24 Things I Learned From My Cats

I’ve often been mistaken solely as a cat lady.

Although I am a feline enthusiast, it’s important to note that my first love was our childhood dog, a gentle Newfoundland named Cabot.

I have cherished and learned from ALL of my animal friends. Dear Cabot was the first. Then came seven cats: three “dog-in-a-cat suit” types and four of the more classic feline personalities.

catreport

I’ve been a fan for a long time now – check out the date!

Since I’ve spent more of my timeline with cats, I have amassed more first-hand observational data of them. My early teachings from sweet Cabot will come in a future post.

We’re all conscious beings. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have my consciousness interacting with the consciousness of another species on a daily basis for most of my life.

We have learned to communicate, have and show affection for one another. They have been healing sources of comfort and laughter during many difficult times. They’ve filled my heart with love and they’ve broken my heart open with each passing, teaching me how to grieve.

I’ve had the blessing of witnessing the seemingly infinite and entertaining energy of kitten hood, the strong and confident middle years, the slowed down senior day-to-day experience, the providing of palliative cat care and the honor of being with them during the final, painful goodbye.

Listed below are some pearls of kitty wisdom, courtesy of Lucky, Frisky, Zoe, Zeus, Xena and our current adventures with “The Hooligans” – Ginger and Diesel.

Embrace a tip (or two) from these confident beings and reclaim some of your personal power today:

  1. Good sleep habits can lead to a long and happy life.
  2. Engage in daily play.
  3. Pay attention to your surroundings. It’s critical to know what’s going on in your own backyard.
  4. Having “Just a little more catnip (fill in the blank with human stimulant equivalent)” typically doesn’t end so well.
  5. Savasana is awesome. Savasana outside on the grass in the summertime is DIVINE!
  6. You’re never too full to have one more shrimp.
  7. Appreciate beauty. Cats embody beauty in stillness and motion. Carry yourself like the masterpiece you are.
  8. Embrace curiosity. C’mon, it won’t kill you.
  9. Customize the boxes in your life. When necessary, break through the sides!
  10. On those days when you feel like tearing someone’s head off, stay inside.
  11. Set and reinforce personal boundaries without guilt.
  12. To purr is to soothe. Purr loudly!
  13. Never underestimate the power of a good hair day.
  14. Flexibility is just as important as strength.
  15. Self-grooming is important. Stay on top of things.
  16. Be in harmony with the moment in front of you more often. Especially in nature.
  17. Don’t waste time worrying about what others think of you.
  18. Find a perfect hiding spot. Don’t tell anyone.
  19. Actively engage in rest to recoup your energy.
  20. When you are being ignored or need to stand your ground, be vocal.
  21. Immediately follow waking with a good, long stretch.
  22. If you fall or get knocked down, shake it off and climb right back up.
  23. Be picky about who gets to rub your belly.
  24. Trim your nails regularly.

What bits of wisdom have you learned from your animal friends?

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Next Up: Chakras & Chanting

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

Geri Ann Higgins, owner of Fully Present, is a Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Yoga4Cancer Teacher, Reiki Master, Tarot coach and Marketing & Communications professional. Learn more at www.FullyPresentWithYou.com

Books

Since 1982, I have reread one particular book about every ten years. Can you guess which one?

Hints: A scarf and “not a hat”

Answer at bottom!

My nightstand is home to a variety of half-read books. The topic I select depends on my mood. Sometimes I engage in “appetizer sampling” and sometimes I dig into one delicious main course. Fellow bookworms understand when I say that “The End” just means “The Beginning” for yet another book to be discovered and devoured.

Somanybooks

So many books, so little time…

I’m a traditional hard copy, paper book gal. There’s something about the familiar form and weight of holding a physical book in my hands, mindfully dog-earing the pages and having the progressive visual of how close I am to completion. There are some books I love to revisit, some I wish could go on forever and some I just want to bring across the finish line and donate to the local Goodwill.

I read voraciously after my diagnosis. Most of it was online and much of it was conflicting information. Part of the reason was because I was searching with incomplete information. There were some facts I wouldn’t learn until after the surgery.

What helped: My surgical recovery phase allowed me to do a deep dive and COMPLETE multiple books. Some were gifted to me and some recommended as useful by others touched by cancer. I benefited from the specialized advice, nourishing recipes, traditional and non-traditional approaches, real patient stories and multiple research findings. Favorites included:

  • The Cancer Revolution by Dr. Leigh Erin Connealy
    • I liked the comprehensive nature of different approaches and their descriptions, plus the eating plans, recipe section, glossary and extensive footnotes.
  • The China Study Cookbook by LeAnne Campbell
    • I enjoyed the wide assortment of plant-based recipes and nutritional information.
  • How Healing Works by Wayne Jonas, MD
    • I loved the history he shared, how to heal with your environment and real-life patient stories.
  • It’s Not About the Hair: And Other Certainties of Life & Cancer by Debra Jarvis
    • I appreciated her humor, candor and openness in sharing her group emails and lessons learned along the way.
  • WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink
    • This was not cancer-specific, however, it was extremely valuable to me as my return to work approached. I was still very tired, but this book offered strategies to better harness my natural energy phases. You can check out the book’s core message and the power of a “Nappuccino,” HERE.

      morefriends

      More old friends…

What I wish I knew at the time: Audiobooks! Of course I knew about audiobooks, but I’d never actually listened to any. They would have been a convenient delivery system of informational resources on my work commute in the first weeks after diagnosis.

Some things to try:

  • Check out one of the books listed above, if appropriate for you or someone you care about.
  • The next time you fly, use it as an opportunity to finish at least one book. Watch how it transforms the early arrivals, unexpected flight delays and long layovers into a more positive and satisfying experience. Pick one you’ve been wanting to sink your teeth into – you know the one. It elicits the “Just two more pages…” response.
  • When it makes sense, layer! Since my brother and his family got me a six-month membership, I’ve become a big fan of the audiobook. I recently heard Tony Robbins use the term, NET: No Extra Time. He was talking about time management strategies. Life is busier than ever these days, so listening to an audiobook is an example of utilizing time that you’re already engaged in doing something (driving, working out, cooking, cleaning) and layering on some learning that can benefit you (and possibly reduce some stress, depending on the topic!) without taking up any extra time.
  • Block time for down time. Although books and audiobooks are enriching in so many ways, it’s important to schedule regular doses of “white space” or “waking rest” into each day. This relaxing, agenda-free “down time” allows your brain to better process the multitude of learnings and experiences, increase the flow of creative insights and productivity and restore and relax your nervous system.

Answer to Intro Question: It is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry! I first read this on my 7th grade school bus (no talking was allowed that year, so plenty of time to read). It profoundly affected me. I stumbled upon it again after college and understood even deeper aspects of the story after a decade of life experiences. Since then, I commit to rediscovering it (and myself!) as I welcome in each new decade.

Which book do you reread and why? List in the comment section below.

Next Up: Cats!

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

Geri Ann Higgins, owner of Fully Present, is a Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Yoga4Cancer Teacher, Reiki Master, Tarot coach and Marketing & Communications professional. Learn more at http://www.FullyPresentwithYou.com.

Birdwatching

The songbirds were more vocal, bringing literal “cheer, cheer, cheer…” with the warmer weather. Vermont has to go through sticks, dead leaves and lots of mud to get to spring, but at least our fine feathered friends signal when we are heading in the right direction.

I had taken the day off. With my surgery the next morning, I wanted to tie up loose ends in order to feel grounded and centered by nightfall. Mom and I planned to spend the morning decluttering closets and the afternoon shopping for button-down and zip-up tops. It was recommended that I wear them during recovery, since I wouldn’t be able to get my arms overhead for a while.

As we stepped into my car, I heard the distinct, “Birdie, Birdie, Birdie” call of a male cardinal right above my head. I’ve always loved cardinals. I looked up and said to my mother, “That’s a good sign.” She agreed. We humans are meaning-making beings and I was taking in all the positive signs I could get.

The next morning, he greeted us again. I told my family that he was “cheer-ing me on” as we headed to the hospital. Hey, doses of humor are helpful.

A while later, I arrived in the pre-op bay. I put on my hospital johnny and socks and got onto the bed. On the wall to the right of me was a framed picture of a male cardinal. Was he following me?

The day after surgery, I went downstairs to my living room. I had turned this into my

cardinalfriend

View from my rocker: Mr. Cardinal perching

downstairs “sanctuary space” where I could meditate, read, journal, relax and visit with friends and family.

I sat in my rocking chair (read why rocking is so good for you HERE!) and in less than a minute a male cardinal flew onto the holly bush directly in front of me. I let out a little laugh and smiled. I spent a few moments admiring his beauty until my two indoor cats came into the room. Within moments of their arrival, they headed straight to the window to let out their own unique chirps and chattering.

As days moved into weeks, I enjoyed seeing (and hearing) more birds arriving with the warmer weather. In addition to the cardinals, there were chickadees, yellow-rumped warblers, pine warblers, evening grosbeaks and many more. Buds and blossoms were bursting into being. The season of renewal and new beginnings perfectly aligned with my healing.

In the mornings, the dawn chorus would temporarily wake me, signifying another day

dieselbywindow

Diesel wondering where his scarlet friend went…

had arrived. For the first couple of weeks, I’d drowsily listen and then fall fast back to sleep.

I began walking right away, as per my surgeon’s instructions. I alternated stillness and movement to harmonize optimal healing. Short walks turned into longer jaunts. Hills were added. The birds graced me with their musical serenades, aerial acrobatics and architectural creativity.

I once heard that the most important thing we have in common with all of the creatures of Earth is our breath. We are all breathing right now. We are Life. Try and be a little more present in yours today. I know that I certainly will.

What helped: Watching birds through the window and on my walks. Listening to the dawn chorus and giving thanks for the new day ahead (before falling back asleep!).

What I wish I had at the time: If I had a bird book or guide, I would have been able to identify even more of my visitors. 

Some things you can do or think about right now:

  • Set an “early bird” intention. The next time you wake to the dawn chorus, ask yourself how you are going to choose to move through this new day. If you want to go back to sleep right afterwards, that’s fine, but set an intention. What will you add to make the day ahead better? What will you remove?
  • It’s a busy world. Take time out to be still. Listen to the peepers, crickets, birds and squirrels. Taste the wind and feel the sun’s warmth on your face. Notice and appreciate the different types of beauty in your environment. Remember the movie (but real life!) wisdom of Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
  • Be curious about what’s going on in your own backyard. Who’s visiting? Who are the day trippers and who are the night owls? What are they doing? Why are they doing it? Can you aid them in any way? Click HERE to learn about bird-friendly native plants in your area.
  • Go outside and benefit from the pleasing and stress-reducing effect of nature’s fractals. Really take in what surrounds you through sitting still in your backyard or moving on a mindful walk or jog.
  • Road trip! Visit a local Audubon Center or nature center and learn more about our high flying friends. Here are some educational events (nature walks and workshops) in Vermont.

Next Up: Books

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

Geri Ann Higgins, owner of Fully Present, is a Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Yoga4Cancer Teacher, Reiki Master, Tarot coach and Marketing & Communications professional. Learn more at http://www.FullyPresentwithYou.com.

 

Biopsy & Breast MRI

Modesty goes out the door as you begin the diagnostic phase.

Top on, top off, top on, top off.

funbeads

FUN!

It was like trying to get beads during Mardi Gras, but, obviously, way less fun.

Instead of beads, you get pink gel ice packs.

Biopsy: The core needle biopsy determines if what appeared on your breast imaging is benign or malignant. It also determines type and grade of tumors.

I had no clue what to expect with the biopsy. Yes, I got the brochure. Yes, I read it. No, I still didn’t comprehend how it would feel or how I would feel, emotionally and physically. Thankfully, I had great support from the entire team. A couple of them were focused on going from one room to the other to ensure exact location of tissue extraction, and another told me that her main focus was on supporting me.

The tissue sample removals were not painful, as they had numbed the area.

gel packs

Not fun… but, definitely comforting and cooling. :)

Unfortunately for me, I had to have more taken than normal due to a large area of suspicious tissue. Most people have much less taken and move through the whole process smoothly and uneventfully.

After a while, I started to get dizzy, clammy and nauseous. I was calmly instructed to tighten my abdomen, legs and arms. This tightening technique quickly helped reorient me to successfully finish. I have had this type of reaction over the years with difficult blood draws (small veins, ugh!), so as I was leaving, I asked the people in the room what happened. Someone explained that I was basically having a vasovagal response (beginning to feel faint).

Every patient is unique. I later learned that what I experienced was quite rare. But, it made me curious to learn more about the simple tightening technique and if it could help me in future situations.

What helped: Most importantly, the team-approached care, knowledge and calm demeanor were reassuring and healing.

Also, since the tightening was so helpful, I went and looked it up afterwards (described further below).

What I wish I knew at the time: The simple tightening technique. Apparently, my physical reaction is not a common one. However, I’m actually glad it happened again that day, because I learned first-hand how to stop it/slow it ahead of time. I had never been given that information during the previous experiences, so I’m actually grateful! I have since used the tightening ahead of and during some situations. Most notably throughout my extensive pre-surgery prep and return blood draws.

Something to try:

  • The tightening technique! Practice simultaneously crossing your legs, tightening your arms, bringing your navel in towards your spine and clenching your rectal muscles. Hands can also be in fists. Try this a few times. Another approach is to lie back and stick your legs up in the air. Click HERE to read more about why this technique works. When you are in a stressful situation, try this to slow down/counteract the fear reaction. You may not ever need it, but it certainly won’t hurt you to know about it. Find more examples of techniques HERE.

Breast MRI: The Breast MRI provides better “intel” for the breast surgeon, so there are no surprises on the day of surgery.

What helped: On my way to the Breast MRI, I received a text from a friend (a breast cancer survivor) recommending PADDING, all in caps. I didn’t understand, so she clarified, “Each boob hangs, so padding for your sternum is helpful. I also could have used some under each hip. You feel okay at first, but 45 minutes is a long time on that machine.” She was spot on.

What I wish I knew at the time: The technologists are not allowed to tell you anything they either see or don’t see. I was trying to “read” her face/reaction/between the lines and I really shouldn’t have. Your provider is the only one who shares the results with you.

Some things you can do or think about right now:

  • Ask for an IV nurse, if you have small veins or a history of difficult needle insertions.
  • Find a hydration balance (enough to help with vein plumping, but not too much where you’ll have to go to the bathroom during the MRI)
  • Ask for extra padding for your sternum and hip areas
  • Guided meditation (Radiology may have this available for you to listen to beforehand)
  • Fearful of being in a tight space? Focus on making your exhale longer than your inhale. The longer exhale relaxes your nervous system.

 Next Up: Birdwatching

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

Geri Ann Higgins, owner of Fully Present, is a Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Yoga4Cancer Teacher, Reiki Master, Tarot coach and Marketing & Communications professional. Learn more at www.FullyPresentWithYou.com.

Arnica Gel & Additional Jottings

For three days after my surgery, the hematoma above the surgical site hadn’t budged. It actually seemed to be slightly bigger. My husband joked that my boob was growing back. Although his comment brought a genuine laugh, by the time I went online at 2 A.M., it was no longer funny. I read references to blood clots, stagnant blood being a breeding ground for additional cancers, and more!

I counted the hours until my surgeon’s office opened. I had remembered using arnica gel years ago and asked her about giving it a whirl. She listened to my fears and worries, suggested patience (ha!) and since I wasn’t pregnant (ahh, nope...), said she was fine with my using it topically, as long as I didn’t put it on any broken skin.

puck

I’m a hockey fan, but come on now…

What helped: Arnica gel! In less than 24 hours the “hockey puck” had a sunken hole in the middle. Within days, it had practically disappeared. It also swiftly cleared the big bruise on my hand from the IV insertion.

What I wish I knew at the time: If I started using topical arnica gel right after surgery, I could have seen progress earlier and avoided the panicked reaction. Yet again, I implore you: DO NOT GO ONLINE AT 2 A.M.!

A couple of things you can do or think about right now:

arnicagel

A little dab’ll do ya!

  • Read about the healing aspects of topical arnica gel. It’s been around as a medicinal plant since the Middle Ages, so there’s a lot out there. You can find some good history here.
  • Consider getting a tube. If you don’t have arnica gel in your medicine cabinet, think about adding it for those unexpected bumps and bruises.
  • Remember: Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding, don’t ingest or put on open wounds and test out a small spot first to ensure you don’t have skin sensitivity. Always read cautions first, of course! It definitely helped me, however, and might help some of you.

Additional Jottings

  • Acupressure points – Acupressure points are great for relaxation, reducing nausea, helping with headaches and more. I like to tap or gently use my middle finger to circle the point on my sternum, which is for emotional well-being. You activate this through yoga’s prayer position (Anjali mudra) when you place your hands together and press the knuckles of your thumbs into your chest. It puts pressure on the thymus gland, which is known as the happiness point. Learn more about the benefits of acupressure here.
  • Acupuncture – I have been a longtime receiver of acupuncture for asthma flares and vertigo-related issues. I found a couple of sessions helpful post-surgery to reduce anxiety and re-balance my system. Acupuncture is now covered by many insurance plans to assist with the many side effects of cancer treatments, most especially chemotherapy-related. Here is a good article on the topic by Hartford HealthCare.
  • Ayurveda – Ayurveda translates to “The Science of Life” in Sanskrit. Its approach of balancing body, mind, spirit and well-being obviously has great appeal for me. I recently read a book by the well-known Ayurvedic physician Vasant Lad. If you’re curious about learning more, he has a lot of good information on his website. And, for those living in Vermont, you may be interested to learn that we have an Ayurvedic center right here in Williston!

Next Up: Biopsy & Breast MRI

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

Geri Ann Higgins, owner of Fully Present, is a Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Yoga4Cancer Teacher, Reiki Master, Tarot coach and Marketing & Communications professional. Learn more at www.FullyPresentWithYou.com.

Appointments

These field notes came out of my cancer experience. Some information is not cancer-exclusive, however, and may be useful for some of you. Try or share what resonates and discard the rest. More to come!

Your “Cancer Club” pass comes with a slew of fast-tracked appointments. The jarring diagnosis opens the floodgates to multiple specialists, techs and additional diagnostics. There is so much information coming at you chock-full of unfamiliar medical jargon and scary terminology punctuated by a strong and serious sense of urgency. Many times I would see the doctors’ mouths moving, but not comprehend what they were saying. I could only hear the voice in my head repeating, “You have cancer!”

What helped: Making a list of questions and bringing a friend and/or family member to the appointments with me. They also took notes and asked additional clarifying questions.

What I wish I knew at the time: How much better I would feel once I had a “plan”. Prior to developing one, I was filled with the fear of the unknown and felt rushed and scared. Portions of the plan were concrete and others more fluid. Just knowing one existed and was team-informed elevated my courage and confidence.

Some things you can do or think about right now:

Select and bring a special notebook or journal to appointments that keeps all your questions, answers, doodles and affirmations in one place.

journals

Journals galore! 

Take a moment. Before going in to your appointment, close your eyes and slow down your breathing. Think of how you want to feel during your appointment: Focused? Clear-headed? Informed? Strong? Secure? Decisive? What is the most important aspect of what you want to take away from this appointment?

Capture for later. Ask the provider if they are open to your recording the appointment (or portions of it).

Ask. Listen. Ask some more.

Write down how you feel physically and mentally in between appointments. Highlight or circle things you’re curious or worried about. Sometimes you forget something you wanted to bring up and only remember it once you’ve left! Having it in one place means you can easily flip back a few pages and capture that bit of information.

Embrace the power of the doodle! Doodling is proven to enhance focus. A lifelong doodler, I can attest to having a feeling of comfort and being less distracted while doing so.

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Write your notes in cursive for better retention – studies show cursive strengthens working memory and comprehension. Good things to have at your appointments!

Be clear. Prior to walking out the door, repeat the action steps/recommendations between this appointment and the next. Don’t feel funny asking for clarification if you’re still unsure about something. This is YOUR time. Get what you need.

Next Up: Arnica Gel & Additional Jottings

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

Geri Ann Higgins, owner of Fully Present, is a Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Yoga4Cancer Teacher, Reiki Master, Tarot coach and Marketing & Communications professional. Learn more at www.FullyPresentWithYou.com.

Anxious Moments

These field notes came out of my cancer experience. Some information is not cancer-exclusive, however, and may be useful for some of you. Try or share what resonates and discard the rest. More to come!

As someone with asthma, it was no surprise that anxiety was affecting my breathing. This was most strongly felt during the period between initial diagnosis and the long “hurry up and wait” period of additional testing. The pain and tightness in my chest sometimes made me think I was having a heart attack and I would often find myself gulping for air.mindspirals

What helped: Moving! Even just a fast walk down my work hallway took the edge off. More effective was moving outside in nature and tapping my sternum as I slowly inhaled, held for a number of beats, and slowly exhaled. Icing on the cake? Adding in a daily dose of full-spectrum tincture of cannabinoid (CBD) oil.

What I wish I knew at the time: Searching online at 2 A.M is not helpful. DON’T do it! I’d end up down a rabbit hole, which would result in an adrenaline spike, making me feel even worse.

I recently got into audiobooks. They could have been useful for educational purposes on my drive to and from appointments – or in the middle of the night.

Some things you can do or think about right now:

  • Think about a time when you were anxious and how you transformed/toned down or eliminated that feeling – what makes you feel safe? What makes you feel loved?
  • Aromatherapy – There are many studies about the role of lavender reducing stress and promoting relaxation. Try a spray, an oil or a roll-on and see how it can help. (Please be careful with using certain essential oils around your pets, however.)
  • Bang (or listen to) the Drum! There are many documented studies of the
    purrfectdrum

    My purrfect drum!

    health benefits of either playing or listening to the drums. I like this drum. It has a good sound and is fairly inexpensive. If you’d prefer to listen, go to YouTube, search for drumming and strap on a pair of headphones. My personal favorite is David & Steve Gordon’s Meditation Drum – It always relaxes and takes me away for a while.

  • Breathe in, breathe out – Check out these easy-to-follow breathing techniques. Some are relaxing and decrease stress and some increase energy and focus.
  • Consider learning more about cannabinoid (CBD) oil – there are capsules, edibles, salves and tinctures. I used a full-spectrum tincture under my tongue in the morning and before bed. Please note that if you have to get tested for work reasons, you’ll want to check on how CBD could affect results.
  • A mind spiral would begin and I’d clap my hands and say, “STOP!” I would always think of Cher’s character in Moonstruck after Nicholas Cage declares his love – “Snap out of it!”  Sometimes it worked!

Next Up: Appointments

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

Geri Ann Higgins, owner of Fully Present, is a Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Yoga4Cancer Teacher, Reiki Master, Tarot coach and Marketing & Communications professional. Learn more at www.FullyPresentWithYou.com.