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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

Embracing Change

I hope you have taken the time to read our guest Shawna Altenburger's blog, What a Difference a Year Makes.  Shawna writes, in such a beautiful and honest way, how her family has been living in the world of autism.  I thank Shawna for her courage and for sharing her journey with us; she inspired me to reflect on my past year.  What a difference a year makes, indeed!

It was this week, one year ago, when we came down from Boston to visit Fredericksburg because it was official that Steve's job was transferring to the DC area.  Steve and I were really excited to show the kids around their new hometown; as MWC sweethearts, we had often walked the downtown streets, hoping to live in a historic Fredericksburg house one day.  Our excitement quickly turned to panic and heartbreak when my cancerous tumors were discovered soon after returning to Boston.  Purchasing a home, working and reconnecting with the Fredericksburg community all faded, our dream was put on hold.

A close family friend of mine gave me a card that read, "Sometimes, when life hands you lemons, you don't feel like making lemonade." 

Those lemons were coming at me fast.  I had multiple identity changes happen all at once - I left a 20-year career in higher education administration, became a cancer patient, and adjusted to being a stay-at-home mother and partner to my often-works-from-home husband.  All that change was a lot to process and in many ways, as crazy as it sounds, fighting the cancer helped me to escape my other identity crises.  Sometimes, compartmentalizing is all you can do, just take it one day, one task at a time.  

Of course, I would not wish for my cancer, but being a breast cancer fighter is what helped me feel strong, supported, almost invincible, and now, as I head into a different phase, my flexbility to accept change and kick-start a "can-do" attitude is fading.  It is a strange and complicated feeling because I am grateful to be alive and scared to not know what to do with the gift of life. 

I am in remission; I've started my journey of survivorship and so, in some ways, the hard work begins.  I can't escape facing those other changing identities anymore.  Looking back, I've come to realize that as a cancer patient, I learned more about how I want to improve as a mother, wife, sister, daughter, and working professional.  One area I'm trying to improve is helping myself (and others) not to minimize themselves or their accomplishments.  I catch myself using the word "just" a lot, as in, "I'm just a volunteer."  Don't do it!  My hope is that my time spent fighting cancer will help me chart a course for the future.  I think this Wisdom Quote says it best, "Never let your past experiences harm your future. Your past can't be altered and your future doesn't deserve the punishment." 

So, along with my physical therapy exercises, I'm adding that to my daily routine - to not punish myself or my future.  And, while I'm working on that, I'll also be helping Steve on our new house. I'm sure cleaning, stripping, sanding, and painting will give me lots of time to see into the future.  We hope to be fully moved in by mid-June - we've already got a couple of garden decorations.  That dream on hold just may be taking shape after all.

IMG_20150419_134930.jpgFrog and Abstract Ladybug

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Me Time, Rock & Roll Style

Who would've thought that my blog post, Blame Game would get me a ticket to Cleveland for some much needed me time (yes, Cleveland, you'll be surprised!)  A friend and colleague of mine from Boston University, who now lives back home in Ohio, contacted me after reading that blog and said, "This might sound crazy, but would you want to come see Howard Jones in concert on March 14th?"  I just had to go!

I quickly looked at the calendar and strategized every conceivable childcare, pick-up, drop-off plan imaginable with Steve and my mom. I would be gone from Thursday afternoon through Sunday afternoon.  This was going to be a test for my three-year-old Anna given she has been by my side, caring for me, being my nurse for as long as she can remember.  But, I knew that Granny would be a good distraction!  

IMG_20150313_100137.jpgI got to drive this cute little thing all weekend!

I think I was a travel agent in my previous life.  I love the challenge of finding low-cost flight options (one-way flights on different airlines are great ways to fly cheap and use frequent flyer miles or segments).  It turned out I needed to get a rental car too; AAA, Costco, and the Attractions/Entertainment Books have such good discounts.  When I got to the Alamo counter, the customer service lady smiled at me and gave me a free upgrade to a Kia Soul.  A much appreciated gift given I had barely made my connection in Philadelphia to Akron-Canton and was fearing I would never see my luggage (it did come after about 45 minutes).

I took advantage of the fact that I had another friend living in Cleveland, teaching at a nearby university, so I spent Thursday night at his house and had a wonderful time catching up with him.  It certainly didn't hurt that his housemate was baking - she is a Cupcake War episode winner!  Ohio friends - use Save Room!

I can definitely see why Time.com has listed Cleveland in the Top Ten of American food cities because I started eating immediately and everything I ate was truly good.  My friend, Ken and I had a delightful dinner at Banana Blossom Thai - authentic, fresh, and made to our specifications.

Friday morning, the number one item I had on my list was to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; I wanted to be sure that I got there right when they opened at 10am.  Ken and I said our good-byes at Gypsy Beans & Baking Co..  I loved their passport drink menu - I had an "Around The World" latte that combined hazelnut, almond, and macademia flavors along with a terrific asparagus and feta popover.  It was a perfect way to salute my first 12 hours in Cleveland!

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I'm glad I got to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame early on weekday and that I had alone time to explore because music has been an important part of my life and for me, it was like I explored the hall with my dad's spirit walking beside me.

Later that day I met up with my friend who orchestrated this journey at the Hall of Fame.  Mindy took me on a driving tour of the city, which was fabulous!

IMG_20150313_132332.jpgCleveland Museum of Art Main Hall

If I was a travel agent in my previous life, then Mindy was a tour guide. I sincerely appreciated her thoughtfully putting together an itinerary for me, but also giving me necessary down time too.

Remember, I said I started eating the moment I got to Cleveland.  Mindy really picked a winner by taking me to Pier W, a 50-year old lakefront restaurant with a gorgeous view of Cleveland.  Their Happy Hour menu and drink selection was truly divine - the kind that almost makes you order one of everything.  What makes a friend like Mindy great is that we had a nice time at Pier W, eating "fancy" food and drinks and then headed right to the local bowling alley.  This alley, Bay Lanes, hasn't changed in 35 years - think Big Lebowski.

Of course, I was nervous that I was going to bring these league teams' scores way down, but I found myself being very welcomed and supported.  This was pretty much the theme of my time in Ohio - people are kind.  

My day had been long and I was so very thankful for my guestroom's king-size bed (mommy gold!) and my magazine, lip balm, and footies supplied by my host -- great ideas for the future ;-)

It was Saturday, the big day had arrived to see Howard Jones!  We knew to take it slow and just hang out with Mindy's family so we had plenty of energy for our evening's festivities.  I am a sucker for all things Food Network and celebrity chefs.  So, I appreciated Mindy's willingness to go to Michael Symon's restaurant Lola's before the concert.  My mom and I have watched his show, The Chew, together, often when I've returned home from treatments, so he has a special place in my heart.  It turned out he was in the restaurant that night and Mindy got to talk to him!  Her mom knows him - I love how "small town" the whole experience felt.  This restaurant was of the highest quality with a very comfortable atmosphere.  I got my mom an autographed cookbook - maybe a trip to NYC to see The Chew is in our future!

We walked our dinner off and headed to the church, that's right, the concert was in a church!  I am really impressed with the Trinity Cathedral for coming up with their Cathedral Concerts series.    It definitely tops the list as one of the best places I've ever seen a concert, where else can you have a beer in church?  It was such great therapy for me.  I forgot how many songs that man had written and couldn't believe I still remembered lots of the lyrics. Thanks to Mindy for taking the better pictures...

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Sunday morning I woke up refreshed and ready to head home.  Having had some time to reflect on my trip, I'm really glad I accepted the gift that presented itself.  I think the word "can't" comes to mind too fast when it comes to doing something for me (I'm sure you other moms out there know what I mean) and I'm glad that I'm learning better self-care.  Taking care of myself, after all, is the best lesson I can give that little three-year-old nurse of mine.

 

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Glitter in the Air

On February 26th, I was told that I was in remission.  I've been pretty overwhelmed with emotions of gratitude, disbelief, and, to be blunt, pride.  I don't think it's a bad thing to feel "proud" that you've accomplished something such as eliminating the signs of cancer in your body.  But, in less than 24 hours, I was reminded, in a very personal way, that not everyone gets to experience that feeling. As I was coming out of my painting class the following night, Friday, I got word that an old high school friend was fading fast.  Amy had bravely fought breast cancer for five years, but it just never wanted to let go of her.  I had talked with her via Facebook, especially since my diagnosis and just like in our high school days, she was a presence of toughness and great humor.  I always considered her an original, kick-ass, take-no-crap kind of woman.  It's really hard to reconcile losing someone like that from the landscape of our lives.

I spent all of Saturday, February 28th celebrating my remission with family and friends.  The day was also my sister's birthday which made for even more special and fun.  It was hard not to keep checking my Facebook for updates on Amy; each celebratory stop was met with a feeling of bittersweet sorrow and a little of what I guess some would call survivor guilt.

Sadly, when I woke up on Sunday morning at my mom's house in Vienna, I found out that Amy had died.  Seeing that, reading that kind of finality took my breath away.  The weather was getting pretty bad outside - snow and sleeting rain.  It's weird how the weather will either be gloomy to match that feeling of someone passing or be sunny to help you sense that God has made your loved one an angel.

Whatever you need from the weather, in that moment, Mother Nature will provide. I know my mom just wanted me and the kids to get going back to Fredericksburg, but at the same time, she knew I had to get to church to see my sister and her kids, to possibly see friends who have known me since I was a child, and to say a prayer for Amy and her family.  I did all these things, and more, actually, because people were where I needed them to be when I needed them to be there.  I got to talk to our pastor and I had my own private concert while the choir was practicing and I prayed for Amy, I thanked her for teaching me how to live this life as a pink warrior. I attended Amy's celebration of life on March 7th and it's amazing how high school memories came flooding back to me.

Something we all shared was how when we heard a certain song, we thought of Amy.  If you've never heard P!NK's song, "Glitter In The Air", watch this.  Amy's family asked us all to make sure we take the time to reach out to those we love and I couldn't echo that sentiment more.

My writing The Daily Gin and Pink Ribbon Journey have been such important life lines for me to cope with the past year.  For my own recovery (and sanity), I will be taking a break from writing about my life as it relates to my health and will be focusing on some lighter writing pieces such as road trips with babies and toddlers and the lessons learned.  I hope you enjoy reading the blogs as much as I'm sure I'll enjoy writing them. Thank you for your love and support and I look forward to sharing the next phase of my journey with you soon.

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#LOVEFXBG

  It was this time last year that Steve and I stood in the kitchen of our home in Massachusetts and made the decision to return to Fredericksburg.  That was such a "no turning back now" moment, but one year later, we have no regrets.  Being back where Steve and Gin began has turned out to be good medicine.  Sharing stories of the past is healing for us and it's fun watching the kids react to old stories and pictures of us.

I'm thankful for our family time together, exploring the town, especially when I'm feeling sick and need a pick-me-up.  This past week brought a nasty mixture of snow, school closures, and unbearable pain, but the people and places of Fredericksburg always have a way of showing up for me, helping me to push through the pain.  I wanted to share with you a few spots around town that brought some sunshine into my life during these dreary days of winter.

The Central Rappahannock Regional Library system is filled with informative programs and tons of resourceful people.  I love visiting the different branches as a way to change it up for me and the kids.  Did you know that the England Run branch was built with LEED Green Initiative standards? 

Miss Caroline's Tree House is a bright and cheery, early education center focused on developing skills through play and music.  Miss Caroline brings a spirit of discovery to the center.  Her positive spirit is something children are drawn to, they gravitate towards her. Whether she's singing her catchy "Umbrella" song or working the parachute like a master, Miss Caroline genuinely connects with each child, at his/her pace.  My daughter and I attended a recent open house and stayed pretty much the entire time (almost 3 hours) because we were having that much fun!  I love how Miss Caroline makes sure that each child feels connected to the Tree House by saying their good-byes with a hug from the house's mascot, Manni the bear.

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Pots and Palettes has a great little workshop for painting pottery and you can sign-up to attend painting classes and pottery wheel/handbuilding too.  Plus, there is a Sophia Street Studio's cat, Izzy, roaming around that is just so cute and loving.  I painted a cherries painting for my mother's new kitchen and will be heading back to paint a pears picture soon.  I learned a lot about painting, but more importantly, it was the best 2-plus hours of art therapy ever on a Friday night.  My son struggles with art projects at school (he fears his work won't be good enough), so I thought it would be a good idea to try painting pottery given the unexpected imperfections are sometimes the greatest surprise.  I appreciated the time the staff took with him to explain the colors and techniques. He enjoyed the science behind how the paints would work on the pottery once fired in the kiln.  I know he can't wait to return.

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Pitaiyo (Pilates, Tai Chi, and Yoga) is peaceful oasis on Caroline Street.  I love how you can shop, relax, and attend a class so effortlessly.  The relaxation and meditation room is such a calming area to center yourself before attending a class.  I have often just stepped into Pitaiyo to read the positive, inspirational messages they have as a reminder to keep perspective and to keep fighting.  The Tai Chi class helped me a great deal as I was heading into the more fatiguing aspects of my radiation.  I suspect I just might have to take a closer look at their Detox Challenge too (I'm pretty sure I will need a purification in about 3 months or so).

One thing these places all have in common are people with smiling faces and a helping hand - citizens who want to make Fredericksburg a place where people are informed, healthy, and happy.  So, as I continue on my pink ribbon journey, I look forward to discovering more of those people that make Fredericksburg the best decision Steve and I ever made. #LOVEFXBG

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A Hat Full of Hope

We returned from our Valentine's weekend trip and I found my Bo Peep's Bonnets hat waiting for me!  Just in time for the snow!

IMG_20150216_173151.jpgI love talking with friends and family via social media, but nothing beats getting "snail" mail.  The hat was wrapped and a beautiful card was attached.  I am very thankful to Danielle, the owner of Bo Peep's Bonnets and her angel knitters for taking the time to show their care and concern for cancer patients by providing such a lovely gift.  My hair is growing back, but it's doing so in very strange ways, so I'm not quite ready to go au naturel yet - plus, it's cold outside! This hat came right at the perfect time - it made me smile and gave me a new look too.

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I picked the Peaceful Pearl pattern and love it.  It's just the right weight and the yarn color will truly go with anything in my wardrobe.  I am so impressed with the knit design and attention to detail - look at the cute pearl accents!

What I love most about this hat is that even when my hair is fully grown, I'll still wear it.  I have other hats that I will never wear again because I used them to help me get through the physical pain of losing my hair (my head was so tender) or I've worn them to a frazzle.

This hat gets special honors because it signifies moving forward, it's a reminder that wearing hats is fun!

I received this gift because of the supportive Fredericksburg Parent and Family magazine team. Thanks to Mary, Blogs Community Manager and Family Chatter writer and Lauren, Walking Through Man-Land...in Heels blogger for connecting me to Bo Peep's Bonnets.  If you know anyone going through cancer treatment, consider sending them a hat from Danielle (and buy something for yourself while you're at it.)  It's a beautiful gift of love, hope, and healing.

 

 

 

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