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 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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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 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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It’s Alive!!!!

He’s Only a Prayer Away…

   Its so true that the Bible is the “living Word.” Today, I’ve been thinking a lot about the woman in the bible who had been bleeding for years. Let me see if I can find the scripture….(Matthew 9:20-22) “Just then a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years came up behind Jesus and touched the edge of His cloak.She said to herself ‘If only I touch His cloak I will be healed. Jesus turned and saw her, “Take heart daughter.” He said. “Your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.”

What faith that woman had. Twelve years of bleeding. She never accepted it. Can you imagine how hard it was for her to get close enough to “touch him”? Crowds always followed Jesus.  But her determination and her faith – even to the point of saying to herself “IF I COULD ONLY TOUCH HIS CLOAK.” How loving was his response. I’m sure that in the Old Testament times this woman was ostracized. I’m sure she probably felt very much alone. Maybe she felt as though she had done something to bring this on herself. Day after day she lived with this ailment. My heart goes out to her.

Although I have only been considered a survivor for almost two months now, my life has changed drastically. I guess the only way I can describe it is the difference between a beautifully painted “water color” picture and a vibrant, brilliant oil painting. The water color was before bc and the oil painting – after.  I wake up each morning thankful that God has given me another day.

That woman – I can almost see her determination that no matter what it would take – she WOULD reach Jesus and touch Him.  How did she feel when He turned around and acknowledged that He knew He had been touched?  Was she scared? But I’m quite sure His loving reaction – “Take heart daughter” was as healing to her as the actual reaching out to touch Him.

“Lord – I’m reaching out to you – as she was. I don’t know the words to say, because there is so much going on inside me… I want to touch you. The last two years have been the hardest in my walk with You. I know I’m not telling you something you don’t already know. I don’t know how to – get back to where I was with You. I’ve always been honest – you know this. So Lord – I will reach out to you today and I will simply say – “Help me.” Two words Lord. For I don’t know exactly what to pray. I only know that my life is in Your hands. In Jesus’ precious name I pray. Amen.”

I guess the biggest thing I’ve learned is that you can’t “earn” heaven. Its not about “going to church” church doesn’t save you – it helps build you up in Christ and surrounds you with other believers (the body). What saves you is the fact that Jesus died on the cross for forgiveness of our sins. Its His love. It’s His mercy, its His sacrifice, its His grace. How strongly I’m aware of that..

I’ll bet you her life was vibrant and full and she never took life for granted after that moment. I wish the Bible told us more about her – what her life was like before and after… I think tomorrow when I wake up I will picture what it would be like if Jesus was sitting at a table right across from me.  Perhaps even joining me in a D& D Skim Latte with a thick foam (smiling) and what I would say to Him. I think that is how I shall start tomorrow. For now – I simply say “Lord, like that woman – I am reaching out to touch you. Help me and I love you.”

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