Go! They Said… LIVE!

*Artwork Created By My Very Talented Pink Sister, Ria Goudswaard

“The cancer is gone! I declare you cancer-free! Go live!” The oncologist declared over me, the support staff applauding. I simply stood there looking at them blinking.

The nightmare was over? The fight had been won? Go live? HOW.

HOW

For almost seven years I have tried to “Go live” but on the grounds where the battle occurred – the scar tissue of a fight hard fought and won unbeknown to me began to grow seeds of anxiety.
  How does one live after cancer? How do you put the fear and terror aside? How do you go forward knowing fully not only has your body changed on the outside, but you yourself has changed on the in? Your life as you knew it is not the same. Almost seven years later I am still trying to go forward.

There are days when I just want to burst out in tears of frustration.   Feeling like I’m on an escalator and I don’t know where it is headed. Feeling like I have no control. How does one “live” when they are afraid? Living with fear is a cancer of another kind.

Feeling the responsibility of being given a second chance at life but afraid to make mistakes… When you go through cancer you are more keenly aware of all the mistakes you made in life.

How do you get past the fear? Life has changed as you know it. You are not the same person. The cancer is gone – but YOU remain. All you can pray in your head is, “God help me to live. Help me to know how…” I don’t KNOW how… And you think that the knowledge will come in time – but the truth of the matter is it doesn’t go away… You learn to live with it. You choose every day consciously to become better and not bitter. All of a sudden you feel like a different species of human. Those who have gone through the battle understand. Those who don’t – can’t, you haven’t been where we have (and thank God you haven’t).

There are days when I wake up and I look around my life astonished that it has changed so much. It all seems so surreal… Like I’m living a very weird unexpected dream… A failed marriage, millennium children who think differently than the children of my era; how do you get through it? By it? Around it?   You have become a different person. The people you feel closest to are other survivors who have gone through it. You cling to each other’s hands like a lifeline.

“Don’t let go! I might sink without you!”
“I won’t – don’t let go of mine either!”

Strangers that have become closer than family.

You second guess every choice you make and you live in fear or uncertainty that life will ever stabilize. You feel like you are looking around every corner because once you were taken by surprise and now that you know how that feels like, you sleep with one eye open.

You love deeper and more passionately – it happens naturally because of what you’ve been through.  I call it “bear hug love” – that’s the only way you know how to those who are important to you and remain in your life… you try not to stifle or smother those you love because you are afraid of losing them or afraid of having them lose you… They can’t fully understand…

Before life everything was in water colors – now, post cancer everything is in vibrant hues.
Such an oxymoron of becoming stronger, yet feeling so fragile…

How do I live this life with so many emotions warring inside of me? The truth is none of us is promised tomorrow – but how can I NOT let that fear influence how I live today?

How do I fit all my living into each moment? How do I not allow the fear of “what could happen” ruin my here and now? HOW?

Tick tock goes the clock… Not to be taken for granted… What’s around the corner? Don’t think about it! Walk by faith and not by sight… Okay… Tick tock – what’s around the corner? Even unspoken the thought goes…

LIVE! LIVE! LIVE!

I’m TRYING.  I  put my hands over my ears.. I hug myself closer to try and rid myself of the fear… I quote words of scripture God’s promises to wrap around me… Picking up the shattered pieces of my life, trying to make sense of it all… Who am I? Why did this happen? How do I go forward?  Stepping out on faith.  If I take your hand will you hold it forever or will you simply let go? Tick tock…  7 years have gone by – how did they go by so fast? I’m on automatic pilot.  Life has changed so drastically.  Good things have occurred but still the uncertainty and fear and surprise of having had cancer never goes away.  It NEVER fades away.
 
And my body temperature is cold ALL the time… “I’m cold Father… Help me…”

Anxiety, fear, depression – emotions you didn’t expect to feel after the battle. I don’t feel victorious. I feel timid. I don’t feel like a winner, I feel small and afraid. Like a deer who is caught in the headlights of a car and cannot move out of the way.

I look toward my Pink sisters, other women who KNOW.  Other women who understand.  We are a sisterhood of survivors.  We are a pink rover line holding each others hands we do NOT have the ability of letting each other go.  We simply can’t.  We didn’t ask to be in this line.  We were drafted.  The line is so long it seems unending.  We CRY out together in unison, “We NEED a cure! God help us and every survivor.  WE NEED A CURE.”

God help me. This is not how life was meant to be. Help me not to be afraid. Take my hand. Calm my soul. In my head I know that NO one is promised tomorrow – but please don’t let that fear take away my joy of today. If I allow that to be the case then regardless of whether or not the cancer is gone – it has won. Because with it has gone my innocence. My carefree sense of being, please renew a steadfast spirit inside of me and return to me the joy of my salvation and my healing; the joy of LIFE.

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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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