Wednesday, May 5, 2010

After Cancer, Gratitude

I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude lately, trying to put my finger on what exactly I’m grateful for in the 6 year since I was first diagnosed with caesuras tumors and had my first surgery to remove them. When you have cancer, when you’re being cut open and radiated and who knows what else, it can take a great effort to be thankful for the gift of the one life that we have been blessed with. Believe me, I know.
And sometimes, in the amnesia of sickness, we forget to be grateful. But if we let our cancers consume our spirits in addition to our bodies, then we risk forgetting who we truly are, of contracting a kind of Alzheimer’s of the soul.
Not that I felt grateful each moment of each day. I’m grateful that what ever anger I felt after my diagnosis pasted quickly. I still got frustrated sometimes by the physical challenges I faced in the wake of cancer.
Gratitude is an antidote to the dark voice of illness that whispers to us, that insists that all we have become is our disease. Living in the shadow of cancer has granted me a kind of high-definition gratitude. I’ve found that when you’re grateful, the world turns from funereal gray to incandescent Technicolor.
There are, of course, the obvious things to be thankful for. The love and care of my family and friends; the concern and support of colleagues and community; the skill and insight of the doctors and all the other medical staff who have brought me to this very moment:
The nurses who spooned ice chips into my cotton mouth after surgery; chemotherapy and radiation.
The nurse therapists and aids who blasted Flogging Molly and Jars of Clay for me when I had chemotherapy. The blood technicians who made a steel needle feel like cold silk; the hospital aides who took a couple of minutes to talk to me about movies, books and mortality when I was in so much pain I couldn’t find rest.
These small moments of gratitude are the most poignant to me because they indicate that I’m still paying close attention to the life I’m living, that I didn’t succumbed to numbing obliviousness.
These days I’m grateful for:
The once a month Friday morning breakfasts with my cancer survivor group.
Those nights when I sleep through, and don’t have to get up and do the zombie shuffle to the bathroom.
When just the right song vaults and shimmers from my favorite radio station.
The pollen-encrusted bumblebees patrolling the blue-purple cat mint and bleeding heart that has been with me since my first diagnoses.
An iced raspberry lemonade.
The healing sound of my boys. Drinking from their water bowl.
The latest book in the JD Robb series or a new murder mystery from Mary Higgins Clark.
A chicken salad croissant with sliced deli pickles.
For my visits to the hair salon every six weeks for a restyle.
And gratitude, finally, for the you. Thank you for friendship for just being “normal” so I could feel “normal” too.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

I'M STILL HERE . . . . .

August of 2004 started me on a journey of scary discovery, surgery, chemotherapy, eighteen months of remission, return to scary discovery, surgery, chemotherapy and remission once again. Over a month of no cancer and good health returning. I never expected to become a cancer patient again. The scare in my twenties was more than enough. I didn’t expect to become the friend, surrogate daughter, mother, aunt to other cancer fighters. But that has become part of my journey these last six years.
It all started with my own cancer diagnosis by Dr. Hurst and Michaels at a routine “lady exam”. I laugh now but I was sad to think that all my “lady” problems might just be the beginning of menopause . Later after the cancer was confirmed I cried just wishing I could go back and have my share of “menopause.
I should have expected the cancer as there were and are many women in my family tree who have also taken this journey. I will say in my defense that most of these women were in their late”50” when they were diagnosed.
I thought at the time in 2004 no worries I have nothing to be concerned about, Right? I had had no symptoms that cancer had struck again. As if cancer ever really gives you a real sign!


I was so arrogant in my thoughts until a few days later sitting in the office of a oncologist that Dr. Michaels had recommended I heard those words “YOU’VE GOT IT!”?
Those careless word from a doctor I would see only once more throw me into a spin. My life was thrown upside down. The change was so complete that every thought I had from that moment began with, “NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER”.
I started a journal that was titled “CANCER SUCKS”. It became my “NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I’M GRATIFUL FOR". . . journal. Some of those entries made there way to my blog and e-mails.
As I wrote in that first of many journals I was not sure of my destination. I met Dr. Sherrie Smith and through her Dr. R J Udalle. They became my lighthouse, my beacon in this storm.
Those words written in a journal have become more than simple recordings of my own expedition. They have become the thoughts of others who have shares this journey of cancer with me.
I think of these word as not my own alone. These journals have become for me a common journal for all who must make this journey.
It became a way for me to say “you all have to walk that lonely valley by yourself”. I also realized that this was a paradox for we all need companionship for this journey.
I am on a journey , it is a trip of individual steps. I have learned to live in the moment while casting my thoughts and dreams to the future. Somedays only the moments could be visualized. Often it seemed minute to minute.
And so my life for a time became divided into categories that only I or maybe another cancer patient could understand. For a time there was no beginning or end. There was just the journey inch by inch, mile by mile, day by day… and so on.
The changes this journey have brought to my life where and are huge and at times overwhelming.
These changes brought great potential for meaning and enlightenment. Like the small changes in the egg as the chick peeks its way free of the shell.
It was on my birthday they cut the first of many tumors from my body. It was on another special day when I wrote my first entries in the “NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I’M GRATIFUL FOR” journal. I read all those words often. I have not changed a word of them. I have not made myself look more heroic or sympathetic. I have left them as they were.
When ever I would or do think what have I done, or what did I do to cause this I read those words. Words written when I was sick and tired from chemo and just sick of being tired.
They have helped me to not yield to the temptations of self pity. They have time and time again lifted my spirit. In their pages I have found only inspiration to continue my journey. Those page have been the salvation for a scared and lonely child, girl, woman…. The person I have become.
My story has not ended an those journals still have empty pages to fill.


The story continues. . . .