For Better, for Worse, in Sickness and in Health, and Beyond

August 21, 2019… not a day that occurred to me on August 21,1993 (when it first became a significant date) that would be significant in the future. But fast forward and here we are at our 26th anniversary! 

Those wedding vow promises about forever, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health… sure you agree to it – but in such an abstract way. It’s all very theoretical. You want to be there for your spouse. You want your spouse to be there for you. So you affirm your intention and willingness for all to witness.

Then life happens. Years float, fly, drag… by and there’s lots of those “for better or worse” moments, hopefully tilting decidedly toward the better. The best marriages (among which I count our own) see the two of you growing stronger; your love deepening into something you can’t even imagine from the altar.

And this seemingly magical transformation happens imperceptibly, day by day, as you both change, grow, mature, become more wholly yourselves. Are we the same people we were on our wedding day? Yes. And no. We are the same in the sense that we are still excited by the mere existence of the other, by the love we share and at the prospect of living our days together. No, we’re not the same in the sense that we’ve wizened, experienced and faced things separately – and together – that we couldn’t have known would come our way. We are now those people instead of the less-experienced, more innocent versions of ourselves. 

We are those people as we celebrate August 21 of this year. This has certainly been one of the more challenging of our years together – I dare say the most challenging – but I’m quite thrilled to say that, despite that (and even in some ways because of it), it’s been one of our best. Why? How? You may ask… I contend it’s so because it presented the biggest test of our relationship. And we passed that test with flying colors! We rose to face obstacles, relied upon and clung to one another and navigated our way forward. Scott’s cancer diagnosis, surgery and chemotherapy, instead of breaking us, ultimately inspired us. Even through the fear, fatigue, anxiety, sadness… we persevered. And now we’re stronger. Thanks to our abiding appreciation for and admiration of one another. Thanks to an unparalleled degree of connection and silliness… we did it.

So today we have so much more to celebrate than simply the culmination of hanging in there for 26 years. Today we celebrate our resilience, our ability to cope with adversity and our dedication to making a life together – no matter what shit gets thrown our way.

Here’s hoping that our life calms down a little for a while and we get to enjoy the other side of the coin: the better – at least for a while.

And now for wedding music memories!

We each chose a song to dedicate to one another at our wedding reception. Scott chose And I Love Her by the Beatles for me: 

I chose George Benson’s Love of My Life for him:

I feel like I’d like to dedicate another song to my Scott today. It’s touched me through the years and I’ve even wished that I’d chosen it instead back then. Well, better 26 years late than never. So here’s Songbird, by Fleetwood Mac.

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My Hair, My Self: A Lesson in Self-Love


Dr Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Hair

(This post is part of a series chronicling my Women on the Verge journey. Read all updates in the series.)

The Women on the Verge experience is intense to say the least. I’m challenged more profoundly than I’ve ever been to question and step out of my comfort zones (which have a nasty habit of holding me back). At the same time, I’m learning to live with what is, discover and embrace my true self for its purity and beauty. And that brings me to the topic at hand… my hair.

Heady stuff, you say (and I applaud you for your pun, intended or otherwise…). Way to go deep, Gina, writing about something as mundane and superficial as your hair. Fair thoughts, yet I  hope you’ll indulge me because I think I’ve happened on an insightful analogy that may resonate with you too.

Nice bowl! Gina 2nd grade school photo

Kindergarten curls aplenty!

My hair has always been an… issue. I have fine hair strands, but there’s a lot of it. In its natural state, it’s wavy and has a wild mind of its own. This was unacceptable to my mom and older sisters, who thought I should sport a tidier hairstyle. As a result, as a young child I was shorn in a bowl cut by my dad’s best friend, Jonesy, who’d been a barber in the Army. Between Jonesy sessions, Mom took the scissors to my bangs and, well, try as she might, never got them straight, and always cut them too short. My hair would be set in rollers which resulted in a massive amount of curl deemed acceptably polished for church, holidays and school picture day. But it was the late 60s and the “pretty girls” all had long, flowing locks – usually straight – and of course I wanted to be considered pretty too. One look in the mirror, though, and I could see that my short-cropped wavy hair definitely did not fit the times. This was one of the first times I remember feeling unattractive because I looked different than what society was telling me was desirable.

As I got a little older, I somehow convinced the powers that were in my family to allow me to grow my hair a bit longer. Stern warnings followed about the importance of keeping it “under control.” I was to learn how to manage it myself and make sure that at no time did it appear “witchy” – in other words, unkempt or messy, lest it be cut short again against my will. 

Needless to say, I made it a point to learn how to make neat pigtails and braids and to set it in rollers myself. Although it was a little longer by this time it still would be considered short hair – especially by the standards of the day. Growing it beyond a certain point presented issues for my elders who were firmly convinced that the attributes of my fine hair made it the “wrong” kind of hair to grow to any greater length. 

To appease my begging for permission to have longer hair, my mom would give me permanents to create the body she felt it lacked. EEK! Instant frizz. It seemed there was no solution to my hair woes: It was always a bone of contention – with my elders or me. My hair was a curse upon my head; I became convinced that I was doomed to be out of style and unattractive for all eternity.

At the age of 13, mom convinced me to have a professional haircut – a shag, a la Carol Brady of The Brady Bunch. Never mind she was a grown woman well into her 30s – mom thought the look would suit me and so it was done. Hmmm… Awkward photos bear out the fact that I could not carry this look off AT ALL. At least the experience resulted in me acquiring some experience with a blowdryer and eventually a curling iron. The next few years included feathered bangs and wings as that damned shag grew out. I even remember a failed attempt at a “Dorothy Hamill” style. Nope. (And of course it didn’t work – my hair isn’t straight!)

The last years of my teens, I employed the tools of the trade as best I could trying to add a little current style to my “doomed to be awful no matter what” tresses. Then I met a boy who had a lot of opinions about my hair – and my entire look – for that matter. My first boyfriend (who became my first husband) decided that my undistinguished hair needed to be “defined” with full-on curly perms. And so for the next decade, my curls were artificial, but definitely present.

Eventually, the marriage dissolved – and so did my propensity to perm. I cut it really short again, tried three or four different colors, then grew it a bit, still the Holy Grail of hair satisfaction eluded me. I longed to feel that the hair on my head belonged there – and to love it. Other women seemed to have this; why not me?

Years later, serendipity struck. I developed a relationship with a REAL stylist. Not one in a chain in a strip mall but a talented, highly educated professional with her own studio. She had a way of making me feel beautiful every time I sat in her enchanted chair. What magic did she wield that no one before her had? The answer: She treated my hair like it was already beautiful. She didn’t refer to it as unruly, problematic or lacking in any way. She just trimmed it every five weeks and styled it. That’s all it took to make me feel okay about my hair – having it be regarded not as an abomination, but as okay.

Gina’s hair today – au naturel

I felt so okay, in fact, that about four years ago, we decided to try growing my hair – just to see what it would be like with some length to it. And you know what? As it grew, its natural curl came out – yes, curl. Turns out, that when my waves are properly cut and supported with the appropriate products, they manifest into glorious curls. Rather than taming, or fighting my hair’s natural proclivities, we embraced them. For the first time ever, I realized there was nothing inherently wrong with my hair. And I’ve never been happier with it. It’s as if we’ve finally met one another in our natural, unafraid, unthreatened, fullest selves.

The saga of discovering that my hair is lovable reminds me of the transformation my psyche is going through as I immerse myself in the healing seas of Women on the Verge. I now see that I’ve been wasting energy trying to be someone I’m not. After decades of disliking and disapproving of myself and being disillusioned with my life, I’m learning to assess the roots of those feelings. After countless changes of “style” and different approaches to my life, I finally realize that I was fine all along – it was only my perspective that was flawed. It’s been an opportunity for me to sit in that magical chair and experience feeling beautiful on the inside. I can now look in the mirror and love, rather than loathe, the real, authentic me. Why? Because I’ve stopped trying to be something I’m not; stopped trying to jam my round peg into that square hole. I am perfectly okay the way I naturally am.

And when I finally could see that – things got SO FUCKING MUCH EASIER! I don’t have to feel bad about who I am. There’s no reason to be ashamed to be myself. As with my hair, it has taken a good portion of my life to come to this conclusion. Hell, everyone who mattered to me had an opinion about the way things should be – it’s no wonder I incorporated their thinking into my own. I wanted approval and to be admired, like anyone else. In the end, it was recognizing their viewpoint as theirs and not necessarily mine that has set me free to love what is authentically me. 

What it took to bring out the best in my hair – and in me – ultimately, was the courage to weather  some “awkward stages.” Armed with knowledge and support, there’s no way we’re not going to reach great heights – or lengths – to keep with the whole hair analogy! So I believe I’ll keep on growing!

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An Ode to “Almost”

On August 29, there will be SUCH a relief, a conclusion, a mic drop in our life. It will be the day that Scott’s chemotherapy regimen, which began on February 13, is FINALLY completed. All the appointments, worry, chemo – and emotional – exhaustion will all be over in three weeks from today. Twenty one days until we can catch our breath and call this ordeal we’ve been enduring – and trying to incorporate into our life – OVER. 

Yes, the end is nearly in sight – It’s almost here. We can feel it creeping into reality day by day. The closeness of it really hit home when we were scheduling our next haircuts a couple weeks ago. We usually schedule them five to six weeks in advance and when our stylist mentioned an available date, my first thought was to count to see if it was “pump off” day (the day that the wearable pump that delivers chemo to Scott for 46 hours after his “in chair” treatment is removed). But you know what? By the time we have our next haircuts, chemo will be over. There will be no more “pump off” days to work and plan around. In that sense, the end is right around the corner. 

Scott in the chemo chair for Treatment #4. Feels like last week – and forever ago.

This living with chemo experience quickly becomes the norm. It’s nothing short of amazing how the routine of chemo treatments becomes, well, routine. But as I said, it’s almost over. Three measly weeks. So close…and yet so far away from today. The fact that we can see the finish line with greater clarity, yet we’re not there is, honestly, a weird place to be. It’s still too early to celebrate the conclusion of chemotherapy because there are still two more treatments to endure. Even though he’s been told he’s tolerating chemo well, it’s not over yet. Two more times facing the chemo chair and thinking about the awful stuff they’re infusing into my Sweetie’s body. Two more times seeing him turn pale and develop dark circles under his eyes. Two more times of post-treatment fatigue and nausea watch.

How, I wonder with considerable regularity, have we gotten through this? This past year has been incomprehensible in so many ways and on so many different levels. We’ve faced things we’d never conceived, much less feared. One. Fucking. Day. At. A. Time. But gotten through we have – almost.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been dark, desperate minutes, hours, days… Even with the end in sight, we’re weary from the continual state of shock and fright we’ve been living in for the past six months: Times when one or both of us has wanted to scream, retreat, curl up into a fetal position and/or cry until there are no more tears in us. We’re often sad, scared, overwhelmed, confused and lost at sea all at the same time. We’ve been living with our breath held – and that part of the journey is now almost done. 

Sure, “real life” carries on as much as possible, and we’ve soldiered on as best we could, with our spirits buoyed with our ever-present irreverent humor and unwavering love. But we are forever changed, having been challenged, humbled and made keenly aware of our strength and true priorities. Difficult life lessons have been learned firsthand, whether we welcomed them or not.

So on the 29th, the pump will come off, he’ll receive a liter of intravenous hydration and be equipped with a Neulasta to boost his white blood count – same as the previous 11 pump-off days. Yet how will it be different knowing it’s the last time? It’s such a strange place to be almost done, yet not done. We want it to be over, but it’s not and we can’t know what that will feel like until it really is behind us. 

In the interim, we will celebrate our 26th anniversary on August 21. Who thought there’d ever be a day that rivaled our anniversary for personal significance? I’d say this date is almost as important – the day we put chemo behind us!

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I Oughta Have My Head Examined!

(This post is part of a series chronicling my Women on the Verge journey. Read all updates in the series.)

My first month of Women on the Verge found me pondering feelings of “wasted” time, seeking help with life’s challenges and the difference between “broken” and “growing.”

When last you heard from me, I was in the driver’s seat of my own bus, traveling down the Women on the Verge highway, headed for parts unknown. Unknown, yet compelling. Unknown, yet exciting. Unknown, and scary as shit.

The Woes of “Wasted” Time

Today, my travels transport me to thoughts of how many people my age are already “getting off the bus,” so to speak – retiring, downsizing, simplifying their lives… Yet here I am, in many respects, feeling like I’ve just recently boarded. And that begs the question: Shouldn’t I have done this years ago – “this” being to have found a sense of success or accomplishment in fulfilling – at least some of – my life’s purpose? That’s when an obligatory wave of inadequacy washes over me, as if on cue. My judgmental inner voice chides me about all the time I’ve wasted, “Yep, no doubt about it, girl, you’re a failure!” it whispers in my ear.

Photo by Vinicius Amano on Unsplash

Once the negative self talk quiets, however, I begin to think that it isn’t really surprising that I’m just now getting on board; I’ve always been a late bloomer. Slow to date a boy. Slow to determine that boy was an abusive monster. Slow to devise an exit strategy from my relationship with that boy. Afterwards, it took me years to rise from the rubble and begin to discover what I wanted from life and what gifts I might have to offer. Even more years passed before I arrived at the delightful revelation that I have a unique voice in the world, even though it remained my closely-guarded secret. There’s no shame associated with being a late bloomer when I’m not berating myself for it. I’m a firm believer that everyone has a time in which they can shine – mine just happens to still lie ahead of me. 

Desperately Seeking Help

The trouble I’m having with my “blooming” (late or otherwise) is that, while I can sense that it’s imminent, I can’t envision it clearly – or at all… I feel the pull – but where is it leading me? How do I define it, see it, lean into it? I need support, a nudge, a big ol’ kick in the ass – to figure out what it is I’m longing for. I can already feel this course unlocking the doors behind which the answers lie. I’m starting to glimpse how my present habits shoot my progress in the foot and simultaneously marvel that untapped powers/potentials lurk within me. 

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

Shored up by some of these revelations, I’ve come to realize that I’ve come a long way and overcome a lot in my life. But I didn’t do it without help. While for the most part I’m an independent sort who’s diligent about trying to figure shit out for myself, I have, on occasion, reached out to professionals for guidance and fresh perspective. I’ve gone to therapy for depression; later, for insomnia. I’ve undergone some career counseling as I transitioned from one field to another. Most recently, I saw a social worker with a very specific goal in mind: To help me retain my strength and sense of self while living with and loving a husband dealing with anxiety and depression. Obviously, I’m not hesitant to seek help when I need a supportive, empowering sounding board. Yet I can’t escape the question, “With all the work I’ve done on myself, why am I still such a work in progress? Why am I not ‘fixed’ yet?” I’ve had all these opportunities to heal, evaluate, re-evaluate, adjust course… Why – or what – am I still seeking?

“Any man who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined.”~ Samuel Goldwyn

Growing Pains

My husband Scott’s permanent reminder of his own wholeness.

I think I’m beginning to sense the answer: I’m not incomplete, so there’s nothing missing; I’m not broken, so I don’t need to be fixed. These are completely normal, even healthy, yearnings of someone in transition. Like growing pains, they’re uncomfortable and confusing; I have a sneaking suspicion there may even be some powerful life lessons lurking within that place of mystery. What I am is a woman who has arrived at a time and place in her life where she is ready for the next thing. Neither family nor culture teaches us how to navigate this part of our lives, so I needn’t feel the lesser for being a little – or a lot –  lost. I’m not some late-blooming freak who finally has her shit together enough to want to figure out what she wants from her life. I simply have reached the realization that there is more for me, in me. I experience it as a desire – and a strong one at that – to utilize, to leverage all that I have already experienced into something grand, something precious, for myself.

And to go through this metamorphosis, I need a new approach – new tools in my arsenal to help me grow into my maturity with confidence, grace and zero bullshit!  I’m already learning that Women on the Verge isn’t just more therapy, self-help, or regurgitated platitudes. I’m challenged by this course; it’s already asking me new questions, making me look under different rocks deep in my psyche. What would happen if I DID THIS?… STOPPED DOING THAT? And despite being an introspective therapy veteran, I’m frequently stymied. I don’t have a pat answer – or a glib response. I’m actually put on the spot and look at things – consider new possibilities – that I’ve never encountered before. This is scary, new, challenging and deep work. And I love it!

And when I think of the concept of “wasted time,” I think of this gorgeous version of this song:

And maybe someday we will find
That it wasn’t really wasted time

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The Fifty-Seven Year Itch

Part I: The symptoms

I wrote this reflection on my 57th birthday, May 12, 2019. It seemed like an appropriate day to think about my life so far, and what I want to it to look like moving forward. Fifty seven doesn’t fit comfortably yet. I’ll stumble over it for a few months before the right number immediately comes to mind – like writing last year on my checks throughout the month of January… 

I don’t mind being 57; I don’t feel “old.” I’m grateful to have good health, vitality and a genuine curiosity about what my life holds for me in the years ahead. At a time when many of my peers are experiencing significant endings, like retirement and empty nests, I find myself “itching” to experience beginnings – some new, adventurous chapters in my life story. Nearing 60 and thinking about an exit strategy from the “purposeful, driven, passionate” part of my life? HELL NO! In fact, I finally feel like I have something to say and some experience and wisdom to back it up. Rather than fading into irrelevance, I’m ready, willing and able to finally BE relevant – to myself and to the world.

Yet here I sit, feeling adrift in my life. This is where the itch strikes. It’s been rising in me for many years. I’ve experienced it as a sensation of being stuck; restlessness; a yearning to be a bigger, better, bolder me; a longing to feel I’m living my authentic life, comfortably in my own skin – finally. I’m afflicted with this deeply-felt desire to change, grow, break out – and am uncertain what to do about it. How would I scratch that itch? How could I satisfy that irritating, nagging sense of dissatisfaction with my life?

Part II: The cure

I believe that when you approach a situation with a seeking mind, solutions become apparent to you. In my “itchy” state of personal despair, I happened upon Women on the Verge coaching with Kelly Carlin. Of course I didn’t jump right into the program sight unseen. I did considerable stalki… I mean, research, on my would-be teacher. I followed her on social media, combed through her website and began attending her Sunday Unplug meditation. It soon became apparent that indeed, she’s the real deal, with the education, experience and teacher mentality it takes to lead with competence and grace. Match those qualifications with the warmest, most sincere personality, and you have a trusted guide – and cheerleader – you feel you’ve known your whole life. This year-long course she designed to help women feeling as I did resonated clearly, completely, immediately with me – as if it were an elixir I needed to cure my ailment. Yes, it was time for me to stop feeling stuck and resigned to a state of vague longing for something more. Time to take a next step – or perhaps a leap – on the journey that is my life.

Pouring my guts into the application was intense. I just had to convey all these feelings to Kelly so she’d know how ideal a match I was for this program – and how desperately I needed her help scratching my itch! And if filling out the application was intense, clicking the “Submit” button was nearly heart-stopping. Gina isn’t a person who asks for help (read: Gina is a rugged individualist). Gina isn’t a person who bravely puts herself (and her sometimes fragile ego) on the line. Gina isn’t one to voluntarily take on a huge project (that will undoubtedly take time and energy away from more “pressing” issues). Yet Submit I did. When Kelly told me we’d be a good fit, I was nothing short of ecstatic! It felt like I’d been hired for my dream job!

On the cusp of digging into the Women on the Verge material, I am prepared to bare my soul and do this thing with all my heart. I’m not sure of where my bus is headed; just that I’m in the driver’s seat, ready to pull away from the station. Like being 57, this feeling is new; this process is new; this undertaking is new. I’ll grow into it – absorb it – and it won’t be new for long.

Come to think of it, new isn’t new to me. I’ve gotten through significant challenges in my roles of daughter and wife. I’ve navigated/orchestrated successful transformations in my personal and professional life. Currently my husband of 25 years is undergoing chemotherapy; our world is officially rocked, upended, unrecognizable as our own. Somehow, despite that, I’m continuing to put one foot in front of the other, step into caretaker/medical advocate role, keep my business and household running, practice self-care, and still dare to dream that there’s more to my life than my past and present tense. Regardless of how much is already on my plate, I absolutely know that this is the right time to commit to self-discovery, personal growth and meaningful change.

Here’s to – at long last – scratching that damned itch!

And here’s the official soundtrack to my Women on the Verge experience:

Please follow along on my journey of self-discovery!

Read subsequent posts chronicling my Women on the Verge experience.

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