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Gin Schaffer is a former higher education administrator and works part-time at MWHC's Regional Cancer Center as the Coordinator of Integrative Medicine. She lives in downtown Fredericksburg and enjoys walking and biking with her husband and 2 kids (especially if coffee is involved).



Pillow Talk

High School: The Original Reality Show

This past weekend, I attended my 25th high school reunion (I graduated from George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, VA, and yes I am officially old!). My high school experience was what I'd call a "mixed bag" of ups and downs. I was fortunate to be part of the school's marching and symphonic band, it was my main social group and we got to travel to a lot of places like Florida and the UK. I wasn't immune to the heartbreaks, the petty fights among friends, and disappointments when things didn't go the way I wanted. Yet, I recall taking some good advice from my dad and made friends outside the school and worked part-time jobs to help avoid the high school drama.

When the plans for our 25th reunion were announced, I knew I was going to go because I wanted to see those faces from the past and connect with people that I had been friends with on Facebook. For better or worse, I think the reunions of today are basically a bunch of Facebook profiles getting together in a hotel banquet room. In some ways, I think the presence of social media has made the decision to attend a reunion easier, because knowing what a lot of people have been up to can help ease the anxiety of the unknown. 

The reunion weekend events were primarly the Homecoming football game, a school tour, and then our respective class gatherings (my sister was celebrating her 30th reunion). I wasn't planning to go to the football game because the weather had called for rain. But, my son Jack really wanted to go, so I couldn't turn down that request and we headed to the game. I'm glad I listened to him because I enjoyed sharing a little bit of my history with him.

We walked the same walk I used to make when the marching band headed down to the football field and as we walked, I pointed out different things about the school. Once we got to the field, it was amazing to see how so many things were the same - where the band sat, what the cheerleaders cheered, and how the student section was filled with all the archetypes we know so well. It was oddly comforting to see the high school experience play out just as it had 25 years ago; going back in time for a night validated for me that I was part of one big group...a group where we were all "normal" in our teenage dysfunctionality.

     

On Saturday, the Class of 1966, the first class to graduate from Marshall, hosted a tour through the school. An amazing amount of renovations have been done to the school and it was nice walking the halls with my classmates as well as with my sister and her classmates. I felt that feeling again of one big family, walking around, feeling proud of the school, and knowing what we shared in common: good memories and traditions.

At the party on Saturday night, I could see where the cliques of the past were gravitating toward one another, but it didn't feel like an "us" versus "them", people came in and out of those groups to talk to one another. It was a great opportunity to re-connect, meet people we didn't know before, and even make amends for some wrong-doings in the past. And that's exactly how reunions should be - even if it took a few drinks and until after 2am to do it.

One of the members of the reunion committee had our graduation ceremony playing on a loop. I have forgotten a lot of details of my past, chemo-brain, mom brain, and age have done that to me. But, I did have a flash of remembering how one of my history teachers met me at the end of the stage after I received my diploma and gave me the ever-famous Dr. Seuss book, "Oh, The Places You'll Go". I'm so glad I remembered that moment at the reunion because it helped me appreciate that much more the life I've lived, we've all lived these past 25 years.

If you ever find yourself asking whether you should go to your high school reunion, I personally think you should because who you are now isn't who you were in high school. And what I learned at the reunion was who I thought I was in high school was not how others viewed me - I was reminded of some really nice things about myself! Sure, we all have our core personality traits that reveal themselves, but life has shaped us all into different versions of our former selves. Wearing this button sure helped me see that...

 

 

 

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5 Things You Can Do for Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence Awareness

There is so much going on in our world today. It's quite easy to feel helpless, that our actions won't make an impact on the overwhelming issues we face. But, we can make a difference; sometimes we make an impact that we aren't even aware of. Amelia Earhart said, "A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees."

I know, awareness months are filled with corporate marketing gimmicks or people riding one cause bandwagon for 30 days and then hopping off to join another one. I think we can all agree that we understand the need for businesses to help or at least appear to be helping the community. I'm not a big fan of all the pink that appears in October mainly because I think an equal amount of purple should be out there too. I recognize the pros and cons of awareness months, but in the end, it's about me and what I can do to raise awareness on such critical health and societal issues like breast cancer and domestic violence.

Here are some suggestions on how you can make a difference, no matter how small:

  1. Know your facts. Knowledge is power and can lead to action. 1 in 3 women have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime; 1 out of 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. A study of 101 women with breast, endometrial, or ovarian cancer found that a history of violence in these patients was common (48.5%), and the advanced stage of their illness at diagnosis correlated with extent of their history of IPV (read more at Oncology Nurse Advisor).
  2. Volunteer. There are various organizations that make a direct impact on the lives of people struggling with these issues. Here in our community, Empowerhouse is a prime example. There are also many organizations which make an indirect impact through encouraging young people to engage in healthy, safe relationships. Our willingness to spend time with today's youth can help shape a healthier tomorrow.
  3. Promote. Yes, wear the ribbons, the t-shirts, anything that might trigger a conversation. Put a purple lightbulb in your porch light - your neighbors will be curious (#purpleporchproject). I have been amazed at the amount of people that have stopped me when I'm wearing one of my breast cancer survivor shirts. I'm pretty sure I convinced a woman at Costco to find an OB/GYN and get checked immediately. Share your knowledge and encourage people to have conversations about these issues (this includes your children when age appropriate).
  4. Get help. Whether you are concerned for your own health and well-being or a family member's or a friend's, use the resources that are out there. Seeing a physician is a good place to start; there are also support organizations that provide confidential assistance for people who want help in creating a plan for their health and safety. Check out National Breast Cancer Foundation and National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
  5. Donate. Providing a mammogram to someone who is unable to afford the associated health costs or donating funds to help with the varying transportation needs that arise in crises is invaluable. In addition to donating funds, keep informed of what items are needed at local shelters and provide them accordingly (I love stocking up at the dollar stores).

Ghandhi said, "be the change you want to see in the world" - sounds so simple, right? Of course it's hard to be kind, generous, and engaged every day. All we can do is try our best; to use each new day as an opportunity to make things better. Go out there and plant those new trees!

 

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It's Boob-tober - Show Them Some Love!

Two years ago I had the honor of being part of a special group of women that kicked-off Breast Cancer Awareness Month on the Today Show. I will always remember Hoda Kotb, a breast cancer survivor, coming out super early to meet us, with music in her little iPod boombox, reminding us to take care of ourselves. It was her pep talk that gave me the confidence to go on television and ask Joan Lunden, the host of the special program, about her self-care habits. This picture with Hoda came up on my "On This Day" timeline on Facebook. It was a day I will never forget and I feel fortunate to be celebrating 2 years of survivorship.

October is a perfect time to remind ourselves to take time for ourselves and our health. School schedules and impending holiday conversations about who's hosting Thanksgiving have a sneaky way of taking time away from our own health needs. 

Ask yourself the following questions as a gut check:

  1. Have you been to the dentist lately?
  2. Have you had your eyes checked?
  3. Have you had an annual physical?
  4. Do you do self-exams of your breasts regularly?
  5. Have you read the guidelines for when and why to get a mammogram?

My suggestions for what to do when you get a mammogram:

  1. Check out Six Ways to Make a Mammogram More Tolerable
  2. Close your eyes and think of a happy place; visualization is powerful. In my mind, I've been drinking margaritas on a beach during the whole exam.
  3. Treat yourself to a new bra - your tatas will love you for it!

After having children and then being in treatment, I got way too comfortable using sports bras and nursing bras as my regular bras. It's understandable why I did that, but really, that's not good for my girls and that's not the best confidence booster either. When I went out to shop for new bras, I learned many things about style and fit. I also gained confidence. Go out there and have some fun with it!

Some general suggestions for bra shopping:

  • Get your bra size measured whenever possible (our bodies are forever changing)
  • It's unlikely you have just 1 bra size (I came up with 4 depending on which store I was at)
  • ALWAYS try bras on
  • Prepare for a "trying to find that perfect pair of jeans" kind of experience
  • Hand-wash bras, have 6-8 well-fitted bras that you can rotate, and get rid of any bra 8 years or older
  • Consider bra colors and the outfits you regularly wear (a red bra will show under a white top)

Department stores are a great place for you to seek out a variety of brands that might work best for you (poll your friends on their favorites). And, sometimes there are bra specialists available. Nordstrom is my recommended store because of their commitment to customer service and their dediction to serving breast cancer survivors.

I visited Soma and was pleased to discover that I had been purchasing bras relatively close to the correct bra size.  Your band size may not be what you think it is because the band should sit at the small of your back, not as high as you think.  Also, your cup size may surprise you especially because breasts can be asymmetrical (mine certainly are now!)  I love that Soma has a front-closure bra offering and has wonderful, breathable sleepwear, Cool Nights, for those afflicted with hot flashes like me!

I don't want to take anything away from sports bras, there are some really good ones out there. The point is that your breasts shouldn't be in these types of bras all day, every day. I have found Athleta products to be really effective as well as the Ta-Ta Tamer II at Lululemon - you'll want to work out with this sucker on.

I have friends that really love Spanx. I like how they say, "bra-blems solved" on their website. You can find their products online and in many retail locations, but they also have stores for customized assistance (our closest stores are Tysons Corner and National Airport).

Then, there are the lingerie stores that I can't visit any more. We all have those stores that we love, but know we shouldn't shop at because the era has gone by. Check yourself before you buy a bra that is really for your 20-year-old self.

Last but certainly not least, I have to mention the premiere bra fit experts, Rigby & Peller (formerly Intimacy).  I made an appointment to go to this store and I'm really glad I did.  I liked the education I received, both about the bras and my breasts (these experts mean business, I mean, they talked about breast tissue).  It was an hour of therapy - helping me feel better about my body and the journey we've been on together.

Take care of yourself and encourage the women in your life to do the same. Here's to good health and support for the tatas!

 

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Update: School of (Sheet) Rock

For those of you who have read my blog before, you might recall a post I wrote back in February entitled, School of (Sheet) Rock. If you didn't read that entry, please take a moment as it will tell you the initial trials and tribulations of our home ownership and beginnings of a bathroom renovation.

I think we can all agree that any home renovation is challenging. Since we (and by that I mean, Steve) embarked on doing all the work, we knew that this particular job was going to be difficult. But we for sure didn't expect as many obstacles as we experienced! Almost 8 months worth of roadblocks...and some costly ones at that.

Delays of getting the various materials needed (or my delay in choosing said materials), the complication of the job itself (old houses definitely make things interesting) and scheduling life all made for a long renovation. But, when our air conditioning - we have the controlled units for each room on our upper level - decided to complicate matters by leaking condensation into our new bathroom's drywall, well, we just about died from disbelief.

It's true what they say, "expect the unexpected".

In my post last week, Know Thy Self, I wrote about knowing "when to say when" about projects you'd probably never do because they don't match with who you are, or they don't jive with how you set priorities. So, what do you do when you really do want to, in this case, NEED to finish a project, yet you hit walls...literally?

Having someone in your life, whether it's your partner, a sibling, or a best friend who has the capacity to light a fire in you to get a job done is paramount. Steve never gave up - sure, he was angry, frustrated and unsure of how to proceed, but he didn't give up. I was mad and disappointed with myself and my lack of being able to help more (my lymphedema makes repetitive motions like painting rough). But, Steve helped me to break down what tasks were needed and helped me when I was struggling. That man knows his blue paint tape!

Of course, knowing that the school year was about to start also lit a fire in us to get the bathroom done! Time was slip sliding away.

I am happy to report that our bathroom is complete. Sure, we have some little things we'd like to do, like find a piece of artwork and maybe hang a shelf or two. But, right now, it's the perfect gift we have given to ourselves. And, we will have plenty of stories to tell this holiday season!

Here are our Before, During, and After pictures:

          

 

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Know Thy Self

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, I liked to scrapbook. Actually, I liked collecting things that would eventually go into a scrapbook, but I really just slapped a few pictures in a book and called it a day. After what felt like the one-millionth move with Steve, I realized I had to stop buying crafty totes just to move all those stickers, borders, and specialty cutters. I just had to give up that hobby I really never started.

Luckily, I had the perfect person to pass my scrapbook treasure collection off to - my sister. About 1-2 times a year, she goes off on a scrapbooking weekend and loves spending time with friends putting together scrapbooks. Seeing her joy helped me to recognize that this activity didn't bring me joy. So, I joined the world of "make an photobook when I get a Shutterfly coupon" and my photos and I have been happy ever since.

Whenever I get in that weird place of thinking I should be able to do everything, you know, be the crafty mom, the thrifty mom, the one that cooks great healthy meals and has everything organized just so, I remind myself of my scrapbooking "a-ha" moment. No, it's not a perfect system - I fall down that rabbit hole of trying to accomplish every Pinterest board possible. But, when you take a moment to recognize the totality of what you have accomplished, it's a lot easier to let go of the things you haven't.

Try making an anti-to-do list. It sounds crazy, I know. But, ask yourself what are those things you say you're going to do, but deep down you know you won't (and keep beating yourself up about). Deciding what not to do can lead to a reduction of stress, less clutter, and an increased sense of self-efficacy.

Life can get easier once we release ourselves from the burdens of coulda, woulda, shoulda.

 

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Pouches' Community Corner

Bikers Against Child Abuse, Inc. (BACA) exists to create a safer environment for abused children by empowering children to not feel afraid of their world. Imagine how an abused child feels when a group of large bikers rides up to their house, inducts them into their club and then escorts them to court to testify against their abuser.

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