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Bringing you the motivation to keep going, reclaim your life and be more than a survivor.

About My Mother . . . and LungLeavin’ Day


Karen Sue Gunderson

Where in the hell were your parents?!” is usually what I hear after someone learns about my traumatic past. Heck, even my Dad asked the same thing one Spring evening when I shared the dark details: “Where was I, when all this was happening?” Several years ago, I posted a piece about my dad. Now, it’s time to tell you about my mother.

But before I do that. I need to tell you about Heather and Cameron Von St. James.

Cameron sent me an email. Here’s what he said:

 I am reaching out to you today because of your blog! My name is Cameron Von St. James and I’m a husband to one of the strongest people I know. Eight years ago, after our only child was born, my wife Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma – a rare cancer caused only by asbestos exposure. My wife’s chronic illness taught us the importance of acknowledging and overcoming our fears, something that prevent us all from living life to the fullest.

This February 2nd marks the 8th anniversary of Heather’s life saving surgery, which involved a risky procedure requiring the removal of her left lung. It is a very special day to me and is considered one of the memorable days of my life! We’ve coined this day as LungLeavin’ Day.

Wow! I don’t know many people who would find a way to laugh about loosing a LUNG . . . a lung, people! As Cameron mentioned, when faced with a life altering event or chronic condition, fear can leap upon our hearts rendering us powerless to find our way out of the fog. As I read his email, I thought about you, dear survivor. Fear is the jailer that keeps people with Post Traumatic Stress locked away believing there is something so terribly wrong with them, they’ll have to live with it forever.

I also thought about my mother.

Karen Sue Brown (Lindsay-Gunderson) died at the age of 45 from lung cancer. Like Heather, it was a rare diagnosis for a woman in 1992, who had never smoked or worked in an industrial environment. Her brief nine month fight with the disease cracked her open to fears she never knew existed . . . and never spoke about . . . to anyone.

It was only after she’d passed, perusing through her myriad books on the subject of cancer, that I was able to gather a sense of her state of mind in those last few months – and quite possibly, how she secretly dealt with everything life brought. Since she was a woman who placed more stock in facts and logic that upheld her view of perfection than the dirty, gritty reality of life, I wasn’t surprised to find those books well read. However, I was surprised to find she had only highlighted information about how much worse her cancer was likely to get, completely ignoring references to the possibility of healing.

My mother’s fear had killed her and fear was killing me, too.

Talk about up a creek without a paddle . . . this is me at age 11. The photo was taken by the man who abducted me during the 2 week ordeal.

Talk about up a creek without a paddle . . . this is me at age 11. The photo was taken by the man who abducted me during the 2 week ordeal.

I was transported in time, sitting before my mother, who’s angry and glaring because of an embarrassing phone call from my friend’s mother (You need to have a conversation with your daughter. She has something extremely important to tell you.). That’s when I finally told an adult about the least offensive act I could think of that had taken place at the hands of a predatory pedophile during my ‘abduction’ the year prior.

He took pictures of me.

Without her eyes softening, hands still on her hips, she asked only one stern question, “Did he hurt you?”

It had been more than a year since my Great Aunt’s husband had taken me to a remote location in the Canadian wilderness. Any physical wounds I’d suffered had long since healed. But I still felt terrible. It was a deep emotional pain that defied the vocabulary of an eleven-year-old girl.


Mother spun on her heel and headed straight for the telephone. We never spoke of it again.

Staring at piles of highlighted cancer books, I came face-to-face with the power of the mind to manifest our reality. It’s been said that what you think about, you bring about. In the case of my mother, she was terrified, suffering silently and not just since her diagnosis. It’s my belief that fear prevented my mother from being emotionally expressive and the stress of holding a lifetime of anguish inside her, manifested in disease at her body’s weakest point – asthmatic lungs.

The added stress of fearing for her life, her family and the grandchild she had only begun to know, moved the cancer through her system swiftly. My own fears about whether or not I carried cancerous genes and could live beyond the age of forty-five had only just begun upon her death. Compounding my fear was the acknowledgment that I’d been running from a very dark and painful past. I was diagnosed that same year with PTSD. For me, the cost of fear was death – clearly far too high a price to pay.


Happy, healthy, whole me 🙂

Last year (2013) marked a turning point. As of October, I’ve lived three months longer than my mother. I’m the healthiest I’ve been, since playing varsity softball in high school. I spend more time on preventive health care than treating illness (I rarely get sick anymore) enjoying yoga, paddle boarding, kayaking, hiking and eating clean foods. Clear and healthy boundaries are now a part of my new life, meaning that I’m not a doormat anymore. Loving, vibrant, positive people surround me; the neg-heads and haters, as my son likes to call them, are gone.

The best part? I’ve been PTSD symptom free for eight years, and I’m not afraid anymore.

No more looking over my shoulder, waiting for the next PTSD trigger to steamroll me into oblivion! I’ve accomplished the measure of healing I set out to achieve and then some. With that in my back pocket, I have the confidence to do anything. You will too.

Thanks, Heather and Cameron, for LungLeavin’ Day, for thinking of PTSD survivors and for including them in your initiative to eliminate fear. Tell us more about LungLeavin’ Day:

The purpose of LungLeavin’ Day is to encourage and empower others battling their own illnesses and life challenges to face their fears! On this day we celebrate for those who are no longer with us, for those who continue to fight, for those who are currently going throug

h a tough time in their life, and most importantly, we celebrate life! Each year, friends and family gather at our house around a bonfire where we write our fears on a plate and smash them into the fire to represent conquering our fears.

LLD-TalkingPlateThis year, we are asking others to participate in LungLeavin’ Day! We’ve created an interactive page that tells the full story of this special day, which can be found here or by clicking on the cartoon plate.

I’d love for you to check out the page and help spread the word about LungLeavin’ Day! It would mean so much to Heather and I.

Thanks so much for your time!


Won’t you join me? Let’s help Heather and Cameron spread the word about facing down our fears and walking into a life we were meant to live . . . a life WORTH living!

Oh, and by the way, I don’t have ANY  fears about whether or not the Seattle Seahawks will win Superbowl XLVIII !!! GO HAWKS !!!




About my father…

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Stephen L. Gunderson
My Daddy

Daddy. That’s what I lovingly called him. Until I woke up.

He wasn’t the one, mind you. People who’ve only heard snippets of my story over the years privately wonder about that. Today, on Father’s Day, I’m making it official. I’m going on record to say in my long history of abuse, my wonderful father was never a part of any of it.

When I Woke Up, I Was 10, has been a labor of love, passion and pain for almost as long as my struggle with Post Traumatic Stress. As my memoir of sorts, the title attempts to capture the realities of how our world’s rape culture (especially here in the U.S.) suddenly dawns upon the innocence of childhood (especially for girls). It also hints at how traumatic experiences – from sexual abuse, cancer, war or any other horrible thing you can think of that human beings do to one another – can just as suddenly cause an awakening of the human spirit. What I didn’t anticipate was the clarity about my traumatic past writing When I Woke Up, I Was 10 would give me.

Here’s what happened, but by no means was this the beginning. I was 10 years old. My great aunt’s pedophile husband duped her into abandoning her plans to escort me on a one week trip to Puntzi Lake, Canada. Instead, he convinced her he was capable of the task; thus beginning my nightmare.

What were you doing the summer when you were 10?If you were like me (female in 1978), you were collecting Breyer horses, riding your ten speed or

Always on my daddy’s lap…

banana seat bicycle and still enjoying a run through the sprinkler. I still called my father, daddy. When he returned home from a long day working at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, I would run to greet him. His strong, lean arms encircling me in his protection. I shouldn’t have had to enjoy the grounding sense of security and protection his touch gave me “while it lasted.” At 10, I took it for granted. At 10, I woke up to the realities of a hard, harsh, uncaring breed of men that would haunt me well into my 30s.

Ten years old is too young to start calling your father, dad. But being jumped in to the scary, dark side of adult sexuality, made the burden of knowing things I shouldn’t about my daddy follow me around like a shadow. These frightening things a secret only to me, apparently. Certainly if my mother and great aunt knew this secret life of men, they wouldn’t have allowed me to go on that fateful trip, would they? That was the year something within me shifted. The only man I had really ever known or trusted became “Dad.”

As a 44 year old, independent woman, I still run to greet my daddy, despite what turned out to be not only two weeks of torture, but also 23 years of abuse at the hands of men. Ok, not much running going on at my age, but he’s the first stop I make. And guess what? I still feel an overwhelming sense of security and protection when I’m wrapped in his arms.

As a child, this confused me. At first, the aftereffects of sexual abuse threatened to instill fear of my daddy. As I found my way into being a woman, nearly every experience I had with men turned out poorly for me; from marrying them, befriending them, partnering with them in business, or giving them pastoral authority over my spiritual wellbeing. In the arms of my daddy, all this was turned upside down. Flying in the face of what my experience had taught me, the consistency of my daddy’s love gently wore away the pain.Over time, our deep and intense love for one another and our affectionate way of being together swept away that fear altogether.

Graduating from bible college together…

At 30, when I entered into my final, intense healing season (lasting three years), it was the consistency of how I felt with my daddy’s arms circled around me that gave me hope. A hope that somehow I could find my way out of a nightmare and back into the reality I had known before I woke up.

Now, almost 10 years living as a whole, healed and symptom free survivor, I relish the moments in his arms and think of him as daddy once more. I drink in the stable, unconditional security his sixty-seven years envelops me in every time we embrace. I grieve for the lost years, when I should have been able to enjoy security, instead of questioning. And, although he wasn’t able to protect me from what he didn’t know (or what was kept from him), on this side of healing, I’m grateful for his generosity, fairness and quiet strength.

How can one truly know the sheer joy of safety in another’s arms unless that safety has been violated?

You gave that joy and safety to me daddy. I love you with all of my heart, my soul, my very being.

Happy Father’s Day 🙂

The Pugs of Procrastination: Harnessing your power to decide

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Ella strutin’ her puggy self in her new flame enhanced harness of power.

The days of using a training collar had long past. It was time to graduate to a harness. Some people buy harnesses because their dogs pull. We buy harnesses once our dogs have learned leash etiquette and respond well to voice commands.

Because pugs are fairly little guys compared to our neighborhood bullies and the off-leash-dog-park thugs, we occasionally have to YANK! them to a position of safety. To do so on their little necks would be cruel, not to mention, painful…and expensive. Our family chiropractor is a generous individual, not charging us for the adjustments he gives Jack and Ella, but we don’t want to test his character.

We arrived at Sophie’s Touch, a local pet boutique here in Gig Harbor, with the intention of picking up a couple of harnesses and new leashes. Two hours later, after multiple try-ons, fretting about matching each leash and harness, choosing a combo that reflected each pug’s personality and, of course, verifying the safety of the equipment, I sat in the car exhausted, with two very ordinary sets of dog walking gear. Much to my chagrin, a life lesson bubbled up to the surface.

If you haven’t gathered it already, Ella is the flashy one. Jack chooses to be more dignified and reserved in his standard black harness.

What had happened that suddenly, it now took me two hours to make such a simple decision? I ran down the list of usual suspects.

Was it my hormones? According to author, Gabrielle Lichterman (28 Days: A Daily Horoscope for Your Hormones), right around day 25 of a woman’s 28 day hormone cycle, we find it difficult to keep our attention focused, especially while performing certain boring tasks, such as reading an instruction manual or watching whatever Hilary Duff movie is on TV. When it comes to making decisions, declining estrogen and testosterone make our moods subject to change without notice, so making biggies that can’t be reversed, like accepting an invitation to be an MTV Real World housemate thinking it will boost your credibility or scooping up a great deal on a  faux zebra stripe skirt off of EBay before you realize it won’t go with your leopard print wardrobe, is a no-no. Best to wait until days 6-10 to make those kind of decisions! Whew! I was in the clear.

Was it sensory overload? Only in America do we face the dilemma of too many choices, too much information, and too many truly good options. Shopping for me is less about retail therapy and more about a reconnaissance mission…get in and back out, QUICK! I know exactly what I want, where to find it and can park strategically for optimum accessibility. Sophie’s Choice has a plethora of doggie goodies, but come on, we’re talking about a leash and harness here. There’s only so many to choose from.

Was it distraction? I know myself well enough to understand that, if I have something boiling away on the back burner of my mind, my attention to the details of the here and now will be diffused at best. Had my usual nemesis of using the pugs to procrastinate on my writing quotas jumped up to bite me in the butt? I genuinely didn’t think so.

As a result of all this self analysis, I began to wonder: In what other areas am I paralyzed in decision making? No surprise, a few things rose to the surface…for your enjoyment…or consideration…depending on your perspective. Here they are:

  • Method of publishing When I Woke Up, I Was 10: A Practical Guide for Transforming PTSD
  • To pack or not to pack, in anticipation of moving in four months
  • Pulling out of the stock market
  • Swearing off carbs…forever
  • Surgical mommy makeover (Yes, my son is 23. It’s about time, don’t ya think?!)
  • When to replace my 12 year old car
  • What to make for dinner

Pugs of Procrastination Challenge

  • What areas of your life would you like to harness your power to decide?
  • What decisions are you putting off?
  • Have you created a Pros/Cons list surrounding the issue?
  • What’s the very best that could happen? The worst?
  • Does a decision really need to be made? By you or someone else?

Like The Pugs of Procrastination?

Admittedly, Jack and Ella are my BIG excuse for not meeting my quotas. At any time, I can be found snuggling, napping or wandering around the yard with the pugs instead of wooorking! My only salvation? They’re homebodies and can sense a lap forming from half a mile away. If I’m disciplined enough to at least sit! stay! the pugs will do the rest – literally dog piling me with their bodies – keeping me in my seat doing what I do best…writing.

So, be sure to subscribe! Along with practical advice about healing from PTSD, you’ll see an occasional Pugs of Procrastination post…just to keep things in perspective. I’d love to hear from you! Tell me about your decision making difficulites! Here’s how to connect (handy buttons at the top of this page):

The Pugs of Procrastination: Pokey Feet Massage

Jack gives Becky a pokey feet massage, while Ella instructs.

The Pugs of Procrastination strike again! My pugs, Jack and Ella, are my writing companions. Admittedly, their adorable, furry faces are also my excuse for not meeting my quotas. At any time, I can be found snuggling, napping or wandering around the yard with the pugs instead of wooorking!

Once again, this message is brought to you by my tendency for writer’s block and The Pugs of Procrastination. The message? When what’s supposed to be good for you, isn’t…or at least, doesn’t feel so good. For instance:

  • Lima beans
  • Dental procedures
  • Gynecological appointments
  • Medicine
  • Criticism

Constructive criticism should feel like a really good massage. I’m not talking about a fluff ‘n buff either. It should give you just the right amount of ooooo, yeah. Right there, with a little bit of AAAAaaaaahhhh, *deep breathing.* That kind of criticism will get you the sort of change you need, set you in the right direction, put you on the path toward achieving all your heart desires.

On the other hand, plain old, run-of-the-mill criticism feels more like the pokey feet massage my pugs give me on occasion. They stand on my chest with all of their 20-plus pounds bearing down on their little, round feet, crushing my ribcage, bruising my delicate skin. Non-constructive criticism makes you shout, OW! Git-offa-me-with-ur-pokey-feet!

Which brings me to a point. Sometimes the people we’ve trusted most, the people we’ve counted on to be in our cheering section, who’ve given us constructive criticism in the past, accidentally stand on our chest with their pokey feet. We don’t expect it. It blindsides us, leaving us to ask, Why? But the reasons why are not as important as loving them enough to let them know when they’ve hurt you. Yeah, really. I’m not kidding.

Think about it. How loving is it of you to never say anything, storing up the hurt over the years, until one day….WHAMO! You let ‘em have it. Umm, hmm. Not so much. A kinder, gentler way of loving those who love you is to say, right away, Hey! Pokey feet massage!

Aaahhh, but what if the person giving you the pokey feet massage is yourself? Have you listened to your self talk lately? I mean, really listened? Try this three-step challenge:

  1. Carry a small pad of paper and a pen with you (or talk into the notes part of your phone using the microphone button on your SmartKeyboard)
  2. Make a vow – For one day, I will record everything the voice inside my head says.
  3. Now, do it, starting the second your eyes open in the morning until you lay down to sleep at night.

Guess what you’ll find? Not only are you, your own worst critic, but also you criticize everyone and everything around you! You say some terrible things to yourself throughout the day, especially first thing in the morning. Is it any wonder you have rotten days when nothing goes right? You’ve got a voice whispering cruddy things in your ear at every turn!

So, before you go telling people you love just how much they’ve hurt you with their pokey feet massage, check yourself at the door. Maybe they’re just confirming what you’ve already been saying about yourself, your work, your dreams. And if that’s the case, the most loving thing you can do, is love yourself first. Start asking who that inner voice really sounds like. Then tell it, thanks for sharing and decide to turn down the volume.

If you’d rather let Jack, Ella, or anyone else, give you pokey feet massages, be my guest. I’m ready to go somewhere. I’ve decided…I love myself and the people in my life so much, I must write…and encourage constructive criticism…even from myself.

Did you take the challenge? The pugs want to know! Share your self-talk discoveries or tendencies for procrastination with me! I’ll pass them on to Jack and Ella. We love hearing from readers and who knows? Your story might end up in a future article! **giving you credit, of course**

Be sure to subscribe, so you’ll receive each new article delivered right to your in-box. Also, feel free to ask questions, let me know what you think about the series, or just see what I’m up to! Here’s how to connect (handy buttons at the top of this page):

The Pugs of Procrastination: Honoring Those Who’ve Survived YOU

The pug formerly known as Reno's Victorian Martigra

The Pugs of Procrastination strike again! Since we can’t resist their furry little faces, it’s not fair to blame them. My pugs, Jack and Ella, are my writing companions, but before Jack and Ella…there was Marti.

For ten years, this little ball of fluff saw me though the most difficult time of my life. In fact, there were three occasions when I almost didn’t make it. Thanks to Marti and a very short list of humans, I DID make it. I don’t know how they did it…but they survived ME.

Healing from Post Traumatic Stress is the mental and emotional equivalent of being drug through a knothole backwards. Friends and family started looking at me out of the corner of their eyes, wondering where in the hell did she go? In place of the got-it-all-together wife, daughter, mother and friend, someone more like Sybil or the main character from The United States of Tara took up residence in my household.

Marti always knew I was still me. Regardless of the times I cowered in the closet, took eight hour naps (she loved that), brought her along to visit my therapist, or abandoned her (and my son) for six months with my alcoholic, then-second husband, Marti never failed to remember who I was…even when I forgot.

Somehow, I think it was her unflinching recognition of me, displayed in puggy kisses, nuzzles, and barks, that helped bring me back to myself and recognize a few things of my own. When people say they love and care about you, but suddenly disappear, offer empty advice, or worse, withhold life saving assistance at a time when it is, well, inconvenient for them, it’s time to take stock.

What kind of person had I become to attract people who would sacrifice whether I lived or died for their own personal comfort or unspoken agenda? I became frightened at the thought that I had inadvertently surrounded myself with people who would harm me. If I had done this, then I was the only one who could undo it.

I made a quick assessment. I could count on one hand the one’s who threw me a life ring, as I struggled to tread water in an ever expanding sea of PTSD: One, I paid. One, I fell in love with. Two, were family, so they HAD to, right? And one, furry little, pug-nosed, prima donna, who I thought needed me more than I needed her.

Now, six years away from having put PTSD behind me forever, I’m happy to say that my life is full of people (and two pugs) who’ve got my back. Thanks to Marti’s lesson, the haters, the co-dependents, the addicts, and the appearance-means-more-than-substance people are gone. Unfortunately, Marti is gone too.

Sadly, after all my trials and tribulations had turned into victories, Marti’s work was done. She had been there for me. She had seen me through. It’s been a year since she died in my arms. Not one day goes by that I don’t thank her for her part in helping me reclaim the life I have now.

Marti, this post is to honor everything you did to survive…me.

Little Miss Marti August 2000 - February 2011

Like The Pugs of Procrastination? Admittedly, Jack and Ella, my remaining pugs, are also my excuse for not meeting my quotas. At any time, I can be found snuggling, napping or wandering around the yard with the pugs instead of wooorking!

My only salvation? They’re homebodies and can sense a lap forming from half a mile away. If I’m disciplined enough to at least sit! stay! the pugs will do the rest – literally dog piling me with their bodies – keeping me in my seat doing what I do best…writing.

So, be sure to subscribe! Along with practical advice about healing from PTSD, you’ll see an occasional Pugs of Procrastination post…just to keep things in perspective. Have you had a furry friend see you through tough times? I’d love to hear from you! Tell me about your friend! Here’s how to connect (handy buttons at the top of this page):

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