waiting…

This week has reminded me of one of the most dreaded and frustrating aspects of cancer diagnosis and treatment…waiting. I went in last Monday for my scheduled oncologist check-up (I am still getting those every three months until November) and  I mentioned that I have been having pain in several locations of my spine. Now, first of all, the last thing you ever want to do–if you don’t want more tests run, that is–is to mention bone pain (or any other pain, for that matter!) to your oncologist. She scheduled me for a whole body bone scan to be performed yesterday.

So yesterday, bright and early, I headed over to the hospital to have my bone scan run. First, they take you back and put an i.v. needle in your arm. Then they walk away, and come back with a little thick plastic cup with a metal covered syringe…filled with radioactive tracer. The tracer is injected into the i.v., the i.v. is flushed with saline and then removed, and then you are sent on your merry way with the instructions to drink lots of water and come back in three hours.

When you arrive back at the appointed time, they lay you down on a flat, hard table (not very pleasant for those experiencing back pain, mind you!) and tell you to lie very still for twenty minutes while the machine takes pictures of your body. Once the whole body has been scanned, the technician looks over the scan and decides whether there are areas of interest that need to be rescanned…in my case there were two–the neck and the tailbone. These are two of my three painful areas. The other area is the spine in between the shoulder blade region. After these scans are completed, the technician takes the scans up to the radiologist who will be reading them and makes certain that he has all that he needs in order to make a full report to my doctor…which apparently he didn’t in my case, because I then had to go and have an x-ray of the pelvic region for comparison. When the x-ray was completed, they double-checked with the radiologist and then allowed me to go home.

And now comes the part I started all this about…waiting. There’s a ton of waiting involved in medical procedures–waiting in line to sign in, waiting to be “processed” for insurance paperwork, waiting to have the procedure done, and in this case more waiting to have the scan AFTER the injection is given. And the most crucial–and painfully horrible–part of the entire process…waiting for the results. Yes, waiting develops patience (supposedly!). Yes, patience builds character (hopefully!). No, I still don’t like waiting! It’s painful. It’s horrible. It’s just plain awful.

I’m currently “counting 1,000 gifts.” A book I’m reading teaches you to count gifts in order to more fully focus on the love of God for you. It’s a wonderful book and a wonderful journey that I have entered in this counting of gifts. The author, Ann Voskamp, tells you that ALL things are gifts from God…even those trials and troubles that enter our lives bring us closer to our Heavenly Father. She can–and DOES–explain it much better than I, but the point of all this is that while I was having my morning coffee and trying not to stare at the clock and the silent phone sitting next to my cup, I was counting gifts…even the gift of waiting. “Waiting develops patience develops gratitude develops grace.” This was my gift of waiting. This IS my gift of waiting…and still I hate it.

I remember the seven days of waiting for the original phone call back in August 2009. Waiting to hear those awful, life-changing, earth-shattering yet simple little words, “you have cancer.” The waiting was agony. The words transformed my life of everyday dull routine into a whirlwind of confusion, pain, fear–and faith…but the waiting for the words was sheer agony.

I have no idea what the phone call I’m waiting for holds in store for me. Maybe nothing more than strained muscles from over-exercise. Maybe a compression from said over-exercise. Maybe arthritis. Maybe something I’m not quite ready to name again…just yet. But I am praying that whatever the answers will be, that somewhere in all this waiting I really can learn to develop patience develop gratitude develop grace. It would be nice to actually have something lastingly good come from the agony of all this waiting!

Chemo Curls…and Conflict

Had my hair cut Wednesday…and all the chemo curls are gone…and I’m not really sure how I feel about that. I know that I was quite startled last winter when the curls made their presence known; and then firmly established themselves in my life after almost 47 years of mostly straight, very boring hair. Not that I always wanted mostly-straight, very boring hair. Most of those years I prayed for curly hair, trying all the usual ways to go about getting them and none of those ways really working. Curling irons would curl, but didn’t last past the first puff of wind from the front door. Curlers, both hot and the sleep-on kind…ditto. Tried a couple of perms…months of burned, frizzy, not-so-great hair was the result. Except for the one that I splurged on and paid over $150 for way back in the mid-1980s when perms normally cost around $30! So, needless to say, that kind of perm was not going to happen often in my lifetime.

So back to the chemo curl surrender…there is a hint of wave on the ends still, but overall the beautiful, springy, bouncy, wonderful curls are gone. And with them, I am feeling a little less than…me. My youngest son says that his mom has finally returned…after almost over two years of either bald head or buzz-cut head or curly-locks head, his REAL mom has returned. And he is quite amazingly happy.

But I am feeling lost. After the shock of actually having the “much-prayed-for-my-whole-life curls” wore off, I really thoroughly enjoyed having them. They were fun and flirty and oh-so-easy to care for. Wash them (every-so gently, of course–my hair has always been very fine and tender), dry lightly with towel, rub a dab of argan oil on them, fluff with fingers…and go. You really couldn’t get any better than that for a beauty routine. And after the shock wore off, I really did begin to see them as a gift…a fun and constant reminder of God’s love and mercy for His imperfect and somewhat vain child. And they gradually became the physical representation of my new life. New way of eating, new way of exercising, new way of living, new way of looking…and most of all, the best new way of NOT having cancer.

The old body–complete with unruly, not-so-straight-but-never-curly hair–had been tainted with cancer for heaven only knew how long. It was even more imperfect than the “new, improved” model I am now sporting. So, in my mind, the curls went with the cancer-free me. So when I saw my face in the mirror, surrounded by MY old, normal, pre-cancer, pre-chemo hair, I began to face a much deeper, darker thought than I imagined the change in hairstyles could produce. What if cancer returns? What if–like Samson losing his hair and therefore, losing his strength–I lost my curls AND my health? Silly, huh?

Maybe it is silly, but these were the feelings tumbling around my mind and my heart after a simple hair cut Wednesday morning. And for quite a while, the fear managed to hold a firm grasp on me. I allowed the feelings and the fears to swirl and twirl their ugly little tentacles all around my heart…wrapping their life-sucking selves around all the energy and hopes I hide there. Slowly, however, rational, calm thought is finally prevailing. And I am once again remembering that the point is NOT whether or not the cancer returns (with the retreat of the curls or at some other point in time). The point is what I make of the time in between.

The curls were fun. And I will always praise God for the gift that they were while I had them. But now I once again have MY hair, and will try hard to remember to praise Him for the gift of hair…and the return of life. Just being able to breathe, and see, and move, and think, and love is a gift…whether or not there is hair on my head at all. So the added bonus of hair–curly, straight, or somewhere in between–is just a little frosting on the cake. And I will try to remember those days of baldness and misery and thank my Heavenly Father for the end of them…for however long that end will be.

the sum of my parts…

In answer to a friend questioning what some of my “pink sisters” and I learned from our cancer journey, this is what I realized:

I was truly blessed by my cancer journey…weird to say. I learned that communities can (and will!) rally around their own, church communities really can behave like the new testament church, that God is real, alive and wants to be alive in me; that my husband and sons really are incredible men of faith and love; that I have a lot more friends and have touched a lot more lives than I thought I have; and mostly that life really is worth living! I have grappled with depression throughout my life (and during and right after chemo) and have often thought life wasn’t worth the effort. Now I see how wrong I was…I want to fill up every moment with every ounce that I have, savoring every piece…the good, the bad, the sad, the joyful, and the mundane. Not what I EVER imagined a person could learn from fighting cancer…

love…life

It’s been two years since the breast cancer was surgically removed from my body. In so many ways, it feels as if it were just yesterday…all the pain, fear, and confusion can wash over me as quickly as a tidal wave–if I allow it–crushing all the energy and life right out of me.

In fact, as I look back over the past year, I realize just how far I have come from those days of darkness and confusion. I am now more confident in who I am, stronger and more resolved in the things I want to accomplish, more willing to sacrifice the immediate for greater goals.

The battle against breast cancer is not only a battle against an unseen disease–it is a battle FOR life! All of life, all that life holds. The promise, the joy, the sorrow, the pain, the loss, the laughter and the tears. My battle was not only to beat cancer and death, but to GAIN life. I had become complacent…lazy…tired…BORED. Life was just simply getting up, going through the routine, going to bed, and doing it all over again. There were highs and lows, goods and bads, but really it was just routine. When my cancer diagnosis hit me like a blinding light I had to face who I was, what life had become, and who I truly wanted to be. Whether I was fighting for the mundane order of my life to continue, or if I wanted LIFE, real life–in all its fullest and messiest sense–to find me. Very early in the diagnosis, I realized that I wanted to LIVE. Really live…not just going through the motions. Not just swimming slowly upstream, to my death, with the rest of the fish in the stream. I want to LIVE. I want to have fun…I want to see things in a new way…I want to experience each moment as if it were my last one. I want to get messy with life. Big sloppy wet kisses, mud pies, rolling in the autumn leaves, dancing in the rain…exciting, spontaneous, exhilarating…life. Every moment is to be savored, treasured, enjoyed to its fullest extent…the good, the bad, the in-between. This is life.

As you have seen throughout my journey, I am a follower of Christ. I believe in a hereafter. I believe there is a perfect heaven at the end of this rocky road. I also believe, as a Christian, I am to savor the life He has given me NOW. Trying to make my world a little bit brighter, a little bit sweeter, a little more perfect along the way. This is what I have learned through battling breast cancer. I am a survivor…a warrior…I am a life worth living.

I’m also nothing special, nothing different from every other human in existence. We are all designed to be survivors, warriors…most importantly, lives worth living. It’s not about big and bold statements. Although, some people are destined to make them. It’s not about huge, high-minded changes in the world. Although, there are those in this world who are created to do that very thing. It’s simply about learning to live the tapestry of our lives with as much joy as we can hold…and then fill it to overflowing.

Our world is full of amazing things, in each and every breath we take there is beauty and miracle. In yoga, you learn to take each breath consciously…breathing deeply and slowly through the nose, exhaling fully from the mouth. Savoring the breath, the moment, the life-giving force flowing through the air you inhale. This is what living is all about. Savor each breath. Savor each moment. Taste it. Feel it. LIVE it. Then move on to the next.

This chapter in my life is gradually coming to a close. For those of us with triple negative breast cancer, the serious danger of recurrence is in the first three years–I have one year to go. While I cannot in all honesty tell you that I face each doctor’s checkup with confidence…sometimes they frighten me almost to tears…I can tell you that with each passing visit, I am stronger.

Stronger physically, as I have worked hard to build my body back after the effects of chemotherapy and radiation…and after years of lazy neglect before the diagnosis. Stronger mentally, as I have learned to face the challenges of life with a little more grace and patience. Stronger spiritually, as I learn anew each day to rely on my Savior for the ultimate strength I need to face whatever life brings–even cancer.

The fear that cancer will return never fully leaves my mind, but I refuse to allow it control my life. Thank you for walking through this season of life with me…for sharing my fears, my pains, my joys. Life, more than anything, is meant to be shared. Every wonderful, exhilarating, messy moment means nothing in the giant scheme of things, unless it is shared with others to create a memory that lasts throughout time.

My final thought to share with you…the words that came to my mind each and every day throughout this journey…I would even draw them on the steamy wall of the shower…LOVE LIFE!

For each and every one of you, and for me as well, this is my lifelong prayer…that you will truly learn to LOVE LIFE! In your own, wonderful, wild and unique way. May God richly bless us all…oh wait, He already has…He gave us LIFE! Enjoy!