Tag Archives: freedom

Eye Candy Is Just as Sweet

I had promised myself ever since my diagnosis that I would not allow cancer to define who and what I am, but I have to admit it’s an uphill battle. The treatment seems to have a mind of its own and it’s a daily chore finding ways to cope with it.

pink elephant The best analogy I’ve found is the one I came up with last November when I was first diagnosed. It’s a pink elephant. He is comfortably seated on my left shoulder, gently wrapping his trunk around my throat with a slightly sinister twinkle in his eye saying he could tighten that grip any time he feels like it. And although he is always there, and I am constantly aware of him, only a very few others can see him. I hold my piece as my friends complain about the shortcomings of their husbands or the broken headlight on the car or the lack of pistachio ice cream at the supermarket. Those things will pass. Mine will not. The pink elephant is there to stay.

So I am doubly grateful for the rare moments that distract me from his infernal, pink presence. One such happened a few weeks ago.

Ghost college

Nihon University is one of the largest in Japan with campuses strewn across the entire Honshu area. With it’s affiliated schools, kindergarten through graduate school, the student body includes over 100,000 souls. Earlier this year, they opened a small campus just a few blocks from my house. It only offers two majors, Risk Management and Sports Sciences. Not to be too judgemental, it’s pretty easy to guess which is which among the students. The skinny, pimply ones are the risk managers, the others do sports. Since it’s new, the number of student is still very small, so I affectionately refer to it as the Ghost College, but I assume they’re expecting more students, at least hungry ones, because there’s a rather nice cafeteria on the first floor of the main building. Open to the public, it’s wide and airy with floor-to-ceiling windows on two walls and plenty of seating. The food is what you’d expect: curry, ramen, curry with a pork cutlet, ramen with a pork cutlet, salad.

We sat down by the window so I could survey the view and I tucked into my curry. There were two rather large fellas seated at the next table. Judo, I’d guess. Then I gradually became aware of others seated around the room. The risk managers must have been busy managing risk because the room was packed with tidy, trim bodies, not a pimple in sight. And it wasn’t just the students, either. I noted leather-patched elbows and the occasional necktie on what must have been instructors, and they were just as tidy and trim as the students.

And then a young fellow a few tables away stood up. I noticed his form, couldn’t help it really. A swimmer, without doubt. As he turned away from his table, he happened to glance at me, and as he did, he smiled, showing straight white teeth, pink cheeks, and, Oh, God, spare me please, dimples. I nearly swooned, dropping my spoon into my curry and knocking over my plastic water glass to spill all over my plastic tray. But despite all that, and just for a moment, the elephant flapped his Dumbo ears and gently floated off my shoulder. Now I know why the caged bird sings.

The curry was perfectly edible and nicely balanced with a small salad. The eye candy topped it off as a calorie-free, but completely satisfying, dessert. And all of this for around $4. Who says Japan is expensive? And what price can you put on a moment of freedom?

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What Price Freedom

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When I went to Bali last year, my travel buddy was Barry, a retired doctor and kindly gentleman, since we were the only singletons in the group. We got along well.

Fast forward a year and Barry and a couple of his friends are touring Japan. Barry asked us to join them for dinner. We did, and they were lovely people. We had a most enjoyable evening, but one part of our conversation really jolted me. I haven’t been able to shake that feeling.

They said that the travel company which had organized their tour had also put together twenty other such Japan tours because the demand for them had multiplied exponentially.

Why?

People are afraid of other places. Nobody feels safe going to Europe or Africa anymore. To be honest, they said, being in Japan was a relief because they live in Memphis, Tennessee, which is second only to Detroit for its gun violence. And I don’t mean the horrific psychosis that happened in Orlando. I mean day to day violence, bloodshed and murder, seemingly random, a specter that trails you every time you work up the nerve to leave your home. They said not an evening goes by when there isn’t a report of injury or death by gunshots on the news.

I had forgotten how common that type of news is in the States. On the other hand, I said laughing, just that same day the TV people had been reporting the discovery of a dismembered body in a pond not far from my house. Everyone stared at me, slightly aghast. “Oh, it’s not funny! Of course not. I’m laughing because it’s so strange. That kind of violence just doesn’t happen here.”

As all of them went on and on about how they’d fallen in love with Japan and couldn’t wait to come back, I inwardly rolled my eyes. But then I realized that I feel safe. All the time. I’m much more likely to be annoyed than threatened when I go out. I don’t lock my doors or windows. I’ve never even been groped. It suddenly dawned on me how complacent I’ve become, how I take for granted that nobody is going to shoot me for my political views or the contents of my wallet or just for looking at them sideways. I can move through my life with the comfort of not ever thinking about where I can or cannot go or what I can or cannot do.

Yes, Japan is wonderful, but it’s certainly no Shangri-la.

Or is it? Sure, it’s expensive, but what price can you put on freedom?

Two Years, Baby

It was exactly two years ago today that the last wisp of smoke sailed past my lips and snaked its poisonous path down my throat and into my undeserving lungs. Two years since I finally admitted what a dope I was being. Two years since I found the wisdom to forgive myself and start to move on.

The path to recovery has been long and difficult. Maybe the hardest part, but also the most fulfilling, was discovering that I wasn’t giving anything up. Instead I was finally earning my freedom, taking control of my life, finding strength I wasn’t sure I had.

Now the Nicodemon only rarely appears. When he does I quickly toss a muddy boot at his evil head. I can get through my work without getting twitchy. I wash my hair less often. Food is starting to taste better. I walk past designated smoking areas and see lost souls hunched over filthy ashtrays and almost feel sorry for them.

At long last, I am no longer a smoker who isn’t smoking. I am a non-smoker. I am free.

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One Year Smoke Free

key dateMy Korean Air flight from Seoul was about to land at Denpasar in Bali when the clock ticked over to midnight and April 19 began, and thus I achieved my one year of smobriety. (The term “smobriety” is one of many helpful tools hopeful quitters will find on About.com’s smoking cessation forum. I’ve never been a bumper sticker kind of person, but quitting is hard, and sharing it with others helps a lot. If you’re ready to try, that’s good place to start.)

So we had done it. After a lifetime of poisoning ourselves, one year had passed without me inhaling a single puff of expensive, stinky, life destroying tobacco. According to the forum, only 7% of quitters make it through the first year, so I figure that’s something to be pretty proud of. (See what I did there? That’s called an “understatement”.)

I could go into all the stages of pain it cost but instead I will share two pearls of wisdom I learned the hard way that might help people who want to quit.

Pearl 1: I used to get annoyed at people who referred to smoking as a “dirty habit”. As a smoker, it doesn’t seem all that dirty, but for months after quitting, I would sometimes grab a sweater I hadn’t worn in a long time, pull it over my head, gag, and toss it into the wash.

And habit? Nah. It’s an addiction. People who haven’t experienced addiction can’t begin to understand what it is. But then I quit and realized how right they were. The addiction is hard, but the habit is so much worse. Smoking becomes not just something you do; it becomes something you are. You spend all day every day thinking about when and where you can have your next smoke, and it only got worse as the world became more and more anti-smoking. Plus, no matter what the world throws at you, your dear friend Mr Cigarette is always there, happy to provide a screen for you to hide behind. But take away that screen and the world is still what it is. The smoke doesn’t change anything. It all comes down to learning the difference between needing and wanting. Once the need is gone, the want can be dealt with.

Pearl 2: Denial. I used to say, “I like smoking. I know that I’ll never be able to quit because I like it.” That was complete and utter bullshit. I hated it, but to admit that I hated it was to admit that I’d been a smelly dope for longer than I could face. The longer I stayed quit, the more I realized there is absolutely nothing, not one good thing, about smoking. Even this: Smoking is a great excuse to go outside and get away from the people at work for a few minutes. But you know what? You can do that anyway, and people are a lot more sympathetic when you tell them you need a breath of fresh air than a lungful of poison.

So there it is. We did it, and as long as we don’t let ourselves romance the smoke, I think we can stay quit. Cheers and gratitude to all those who have been so supportive and special thanks to Rumiko for this, a happiness tree that symbolizes two burning cigarettes, yet costs only water and produces only oxygen.

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Just a thought….

I read somewhere that when you are born, perhaps just for the briefest of moments, you are the youngest person on the planet and therefore unique. At first that struck me as such a charming thought. But then I realized that birth is not something you choose. Instead, it is chosen for you, and you certainly can’t take any credit for it.

What really matters, what can make a difference, is whether or not you manage to find that uniqueness again, as your own choice, whether you choose to make that choice and follow through with it, whether you have the bravery to look within yourself and find your one unique thing and then find a way to share it, and let others share their uniqueness with you.

This is not something I’m good at. For too many years, my cancerous little friend was my best friend and constant companion. I do not miss him but I’m still learning how to live without him. I had no idea how strong his hold over me was.

Farewell and good riddance, my false-faced friend. In fact, not even farewell. I hope bad things happen to you. I hope it rains every day until the tomatoes in your garden are nothing but bug-infested mush. I hope all of your toenails become ingrown. I hope all four tires on your car go flat and you slam into a concrete wall and your airbags don’t inflate. I hope they create some new bad things to happen to you that have never happened to anyone before.

That could be your shot at uniqueness. Enjoy.