Rose Colored Glasses

Heather Von St. James and I have both been accused of wearing rose-colored glasses. We are both optimists; others might call us fools. I think being fools might have saved our lives.

Ten years ago, I got an unexpected and distressing diagnosis: Barrett’s Esophagus, a pre-cancer condition caused by stomach acid eating away the lining of the esophagus. It is irreversible. Once you’ve got it, you can’t get rid of it. You can only slow the process of the cancer by diet and medication. I saw my doctor yearly for checks how the cells were behaving. Barrett’s is not an automatic death sentence, but I’d already had a friend die of cancer that originated in her esophagus, and I was scared. I didn’t dwell on it, though. I put on my rose-colored glasses, cleaned up my diet, and took my meds.

I usually only let myself dwell on the condition just before and after my yearly check up. If I told anyone about it, I got all twisted up in the telling, because there were other complications that made things worse, so I pretty much kept quiet about it, and kept those rose-colored glasses on. Three years in, I came out of the operating room and my doctor said “It’s gone.” I wasn’t sure I heard him right because I’m put under general anesthesia for the procedure, and when I come out of it, I’m stoned and miss a lot of information. My husband, Al, is always with me, so I looked at him. He was smiling.

“Gone? But I thought…”

“I know,” the doctor said “but it’s gone.”

Wave after wave of relief washed me clean of fear. This was a miracle. But it is nothing compared to the miracle Heather has experienced. Heather had just given birth to a baby girl, Lily, when she was diagnosed with mesothelioma, which is the cancer caused by asbestoes. Heather was really young to have this type of cancer, but her dad worked construction and she liked to wear his work coat, which was covered with the dust from his job. People with mesothelioma don’t usually live very long. Heather was given 15 months. But she refused to give up hope. She had a lung removed and to lighten the situation, her sister named Heather’s surgery date “Lung Leaving’ Day.” 


The original Lung Leaving’ Day was nine years ago. Every year since then, Heather and her family celebrate her wellness by writing their fears on plates and smashing them into a fire. Because even women who wear rose-colored glasses have to take them off sometimes. We fear a return of the disease. We wonder when our luck will run out. For Heather, smashing that fear into a fire with all of her loved ones around her is the way she keeps hope for a long and healthy life alive. She says “Don’t take a death sentence as a diagnosis.” Pretty rosy words for someone who’s been through cancer hell. But she’s lived to tell the tale, lived to see Lily grow, lived to start a foundation for research into mesothelioma.


And personally, I think Heather turning this thing around to make it about helping others is pretty awesome. It might be why she’s still here. It’s why tomorrow I’m going to write my own fears on a plate and throw them into a fire. And you can bet I’ll be wearing my rose-colored glasses.

Burning Regrets

IMG_1145Been feeling some regret lately and wanted to let it go. October was a tough month for me and really, September was only a little better. In those weeks, I had more bad days than good. Wrote 500 pages trying to understand myself and the emotional journey I found myself on, at age 59, when I’m supposed to be wise and know stuff and not have regrets because I know better than to do the things that I will regret.

So not true. And regret was one thing that hid itself, sly fox. I was depressed, I was sad, I was confused, I was stressed. But regrets? Hadn’t thought about those. Until a chance remark made by another person made me think: wow, I have so many regrets. I’m hanging on to them and they are dragging me down. Once I finally copped to the situation, it was time to get to work on burning those regrets. Literally.

Last night I wrote out about ten pages of regrets I had about hurting people, making bad choices, getting lost, you name it, I wrote it down. Something funny happened while I was writing. I started to realize that some of the things I regretted, in fact most of them, I would not change. Given the chance, I wouldn’t change much at all about my life and the way I’ve lived it. I learned so much by the mistakes I’ve made, I’m almost grateful for the suffering it brought.

I do regret hurting others. I can take it; I’m tough. I just wish I didn’t mow innocent others down sometimes in my single-minded determination to do something, big or small, I will later come to regret. But the person hurt most by my actions, I discovered in writing, was myself. There was nobody else to blame, and really, I didn’t want to blame myself anymore, either.

I had to change pens three times writing my little manifesto. Finally I wrote the last page in barely discernible ink. I didn’t want to get another pen. I was tired and my regret was fading just like the ink. Fitting and proper, I thought. So I went to bed, had a nightmare, woke up, and started a fire. I was careful, because I’ve done this particular cleansing ritual before, so I knew that a pot on the stove is not a good idea. Neither is a match on the sidewalk.

But I wanted those pages good and burned and gone forever. And with them my regrets. So I balanced my pizza stone on the kitchen sink, water at the ready, and flicked my bic. I cannot tell you how satisfying it was to watch all that baggage go up in smoke. I won’t be looking back, I finally am unstuck, and I’m moving forward in a healthy way. Still, sorry to anyone singed along the way. Sincerely.

Need to let something go? This works for more than regrets. It works for relationships. Burn a picture or a poem or special card. It works for humiliating situations, maybe fired from a job, maybe held up to ridicule or judgement for one thing or another. The incident doesn’t matter, what matters is that it is over except in your head. Get it out and on paper and then burn that sucker down.

The charred remains will satisfy you in an inexplicable way. Just make sure to douse the fire and maybe even soak the ashes and bits of stray paper before tossing them in the trash where they belong. Be safe, be happy, be renewed. Balance your books and forgive yourself. Of course I’m saying all of this to myself as well. Namaste.IMG_1148