Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Some days are better than others...

The truth is that the recovery process has gone remarkably well.
Pain has been at a minimum.
I've been sleeping well, eating well, and my hair is growing in well.

My hair is growing in, yes, but I will never use those rollers again!

No serious complaints.
But still...
but still.
Some days are better than others.

Sometimes I look at my chest in the mirror and I cry.
The scars are long and still a little tender to the touch.
I hate the fact that I had to choose to have my breasts removed.
I hate the reminders that little scars on my abdomen provide -
my uterus, ovaries, cervix, and fallopian tubes are no more.
That sucks. Truly it does.

Some days I want to do to the supermarket shopping by myself.
But I can't lift grocery bags yet.
Some days I want to vacuum the stairs and the family room by myself.
But I can't lift the vacuum cleaner yet.
Sometimes I want to walk the long loop around my neighborhood.
But I don't have that much strength yet.
Some days I want to tackle the growing pile of ironing in the laundry room.
But I'm not supposed to take on tasks like that yet either.
Some days I want to cook a big meal, bake cookies, and clean up after myself.
But again, that kind of undertaking is going to have to wait a few more weeks.

Don't get me wrong; it is nice to NOT have to do all the chores I usually do.
It's nice to get a break from the heavy lifting, literally and figuratively.
It has been truly glorious to see how my family has stepped in and taken care of the food, the cooking, the laundry, and most of all, they have taken exceptional care of me.

It's just that every day that I can't do the things I want to do is a reminder of kanswer.
A reminder of that horrible diagnosis and the aftermath of treatment.
A reminder of the side effects of chemotherapy and the after effects of surgery.

At the same time, these scars, these lost and mangled fingernails remind me that I entered into the battle with kanswer and I have emerged victorious from this round. They remind me that I had to make difficult decisions in order to win this battle. They remind me that I fought hard to stay alive and now I choose to live my life with more joy, more faith, more courage, and more determination than ever.  (Yes, chemo can cause you to lose your fingernails weeks after the therapy is completed. Chemotherapy is the gift that keeps on giving!)

It doesn't hurt, but it looks pretty dreadful.

Even though some days are definitely better than others,
I remain grateful that the worst of this phase of my life's journey is behind me.
I am grateful that there are far more good days than bad ones.
I am grateful for hope and a future.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Randomness and connectedness... it's all in me

Sometimes I feel like every aspect of my life is tied together somehow.
The books I read relate to the topics I'm journaling about.
The sermons I hear relate to the relationships I'm trying to cultivate.
The verses and chapters I read in the Bible relate to the fears and doubts tumbling around in my mind.
The stories I hear relate to the challenges I'm facing on this kanswer journey.

The introduction to chapter 2 in Journal Fodder 365: Daily Doses of Inspiration for the art addict
is a perfect example of the overlap I'm discovering in nearly every area of my life.

Chapter 2 - Randomness and Chaos - How do I remain spontaneous as I react to the unexpected?

Life can be very random and chaotic, but many of us want our worlds neatly planned and structured. We feel pressure from ourselves and others to have a plan and to know exactly where our lives are heading. Life rarely unfolds like we plan, so open yourself and the journaling process up to some spontaneity as you allow a bit of chaos and random justaposition into your working method. The journal is nonlinear and allows for this freedom from structure, and it is a place to experiment and play. Emphasize the nonlinear quality and get messy as you experiment with new techniques to strengthen your investment in the journal

Too often artists can freeze because they have an idea of what they want the piece to be - a picture-perfect image in their minds. They plan, plot, scheme and then freeze. They are afraid that things will not go according to plan, and they will mess up and fail miserably. However, it can be helpful to openly invite a bit of randomness and chaos into your working habits and to put the ideal of the finished page to the back of your mind. By purposefully cultivating spontaneous acts, you can set aside the fear of making mistakes and learn to embrace the surprises that arise from giving up a little control. You can discover beautiful images and themes as they arise from the chaos and that you could never have planned. 

(The underlined words are of my choosing. They are not underlined in the book.)

Is this introduction about art and art journaling?
Or can I replace those underlined words with "marriage" and "parenting"?
Is this introduction about friends, partners, and children?
Is it about living a life of faith?
Is it about recovering from kanswer?
Or is it about the messiness of life itself?

I think it is about all of the above and then some.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

No News is Good News!

I've thought about posting a blog nearly every day since the last time I posted.

I've wanted to post gratitude lists -
for delicious food - some of which we've grown ourselves,
physical therapist/miracle workers with healing hands,
clothing and shoe shopping success,
small outings with family and friends,
among so many other things.

I've wanted to post photos of my children,
friends who have come to visit,
the beauty of Asheville, North Carolina on a glorious Saturday afternoon,
and the pots of strawberries, tomatoes, and vegetables growing on the deck.

I've wanted to tell stories about gazing at the full moon over Lake Norman,
about the love of a faithful dog,
the faithfulness of a loving husband,
and the wonder of living with two teenagers who company I enjoy.

I've wanted to tell you that all the bandages are finally gone from my chest,
and now I am face to face, face to scar, with my newly sculpted torso.
These scars will always remind me that I won this battle.
This short hair will always remind me that I took the first step towards victory.
I didn't wait for chemo to make the first move.
Now, six months after diagnosis, I am well on my way to my best life ever.

I've wanted to weep with you about the tragedy in Oklahoma and
cheer the heros and heroines who saved so many lives,
who rescued dogs and horses and other people.

I've wanted to share so many joys, so many sorrows,
so many thoughts, so many prayers with you.
I thought of you. I prayed for you. I thanked God for you.

My heart has been overflowing with grief and gratitude.
But life was so busy. The week was so full.
I didn't make the write it here. I wrote it on the parchment of my heart.

I am here now. Letting you know that no news is good news.
I've been busy and happy, sore and healing, at peace, full of joy,
grateful for much of what has been, looking forward to most of what is yet to be.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Thankful Thursday

There's a story in the book of Exodus about a battle between the Israelites and Amalekites. Joshua and the soldiers fought valiantly down on the battlefield while Moses and two of his closest confidantes stood at the top of the hill watching.

Here's what happens next: As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up - so that his hands remained steady until sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword. Then the Lord said to Moses, "Write this on a scroll as something to remember and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven." Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. He said, "For hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord."

Over the past six months and ten days, I have been fighting a battle against the fiercest enemy of my life: kanswer. I have grown weary. I have been wounded. I have scars that will always remind me of this difficult stage of my life journey. I have wondered how I would - and even if I could - survive the battle.

Over the past six months and ten days, you all have been my "Aaron and Hur." You have held me up. You have loved me. You have written to me, called me, lit candles for me, and visited me. You have brought me meals and sent me flowers. You have written cards, bought hats, invited me on retreats, even offered me free admission to your online class. You have emptied my drains, let me snuggle with your baby, and treated me to countless lunches. You have driven me to the beach, to chemo, and to doctor's appointments.

And as long as you have been with me, in spirit, in prayer, and in the flesh, I have been able to win the battle. I have had strength that is not mine alone. I have laughed through tears at your jokes and stories. I have marveled at your tenderness, your generosity, your encouragement, and your presence. Your strength, your prayers, your meals have raised me up from my bed so that I can walk.

How can I ever thank you for that?

Recently I was reminded of how this kanswer journey is like a cross-country course. Everyone starts out at the same time and sets off on the race. Up hills and down the other side. Into the woods and out the other side. Finally, you enter the arena and finish up on the track or at least in the presence of the cheering crowd. My friend reminded me that during the cross country race, the runner runs alone. No one sees you fight through those muddy, messy trails. No one knows how difficult the hills are because, as much as your coach and family members are wishing you the best, they aren't with you all the way.

Over these past six months and ten days, while I have run, walked, limped, crawled, moaned, groaned, whimpered my way through this kanswer course, you have been my coaches and my cheering supporters. You have applauded, offered sustenance, and stood along the path wherever and whenever you have been able to do so. Even when I've been in the darkest, steepest, most challenging stretches, when I find myself laying down on the trail to cry, to feel sorry for myself, to catch up on much needed rest, I hear your cheers in my ears. I read your messages. I know that when I emerge from the shadows of the valley of recovery, pain, and fear, you will be there. You are still there.

How can I ever truly thank you?

One way that I will continue to thank you and thank God for the victories we have won together is by writing it down. I am keeping my journal close at hand and writing blog posts about what I am learning and experiencing these days. Sometimes I feel like I'm making similar gratitude lists day after day and week after week. That's because your steadfast love has been just that - steadfast, steady, persistent. That's because God's faithfulness is unwavering. That's because I can't do much more than simply receive the many gifts of grace that are flowing in my direction these days.

Another way that I will continue to express my gratitude is by paying it forward. I have taken advantage of several opportunities to encourage other women facing breast kanswer because of the encouragement I have received. I can share my joy because of the abundance of joy God has freely provided and you have shared with me. Freely have I received, freely I will give.

God's peace surpasses all my understanding.
Sweet Momma Jesus whispers words of love when I despair.
You have held my arms and my heart up in ways you cannot fully comprehend.

I am filled with an inexpressible joy.
I look towards the future with deepening hope.
I am grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful. 
Gratefulness is flowing from my heart...
(if you have five minutes, check out the song I've linked here,
one that I sing and cry my way thru often these days.)


On a far less serious and spiritual note, I've got more hair!!!

I am thankful for hair - even the gray hair!!!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Anybody remember that show "LA Law"?

Remember the couple that was married on the show, the short male lawyer and the tall female lawyer? Did you know that they are married in real life? His name is Michael Tucker and her name is Jill Eikenberry. In 2007, he wrote a book called, Living in a Foreign Language: A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Love in Italy. It is a beautifully written memoir of their decision to buy a house in Italy and ... Well, I don't know what else happens. I only started the book an hour or so ago. Having arrived safely at page 20, I do hereby proclaim: so far, so great.


"We came back to New York after we shot the pilot to get our kids together, our things together, so that we could move out to L.A. in August to shoot the rest of the first season. We went to St. Martin in the Caribbean to celebrate and on the day we got back to New York, Jill reached up and felt a lump in her breast.

It was kanswer (spelling mine). We lay down on our bed on West Eighty-Ninth Street, pulled the shades and held hands in the dark. Jill was looking at the end of her life. I was looking at life without her. Like a drowning man, I watched all the scenes of our life together and realized how much of my identity had been tied up with this exquisite woman. Just standing next to her elevated what other people thought of me, what I thought of myself. I had cashed a lot of checks on that account. Not a pretty thought, but there it was.

Jill had her operation at Mt. Sinai in New York. Two weeks later she would have her first radiation appointment at UCLA - on the very same day L.A. Law went into production.

We packed up, calmed our terrified children and got on to the plane for L.A. This time we weren't only changing coasts, jobs, schools, lifestyles, and friends; we were also taking on a new life partner: kanswer. This partner would radically change the way we looked at ourselves, our relationship, our future together - everything. Eventually - once we accepted it - kanswer taught us how to live." (Emphasis mine.)
((pages 5-6))


I look forward to all the ways that kanswer is going to help me live a deeper, brighter, happier, healthier, more joy-filled life.

I've got a feeling that this is going to be a very good book.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Feeling the love...

"There are many endeavors we can pursue in our lives
that provide a sense of purpose and many positive
attributes for which we can be happily remembered,
but knowing the depth of love others feel for us
has a way of making all the other facets of our lives
pale in comparison." Christine Mason Miller,
Ordinary Sparkling Moments

Thank you, Christine, for these wise words.
Thank you, Heather, for lending me this book.
Thank you, my friends, for all your love.
Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

What Recovery Looks Like

Step One - let go of the life you've planned and live the life you have been granted.
Forget keeping the dreadlocs until death do you part. Forget keeping your body in one piece. 
Doesn't the Bible say something about being willing to cut off body parts if they get you into trouble?
Well, my left breast and one lymph node tried to get me into trouble. So it was time to say good-bye.

Step Two - make decisions to give yourself the best chance at long-term health.
Employ a team of doctors and nurses to assist in your healing plan.
As soon as possible after they have done their job, get up from your bed and walk.
Then go home.

Step Three - be willing to abandon your sense of style for a few weeks.
Wear "the circus clown shirt" to cover the four drains.
Be grateful that you are able to stand and willing to laugh at the ridiculous, 
though comfortable, snap front shirts you bought for this recovery period.

Step Four - marvel at your body's ability to adjust to its new dimensions.
Keep track of fluids drained.
Keep track of love bestowed as your husband and daughter empty your drains.
Keep track of the days until all four drains are removed.
Be grateful that your body is the wonder-filled organism that it is.

 Step Five - marvel at your friends and their enormous generosity.
Flowers, meals, banana bread, visits, cards, care packages, candles and more.
Be grateful daily for the outpouring of their love.

 Step Six - Rest, rest, rest. And then rest some more.
Read, watch television, journal, nap, eat, drink, and rest a little bit more.
Be grateful for the constant care and presence of your support team.

Step Seven - keep track of hair growth with regular photos.
Laugh at being mistaken for a man when you are out walking the dog.
Note to self - make sure you put on a skirt and long earrings next time you venture out.

Step Eight - repeat steps One through Seven as often as necessary.
Let the rest, flowers, love, and compassionate care 
strengthen you - heart, soul, mind, spirit, and body -
and get ready to fly again.

Remember - this too shall pass.
All shall be well.

With each passing day, I give thanks to God for
the healing, for the love, and for the hope 
that sustain me through this time of recovery.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Taken for Granted Thursday

Here are a few things I have taken for granted for most of my adult life-

* the freedom and ability to drive

* getting dressed and undressed without assistance

* making tea and coffee

* taking our laundry basket down to the laundry room

* sorting laundry and starting a load in the washer

* folding and distributing the laundry to my family

* ironing

* grocery shopping

* cooking

* cleaning

* loading and unloading the dishwasher

* making green juices in the morning

* loading and unloading the dishwasher

* vacuuming

* climbing into and out of bed

* rolling over in bed

* sleeping on my side

* sleeping soundly through the night

* going up and down the stairs in my house 15 to 20 times per day

* lifting weights

* jumping on the rebounder

* going on walks in my neighborhood

* putting on earrings and necklaces

* playing with my dreadlocs

* typing and texting painlessly

* filling page after page in my journal with collages and scribbles

* raising both hands above my head

* making oatmeal with blueberries and mangoes in the morning

* eating, drinking, and being merry

* good health, manual dexterity, strength, ease of mobility, independence

All these things, and the dozens of other things I could add to this list, bring me back to what Thursdays are usually about on my life's journey - gratitude. Going forward in the days and weeks to come, I am determined to be grateful for the things I have so often taken for granted.

I am learning to be more grateful every day, even during this kanswer journey.
As the Bible says, "Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
All circumstances, including this kanswer journey.
Especially during this kanswer journey.

What do you take for granted?
What are you grateful for?

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

How far can an inchworm see?

Not long ago, I looked out of a second-story window in my house and saw an inchworm making its way down one corner of the bricks towards the ground. I wondered how long it would take that tiny pilgrim to reach the ground. I wondered if it would get discouraged by the tremendous distance it had to travel before it reached the ground. I wondered if it knew where it was going. I wondered how far it could see.

Soon thereafter, I was on a walk with a friend of mine and we walked through dozens of inchworm silks. Dozens. We spent the rest of the day pulling and flicking inchworms off of each other. Hours later, after we had traveled more than 100 miles to the beach, we still found inchworms on each other and in her car. She, being the animal lover that she is, stopped and patiently pulled them off herself, gently and thoughtfully. I saw one on the inside of the driver's side window of her car - and she pulled over to the side of the road, got out of the car, and released it back into the wild.

Once again, I got to wondering:
* Where will all these displaced inchworms go now? They are so far from home.

* Do they feel displaced or am I projecting human fears and emotions onto those bright green creepy crawlies?

* What is home for an inchworm?

* Do they care where they are, where they are going, and where they eventually land?

* Perhaps the most important thing is to be alive, to be on the journey, and to enjoy the adventure.

I have no idea how far inchworms can see, but I tend to believe that they can't see far. After all, their bodies are tiny, their brains are miniscule, and their eyes are smaller still. Plus, no matter how far they can see, they are still vulnerable to the wind and to passersby like my friend and me and our unwitting imposition of ourselves into their peaceful voyages.

Plus I would imagine that they don't have any particular destination in mind when they set off down their spindly web lines and make their way from tree branch to... wherever they land.

Sometimes they land on the ground beneath the tree where they are hatched.
Sometimes they land on a car beneath said tree and are whisked hundreds of miles away.
Sometimes they land in the hair, on the backpack, or on the shoulders of walkers and bikers below.
In any case, in every case, inchworms land where they land, hang on for the ride, and later when they reach the ground and find their footing again, the journey continues.
Come what may, no matter where they find themselves, the pilgrimage continues.

I'm sure there's a life lesson in there somewhere.