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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).



Pink Ribbon Journey

Breathe Now, Resolve Later

One of my favorite all-time shows is CBS Sunday Morning.  Because of life, I sometimes end up watching it in bits and pieces, but this week I got the treat of watching it in real time!  I thought there was some good advice about new year's resolutions - take a look.  If you didn't have time to watch the video clip, basically comedian Michael Ian Black is encouraging us to resolve to continue what we've already been doing instead of making promises we won't keep.  It's a fun, sarcastic (and pessimistic) view, but a good point nonetheless.

This week, we are all heading back into a routine of drop-offs and pick-ups, homework battles, bus stop roulettes, and never-ending "what's for dinner" debates.  There is comfort in returning to a routine.  I am, in so many ways, doing exactly what Black advised me to do.  However, I also recognize that the new year is a good time to make new goals.  But, I know that in the past, I fell victim to feeling like all was lost if I didn't hit the ground running right on January 1st. 

Focusing on the date for when I was to start changing was clearly the wrong thing to focus on. 

So, I'm taking a deep breath and easing back into the routine.  I'm going to allow myself some time before I decide how I want to make any resolutions or changes.  I also want to make sure that I'm making the changes for myself and not expecting those changes of others.  This isn't always easy to do!

In my new job as the Coordinator of Integrative Medicine at Mary Washington Hospital's Regional Cancer Center, I've thoroughly enjoyed connecting patients to therapies that help them with their mind, body, and spirit connection.  I offer to you to give yourself these 5 simple "retreats" this week as you ease back into your routine:

1)     Make a cup of tea - Chai is a good pick

2)     Listen to an instrumental station - I like the Spa Station on Pandora

3)     Practice Hand Reflexology - A simple step-by-step guide        

4)     Read an inspirational story

5)     Take a walk - the temperature later this week looks good!

Be well,

Gin

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Makin' A List, Checkin' It Like A Million Times

I can't believe how many times I've had to return to the grocery store these past few days because of my lack of being able to read my own handwriting on the list.  I often tease that I have the trifecta of memory loss - motherhood, chemo brain, and age (I know I'm not "old", but I'm allowed to stretch a bit because of being menopausal).  

Most days I can go about my business and not think too much about it, how I've had to work at trying to re-gain some of my cognitive function.  But, during the holidays, it's difficult to manage expectations of myself and my abilities so that I can enjoy this time of year and not be overwhelmed by it.  And, let's be honest, I also have to manage my expectations of others - I barely understand what I'm saying half the time, so it's not fair for the family to magically know what I'm thinking.

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Isn't ironic how the holiday season is supposed to provide us time to reflect on memories shared with family and friends, yet, we stress out on wanting to create new memories so badly that we risk missing the good stuff entirely?  The making of Christmas cookies for all the land and the creation of the perfect holiday card holds way too much power!

There is a trend on my Facebook feed right now of friends apologizing for not sending out their Christmas cards.  A common thread was that they were in transition, had too much going on, and/or they'll get their act together next year -- you know, that thing called life.  I wish we could all release one another from that feeling of needing to explain, apologize, or justify the lives we are living.  What are we doing to one another!?!  Perhaps our lists are too long to begin with -- we aren't Santa, there is no need to compete with the Big Guy (or each other). 

Looking forward to 2016, let's all give each other a break.  Let's make our lists of demands on ourselves and one another shorter.  Do (give) what you can and be glad in it...no second-guessing, no guilt-tripping.  And, as the New York Times pointed out, stop saying "I'm sorry" for things that truly aren't apology-worthy; I know I need to work on this one.

Cheers to you and your family!  I wish you a joyful holiday and a peaceful (guilt-free) 2016. xoxo

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Count Your Blessings

I have to give my husband credit for inspiring this blog post.  He was smart to recognize that our family needed an adventure before I had surgery on November 11 (more on that in a bit).  Now, I have to take credit for "training" Steve on becoming the excellent event and travel planner that he is - he's become quite savvy with finding on-line deals!

On Saturday morning, November 7, we grabbed our backpacks and walked down to the train station and journeyed to Williamsburg. Our train was delayed, but luckily, the kids got to see 3 other trains come through the station, including the huge Superliner, Auto Train coming up from Florida.  Once we got on the train, the delays continued (we arrived in Williamsburg about 90 minutes late), but thankfully, we packed some light-weight books and the Cafe Car had the mysterious allure that made the kids feel like they were heading to Hogwarts! 

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Since we arrived in Williamsburg at lunchtime, we headed right to the Merchant Square area (Duke of Gloucester Street) and had lunch at the DOG Street Pub. Lots of good options on the menu.  Then, we headed to our hotel to unload our backpacks - we stayed at the Williamsburg Lodge.  This is a great place for families to stay as it's close to everything and the shuttle bus that connects you to all the pertinent landmarks stops right at the hotel.  I plan to return with my mom and sister to take full advantage of their awesome spa.  It was a rainy day, but we didn't let that stop us!  I enjoyed showing the kids my father's alma mater, The College of William & Mary.

IMG_20151107_153936.jpgThe kids with W&M founder, James Blair     IMG_20151107_155328.jpgGrandpa spent LOTS of time in this stadium.

We walked around quite a bit, which was good exercise for me as I prepared for my surgery.  On November 11, I had a full hysterectomy - everything was removed.  In roughly 2 hours, my gynecologists, oncologists, and team of nurses eradicated the possibility of future GYN cancers.  My recovery is going well.  Of course, recovery is both physicial and emotional.

Have I had moments of hormonal rage?  Absolutely.  Am I sad that I will never be pregnant and birth a child again?  Well, it depends if I'm in a hormonal rage.  However, over the past year or so, I've come to recognize that the journey Steve and I've been on led us to the gifts of our children and I'm so very grateful for them.  They are our joy and our blessing.

"If you are grateful for everything, then whatever you have is enough." --J. Baadsgaard

Our trip to Williamsburg, even with its moments of time-outs, whining, and fatigue, was absolutely the best reminder for me to be content with all that I have and all that I am.  On Sunday, we participated in Colonial Williamsburg's Honoring Service to America Veterans celebration, so the feelings of gratitude were all around.  

IMG_20151108_105206.jpgGovernor's Palace Garden Maze     IMG_20151108_130418.jpgA Colonial Time-Out

When the weekend was over, we walked back to the station to catch our train home to Fredericksburg.  The station was filled with friends and family saying good-bye to one another, including college sweethearts that reminded Steve and me of our younger days.  It was evident from the energy in that station that we had all shared times with one another and were so happy for it.

I hope that during this holiday season you have the opportunity to reflect on the past, savor the present, and not worry about the future.  And, look for me and my crew - we just may be backpacking in your neighborhood sometime soon.  xoxo

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#BeyondTired

I've pretty much always been a good sleeper.  Even after becoming a mother, I was able to get some shut-eye.  Of course, life hasn't been the same since hearing "Mama" a million times a day, but fatigue, lack of sleep, or insomnia was not one of those "Holy Crap, I'm a Mother!" changes I experienced.  I was blessed to have children who liked to sleep - it was their waking hours I found so challenging! 

For me, it was the life change of cancer that threw me into the world of insomnia.  During my treatment, the steroids that accompanied chemotherapy would keep me up at all odd hours, craving carbs and fatty foods.  Then, after completing my year of treatment, my body hasn't been able to shake the pattern it developed while on all those meds.  Just about every night, I feel tired, I think I'll be able to go to sleep, but when midnight strikes, I know it's time to give up. I start reading or watching NetFlix which then led to an awful addiction to Parks and Recreation!  Because of my late night escapades, I can fill you in on both late night Jimmy shows and Colbert as well as assure you that indeed, nothing good happens after 2am.

insomnia

Two months ago, I started a new part-time job at Mary Washington Hospital's Regional Cancer Center.  I coordinate programs and services that help our patients seek integrative therapies to help them manage their symptoms.  It's quite fulfilling for me to share my own experiences as a means of helping patients not feel alone in their journey.  My goal is to try and help individuals see themselves holistically.  For example, fatigue and insomnia can occur because of physical symptoms, however, psychological triggers such as anxiety and depression are also factors.

The National Sleep Foundation recently launched a new program, Beyond Tired, to support people dealing with insomnia.  Because of my own insomnia issues as well as my role at work, I was definitely interested in investigating more about why I might be experiencing insomnia.  I don't think I realized how much my subconscience was fearing the future, the return of cancer or even a new illness.  These are hard obstacles to overcome, but at least I'm more aware now and can start to reduce some of my anxiety.  A few techniques I've used so far, with some moderate success are:

  1. Lavender essential oil - in a warm bath right before bedtime and sprayed on bed linens.
  2. Spa Station on Pandora - I downloaded the app on my phone and play the music for relaxation, naptime with kids, etc.
  3. No caffeine after 2pm - Before my insomnia started, I had 0-1 cups a coffee a day, but now I need more, making the problem worse.
  4. Change where you sleep - use the sofa, a different bedroom, etc. No, it's not ideal, but what matters is that you get rest.

Check out National Sleep Foundation's special website dedicated for the Beyond Tired program; there are a variety of personal stories and suggested relaxation activities.  Follow them on Facebook and Twitter @sleepfoundation.

 

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One Step at a Time

Since my last post, I've been busy preparing for all things Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Staying busy for this cause is easy because it's the right thing to do, giving back to the community that gave me so much.  But it also helps keep my mind from going to that dark place of fear that my cancer will return.  Fighting cancer is tough, but oddly, surviving it can lead to some pretty weird and lonely times too.  And, it's no picnic trying to convince your kids that everything is going to be o.k. when you really don't know yourself.

On Sunday, October 4th, I walked in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in Boston.  I felt pretty overwhelmed and at a lost for words during this special event -- my brain literally hurt because I'm never speechless.  I can't believe that I finished my treatment in July and that I walked all over Boston (the walk was just over 6 miles and I clocked another 5 walking around town to see friends and doctors).  My awesome team, Gin's Wicked Walkers are truly my heroes - especially the woman to my left, my mom!

12039156_10153078556992617_2779497640719286220_o.jpgOur team is on its way to raising $4,000!

I am so honored to have been joined by this smiling, happy, beautiful group of people. Their support has been so critical to me and their positive and creative spirit in finding ways to raise money for critical breast cancer research, programs, and services was inspiring.  When you give people the opportunity to show up for you, the results can be pretty amazing.

If you feel like there is something unsurmountable in your life right now, just take each day literally one step at a time.  Yes, life is messy, it can be painful, but it's also a gift that's too precious to waste.  You can truly accomplish anything, especially when you surround yourself with positive people AND ask for help.  Asking for help also usually means allowing the person(s) to take care of that task for you so you don't need to be involved - I, the control-freak am still working on this, but am getting better!

Please allow me this Public Service Announcement by saying, Go Get an Annual Exam!  I've met so many women that have never discussed their female/sexual health with a primary care doctor or gynecologist.  Please make an appointment and get yourself checked out.  I am the example of early detection and since I can't scream off a mountaintop, please picture me screaming at you, right now, do it!

I'm now focusing on the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk at the Washington Monument on October 18th.  This walk is about me honoring the memory of a longtime friend who died in February after a 5-year battle with breast cancer.  Amy was that perfect mix of beauty and toughness that made my fellow high school classmates and I admire her more than I think she really ever knew.  It's because of her that I decided to have a survivorship dinner for myself (and to raise funds for the walk).  It was a lovely gathering of women who represented the critical relationships I needed to get through the muck and mire of life.  I am truly grateful for having had the opportunity to reflect and celebrate.  Having the support of my team at home made all the fundraising events and trip to Boston possible - Steve, Jack, and Anna are my fuel.

12079423_10103441872526670_5743923922943439351_n.jpgSurvivorship Dinner, Cork & Table, 9/23/15It's important that I walk to honor Amy's memory because she deserves to be cherished and remembered.  She is my Angel Warrior and I take each day, each step at a time for her.  Please consider supporting the Washington, DC Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk.  Or, even better, join us for the walk!

This October, in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness month, please take care of yourself and those you love.  Support the Fighters, Admire the Survivors, and Honor the Taken.

xoxo --Gin

 

 

 

 

 
 

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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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