The Me You See – Dedicated to My Pink Sisters

I was never a fearful person before cancer.  I think when you go through a life threatening illness at the time you stoically go through it because you have no choice. I had no choice.  Treatment is so regimented it is like you have been drafted in an army… 

Actually, I was drafted into an army – a Pink Rover Line that is so long and so wide that it would surprise you.

Cancer is no respecter of persons, it doesn’t matter your financial status, your race, your religion, your age. Once you get drafted, you are drafted and the drafting will leave you shell shocked but before you can even wrap your brain around WHAT is happening you are enrolled in a regimen that you have no choice but to be an active participant in.

I suppose it is a good thing that it is so regimented because it doesn’t give you much time to really think.  You go from doctor to doctor to oncologist to nurse, to surgery, treatment, radiation – in such a manner that it physically wears you out.  Chemo is no walk in the park.  I remember my first round.  I was a newbie, doing what I was told to do.  I came armed with books, my cell phone, my laptop. It was going to be okay, I was use to multi-tasking. Holding out my arm for the IV I said, “Here I am!  I got this!”  And then came the first dose… It takes hours… And the chemo I had is nicknamed “The Red Devil” for a reason. That chemo is NO joke – it means business as it runs through your veins.  Six years later I can still recall the taste, the smell the feeling of that chemo going through my body.  It hit hard and like a red tidal wave rushed with my blood through my veins to every part of my being.  I couldn’t read, I couldn’t type, all I could do was feel and what I felt was exhaustion.  It was like something I had never experienced before and would not have known what to expect.

That first night, I could taste it, I could smell it, it was in my pores.  Exhausted I went back to my childhood home and collapsed on the bed.  That night I had nightmares, I dreamt of hell and heat and sulfur and woke up scared out of my mind, my heart racing, my skin drenched in sweat.  No matter what I did during that time of treatment with Adriamycin, cytoxan and Taxol – I could not get that smell out of my nostrils.

The thing about treatment is this – that in a sense it is so regimented that you don’t have much time to think – you just go through.  For me, that was my saving grace – I followed a treatment schedule, I was in the Pink Army now.  “Deal with it Soldier! You don’t have a choice!”  So I did.

Early detection is key – I cannot say that enough.  After rounds of two different types of chemotherapy (I hope I remember this right… Adriamycin, Cytoxan and Taxol) and then I endured 35 rounds of radiation.  Radiation – a crazy thing that takes what looks like a red laser to your cancer site location and burns the absolute hell out of your skin in the matter of minutes. But it works… It’s role, to make sure it obliterates any cancer cells that *might* have survived those rounds of chemotherapy. Honestly, worse than any beach sunburn (while using baby oil) that a person has ever gone through, but you do it because you are in the army now, it is part of the regimen AND it works. And really, you don’t have a choice.

The second hardest part (and I say second, because the first hardest part is hearing you’ve been diagnosed with cancer) is post treatment life.  This is the time when you have done your time in the Treatment Service and all of a sudden – you are done.  You are cancer-free.  Some people choose to use the repulsive term “in remission” but those are the people who are sitting there “waiting” for the cancer to return.  I was not part of that delegated group.  Nor will I EVER be.  I was declared, “cancer-free” with a shake of the hand and a congratulations, I was released.

Released.

What next?? Actual time to think? What happened? I looked around and all of a sudden a flood of feelings hit me like a tsunami.  WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT NOW?  HOW? WHY?

All those feelings came upon me like a floodgate. Not only did cancer affect my body – it affected my life.  I became keenly aware during the time I was in the Pink Army Regimen of treatment of who outside my Pink world had abandoned me. People I NEVER would have guessed.  People who were close to me who while I was sick didn’t know how to talk to me.  I was still the same person, I hadn’t changed – cancer happened TO ME it wasn’t what I had become.  Yet in looking at me perhaps it made them look at their own mortality and they were “awkward” with me.   They didn’t know how to identify with me anymore. It seemed like there was a lot of “head nodding” and fake smiling and small talk which perhaps they didn’t think I could pick up on… But I did.  I don’t blame them, I get it – you don’t have common ground anymore.  You have never been where I was.  This is where the  bond between my Pink Sisters came in.  My Pink family, “the girls” the ones who got it.  The ones who knew.  We could just look at each other and get it.  We could act as goof-bally as we wanted or cry or scream or vent or laugh like crazy women and we got it.  WHY because we understood.  We understood that we were drafted, that this wasn’t our fault, that we had no control over it.  We were there for each other – holding tight to each-others hands – not letting go.  In many of our cases the holding of those hands (emotionally speaking) was what kept us fighting.  For those of us who experienced people we loved falling away from us – those hands became lifelines.  Holding on for dear life.

It’s been six years.  Some would say, “why are you still talking about it?  You’ve been healed! You are cancer-free! MOVE ON!” To which I would look at them with a mix of emotions – anger, pity, rage, sorrow and disdain because unless you are a survivor you have no idea how very difficult that is.  Each of our journeys have been individual, unique.  Each experience different.  The thing about the Pinks is that we understand that.  We allow each other to feel whatever it is we feel.  It’s okay if you’re angry, or scared, or sad, or whatever you  feel  – ALLOW yourself to feel it.  It’s okay.  That’s the difference between a survivor and someone who hasn’t been through what we’ve gone through.

I don’t say any of what I’ve written in bitterness.  God has given me a second chance at life, and I am every day thankful.  I have Pink sisters who didn’t make it and they were no less deserving than I. 

I’m not the same person I was prior to cancer.  My life has changed, my body has changed, my family has changed.  I’m still trying to come to terms with it.  Some days are easier than others.  Some not. I didn’t ask for cancer to happen to me.  I didn’t ask for my life to change – but I was drafted.  I have chosen not to become bitter – but there are times when I don’t know HOW to become better.  I hurt. Even as a Christian, I feel lost along the way.  There feels like there is such a responsibility to being given  the gift of a second chance at life – but there are added responsibilities that are due to the fabric of my life changing so drastically.  I did not sign up for this, I did not expect this.  The range of emotions I go through from gratitude to anger, to intensive fear is something I suppose will stick with me for the rest of my life.

I know that this is something that my Pink sisters feel too.  Cancer is not just about what affects the body, it affects all of what makes YOU you.

If I were to be truly transparent – I would have to say that more than the fear of going through it again (which a survivor worries about every time they go for that next oncology appointment, because you didn’t expect to get cancer in the first place – once bitten twice shy) – and that fear comes up every time you walk through those hospital doors. Even after 6 years the fear always comes up with every appointment.

But more than that – the fear of being loved and left again.  The fear of being hurt.  The fear of being alone is one that for those of us who went through it and saw people walk away from us is something that is a scar as real as any surgical scar. It’s the PSD following the Pink drafting.  The residue of what is left as you try to pick up those pieces (and even after 6 years I’m still picking them up) and move forward.

What encouraging advice can I give? The good that has come from cancer? The rainbow after the storm?  I can say that you learn to love deeper.  Like a tornado that unexpectedly comes upon the house of you – it rips the hinges of your bullshit meter door right off your house.  GONE.  You no longer have the capacity to deal with bullshit or pettiness or drama.  WHY? Because you realize how short life is.  You have had a crash course in what is important and what is not.  Many survivors have become just raw.  We have a tendency not to sugarcoat ANYTHING.  We ARE the REAL McCoy.  We tell it like it is.

That’s refreshing.  And if a survivor loves you – you are in for an intimate full blown love affair like you have never experienced in your life.  Survivors love completely, passionately with all their hearts because they know that no one is promised tomorrow. NOT ANYONE OF US – all though we all live like God owes it to us – He does not.  So being around a cancer survivor can be refreshing because they are honest and straightforward and to the point… At least most of us…

I choose not to live in bitterness – I choose to become better, but I am a work in progress.  I get filled with fear of the unknown.  I  get scared…  When you go through cancer, you learn to depend upon yourself because honestly – NO ONE is going through it WITH YOU.  It is happening to YOU.  It isn’t until it is all said and done that you are even able to think what it must have been like for your loved ones (the ones that chose to hang around) because during the treatment regimen it is taking ALL it can for you to get through it.  You don’t mean to be selfish or self-involved, it just leaves you no choice.

Six years later – my life has changed.  I can see the better now.  There IS a rainbow after the storm.  You just have to believe and wait and see.  And most of all – walk in forgiveness and love and trust that even if you don’t know the WHY of it.  God sees everything in its fullness.  After the worst of the storms comes some of the MOST beautiful rainbows.  I see it now – the rainbow… Sometimes it feels a lot farther off in the future than it actually is, but that is all about perception.  The fact is – it’s there.  You just have to look hard enough for it…    

 More Words For Your Journey

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The Rawness of Me – No There is No “Pretty Pink Ribbon” About It…

They say, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger… I don’t know about that… There are days when I don’t “feel” strong. There are many days since cancer, that I just feel plain vulnerable. Cancer took a lot of things away from me and stripped me of a naiveté I didn’t know I had. It showed me who would be there for me and revealed who wouldn’t. It left it’s mark on my body – but more than changing my body – it changed who I am. I found out about myself – I don’t trust easy, I don’t believe mere words, I know what it is like to believe people will be there and then they are not. I learned to grow dependent upon myself and upon God. I chose to become better and *not* bitter. Cancer (like a tornado)  took the screen door called bullshit clear off “the house of me,” what you see in me is a woman who is genuine, who does not play games, who does not get caught up in drama, who does not sugarcoat, who is strong because she had no choice but to become strong. The tide of cancer washed away a lot of things in my life that I honestly had thought were solid, stable pillars. It made me realize what is really important and what isn’t. My life use to be in beautiful water color type hues – but now it is in vibrant passionate colors.  

I know what I want, to live an uncomplicated  “Henry David Thoreau” simplicity type of life in the middle of nature  – writing for the Lord, building people up, loving wholeheartedly and being surrounded by those I love.  I love fiercely with ALL that I am because I know that tomorrow is not promised to me. Wholeheartedly without reserve, without pretense, without games, without stipulations or hidden agendas or expectations or “strings attached.” It sharpened my God given gift of having a discerning Spirit.  I can see through the crap and through games.

I notice everything (even if I don’t mention what I see). I think that having experienced cancer gave me an “honest strength.”  Yes, there is definitely a vulnerability within me – one that is so scared to screw up living. One can’t help but feel a huge responsibility when one is given a second chance at life. The only zombies I believe exist are people who are living empty lives. Chasing things like a “dog chasing their tail” people who just don’t get it – they want “MORE” and are never satisfied with what they have. They are superficial and one dimensional. They think there is someone or something “better” out there and what happens is they miss out on the blessing before them because they can’t recognize its right in front of their very eyes. They are living, but really – they are who the Jones’ really are – the walking dead.  It shouldn’t take a life threatening illness for people to wake up to what is important in life – I think most of us think that the bad things in life “will never happen to us” – but it can and it does.  Cancer is no respecter of persons – be it wealth, race or age. So think about what you really want out of life.  Someone once said to me as a child, “If you have your health you have everything” – I didn’t realize until after cancer how true that is.  Love double-fisted. SHOW people that you love that you love them – DON’T wait. SHOW THEM NOW. Tell them! People NEED to be told – and often!  If you have been hurt in your past, don’t allow that past hurt from keeping you from being loved.  If you do, the only one who is hurting you – IS YOU. Holding back could keep you from the very thing you have been longing for. Life is waaaaaaay too short for that.  Be open to allow yourself to BE LOVED.  You just *might* be surprised. 

YES, I can admit to feeling vulnerable but I don’t think that is a weakness. I think admitting it shows my strength. A person can be vulnerable and wise at the same time. What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger – no, what didn’t kill me made me wiser, took the pretenses off my life and showed me that all I want is to live a life of simplicity, honesty, and love and that I am not dependent upon myself – but on God who holds my life in His hands.  It also taught me to pay it forward in ANY way I can – I am doing just that because I know that the best is truly yet to come… Come “best” I’m ready for you.   

More Words for Your Journey

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No Matter What, God’s Got You!

“I will fulfill the number of your days.” (Exodus 23:26)

 This past Monday was my 4th year “cancerversary” (or so we survivors call it).  It was my 4th Year annual appointment from having been diagnosed with early stage, triple negative breast cancer.  I have been cancer-free for 4 years, but no matter how much time passes  these yearly mammogram appointments fill me with anxiety, fear and trepidation.  This time I was definitely concerned because I had been having painful sensations at the lumpectomy site; sensations I had not felt before and of course ol’ slewfoot taunted me with all kinds of horrible thoughts on what it could be…  Some cancer survivors like to refer to themselves in “remission” personally I have never liked (or used) that word.

I Googled the term “remission” and a Dr. Z’s medical report, Published May 17, 2006 written by Ed Zimney, MD (whoever that is…) popped up. He defines remission as such:

“Complete remission means that there are no symptoms and no signs that can be identified to indicate the presence of cancer. However, even when a person is in remission, there may be microscopic collections of cancer cells that cannot be identified by current techniques. This means that even if a person is in remission, they may, at some future time, experience a recurrence of their cancer.”

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but for me, I find the term “remission” to be insulting, offensive and inaccurate.  You see – I am *not* in remission, I am HEALED.  God has healed me.  To call it anything else is to belittle what He can do and what He has done and I refuse to belittle God and identify my cancer-free self as one who is in “remission.”  Now it is a personal thing, and many survivors fine with that term, I find it insulting and am quick to correct someone who describes me as such.  God has healed me, He has given me a second chance at life and for that I am truly grateful. I found myself thinking of the scene in scripture when Jesus calls Peter out to walk towards Him upon the water.   Matthew 14:22-33:

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.   After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified.

“It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.  

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I.  Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord if it’s You,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to You on the water.”

“Come,” He said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,”He said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.   Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

I didn’t want to focus on the taunts the enemy was whispering in my ear, because I knew just as Peter had – I would begin to sink.  So, with my mother by my side, my back straight, my chin firmly set I went to my appointment at the Dana-Farber holding on to my promises.

“I will fulfill the number of your days.” (Exodus 23:26)

“I have made you the head and not the tail.” (Deuteronomy 28:13)

“Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me. Your builders hurry; Your destroyers and devastators Will depart from you.…” (Isaiah 49:16)

This is why God tells us to hide His word in our hearts so that we can find strength in His promises. Unlike people, God does not make promises He doesn’t keep, we can trust that if it is written in His Word – He meant it.  He is not a God that He would lie. He is the Author and the Finisher of our faith – He knows the beginning of the story of “us” as well as the ending, so who better to trust???!

The memories of my cancer experience always hits me a new when I walk into the doors of Dana-Farber.  The confusion, the shock, the fear of the unknown, the uncertainty of what’s to come all come flooding back.  I guess it is a natural “knee jerk” reaction.  Once again, I went through my check in, my blood work and next – the dreaded mammogram (dun dun…) this huge machine that would give the radiologist the knowledge of what was going on beyond the surface… 

This is where most of us Pinks are found sitting in the waiting room, bitting our fingernails, holding our breathes, only to release them when the results (prior to leaving the Imaging Department) are handed to us.  It is the waiting that is the hardest part, the not knowing.  This time around when I was told that everything was normal, I burst into tears. Tears of relief and gratitude.  According to my oncologist, nerve endings can come back to life anywhere from 10 to 20 years from a lumpectomy post surgery.

I cannot tell you what I would have felt if the report had been otherwise, I can only draw upon my previous experience of receiving a phone call saying, “you have cancer…”  But I can tell you this – I believe that God would have given me the strength to face whatever I needed to face as He has done throughout the course of my life and my walk with Him, things may come as a surprise to us – but they are never a surprise to Him.

I have come to realize more and more that each day – EACH day is a gift, a blank sheet of life for us to write upon, one that we will never get back again.  Somewhere along the line we humans began to take each day for granted, to treat each new day as if it were “owed” to us.  The truth is – it’s not.  We were originally created to live forever – before Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden bringing sin and death into the world.  But most people never feel like “they’ve had enough life.”  Have you ever noticed that “old” is something that is 15 years older than what you are?

Life is a precious gift.  What are you writing upon the pages of your life? How do you wake up in the morning?  Do you rejoice?  No one knows what the future holds – but instead of worrying about whatever will be, why don’t we just rejoice and praise God for what He has given us today?  When you wake up tomorrow visualize the day as a blank sheet of paper.  What will you write upon it?  What memories will you make?  How will you view things? What difference might you make in the life of someone else?  Write well dear reader!  You won’t get these moments back… See? Another has just passed… Make every moment count because make no mistake about it – each one is a precious gift from God.

 

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Hello Old Familiar Place…

Hello old familiar place, it has been a year and here I am again; the place I least want to be.  Yet I’m here…  I didn’t realize how fast the year has gone by until I realized it is that time again… I stand in front of your doors, my back straight, my chin set firm – trying to keep the memories of 4 years ago from flooding over me and keeping me from doing what I know needs to be done.  Like a dog fighting against getting a bath, I have to pull my own arm to move jellied legs forward.

“I can do this.  I need to do this. I WILL do this.”  I encourage myself as I move forward, taking one step at a time.

Hello old familiar place, four years ago I walked through your doors, numb, scared, and uncertain of what the future would hold – or even if there would be a future to hold anything.  Yet here I am…

 I am not the same woman I was four years ago when I first entered your doors.  Every year I am a little bit stronger.  Every year I realize how blessed I am to have had yet another year.  I am more grateful for every day that God gives me a fresh page of life to write on.  I am more aware of the fact that none of us are promised tomorrow.  When I walked through the door four years ago, the pages of my life were written in water colors.  Now – they hold a precious vibrancy and boldness as I have learned to embrace each day.  The truth is that none of us know what tomorrow may bring – which is why we have to be thankful for today.

Hello old familiar place, I did not want to revisit you, yet every year I faithfully come against my will but with the strength of better judgment, because I know I have to take care of me.

I am not a statistic, I am not a number, I am not a previous diagnosis – and I most certainly am not “in remission.”   I am a thriving survivor.  I am healed.  I am a child of the utmost high God.  I will walk through your doors trying not to let the flood of past memories overwhelm and terrify me – but to walk in the strength of the Lord holding on to my faith remembering Who it is who is the Author and the Finisher of my faith.  My life is in His hands.  It always has been and it always will be. Although you can’t see it and I appear to be alone – I am not, you see, He is holding my hand.  I can hear Him whispering in my ear:

“My child I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you, through rivers you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you, for I, the Lord am your God .” (Isaiah 43:1-3)

“I have made you the head and not the tail.” (Deuteronomy 28:13)

“You can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens you.” (Philippians 4:13)

Hello old familiar place. God used you once to save my life – that is why I return every year. Every year I walk through your doors I am thankful anew at the previous year God has given me.  I am hopeful that I will be given another.  I should have felt that way before any of this had happened, I thought I had – but I realized I had taken life for granted…  I’ve learned  not to.  I have metamorphosed in a way I never imagined I would.  Yet even though I didn’t know what would happen – God did. In the dark place I have been He has brought the amazing light of other women into my life who have been where I have been. Women from ALL walks of life; women with the same questions and worries and wonders as I.  A pink rover line that needs to end, no new members joining in on it; but in the meantime – we squeeze each other’s hands.  We laugh, we question, we cry, we rejoice, we share, we LIVE.

Hello old familiar place – when my testing and appointment is over I shall run out your doors not realizing I had been holding my breath all the way through.  I shall release it and I shall go forth with a renewed commitment to live life FULLY and to make sure that I pay it forward. I will love more deeply, hug my children harder, I will laugh more heartedly, I will savor each moment of life as it was meant to be savored and I will dance as David danced.  In fact, I shall dance out your doors and not look back but forward until we meet again.  

 More Words For Your Journey

 

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The Call

The Call One Never Forgets…

How is it we take so much for granted – until we don’t?

Did you see it? The day the world changed?  I saw it! I never believed in “dimensions in time” before that day.  But I remember it so clearly… It happened with just one call.

What is one suppose to do when they get that call.  There is nothing in my repertoire that prepared me for how I should act.  What is the proper etiquette?

I had stepped off the pages of my familiar life into a vortex.  

Can you still see me?  

I am moving in slow motion… Feeling invisible while you go on with your every day life – unscathed.

How can YOU go on like that? Like nothing has changed?  Going about your usual duties… Thinking of your plans, your tasks, your work. How DARE you! Stop! Right NOW!  You are moving so fast – while I am moving in sloooooow motion…

“Helloooooo!!! Can you see me????”  A strong desire to wave my hand in front of your face.  I’m quite sure I’ve become invisible.  WHY do I FEEL like I am NO LONGER a part of the HUMAN RACE???

I feel ALONE. So ALONE.

You can’t SHARE this with me.  It’s not something you can SHARE because it is happening to ME.

I can’t even FATHOM WHAT it is that has happened.  

My mind is outside of my body…. Incredulous.  Unaccepting.  Astonished….

I want to shake you!  I want to cry out to you – “Help me! Help me!!! Please wake me up from this horrible, horrible dream!!! This CAN’T BE!” But you don’t see the changes.  Maybe you don’t even see me? Because you walk right by caught up in your thoughts, in your agenda, in your plans… I HAD plans TOO!

As hard as I try to go about my normal daily duties – I can’t.  I keep thinking, “We are not the same anymore…”  You can’t understand. You can’t experience this from the same place as I.  Its as if there is a chasm between us.  I once was where you are – but you have never been where I am.

Where am I?” 

Even if you wanted to – you can’t.

“What happened? What is going on? How did this happen? Why did this happen? Did this even happen?”

I want to scream! I want to shout! I want to cry!  But I can’t because I’m on the outside looking in…

This is NOT happening.  Not to ME.  I’m YOUNG. I’m not old yet! This can’t happen – not to ME. No! No! No!!!!!

Who is that lying on that hospital bed with the backless hospital gown on, going through all those tests? Staring up at the drop down ceiling in the basement of the Radiology department of some hospital.

What did you say?

“Blah Blahh Blahhh… Cancer. Blah blah blahhh surgery… Blah blah blahhh chemo…”

Why can’t I understand your words?  Why do you sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher?  I see your lips moving – but I can’t understand your words?

I turn my head and look at my mother… My safety net. The woman who birthed me.  She reaches out and touches my hand… I feel it…. I FEEL IT!   My eyes beseech her for understanding.  For clarity.  For understanding.  She leans over and kisses my forehead.

She see’s me! I’m not invisible.  I’m still here!!! 

She translates the Oncologist words.  It’s not the words I understand and accept, it’s her reassuring firm motherly tone that soothes me.  It’s the way she is holding my hand.  It’s the strength in her voice.  The same familiar strength I’ve heard throughout many moments in my life.  Like when I was a child and woke up from a bad dream, and she comforted me as only a mother can do.  
Her voice becomes my lullaby. Rhythmic. Soothing. Like the comfort an unborn baby gets from the pulsating familiar sound of a mother’s heartbeat.

“One step at a time.  Come on. We can do this. FIGHT. You are not alone.  See? Here is my hand. FIGHT.  I am NOT going to let you give up! FIGHT. Moment by moment – see? We’ve already made it to the next.  Look – there’s another one. FIGHT.”

I do it because she says to.  She’s my mother.  She knows.  The vortex is getting smaller now. I can step from the hole back onto the groove of humanity.  Because she tells me to.
FIGHT.

I’m concentrating on the word with ALL I have. FIGHT.  Don’t GIVE in. Don’t GIVE up. Don’t let go. Don’t think too hard. FIGHT.

 I don’t recognize the woman in the mirror.  Who is she?  She kinda looks like me.

FIGHT.

My senses are gone… All except for the sense of smell… Will I EVER get that smell of chemotherapy out of my nose??? It sickens me… Taste is exaggerated, I never want to see another Jolly Rancher for as long as I live….

FIGHT.

How did the moments turn into minutes? Into hours? Into days? Into months?  Chemo is over now – switching it up to radiation…  How can something you don’t FEEL cause SUCH burns?  Will it EVER stop?

F I G H T.

Radiation is over. So are the doctor appointments. So is the treatment.  It has been a success… 

What do I do now?

LIVE.

I turn and scratch my peach fuzz head…

Live?  How?  I don’t remember how?

JUST LIVE.

And so I do..  Tentatively, like a baby learning how to walk.  Unsure of whether or not I’ll lose my balance and fall… I can see those who stood by me throughout this whole ordeal – the TRUE ones.  Ready to catch me should I begin to fall.

LIVE,” they say encouragingly…  LIVE.

And so I will… Each moment, each minute, each day.  Not as before.  Never as before.  I’ve lost the know-how to BE as before.  I am changed…

Changed – but very much ALIVE.

More Words for Your Journey

 

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The Tsunami Called Breast Cancer – Dedicated to my Pink Sisters & Every Survivor

Art Work Created By My Very Talented Pink Sister, Ria Goudswaard

What a relief it would be to let my feelings pour out upon this page like a flood bursting from a dam. But I am experiencing an emotional drought. As if I’m having a rigor mortis of my emotions. My eyes sting, there are no tears. Perhaps I am shell shocked? A prisoner inside my own head… 

I am walking along the shore of my life. All you know about me is what you see now. The ravages of a tsunami called breast cancer stormed into my life. 
No warning
No forecast. 
The storm clouds came in so quickly I had no time to plan or to gather my thoughts. 
No time to think.
The waves were over my head leaving me no time to do anything other than swim with the tide. Every moment I fought for my life. It left me unrecognizable to my own self. 

Who IS this woman? I do not recognize her? Where am I? Who am I? What happened???

 Like a person caught in the middle of a bad dream, I couldn’t wake up no matter how hard I tried. Talk about a crash course in learning? What was once only the pretty pink magnetic ribbons you see while in the checkout line of a grocery store became a crash course of Breast Cancer 101. I learned MORE than I ever wanted to know about my body. I was asked to make options and make choices as if I was shopping online and choosing between one item or another.

 “Would you prefer a mastectomy or a lumpectomy? Although you are a great candidate for a lumpectomy the choice is yours….” 

Like a bad dream where the girl is trying to run away from the murderer the only thing I could think of at that time was:

“JUST GET IT OUT. CUT IT OUT. GET IT OUT!!! I DON’T CARE HOW – JUST DO IT!” 

 

So hard to believe that one lump the size of a nickel, one painless little lump right where you would place your hand to say The Pledge of Allegiance, was capable of sucking the life out of me. Like a tick or a leach. Capable of whipping into a strong storm that would become a tsunami that would affect every area of my life and that of my family leaving no stone unturned. How strange is it that cleaning up the aftermath of the tsunami hurts more than the tsunami itself? 

Walking along the shore, two years have passed. The Tsunami is gone now. So is life as I knew it.

 Is this shore my life? 

Yep… I recognize that broken piece of china. It was 19 years old. You wouldn’t know it by looking at it now, but that use to be a china cup called “marriage.” I won’t lie to you, it had a chip in it before the storm occurred. I think I accidently chipped it. But it was still drinkable… It was my fault, the chipping. But the storm, well the cup couldn’t tolerate the gales of wind. The tidal wave shattered it into that unrecognizable piece of china you see right there. Throw it down now – before you cut your finger on that jagged piece. It’s no good to anyone. It’s just a memory of what once was.

Gazing around the shore of my life – I see familiar fragments of things that once were. Running my fingers through my shortcurls I lick lips that are dry. Trying to figure out which way of the shore I should walk.

 I would walk back the way I came, but I don’t know how. I would walk ahead – but I’m uncertain of where that would take me. I’ve lost my direction. I am in an unfamiliar place. I go and sit on the edge of a levy, feeling very much alone.

 “Helllooooooooooo!!!” I yell. The sound echos, “Anyone there????” 

Way off in the distance I can see a figure walking in my direction. A tiny little blurry figure. I walk towards the figure, nibbling on the bottom corner of my lip. Walking past strewn items of my life like seaweed and kelp gathered on the sandy shore.

It is another woman. She looks at me. I look at her. “What the hell just happened?” I ask her. (A very strange question to ask a stranger.) But I recognize something within this woman.

 “I don’t know,” she replies. “ I was hoping you would know.” 

We find ourselves continuing our walk, how odd that I’ve never known this woman before – yet we are sisters. She reaches out to give my hand a sisterly squeeze that says, “You are not alone.” I squeeze her’s back. We don’t know where we are going, or why we are here. But we keep walking. 

Soon we can see another figure in the distance. She joins us. Another of our sisters… and another and another and another… Until we are holding the hands of many women, an unfortunate continuing line which grows and grows and continues to grow. A sorority none of us asked to pledge. A pink rover line. Although we wince at every new hand held – joining our line, there is comfort in numbers. Not one of us understands the “why” of it. But there is an assurance and a comfort that comes in just “being” together.
We cry together. 
We laugh together. 
We are quiet together. 
We mourn together – not only the lives of those who have had to let go of our fingers (but never our hearts) and moved on to the heavenly shores of eternity – but we mourn for our own lives. The lives we once knew. 

Oh don’t mistake any one of US as weak. The waves of the tsunami have beaten us down but we’ve arisen stronger. Our senses for life more keen, our appreciation for today – strong. It is as though we’ve arisen from the storm with a vibrancy. Shouldn’t it be an oxymoron that we can be both vulnerable and strong? 

Yet I move forward, still picking up the pieces of a shattered old life, appreciative of the ability to map out a new one. Trying to figure out who this new woman is? This one called – “me.” Alone – yet not alone…

 

Looking at the horizon, not certain what the future holds in store. Feeling the responsibility of even being “given” a future, learning to “live in the moment” thankful for a God who, while I only have seen in part – He has seen in full. He has seen the “fullness” of “Me.” There is a comfort in that. It must be where the “peace that passes all understanding” abides, completely and totally in Him.        

 More Words for Your Journey 

  

 

 

 

 

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What Exactly IS Good Enough?

 The doctors all tell me I should cry. But I am like a faucet that you turn on and the water doesn’t come out.  All you hear is the “squeek” of the metal as you try to turn the water on…. They tell me that with all I have gone through in the last year… Breast cancer, chemotherapy, emergency room visits, a marriage that has fallen a part, fighting for my life, loneliness…. That I should cry. But I can’t.  I just CAN’T.  Why is that?  I’ve wondered that a lot lately – but I think the truth is that if I start crying – I don’t know that I’ll ever stop.

I thought that chemotherapy was the hardest thing I’d ever gone through. But what has actually been worse – is the devastation I see of my life from all that has happened over the last year.  You see – when you go through chemotherapy – they give you premedication that makes you sleepy. That keeps you from feeling overly nauseous.  But after treatment – the pain of all that has occurred is raw. Its numbing, its mind blowing.  And all of a sudden you don’t have physicians, oncologists, nurses, radiologists all around you.  You’re no longer a “specimen on a petri dish.”  You’re standing there by yourself and for the first time YOU FEEL THE PAIN. The emotional pain is worse then the actual physical pain itself.  The awareness of the people who have shown not to be your family or your friend because a lot of people don’t know how to “deal” with what you went through. And there you are picking up the pieces of your life.  Wondering how you go on from there.  You’re not the same person you were before cancer and you certainly don’t know the fullness of the person you’ve become… You only know that your bs meter has no “pre screening” that you look at people who complain about tiny little nonsensical things and you want to say – “REALLY???” “Really???!!!”  And all the things that you had before put on the back burner of your life – have come front and center because you realize you JUST CAN’T GO BACK.  You can’t.  And its not a question any more – its just you know you can only go forward – only you don’t KNOW what forward is.  And your life feels overwhelmed with fires that you are trying to stamp out with your bare feet. And the tiredness is worse then the tiredness that came with chemo – because its no longer a physical tiredness – but an emotional one….
You feel like God isn’t there. Maybe because of things you’ve done. Maybe because what you’ve experienced in your life isn’t all “cut, dry and clean” like many of your brothers and sisters in Christ like to act like it SHOULD be.  Why is it that some brethern take such “pleasure” in the fact that you’re struggling? Does it give them a sense of powerfulness? Why are there so many of us Christians HURTING in the church? And afraid to talk about it because fear of judgement FROM OUR OWN body of Christ?  And so we quietly stew in our own pain, not certain how to get close to God again.  Forgetting that “He knows our thoughts before we even think them.” Forgetting even that during the time when WE FELT GOOD and WORTHY that we never really were???! Not one of us have ever been WORTHY. It is only through the blood of Jesus that ANY of us are able to come up to the cross.  I was reminded of that tonight.  That there is NO good enough.  That is only through the blood of Jesus that I can boldly go before His throne.  And so on top of everything I pray – “Father – forgive me. Forgive me for way back when things felt good and felt right before You that somewhere in my head I must have felt as though I was “good enough” but I am a work in progress. It is only by Your strength, Your grace, Your mercy that I can stand before YOU at all.  Maybe its the realization of that that will draw me closer to You.  For I can do nothing in and of myself.  It HAS to be You. It always has been YOU.  Forgive me for not seeing that until now.  I can NEVER be GOOD enough. But I don’t have to be. Because YOU ARE.  Thank you Father.  In Jesus name I pray.
Amen.
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The Way Back Home…

*This is a post that I wrote June 29,2010 four days after I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer. God does not cause illness, unfortunately it is part of the curse that our world fell under when Adam & Eve chose not to listen to God’s instructions and age from tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as depicted in the book of Genesis 2:16-17 “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Sunday, June 21st I held a moving sale with my family. Hardly did I know that day would be the end of a chapter in my life as I’ve known it for the last 43 years.  I came in the house, got ready to take a shower – and noticed a lump the size of a nickel on my left breast. It was just “there.” I ran down to show my husband and we called my mom.  My mom suggested that I be cautious and I make an appointment with my doctor for the next day – I did. Oh how quickly this whirl wind of events took place. Seeing my doctor she sent me for a mammogram (only the second one I’ve ever had) and an ultrasound. There it was – I needed to come in for something called a “core biopsy.” I came in the next day had the procedure.  Now I know no one is fond of needles – but especially needles put in places that they “normally” would NOT go.  However I went visualizing the Lord holding my hand.  The song “Jesus Take the Wheel” going through my head. They told me it would be a 3-5 day wait for the results.  THREE TO FIVE DAYS.  It felt like eternity.  I started thinking of my life for over the past two years… And I realized that no matter what – I needed to begin my trek “back home” to the Lord. No matter what the results.

I thought about Shepherds – how when one sheep is missing they leave their “whole” flock to look for it. I’ve been “missing” for the past two years. Away from the safety, the warmth, the peace the comfort of the Lord. Like a rebellious teenager saying “no Lord! I don’t wanna!!!” I’d gone my own way, looking for – I don’t know what.  And knowing the whole time that I was “looking for I-don’t-know-what.” The ironic thing about it – is I realized during the whole time I waited for the results – that all I need my Father supplies.  And you know – He gives so much better so much more ample, so much more generously than I can provide for myself.  Does that make sense? These past two years – I’ve done things I’m not proud of and probably will only reveal to my inner circle of prayer partners – and you know – I think it is important for each of us to be as transparent with our walks as we can.  Because the fact is – so many other brothers and sisters in Christ are going thru similar situations.  This blog is NOT a confessional blog.  You see – the only one I really need to confess ANYTHING to – is the Father.  And the most ironic thing about it – is HE KNOWS EVERYTHING ANYHOW.  He knows!  You can’t hide ANYTHING from Him. So why do we even try? Like Adam and Eve in the Garden – having eaten the apple – God knew it. He knew what they had done – but still – they tried to hide from Him.  We haven’t changed all that much. (LOL) we are STILL trying to hide from Him.  But here’s the thing – here is what I’ve learned – if you know the story of the Prodigal son.  You know that he realized how MUCH he needed his father.  He got to the lowest point in his life he could go and realized – He needed… He WANTED to return home.  And when he did – his Father was there – looking down the pathway – waiting, hoping for him to come home.  The Bible tells us his arms were open WIDE. WIDE WIDE WIDE.

I ran into my Father’s arms on June 24th. My doctor called me at work and told me – the results were positive. I have breast cancer.  My world has changed.  My life has changed – but you know what hasn’t changed? My GOD.  He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  I gave my life to Him at the age of 21. That was 23 years ago. I have run back into my Father’s awaiting arms – and you know what I’ve found? PEACE. I found security, I found comfort. I found love.  What was it I had been looking for before? I don’t even KNOW.  I only know – that my arms are wrapped around Him TIGHTLY. TIGHTLY TIGHTLY TIGHTLY.  How would you be if your child was ill? If your child was hurting? You would wrap your arms around them and hold them close to you.  Kiss their head.  The Bible tells us “If we being evil give such good gifts to our children – how much MORE will your Heavenly Father give to you?”

I won’t lie to you – I’ve been bewildered.  I’ve been scared. I’ve been shocked. A week ago – I was FINE. Well no – I wasn’t.  But you know what? Ironically I am now.  I’m FINE.  Okay, so I have a Goliath in my life – its called breast cancer.  But you know what? This morning as I read my Word and I prayed.  I thought of David.  I thought of how his knees must have been shaking as he stood infront of this giant.  I thought of how the other soldiers must have been watching on – mocking him.  This shepherd boy. Waiting for him to get pummeled by this Giant of a man. Can you imagine their surprise when the Giant fell? Can you imagine Goliath’s shock what his last thought might have been before he fell? David stood before him with one weapon – his faith.  His trust.  His love for the Lord.  He knew He was real.  He knew the battle wasn’t his. He knew the LORD would win.

This stupid little nickel size tumor came as a huge shock to me.  But you know – it didn’t to my Father. I and many of my Survivor sisters – who btw I’m just beginning to meet – are having/had a “Goliath experience.” But the fight is NOT ours.  And our weapon – is our Faith. I don’t know why my Father is allowing me to go through this – but this I know.  He is in control.  My eyes are on my Father.  My weapon – my faith. I’m standing before the Giant – and I know that as David did – I will win this battle. And my Father will be victorious and I will use this experience to extend the right hand of fellowship to the woman behind me (as women are doing now to me). 

Everyone in their lives goes through a Prodigal experience at some point. Its what you choose to do with what you learn that makes the difference. There is mercy and grace and love in my Father’s arms. In YOUR Father’s arms.  He is no respector of persons.  He has no favorites. He loves all of us – just exactly the same. In the midst of the battle – there is PEACE.

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