None of us get out of this alive…

“America is the only country in the world that looks upon death as some kind of personal failure.”

As we age, it is natural to contemplate more often the inevitable consequence of life, our own death. I know that since I experienced a serious brain injury at age 53, with hours of spontaneously moving in and out of consciousness, death has become a fascinating topic for me. I often wonder if unconsciousness is what death feels like. If so, it may not be so bad.

Then as I entered my 60s and personally experienced too many new ailments and disabilities, I wondered again when and of what I would die. I also learned something important about our culture: Even if we Americans don’t see death as a personal failure, we most certainly see illness as one. Ever since I moved from the healthy column to the older, not so healthy column, I have noticed many treat me quite differently. But aren’t I the same person with equal potential?

This all reminds me of a patient I treated in my counseling internship in a rehab hospital. When this elderly woman became ill and ended up in the hospital, the only question on her lips was,

“What did I do to deserve this?”

Do we all “deserve” illness and death? Of course not. We are no better or worse than all the others organisms in our world. We are born by no choice of our own. We live the best we can, and then we die. Then, regardless of the “death industry’s” best efforts, we all become dust in the wind eventually. Big surprise. No secrets here, and yet most of us walk around thinking this simply CANNOT be true!

How can this all mean nothing in the long run?

That has been the realm of religious leaders and philosophers forever. How do we make sense of this thing called life and death? That must be where our judgment of those “failures” who have the indecency to die comes from. When we are still among the living and healthy, it rarely seems likely that we will die someday.

I am reminded of a very cynical MD I met once in Boulder decades ago. I remember him telling a story about one of his healthy patients. The doc was given the unenviable task of telling this person that they had cancer. The patient’s response?

“I can’t have cancer! I run ten miles a day!”

If you like to play the odds game, here are our nation’s death stats:

Top 10 causes of death in the US.: https://www.mdlinx.com/internal-medicine/article/3848

Please note number ten on this list, the rate of suicides among Americans. This rate has risen since these statistics came out in 2017. And speaking of suicide, let’s give Camus the final word on this topic:

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy…These are facts the heart can feel; yet they call for careful study before they become clear to the intellect.” -Albert Camus

Learn more about nodules & lung cancer in women!

First the GOOD NEWS: The cancer death rate in the U.S. dropped 2.2% from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop ever recorded, according to the latest report from the American Cancer Society, continuing a longstanding decline that began a quarter-century ago. This decline was fueled in no small part by recent advances which have lowered death rates in lung and skin cancer patients.

This 26-year decline in our overall cancer mortality rate, a 29 percent drop, translates to roughly 2.9 million fewer deaths than there would have been had the rates remained the same. In contrast, less impressive results remain for other major causes of death, such as heart disease, whose mortality rate has slowed; stroke and other cerebrovascular disease, whose rate has stabilized; and accidents, Alzheimer’s disease and suicides, rates which continue to increase.

Unfortunately lung cancer statistics don’t hold up as well among American women. Internationally, screening programs and more effective treatments have helped lower breast cancer death rates. Meanwhile, the number of deaths from lung cancer has already sped past those from breast cancer in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and other higher-income countries. In the U.S. in 2015, more than 70,000 women died from lung cancer and about 41,000 women died from breast cancer.

In the U.S., smoking rates peaked in women after they did in men. That is why the U.S. is one of the countries where lung cancer rates have stabilized or decreased in men but they continue to rise in women. Men are still far more likely to smoke than women, and this will likely hold true in the future. Research is now underway to investigate whether smoking cessation programs are more effective than lung cancer screening in reducing lung cancer deaths in women.

An X-ray showing COPD

Please let me share a few interesting facts I have learned about lung cancer since discovering I have nodules in my own lungs. Nodules can be seen as a precursor to cancer. In my case they were found by getting a simple chest X-ray. Please get your lungs checked today! But when I recently asked my pulmonologist how common nodules are, she informed me that they are far more common than previously expected. How do we know this? So many more people have received X-rays and cat scans of their lungs in the past decade or so.

I also learned that, like me, as many as 20% of people who die from lung cancer in the United States every year have never smoked or used any other form of tobacco. In fact, if lung cancer in non-smokers had its own separate category, it would rank among the top 10 fatal cancers in the United States. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCL) is the most common type of lung cancer, yet it’s difficult to detect early on because early-stage lung cancer often has no symptoms and is not detected with a chest X-ray. Positron emission tomography (PET) and CT scans can be more helpful in diagnosing lung cancer.

Researchers continue to make progress in understanding what can cause lung cancer in people who have never used tobacco. A few other causes of lung cancer include:

  • Radon gas. The leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers is exposure to radon gas, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It accounts for about 21,000 deaths from lung cancer each year.  About 2,900 of these deaths happen among people who never smoked. Radon occurs naturally outdoors in harmless amounts, but sometimes becomes concentrated in homes built on soil with natural uranium deposits. Studies have found that the risk of lung cancer is higher in people who have lived for many years in a radon-contaminated house. Because radon gas can’t be seen or smelled, the only way to know whether it’s a problem in your home is to test for it. A Citizen’s Guide to Radon explains how to test your home for radon easily and inexpensively, as well as what to do if your levels are too high.
  • Secondhand smoke. Each year, about 7,000 adults die of lung cancer as a result of breathing secondhand smoke. Laws that ban smoking in public places have helped to reduce this danger. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action NetworkSM (ACS CAN) – the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society – is working to expand and strengthen these laws to further protect both people who smoke and those who don’t from the dangers of secondhand smoke.
  • Cancer-causing agents at work. Some people are exposed to carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) like arsenic, asbestos and diesel exhaust at their workplace. Work-related exposure to such cancer-causing materials has decreased as the government and industry have taken steps to help protect workers. Still, if you work around these agents, be careful to limit your exposure whenever possible.
  • Air pollution. Researchers have known for a long time that both indoor and outdoor air pollution can contribute to lung cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies outdoor air pollution as a carcinogen. However, it’s believed the risk of lung cancer associated with air pollution is lower in the US than in many other countries because of policies that have helped to lower the levels of exposure.
  • Gene mutations. Researchers are learning more about what causes cells to become cancerous, and how lung cancer cells differ between people who have never smoked and those who smoke. Understanding how gene changes cause lung cancer cells to grow has helped researchers develop targeted therapies, drugs that specifically attack cells with these mutations.

Do not assume that because you never smoked, you cannot have nodules or lung cancer. Get your lungs checked regularly as you age.

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So glad to see the end of that decade!

For me, the 2000 teens were a time of great changes. I started in 2010 with a few books published, a popular and well-read blog named “Midlife Crisis Queen” and lots of optimism for the future.

I was (and am still) recovering from a traumatic brain injury from a bike wreck in 2008. At the time I had no idea what BIG changes were in store for me, or how difficult those changes would be.

Mike’s job got sent to China in 2011 and there went most of our income, so he entered an Obama era program that would support us while he returned to school for retraining.


Wash Day in the Tomebamba River in central Cuenca Ecuador!

Soon after that we began looking into some pretty wild alternative futures including a move to Cuenca Ecuador! I spent a week there in September of 2013 and decided against it.

So then we were off to southern Colorado in search of a few acres of high desert land with a mountain view to build our passive solar dream home.

One thing led to another and by June 2014 we had fixed up and sold our nice suburban home in South Fort Collins and moved into an ancient mining cabin in Walsenburg, as we prepared the plans for our new home west of town. That was total culture shock for me, but we enjoyed exploring our new area that summer as our home plans came together.

Mike contemplating his future home & view!

The next year or so passed in a chaotic confusion of construction, one step forward, two steps back, but by August 2015 we moved into our solar home with amazing views and lovely solar heat!

All of my physical stress and uncertainty slowly dissolved as I realized how quiet, peaceful and contemplative my future would be in this lovely place. One thing I didn’t count on at that time was the myriad of health problems that would follow. Yes, part of it was simply moved up to 7,000 feet, but I had never had breathing problems before at over 5,000 feet. I guess my old lungs that have been through too many cases of bronchitis and polluted air had had enough. Just breathing has become a struggle. Add on new problems with my hearing, eyes, shoulders and back and I think you get the picture. The sixties have not been kind to me so far.

My Sky Garden in Bloom! August 2019
One of my greatest achievements of the past few years!

Still I feel grateful every single day for all that has been given to me. So many exciting and interesting experiences all over the world. So many cool people I’ve met everywhere, and I’m not done yet!

My greatest blessing has been meeting Mike finally at age 49, thus finding the love I had been seeking my entire life. We just work well together. In the best and the worst of times, we are always a great team!

So I choose to be optimistic about Mike and I’s future as well as the future of our country and Mother Earth. Bring on 2020! I’m ready!

Winter Solstice: A time for gratitude & wonder

Preparing for the winter solstice now, that time of year when the sun graciously agrees to return one more time.

I am filled with wonder that I live in such a splendid natural place, where every sunrise and sunset hold the potential for breath-taking awe. I must constantly remind myself to appreciate this time in my life and stay focused on the present, where all of my loved ones are still here with me.

SUMMER SOLSTICE 2019!

Yes, there will be losses. We must all sometimes stumble and fall. But we are here together now for one more dance around the sun… and that is enough!

How unreasonable love is!

Yesterday I was struck by exactly how unreasonable love can be. What is this feeling that often goes against all reason and just is?

As far as I’m concerned, the definitions of love are completely inadequate. One definition is: “an intense feeling of deep affection.” Another is “a great interest and pleasure in something.” Or “to feel a deep romantic or sexual attachment to (someone).” How inadequate is that?

Reasonable is taking into consideration your own interests first, something most of us do unconsciously and continuously. “What in this for me?” I learned early to notice how so many people I met consider what they can get out of a new friendship before they jump into it. These people are very fair weather friends. I tend to avoid them.

I spent my first few years of college at Colorado College, a very expensive private school in Colorado Springs. There I met a number of very wealthy kids who first wanted to know if your family had a condo in Aspen BEFORE they decided to like you. Who knew there were such people in the world?

That’s when I learned to be much more careful in choosing my friends. Then, for young women, there is always the question whether the men liked you for sex and nothing else. Unfortunately that took me quite a while to figure out. Who knew some men are just pigs?

At age 64, I have known so many friendships, and most have not lasted very long. These experiences left me doubtful whether any of these “friends” ever really cared for me at all. In other words, I don’t expect true love and loyalty in this lifetime. I have experienced too many disappointments in this department.

Then yesterday I had a very frank conversation with Mike on this topic. We have been together for almost fifteen years now and still I doubt. We have been through serious, debilitating illness with Mike in our early years, and the same with me recently. I wondered why he would choose to sacrifice to be with me when he could certainly do better at this point in life. His love and loyalty astounded me. Finally I have found a lover and friend who actually loves me…in sickness and in health.

Love and integrity are so hard to find. If you find them in your personal relationships, return them in full force…

Feeling the losses & the gratitude

This fall I am feeling my losses fully. My recent tumble in my garden surprised and confused me. My balance is so not what it used to be and I must accept this fact gracefully. In fact I am now realizing that I can no longer do more than one thing at once, and that includes breathing! I have always been one to take off in a rush to get things done. This has only gotten worse because I now feel I must do something before I forget what I’m doing! But this simply will not do for me anymore. My damaged brain (one TBI and three concussions) and my inability to breathe deeply now creates a situation where I MUST TAKE THINGS MORE SLOWLY.

I know. I’m not the first person to discover this limitation of injury and aging, but I see now I am taking things too far to my own detriment. I need to move slower and do less even when I’m anxious to do more. I get angry with this situation, but this is my reality now. As always I come back to my own truth:

Acceptance releases everything to be what it already is.

I have always pressured myself partially because I was taught to be more and contribute. I now also see the flaw in that way of thinking. I am merely another human trying to find some truth and meaning in this life of mine. I am not worse or better than the rest, because in the end most of what we do does not matter. That is why I now laugh when I see this:

So I am letting go like so many do as they age, and as strange as it may seem, I sometimes see the benefits of my present circumstances. My head injuries have caused me to slow down, something I needed to do so I can appreciate each moment more. For example, I have loved Stephen Levine’s “Meditation on Letting Go” for decades, ever since I met him back in the 1980s in Boulder. But it is only now that I can fully appreciate its meaning.

So this Thanksgiving I give thanks for the life I have right now and can finally slow down enough to fully appreciate.

Help & humor: Facing divorce later in life

No, this isn’t about me… A close friend of Mike’s is facing this now in his sixties, and that got me thinking. For many boomers, divorce has not been so uncommon. And now, in our 50s and 60s, it is still quite possible. You are NOT alone!

D-I-V-O-R-C-E

Among U.S. adults ages 50 and older, the divorce rate has roughly doubled since the 1990s, according to a Pew Research Center report. Statistically speaking we’re healthier and probably going to live longer — possibly thirty years longer than our parents or grandparents did. The surge in later-in-life or “gray divorce” is possibly an unintended consequence of how long we are living today.

When I think back to my first marriage, which ended in 2001, it was quite clear to me after seven years that this union had no chance of going the distance. One way I knew was that I could not possibly imagine my husband taking good care of me in sickness and old age. The genuine, abiding love and loyalty just wasn’t there. Yikes! It was time to try one more time to find that kind of enduring love before it was too late.

At that time I enjoyed the phrase: “DIVORCE IS EXPENSIVE, FREEDOM PRICELESS!

I was 46 then and still feeling vibrant enough to be willing to take on the risks and possible rewards of dating again, but only after a few years of contemplation and mourning. In fact, I started my own local dating service in 2004 and it was LOTS OF FUN! I named it “Intriguing Possibilities!” I figured after losing my last job and a divorce, I needed a job and a date! Long story short, that is how I met Mike, and I’m so glad I did.

What a lucky day that was! We lived only ten miles apart, but would not have met without Match.com. We knew very soon that this was no ordinary love connection, and fifteen years later we never speak of divorce. We know that we’re going out feet first & together! And so I now have a very tough time imagining being single in my sixties, although I do know that ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN AT ANY TIME.

But during my own unique version of a midlife crisis in my mid-40s (I lost my husband, my career and almost my home), I found that I had also lost my faith in love, completely! It was time to do some work on myself to change that situation.

For further explanation of what worked for me in my 40s, please check out my second book: How To Believe in Love Again: Opening to Forgiveness, Trust, and Your Own Inner Wisdom

I also know now that the older you are when you choose your next partner, the more likely you will be able to choose wisely. Without the distorted lens of sex appeal or surface stuff, finding an appropriate life partner becomes about how much you enjoy spending “quality” time with your new love. My advice: stay picky and hold out for a deep and abiding love this time. They’re still out there!

Postscript: In my twenties my Mom kept asking me, “What do you have against men with money???”