Life as a peacock

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I met my friend’s “crazy Aunt Jane” last week and the first thing I said to her was how much I loved her hair.

“Thank you,” she laughed, obviously accustomed to hearing compliments like that.

Jane Coryell was visiting from out of town and we didn’t get to exchange many words during our first encounter, but a few days later I was able to pose the question I immediately wanted to ask: “How do people react to your purple hair?”

“Oh, they love it,” she said. “They think it’s fun.” I did too.

I asked her if it was an ice-breaker and she figured it probably was. “People of all ages are always commenting on it,” she said. “It makes them smile.”

The 70-year-old artist from Oakville, Ontario said she’d been dyeing her hair bright colors for decades and enjoyed the attention.  I could understand that.

Over the years I’ve met so many creative people who have expressed themselves in uncommon ways with their physical appearance, and I’ve always admired it. Their individuality and courage to stand out is so appealing, even when their look isn’t something I’d want for myself.

In my twenties, I had a co-worker in her thirties who liked to play dress up on a daily basis. We worked in a large government building with thousands of employees, and at some point during my first day on the job I noticed her.

She was wearing a red leather skirt, a zebra print blouse, black sequined stilettos and a shoulder length blonde wig that I didn’t know was a wig until the next day when I saw her with long curly red hair, and the day after that with a short brown bob. I quickly started looking forward to seeing what she’d wear next. Aside from her beautiful smile, she never seemed to sport the same thing twice.

“Crazy Colleen” was how some people referred to her, but like Jane, she wasn’t crazy at all. She was just artistic, theatrical and fearlessly playful, and I was instantly attracted to her courage and freedom of expression. I hadn’t seen that before. Not in real life anyway.

Attending a small high school back in the ‘80s, everyone seemed to dress the same except for a tiny group of goth kids who scared people away with their black hair, black makeup and black nail polish. The rest of us tended to blend in and not be too different from one another – like most of the cars on the roads and houses on the streets.

To observe someone like Colleen Ostlund, so willing to showcase her eccentricity in such a corporate setting, not caring if people snickered behind her back, was a real eye-opener. I believe it changed me.

I had always flown under the radar, afraid to stand out for fear anyone might think I was spreading my feathers like a proud, pompous peacock. Over the years, I stopped worrying about people’s perception of who I was or what I did, and I started doing my own thing.

I’m not visually colorful like Jane, Colleen or the peacock, but I know I’m unique, just as we all are. I now not only accept the things that make me different, I embrace them.

Life’s short, so we might as well celebrate who we are and have some fun while we’re here. If someone doesn’t approve, that’s their business, not ours.

Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at LoriWelbourne.com

Coffee is no longer my cup of tea

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I moved to the Okanagan over 13 years ago and, as a recovering coffee addict, reluctantly drank my very first Tim Horton’s “double double.” The two-cream-two-sugar combination instantly had me hooked for the next couple of years.

I was a new mother at the time, so this silly passion wasn’t the most convenient, but I still managed to get my fix on a daily basis.

And then one day, when I was pregnant with our second child, and not yet aware that I was, I took a sip of the warm comforting beverage that I loved so much and it tasted awful. I sipped it a few more times trying to figure out what was wrong with it, but there was nothing different about the drink, just that I no longer liked its taste. I poured it out and never ordered another one again.

Once I realized I was expecting, I figured our unborn child must have had something to do with my sudden dislike for double doubles and I started to cater to different cravings, none of which included coffee. But after Daisy was born I picked up my coffee habit again – this time from Starbucks.

My “grande non-fat mild coffee misto with two pumps of sugarfree vanilla, extra hot” took longer to say and was a little more expensive, but I ordered it once or twice a day for several years until I no longer wanted to.

“This tastes awful,” I said to my co-worker one morning after taking a sip. “I hope this doesn’t mean I’m pregnant.” It didn’t. My body was just rejecting another long-time craving, and while I didn’t know the reason for it, I was relieved to see it go.

Much like the time I gave up double doubles, I had headaches for the first few days and then I was fine. I started drinking more water, and for the warm comfort I was looking for, I turned to tea. I tried several types and finally settled on peppermint as my favourite. I never craved it the way I did coffee, but it was still an enjoyable treat.

I can’t remember how long my java drought lasted that time, but it ended one day when I drank the most delicious cup of joe I’d ever had. It was Irish coffee, with Baileys added, sugar around the rim, a dollop of fresh whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles on top. This, unfortunately, became my new daily craving and one that I gave into despite the fact that even though I never felt a buzz, I was technically boozing every day of the week – and in the morning no less.

By far, this was the coffee obsession I liked least, and I was constantly trying to end it. I didn’t include the sugar, whipped cream or sprinkles, but still added Baileys, making the drink fattening even without the extras. After countless unsuccessful attempts to give it up, and a noticeable unwanted weight gain, my cravings persisted until the day I was introduced to organic coffee lattes and I started drinking those instead.

My new addiction wasn’t one that I minded at all. It had some health benefits and was conveniently available in my cupboard at all times. But even that didn’t last forever. One day after years of drinking it daily, it too lost its deliciousness.

I no longer question why these intense cravings abruptly vanish, I just try to pay attention to my body, and if it’s no longer reacting well to something, I’ll eliminate it.

Now tea is back on the agenda and I’m looking forward to trying more varieties. I can’t imagine I’ll ever become addicted to it like I have with coffee so many times, but you never know, I’ve heard there’s a chocolate one I’ll love.

Sounds promising. Maybe I’ll steep a pot and mull it over.

Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at LoriWelbourne.com

The future of signatures

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My 13-year-old son can’t write his name and most of his buddies can’t either. My 10-year-old daughter and most of her friends can.

The reason for this shouldn’t have shocked me since the demise of cursive writing has been covered in the news, but I must have missed it, because I was completely surprised when I saw for myself.

We were at the bank at the time. I had just opened individual savings accounts for Sam and Daisy, and the kids were asked to sign on the dotted line. Daisy wrote out her name effortlessly, and then it was Sam’s turn.

“Don’t print it,” I said correcting him halfway through. “Signatures are supposed to be written.”

“I can’t remember how,” he said after attempting to do it. He couldn’t even recall how to script the ‘S.’

Daisy snorted and offered to write his name. I told him to just print it and we’d talk about it later. And talk we did.

“Why can Daisy write her name and you can’t?” I asked when we got in the car.

“The last time we learned handwriting was in grade three I think,” Sam replied. “We never write in middle school.”

According to a couple of 16-year-olds I asked, it’s rare in high school as well.

The art of handwriting that I used to practice diligently back in my youth just isn’t considered important like it once was. After my initial disbelief, I started to contemplate the significance of its gradual disintegration in this digital age.

Back when I was in school I spent countless hours practicing my penmanship so it would look beautiful and impress the reader. Yet I ended up corresponding with more of a speedy chicken scratch in the end.

Over the years it’s developed into a hybrid of writing and printing, and while I can easily read it myself, others have trouble deciphering what it says. That has never mattered though. With greeting cards and notes meant for someone else’s eyes, I’d take an extra minute to neatly print so my message would be understood by the recipient. Additional communications have either been spoken or typed.

“What about signatures?” my friend asked when I decided not to mind that kids are no longer engaging in cursive writing. “People can’t be printing their signatures.”

Well, Sam just did and it wasn’t a problem with the bank. And his friend just did for his passport application and it wasn’t rejected by the government.

Regardless, I would like my children to at least know how to sign their own names and have started working with my son on that. Not being able to write beyond a signature might become an issue the odd time, but the inability to read writing seems more problematic since there are older generations still communicating this way.

“I wrote something on the board a couple of weeks ago and my students had no idea what it said,” my teacher friend said about her grade 10 class. “This could look bad to a future employer who writes. Kids who know how to read writing might be more marketable.”

But many educators argue there are computer programs that can translate basic handwriting and it’s just nostalgia that has some wanting to keep the art of cursive writing alive.

“If the kids can communicate by talking, printing and typing, why should they spend precious school time learning handwriting when they’ll barely need it?” another teacher friend asked. “They’re better off learning a second language or something else that benefits their cognition and will become a more useful skill in their future.”

It feels kind of sad to see the demise of handwriting happening right before our eyes, but better that than spelling and grammar. We have to pick our battles, and for that, I’d put up a fight.

Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at LoriWelbourne.com

Goodbye Winter, hello Spring

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I love the four seasons, and the one I look forward to the most is spring. With all its wonderful qualities, my anticipation of it intensifies since it directly follows winter. Yes, the snow is beautiful, but being cold isn’t my thing.

Thursday, March 20 is the first official day, and I’m looking forward to the fresh start. My husband laughs when I say stuff like that, because I’m constantly seeing fresh starts.

“The first of the new year, new month, new week, new moon,” he said. “Everything’s a fresh start with you.”

Not everything. But I’ll admit to resetting my start button quite frequently, and the first day of my favourite season provides an excellent reason to push it again.

Everything becomes so alive at this time of year. The sun shines longer, the flowers begin to bloom, the birds start to chirp and people seem to smile more than ever.

“They’re happy because they’re not too hot and they’re not too cold,” my ten-year-old daughter explained. “It’s the perfect amount of degrees in the spring.”

Well, it’s definitely the ideal temperature in my opinion, and the warmer weather inspires me to get outside. Even something as simple as a walk by the lake can be a glorious time to breathe in the fresh air and recharge my energy level.

“Are you setting any new season’s resolutions?” my friend asked me during a recent hike. New season’s resolutions? I’ve never heard of such a thing. But, sure. Why not? I’m always up for a little self review, and an organized date to clarify my goals is right up my alley. Especially after the challenging winter I just had.

Benefitting from the outdoors will be one of my intentions. Being an obsessive workaholic, I haven’t always been very good at living in the moment. Connecting with nature can help with that. Doing things I enjoy and spending time with people I love can help with that as well.

One of those people I love is my dad, yet spending time with him is difficult since we live a four hour drive from one another. Becoming more like him will continue to be one of my other goals, though. A natural optimist, his warm, colourful personality and sunny disposition actually reminds me of spring.

He would probably laugh at that comparison and make a joke about being no spring chicken, but he’s almost 67 and still acts like a big happy kid who’s just thrilled to be alive every day.

He’s a firm believer that happiness doesn’t come from having the best of everything, but making the best of everything we have, and for that reason, and others, he’s always been a fantastic role model. The older I become, the more I recognize that.

I can’t say I’m naturally like he is, but he’s one of the reasons I’ve been writing this column and discovering different ways to be more positive over the last five years.

Life can get messy, dark and painful at times, there’s just no escaping that. But as the old proverb says:  “No matter how long the winter - spring is sure to follow.”

And, now, here it comes, bringing all the joys of the season with it.

Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at LoriWelbourne.com

New marijuana law stinks

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In the spring of 1997, four days before his 20th birthday, my new friend Bob Raven was goofing around at Pioneer Park in Kamloops, playing volleyball and having fun with his buddies when he decided to join some of them in the lake. Without thinking, the college student ran down the dock and dove in to what he later found out was less than three feet of water. He felt his neck break instantly. Lying face down, motionless, he wondered how long it would take his friends to notice he was paralyzed.

Not wanting to be moved for fear his situation could get worse, he was supported in the cold water for over an hour before the ambulance finally arrived. By then the local newspaper was already there, and he was their front page story the next day.

He spent the next two months at Vancouver General Hospital before being admitted into GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre, where he would begin learning to live his life as a quadriplegic.

After plummeting from 160 lbs down to 105, he started using marijuana to help regain his appetite and dull his pain and spasms in order to get through the day and sleep through the night.

“It was a natural way for me to get off most of the heavy prescription pills I was on,” he said. “Before my accident I had always been healthy and I wanted to keep living as well as I could. I didn’t want to be addicted to drugs like morphine.”

Four years ago he attained a license to cultivate his own cannabis, and with the aid of his helpers he’s been able to medicate himself sufficiently by grinding it down and either vaporizing it, putting it in capsules or using it in his baking so he reaps the healing benefits without getting high.

New regulations that the Canadian government is about to implement will change all of that.

As of this April people like Bob, who are legally allowed to produce their own pot for medicinal purposes, will now have to buy it from a federally-approved supplier at a much higher cost.

“It won’t just be more expensive,” he said. “It will be an inferior product delivered dry through Canada Post.” That means patients  unable to smoke or requiring the healthier extract treatments such as edibles, topicals, juices, tinctures  and infused food items won’t be able to use it at all.

“I can’t imagine they’ll be able to keep up with the demand or retain our privacy,” he added. “People will be forced to break the law by continuing to grow their own, or they’ll buy from illegal suppliers willing to sell it cheaper and more discreetly.”

Frustrated there’s still such a stigma regarding marijuana, despite its proven therapeutic impact, Bob believes these new regulations come down to politics and money.

“The only people happy with this change in law are the ones who will monetarily profit from it,” he said. “It will only hurt people like me.”

Recognizing there is a crime element that needs to be controlled, Bob thinks the government should simply limit the number of plants per person.  “With my prescription I only have access for enough to grow my own medicine,” he said. “But there are doctors out there willing to write up prescriptions for way more plants than one person actually requires.”

He isn’t against federally-approved suppliers, he just wants to see a combination of options so people who aren’t abusing the system can continue to safely grow their own, and those who aren’t able will have access as well.

“Big illegal grow-ops on the news have much of society thinking pot gardens are dangerous,” he said. “It takes the same electrical equipment to grow tomatoes that it does marijuana, and with my intent and limited supply, there’s nothing unsafe or corrupt about it.”

Bob is now hoping B.C. lawyer John Conroy’s class action lawsuit against Health Canada has these new changes declared unconstitutional, and the new regulations will be overturned. I am hoping the same.

For more info: JohnConroy.com/mmarcoalition

Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at LoriWelbourne.com

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When I first heard of a 13-year-old performer named Miley Cyrus, she was starring in Hannah Montana, a TV show my kids had just discovered on the Disney channel. My son was six-years-old, and my daughter was three.

Seven years later, they have now moved on. And so has Miley.

Her controversial and well-documented departure from that persona got us talking this week.

“I still like her songs,” my ten-year-old daughter told me. “But her new videos aren’t appropriate for me.”  When I asked my 13 year-old son what he thought, he just shrugged like he didn’t care.

Lots of other people care quite a bit, though. And some high profile celebrities have been sharing their opinions as well.

Many of them strongly disagree with Miley’s overtly sexual performances, scandalous publicity stunts, and frequent twerking and tongue displays that keep making the news. Perhaps she would have upset less people if she hadn’t started off as a squeaky-clean child star, but it seems the shock of her transformation from good girl to bad has started wearing off, and people are expecting her to be outrageous now.

“She’s an attention whore,” one of my friends said, rolling her eyes. “If she just went on stage in a classy dress and sang nice and normal like she used to, she’d be a lot more respected.” Maybe. But would she be constantly making headlines and leading the polls as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year? I doubt it.

Albert Einstein once said: “You have to learn the rules of the game and then you have to play better than anyone else.”

That’s what Miley seems to be doing quite brilliantly. She’s an entertainer, that’s her job. To say she’s an attention whore might sound like an insult, but it’s actually a compliment. To be accused of that in her line of work usually means she’s doing something right.

Attacking her, or any performer, for using their looks or sexuality to get attention is futile. So who should be targeted instead? The industry executives who often act as the puppeteers for some of these starlets? They’re just doing their jobs as well – it’s business.

And we certainly can’t criticize the media can we? They’re merely writing about people and topics they hope will get shared on social media to generate more advertising dollars. It’s a business for them as well.

In a recent essay in Glamour Magazine, actress Rashida Jones blames the current state of the music industry and the “pornification of everything” on all the wrong people in my opinion. If blame should be placed on any one, it should be on us – the public.

There’s nothing as effective as the published angry protests against someone to generate more interest in them.

It’s simply supply and demand. If readers don’t respond to a story, the media is less likely to run another one, and the performer is less likely to try similar antics if their sole objective was attention.

Personally, I’m not bothered with the way people wish to present themselves, whether they’re a celebrity or not. Yes, I have young impressionable kids who can be influenced by others – but that has always been the reality and there’s no changing that fact.

Variety and choice is another fact. Not everyone in show business is overtly sexual or into publicity stunts, and there are many other performers to choose from if that’s not our cup of tea.

As far as my children are concerned, I encourage them to appreciate the entertainers they enjoy, but refrain from putting them on a pedestal. We’re all just people after all, and we all have unique qualities that deserve celebrating. It’s up to us who we decide to give energy and pay attention to. The public holds the real power.

Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at LoriWelbourne.com

Life is a game, love is the trophy

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My step-great grandmother, Alice Osmachenko, will be celebrating her 101st birthday on November 24, cheering for her favourite team in the Canadian Football League’s season finale game.

The fact that her team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, is playing against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in her own province is an added bonus. But the real icing on the birthday cake is that the Grey Cup is also celebrating its 101st birthday on the exact same day she is.

“Woohoo!” she exclaimed excitedly two days before the game. “I bet they win!”

Vickie Oomen, the activity director of Eatonia Oasis Living, where Alice is a resident, hopes they win as well. Excited about going to the game herself, it was she who noticed that Alice’s birthday celebration would, coincidentally, fall on the same day.

Wanting to send a picture of her to the local newspaper, the staff at the personal care home hung up a Roughriders banner behind Alice, dressed her up in one of the team’s green jerseys along with a giant fingered fan glove, and gave her a football to hold.

“You’re making me look like a fool,” Alice griped. “But I love it!”

The spunky centenarian has been a long-time Roughriders fan, and has lived most of her life in the team’s province of Saskatchewan.

She wasn’t born there, though. Her first two weeks were spent in pre-revolution Russia, until her family fled to Canada for the government offering of uncultivated farmland to immigrants. Her parents raised her and her six siblings in a mud house in Biggar, Saskatchewan, where they worked the land for grain.

“We were so poor we didn’t have a broom,” she said. “My mom made one out of twigs and we’d sprinkle water over the floors and use that.”

Full of stories and happy to share with anyone interested in hearing them, Alice talked about the scarce food supply during the Great Depression, and how she and her brothers and sisters would hunt for birds. “Don’t ever try the pigeon,” she advised. ”Yuck.”

The administrator of the home, Cora Knuttila, enjoys her stories as well. “Alice is very outgoing and quite a character,” she said. “It should be a fun day around here on Sunday.”

Born Alexandria Evanoff, Alice is more like a mother than a grandmother to my stepmom, Kym White. “My mother abandoned me and my three siblings when I was four,” she said. “Gramma stopped her life to come out to Edmonton and raise us while our dad worked in the oil field.”

Kym’s father, Donald was Alice’s only child. He died 31 years ago, the day after his 46th birthday. It was a heartbreaking loss for his children and his new wife who was expecting his 6th child, and it completely devastated Alice.

“Parents should never outlive their kids,” Kym said. “She’s gone through so much in her 101 years, but losing him was the greatest tragedy of her life. She still misses him every day.”

Determined to be there for her family, Kym said her grandmother put everyone else’s needs ahead of her own, and part of that was teaching them that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, to love and live life to the fullest, and to be honest.

Described by the staff at her home as “popular, funny and full of stories,” Alice was quick to add “but not full of lies!”

She’s clearly not lying when she says she’s looking forward to the Grey Cup and hoping for a big victory for her team. She’s also tickled over the media attention she’s received in recent days.

“I’m getting famous,” she said with a laugh.

Whatever the outcome of the game, Alice Osmachenko will remain a fan of the Roughriders, and an even bigger fan of love and life.

Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at LoriWelbourne.com

Mirrors reflect appearance, not true beauty

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My 10-year-old daughter showed me a picture that was circulating on the internet of three gorgeous models, one in particular with an exceptionally tiny waist.

“She’s skinnier than me,” Daisy said about the model in the middle. “And she’s a grown up.”

For my sweet little girl, this was confirmation that she herself was “too curvy” and needed to lose weight.

I explained that her healthy body was perfect and beautiful exactly the way it was and she didn’t need to change a thing. I then showed her another version of the same picture – but one taken prior to the model’s waist being digitally manipulated to appear inches thinner.

Miranda Kerr, the model in question, just so happened to be on my radar since the very photo my daughter was showing me was being reported on by many online news sites. Apparently the famous model  had posted the 2012 image to Instagram and some detail-oriented people noticed that her waist was much smaller in her version, and started sharing the original picture beside it as a comparison.

“Why would she do that Mom?” Daisy asked, after seeing the difference between the two photos. “She was already skinny.”

I told her that we didn’t know who altered the picture, but that it was a very common practice. I also said that no matter how great we think someone looks, that person, or someone else, may think otherwise.

“You know how you were comparing your body to hers?” I asked. “You should never compare. You are you, and your body is yours. It’s your home for the rest of your life. Love it and nurture it – and never think it’s not good enough.”

She nodded and agreed. But then she said something I was hoping she hadn’t noticed.

“But you don’t think your body’s good enough,” she said. “I heard you tell Dad you’re fat.”

Ah, nuts. I had been using the “f” word recently and I clearly needed to stop, for my sake and the sake of our impressionable young children.

Not that our 13-year-old son has taken any notice. But when I was his age, I remember how unsatisfied my mother was with her own appearance and I couldn’t understand why she would ever criticize herself. I thought she was beautiful and I hoped to look exactly like her when I grew up.

I didn’t though.

After gaining weight during puberty I developed an eating disorder and continued to pack on the pounds well into my mid-20s. I ended up obese and miserable, promising myself that if I ever had kids, I’d teach them to love themselves from the inside out. I wanted them to be happy, confident and satisfied with how they looked no matter how their outer shell appeared. I now worry that I’m failing at least one of them, and will do my best to strengthen her self-worth immediately.

But here’s the thing that we all know: children are influenced by so much more than just their parents. They have friends, teachers, family members, famous folks, and many other people and things that affect who they become. There’s only so much we can do.

I’m hoping that as long as Sam and Daisy feel cherished and valued for who they are, rather than how they look, they will be light years ahead of me in the self acceptance department.

I don’t want them wasting precious time trying to attain some unachievable idea of aesthetic perfection that means nothing. What I want is for them to embrace their so-called flaws and treat their bodies, and themselves, with the love and respect we all deserve.

Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at LoriWelbourne.com

Time to change the channel

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I was lazy last weekend.

I didn’t plan to be and I didn’t schedule for it. In fact, I had every intention of getting a bunch of things done and I also arranged to meet some friends at an anniversary party. But when the weekend arrived, I didn’t want to do anything or go anywhere.

“You’ve been working too hard,” my husband said. “You’ve burned yourself out.”

It’s true. I have. I’ve also been under a tremendous amount of pressure professionally and personally. All I wanted to do was lay low and recoup.

I watched television, read magazines, and ate too much junk food. I also slept. Much more than usual.

Aside from the bad eating, my reaction to the stress wasn’t typical and I felt like I should be doing things differently. Maybe talking things out, or writing things out, or at least sweating them out in the gym. But I didn’t do any of that.

Once the weekend ended, I woke up with the realization that I was right on deadline: I had to write this column immediately.

It wasn’t Monday morning like it seemed. Since it had been a long weekend, it was actually Tuesday. I felt like I’d lost a day in my negative haze.

There would be no more laying on the couch watching other people’s work or lying on the bed reading about other people’s lives. I would have to sit in an upright position at my desk and try to conjure up something interesting to write about in my completely uninterested state of being.

Yet again I was reminded of why having a back-up story or two is a great idea. I also recalled something that my former boss brought up when I first proposed this “On a Brighter Note” column almost five years ago.

“Won’t you run out of positive things to write about?” he had asked. I felt like calling him and answering: “Yes, yes I will.”

At the time, that seemed impossible. After his unconvinced response to my idea, I sat down with a coffee and easily came up with over one hundred future topic ideas just like that. But a funny thing happens when you’re living life and you go into a self-induced shut-down mode: your freedom to express yourself can all of a sudden feel less than free. And your eagerness to look for the silver lining in every experience can occasionally dissipate.

But that’s the ebb and flow of life. Some days we’re happy and we feel like we’re walking on air. Other days we’re glum and feel weighed down by stress and strain.

Yes, attitude can play a major part in us shaking off dark feelings when they arise, and usually I’ll do whatever it takes to cast them aside and get on with life. This time, though, I decided to stay stuck in the muck for a while. I surrendered to the blues while thinking of one of my favourite quotes from my mother-in-law: “This too shall pass.”

One of my best friends also sent me some words of wisdom in a text that simply said: “If ‘Plan A’ doesn’t work, don’t worry. The alphabet has 25 more letters.”

The note came out of the blue, unsolicited and without her knowing anything about what I was going through or thinking about.

Reading it was a gift. I typed it out and hung it at my desk. And now that I’ve written this column, I’ll get working on ‘Plan B.’ Or whatever letter I happen to be on now.

Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at LoriWelbourne.com

The breast is yet to come

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When you’re healthy, it’s easy to not think about it and take wellness for granted. And then, just like that, your whole world can change and thoughts of your health can become all consuming.

That’s what happened to my friend Dona Sturmanis in the summer of 2012. One minute she was showering, thinking about the day that lay ahead, and all the things on her to-do list; the next minute all thoughts turned to worry after discovering a sizeable lump in her breast.

Immediately she went to the doctor for tests, and to her surprise she didn’t just have one simple mammogram like some might expect. Over the next month and a half she went to many appointments at various health care facilities and underwent a series of tests and biopsies in several different space-age machines before finally learning her prognosis.

And then the news she dreaded was delivered: the lump in her breast was malignant and drastic measures would be required in order to save her.

Devastated, she went home, opened a bottle of wine and called her three closest girlfriends, who came over to support and cry with her. And then they, along with some other dear friends, stuck by her side as she courageously fought for her life.

After hearing her medical options and doing some research of her own, Dona chose to have a single mastectomy. She then endured chemotherapy and radiation and became sick, exhausted, and muddle-minded from the treatments and prescription drugs she was given. She also lost her hair, fingernails and toenails. What she didn’t lose, though, was her will to survive, or her ability to laugh.

“I should have removed both,” she joked about the loss of her one double-D-sized breast. “It would have been nice to be flat chested for a change. And what a great fashion statement.”

After decades taking care of her esthetics, and believing that a big part of her identity was in her physical attractiveness, it was eye opening after she’d seemingly lost it.

“I remember looking at myself in the mirror one day,” she said. “And thinking, you know, this isn’t so bad.”

Realizing that a woman’s sexuality is so much more than breasts and beauty, she was able to embrace what she has to offer on a deeper level, and found what she possesses within is far more beautiful than her outward appearance could ever be.

Dona’s cancer is now in remission. Her hair has grown back, and so have her nails – stronger and better than ever. What hasn’t grown back is the savings she burned through during all that time when she was too ill to work.

Being a self-employed freelance writer for the last 30 years, and without a life partner to help out, or an insurance policy to kick in for lost income, she’s been working hard to catch up financially.

“I’d like to one day get reconstruction,” she said. “But the most important thing to me right now is just making enough to pay my bills and not lose my home.”

Dona considers herself one of the many self-employed people who fall between the cracks. “I thought I was immortal and I wasn’t,” she said when explaining why she never paid the high insurance premiums that could have helped her when she needed it. “This cancer threw me for a loop.”

With one in eight women developing breast cancer, her advice is to perform regular self exams, get mammograms, and never take health for granted – because this can happen to anyone, regardless of genetics or lifestyle. For more information on breast cancer awareness, visit:  cbcf.org

Dona Sturmanis, BFA, MFA, Writing Editing Instruction Consultation, donasturmanis@yahoo.com

Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at LoriWelbourne.com