Monday, January 27, 2014

Re-post and review: The Dreaded "C" Word

Every now and again, I go back and reread old blog posts. Look what I discovered this morning??? The only change I've made is the addition of paragraph spacing. Apparently, when I started keeping this blog, I didn't realize that paragraphs were possible to construct, so I wrote really, really, really long one-paragraph essays.

It was originally published on October 27, 2004, my first month of writing this blog.


My father died of lung cancer three and a half years ago. 

My closest maternal uncle, Uncle John, died of prostate cancer two months ago. His daughter, Aprelle, who is not only my cousin but also my godmother, is battling bone cancer even as I write. 

Several aunts and uncles on my mother's side have died of various forms of cancer during my lifetime. 
Alyssa, the nine-year old friend of my daughter was diagnosed with leukemia yesterday. 
As I mentioned in an earlier entry, on Monday morning I was the interpreter at the funeral of Marta, a 42-year-old mother of two, who died of cancer last Thursday. 
Caroline, the seven-month old daughter of a dear friend of ours has already gone through four rounds of chemo, had surgery, and has four more rounds of chemo left before the end of the year. 
Cindy, one of my dearest and oldest friends is a seven-or-eight- year survivor of breast cancer that claimed both of her breasts. 

In March of 2002, Leza, my best friend from college died of complications from colon cancer that had spread to her brain. And she was the strictest vegetarian I have ever known - except for her final days when she broke down and asked for barbecued beef ribs and Pepsi. I was honored and thrilled to be the one to go to the restaurant and pay for her to eat them one last time. 
How on earth did she get colon cancer? Well, one answer to that question is that her mother died of ovarian cancer when Leza was just a few short years out of college. 

We all have sad stories and sobering statistics to add to this list. Whenever I see a woman with a flowery scarf, boldly colorful bandana, or silky kerchief tied over a hairless scalp, I want to hug her quietly and then scream loudly. Where did this awful disease come from and when are we gonna be done with it? Why do the cause for it and the cure for it elude us so efficiently? Why? 

Sean, my masters' degree thesis advisor was a remarkably honest man. When faced with a question he didn't have an answer for, he simply stated, "I have no coherent answer for that question." This is one of those inquiries for which there is no coherent reply. 

Cancer sucks. It evervates. It paralyzes. It demoralizes. It debilitates. It tortures. It kills. 

I myself had a breast cancer scare just last month. I will never be able to thank Brenda, the mammography technician, enough for her kind and supportive words, as well as her clear explanations for everything we saw on the various scans she did. When I left the mammography office, I saw the bewildered and horrified face of a woman whose news had obviously not been as good as mine. I cannot imagine the agony she faces with the treatments and surgeries that are sure to come. As I walked out of the Ob-Gyn office that awful day late in September knowing that I would have to undergo a diagnostic mammogram to figure out the nature of the lump I had found, I swore to myself that I would live my life as fully as possible no matter how much time I had left. I promised myself I would call my friends and family, send out letters, emails, and postcards telling all the people I love that indeed I love them. I promised myself I would always do the optimistic thing. I would find the silver lining in every cloud, look at the bright side, and be thankful in every situation. 

On October 7th, when I found out that all was well, I reiterated those promises. I reminded myself that I am not released from those promises simply because I had learned that the lumps were nothing to worry about. 

There is still war raging around the world. Famine, disease, abuse, addictions, crime, and a host of other earthly ills claim lives every day. Volcanoes erupt. Hurricanes blow through the South. Snow storms strand hikers in out of the way places. A family that was in our church two Sundays died in a plane crash this past weekend. Not one of us knows how long we have to live - even when the medical test results are "negative." 

So I "take the plunge" more readily nowadays, take more risks, and no longer hesitate to pray for and then make contact with friends when they cross my mind. I approached Lauren (Winner) on Monday night after her great talk on spiritual memoirs and extended my hand in friendship. I sent an email to Rebecca, a friend from years ago whose smile, laughter, and wisdom I miss. I wish her all the best with her soon-to-arrive baby. I called David in California to check in on my favorite handyman. I sent a postcard to Antonio, the best Jesuit priest I know. I leave countless phone messages for friends whose companionship on this journey called life I treasure. I send out emails that are far too long, give out way too many details, and ask way too many personal questions. I began to keep this blog so that I would have more opportunities share my love for words, my love for life, and above all, my love for my friends with my friends. But right now I'm gonna turn off the computer so I can go call my cousin and see how she's doing. 

Traveling mercies to you, Gail

Here is the link to the original post.

Wow! I had no idea what lay ahead of me on this journey that is my life... But if God is God and knows all that is yet to come, then certainly that post needed to be written then and reread today. The truth of what I wrote more than nine years ago rings even truer today - if truth can get truer.

Caroline, the girl who was diagnosed with kanswer as an infant, is now a beautiful girl, growing up with her father and older brother out in San Francisco.
My cousin, Aprelle, is done with bone kanswer, and living her funny, adventurous, indefatigable life in Brooklyn, New York.
Cindy continues to be kanswer-free now almost 15 years since her diagnosis.
I have lost touch with Alyssa and her family, but Kristiana is still friends with her son, so I assume all is well with her, or we would have heard something about it by now.

Nowadays, when I see women in bright scarves, sometimes I do hug them.

As for my litany of questions, I continue to ask those same questions -
why does kanswer exist? Why is there so much suffering in the world?
Why are there so many natural disasters and so much loss of life?

My list of questions is longer now than it was then.
So is the list of kanswer survivors.
So is the list of those who did not survive.
Kanswer still sucks. Kanswer will always suck.

Unfortunately, the dreaded "c" word became a reality for me eight years and 30-something days after writing that post. The dreaded "c" word became the empowering "k" word and I have emerged victorious from that battle. Thanks be to God - I am done with doctors' appointments, scans, chemotherapy, herceptin treatments, and all that other kanswer-related crap.
For better and for worse, my chest is flatter and my hair is shorter than it was when I wrote that post.
But my life is far sweeter now. I appreciate every day, every meal, every interaction in deeper ways.
My friendships are dearer. I reach out to those I love more frequently and with more intention.
My faith is stronger. My prayers are more frequent and filled with more gratitude.
My love is deeper. If I love you, you know it. If I am grateful for you and what you have done in my life, you know it. I don't hold back anymore.
I have a lot of questions, but I'm learning to live with them and also,
as Rilke* so wisely wrote, I am learning to live into the answers.
I have deep disappointments and significant concerns about my life and the lives of those I know and love. But my hope is still in the Lord.

And I still miss my Dad - whose birthday was October 27, the day that post was originally posted.

*“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Rainer Maria Rilke

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