Tuesday, August 26, 2014
A client of mine wrote an email to me today asking for encouragement. I think she is very brave. To reach out to another human and honestly say, "I am struggling. I need boosting. Can you help?"
I have not responded to her. . . yet.
If you know me at all, you know that "YET" is a favorite. A cherished word in which I'm enamored. A word crush, if you will.
"Yet" defined: "besides, nevertheless, however" indicates something MORE. Indicates NOT finished.
I will respond to her YET I want to think about my response. I know a little bit of her life and I want to tailor make my encouragement. Hem and outline it specifically. Border it so it contains truth that brings hope. One thing we don't do enough as friends: make our help, our helping hand, our advice and our support unique. Customized. Creative. Personal.
(Please if I ever come to you for encouragement, oh dear god please do not tell me a generic 'feel-good'. When I am down please do not offer me some bland, overused, plaque cliche. If you do, I will reject it, feel much worse for having wasted my time with you and not come to you again. I will smile a plastic smile and say 'thank you' and then go away, turn off the lights, crawl under my desk and cry.)
We deserve and desire something tangible that actually helps our customized, personalized pain. I understand she is overwhelmed and challenged by life. I know a few details. Shouldn't I give her concrete solid, firm advice that matters? I want to help. I desire to be true strength. My silence is nothing more than figuring out how to speak so she can hear. How to formulate a true expression of solidarity takes time.
For me? I want someone to physically come along side and practically help me. I don't care so much about the words you say. I care that I have a warm body. Distance can prevent physical help...I live geographically distant from most of my support. The second aspect that speaks of encouragement to me is a card, a book, a photo, a bookmark. Again, a tangible. Something to which I can refer back when I am weak.
As soon as I determine what I am going to say to her, I will post it here. But first, will you share? How about you? What helps you the most? When you are facing life's grim side, the hard side, the hurtful & confusing side? What helps? I'd sincerely like to know....from acts of service, to words of love, to gifts. WHAT helps you?
Monday, August 25, 2014
As I reflected back to October, 2006,
I closed my eyes. I opened my memory.
I breathed in the first day of chemo.
Smells and sights, smiles and sighs.
Fearful, I honestly had trouble getting out of the car and walking into the oncology clinic. I stood motionless on the sidewalk. My husband wrapped an arm around me,
I resisted his nudge. Ignoring his touch,
I could not make my feet budge.
I was so angry.
Only 13 days had passed since a swollen lymph node appeared under my arm. I was more than angry, I was afraid.I was terrified. Absolutely terrified of accepting my label as: “cancer patient.”
Breathing became difficult. That fear of cancer and even more, the fear of dying seemed tangible. Concrete. IF I walked inside that oncology clinic then fear would consume me. If I stayed outside, then I could pretend.
Fear appeared to me to be MORE. That fear appeared to be more powerful than life, more real than living and more than me. Bigger than me. Robotically I moved inside the front doors of the clinic and I glanced around nervously. Before I reached the registration desk, I stopped once again. I was lost, deeply lost inside my mind. Fear taunted, teased and threw emotional punches. My emotions brewing, felt barely contained. I wished I was anywhere else but standing in a cancer clinic about to receive chemotherapy. I wished I’d never felt a lump. I wished. I thought. I thought about my kids. I thought about their future. Their future without me. I looked. I looked at all the people. The majority of them looked sick. I did not look sick. The majority of them were bald. I was not bald. The majority, pale and gaunt, smiled and laughed? I was not pale and gaunt but their smiling and laughter shocked me.
HUH? For this contrast, I was ill prepared: smiling and laughing and sick and bald? How could cancer and joy exist simultaneously? How? How do you smile while your body rebels against you? How do you laugh when your blood cells betray? How do you invite a conversation with the stranger sticking needles in your arm?
Mesmerized, I moved to the desk, signed the register, paid my co-pay, picked up my folder, and trekked down the hall to “chemo”. Silent. I said nothing. My eyes darted as I leaned around corners, straining to hear. Snippets of laughter drifted toward my ears long before I crossed that threshold to “chemo.”
As instructed, I placed the blue folder in a black metal folder. As instructed, I picked a blue padded chemo chair. As instructed, I waited. I watched. I huddled in fear. My husband sat next to my chemo chair. I counted the people whose territory I invaded. Fifteen adults scattered around a tiled floor. Perhaps my husband spoke my name. I have no memory. I only remember looking at the 15 others, differing ages & genders and yet, each one of them wore a smile. Blinked joy & continued to laugh. There were 4 others sleeping, caressed by blankets and oblivious to the group. The fifteen awake smiling faces greeted me. The nurses in blue scrubs greeted me, nodding a hello and smiling. SMILING! HOW? WHY? I wanted to scream,
“How can you smile? Why can you laugh? You are giving us chemo drugs. Drugs strong enough to burn though vein walls. Drugs so powerful they destroy. I thought nurses were supposed to help. And YOU? You are just sitting there. You allowing her to inject that caustic liquid into your body? You have fucking cancer? Don’t you know that?
Cancer that is trying to kill you and you dare to smile and laugh.
I don’t understand you. What’s more, I don’t like you. You scare me.”
Of course, I stoically silenced my ranting screams.
I choose to listen. To listen to more than IV monitors. The noises impacted me profoundly. The words I heard injected me with joy. The utterances I heard fueled new life.
“This cancer slowed me down, but it has not stopped me. Going fishing on Sunday.”
“I was living life way too fast, Now I enjoy my family like never before. Grandkids are coming next week. Cannot wait!”
“I never used to come home in the evening till late. Now I am there by 6. Right on the dot. I look forward to seeing my parents every evening.”
“I usually feel okay after chemo. At least till the third day. That day all I can do is nap. But these next two days, I’ve got a list of ‘honeydo’s that I’m finally going to start with my wife. She’s getting the stuff right now for those projects.”
“My middle son plays basketball. We are decorating their lockers later today.
I gotta get out of here on time today. It’ll be so much fun to surprise the boys after practice with balloons, ribbons, and stuffed bulldogs. “
“Planning a trip for the summer. Renting an RV and driving the west coast.
Always wanted to. Now am going to. “
“Heard a joke the other day. Thought about you. Wanted to share it…”
“Hey Ray, get outta my chair you old man. What are you doing sleeping in my chair?
Just ‘because you’ve got cancer doesn’t mean you can steal a man’s chair.”
Laughter ensued. The stories accelerated and continued. Pure amazement poured into my being. Pure awe for the LIFE that existed in the chemo room oozed into my blood. Pure joy trickled into my spirit. I thought about what I witnessed. As the nurse attached the IV to the port implanted in my chest and started my own chemo doses, I thought about my life, my kids, my family, my dreams, my plans and my fears. Fear of pain. Fear of being sickly, gaunt and bald. Fear of death.
I knew these people had discovered a powerful weapon in their journey with cancer. I knew that I wanted what they had. I needed what they had. What they held in their hands was hope. No one had lost hope. Hope for the future despite cancer. Hope for the future despite rebel lymph nodes, tainted blood cells, grotesque tumors and radiation burns. Hope existed because husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends and family existed. Hope burns brighter than fear. Hope translates into life.
Hope allows for plans, and trips, visions and dreams. Hope.
My own cancer is chronic. The kind that never, ever, ever fully goes away. I was told from the beginning, 100% relapse rate. I decided as I sat there, listening to ‘my’ people chat, that my hope also had to be a chronic.
The kind that never, ever, ever goes away. My hope had to be more. More than chemo. More than lymphoma. More than leukemia. My hope must be: dogged, determined and tenacious.
relentlessHOPE. My mantra was born from fear, yes but birthed by life.
With the vision of my husband and my children and family before me, I chose (and I choose), life. A life lived with relentlessHOPE for the tomorrows. A life lived with relentlessHOPE for dreams. A life lived with more joy and peace than cancer’s fear of death. I have had to dig very deep sometimes to find hope. My fears occasionally grip me and I waver. But only temporarily do I give in. Always, memory smiles of those fifteen people and cluster of nurses break through and once more, I lift my head, and smile.
Never ever going away. Never ever giving up. Cancer loses. Life lived my way. Life wins.
Saturday, August 23, 2014
What an Absence.
Months of sandy, dry dessert.
Dark nights of void.
(one of my favorite words)
I come back again.
Dreams & heartbeat & life one.
So much change in my life. My blog and my writing got lost.
My life overwhelmed me.
I know you can relate. Everyone has times that challenge.
Obstacles grow stubborn and refuse to allow progress.
IF you today find yourself distracted, dismayed and dusty from your life,
I have carved my initials right there by your left hand. See that: sak.
I sat down right where you are and bled, Sweated. Cried. Slept. Disappeared.
You are not alone in journey of life. Take comfort knowing that even the mistakes, failing and detours of life will teach, inform and direct. As soon as I could, I lifted my head, dried my tears and wearily stood. One faltering step led to another step step step which lead to strength coming in waves.
I left that place of void now and now am moving.
Perhaps you are waving me on from up ahead...if so, I am see you walking and
I am coming! I am coming! I am coming!
Perhaps you are behind me...struggling & broken.
IF so, strain no more & listen.
soon, my voice will land in your ears.
screaming I say to you:
never. ever. give up on your dreams.
nurture. wander, get lost. fail.
get up & keep going. alter. plan. reinvent.
detours will lead you...the scars will remind you.
the blood lost: replaced. the dark: lightens. the tense will ease.
hurry will not help.
rest. renew. start again. again. again. again.
until, you see, the border of your dreams ever so slowly materialize.
as a wispy cloud on the horizon...cells within respond.
steps solidify. pathway clarifies.
dream enlarges and then the glorious time when, stepping inward, engulfed by the dream. you dissolve.
dream and heartbeat merge. unite.
becoming one in life.
never. give. up.