Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Where to begin? I suppose, at the beginning.

It began in February of 2011 when, if you ever perused the very long bullet point About Me list, there is a mention of Miraval Resort in Tucson, Arizona. I'm sure there's a blog post about it, too but I never used labels when I began blogging. Truthfully, one side of my brain swore I would be a wildly successful blogger and the other (more realistic) side was convinced this endeavor would wind down and be left as cybertrash, parked in blogspot until Google decided to take down the inactive sites. There wasn't a need to use labels. Who the hell would be searching for old posts? Lesson learned. Take the extra five seconds to add a few words.

In 2013, I was invited to participate in, for lack of a better word, an event. To call it a conference makes no sense. A summit? Perhaps. But I'll let this post speak for itself. In 2013, the timing was wrong. There was so much crap swirling in my life, I was accepted and had to decline the invitation.

This year, I didn't submit the application. I had so much going on in July, I didn't even entertain the thought that I would be in any position to attend if my application was accepted. And then, it quieted down. Life, I mean. And in the quiet, I unraveled, had a full melt-down, and quickly muttered the obvious, "You are burning out, girl. Do something about that. STAT."

I reached out to BAG IT, the organization that is the genius behind the ESCAPE program to see if they were still accepting applications. As luck would have it, they were and mine was accepted. ESCAPE is, in addition to an opportunity to drop out and escape, an acronym. It's clever and it describes the program goals quite well.

Encouraging and Sustaining Cancer Advocacy Programs and Efforts

I was encouraged. I was challenged. I was sustained. And today, I am rejuvenated. Energized. The tank is filling up. Not full, but yes, it's filling up. With the take aways from my ESCAPE, including the practice of mindfulness, I hope to continue this forward progress. Self care, remembering the old adage about putting on my own mask first and remembering, too, that it's simply not possible to donate BOTH kidneys.

Too deep? I have notepads from every session and memories from every activity. When I can sort through the notes, I have some quotable and thought provoking observations of the things I heard and learned about emotional intelligence, collaboration and effective political advocacy. First, I have to finish organizing the mess I left behind and incorporate the new mess into the old.

I had a moment at Miraval that doesn't require notes. It's in pictures that I can share. Because I had very little time to plan my free time, I was sending an email to the resort from the runway where my flight was delayed. And that is how I signed up for one thing, thinking I was signing up for another. Are there any Oprah fans here? I thought I was signing up for a challenge highlighted on her show. I decided the zipline wasn't adventurous enough-did you read that about me page, my disappointment over the zipline is mentioned. I decided to step up my game. I would take a quantum leap. I thought I would be swinging, ala Oprah.

The evening before, I learned my leap was not that swing and I announced that I would be eliminating that particular activity from my schedule. Someone at the table was signed up for the same challenge. "I'm holding you accountable. You can't chicken out now." I went back to my room and found anything I could about this leap I would be taking at 6:30 the following morning. Dr. Google turned into Google Terror. In one article, it was mentioned this is the most difficult challenge available at Miraval. Yay me for doing my homework.

It started easy enough. I would climb a ladder, and then continue to the top of a pole.

For the record, that landing which looks quite close to the top of the ladder is nowhere near the top of the pole. This is what it looked like from the sidelines.

Take notice of the diameter of the red thing on top of the pole. It's all fun and games until someone tries to step on that red thing, which, for what it's worth wobbles and spins. I believe I asked for some power tools when I realized it wasn't secured to the top. But, that's part of the challenge.

And so I continued my climb. This would be a good place to insert a few raunchy jokes about poles but I kid you not when I say this is sacred ground.

Thanks to the information in my phone, I know it took about a minute for me to get from the ground to this point and then, I had to figure it out. We were a group of five. All of us asked for the trick. Each of us learned, there is no trick. There's only one way to do this and that's the way that's most comfortable for the person doing the climbing. We each had our own technique. In my case, I spent about 5 minutes trying to figure out how to get my feet on the top pegs.

And then, I did.

I summoned myself to use what I learned in yoga. Breathe. Just. Breathe. And for heaven's sake, even though I'm looking down, I was only looking at that disk and the position of my hands and my feet. I never glanced all the way down.

I started to stand.......

......And very quickly, came to the realization that I was not steady or balanced. This may have been the point when I announced to my team that I just wanted everyone to know that I was terrified. It was later pointed out to me that I was quite calm and matter of fact about stating I was terrified which, of course, made everyone laugh. "A terrified person doesn't speak like that." In any event, it was time to regroup and rethink my strategy. How the hell was I supposed to get both feet on that round, wobbly disk???

And suddenly,  I was in place.....

Slowly rising, knowing how I struggle with balance in many of my yoga sessions but on this morning, in the Arizona desert, I steadied myself.

Until I was standing tall. I stared out at the mountains. I saw the cypress trees in the distance. I recall mumbling something about how those trees reminded me of Italy. I marveled at the mountains, heard the birds chirping and my team on the ground, encouraging me. 

And the person with my phone, caught the leap in a slow motion video which is kinda cool to watch. I'm not really this brave, I don't like heights and leaping from a 35 foot pole wasn't really on my list of things to do. Until it was. In that Arizona desert.......

It was all very symbolic. Trusting the team on the ground to lower me safely. Understanding that in my life, rather than jump forward, my normal thing would be to simply retreat. To move backwards, to use the same damn path I traveled to get there, to climb down rather than leap forward.

And I suppose that is why I simply covered my face with my hands and began to cry. I just left something on that little red disk and catapulted myself forward. Where from here? I don't know. I just know it's not the same place I was when my foot gingerly stepped on the first rung of that ladder, just 15 minutes earlier.

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  1. Wow. All I can say is wow. You go, AnneMarie.

    1. Thanks, Claudia. The whole event had a huge WOW factor!!

  2. This made me cry. Ditto what Claudia wrote. As for me, I would have refused to climb the pole. You are amazing and I look forward to your next step in this adventure we call life. Love you, AM.

    1. Heather!! You might be surprised what your body will allow you to do when you disengage your brain, just a teeny bit. Truly was exhilarating. xo

  3. Replies
    1. Idelle--I miss you! I still look at the photos and wonder if that was really me. My yoga instructor was stunned. She knows I have balance issues which I swear are part of my cognitive fallout but 100% concentration and a million percent determination got me up and propelled me down.

  4. Miss you too, AnneMarie! About 10 years ago, just after my diagnosis, I did something similar with a California group called, "Healing Odyssey." I was tethered to a bungee cord (the other end of the cord was attached to a truck) and I literally walked a plank that hung over the top of a mountain where the instructor told me to jump and let go of fear. I was terrified the cord would snap but it held and I raised my arms like a bird. For a few seconds I literally flew over the earth. I'm glad I did it. Never want to do it again.

    1. "glad I did it. Never want to do it again." THAT made me laugh. Your "adventure" sounds a bit more scary than mine was. I'm ready to go back to Miraval and do every one of the challenges. Now that I learned the Leap is the most difficult, I figure I got the rest in the bag.

  5. Amazing! If it's in Arizona again next year, I'll try to meet you there. Hope to see you at one of these things soon!!! And I'm so glad your tank is being refilled.

    1. Thanks, Jen. I know.... we keep crossing paths, right after one of us was somewhere..

      It will happen!!

  6. Pretty powerful stuff. Your description took me there. It hit home, especially when you wrote: "my normal thing would be to simply retreat...." Because that would be my gut reaction too. I don't even think I'd climb that pole, well especially not now, because I have MS and now doing stairs too difficult (never mind ladders). Fun to read your description and imagine myself in the same place though. thanks.

    1. :) Thanks, Rita. I think I may have announced that to the people on the ground. "Can I just climb back down?" The thing is, you can't. If you can't reach the top, you simply let go and you are gently lowered to the ground. I suppose that's part of the lesson (if I'm going to get all deep!!) ... no more moving backward... and forward movement can be incremental, too. I'm glad you took a "virtual" trip with me!


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