My friend died last night. My sweet beautiful friend went rounds against cancer, fighting hard while living gracefully. As it stole her energy, her comfort and her hair, what it failed to steal was her spirit. Instead, her soul strengthened through the journey and reached out beyond her inner circle to everyone who knew her, like a rainbow whirlwind, sweeping up others with her love and joy.
So I had major abdominal surgery six weeks ago. It’s the thing that launched this crazy situation we’re in. We thought the surgery was The Thing to worry about getting through. Little did we know that was a cheerful, sunny walk in the park that led to the scary, poorly lit, ivy covered, rusty gate marked CANCER that we had to walk through. I have this tendency to wave my hand dismissively at that surgery. The surgeon who performed it did an excellent job and while his bedside manner made me want to hide under the covers, he removed not only the mass that caused this mess, by not screwing anything up, he also removed many obstacles for me. The connection could have leaked. I could have ended up with a colostomy bag (eeeeewwwwww.) There could have been a massive infection. All kinds of things could have gone wrong which could have jeopardized my life or delayed treating the cancer for six months.
I have been pain free from my surgery for about three weeks. I had a very fast recovery which I attribute to largely to God answering about one million people’s prayers and a little bit of my sheer, mule-like will. See, the doc not so politely noted that I am not a particularly thin person and lingered on the notion several times that due to that, it would probably take me a very long time to recover. To which I thought “Awww,that’s so cute how you don’t know who you’re dealing with, here.” And I basically said “Hey, you do the surgery right and then get out of my way.” Jagoff.
So, naturally, I was zooming up and down the hallways by the second day post-op, sweating and muttering swear words under my breath like a crazy person, with that stupid IV tower clunking along, just to spite him. I walked three times as far each day as they suggested I try to and they released me from the hospital 3 days earlier than expected. Take that, Doc. Also, I registered for a 5K that will take place a couple of days after my final chemo treatment. I will be there. I will finish. Even if I have to crawl.
Some of this post is about the will to accomplish that which seems difficult, overcoming obstacles and basically telling a guy with 12 years of post-secondary education who would go on to essentially save your life, to shove it. But it’s also about milestones.
Successful surgery. Awesome.
Getting discharged early. Great.
First “solid” food. Yum.
Returning to work to be with my crew.
Mort the Port is installed.
But the best thing, by far, happened yesterday. It’s been six weeks since I was allowed to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk. That is, well, most things. Including a 40 pound preschooler. She’s been patient and understanding that she can’t torpedo down the hallway and launch her adorable self at me. She’s been gentle and careful. Until this moment…
Oh, calm down. Yes, yes, we know. Cancer is terrible. Trrrrblll. It steals, kills and destroys. I could make a very long list of how cancer is very unfunny. Sad. Scary. Depressing. But! Also…funny.
First, there’s the silliness that happens when I come out of surgeries and procedures. My first procedure, I came to talking about chicken tenders and an octopus. My big surgery, I spent the hour or two post-op groggily but loudly and insistently explaining to any of the medical staff who would listen (and those who chose not to) in the recovery room that I was ready to be moved up to my hospital room. A surgeon would hurry by and I would be like “Sir! Sir, I’m ready to go to my room. Excuse me! Hey! I’m all set here.” And when they seemed like they were going to take the guy next to me first, I started saying loudly “I need a transport here. Right here. I’m next. Transport. Can you transport me? How about you?” Obnoxious.
I find my scars to be funny. I have a big scar on my belly button and one on my upper chest area. It’s a good thing I ain’t no super model. Because it looks like a blind, drunken monkey stitched me up. Here is the one on/in/near my belly button. Are they kidding me?! You can’t even tell what’s going on here, can you? This is my belly button now. Awesome.
People say weird things when they find out you have cancer. Of course some people say incredible, wonderful, encouraging things. And people assume a lot of things. That I’m already bald. That I’m not working. That I’m going to die. That I can’t have more kids.
I have funny conversations with people. Especially about how I’m now going to maybe possibly be vegan/paleo/vegetarian/dairy-free/all organic or whatever.
Hospital stuff is funny. Like these legs things.
And this thing. That looks like a throw back from wilder days.
And this. Because it’s fun to freak out the nurses when you’re asleep.
Thankful FOR cancer? Yup. I know, it’s crazy. Let me explain.
Do I enjoy having cancer? No. I am praying like crazy every day that all of the cancer cells are gone and they never come back. I am kind of mad that I have cancer. I mean, it’s totally not, like, fair. Not that anyone deserves it. No one does. Or maybe we all do, depending on how deep you want to get from a theological perspective. But I definitely hate it that I have cancer. I hate it that my life has been so totally disrupted. I mean, I’m busy. Not just busy getting my nails done or something, but busy raising a daughter to be a (hopefully) really great person. Busy raising the operating budget of a large nonprofit organization that helps homeless people. Busy kicking everyone in my league’s butt at Fantasy Football. You know…important things. I do not like feeling tired. I am nervous I will lose my hair (but maybe just the hair that enjoys to appear on my upper lip? Please, Lord!) I hate it that I have to be so “all about me.” I like to help other people with their problems. It’s unnatural for me to be the recipient. I hate all of this medicine I take. I am tired of doc appointments. My hands and feet don’t feel normal. So…don’t get me wrong. Cancer blows.
But I’m still thankful. I mean, what good does sitting around crying and worrying about it do? Bitterness is dangerous. It chokes everything around it. Have you met someone you would describe as bitter – embittered by some bad thing they feel happened to them? Do you want to hang out with them? Me neither. Some emotions like fear and sorrow are legit, of course. It would be inauthentic to pretend they don’t exist. But, in my opinion, they ought to be acknowledged, invited to stay for a short while and then politely asked to leave so there is room for better emotions like hope and peace and confidence. The long and short of it is this: God is working together all things for my good and His glory. Sometimes it takes a little effort to bring our minds back to that truth. But what a solid place to live from!
I am thankful to be thinking about the things I am thinking about, in terms of who God is, who we are and how we are to approach life. See previous blog entries for a lot of thoughts about that. I am thankful that it is possible to have HOPE every day. I am thankful I am not sicker. I can drive and walk and work. THANKFUL for that.
I am thankful that this has pushed me to think seriously about what I eat and what products I use. I have learned a lot. I have also confused myself and stressed myself out quite a bit. But I’m learning new things.
I am thankful that cancer has brought a few familiar faces back into my life. We all let friendships fade for any number of reasons. But serious illness snaps us all to attention and reminds us how much we love some of the best people we’ve had the blessing to know.
I am so thankful for the kind things people have done for me. Seriously! So much niceness! So much thoughtful generosity. Just this week:
-meals delivered to or prepared at my house by people who are encouraging my new, developing eating habits.
-someone saved me a parking spot with their car. like “here, I’ll give you this one so you don’t have to walk in the cold.”
-home-roasted coffee beans, delivered to my desk
-lovely visits over lunch at favorite restaurants
-treats dropped off with sweet notes
-offers of child care
-a text that meant the world to me
-people sharing my blog with others – I can’t believe anyone but my mom reads this, so that is pretty cool.
Being thankful for something that on the surface is very bad. It’s the stuff Scripture is made of. The last shall be first, the first shall be last. Weakness leads to real stregnth. To receive, we must give. Jesus won it all by the humble act of losing everything. Rejoice in ALL circumstances. (Not just the ones that involve cake and ice cream or healthy babies or a sale at Anthropologie.)
I am thankful for the perspective that comes from a diagnosis like this that points to toward valuing each moment and each day a little more. Seeing more clearly, noticing things I haven’t before. Directing my thoughts toward things that are worthy of my brainspace. “Did I make it count, today?” I ask myself. Was today as rad as it could have been? Did I love as fully as I can? Did I let go of the things not meant for me, and cling to the big, wonderful things? Did I trust God more today than yesterday? Did I yield my own will to His? Did I look for the opportunities set before me? I may have many more days on this earth. But if I have one or 100 or 20,000…I’m living like I mean it, yo. That is something to be thankful for.
So they are saying that 10,000 people died in the typhoon that hit the Philippines. Can you even fathom that? It’s a half full hockey area, roughly. When I read numbers like that in the same sentence as the word “died” I kind of automatically shut down and decide to think about something else. My brain finds it difficult to compute. My heart doesn’t have the capacity for the level of grief that such a situation requires. My spirit rages at the seeming injustice. I look heavenward and give God the stink eye.
In my fight against cancer, I have a few weapons. The first is God. It’s ok if you don’t believe that. I do, and I believe He is sovereign over all of this. Moreso than God being a weapon with which to fight, He is the overseer of the whole thing. And the One I can rely on to walk me through the fear and confusion. And that’s a good thing because man, is there a lot of confusion!
The second is my doctor and Western medicine. I’m a fan. Chemo brings dying people back from the brink (sometimes.) PET scans detect cancer early enough to do something about it. Pain killers help people fight through another day. I believe in all the wonders of the modern medical community. I believe God has given us knowledge and information and wisdom that can save lives through scalpels and pills and laser machines.
But I do NOT believe it is the end all, be all. Which brings me to my final weapon.
The growing (and holy moly is it confusing, inconsistent, conflicting and overwhelming) body of knowledge around nutrition, lifestyle and a more holistic view on the body and its systems. I am all for this. I am game for making big changes in what I eat and don’t eat, what products I use, what activities and technology I engage in, my sleep patterns, consumption of medications, exposure to potentially dangerous materials, etc. I am very willing to attack this beast with all available to me.
Everything is in conflict with everything else. Paleo. Vegetarian. Vegan. Macrobiotic. Fasting. Supplements. No supplements. Vitamin D3. Vitamin B6. Dairy free. Organic only. Wheat free. Gluten free. Sugar free. No artificial sweeteners. No packaged/prepared foods. Not too much fruit. No fruit. No grains at all. No corn. Nothing genetically modified. No salt. No cheese. No red meat. Lots of red meat, but only if it’s lean and grass fed and grass finished. No cows, but goat products are ok. A little honey. No honey. Lots of honey. Potatoes. Only certain potatoes. Any vegetable. No tomatoes. Bottled water. Never bottled water. Only reverse-osmosis filtered water. Lemon water. No citrus. No pasta. Only rice pasta. Lots of beans. No legumes whatsoever.
This is the point where I begin to feel like the world is spinning. I can’t sort it all out. Who is right? Who can I trust? What if it’s different for everyone? How will I know? As a friend recently commented…I eat a bite of dairy and I’m like “great, I’m screwed.”
So on one hand, I want to say “Eh, I trust God, so whatever.” But no. I mean, I do. REALLY, I do. But I feel some responsibility to figure this out. To some extent. And when I get better, the fundraiser in me is going to turn into a dragon and out of sheer outrage is going to find the money to fund the research around this stuff so we can KNOW what we are supposed to eat!!!
In Pittsburgh and the surrounding vicinity, there are many neighborhoods to choose from. My family recently moved from the South Hills to an area east of the city. There are many good things about this location, but the biggest baddest thing is fighting the traffic at the Squirrel Hill tunnels every morning and evening. Many writers before me have waxed philosophical about the lack of explanation of the origin of this nearly always present traffic – there is never an accident, roadblock or lane closure. Just a strange phenomenon of people slowing down, quite abruptly, as if the tunnel has in some way startled them, as if there are not actual signs not only alerting us to their presence but actually instructing us to maintain our speed. The part that really get me is that this happens each day during rush hour. We must assume that the vast majority of these travelers embark on this westward journey regularly. And still the tunnel scares them, and still they slow, and make us all late.
Chemo is a funny thing. It’s making me feel way worse than cancer has, and yet we have to assume it’s helping me. It is difficult to willingly allow someone to put poison in your body. One of my poisons is made of platinum. I know, I’m fancy. But that’s a metal. And it’s in my blood. That’s weird.
We arrived at the treatment center and got hooked up via Mort the Port to an IV of pre-meds. (Steroids and anti-nausea stuff.) We then met with my doc, Dr. Mehta. He gave us good news: my cancer has NOT spread. They hadn’t assumed it had but its good to know concretely. Also my blood work (white blood cells, etc. were all in normal ranges.) **These are answers to prayer.** When God answers our prayers so clearly – its worthy of a moment of our time and consideration. We have to pause, acknowledge, give thanks. He does not always answer with what we are looking for – sometimes the journey is longer than the one we planned for. But sometimes we get a simple gift like this. I am grateful. I give thanks that this cancer hasn’t spiraled out of control. There is an army in my body fighting it, and it’s doing an amazing job. I’m thankful for my surgeon who did a difficult surgery well and removed what was visible. Thank you, Lord for all of your provisions.
I have been the receiver of a lot of love and support as of late. I was thinking that it might be helpful to list the things that have been helpful, touching, appreciated, fun, needed, etc. Maybe someone will Google “How to help someone with cancer” and this will be useful. that being said…here are a few of my favorite things: