What a weird start to the year I’ve had. We typically view January 1st as a clean slate, ripe for fresh beginnings. A time for resolutions and goal-setting. I’ve never been big on resolutions myself, because 1) people rarely stick with them 2) it’s a great way to set yourself up for failure and the accompanying guilt and shame of not doing good enough, not following though, not being your best self. We start the year full speed ahead and usually a couple of weeks in – that’s it. We miss the target. Fail. Fall off the wagon. Done. We suck. Life reverts back to its prior dull normalcy, with an extra dose of remorse.
A couple years ago I transitioned to ‘intentions’ – less severe, less strict, yet with a similar aim to get me on track with my personal goals. I knew I needed a gentler approach with more self-care in my life because getting upset with myself for not hitting weekly workout targets wouldn’t serve me. The problem was, I was fuzzy on my lofty goals and how to get there. So the intentions didn’t really serve me well either.
What I did do last year, however, was create a vision board. After a crazy stressful year and and noticeable downward shift in my health, I decided on a quiet New Year’s in the country, which I spent with lots of hot tea and cozy clothes and journals and books, trying to clear my head and my heart of that messy year and focus on what I really wanted for my future self. So I decided it was high time to try this vision boarding thing. I had heard about vision boards from various avenues, including from my career coach with whom I’d worked a couple years prior and since then it had come up numerous times. It made some sense to me, and I figured it could be a fun little creative project.
So I turned up my favorite tunes and industriously flipped through stacks of old magazines, cutting out images, words, and phrases that struck my soul and clung to my heart. I felt like I was back in grade school, meticulously cutting out the images, grouping them by theme, and ceremoniously placing them on my boards, just so. I cut out so many that I simply couldn’t eliminate, and wound up creating three separate boards. Between the baths and books and journals that I had also promised myself at the start of the year, it took me several days longer than I anticipated to group them appropriately and create the most visually balanced collages.
I hung the masterpieces up on my wall with double-sided sticky foam so I could easily move them. ‘Real life’ reeled me in again. The ease and clarity of the countryside disappeared. I occasionally glanced at my vision boards from the corner of my eye as my health continued to spiral downward. I made a point to look at them once in a while to boost my spirits, but for the most part they taunted me. I felt stuck – trapped by my uncharacteristic ill health and by a job that was sucking my soul, draining my energy, and leaving me unfulfilled and intellectually unchallenged. The stickiness of the glue holding my boards began to dissipate. They started to fall down. I dutifully put them back up. My cough worsened, and I started to ignore them. I eventually didn’t bother putting them back up. They got relegated to the corner of my room.
Then life hit with a powerful 1-2 punch. One evening in late March my dad got a phone call. My uncle, who had been battling cancer, passed unexpectedly quickly. I was distraught – it was too fast, too soon. I woke up that night with excruciating pain in my left shoulder – unexplainable pain that had been keeping me awake of late and leaving me in tears of pain and frustration. The next morning I woke up after finally falling asleep and knew I had to get examined; this wasn’t just a cold to get over. I researched my symptoms and convinced myself I had a pulmonary embolism. I called up my doctor and said I needed a CT scan that afternoon. The receptionist clearly thought I was crazy (‘You need a reason to get a CT scan’), but I insisted that I needed to see the doctor asap. He examined me, then sent me down for an X-ray, likely to appease me. But when he pulled up the X-ray results, he sent me right back down for the CT scan.
We got the insurance approval, I got the scan, and the next morning I was at the airport getting ready to board the plane to fly to my uncle’s funeral when I received a call from the hospital saying my doctor ordered a PET scan. Um, I’m sorry, what’s a PET scan and why do I need one? I immediately called my doctor but he wasn’t available, so I requested an email since I was boarding the plane and pulled up google. All my searches pointed to cancer. I sat there across from my dad and my sister and silent tears began pouring down my face. F*ck. No way, this can’t be happening. They tried to stay positive. We boarded. We had a layover. I had an email waiting for me from my doctor with the full CT report. I had a growth the size of a grapefruit in my chest. Wonderful. Well at least I finally knew why I was getting winded climbing one flight of stairs.
After the PET scan and the meeting with a surgeon who deemed this not a job for him and a needle biopsy and a seemingly interminable wait for the official results, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lymphoma. I would have to go through chemo – 600 hours of it to be precise. I would lose my hair; it was highly advisable that I freeze my eggs, to be safe. What, what, what!?
Needless to say, throughout that ordeal my vision boards were completely forgotten. Because suddenly, I had a very clear, all-consuming purpose and a well-defined challenge: survive. Survive I did. I channeled all my remaining focus and energy into researching how to heal naturally, or at the very least how to mitigate the negative side effects of chemo. I put myself on an anti-cancer nutrition regimen – I cut out sugars went all organic and did lots of juicing. I watched videos, read articles and read books (until reading was too demanding) on radical remission and healing. I sought out alternative healing methods. Finally, I was prioritizing myself and investing in self-care. I started blogging to document my journey. And funny enough, my joy and zest for life returned. Before I even started chemo, I was feeling better. I felt good on many days between treatments. There were many down days, but on the days I was good, I felt extra great. Because I was alive – so fully alive that life was ironically good again. I focused on rebuilding my post-cancer life, because I KNEW I would survive. I knew from day one of diagnosis I would get through this ordeal. I knew I had bigger things to do. And all of a sudden, things began to manifest.
My sister’s wedding events came together beautifully, full of flowers and style. The opportunity to go on a yoga retreat on a magical Caribbean island with white sand beaches, turquoise waters, pristine reefs and pink lakes appeared – it was just a couple weeks after treatment ended and a couple weeks before my sister’s wedding – the perfect place to rejuvenate. A flexible work opportunity in one of my favorite places came up – it paid well, put me up, and provided an escape during the craziness on just the days I could manage. It also paid for said yoga retreat. I did photoshoots with photographers who had approached me, capturing the before and after and the in-between. Doing this made me feel alive and beautiful, in spite of everything I was going through. A writing course popped up – beginning a couple weeks after treatment. And then a health coaching course burst onto my screen one day right after treatment ended. It was to begin just after I returned from the retreat. Way sooner than I planned, but in hindsight it was all perfectly timed. I was able to go to a health coaching conference in California this past fall – with miles and friends to make it happen.
Fast forward to December. I pulled those vision boards out from behind my bookshelf, and I was astonished. There’s a camera and a little cutout that says capture inspiration. There are flowers and beaches and even Venetian masks – I even went to a masquerade ball while in LA, because I’ve always loved the glamour and intrigue of such parties. There’s an image of a surfer and a scuba diver – I took my first ever surf lesson in Costa Rica in February and went scuba diving for the second time in my life in Bonaire. I also included a sailboat in the sunset – over the summer I went on a sunset sail on my family friend’s boat, not a typical summer activity for me. I pasted ‘writer’ at the center of one board over an image of a hand holding a pen, and not only did I start blogging – a long-term intention of mine – but I got more than a handful of articles published during my course, my first ever attempts at writing. There’s images of yoga and tranquility, birds and butterflies. Freedom. Grow. Make it happen. Discover your light. Express yourself. Live it up. Celebrate. Romance. Optimism. A magical point of view. Freedom. Travel is the only thing that makes you richer. Live what you love. Feel the Fear and do it anyway. Find your cure. Year of yes. Love. Trust. Brave.
I quit the job that stifled me and with a giant leap of trust embarked on a new career path, and now I am creating a business completely aligned with my life. ALL of this manifested, and then some. In ONE year. None of it happened in a way I could ever have anticipated. But it certainly makes me step back and appreciate the power of our visions and desires.
This January got off to an odd start for me – not quite the smooth sailing I was hoping for. Self-care and clean eating were on the menu, but I was lacking much of the clarity and focus I needed to create a new vision board. New health issues bubbled to the surface – lingering effects of the chemo and antibiotics last year. My focus was necessarily diverted to healing in the here and now. It takes time, but my body has made a ton of progress this month. I’ve never been one to follow the Chinese calendar, but with the tumultuous year of the Monkey just ended and the year of the rooster just as of this past weekend, I can’t help but recognize the parallel shifts occurring in my life, and I’m feeling a renewed sense of clarity once again.
My year actually IS off to a great start. My body took another giant healing step forward. I’ve been going to the gym and/or yoga 5-6 times per week. I’ve stuck to my healing diet and my latest blood work indicates that everything is in order and I’m getting plenty of all my vitamins and minerals. I got my business going, my first few clients are making awesome progress, and I’m officially a paid health coach! I’m so excited to take on more clients and help people heal and reclaim their vitality and step into their own visions of success. I’m finally writing again. And I’m feeling alive. It feels like time to update my vision, and I am SO curious to see what the coming year has in store for me!