Saturday, November 24, 2012

"How are you doing?"

It's a simple question. And for most of my life, it has elicited an equally simple answer:
"I'm fine." Or, "I'm doing great."

Life is a bit more complicated these days.
That simple question often moves me to tears.
Because I feel perfectly fine. I feel as strong as ever. I am as busy and active as ever.
But the busyness these days is focused on gathering supplies, buying hats and sweaters,
cleaning my house more thoroughly than usual,
stacking books and journals near my bed, and
perusing the shelves of health food stores for teas and supplements I never knew existed before.

How am I doing?

I'm an emotional wreck AND I feel emotionally stronger than ever in my life.

I'm spiritually strong AND wondering what more I need to learn in order to be ready for what is about to begin.

I feel surrounded by, buoyed by, lifted by, and filled with the love and support of so many people AND utterly alone, preparing to enter a space shuttle and blast off on a mission that no one can take along with me.

I want the entire world to stop spinning so that all six billion (or is it seven billion?) people would acknowledge how terrible it is that I have kanser AND I know that the suffering of more than half the people on this planet makes my bout with kanser seem more like a skinned knee.

How am I doing?

I feel like this is all a terrible nightmare from which I will awaken at any moment.

I feel like every solo trip, every hour of exercise, every journal-writing session, every time I admired black women with super short hair, every day I've looked with compassion on women and children who are obviously going through chemotherapy and prayed a quick prayer for their healing, every one of those incidents has led me towards and prepared me for this moment, this terrible, life-altering, challenging, perfectly-timed, heart-rending moment in my own life.

I sat outside Starbucks with several beautiful, strong, wise, loving, kind, Latina women yesterday afternoon, and we talked. We laughed. We cried. We prayed. We shared stories of the journeys of our lives. I was reminded that it doesn't matter where we are from, what language we speak, whether we are married or divorced, what church we attend or whether we go to church at all, we are ALL fighting terrible battles. We all want the best for our children. We all swallow our pain, our loneliness, our fears, and we walk on. We move forward. We cling to our friends and family members. We hold tight to our faith, to our prayers, to our dreams, to our hopes, and we press on.

Sitting with those women yesterday, I felt good. I felt strong. I felt happy. But as the sun set and the evening chill fell, I thought: I'd better get home and get warm. I cannot afford to begin chemo on Monday with the chills or with a cough. And, even if getting cold won't give me a cold, I don't want to get cold. I cannot afford to take any chances.

How am I doing?

I'm pissed off that I have to think about stuff like that these days.
I'm sad that I will have to cut my hair off this Thursday.
I will miss my breasts.
I am disturbed by the ominous list of possible side effects from all these chemotherapeutic drugs.
I wish this weren't happening to me. I wish this weren't happening to anyone.

I cannot count the number of times that people have said, "You are so strong. Your faith will carry you through this. If anyone can handle this, you can. All the years of studying the Bible and prayer, all those classes you have taught, all of that will sustain you now. You are so young and fit; you will do great thru all of this. I know so many people who have gotten through this and are 5, 10, 15 year kanser survivors. I know you will be fine. This will take you to a higher level in your faith, in your walk with God. You will be able to help and serve and teach so many more people as a result of this. You'll see."

I believe that every single statement in that barrage is true.
And I appreciate hearing all of it. I really do.
But I sooooooooooo wish I could learn all of the invaluable lessons I'm about to learn some other way.

How am I doing?

There is one thing that has been true since the moment that I received my diagnosis. One profound and unshakable truth hovers just above me, rests on the surface of every thought, hasn't leaked out with any of the millions of tears I have shed in the 24 days since my mammogram on October 31st.
One realization that I repeatedly return to is this:

I am not afraid.
I am not afraid.
I am not afraid.

This thing is gonna suck.
This process is going to test everything I've ever believed or thought.
I will be weak.
I will be in pain.
I will be exhausted.
I will be cut and pasted, poked and prodded, burned and sickened to my stomach.

But if these past three and a half weeks are any indication,
and I believe with all of my heart, soul, mind, and body that they are,
I will not be afraid.

For that, I say, "Thanks be to God."


A few early verses from Isaiah 43, made personal.

But now this is what the Lord says,
He who created you, Gail,
She who formed you, beloved one,
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you,
I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
You are precious and honored in my sight, and I love you.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you."

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Oh. Thank you for this most honest, transparent post, dear Gail. It is as important for us to read your expressed words as it is for you to vulnerably share them.

Honestly, tears are falling as I write this. My heart breaks open a bit more each and every time you come to mind. There is no choice but to stop and honor the emotions as they come, hoping to transform them into truth & strength, through prayer & petition, with each and every pause.

Standing with you in Love & Light,