Thursday, December 28, 2006
And Then I Saw the Piñata
This is my third New Yearsy type post since I began blogging. I can’t believe how much my life has changed and yet still remained the same. Long ago, before I ever knew what blogging was, I decided I needed to carve out a place for myself in this world. I needed to make a mark on life somehow. I had finished grad school, my career was going well, and the part-time teaching was challenging and rewarding. I thought I felt good about my accomplishments, but somewhere deep down inside it didn’t seem like enough. “What would happen if I died tomorrow,” I thought to myself. “Who would ever know I existed, that I made a contribution to this world?” I began doing more, volunteering at with charitable causes, getting involved with various projects, giving everything I had within me to anyone who asked. I thought I was living passionately, but instead I was slowly dying.

And then 2004 rolled around and brought a cancer diagnosis. Suddenly life as I knew it changed. Nothing else existed except the single goal of waging a war and winning. Before the year ended, I had been through chemo, surgery, and declared cancer free. I welcomed 2005 with a vengeance as a new start. Instead I started what seemed an endless journey through reconstruction spanning the entire year. It didn’t matter though because it was a year of reconstructing as opposed to the prior year of what felt like deconstructing. I was trying to reconstruct a life post cancer, but I wasn’t sure what I was reconstructing. My life before was chaos. It was basically a flurry of responsibilities and duties and trying to find my place in this world.

By the end of 2005 I thought I figured it out. I needed to be still. I needed to understand what had transpired in my life and build the life I wanted, something that could make me proud. I tried to be still and plan rather than just jump in and do, but life post cancer kept infiltrating my quiet moments and the white noise would overtake the stillness and chaos would creep back in. When I would look deep within me, rather than find understanding and acceptance, I would see a deep, black, cavernous hole that was engulfing me from the inside out.

As 2006 has rolled on by, I have learned that life is simply a decision. At the beginning of this month I was facing a series of doctor appointments with various specialists to address the various physical ailments that may or may not have been associated with treatment or medication. On the way to the appointment I passed the former home belonging to my aunt and uncle whom have both passed away in the last couple of years. It is just down the street from my mom’s house and somehow the street seems vacant and soul-less without them there or without various family celebrations taking place there. The new family had just had their first family celebration there. As I drove past the house a flood of images came across my mind. In the trash bin set out at the street, the remnants of a piñata were visible. That piñata symbolized the changes at that house, the new family, the new celebrations, the new culture. Somehow the house had survived and once again happy memories were filling every corner. The house looked beautiful once again.

As I was discussing the results of a medical procedure with the doctor, the words she spoke were different than what I heard. She may have said, “The results look normal, but what you describe is not. Let’s keep an eye on this and have another exam in a year.” What I heard was, “You may not feel normal or trust your body, but you are going to be okay.” It was on that day that I made the decision to move on. I realized I could make a decision to be miserable or I could make a decision to be happy and truly understand what it means to live a passionate and full life. In a sense, the remnants of my own psychological piñata, as beat up as it was, lay strewn on floor as I left the office.

With that lesson, I move forward into 2007 with great hope and great joy in anticipation of the many changes that lie ahead. I’ve deconstructed, I’ve reconstructed, and now I look forward to making the decisions in my life that will bring happiness and excitement and rewarding challenges. Well, 2007, bring it on. I am ready. I am so ready.

Happy New Year to all the internets and my family and friends who continue to stop by. May you see your own piñata in the days ahead and a enjoy new year filled with great surprises!

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Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
5 chimed in

Saturday, December 23, 2006
Urgent Request
This time of year we are often reminded of the goodness of people, the blessings in our lives, and all for which we are thankful. For some this may be true, but for others it is not. I just learned that one of the dearest people I have met through blogging has learned of a recurrence of her breast cancer. I am saddened beyond belief for her. Minerva fought not only to beat her breast cancer, but to regain her life and it seemed that she had accomplished both. Please, I implore you, even if you are a complete stranger or a lurker, please in the spirit of Christmas, reach out and give Minerva some love.

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Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
2 chimed in

Monday, December 18, 2006
The Present
A friend of mine recently remarked that I was raised “old country.” In my head, momentarily, I had mixed reactions. The modern career woman in me was a bit unarmed because apparently my secret was out. I was exposed for the old country girl that I am.

For the sake of clarity, let's make sure we are on the same page in respect to “old country girl.” I am not an old country girl like Barbara Mandrell (who incidentally was country when country wasn't cool). I am old country as in "from the old country." My family has roots in Italy. My father, though an American citizen, was raised in Italy. My mother's family came to the United States when her oldest sister was just a child. They were part of the big wave of European immigrants who came to the United States in the early 1900’s with my parents a part of the generation who experienced both the Great Depression and World War II. As the very last of the Baby Boomers, I was raised to turn off the lights when I left a room, to not be wasteful, to respect the institution of family, and, perhaps most important this time of year, to make traditional Italian goodies (from scratch) for the holidays. The old country in me is most prominent this time of year when nostalgia runs high. I find myself seeking out opportunities to be around people who value the same things and share the same culture, but each year it seems that opportunites to bring together old country Italian-Americans are dwindling. It seems this feeling of balancing old and new, past and future, are part of my present in many ways.

As I was decorating the Christmas tree this year, I was reminiscing about my first Christmas tree in my very first apartment. I bought my first tree without thinking about a stand, lights, or decorations. Details, details. The stand was a quick buy at the tree lot, but for the others I would have to be creative. Lucky for me I was a child of the 80’s (okay, perhaps not a child, but a young adult) and had a large selection of dangling sparkly earrings (though mostly neon colors – c’mon, it was the 80’s afterall) and filled in the rest with dried flowers, ribbons, lace, and other handmade decorations. Sometimes old country comes in handy.

As the years progressed I tried to create a designer tree with a color scheme and theme. I had collected all the decorations, made the tree skirt from a bridesmaid dress (there is a use for them after the wedding if you're crafty). Though it looked department store window beautiful, every time I looked at it I felt this distinct sadness. It finally dawned on me that nothing on the tree had special meaning. The ornaments weren't hand made and there were no fancy ornaments received as gifts. There was simply no tradition, no story. That was one of those moments when I realized the importance of tradition for this old country girl. Over the years I threw out the color scheme, the plain white lights, and the theme. I have expanded my collection of ornaments, mostly antique reflector ornaments, as well as a few special ornaments that were either made for me or given as gifts. The tree isn't complete without lots of multicolored lights and one of my old earrings just for nostalgia.

As I decorated my tree, I couldn't help but think about how time has flown sine that first tree. Each ornament from my collection tells a story of the past and the memories fill the house along with the decorations. More importantly than the past, this tree tells a story about the future. I haven't had a tree the last few years. After recovering from surgery each of the last two years a tree was the furthest thing from my mind. This year is different. This year it symbolizes the joy I have today and the hope I have for tomorrow. It is a big step in my journey, but one I have to take to continue moving forward. This year is different indeed. I don't always feel it one hundred percent, but in my heart I know that I am coming to terms with the implications of having had cancer and how it impacts my life each day. Most days I feel at peace with it and am ready to go about the business of living. Not living in the shadow of cancer, but living passionately, embracing the past, and greeting the future with a reserved yet optimistic enthusiasm. Not a bad start for an old country girl.

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Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
4 chimed in

Name: Jeannette
Location: Southern California, USA

This is my story about being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39. I thought I was out of the woods, but four years late it came back. This is my quest to be a two-time survivor.

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