March when I was in the hospital the change of nurses came in the middle of the night.  In the half dark a Neanderthal
looking fellow shuffled into my room and I could hear the judgment start in my mind.  Suddenly the crossroad became visible and I jumped out of bed, went over and handed him a simple card with the spiritual principles of acceptance, open-mindedness, willingness, honesty, forgiveness, harmony, truth, faith, hope, light, and joy printed on it.  I gave him a hug and thanked him for being an angel in my life.

That simple act of kindness changed everything.  Every time he saw me, he lit up like the sun.     So, what’s it going to be?  The light or the dark?  What am I planting; a black seed or a white seed? Who would I rather be; a gangster or Santa Claus?  I love you, everyone, I mean exactly that; NO EXCEPTIONS!

God bless you,  Bill

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“Love Boat”

As I sit here on the “Love Boat” holding Sandy’s hand on my last day of chemo, I am overwhelmed with gratitude and compassion.  Everyone here is hurting or dying and most are scared to death.  To be in a position to reach out, to be an example of the positive, to touch them, to listen to their stories is a gift that has to be experienced.   Since we are in the same “boat” approaching them is easy.   I give them each a card with the magic words and they light up.  It’s a feeling of a joyful planting, knowing that only good can come from a positive act, no matter how small.

It has taken twenty years to get here.  From the absolute nadir of despair to a life of happy, joyous freedom at first has to take a lot of effort.  The habit of a lifetime took some doing to turn to a different direction. Automatic negative thinking and a curious twist of the mind made being useful in any way almost impossible.   Everything seemed to be screwed and I thought I liked it like that.   I didn’t realize that just because my reaction was automatic doesn’t mean it wasn’t a decision.   I thought I was a victim of my circumstances; I didn’t know that I had a choice.  Being a victim keeps me from a life of true freedom; it prevented me from experiencing the wondrous rewards of performing a simple act of kindness.  To see people light up, to respond, and to see that spread across the room fills my heart with joy.

 How long was I asleep? I didn’t know I was asleep until I woke up.  Only then was it possible to realize the fact of my previous unconsciousness.  Now that I am aware of my judgment, I have a choice.  I stand at the crossroads with the knowledge that my choices can lead me to true freedom.  I am free to choose any way I want only now I am asked to report the results.  Sometimes I still choose the dark and the result is always the same; it tastes awful, it’s physically painful and it makes me feel sick.   There is nothing of value in it yet I pursue it as if it was a treasure.  The only thing of real value is the spiritual principles (the magic words on the card): Acceptance, open-mindedness,
willingness, honesty, love, forgiveness, harmony, truth, faith, hope, light,and joy.

So here’s to all you passengers on the “Love Boat” and to the wonderful nurses who bring compassionate, loving care to each and every one of us, I hope we were able to enrich your lives as much as you enriched ours.

God bless you all—no exceptions!

Bill

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Is There Help For My Fear?–Bill

Fear is an instinct, not a character defect. It seems to be a part of the human condition package everyone gets at birth consisting of sex, security, society and the search for spirituality or meaning of life. Our primal fears make sense, sort of, they are: fear of starving, fear of freezing, and fear of being eaten. The chances of any of this happening today are pretty slim although possible.

The 12 Steps helped to uncover some of my other basic driving fears; fears that rule my life. When I am in fear I cannot be any further into myself. What I uncovered in the recovery process is the fear that I am not enough. It became a self-fulfilling prophesy. I gathered evidence for this lie in every area of my life.

 In Step Four of the 12 Steps I was asked to write down my fears whether or not they had any resentment connected to them. This uncovered the direction my thinking was pointing. I was afraid of everything from big dogs to tall buildings. I was afraid of success; I was afraid of failure. I spent all my waking hours planting fear. It wasn’t hard to imagine the harvest of this planting—victimhood and resentment. I hated everyone for all the things I had done to you. My fear made me act badly. I resented you because you were going to find me out. It became very apparent that resentment is the noise that fear makes in my head. Now I have a red flag. When I am disturbed, there stands fear every time. I might as well have FEAR tattooed on my forehead. Agitation and doubt are the same flags; they mean fear is back and the first thing I need to do is not react.

When I find something wrong with you; it’s fear. Restraint, wait, don’t say it because my first thought is usually wrong. My fear thinks everything is an emergency. It does not know the difference between a hydrochloric acid spill and an emotional spill; the first responder team shows up and takes over regardless of the severity. It does not ask permission, it just takes over. This can work well for the acid spill but not so well for the emotional breakdown. Creating a space is critical. I need to cordon off the area and evaluate the situation.

Like everything worthwhile, this takes time, persistence and practice. I’m grateful that with the help of the 12 Steps this negative process can be pointed in another direction. My raging Mr. Hyde can be stilled. It is possible to stand on this earth without fear.

 Bill

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“Good News”

After nearly 3 months of constant care, I got to watch as Bill jumped into our SUV and drove off to a men’s retreat in Estes Park for the whole weekend.   I was invited to come along to act as nurse but his eyes and stamina have been steadily getting better and better during this last month and he wanted to do it all by himself.  I felt such bittersweet relief that we had made it to this point.

Last week we went for a follow up MRI to see if the fourteen days of whole brain radiation treatments were successful in stopping the growth of the tumor that was left in his brain after surgery.  We sat in the surgeon’s office anxiously awaiting the results.  As the good Dr.Vollmer looked at the images on the computer monitor, he did a double take as he looked at the screen,  then brought up the original MRI to check what he was seeing.  Sure enough the small (pea-sized) tumor was gone—no visible trace left—and the shadows of the larger (egg-sized) tumor that had been removed were virtually non-existent.  With restrained optimism he expressed his pleasure with the results and said that we will do a follow-up MRI in three months.

Now, two more cycles of chemo and the lung lesion (unwanted guest) will be in the cosmic dump as well.   The prayers and love from all our friends are doing the job.  The chemo makes Bill’s mouth taste like he’s been sucking on a penny.  His appetite is one-half of what it was and that one-half is tinged with nausea, so we’ve been on a nostalgia recipe kick.  How about some meatloaf with mashed potatoes, pork steak with corn, tuna casserole with potato chips, and root beer floats?  Good grief—it’s like being transported back to our childhoods in the fifties!

Our exercise program is falling back into place with some yoga stretches and abdominal work, followed by arms and shoulders with eight pound weights and now we’ve added a nice walk this week.  Best of all we’re back at work in the studio creating a model for a huge bronze sculpture of two eagles taking off from their nest.

With all this good news he says that the roller coaster of fatigue and wobbliness he is feeling is nothing.  This too will be gone in a month or two.   We are grateful for this awesome gift.  Our life is full of purpose, meaning and direction.   God bless all of you for you unrelenting support and powerful good thoughts.
Be the Gift…

 We love you—Sandy and Bill

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Imagine a Day Without Fear—Sandy

When I was first introduced to recovery and the 12 Steps, I was convinced they would not work for me. Then I finally asked a person who could lead me through the actions suggested by the Steps and found some willingness to proceed from her
enthusiasm.

I could not imagine a day without fear.   I was not sure that I could or would be able to stay in my relationship with Bill.  We had been through so much.  I met him in 1965 when I was 20 years old and almost immediately we began living together.  Our great adventure had begun.   We wanted to create a true artistic partnership but there were no blueprints for this type of relationship at the time.  The closest thing we could find was the artist who married a good little woman and she helped him to achieve success at the cost of her own artistic ambitions. We knew that wouldn’t work for us but I was extremely dependent on him to fulfill my every need and desire, and to pull me into exciting and dangerous behavior.   I loved it but it didn’t quite go along with the partnership we had envisioned.  I remember the first time I actually thought, “I probably could go on living if he left me.”  What a radical idea!  I had always felt like a Victorian heroine who would just retire to bed and die of a broken heart.  How romantic, how silly, how ridiculous!

We married in 1981, after fifteen years of living together.  We had purchased our dream studio in the mountains.   We were making a living as artists.  During the next ten years, as our dependency on drugs and alcohol escalated, my dependency took a rather aggressive and domineering turn as I attempted to control everything to make my world safe.

After the intervention to address Bill’s alcoholism, I had to make a choice.  He jumped into his recovery with such enthusiasm, it scared me and I resisted the idea that I could possibly change my own behavior and attitudes.  It took me nearly three months to finally admit that I might have a behavior and addiction problem myself and I could seek help in the program by asking someone to guide me in performing the actions suggested in the 12 Steps.

As I began the self-searching required by the process of the Steps,  I encountered some truly revolutionary ideas:  That I had a part in the way my life was unfolding—that I had played the victim over and over, expecting others to do for me what I refused to do for myself—that I did not have to be right all the time—that I have the right to be wrong and to  take responsibility for myself and my actions—that my experiences could be of help to others who did not know that there was a way
out of the trap of addiction and low self-esteem—that if I wanted self-esteem, I should do something esteemable (if that be a word).

It seemed very difficult and I asked my mentor again and again, “Yeah but, will I
still be in this relationship with Bill when I finish this work?”   She would reply, “I don’t know, but I do know if you do the 12 Steps with honesty and willingness, you will be
happy—no matter what happens.”

As I progressed through the Steps, I began to change; to take responsibility for
myself.  The simple actions suggested by the Steps led me to have an understanding of myself without self-pity that I had never experienced before, a true acceptance of who and what I really am, followed by a sincere attempt to become what I could be.   I could not imagine telling the truth in a direct and honest manner.  I could not imagine a day without fear.  Yet it happened for me.

Today I have been able to stay in my relationship with Bill because of the practice
of the spiritual principles contained in the 12 Steps for the past nineteen years.   Instead of bringing out the worst in each other we are able to bring the will to enable our individual paths to spiritual growth.  We have been able to face this cancer diagnoses together and “Be the gift” in the face of difficult, painful experiences.

Remember, this is the great adventure!

I love you all…..no exceptions

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“The End of Act Two” –Bill

With the installation of the Power Port in the upper right part of my chest, the curtain came down on Act Two of this drama in my life.  Act One was the discovery of the cancer, the subsequent removal of the brain tumor it spawned and receipt of all the information about what we will do about the whole situation in the future.  It seemed joyous; I was filled with gratitude and acceptance.  It’s not about me.  Oh, it hurt, was uncomfortable and boring but it was about what could I bring, how can I help?   What is the meaning of life?  Helpfulness to others.

Going into Act Two, I knew I was responsible for every thought word or action that comes from me. As the fourteen radiation treatments on my brain started, the effects of the Act One medications became really apparent. Combine that with the exhaustion from the radiation and I started losing ground.  I was told to watch out for shortness of breath but I honestly didn’t recognize it when it started to happen.  What a surprise to have a pain like a nail being driven into my left knee.  It was excruciating and began to travel down my leg.  Monday morning of my last week of radiation, the nurse in the office didn’t like my limp and sore leg, so she sent me for a CT scan to discover a blood clot and it’s off to the emergency room for us.   We are sent home with blood thinners.   The next day back for day twelve of radiation. Now I am really short of breath, I’m limping and hobbling along.  Now the nurse is angry.  “How could they let you go?”

This time I am admitted.  My heart is beating wildly, extremely erratic.  My blood pressure is low and my leg is swollen to twice its normal size.   What happened?  The race is on to stabilize this out of control body.  The whole thing is complicated by the need to finish my last two days of radiation therapy and the new chemo regime starting in two weeks.

I’m lying there in the Critical Care Unit with tubes and wires coming out me everywhere, unable to move, the more they did the worse it got.   The only place left to was the tower of the Twelve Steps.  I ended up with the Spiritual Principles 12 steps up off the train yard. I became the witness.  I was somehow able to see the experience without judgment.  It didn’t matter what happened.  Everything was as it should be.  Being able to witness the experience without judgment changed it all.

Slowly the darkness receded.  The Principles became brighter and brighter.  The responsibility was still mine, the crossroad still visible.  It does not matter what is happening, I have the choice—light or dark, gangster or Santa Claus.   The bridge to the eternal is to have the experience without judgment because it’s not for me; it’s for you.   I came back to give you this gift.

God bless you,  I love you….Bill

 

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“The Big Lumps”–Sandy

“Then perhaps life, as it has a way of doing, suddenly hands us a great big lump that we can’t begin to swallow, let alone digest……. What then?…… Can we transform these calamities into assets, sources of growth and comfort to ourselves and those about us?”  The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 113

 Well, this last week has been the down and dirty of this process that started with the diagnosis of a brain tumor in Bill’s head over a month ago.  To watch the man you have loved for 47 years drained of strength, to see him lying there helpless, with no hair, radiation burns on his forehead, his heart racing at 166 bpm, short of breath; it becomes clear, too clear that this is serious and life threatening. 

The first go round with the discovery of the brain tumor and lung cancer was almost glamorous compared with this reality.  His whole being has been beaten down by twelve days of whole brain radiation, the withdrawal from the anti-seizure and steroid meds and recovery from brain surgery one month earlier.  What next?  How about a massive blood clot in his left leg?  How about  embolisms in both lungs?   These put him flat on his back in Critical Care for seven days, IV tubes in both arms, a heart monitor and oxygen tubes in his nose.

 He tells me, “Be the gift!’ This phrase keeps running through my mind.  “How can I be the gift when I have this going on?” is my first thought and then my second thought is that this is a gift, not the gift I wanted but a gift none the less, part of the great adventure.  It appears thatI get to practice the spiritual principles here and now.  God bless everyone—no exceptions.

 “Please, no visitors,” He asks,  “I just do not have the strength right now.”   There are so many people who offer to do anything, anything at all to help.   What can I say to them?  We must heal and find a way to “Be the gift”, to remember that we can practice the spiritual principles, even here.  Bill gives a spiritual principle card to everyone who comes within reach. They all respond—“How wonderful, what a good way to try to live your life”  and give us a big smile and maybe a hug.    All except one, our own “Nurse Ratchet”.   She refuses to respond to the light.  And we have her two shifts in a row!   How can this be a gift?   It’s definitely difficult to rise to the occasion, I see him struggling and afraid and we have to ask for a new  nurse.   Sometimes it’s best to withdraw from the contest and allow others the consequences of their own actions.  We do not have control over her.  The Twelve Steps have given us a recipe to continue reaching for this seemingly unattainable goal.

 Finally, eight days after admission, he has actually finished the last two radiation treatments and the chemo port has been placed for the continuation of this drama, we are home.   We are so tired.  I swear I am as tired as he is and we take naps together.  Time to regain strength and grace.   Time to heal for a short while before the chemo starts and we are asked to “Be the gift” once again.

 Love,
Sandy

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