Taking Care by Karen Porter, Guest Blogger

Day 42 of 100 Days of Blogging

Guest Blogger Friday!!
Taking Care By Karen Porter
I do not like the phrase ‘Take care’. It brings to mind snappy orders to do this or that, “Take care of it!” I have a charge with the word ‘take.’ If I have to take something, it is not mine.  I do not possess it nor do I deserve it, for if I did, I would have it.
 How is that for backwards parochial school instilled, unquestioned beliefs?
Even though I feel a bit prickly with the words, I am at home with the action. I do take care. I take care of a family, a home (if you overlook dust and a few cobwebs), and I am taking better care of myself in the past several months than I ever have. I have also been a caretaker.
In 2000, my mother began a two year journey with breast cancer. I was chemo buddy for my sister during her stage 4 breast cancer process (she will be three years post surgery in September). My aunt died from a brain tumor two years ago. Her process from first symptom to death was nine weeks. My father passed away two months ago after willing himself to die for the eleven years following my mother’s passing. It was eleven very long years.
In other areas of life, I am a caretaker. I make Christmas happen for my family and my husband’s family. I distribute family photos, keepsakes, recipes. I keep traditions going and encourage new ones to begin. Because I witnessed the conditions of my sons’ orphanages, for twenty years I raised money and sent relief supplies to many institutions in the former Soviet Union.
Most of this I did without considering how to take care of myself. I was hard-pressed to identify any activity or thing that I wanted or that would make me happy. My focus was on others. That’s what I was taught to do. Haven’t you heard the “Joy” acronym? Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last of all. GRRRR. How ass-backwards is that?
How many things do we tell ourselves that we would never think of uttering to a stranger? How unkindly do we judge ourselves while we are sympathetic and understanding of the struggles and frailties of our friends? I had to consciously cut myself slack and practice being gentle with myself. That was the beginning of taking care of me.  
I learned to celebrate what is. I did not lose as much weight as I wanted to lose this past year. Guess what. I maintained what I had lost and did not gain any of the weight back. I am eating healthfully and I feel better. I addressed the medical issues that came up and have made life changes to support my health and well-being.
One month ago, my dear sister-in-law, Peggy, was diagnosed with leukemia, AML, and admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital. The prognosis is poor. Chemo has damaged her kidneys. Her heart rhythm is affected by one of the drugs. After two rounds of chemo, there is still 10% leukemia in her bone marrow (the goal is 0% and no bone marrow transplant will be considered with higher than 5%). She has bad days and better days. I have been spending time with her during procedures and just to sit and talk. She has been told that she could be in the hospital for three months. She may never leave the hospital.
This week, my family leaves for a dream vacation. My in-laws are taking the entire family, their four children and each of their families on a cruise. We are going early to have a week before the cruise. We found a five bedroom villa and plan to relax, enjoy, eat, write, and sightsee or not. My brother and sister in law had been invited. Experiencing life in Europe is on Peggy’s bucket list. I told her, next summer, just pick the country, Italy or France and I’ll find a rental and it will happen.
I am torn about leaving. How can I go and have fun, keep living my life and enjoying it while we don’t know what will be happening in Baltimore? Our staying here will not affect treatment or outcome. I know that. So, what I plan to do is take my flip cam and post a video blog for Peggy. I’ll record ladies at the market yelling at me to stop taking their pictures. I’ll shoot the steep steps leading up to a mountaintop ruin and then ask into the camera, “Do I LOOK like a mountain goat?”  
There is so little good news, uplifting activities, laughter. I try to make our time together light. I read “Murder in the Dog Park,” loved it and passed it on. Peggy really liked it so I suggested Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series for her daughters to bring in. I see the video diary as a way to connect and engage and visit while we are away.
So even though I don’t like the term, I do continue to take care of myself and others. Maybe if I shift from taking care being something I do to how I am, take it from doing to being, it could feel different. As part of my nature, I care for myself and I care for others. I used to say that taking care of myself wasn’t even on my ‘to do’ list. Now that self care is a more established way of living, naturally a part of my day, I have stopped seeing it as a chore. That is progress. It feels different and better.
I don’t have to take care.
I am care.
I give care.
I receive care.
Care is: Caring. Care on. 
*Interesting that the town we are going to is Caramany. 
Karen Porter is the President of the Board of Directors for Heal My Voice. www.healmyvoice.org

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