Emotional Roller Coaster #NotWhatIExpected

I had a heck of a week the past seven days. Monday brain MRI. Tuesday meet with neurosurgeon. Then, met with veterinarian cardiologist for Zeke. I went from worried to relieved to worried to wow, all that in less than one week. The aftermath of emotions was in all directions, and yet I am completely at peace with everything.

wordcloud-lb

Tumor not growing, so why cut in to my skull, right? Neurosurgeon pointed out that I am not experiencing debilitating symptoms such as paralysis, so why do surgery? I replied because I am worried about affordable health insurance in the future. That is a lousy reason to elect to have brain surgery, isn’t it? But the bottom line is that I should not have worry about the future. The decision to put off a serious surgery brought me right back to reality with a heavy sigh of relief.

Which leads to the next dilemma. I now get to live with an uncommon and yet benign tumor in my head. What do I do about that?  It’s so unsettling, but as much as I am relieved, I am let down because I was all prepared to have the procedure. That was the beginning of the roller coaster. It took a few days to sink in my thick, stubborn skull.

I’ll tell you what I am going to do: I will reach out for that silver lining and take heart that it this not cancer. What I have learned about my life challenges is that I must look at the positive aspects of each and every situation. To get past feeling sorry for myself, I take the time to look at what is happening in my life, and sooner or later the lesson comes to light.

It’s not cancer. They are not going to drill my skull. It’s not cancer.

Besides, just last week I wrote that my diagnosis would not define me. To be honest,  my plan is to open that door of relief and going on with my life. I am considering running for a local office position in the city I live in. (Should I?) Oh, and also with the bucket list for Zeke. Happy trails, folks!

#lifelesson #nosurgery #healthmatters #behappy

Your Attitude is What Should Define You #BePositive

I have a second brain MRI today, and I am a bit nervous about learning the results. Well, I need to know what is going on, I need to make decisions, I need to move on. I want this damn tumor out of my head. It’s benign. That is what gets me over the anxiety.

attitude-defines-you

As I walked with my dog Sunday, I thought about my breast cancer diagnosis and how my life changed after that. What was important no longer took center stage. What was not as important was front and center. My priorities changed as I realized how much of life I was missing because I forgot about the simple things.

So, after my treatment 21 years ago, I became an advocate, got involved in breast cancer groups, was on the board of directors for Expedition Inspiration Fund, even went to a cancer science class so that I could lobby in Washington D.C. for cancer research dollars. I told friends back then that breast cancer did not intimidate me, but rather it inspired me.

On my Sunday walk, I thought about whether or not life a threatening illness or rare diagnosis can define a person. It’s all you think about, all you worry about, all you research, all you talk about. Then, you have surgery, you go through treatment or therapy, and years down the road you are not so preoccupied.

For me, becoming an advocate gave me the inspiration to do something about breast cancer. Becoming an advocate gave me purpose to focus on non-profits whose mission was only research in the hopes of finding a cure. We are still not at the cure point, but we sure are on the road to know a great deal more genetically about cancer. That is a very big deal in just 20 years.

I now have an acoustic neuroma, technically called a vestibular schwannoma. It’s in my inner ear canal behind the facial nerve and cochlear nerve. I can’t even describe how I felt when I saw it for the first time 6 months ago, on the big screen at the neurosurgeon’s office. I looked huge even though it’s probably the size of a walnut.

You know what? This is a benign tumor. It’s not cancer. This type of surgery has been refined by technology. And, I am not going to let this diagnosis define me. It is what it is. It’s brain surgery, and the best of the best are right here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s not cancer.

What will I do? I’m going to become a new advocate for acoustic neuromas. With the right attitude, healing is just around the corner. If you know me, you know I am a positive person. It’s how I live and how I will get through this. Most importantly, my attitude is how I heal in every life challenge that knocks on my door. Hello!

#acousticneuroma #advocacy #lifelesson #positiveattitude

The UnMeatloaf Muffin #TacoMuffinCups

I went through a very old, tattered file folder Saturday night that had printed recipes from a collection of 20 years. Now, I either save recipes to Pinterest or pdf the recipe I find online. I found Diner Meat Loaf Muffins from Cooking Light, and quickly realized that there is a reason I gave away my meat loaf pan a few years back. I really don’t like meatloaf. But I love tacos! So, I decided to adjust a few ingredients, add some ingredients and find out what happens. Yes, I am a risk taker, even in the kitchen. The result? YUMMY, they were great!

taoco-muffins

Ingredients
1.5 lbs lean ground beef
1 cup finely minced onion
½ cup finely minced carrot
1 small can diced green chiles
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
¼ cup Bella Luci sun dried julienne cut tomatoes, minced
¾ cup organic ketchup
¼ cup Tapatío sauce
1 cup finely chopped corn tortilla chips, I used Juanita’s
2 eggs
Combine the following dried herbs/seasonings:
1 teaspoon Gephardt’s chili powder
½ teaspoon organic oregano
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon sea salt & ground black pepper
Large muffin pan

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Coat muffin pan with canola cooking spray, set aside
  • Prep all ingredients as follows:
    • Dried herbs/seasonings as directed above
    • Combine organic ketchup and Tapatio sauce in small bowl, mix well
    • In batches, finely mince onions and carrots in food processor, set aside in medium bowl
    • Garlic cloves in garlic press, add to onion mixture
    • Finely chop tortilla chips in food processor
    • Finely chop sun dried tomatoes
  • Heat medium skillet with a teaspoon of olive oil, sauté onions, carrots, garlic for 2-3 minutes, add pinch of the spice mixture as you cook until soft but still crunchy. Cool as much as you can, 5-10 minutes, in that medium bowl
  • While vegetables cook, mix lean ground beef, finely chopped tortilla chips, sun dried tomatoes, diced green chiles, 2 eggs, and spice mixture well with your hands in large bowl. Add ¾ ketchup to meat mixture, blend well.
  • Add onion-carrot mixture and blend well with using your hands.
  • Spoon meat mixture in 6 large muffin pan Top each with remaining ketchup mixture.
  • Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until a meat thermometer registers 160°
  • Let stand for 5 minutes before removing from muffin pan

Day at Idaho State Capitol #ACSCAN

I missed posting yesterday morning because was busy! I joined dozens of volunteers at the Idaho State Capitol with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. We were present to talk to our State Representatives and Senators about making effective change on the lives affected by cancer. This all starts with volunteers on state levels, which is an important grassroots action.

lobby-day

To influence real change, you must take the time to speak, call, write your elected officials. We all know this, right? One of the action steps that I take annually is to participate with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACSCAN) on a lobby day in Boise. ACSCAN has a major impact on the state level and Washington D.C. with volunteers and staff that take the time to explain why certain bills are so important on each state level.

Here in Idaho, our main concerns were ACSCAN’s Millennium Fund Grant request for $194k to be set aside in the Governor’s budget. The funds would be used for evidence based interventions as well as best practices to increase breast and cervical cancer screening rates and decrease the rates of tobacco use. The funding would provide education and outreach for the Woman’s Health Check program. If awarded, the funds would also help low income women get breast and cervical cancer screenings, and treatment if needed. By detecting cancer earlier, we save lives.

Another issue we were supporting is a Medication Synchronization rule. Believe it or not, we have to ask for a rule that would allow multiple medications to be synced for one single pharmacy visit. This is a critical need for Idahoans living in rural areas. Next, we discussed Oral Chemotherapy Fairness. By tell our personal stories, we shared why cancer patients should have affordable access to effective prescribed chemotherapies regardless if the drug is intravenous or pill form. For many patients, this is a problem due to insurance companies denying the physician’s prescribed order. 42 other states have enacted this. It’s time that Idaho gets on board.

If you want changes in how we live as cancer patients and survivors or caregivers of relatives with a cancer diagnosis, we must speak out. Get involved!

#ACSCAN #cancer #cancerissues #LobbyDay #community #healthcare

It Occurred to Me That I Forgot, But So Did Others #PastIsPast

I realized last week that my siblings and I did not acknowledge our parent’s anniversary. Which is my crowning boast because I always tell people that I am a honeymoon baby, 9 months and 5 days later. Yes, I have something to brag about!

Kidding aside, I have come to accept that after 11 years since their passing, we now hold our memories to ourselves and our hearts. There is not a day or week that goes by when I think about them, talk to them, or smile about something that reminds me of them.

think-first-be-mindful

Which brings me to the point of my post. Things, events, occurrences, breakups, meetups, trials, tribulations. These are in our past, but often we tend to hold on to the events and that can harm our hearts, literally health-wise and figuratively mind-wise.

I learned an odd lesson Sunday afternoon after I had commented on a Facebook thread. The next thing I knew I was being attacked and called names. The written form of verbal abuse. Well, guess what? I am not going to allow that behavior in my life. And, yet, I had to let it go.

I learned that the only way to move past the hate is to move past my reaction first. I replied with facts, concise, and politely. No name calling. It is truly sad how angry America is right now. But if a person can be steady then hopefully the other person can learn.

Getting back to my parents, I can tell you that their death pushed me into learning more about myself than I thought I needed, let alone possible. I still remind myself to count to ten before I respond. Sometimes no response is better. It just depends.

Think first, be mindful.

That phrase is one of my daily affirmations. Here is another one:

It’s better to be kind than to be right.

Amen to that.

#lifelesson #communication #

I Have Something To Tell You #INeedMyACA #SaveHealthcare

Well, it’s official. I am afraid, I am nervous, I am scared about the fact that the GOP in Washington DC is fast tracking repealing the Affordable Care Act, ACA, Obamacare. Take your pick of term, but for me, it means so much more.

Twenty-two years ago I when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was fortunate to have an employer that provided my health insurance. When the insurance rates began to increase 17-20% per year and the economic downturn hit America, I unfortunately had to drop my coverage. By the time my business recovered from the recession, health insurance had become truly unaffordable. And, most insurance companies would not cover me due to my pre-existing conditions. You see, they made me feel worthless because I had breast cancer.

'We're playing 'healthcare'. Timmy's trying to Repeal it.'
‘We’re playing ‘healthcare’. Timmy’s trying to Repeal it.’

For years, I paid for my office visits. Being a cancer survivor, I should have had a colonoscopy when I turned 50, but the price tag for that procedure was unattainable at that time. I had to wait another ten years for affordable health insurance to finally have it done. I am grateful to God that it was a routine exam with no issues.

I am also grateful that I have a new primary care physician that treats me like a person patient, not a patient on the clock. If there is one thing Paul taught me, he made sure I understood the value of an independent doctor or practice. I really wish he was alive today because I could really use his shoulder to cry on.

I have what would be considered a pre-existing condition prior to the introduction of the ACA. Besides finally getting around to that colonoscopy last summer, I had a hearing test. I was tired of asking friends to repeat what they said.

I have not told very many friends, but here goes. I have tinnitus in my left ear, so who doesn’t have ringing in their ears, right? In August 2016, I clicked on an ad for a hearing aid and the next thing I know, I am having a brain MRI.

It was discovered that I have benign tumor in my inner ear canal and the size is considered too large to radiate, but considered a moderate sized tumor. Sooner or later, it will need to come out. Surgery is the only way to remove it and that means brain surgery. Yes, brain surgery.

I have been experiencing headaches for the past two months. I don’t know if it is from the tumor or simply stress. Either way, I am devastated that I now have an additional issue to worry about. It’s just not fair. Now all the news coverage is about the ACA repeal. I finally have health insurance that works and it is now in jeopardy.

The GOP is rapidly aiming to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. I am frightened, I am stressed out, I have anxiety all because of my recent diagnosis. I want to be able to cover my expenses when I can have the surgery: living, deductible, out of pocket. I want to be financially responsible for this procedure. At the same time my life is up in the air, my business has been sporadic post-election.

aca-1

I will be vocal to my elected representatives in Washington DC about giving a great deal of thought to the people back home in Idaho. I need you all – my family, my friends, my colleagues – to really be loud for me, for the rest of the nation that will be devastated by a fast tracked repeal.

Please call your federal level Senators and Congress folks! This is #Resistance #MAGAMyAss

What Am I Doing in 2017? #PlansBigPlans

Ever since New Year’s Day, I have been giving this 2017 year a great deal of thought. I am not going to grumble about 2016 because it was what it was. I have been taught through my Buddhist practice to focus on the present. I have been taught through my Christian upbringing to focus on the greater good. There is always right now and there is always a silver lining in life.

We just have to open our eyes a bit wider.

BeTheChange

The world will be gloom and doom if you allow that to take over your mind. I for one, will not. We can expand the way we see our world; after all there is always another route to take,

So, this is what I am going to do:

I am going to try my best to present facts with backup. My responsibility as a citizen, as a member of my community is to try. I am not daunted. I will press on.

I am going to volunteer for something I have never done before. Why not? Why not go outside the box and challenge myself? Why not!

I am going to walk and hike further with my dog outdoors. Without my damn phone. Maybe with a camera, but no longer with a phone.

I am going to do more road trips, with friends. I can go alone, but why not take a friend or two? Why not have more company than just my sweet dog? How much of our country have you explored anyway? There is so much right outside state limits. I say no more limits.

I am going to be that shoulder to cry on or the ear to bend. No Facebook copy and paste about it. My friends know when I say I will do something that I will do just that.

I am going to find love again. There, I said it out loud.

Happy New Year everyone!

#lifelesson #2017goals #bethechange #makeitso #community #truth #MAGAMyAss

Is It a New Day or a New Year? #OneDayAtATime

I am sitting here tonight trying to write, not sure of my feelings. It is New Year’s Eve.

2016 was one heck of a year, wasn’t it?

positive-mind-vibes-life

For me, 2016 was my family shuffling, all of us in a good direction. Thank you, God. Friends and others struggling, changing, withdrawing. Thank you again God for the life lessons because change is just that, always a lesson.

Then there were the outside influences in our daily lives that also transformed the world and left behind questions. So many unanswered questions, and yet, the circle of life goes on.

A highly contested election cycle that satisfied only half America, the other half of America is disappointed to fearful. Community and nation at odds. Global good and yet global fear. Those we love are aging or falling prey to that cancer we so firmly fight against.

Those who passed away in 2016, there were the icons we grew up with that shaped our childhoods. Leaders that we looked up to. Scientists we learned from. Spiritual leaders that broadened our horizons and gave us the light to a new path.

So much. And yet, it is not lost. Not at all.

A friend told me this years ago: Stains on clothes are memories. {Indeed}

Another quote: We never stop learning. {Why, yes!}

On New Year’s Eve I reflected on what I seemingly lost and yet what I did learn this past year. We may long for things as they were, but adjustments need to be made even in our daily lives. We must adapt to move on, to learn, to survive.

My challenge to you is not to change the world, but rather change your environment. What are you going to do to make your life better, your community more cohesive, your environment more sustainable? How are you going to make a difference?

How are you going to shape 2017 by your positive actions? What are you going to do?

#NewYear2017 #BeTheChange #MakeItBetter

What Christmas Means to Me #MerryChristmas

I am going to be nostalgic today. What the heck. Merry Christmas. Oh, and Happy Holidays, too.

merrychristmas

Ever since childhood, Christmas was one heck of a holiday in the Barrera household. As kids, the trees always looked spectacular and they probably were. Our Mom would try all the trends. Green trees, white trees, silver trees. Multi colored ornaments, same color ornaments on the tree, tinsel, one of those light contraptions that changed colors on the tree, my personal favorite I might add.

Then there were the zillions of wrapped boxes. Okay, maybe a few dozen but as a kid, the wrapped presents looked like a mountain of surprises. Our family did not have a great deal of money but we did have a great deal of love and laughter.

One thing we also had growing up in a Latin household with the deep Catholic influence. The four of us kids went to parochial school all the way through 12th grade. I wasn’t particularly fond of school experience and yet now that I look back, I am very grateful our parents sacrificed so much to give us a better education. I can say that my siblings and I grew up with morals and values that are the framework for the adults we are today.

Having God in our home was fun, believe it or not. If you knew my Dad, you would know that us kids more or less grew up with a stand-up comic at heart. Our Mom on the other hand, was our rock. Yeah, we said our prayers but as we all aged and became young adults, even our parents changed with the times. God and our spirituality grew as we evolved. With that sense of humor.

For our family, God was always and will always be a part of our individual framework. So, Christmas time wasn’t just the presents, it was the season to reflect on why we were grateful. The family gatherings, the family meals, the family events. We laughed our way through Christmas.

We were so grateful! (We are still grateful, fyi) For a loving family and household. For parents that, despite their mistakes, loved us deeply. For my siblings that to this day we are all still very close. For the modest homes our parents made sure we had to live in, as small as they were. For so many other little things that were a big deal to us. It was the little things and the laughter. It was all about gratitude.

That is what Christmas means to me. Gratitude.

This Christmas I am deeply grateful for who I am thanks to my parents and siblings. I am grateful for my close friends who are my extended family. I am grateful for so very much. Thank you, God.

#ThankYou #grateful #gratitude #lifelesson #Christmas

Holiday Music in the Background #ChristmasGiftParade

Lately, at the end of the day I am wiped out. Keeping up with my real estate business, making sure my dog, Zeke, gets his two miles per day in. Oh, wait, maybe that’s for me, too! So, in rolls the holidays. Steady stream of holiday parties, meetings, events, and so forth.

Living in Boise with a more temperate climate I have been able to expand my garden skills. I have two 4×8 raised garden boxes and one 4×4 for only herbs. I have already decided that I am going to have two more 4×8 boxes made for my garden next year. More tomatoes, more lemon cucumbers, more squash. I am not sure what else I will make, but I know there will be some new vegetables that I will just have to try! And, from my garden many gifts are created.

Ever since I moved to Idaho in 1984, I have strived to make sure my gifts were homemade or handmade by yours truly or at least made in Idaho. Oh, the things I sewed or knitted or dreamed up!

gardenherbsalt

One recipe I found online that I particularly like is a Garden Herb Salt. It was rosemary, sage and thyme. Well, this year I planted oregano and if you know oregano, you know it is prolific. With that in mind, I played with the recipe a bit since I am not big on salt. Sharing with you today!

Garden Herb Salt

4-5 cups of fresh herbs: rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano
½ cup kosher salt
8 cloves of garlic

Now, you can proceed here two different ways. You can de-stem all the herbs. Chop the herbs together, side aside. Chop the kosher salt with the garlic. Mix together and spread on a baking sheet. Set oven temperature to no more than 200 degrees and dry out herb mixture for 30 minutes. Let cool completely and pulse in food processor until fine.

Or! Yes, there is another easier way that I discovered by accident!

I harvested the last of my garden herbs and placed them all in a grocery sized brown paper bag. I thought, I will get to it tomorrow night. That went on for a little over a week. When I finally found the time to do the de-stem process, all the herbs were dry. Perfect! You cannot believe how much easier it was to destem! I pressed the garlic and mixed with the salt. Baked it at 200 degrees for about 15 minutes. Let that cool and pulse with the dried herbs until fine in a food processor.

#gardenherbsalt #gifts #recipes