Tag Archives: cancer

Beautiful Dancers

A week and a half ago, some cloudiness on my annual mammogram triggered two more mammograms, an ultrasound and a core needle biopsy. With our recent and plentiful family history of breast cancer, this was worrisome. However, my time-honored strategy of dealing with problems on a strictly intellectual level and forcing my emotions into a long but fitful nap served me well. Really, what had changed? Except for some bruising from the biopsy I was exactly the same as I had been the blissfully ignorant week before. Being aware of a potential problem without verification is really, bottom line, an exercise in stress management. Try to save the panic for later, focus on breathing now.

Over the weekend after the biopsy (but before the results) I packed for a trip to my younger sister’s to help look after her boys (with our other sister) for a couple of days, prepared my house as well as I could for a bunch of impending company (Mr. Wordtabulous’ cousin was getting married the following weekend and we would need place for five additional beloved people to sleep,) and rode that mental teeter-totter that goes, “I am in trouble; I am absolutely fine.” Regardless of what the results turned out to be, I knew that I was fine. I have everything I need and I was (and am) grateful for that. Still, it was wearing. Due to a technological black hole and some phone battery issues, it took the nurse two days and eight tries to reach me (they don’t leave messages,) to tell me all is well, which (even though I knew I was fine,) was still a relief to hear.

My time with the nephews was wonderful, and spending time this past weekend with Mr. W’s family was just as much so. At the dance after Becky and Brandon’s wedding I watched people gather, hug, eat and laugh. But not everything was awesome. Beneath the celebration there was heartache: for the passage of time, for loved ones departed, for one of our shining stars who is waging war on cancer. I felt the surge of  emotional riptides.  Out on the dance floor tiny girls in party dresses spun and hopped with mommies and daddies, next to luminous young women I first knew as tiny girls twenty years ago, next to teenage youth surrounded by people who have loved them their whole lives. Aunts and uncles and parents, new loves and long-time marrieds were out there. People facing crumbling marriages, homesickness, illness, disappointment and loss abandoned their cares and joined in. Survivors of those very same challenges turned and stepped in rhythm and in joy, reminding us that the dance isn’t just for the one moment, celebrating the vows we had witnessed a few hours before. The dance is the celebration of the enduring hope and love that makes us powerful in the face of pain, love that extends generations into the past and into the future.

Thank you, all of you made beautiful in your love and struggle, for the dance.

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Growing Pains

Growing up is hard. It is hard when you are a little kid and that stupid shoelace doesn’t make any sense at all. It is hard when you get a little older and simple childhood friendships become complicated by hormones and competition. It is hard as you step into your own life as an adult and possibilities are supplanted by realities. Later on, as the invitations to weddings and baby showers decrease and the Caring Bridge notifications increase, the high price of aging really hits home.

This week I have had the pleasure and horror of being with my mom and her husband, Rae, at their home in Colorado. It has been pleasurable because I don’t see them near as often as we’d all like, and it is nice to be here and be a part of their lives. It is horrible because my mom is in her second week of recovering from a mastectomy, and despite the fact she is doing fabulously the whole cancer ordeal is ugly. In fact, because she is doing so fabulously I am in the position of having to follow her around and insist she sit down once in awhile and stop hauling out heavy pans to cook in. I am prepared to tell her that if she starts to mow the lawn, I am leaving. Rae has been experiencing a variety of vision problems and while he isn’t totally blind, that wouldn’t be a far leap. So far this week we have had to talk about emergency contacts and financial issues and the kinds of things that raise the specter of (please, Lord) far distant conversations about assisted living and ultimately, funeral arrangements. These thoughts turn back onto me; I am not sure we have an updated will.

There is a lot of living left to be done, but we really no longer have the luxury of ignoring the business of dying. This is hard. This particular growth spurt has brought growing pains just as real as the ones of childhood and adolescence. But like learning to tie shoes, to cultivate lifetime friendships and to make the most of life’s realities, learning to prepare for the inevitable brings rewards. There is comfort in having addressed the kinds of things you have control over, and acknowledging the things you can’t control takes a little of their power away. This time of frank discussion brings the opportunity both for tears and for an increased appreciation of the time and gifts we have right now. Love is constant, but we keep changing, and will do so until that final day our own growing is done.

(P.S. I had to use this lame title so I could post and get up to stop my mother from folding laundry. Otherwise, I am sure I could have come up with something much cooler.)

A Good Day

I woke this morning to the sound of air raid sirens, which slowly resolved into the high whine of a jet flying overhead. As my confusion ebbed and I started to consider going back to sleep, I heard gunshots in the distance. Someone getting ready for goose or deer season, I assumed, since there were no sirens forthcoming. This violent first few minutes of wakefulness followed a horrible night’s rest. One of my dreams involved a harrowing bus trip with impossible hills, descents and breakneck turns. The unsettling dreams were interspersed with wakeful intermissions within which I wrestled pointlessly with worries. Was my mom getting a good night’s rest before her mastectomy? Had we sisters planned well for helping her out during recovery? Would my mammogram on Tuesday be clear? Have I done what I can to get my kids ready for school? What have I forgotten, what have I missed? Nothing constructive came of this. The morning was a mess of trying to keep moving, keep doing, staying focused so I couldn’t watch the clock, staying as positive and grateful as possible.

Worry is weakness and worse, a thief of energy and clarity. Nothing is accomplished better under the cloud of fear and anxiety than it is with clear eyed thoughtfulness and rational optimism. Many of Jesus’ best quotes have to do with casting off fear, and that is one of the reasons I am such a big fan. Still, like most of what Jesus stands for, I have a long way to go before I truly live the Word. (Don’t be me. Be better.) Aside from the fact that my mom was having a surgery to remove cancer from her body and I spent a lot of time wavering between functioning human being and a waste of space, it was a good day. No cancer in lymph nodes! Satisfied surgeons! A living, breathing post-surgical mom! A lot of people were praying for her. Did prayers bring her a better outcome than worries? I can’t prove that, either way, but I know for sure that that same lot of people faced the day with strength and hope beyond what faith in modern medicine provides. It isn’t magic. It isn’t even easy to be faithful or hopeful in difficulty. But it is effective, important, and life-changing. Every moment I remembered to put aside fear and embrace faith, I turned inside out, like a pocket being emptied of old Kleenex and last week’s shopping list. Tomorrow will bring its own troubles. Hopefully, they won’t be near as dramatic as today’s were, but how much better would my life be, would I be, if I faced even the everyday tiny worries with the same intentional faith that helped me get through today?

Re-Assembly Required

My sister, Kerin, and I were talking about the practice of writing when upset. Kerin blogged on the Caring Bridge website last year while she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, and she told me that when she was angry or freaked out, writing on the blog helped her sort out her thinking and calmed her down. While I have also found that writing helps me find clarity, I have never once been happy that I’ve sent out something I’ve written when upset. Never. I rant like a crazy person when I’m angry and when I’m scared I’m a self-pitying mouse. Emotional strain is helpful to feed and inform my public writing, but when the heat of the moment is driving, I’d better be working in my diary. Journaling is like spewing out the bad stuff: depression, anger, and fear. Post-purge is where I can assemble the framework of the facts, the impressions and the appropriate level of emotional temperature. I just run blazing hot or icy cold initially and I have to let the tap run awhile before I have something I can work with.

This week things played out differently. It was a stressful week in general, which tends to lower my threshold for an emotional spike. Then my mom called with the news that she was just diagnosed with breast cancer, an invasive type that looks like the one my sister spent a year battling with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. We hope that Mom’s hasn’t spread as far as Kerin’s had but until her surgery, we don’t know. She’s 700 miles away. For three days I couldn’t write anything. I think I was so overwhelmed with helplessness and fear that I couldn’t work up a single thought even to scribble privately. As I am moving through the steps toward accepting all this I am feeling calmer. I am trying to temper the apprehension with hope and faith. I am seeking practical applications for my nervous energy. I am taking naps and trying to restrain myself from self-medicating with alcohol and carbs. The workouts continue. Significantly, I am ready to start putting words down on paper again. Because after the ground crumbles underfoot, it is time to climb out and start reassembling.

In the meantime, prayers for Mom’s full return to health are appreciated.