What I Learned from Cancer

I know, it’s been a while. And dear reader, I know you’ve been longing for my nuggets of wisdom (or lack thereof). It’s not for lack of trying. It’s just that sometimes life gets in the way of my best intentions. I have been getting ready for school (both here at home and for Learning Tree (#best homeschool co-op EVER), vacationing with one of my dearest friends, and trying to generate some income writing.

However, with a new school year comes looking forward to learning new things. The Ultimate Bengal Fan is doing an in-depth study of American History and I love hearing what he’s learned. B-man is telling me all about Ohio History. All this learning at the homestead has me thinking about what I’ve learned and what I continue to learn on this journey called life.

A couple of days ago my Facebook account showed me my memories from past years. My post on August 23, 2012 went something like, “Visit to the GYN ended with finding out I have a cyst on my left ovary. Ultrasound next week. Nothing like 5 years of fertility drugs to give you side effects.” My post was my usual “Who me, worry?” I remember that day like it was yesterday. I sobbed for hours on end. I KNEW I had ovarian cancer. Don’t know how, but I did. My entry into the world of cancer was swift and painful. I’m still looking for a way out that doesn’t involve ceasing to be an active participant in this world.

I do realize, however, that cancer is a great teacher. Yes, that is a positive and seeing as there are so few, it does bear mentioning. I have learned a great many things; some about myself and some about others. All of them have shaped how I look at the world.

1. Cancer is a jealous lover. Remember the movie Fatal Attraction? Glenn Close played a creepy jilted lover. Cancer is a lot like that. It does not go way quietly. Trust me, there’s nothing quiet about chemo. From the beeping of the IV’s to the quiet moans of pain to railing at God and the universe, there’s no peace. And just when you think you’ve got a chance at staying in remission, it rears it’s ugly head like Jack Nicholson in The Shining and says, “I’m back!” No, mine’s not back, but I hold no illusions that I’ll be able to avoid this intruder for the rest of my life. When cancer wants to return, it will. And if it doesn’t, hooray for Dr. Downer.

2. Family is a relative term. Family is more than who you’re related too. My family of origin is relatively small. When I was diagnosed, my mom and cousin Ginny were really the only two people I spoke with. My husband’s immediate family is a bit larger. My mother-in-law made the 3-1/2 hour drive several times to help me after a chemo treatment and took me for fluids. However, there were other people who surrounded me and became as important as those who society would call my “family.” Momma Renie took me to an ultrasound, stayed with me when I got fluids and loved on my kids (and Mr. Dan helped out too), as well as dried a lot of tears. Sister Sue was there as was my niece Sarah to help out with transportation and child care, loving me as only a sister can. Second mom Kelley stepped up and loved on my children as only a mom can while I was at chemo. Coach Cathy quickly became my trusted confidant when I just couldn’t take one more infusion. While my BFF Denise only visited once, she made it count. She came a few weeks before Christmas and helped me bake cookies and put up the tree when she should have been doing that for her own family. My sister in teal, Lisa, whom I’ve never met except on Facebook, called several times with orders “Do NOT quit!” You don’t say no to Lisa. These people surrounded me and my family and loved us in a way that I still find incredible. God puts who we need in our life and they aren’t always a relative.

3. Laughter really is the best medicine. I love good humor (and the ice cream’s not bad either). In my opinion, my dad had the greatest sense of humor. Even now, I’ll say something and my DH says, “That’s a Budism.” There were a lot of days when I’d think of something my dad would day and would laugh (imagine a 6 year old singing “Walking in My Winter Underwear” to the tune of “Winter Wonderland” and you’ll get the idea). My B-man is a natural comedian and it was healing to my soul. I learned that when life is crappy, find humor. Life probably won’t be any less crappy, but if you can make fun of it, it’s easier to get through.

4. You are always stronger than you think. I can’t tell you how many people tell me that I showed amazing courage during my illness. Honestly, it didn’t occur to me not to be any other way. I had two young sons who needed a mom and a husband who, despite being an incredibly gifted engineer, has a tough time keeping things rolling at home. They needed me. So I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually, you find a rhythm even if it’s just walking from the bed to the couch, while stopping to get a cup of coffee. It’s like Nike Just Do It! I think God will let me know when it’s time to stop. Until then, you fight like hell.

5. Life is full of choices, not all of which you can control. We all make choices every day. What to wear. What to eat for dinner. What time to go to bed. Those are easy. The hard ones aren’t as easy. The toughest choice I had to make was when Dr. Downer told me that he recommended two additional chemo treatments beyond the 6 initially prescribed. My DH and Mom were supportive, but Coach Cathy cried with me. I was all ready so beaten down. I chose to do number 7, but drew the line at number 8 when my body was so broken that another treatment would have landed me in the hospital. Dr. Downer ultimately decided number 8 was not an option given my body’s physical state, but I’m not sure what my decision would have been if it had been presented to me. Fortunately, I didn’t have to make that choice, but lots of other teal sisters do every day. The choice of living while being poisoned or dying from the Beast doesn’t really seem like much of a choice.

6. God is always in the storm. I never felt closer to God than when I was battling cancer. Being in the pit, you decide to shun God and “punish” Him or hang on for dear life. There’s a song I love which goes something like this “Sometimes He calms the storm with the words ‘Peace, Be Still.’ He can, but it doesn’t mean He will. Sometimes He holds us close and lets the wind and waves go wild. Sometimes He calms the storm and other times He calms His child.” He calmed this child in ways I never thought possible. Yes I was nervous, but never afraid. God had this and I was just along for the ride. I vividly remember placing everything in His hands and walking away before my surgery. Unfortunately a few weeks after chemo ended, I snatched it all back. I need to remember that control is an illusion. How I chose to respond is what matters. That applies to everything, not just the Beast.

So I have, like my quote, begun to grasp that the unexpected happens. Courage, grace and humor go a long way to making life more tolerable. Those same attributes will help me as I continue on this journey and as I move onto my next. I am meeting with a dietician this week to get a definite weight loss plan in place. The weight has got to go. I got rid of cancer so now it’s time to get rid of the flab (vacation pictures can make you realize what you really look like). The Beast wants me to keep the fat. You know I hate listening to the Beast so the flab has got to go.

Here’s to lessons learned. May we never stop learning.

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Not Really Me

Last night, my Ultimate Bengal Fan introduced me to a great move; 1000 to 1: The Cory Weissman Story. Based on a true story, Cory is known as Mr. 1000 since he scored 1000 points in his high school basketball career, then received a scholarship to Gettysburg College. While prepping for his freshman season, he suffered a massive stroke that nearly killed him. It took him 2+ years of rehab to be able to suit up for a game. In the final game of his senior year, he scored a single point. His team was up by 20+ points with less than a minute to play. His coach allowed him onto the court (he was still suffering seizures so this was a liability for the school). The other team fouled him, so he could make 2 foul shots. He made the last one. It was a great story about determination, heart and the desire to live life. The Bengal Fan even said the liked it better than most sports movies because it didn’t have a miraculous comeback. It just showed him becoming “normal” again.

During one point in the movie, Cory is speaking with a psychotherapist. He breaks down screaming that he just wants his life back. The one before the stroke. That one scene continues to resonate with me today and I think it will for the days and weeks to come. I completely understand what Cory’s saying. I understand that primal need to get back what you had before.

People who have faced or continue to face a life threatening or chronic disease know that there’s two phases to your life; the one before the disease and the one after. Try as you might, even with medical advances and technologies, your life is never the same. You can do all the same things, be with the same people and wear the same clothes, but you’re never, EVER the same.

My sons continually point out to me that I’ve changed since cancer, but I’m never sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. As I’ve said before, they love to mess with my ever present chemo brain. They also talk about my penguin strut, although with PT that’s pretty much gone unless my feet are really numb. The gray hair jokes are starting to lose their appeal and I’m pretty sure the B-man is getting tired of telling the kids on the street, “No that’s NOT my grandma! My mom just looks old because she had cancer. Duh!” He then proceeds to explain that when you lose your hair to chemo, it comes back soft and gray. Nothing like a trash talking 9 year old explaining the pros and cons of chemo hair. I believe I can count these conversations as a health credit for homeschooling purposes.

I talk with my husband about this quite a bit. I miss what we had before cancer. Not that our life was one of romance and roses. It wasn’t. It was an average life, doing average things. But sometimes I can’t manage average.

We love to go to Home Depot. It’s a date for us. We walk around the store and talk about all the things we’d love to do in the house. I look at countertops and cabinets. He looks at Pergo and light fixtures and we dream about what our house could look like if we’d just win that $5,000 gift card for filling out the survey (somebody has to win, right?). We even have a list of future projects.

Then I’ll look at the budget. Now I did this before cancer, but not quite as closely. BC (Before Cancer), I just checked to be sure the money was there. In my PC (Post Cancer) life, I not only check to be sure the money is there, but I’m also checking the reserves in case we spend the money and the Beast decides to roar back into our lives. While I hate my carpet, I hate cancer more. We spend a lot of time wishing rather than doing, and that makes me sad.

Our financial advisor recommended that I get more life insurance. While cancer patients have a tough time getting insured, ovarian cancer patients just can’t get insured. My AAA membership allows me to apply for insurance “that approves nearly everyone.” Guess who didn’t get approved? I actually called the number on the letter that said I was declined. They politely said, “We don’t insure people who’ve had ovarian cancer.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you run a greater risk of dying.”

“Doesn’t everyone run a risk of dying?”

“Not like you.”

“Do you know something I don’t?”

“I’m sure you’re familiar with the survival rates. They just aren’t very good.”

“Yet here I am. How about a letter from my oncologist?”

“No. You’re not worth the risk.” OUCH! Now that’s customer service!

What I really wanted to say is “Let’s face it, life is fatal,” but that fact was lost on the Customer Service Representative I spoke with.

Fortunately, John’s employer offers spousal life insurance. Unfortunately, I could only get a fraction of what I need on a guaranteed issue basis. I was finally able to get Critical Illness Coverage as well. It will cover our deductible if and when the Beast returns. I hate feeling that I’m a drain on our financial future. We have to look at everything in the context of “what if.” We never did that BC. Being PC stinks.

There are parts of me that continually seek out my old life, while some parts embrace the new. Writing has become important to me once again and my faith is stronger than it’s ever been. I just hate not being able to do what I did before. I recently tried to do a 2 mile walk. After a mile I was about ready to fall over. I did finish it, but it was a sloppy finish. It’s a lot like how I clean my house. I start off strong, but in the end I just end up with a neater mess than I started with.

Coming to terms with myself PC is not easy. While I laugh at my PC quirks on the outside, there is a piece of the old me railing on the inside. That “new normal” everyone talks about stinks. But it beats the alternative.

Normally, I think being PC is overrated, but it has it’s benefits.

Fog as Thick as Peanut Butter

I’ve always loved Yukon Cornelius of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer fame. He was so blissfully ensconced in his search for silver and gold that he tended to be oblivious to what was going on around him. He came up with one of my favorite similes – “This fog’s as thick as peanut butter.” When Hermie (another great character) corrects him by saying, “You mean pea soup,” Yukon proudly tells him that he prefers his fog to be like peanut butter.

Today, my fog is as thick as peanut butter – chunky with low sugar (my personal favorite). Actually it’s been thick for a few weeks now, but today it’s beyond what I’ve experienced since chemo. I could write it off to stress. After all, my mom and the B-man both had surgery within a week of each other. While both are, thankfully, fine, stress wreaks havoc on my chemo addled brain. My stress tripled this morning when my hubby left for a conference in Las Vegas and a much deserved break from the madness at home.

I didn’t realize how much having my hubby gone would throw me until the boys and I headed out for church this morning. Since getting my smart phone two months ago, I’ve been able to feed my addiction to Dunkin’ Donuts coffee every Sunday on my way to church. I have their app on my phone and can just tap and pay. I have no idea how I lived without this. But I digress. When we go to church, we have our route that swings us past Dunkin’ Donuts then up to church. Today, I tried to turn down the wrong road not once, but twice. What makes this even more frustrating is that it’s the same route I travel to go to our co-op. Fortunately, I did get my coffee and made it to church with 10 minutes to spare. God is good.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to stay focused on anything else today. I can’t begin to tell you how difficult it is to write this today. It’s not because I can’t find the words, although they are elusive today. It’s because I can’t stay focused long enough to actually explain it. My brain is like a pin ball and my skull is the table. Thoughts are banging against the walls racking up points, then missing the final flipper. Fortunately, some are being caught and are being flipped back into play. God help me if my brain decides to “TILT.”

This is the first time I’ve been “on my own” since ovarian cancer struck. Actually, the year I met the Beast was the last time Hubby went to this conference. I’ve asked him to not be so generous this time and leave the Beast in Las Vegas this time. I’m not in a big hurry to meet up with ovarian cancer again. Honey, if you read this while you’re there. I don’t need anything. REALLY! I’m good. No guilt. I’d much rather have more mulch for the landscaping. Honest!

I think not having the safety net of my hubby has thrown me. Granted The Ultimate Bengal Fan is now 12 and the B-man is 9. They do a great job of reminding me to do things. Actually, I think they enjoy it. They only remind me of the fun things. The Fan needed a haircut, but didn’t really want to waste his time getting one. He didn’t remind me. He did finally get one, when I was driving past Great Clips and saw their $5.99 special. It actually worked out better than I thought since it saved me $9.00. B never reminds me to make vegetables for dinner. Let’s not even talk about bedtime. They do remind me about promises to go out to lunch and pizza night. I guess it’s about priorities – theirs not mine.

Just when I was feeling like I was going to be smothered in peanut butter, I read a study that had been published in Great Britain. Apparently chemo brain is real (GASP – Really?). Chemo affects the brain’s ability to focus for more than just a brief period of time. You can no longer order your thoughts (as in putting them in order, not telling them what to do. Apparently I can no longer to either) and your mind drifts even when you think you’re on task. How crazy is that? I’m surprised I can type coherent sentences after reading that.

While the study does confirm what I knew to be true, it does seem to provide me with a sense of relief. I’m actually not crazy. I have a legitimate reason to forget things. I can play the cancer card without feeling like I’m duping people. While I hate to play the card, sometimes a girl’s gotta’ do what a girl’s gotta’ do. I rarely play it though. I tend to forget where I put it.

In the future, I will be using the GPS on that phone. I have a new purse with a special pocket just for it. Hopefully, it can find the closest Dunkin’ Donuts. Until then, hand me a spoon. I need to get through this fog.

Life Happens

It’s been a while since I posted, I know.  Life has this way of intruding on my plans.  Who knew that my mom would break a vertebrae and the B-man would need another scope.  So I’ve been doing the sandwich thing of caring for my momma and taking care of my bambinos, who constantly remind me they aren’t babies any longer.

As I’ve said, life is a journey and that journey is not a straight shot from point A to point B.  There are detours, dead ends, short cuts and rest stops along the way.  Sometimes we sail.  Others we fly.  Then there are the times we sit in traffic, stuck for hours because someone was texting and driving and thought they could avoid an accident, but didn’t.  Some are good, some are awful, but all are educational IF (and I know it’s a BIG if) you take the time to experience them.

Losing my dad was a huge detour; more like a derailment. My hubby and I always say 2006 had the potential to be the worst year ever.  We lost my dad, we bought a house right before the housing bubble burst (and it’s still under water), his dad became ill, we discovered the joys of an anxious child and our downward financial spiral took hold.  Now, we could have wallowed in the pit, but there was one light that outshone the darkness of it all.  In September, 2006 after all the awfulness of that year, our beloved B-Man joined our family.  Family additions are always joyous, but his was especially sweet after all the bitterness we’d experienced.  At that time, I felt so overwhelmed by the enormity of my life.  But I hung in there.  I learned that I’m a heck of a lot stronger than I thought.  I learned that God gave me a husband who is EXACTLY who I need based on my weaknesses and my strengths.  I learned that God is good and so much bigger than the box I’d put Him in.  I also learned that God does, indeed, have a sense of humor.  If you’ve met the B-man you know that’s true.

So if losing your dad is a derailment, having cancer like being on the Titanic.  You know you’re going down, and there may or may not be a life boat for you.  If you do make it to the life boat, your life is never the same.  People tell me they don’t know how I kept my sense of humor in tact during cancer.  Truth is, I didn’t.  There were many days I called Coach Cathy in tears saying I was ready to quit.  I wanted no part of the chemo and was done.  She reminded me that I had two boys and a husband who loved me, needed me and depended on me.  I didn’t care.  I was so miserable I wanted to die.  Yes, I truly would have embraced death.  Then, I pulled myself up out of the pit and decided that if I could just make it for the next hour or until my husband came home, or until my next Ativan, I would be fine.  And I was.  So I drew on my eyebrows, straightened my scarf and made another chicken casserole (we lived on those when I was in chemo.  Do you know how many chicken casseroles are on All Recipes? Tons!)

It was only by God’s grace and having walked through a dark valley before that I was able to keep my sanity and my sense of humor.  I realized that chemo was a detour, albeit a long one, on my journey.  Chances were good that I wouldn’t be hanging out there forever and that, while life would be different, it would still be my life.  God knew that I wouldn’t be able to stand alone, that I would need a posse to keep me in check.  Coach Cathy, Second Mom Kelley, Momma Renie, Sista Sue and my Angel in Blue were standing in the gap propping me up as the hands and feet of God when I couldn’t do it alone.  Everybody needs a posse.  They help keep the bad guys in life in check. Thank your posse today.

Life (and that other thing) happens.  It happens whether you want it to or not.  How you handle what happens is what’s important.  As for me, I’m taking the next road God put on my GPS (I finally have a smart phone so I’m embracing the tech).  I’m ready to ride.

Dual Reality

For those of you who have been patiently waiting, the news is in. I have officially passed the 2 year mark in remission. This is HUGE when you’re a survivor. It means I only have to put my feet in the stirrups once every 6 months, instead of once every 3 (I apologize to my male readers for the mental image). I will still get my tumor marker drawn every 3 months since I have to get my port flushed anyway, but it’s still another step in the right direction. The next milestone is at 5 years, so I’ve got a while for that one.

Now, you’d think I’d focus on just carrying on with life and I am. Came home from the doctor, ate some lunch, did some schoolwork with the boys, thawed out some meat, did the laundry, etc. Just another day in the life of a homeschooling mom who freelances from home. Yet my brain is somewhere else. It’s focused on how to maintain what I have in spite of what may be.

So as I’m getting dressed this morning, I realized I had mixed emotions about being a 2 year survivor. If you’d asked me 2 years ago, how I’d feel today, I’d of said, “Ecstatic! Overjoyed! Relieved! Amazing!” And I do feel all those things, but with a twinge of sadness. Please understand that I am so very thankful that God has blessed me with healing to this point. I am able to do most of the things I love. But I grieve so much as well. Two years later and my neuropathy continues to be a royal pain (pun intended). I finally gave in last month and started PT so I could get my hips and back into some type of alignment so I could walk again (talk about pain!). When your gait is a cross between a penguin and a duck, you need some work. Despite the progress I’ve made, I wonder if I’ll EVER be able to walk without pain. I forget things I shouldn’t forget – like my sons’ names.

You’d think a mom could remember her kids names. A couple of weeks ago, I called the Ultimate Bengal Fan “Sierra.” Sierra is our 14-year old cranky, snow white cat who is part Angora with the hair that goes with it. He looked at me and said, “Seriously Mom, do I look like the cat to you?” “No, but you do need a haircut,” was my reply. Still couldn’t remember the kid’s name. I remember it now, but I could tell that through the joke there was pain. “My mom can’t remember my name.” Chemo fog, you’re one cruel master.

On the good days, I barely notice the neuropathy and chemo fog barely raises a blip on my radar. I go through life doing what I do. On the bad days, I need an iPhone so Suri can remind me of all those things that I would otherwise forget. With my luck, I’d probably forget where I put the phone.

I realize that I live two different lives on many days. There’s the one I show the world and there’s the one I live. The one I show the world is the one who is a doting wife and mom, writes articles, schools her kids, attempts to clean the house, and loves to cook. The life I really live is one that wonders who will do this if I’m not here. The life I really live is the one that has the Beast lurking in the shadows. While the Beast is safely off my property for the time being, I know he’s an opportunist and if I give an inch, he’ll take more than a mile. Meanwhile, he’s got his friends Chemo Fog and Neuropathy to remind me that he’s only a cell mutation away.

It’s tough to live in two places at once, but I’m too scared to go all in where I should be and too smart to go all in where I shouldn’t. So I stay where I’m at, trying to balance in both worlds while keeping more of myself in the present and less in the “but what happens if…” place. Actually, I like where I’m at. It keeps me from getting complacent without being a hypochondriac. Maybe a little “what if” every now and then is okay.

As always, God’s got this. And let’s face it, we all have a dual reality where God’s concerned from time to time. There are times when we’re in sync with Him and times we’re not. That’s okay too. The disciples weren’t always in sync with Jesus, but He loved them anyway. I know God loves me just the way I am – a foot in two realities. And I’m okay with both of them.

Metamorphosis?

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost

Today is the first day of Lent. In the days leading up to today, the Ultimate Bengal Fan and the B-Man have been trying to figure out what they wanted to give up for Lent. The Bengal Fan ultimately chose chocolate, which is tough for my chocoholic son, while my youngest one had yet to settle on something. It’s run the gamut from refraining from throwing soccer balls at his brother, to broccoli (which he doesn’t eat anyway) to changing his underwear daily (I really do NOT want to know). He eventually decided on Lego.com. This is HUGE! I am really proud of him. He spends his entire computer time on Lego.com. I chose a different route this year.

The choice came upon me slowly. I have known for nearly two years that something needs to change in my life, but it’s a nebulous idea. There’s nothing solid to grab onto. Yet, I know God is nudging me. I took a huge step when I signed up for a Women’s study at church called “The Life Ready Woman.” The title intrigued me. Seriously, how much more ready for life can you be than to face ovarian cancer head on while homeschooling two young kids, make it to remission and carry on? Apparently not as ready as I’d like to believe.

In the interim, I’ve let myself go. My weight has ballooned to an all time high (and as open as I am with my readers, I’m NOT sharing that number) and I move less than I did before cancer. Now I could play the cancer card and say, “Well, I have neuropathy and my joints hurt, blah, blah, blah.” And it would be true. However, I’ve lost my love for most things. Oh sure, I love my boys beyond measure, I love my husband more than ever, and I’m surrounded by an incredibly supportive group of family and friends. But why do I feel so empty?

I know why. I’ve allowed myself to fall into a sort of complacency about things in my life. After all, I’m in remission from one of the most deadly forms of cancer. Woo Hoo! I have the right to kick back and rest on my laurels. Well, the world would say that, but I think God is calling me to so much more. And as I’ve said before, He generally needs to use a 2×4 or other heavy object to get my attention. This time, however, it was my feet and a scale.

I had lost some weight this summer and I did it mostly by exercise, which was painful. As summer turned to fall, my back and feet would hurt as soon as I got up the street to the corner. Walking wasn’t fun. Nothing was fun. I shut down and opened the bag of M&M’s. Fall turned to winter and I closed in on myself. It was just me and my coffee and chocolate. The treats I had right before a chemo treatment – because in a cruel twist of fate, chocolate gave me heartburn during chemo – were my secret allies. They made me feel good, or at least I thought they did.

Earlier this month, I made the decision to finally find out why my back and feet hurt. I found a great PT office that looks at the whole body, not just what hurts. Not only do my feet hurt less, but my back feels better. I still have an incredibly long way to go, but at least I can go up and down the steps the right way (alternating feet) and not like a two year old. It’s the little things. Walking “funny” because of neuropathy screws up your entire lower body mechanics. I’m working on muscle memory to get a new normal (there’s that phrase again!). My goal – the 5K OCAGC walk in September without pain.

So for Lent, rather than giving up something, I’ve decided to DO something. I am spending less time ruminating on the aftermath of cancer and more time on what the next chapter holds. It’s too easy to focus on where I’ve been. It was hell, plain and simple and I know that the Beast can come knocking at any time. I already hear its footsteps since I have my 3-month check-up and labs early next month. I’m not a betting person, so I try to ignore the odds, even if they are in my favor for the time being. Learning from the past is one thing, dwelling in it is another.

So with the courage I have been given, my Lenten journey is to begin a transformation; a metamorphosis of sorts. My goal is to muster up my courage daily and dive into this new life God is calling me to. Like a tadpole or caterpillar, it takes time. It won’t happen overnight. My goal for each day is to just find a way to not fold in on myself, but to do something that takes courage. For me, eating less takes courage, since food is my comfort. Cleaning my house takes courage (my beloved calls me a pack rat and he’s right). Writing takes courage. Spending time with God and listening takes an incredible amount of courage. Think about it – you ask God what He wants you to do and when He answers you should do it. I think I’m guilty of asking, but not really wanting to know what He thinks. It’s like if I ask, I’m good. So not only will I ask, but I will seek to act after the 2×4 smacks me in the head. I’m hoping after this period of reflection is over, that I may find myself being changed into a woman that God is proud to call daughter.

While cancer may have caused me to take the “road less traveled,” I need to let it make a difference. I’m getting ready for the next adventure. Who’s with me?

Life’s NOT a Blessing

Before the fireworks begin, please note that I asked my pastor to read through this and he did. I am not trying to be sacrilegious or start any battles. I didn’t ask for his blessing; I just wanted to be sure I wasn’t crossing any boundary lines. Enough said, let’s move on.

Anyone who says cancer is a blessing is an idiot. It’s not. It’s a horrible disease that takes far too many people and kills them, maims them, disfigures them or just messes with their minds. Cooked up in Satan’s kitchen, its sole purpose is to obliterate any cell that does not share its mutation. I believe the correct terminology would be “Conform or die!” It’s not content to just tear down the patient. No, it has to wreak its havoc on entire families; often ripping them to shreds and leaving nothing that resembles any sort of previously known reality in its wake. It’s like living through an earthquake with just a few minor cracks and broken objects, then having an F5 tornado blow through and destroys whatever’s left of your home and those you care about.

The destruction doesn’t have to be immediate. It can occur months or years later. Ask someone who’s been in remission for 5 or 10 years how they feel about cancer knocking and saying, “I’m back.” Talk to my friend Lisa who has managed to beat back the Beast for 5 years (YEAH Lisa!), but faces a lifetime of worsening neuropathy, debilitating migraines, bone pain and a whole host of other crap while she raises her two grandbabies (who, by the way, are absolutely adorable). Other people deal with continuing bowel issues, anemia, vision problems, lymphedema, bad teeth, osteoporosis, or who knows what.

Sometimes I wonder if the cure is worth the price I paid. Now don’t get me wrong, I am eternally grateful to God for the healing and the life I have. But I am really ticked off at Him as well. Great, I got cancer, which has deeply affected not only me but also my husband and children. It’s okay for me to get it, but did my family have to suffer? Yes, it was a learning experience and my children are richer for it. I’d hoped a mission trip would have sufficed, but apparently not. There is a deep lesson to learn. Yeah, right. Before my kids could tie their shoes well, they had to learn about life and death. This does NOT work for me. And yes, I know other kids have lost a parent. I’m thankful I’m still here, but mad for those other kids who weren’t nearly as fortunate.

Then there’s the whole, “Well, you’re done with chemo and life goes on,” song. Maybe for you, but not for me. True, there are days when cancer isn’t even a blip on my radar any longer. It’s taken me months to get to this point. Then my feet go numb and well, here we go again. It’s like a crazy merry-go-round created by Phineas and Ferb (guess what my kids watch on Netflix?) that I just can’t get off. Right now I’m struggling with PT. My body is so far out of alignment that to walk without my feet swinging out, I have to physically look at them and will them to move heel toe while focusing on my pelvis and lower back alignment. Seriously, walking should NEVER be this hard after the age of 2.

I’m mad, REALLY MAD! No one gets it. The chorus of “You’re cured. You’re in remission. You’ve been blessed with healing,” are sung by the choir. Choir music has never been my favorite. Give me Switchfoot, Casting Crowns, or Mandisa any day. If God was blessing me with healing, why couldn’t he have gone all the way? No neuropathy, no chemo fog, no digestive issues; just pure healing. Oh yeah, because when I asked for healing from my ovarian mass, he didn’t do that either. Okay, he did, just not the way I asked. I asked to avoid surgery. His answer was an awesome surgeon, but surgery with the added bonus of a pulmonary embolism necessitating a 4 day stay in ICU before I could begin recovery from the 13” incision on my belly. As my beloved Coach Cathy would say, “It’s your new normal. You need to accept it and go on.” And being a beloved friend, she knows why I say, “I don’t like it. It sucks!” She nods and gives me a hug. She grapples with the same issues. That’s why I love her so and always count her among one positive that came out of the whole cancer mess.

You know that saying that goes “God never gives you more than you can handle?” Well, He does. What most people DON’T read is that you can only handle it if you give it over to God so the two of you can handle it together. What if you never wanted it in the first place? The catch is you still need to deal with it. Sounds like a bad deal to me. I didn’t ask for any of this, but sometimes a tough life is the gift that keeps on giving.

I am not turning my back on God nor am I questioning His Sovereignty. He reigns in Heaven and set the universe in motion. I believe that Jesus carried the sin of the entire world of His time and for all time to come until His return so that we can rejoice in Heaven when our work here is done. I just have trouble with the fact that the monkey wrenches of life don’t merit immediate intervention. Yes, I can look back and see how God laid the groundwork for our children through our infertility struggle and my husband through a previous relationship that toxic doesn’t begin to describe. I think that may go along with the prayer that goes “Give me patience Lord, NOW!”

My greatest struggle isn’t over what’s happened. You can’t change the past. It’s what’s to come. I know God is beating me senseless to take this blog and create a book, a study, a series, something with it. He needs to imprint that on the 2×4 He’s beating giving me so I get the idea. I think about Beth Moore and get this glimpse of “That’s it.” Holy cow Batman, putting that much of my life out there is not on the agenda. Wait, not my agenda anyway. Then there’s the whole recurrence thing. Seriously Lord, you put me on this path with the dark cloud of recurrence over my head. Harsh, don’t you think?

So no, cancer is NOT a blessing and I will smack you if you tell me that. I really don’t believe God wants me to look at it that way. What He does desire is that I try to find the blessings that came from my experience. God doesn’t want bad things to happen to us, but they do. He created the world and the natural laws that go with it. We sinned and haven’t been good stewards so now we pay the price. I think God gave me hindsight so that I could take some solace in the journey.

What I have learned is that God brings special people to come along side throughout the journey. Coach Cathy and I knew each other to say “Hello,” and that was about it. Now I count her as a confidant that I can share my deepest, darkest fears with and not be judged. There’s my Facebook friend Lisa, whom I’ve never met, but share a bond with that goes beyond the internet. My boys are blessed with someone they can call “Mom” and I can call friend at any time. Kelley, you’ve opened your arms and heart to my family. You’ve shared my tears and triumphs. Momma Renie, I relied on you like the Mom are to me and felt blessed that I was able to be there for you as well (just don’t do it again!). My sister Sue was a constant presence as she’s always been over the last 30+ years, pushing me to get past the wall. Denise visited and cried and hugged and helped me decorate my tree when I was too tired to do it myself, leaving her own family to support mine.

I still hate cancer and the fact that I face a lifetime of shadows. It’s not a blessing, nor will it ever been. It’s a fact of life for me. Like it or not, this is my journey and I’m sure there are many more 2×4’s to come. Here’s hoping I’m up for it.