Dealing with the Unexpected

Cancer is all about dealing with the unexpected. Let’s face it. No one expects to get cancer, yet it happens. And if you’re in the wrong end of the line, you’ll deal with it multiple times. I could write volumes on why cancer is an awful Beast that God needs to eradicate with a sweep of His mighty sword, but that’s been done. Sometimes it’s the unexpected that arises during cancer that makes you step back and think about why God is asking me to walk this particular path (and trust me, I ask A LOT). I try not to whine the whole “poor me” scenario since Coach Cathy has a strict limit on the number of pity parties I’m allowed to have, so I try to find those little nuggets of gold among the silt of the river. Sometimes you really have to look. Other times they come right up and smack you along side the head.

Christmas always brings unexpected blessings. This year, we were all nearly asleep around 10:15 when our doorbell rang. Hubby went to the door and found a large gift bag with a huge jar in it. The jar was a Christmas Jar and filled with money. Coins and paper up to the top. We were floored. An anonymous note accompanied the jar along with the book Christmas Jars. I’ve started the book and cried through the first 4 chapters. I also find myself crying at the thought of so many people wanting to bless my family this season. I can’t imagine who pulled this together and why everyone who donated felt led to give to us. I wonder if Mary felt a bit like this that first Christmas. Imagine all these strangers coming up to a cave bringing gifts for your baby. You know who your baby is, but still, he is a baby. I’m not sure she looked as serene as the nativity scenes and paintings make her out to be. After all, she had just given birth! She and Joseph had to be blown away by the sheer volume of blessings their baby boy was receiving.

We went to church Christmas Eve. I decided to go, despite feeling nauseated. I love the candlelight service and singing “Silent Night”. While that was moving enough, I was blown away by the sheer number of people who approached me and asked how I was and that they were praying for me. Some I know, most I didn’t. By the time I got to Pastor Brian, I was crying. As I hugged him, I was trying desperately not to use the shoulder of his shirt as a tissue. I didn’t want him to make a bad impression on those who only come to church on Christmas. When another person brought a plate of cookies just for my sons because she thought I wouldn’t feel up to making cookies for them, that was my breaking point. I cried through the whole service. It’s probably a good thing Momma Renie and Papa Dan weren’t there. I would have found Dan and cried like a baby since he reminds me of my own dad. Since he’s the head usher, that would have made collecting the offering a bit interesting with him walking down an aisle and me clinging to him like some sort of weird snake.

On Christmas, I opened my gifts from Sista Sue. She gave me an Angel of Hope. I think this is for both of us. She is reminding me to always have hope, while she remains hopeful that this cancer will be eradicated from my body. The Dammit Doll is much more practical. When you get mad or stressed, you’re supposed to slam it against the wall saying, “Dammit, Dammit, Dammit.” It’s going to chemo with me. I can’t think of any place more appropriate. I may even share it with a couple of the other regulars I know. Chemo patients are a strange lot, but we always stick together.

Last night, I reflected on my blessings. Yes, I have an incredible family, an amazing posse and friends who support all of us. But it’s more than that. I think God brought these particular blessings to me at this particular time to show me that while chemo sucks, it can be conquered. I have a choice to make this week, continue with my present course of treatment for one more cycle or switch to a new drug. Hubby and I believe that doing one more cycle of this cocktail will finally show significant results. My body is slow to respond to most drugs and the trauma of the DVT’s and liver biopsy, along with stress, make it more difficult. We’ve prayed about it and God hasn’t said not to, so we feel we should give these meds one more shot. A CT is tentatively scheduled for the end of January.

These are never easy decisions. My platelets and hemoglobin are at an all time low meaning I’m tired and cold all the time. El Nino is giving us a very mild winter, but, unlike our neighbors, we use heat because I’m always cold. My kids run around in shorts and T-shirts and I’m wrapped up in fleece blankets. But platelets can be transfused and eventually, I do get warm. Staying the course is the mantra of the day and I try to stick with it.

Embrace the unexpected and celebrate your blessings. Life has no guarantees, that’s why today is called the present. May 2016 bring you health, happiness, peace and a cure for cancer.

Every Girl Needs a Posse

With Thanksgiving being so close, I did what most people do. I began to count my blessings. Of course, I count my wonderful husband, amazing sons and devoted Mom among my greatest blessings, but I also began to think about that core group that keeps me going. These are the people who link arms to keep Satan away and provide me with the strength to keep putting one foot in front on the other. It occurs to me that every girl (and guy for that matter) needs a posse.

Back in the old West, the sheriff rounded up the most trusted citizens to help him catch cattle rustlers, bank thieves and other nefarious neer-do-wells to maintain law and order. These men were duly deputized to hold up the law and do everything they could to ensure that justice and order were kept. In the same way, my posse does everything it can to ensure my life has some semblance of order and they support me just like the posse supported the sheriff.

At this time of giving thanks, I’d like to give a shout out to my own posse and publicly acknowledge their ongoing love and support no matter the season.

Despite being at Learning Tree together for eight years, it wasn’t until three years ago that Coach Cathy and I truly became acquainted. Shortly before my hysterectomy, she introduced herself and explained she’d had one a few years before and was a breast cancer survivor. After my surgery, she checked in with me and once it was determined that I did have cancer, I asked her to be my “Coach.” She agreed and became the person I called when my scalp itched before my hair fell out. I cried on her shoulder when I felt like I’d been scraped off the bottom of a boot. I rejoiced with her every time my tumor marker went down. She was my cheerleader and never let me feel too sorry for myself.

As I face my second battle with cancer, Cathy has moved from “Coach” to Chief Cheerleader. During the long weeks of continual testing following my diagnosis, she let me cry on her shoulder with astounding regularity. However, one Monday at co-op, she quickly announced that we were done crying. It was time to laugh. And I’ve followed her advice ever since, even to the point of dressing up my IV pole as “IVan Polesky,” complete with a dapper hat. We have eaten vanilla pudding out of a mayonnaise jar and made jokes about cancer. She is the first to stop a pity party since a party only truly exists if there are margaritas involved. I love Cathy and am eternally grateful that God placed her in my life. It’s so much fun to have a friend who can look at you and say, “Cancer sucks,” and knows it’s true.

If Cathy is my cheerleader, Mamma Renie is my “second mom.” She is the first to tell me on Sunday morning if I look too tired or if I’m looking fabulous. She and her husband Dan are surrogate grandparents to the Ultimate Bengal Fan and the B-Man. I never worry about them with Momma Renie. They spoil them more than their own grandmothers. Renie is often at our home at 6:30 on a Wednesday morning to send hubby and I off with hugs and greet the boys with a smile on chemo days. Renie is another cancer survivor and when I look at her and say, “I don’t feel good,” (imagine this with a 4-year old whine in my voice), she gives me a hug and lets me cry knowing that I really don’t feel good and there’s not much that can be done about it. I value her wisdom in my battle. When I complained about having metal mouth (a metallic taste that some chemotherapy drugs cause), she immediately recommended Skyline Chili. It works. I tried it today. Two chili cheese sandwiches and a sweet tea cured metal mouth for a couple of hours. It’s true kids. Your elders really do know what they’re talking about. I’m thankful for my second Mom who knows what I need to feel better.

While the boys love hanging with Renie and Dan, the also love being with their second family, the Finke’s, which are led by my good friend “Second Mom Kelley.” Kelley truly is their second mom. They walk in and and make themselves right at home, which gives me peace of mind. Not only does Kelley create a nurturing environment for them, she also gets them to do their schoolwork. She’s been at this homeschool thing so much longer than I have, she even has B-man’s evasive tactics figured out (I doubt there’s anything she hasn’t seen). The other day at co-op, we were talking about arranging rides to a basketball tournament and I began crying. I feel like I am asking too much of my friends. She explained that this is what friends do. They figure out a need and respond to it. She is a true friend, sister in Christ and another mom to my boys. I am constantly amazed that God brought her as a friend, not only to me, but as someone my children could feel safe with and love.

If you’re lucky, you have at least one friend you’ve been connected to at the hip – literally. While we’re not connected physically any longer, my “Sister Sue” is as much as part of my life as a real sister. When I was in college, we were together all the time. If we weren’t, people asked why. I can’t tell you how much Wendy’s we ate. Fortunately, our tastes have improved and we prefer places like “The Cheesecake Factory,” for sharing meals.

Like a true sister, she cries with me, loves me, shares my deepest fears and never judges me. She loves my kids as if they were her own nephews (and I am honored to be Aunt Shelli to Matt, Sarah and Kate, whom I love like my own children). No one understands my frustration, fears or puts up with my foolishness like my sister. And when I go to the dark places, she tells me she doesn’t have time for my crap and to knock it off. Only a sister can do that and I love her for it.

The person pictured above is as important as any of these other women. She is my “Angel in Blue” and I can honestly say that she is truly a gift from God. God knew I’d need someone a bit crazy, but loaded with love and compassion to poison me on a regular basis. Sharon Sanker is that person. I remember when I met her. She told me we were in this together. When I recurred, she told me we were beating this together; period, end of discussion. While all the nurses at the Cancer Institute are incredible, Sharon is special. She loves IVan and liked my idea of giving him a twin sister IVy (complete with my old wig). My hubby bought me a laughing Snoopy for chemo (shake him and he laughs). Sharon and I shake him throughout my infusions, not only to “Laugh in the face of chemo,” but just to lighten the mood. Let’s face it, chemo is serious. I can’t handle too much serious when I’m being poisoned. Sharon lets me be silly, as silly as I need to be. And when it’s time to cry, she hugs me and tells me it’s all going to be okay. Then she tells me to wipe my eyes and start kicking butt.

These amazing women all play an incredible role in my life. While they let me blubber a bit, they mostly kick me in the pants and tell me to kick cancer’s ass and show it who’s boss (well, not Kelley in those words, but she does say something more gentle that makes the same statement).

There’s a “saying” that goes God doesn’t give you more than you can carry. He doesn’t. When it seems like to much, He gives you a really great posse to help carry the load. So when I give thanks on Thursday, I will be thanking God for Cathy, Renie, Kelley, Sue and Sharon. The load is so much easier to carry when your posse has your back.

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.

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.

Watching and Waiting

Standing on a road I didn’t plan, wondering how I got to where I am.  I want to believe in that still small voice.  I want to hear beyond the noise. – Plum, Need You Now

I am in that lovely place that no wants to be in  – watching and waiting.  You know the place.  It’s somewhere between “blown off” and “definitive.”  You may or may not have an illness or some other disease.  So the doctors call for “watchful waiting.” They test you at regular intervals with the expectation that at the end of a specific period you will have an answer – or not.

I’ve been in the “desert of the unknown” since September 5th.  That’s the day I found out that the unreliable CA125 decided to shoot up from a relatively low 8 to 21.4 in 11 short weeks.  I say unreliable since it’s affected by inflammation and isn’t the best indicator for some women for recurrence. In case you didn’t realize, EVERYTHING causes inflammation; allergies, stress, sprains, strains, foods.  The list goes on and on and on.

When I got my result, the nurse was reassuring.  Dr. Downer wasn’t too concerned since my recent CT showed NED (no evidence of disease).  He attributed the rise to inflammation.  His advice:  come in for my regular appointment, retest in 4 weeks and DON’T WORRY. Right.

I saw Dr. Downer this week.  If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I LOVE Dr. Downer.  He is, in my opinion, the best gynecological oncologist ever.  He handles my sarcasm for what it is; a warped sense of humor couched with fear.  He gets it.  He knows my brain goes into overdrive and races to the bad places that only The Beast can take you.  He takes the extra time to answer every question I have, even the stupid ones.  He lets me cry, rant, scream, question and run through every other emotion.  He also give great hugs.  His nickname is sarcastic.  When I was in chemo, it seemed that he only gave me bad news, while his PA, who I affectionately refer to here as The Lovely Liz, had good news.  It also keeps me out of trouble for mentioning him by name.  But I digress.

At my visit, I mentioned that while I knew I might need to bond with Dr. Downer again one day, I just wasn’t quite ready yet.  He told me that it would probably happen one day.  Ouch!  This was after he explained my watch and wait plan.  Get labs on 10/1, labs again in November.  Any jumps of 3 points or more for 2 consecutive tests mean a PET scan is in order.  A huge jump above normal (over 34) gets a PET scan. Otherwise it’s just pesky inflammation causing a blip in the testing.

I have spent a lot of time thinking and worrying.  I have a chemo plan set up – in my head anyway.  It will be on Wednesdays with my Angel in Blue so I can keep up with co-ops.  I have been blessed with an amazing support posse – Coach Cathy, Sista Sue, Other Mom Kelley, Miss Renie, Aunt Denise and Prayer Warrior Linda.  These women have been my constant source of encouragement and I love them with an unfailing love. My DH is straddling the line between fantasy and reality.  He has to.  Balance has to be maintained in our relationship.  I have shared the news with Mr. B and the Ultimate Bengal Fan.  I hate that they might get sucked back into my private hell.  Moms are supposed to keep their kids safe from monsters.  How can I protect them from The Beast?

I am withdrawing.  My Coach has called me out twice on this.  She’s figured out when I put on the happy face. Mom Kelley has wiped away tears when they just won’t stop.  There is no oasis in this no man’s land.  My tree is no where to be found.  I’m like the nomad the Ultimate Bengal Fan is learning about.  Nightmares haunt my sleep.  Every ache and pain is accompanied by irrational thoughts.  Thus my house is less than sparkling.

I wish I was one of those people who forgot about food and cleaned incessantly when stressed.  Instead I eat anything that might remotely look like it could be dipped, enhanced or mistaken for chocolate. I spend time playing games on my Kindle.  I struggle to write a coherent sentence.  I’m scared, but afraid to acknowledge it.  If I acknowledge it, it might be real.  Let’s face it, reality tends to be overrated.

If you need me, I’ll be chasing my friend NED around no man’s land.  I’m the one  with a large mocha in one hand and Russian dark chocolate in the other.  A girl needs to keep her energy up while jumping to conclusions.

Life Lessons Learned

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks.  I’ve found myself in the position to be able to finally begin paying it forward.  Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard, but it’s always a learning experience.  The lessons we learn in life aren’t always easy or pleasant, but I’ve found that they are always necessary and, by and large, come in handy in the future.

I’m a stubborn, strong-willed and independent woman who learned to do a lot by myself.  I married at 29 and my husband worked all the time before we had our kids.  We had a house affectionately dubbed “The Money Pit” that my dad used as a DIY teaching tool.  I learned to wall paper, paint, lay tile, pull up carpet, compare estimates, put together furniture, sand, stain and a whole host of other skills that have served me well in “The Money Pit II.”  I like being independent and figure things out for myself.  Cancer really screwed that up for me.  Suddenly Miss Independent had to ask for help.  It was easy enough when I was in the hospital after the surgery, but as the chemo dragged on I began feeling guilty for needing help. 

Enter my friend Kelley, who became our caterer, chauffer, baby sitter and substitute teacher.  My boys have grown to love her as another mom.  They walk into her house and make themselves at home.  They don’t even treat her as a substitute teacher any longer (meaning they choose to whine, moan and complain about schoolwork, just like they do with me).  I would try to refuse help, but she wouldn’t let me.  Hospitality is one of her spiritual gifts and God certainly has blessed her in that area.  She graciously kept the boys from 7am – 9pm during my chemo days, feeding them 3 meals, going over school work and taking them with her on errands.  I told her over and over that I would never be able to repay her.

Unfortunately, I now find myself in the position of having to reciprocate.  I say that not because I don’t want to, I do.  I just wish I didn’t have to.  No one wants to have to reciprocate this kind of kindness.  Fortunately, Kelley doesn’t have cancer, but she does have a serious orthopedic injury.  My boys remember her in their prayers each night, just like they did me.  I find myself both thanking God for our friendship, while praying that He would grant her wisdom to manage what comes.  I offer what help I can, from buying groceries, to transportation, to keeping her company (she plays a mean game of Bananagrams).  She doesn’t want to impose on me.  I get it.  It’s tough to ask for help.  You don’t want to wear people out.

Another friend, Renie, just finished up chemo and radiation for breast cancer.  We rejoiced on the phone.  It was tough for me when she was diagnosed.  Not only do I love and respect her like a second mom, but she was the first person I’m close to who was diagnosed after me.  It hurt, not only because she had to face the Beast, but because I knew what she was going through.  While no two people walk the identical path, chemo is poison and at some point you will feel like crap.  I hated when she felt that way, knowing that there’s not much you can do about it.

Renie babysat for the boys when I would to see the oncologist, every 3 weeks.  She drove me to appointments.  She sat with me while I got fluids.  She hugged me, cried with me and prayed for me.  When I asked what I could do, she said, “Just be there for me when the time comes.”  And I was with my own hugs, prayers and tears.  No one wants a friend to join your battle with the Beast.  Especially someone you love so very much.

Renie wanted to know what to do now.  She’s done and the oncologist relinquished control.  That feeling that your life is yours again is unsettling.  We talked a bit, but I felt like I needed to offer her more; like I needed to dig deep for some profound insight that would help.  Instead, I offered to meet her for lunch and a glass of wine.  Not feeling the depth here.

I’ve learned that I can’t keep pain away from my friends.  I want to, I really do.  I want them to avoid the helplessness and frustration that comes when your spirit is willing, but your body isn’t.  You want to move, but it’s just not in the cards.  Planning your life around doctor’s visits and therapies, along with all the adjustments you have to make to accommodate your injury or illness is difficult on so many levels.  People see the physical. You have to decide if you’ll share the emotional/psychological side.  God sees it all, but we have a tendency to think we can hide it from Him as well.  If you play the game well enough, people believe you don’t need help and you can be Miss Independent again.  It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not.

I’ve learned that I’m blessed with a few people who really love me and my family.  Those are the people I want to keep close.  These are the people who I want around my children.  I turn to these people when I’m scared or happy or need a hand.  And I turn to them when they’re scared, happy or need a hand.  It’s called being family.  It’s called loving each other. 

Will there be times when I don’t want to help?  I’m sure.  There’s days when I threaten to change my name from Mom to something my sons can’t pronounce.  There are days when I want to run away screaming at the top of my lungs hoping the men in white coats will catch me with their net and straight jacket.  I don’t though.  The Beast taught me that even on the worst days at home, those are better than my best days with cancer. 

I hope Renie sees that life becomes a new normal.  You are healed, but still different.  You have two lives; the one before cancer and the one after (I don’t think you actually have a life during treatment because you just feel too lousy to have one).  It’s how you choose to deal with what life throws at you that matters.  There’s no road map, you just sort of blaze your own trail.

As for Kelley, I hope she learns to extend herself some of the grace and hospitality that she so blessedly extends to others.  I hope she realizes that people help out of love, not obligation (well, most people).  But more than that, I hope she learns that times like these are when God works on us the most.  When you are at a point when you depend on others, it’s those times that you most clearly hear God.  And yes, He does have a sense of humor about these things.

My mom says I have to learn the hard way and I do.  I’ve learned the hard way that some people don’t want to deal with me as person in remission.  They don’t want to hear about my residual issues or my fatigue or frustration.  I’ve also learned there are people like Cathy and Lisa who do.  I’ve learned Sue will always be my sister.  I’ve learned that homeschool keeps you sane when your sick.  I’ve learned that Renie and Kelley are incredible friends.  I’ve learned that Kyle uses the tangible to show he cares (by making mom sandwiches and keeping water bottles filled) and Braeden uses humor to deal with stress (mine and his).  The fact that I married an incredible man has been reinforced beyond what I could have ever imagined (any man who willingly sits through a pelvic exam with his wife is amazing and John’s done it more times than any man should have to). 

Some of us are a quicker study than others.  Some of us never learn.  I hope that I’m able to both learn and share what I’ve learned the same way people have shared with me.  That would be the best lesson learned.