Susan Neder

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The Magic of Christmas and the Uninvited Guest

In Uncategorized on January 14, 2013 at 7:20 pm


(photo credit: Norman Rockwell)


Another holiday season has come and gone. The last few years our holidays have been dampened by health issues, so this year I decided to go all out with decorating. With kids and grandkids coming, I got into the spirit and decorated and baked and planned and listened to the music in joyful anticipation of everyone’s arrival.

A few days before everyone came,  one of my friends, who shall remain anonymous ( but her name is Mary and she owns a printing company) told me my living room looked like someone had vomited Christmas into it; an odd choice of words, I thought, for a compliment. Or was it? Pretty sketchy, but I decided to take it as a positive statement, just a recognition that I had gone at it enthusiastically. Little did I know that her statement would prove to be prophetic as well.


When my four year old grandson arrived at my door with a solemn expression on his face, clutching a mixing bowl, and announced “Ya-Ya I frew up”, I had my first inkling that this might not be the idyllic holiday I had imagined. Turns out, I was right. Mike and I managed to stay above the fray with only minor symptoms, but everyone else succumbed, then recovered, then relapsed, each on a different schedule. 


You know, it isn’t easy to plan holiday meals around the needs and preferences of meat eaters, vegetarians, and vegans all together, but it is even harder when one group is sick and can’t eat or stand the sight of food, and the rest of the group is preoccupied by the idea that they might get sick next. Looking back, we could have saved a lot of money and time byy just serving saltine crackers and Sprite. Everyone can eat that, and it’s practically all that was eaten.


It was interesting to note that many people hate to admit they have the flu – they prefer to tell you it was “just something they ate”. This group was no different. The vegans said they must have gotten some “dairy”  somewhere, looking suspiciously around, and the vegetarians blamed some sneaky meat product in something, like chicken broth, or maybe “processed food” (oh no!) and also eyed me with doubt. Of the three meat eaters, the two oldest and probably least healthy were ok and the third was sick as a dog. By that time everyone had to admit it was the flu, though relapses were still looked on with suspicion until most everyone had one. Once the internet described the flu and its symptoms in Colorado, my kitchen and I were finally vindicated!


The thing is, even with the stomach flu as an uninvited guest at our Christmas celebration, there was still some magic. We all had a really good time. It was wonderful to be able to kick back and spend time together; to laugh and watch movies and play in the snow. Just being together felt good. Christmas means different things to different people, but maybe one of the best things it does for us is to give us a few days to slow down our hectic schedules and relax and be together with our families and friends. It seems like the older I get, the more important I realize that is. I don’t know if that is because I am acutely aware of my own mortality these days – that probably is a factor – but I just know any time I get to spend with family and friends, old and new, is special.

It even felt good to nurse them through their encounters with our uninvited guest. I am just not sure when I will get all the laundry put away, though, and I wonder who will want to come back next year……..


Group Hope

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2012 at 5:27 pm



As I sit here looking out at the first snowflakes of December, I am thinking they are almost too small to see, but they are there. Lots of people have been hoping for them and I wonder how much that helped them be here. I know – the cynics among you will say it is just a weather system that can be explained in detail, and you would be right, but I can’t help believe there is an unexplainable component to life and at times like this, it is interesting to speculate about the influence it exerts. I don’t suggest I have an answer to that question, by the way, and I’m not sure anyone does, but it is still worth considering. I am guessing it works on both sides of the positive and negative spectrum, but for today i am focusing on the positive side of things. If there is anything to this idea, then I choose to believe that deliberate positive intention will always overcome negative things.


After all, we all know about prayer chains and prayer quilts, but we don’t really know how or why those work, but they seem to. I sleep under a beautiful prayer quilt every night. Aren’t these things an example of what I have ecided to call “group hope”? We all know how important having hope is to everyone; it can sometimes make the difference between life and death for someone. So, shouldn’t it follow that “group hope” focused on something would be even more powerful?

I can see how this could apply in a number of different situations. In my own experience with the “battle of the netherlands”, I have had so many kind people praying for me, that I know they have made a huge difference. I just returned from Denver where I had another round of tests to be sure I amstill ok, and all of the tests were clear. Did “group hope” play a part in that outcome? I think it did.

We are approaching the Winter Solstice and  the end of the Mayan calendar and I admit I am one of those who hope that the calendar ended because they ran out of pencils or ink or something; on a more serious note, I recently read an article saying that the author believed that the predicted catastrophe had been avoided because of all the positive energy and intention focused on healing the planet right now by a lot of people. I really hope that is true; but if it is, isn’t that just another example of “group hope”?

 I have noticed in the last 30 days more hope from people in all sorts of situations. It is as though things that haven’t been working well are slowly starting to work again. It is a slow shift, but I see people who have been afraid to trust, beginning to become hopeful again.


One thing I have learned about all this is that it may not be enough to just be generally positive and cheerful about life in general; “Group hope” needs a focus and lots of intentional positive energy or prayer directed on something. So, like a character in one of my favorite movies, I have decided to get a little notebook that I can carry around with me that has the names of people or situations I want to focus hope on regularly. I want to establish a routine of this. You know, I have been wondering how to help the victims of hurricane Sandy – maybe this is something I can give. I don’t really know if it will help them, but it will probably help me! Perhaps in this season of giving, this is an idea to think more about……..   

Thanksgiving Unplugged

In Uncategorized on November 27, 2012 at 5:01 pm



Another Thanksgiving has come and gone, and we are left with the remnants of turkey and “Black Friday”, among other things. I have to admit that this has never been my favorite holiday. We teach the children about the pilgrims and the Indians, but do we explain to them about the consequences of that symbolic meal to such a proud race of people? And this holiday doesn’t work well for the turkeys, either. Those of you who have viewed Sarah Palin’s now famous “faux pax” video of her pardonning turkeys and then finishing her interview  in front of an operating turkey-killing machine of some sort know what I mean. The level of hypocracy in the “traditional” celebration of this day is too much for me! 


Why don’t we just use this day as a day of true gratitude for what we have around us? Wouldn’t that be a more authentic way to celebrate Thanksgiving Day? Yes, we can thank the pilgrims for being there, and the Indians for their many sacrifices, and rejoice in the settling of our country, but shouldn’t we also focus on what we have today? Not everything is wonderful, I realize, but we have a lot that is right – why don’t we celebrate those things? Wouldn’t that provide a better atmosphere for healing this great country that has been so torn apart by recent politics? I hear it said that fault for all this devisiveness falls on the politicians, as well as those”other guys” who do not agree with us. I have to label this as more hypocracy. I argue that politicians really can’t do anything we don’t let them do, but we do have to speak with one voice. That does not mean we all have to agree on the same outcome, but it does mean we have to embrace cooperation and bipartisanship and compromise. The same thing is true for the media – they respond to ratings. If we refuse, as a group, to listen to the news channels and “talking heads”who promote doom and gloom and hostility, they will change. We do not need people with their own private agendas telling us how to think – that hurts our country more than anything else.


Imagine what would happen if everyone sat down the night before Thanksgiving Day and turned off their TVs, radio programs and computers, and just thought quietly about what they have to be grateful for. Then they could think about what things need to be changed, and how to do that without causing harm. They could do that for the country, as well as for the world, and their own family. Too much time with no electronics?  Maybe, but I think less electronics now and then can be a good thing. We are just talking about one evening here, not all day every day. (More than once a year would probably be a really good idea for this exercise, but it is just an option). Those who enjoy this quiet time could expand their thinking to what do they really like? What do they really believe? What if they are wrong – what are the consequences of a bad decision? How would they remake their world? The list of worthwhile musings is long, but it is incomplete if it does not include some question about how to help someone else who is in need. A recognition that the world is not all about you is handy if you reach this point, as is the question “Who is thankful for me tonight?” If the answer is “no one” or “I don’t know” then you may want to spend more time thinking about other people than you do of yourself on this evening. One thing I know for sure – whether you spend one evening a year or one evening a month or a week doing this, it will eventually cure you of “cancer of the soul”, which could turn out to be the biggest killer on our planet these days.   

What Does Not Kill You Makes You…….What?

In Uncategorized on October 31, 2012 at 4:57 pm


I have been thinking about the saying “what does not kill you makes you stronger’, and I am not sure that is always true.I recently read something written on this subject by the renowned author, Christopher Hitchens, who recently succumbed  to cancer, in which he made the point that in his personal experience with cancer, that “ism” was not true for him.

 I agree with him completely on the issue of not being physically stronger after fighting cancer. Many cancer treatments have long term permanent side effects that will always be there. But what about other situations? I have used this saying myself, and I think we all want it to be true when we have survived some sort of tribulation. But is it true? Perhaps on some level we have more emotional endurance for unpleasantness after we have gone through a life threatening event, but even that is suspect. What does not kill you often scares the wits out of you and confronting your own mortality in a crisis often makes you realize that you may be more vulnerable than you thought. The fact is, what does not kill you almost kills you, and the short term effect of an encounter like that is often that you are alive but greatly weakened and then you still have to come to terms with those permanent side effects.

What I know for certain is that what does not kill you changes who you are. I don’t think any of us is ever the same person after we have survived something dreadful, whether a disease or an accident. We may survive the event because of treatment or because sheer strength of will, or both, but regardless, we are different. We may be completely recovered, but we now know a reality we did not know before – IT CAN HAPPEN TO US – and that changes our world forever.

 I think we prefer the “what does not kill you makes you stronger” idea because we do not want to feel like victims of our situation. We want to be seen as fighters, wobbling to our feet for another round, no matter how many times we’ve been knocked down.

 Maybe what would be smarter to say is “what does not kill you makes you not dead, and hopefully a little wiser”, and being wiser is probably more helpful in the long run with issues of life and death. Being wiser and thus more realistic about your capabilities is not a weakness.

One interesting place where we see this played out is when someone who has had something nearly fatal does not want to go back for follow up visits with doctors because they do not want to deal with or “give energy to” the possibility of negative outcomes. I can identify with that because I have been there. However, if you do go back and get bad news you realize that going back may have saved your life. If you had not gone back you might have felt you had a more positive attitude, but a shorter life, which was probably not your goal.

 So in conclusion, I think i’ll stop saying “what does not kill you makes you stronger” and say instead “what does not kill me makes me aware of the possibilities”, and hope that serves me well as I go forward to whatever is in store for me.  


In Uncategorized on October 23, 2012 at 6:48 am



Isn’t Conundrums a great word? It thunders on your tongue if you say it slow – Con-un-drums, and it is a great word for describing our lives these days; they are full of Conundrums. We are not supposed to be stressed, but our lives are full of stressors. Words like “time” and “expectation” and “perfect” and “competency” can cause our stomachs to drop as though we were on the downward slope of a roller coaster, and we develop a “case of the nerves”. Oh no! Not that! We all know that can make us sick! What now?

 You know, as I look back through time i can’t really see why our time now is more stressful than in our past. Trying not to be scalped by angry indians had to be a major stressor for some folks in the old west, and the Civil War was no picnic either, so why is today worse? Is it just that those people, long ago, did not live long enough to get sick and die of stress? That is a possibility. It is also possible that they handled their stress differently than we do today. I suspect that could be the case. 

Maybe those people could not be bothered by concepts like “perfectionism” because they were too busy trying to survive. I don’t know, but I do know that as a recovering perfectionist my life is much less stressful now. Why did I need to be perfect? I can’t remember, but I after I gave that up, I had a lot more time on my hands, and when I stopped trying to make those around me perfect, a lot of tension drained away.

Instead of  being perfect, I am now trying to figure out what it means to be authentic. I am not positive what that means yet, but I think it means taking off the mask we put on for the world and being who we really are. The challenge  for those of us who have worn the mask for so long is to figure out who that person is, and not get swept up in being “perfectly authentic”, which would, of course, create one of the greatest Conundrums of all! So perhaps the goal is just to  be human after all; to not try to appear to be something we are not. That sounds too simple, doesn’t it? Well, I quit dyeing my hair – is that a start?

Maybe so.

By the way, the magic glasses work! I think I will go put on some Jimmy Buffet music and my magic glasses and count my blessings while working really hard not to create any more Conundrums.

Magic of Summer

In Uncategorized on October 16, 2012 at 4:45 am


Trying to remember life before cancer is like looking at a bare tree in the dead of winter and trying to imagine it in the blaze of fall.  Cancer is a shadow over your whole life. Even if you think yourself free of it for a while it is still there, lurking…. like the last ghost in the Christmas Carol, a wraith that points his long sharp fingers at you. It has no face; just the energy of death. The words Cancer and Death seem synonymous. Have you noticed that? I have. Sometimes I wonder why we fight death so hard; we know it will get us eventually, just not now. I think it may be the child in us that fights so hard; the summer of our lives we fight for.

I remember waking up on a summer morning, smelling the freshly cut grass and hearing the lawnmower; knowing we had the whole day to play on our bikes. “Be home by dark”, they said; a whole day of fun and adventures. After supper, we’d play games in the street with all the kids – “kick the can”, “piggy wants a signal”; hot and sweaty from running; being woken up in the middle of the night to eat homemade peach ice cream right out of the freezer on the back porch with neighbors.

How about the magic of the Christmas tree on Christmas eve, the magic of Disney, the smell of homemade chocolate chip cookies? That is what we are fighting for; the magic moments in life.

Maybe that is what is missing in our lives as we age. I know the magic is there but I sometimes forget to look for it. I am busy thinking about my day and multitasking. It is easy to see magic in nature or on a child’s face, but what about in less obvious places like on a crowded street, in a grocery store, in a traffic jam or in a coffee shop on an ordinary day? I’ve decided to keep a special pair of glasses on my desk to remind me to find magic – my magic glasses – I will let you know if that helps me get better at finding summer magic no matter what time of year.

There’s help and then there’s HELP!!!!!

In Uncategorized on October 9, 2012 at 5:34 am



Today I am feeling amazed at the dramatic lifestyle changes required to cope with this type of drastic but often lifesaving surgery. The long recovery time is surprising – I am still not healed, and in the past i could always bounce back quickly from things. At least there are products available out there to help people transition and knowledgeable folks to give advice. I spoke to one woman who told me that her mother had this surgery years ago and there were no products developed and no one to help – she was given a roll of tape and a pat on the back with a “good luck” thrown in as she left the hospital. I don’t have to work hard to imagine how terrible that was for her; if someone had done that to me I probably would have wanted to shoot somebody!

It is true, even today, that the surgeons who perform these complicated surgeries are somewhat cavalier about life afterward. They tend to wave their arms about and say things like ” oh, everything will be fine – you won’t have any problems” and then refer you to a special group of nurses for you to depend on, and who are wonderful but  too busy because there aren’t enough of them.

I have also started receiving lots of literature on all of this written, of course, to help. Did you know that October 6th was World Ostomy Day? Me neither. Whoop – de – doo. That is almost as exciting as Columbus Day. I can’t imagine how you celebrate that. I also received special cards in the mail that I am supposed to show to the TSA people at airport security, because apparently I am now a security risk and can’t just go through the scanner. Oh no, I have to go off into a back room and be checked to be sure I’m not carrying explosives. What? Really? This is not a joke, I am told. As if people with this type of surgery haven’t had enough problems, they now are being treated like possible terrorists? Have I missed all the news stories about gray haired people with bombs and weapons concealed in ostomy equipment? Good grief! What next? I admit I am feeling slightly discriminated against and rather irritable about what I would have to go through now if I want to fly somewhere. Maybe I should call AARP and see if there is a grassroots campaign to end this type of discrimination or at least get some reverse discrimination going. Too snarky? Ok –  maybe I’ll just give up flying and drive everywhere; or maybe if I have to fly I can just take my good friend “margarita” with me, and then I might not even remember going through security, or care.

The latest arrival in the mail is a booklet that tells me that once I am healed, I can ride my bicycle 100 miles or climb Mount Kilamanjaro – isn’t that reassuring? The problem is, I don’t want to do those things. I don’t want to play football or roller skate across the United States. I want to be able to go to the grocery store or out to eat and not have a problem; or go through airport security without holding up the line and being embarrassed. Who writes this stuff anyway? I don’t know but I’m pretty sure it isn’t anyone who has ever had to go through this sort of lifestyle transition.

Oh well, at least I didn’t just get a roll of tape and a pat on the back (and a bill for $500.00 for the tape)! 

Hard Questions

In Uncategorized on October 1, 2012 at 7:16 pm



We tend to think of cancer as an end of life disease affecting more older people than other age groups;  that may well be true. I don’t know the statistics on age groups. We all know it sometimes hits children, but that is so unthinkable and so against the fabric of life that it feels like an aberration of a sort but I am not sure it is as uncommon as we wish it was.

Then there is the age group of our grown children, many of whom are parents of younger children themselves. That also feels so wrong. So unfair. But cancer has no sense of fairness. It is a monster that feeds indescriminately on everyone in its path. 

 Everyone who has a brush with cancer comes away changed. Some survive and some do not but all are wounded. Close family and friends are also affected in varying degrees . Some feel lucky that it has not hit them, but statistics on this disease show that more and more people are getting it – the numbers of victims is increasing. Cancer appears to be an epidemic and for all the money being spent on it, it is not being beaten back.  

I hope that as much money that is being spent on treatment and cure is also being spent on cause. What is causing this epidemic in such numbers? The internet and bookstores are full of people’s opinions about what might cause it, but there seems to be no clear consensus. Those who have opinions seem sure of theirs, but there are almost as many opinions as there are people. There are some common threads, though; chemicals in our food and in our environment, the lack of nutrients in mass produced food, holes in the ozone layer. But these things have been there for a while, so are the effects of these things cumulative?

 Are we really as powerless as we feel?

We run back and forth swallowing herbs and natural powders whose names we can’t pronounce,  giving up foods that might be a problem, using some cleaning products and discarding others. Is any of this helping? I honestly don’t know and I don’t think anyone else does either. It probably doesn’t hurt, but it isn’t the definitive answer we need. 

 My family does not have a long history of cancer, but in addition to me, I have had two thirty something family members with a devastating diagnosis. One was my niece with a vicious brain tumor that she fought with great courage but could not beat. She is gone from us now, but her light stays with us. The other is a beautiful young mother of three who is riddled with cancer that is not really treatable. Lots of people are asking “how can this happen?” All we can do is stand outside and scream “no” at the sky, but that is not really very effective. 

These are difficult issues to unravel, and I am left hoping that some of our brightest young minds are working tirelessly to find answers to these questions. People in this country are good at overcoming obstacles if they see them and know what they need to do. However, I do think we need to hurry while there are still enough of us to work together. This molehill is becoming a mountain, and it is starting to resemble Everest. Meanwhile it has been suggested that our next family reunion should be held at MD Anderson Cancer Center just to be safe.


In Uncategorized on September 24, 2012 at 5:15 pm


As human beings, we know we all have some of both the best and the worst in us.

The worst we can always spot, but what is it that brings out the best in us? We all have a “best” – a selfless side that goes the extra mile for someone or something we believe in. We have seen the TV news stories about that amazing person who ran across three lanes of traffic to pull a child out of harm’s way, or shielded someone from a bullet and might have lost their own life doing it. Who are these people? How are they different?

I’m not sure they are; most of the time the follow up story on them shows them to be just ordinary folks who acted instinctively in the middle of the routine of their daily lives. The rest of us think about what we would do in a similar situation, but I don’t think we can really know for sure unless or until we are faced with a comparable set of events. It does not seem as if those “heroes” thought much about their own personal safety as they reacted to an unfolding disaster. These people, as wonderful as they are, aren’t the only “heroes” out there.

Our society is made up of hundreds of thousands of individuals who are also heroes but rarely make the news. They serve in clubs and groups, on boards or perhaps not, but they give their time and sometimes their money to help someone in need. They fill sand bags when their house isn’t in danger of flooding. They leave their homes and jobs and drive across the country to help rebuild a house for someone who lost theirs in a tornado. They hand out food to those who are hungry and coats to those who are cold. They pay for eyeglasses for someone, a heating bill for another; they make prayer quilts and teddy bears for those who are sick and in need of comfort. They are there when they are needed, ready to do anything they can to help or comfort another person who is suffering. Whether they are working within their own family or their community or on the other side of the globe, it does not really matter. They are all there.

A week or so ago some of my friends got together and put on a benefit for me to help with some of the medical bills that are not covered by my insurance. Regardless of which side of the political fence you are on, I think we can all agree that the healthcare system in this country is a problem. Getting sick and having extensive surgery these days is expensive business, even with insurance. Without it, the situation is impossible. So this act of kindness by people who had no other motivation to do what they did except kind hearts and a desire to ease someone else’s suffering is amazing. There were people there that I did not even know, but they came out because they cared. This is humanity at its best; these are the people we want our kids to grow up to be like. As I get more and more healed, these are the people whose acts of kindness I will pay forward every chance I get.

Are you a giver? If not, think about becoming one. Random acts of kindness or deliberate ones are real and they carry their own reward – they heal the giver and the recipient!


In Uncategorized on September 20, 2012 at 7:51 am



As I step outside today, I feel Fall in the air. I love the quiet of early morning. It is cool and crisp, with hardly a cloud in the sky. The mountains are a constant source of beauty in the distance. At moments like this, it is not hard to be in gratitude. Some view Fall as an ending, but many cultures celebrate it as the start of a new year full of hope and dreams. Many find that resolutions and goals made in the fall fare better than those made on January 1st. 

 What makes people enthusiastic about planning their future? As I think about this in the context of mortality, I believe the operative word is “hope’. People will do amazing things when they have hope; they will also completely shut down and quit living if they do not have it. What is it about the nature of humanity that makes this so? Hope seems to be as necessary to the human spirit aas food and water is to the human body and both are essential to life.  

 Hope is a tricky thing; it is based on the future, and sometimes a favorable outcome is not under our control but someone else’s–or some other group. If the hope is a really important one, then disappointment can really sow the seeds of bitterness and resentment. Our quest for hope seems to me to be somewhat like climbing a tree; if you grab a limb and it breaks, you could fall to the ground hurt, or another branch could catch you and you could go on climbing. Free choice is involved with each step. Whether people  fall and climb again sometimes has to do with how many times they have fallen, or how hard they hit the ground. Some people who have a very hard fall never get back up again.

 Then there are those who won’t ever climb in the first place. I think of those folks as pessimists. They go about on the ground glancing upward occasionally because they are sure something is going to fall down and hit them, and they are often right about that, since others are climbing above them.

 So which group am I in? Well, at present it seems obvious that I am still a climber. I have hit the ground pretty hard here lately, in fact I have had more than one branch at a time break, and some were really high up, so I have splatted onto the ground with vigor! After several of those falls I was pretty sure I could not get up again.  What made me change my mind? Several things, I guess; for one thing, it is boring laying on the ground waiting for something else to fall on you. It can also be scary and if you are going to be scared, you may as well be climbing. Also, one of the things I learned from PSI personal growth courses that has served me well over the years is the saying, “So what? Now What?”. In other words, what happened in the past is in the past, so don’t drag it with you into the future. You can’t change it and it will drag you down.

Like a lot of things, that is easier said than done sometimes, but when you are laying on the ground having knocked all the wind out of yourself, it becomes more clear. What are you going to do? Lay there? Yell at the tree? Sue the tree? I think I will just get up and have another go at it. Please wish me good luck and strong branches!