On pieces

I’m looking out the window at our apple tree all in bloom. Sitting under it and breathing deeply gives you a glimpse of heaven, just this one week or so a year, the air infused with it’s scent. It’s like hearing a baby laugh or kissing your love in front of the stove – all just feels possible.


I’d like to be on my way to watch my oldest’s soccer game, this early Saturday morning, because I love seeing my kids do what makes them feel alive. But I have two darlings still sleeping soundly, despite me opening their black out blinds, showering and putzing around with their door open. And it’s like someone said to me yesterday, I still can’t wake a sleeping baby. Amen forever friend.

So I thought I would write out some thoughts here instead, towards the end of May. Here where I most often sit down to write, I have just a few things that really inspire me hanging in my little office alcove. Two of them are meant to be stone drink coasters but they were hand painted on salt spring and I don’t believe in hiding art with a beverage. Instead I asked Aaron to figure out a way to hang them for me and, of course he did. One says ‘create’ and one says ‘still’. Visual reminders of two things I so often prioritize as last on the list. But not this year, this long, late winter and early spring has been a season of stillness for me. A season of sitting with myself and the one who made me.

Last I wrote here it was late March and I knew it would be a haul to get through the last of winter. I wasn’t wrong. April passed by in snow day after snow day. Towards the end of the month on the day I turned 38, I looked in the mirror after a yoga class. Wearing just my sports bra and yoga capris I didn’t recognize the person I saw looking back at me.

My face looked worn and a little lifeless. I have gotten my first grey hairs, given to me not by my children but instead by the stress of cancer. I have been through things this 37th year that have temporarily drained away my eyes ease and sparkle.

List that under things I have lost in my 37th year. One appendix, one ovary, one cancerous tumor. The daily sparkle in my eyes. Having enough energy to get through what used to be a normal day. Knowing who I am, believing I am guaranteed a normal life span. Believing I am guaranteed anything.

I could also see some of the things gained: nine abdominal scars, one tattoo, the gift of more time to live my life. Insight as to what is important to me. An absolute knowledge that God is with me and loves me. Gratitude for everything I have that I used to take for granted. It’s hard to catch me feeling jealous anymore, I’m too aware of my own life’s goodness. I see gifts everywhere and lament when I see opportunities to receive turned away or missed.

My husband and I joke about cancer being one of the mid-life crisises you don’t get to pick. Other people might be buying fancy cars, or changing jobs, or taking really cool trips, or doing something else to get some joy or try and figure out or live out who we really are because we are somewhere around forty and we have no more babies so, heck, why not? But us, we got cancer to bring about intense life reevaluation and even though I didn’t need chemo and am in a promising place health wise now, my very self has shifted in ways and in magnitude I didn’t expect.

The best I can explain what cancer did to me is this. It shattered my very self into a thousand pieces. All the things I have chosen to be, or had to be to survive, to thrive, or often just things I thought I had to do or be are lying there on the ground about my feet. I’m standing in the middle of a broken mirror, my reflection disjointed, fractured. I look at it with interest like I would a Picasso, not like something that belongs to me. I knew cancer would be hard, but this still wasn’t what I was expecting.

I’ve been going to a counselor because, well, because of what I said above. I wouldn’t wish cancer or any trauma on anyone, but I will just say this: counseling has been a gift I’ve probably needed since high school and cancer made me get it.

I’ve seen her for lots of things but one of the things I saw her for was mourning over the loss of myself. Over not knowing who I am. Over feeling like everything I ever cared about, I’m not sure if I do anymore. Over having no idea of who I will be when this all settles. Over feeling like a gross, messy, self-absorbed pile of goop.

My counselor rocks because she looked at me and said something to this extent: ‘Yes that is really hard, totally shitty, you should really mourn that because it’s sad and hard.’ But then she leaned closer and said ‘but also Leah you can be anything you want’ in a voice rich with excitement and possibility.

So here, at the end of May as I look out at new life blooming literally right in front of my eyes, I’m starting to see it differently. I look down at those shards, at those pieces and I’m curious and slightly hopeful. All of a sudden winter is over, spring is in full swing and I’m more worried about picking up too many or the wrong ones than I am about seeing them all lying there.

Posted in Aging, Cancer, Life in the 30's | 6 Comments

Late March

It is snowing outside again today – big flakes backed by a grey sky and freezing temperatures. Even though we have lived in Northern Alberta for eleven years now, winter still feels long, each and every year. I grew up in Southern Alberta where there were always tulips in early April and we never wore snowsuits (or even coats) for Halloween. Probably only four to six weeks less of winter a year, but enough of a difference to make me feel trapped after the five and a half or so months we get here. I’m dreaming of bare feet on grass.

I quit facebook, probably not forever, but for well over a week now. My mind needed some extra space, and I don’t have the self-discipline to stop checking on my own, so quitting it was. I’m craving a lot of quiet which is ironic for a woman who homeschools her three children, has a nine week old puppy and is living out the last few weeks of full on winter. I’m trying all my get through this season tricks that are available to me.

Running usually helps me get through this period of the year and I’m missing the mental clarity it brings to me. I’ve been thinking much about running because yes, I’m missing how it makes me feel but also because I feel like I have just run a race. A race I didn’t sign up for and I didn’t know how long it was going to be.

This is true of any tragedy, of any trauma, of any hardship that comes and surprises us I think. For anything you have to do that you really would rather not have to handle. Any race you would rather not have to run.

The actual running of the race is the really hard and scary part. You have to push yourself, you use all your positive thinking mind tricks, you tell yourself you aren’t tired and that heck yes, you can go a lot further. You tell yourself you are strong, you are brave, you are not a victim. Because you are, but also because if you didn’t think you were before, you have to be now.

You have to surrender yourself to the process, to God, to faith and hope. You give yourself over to the belief that good will come from this. Because the alternative just doesn’t jive with your soul.

Of course there are times where you break down, where you think you can’t do this anymore. Times when you depend on the medics and the volunteers who pass out water and your family and friends who helped you train and are cheering you on, even if they don’t really understand running at all.

After you are patched up, cheered on, taken care of, you keep going because you aren’t ready to give up. Mostly you do pretty well and don’t break down too often,  and you think I’m okay, I’m fine, I’m not tired. I can keep doing this shit like I was born to handle it. This goes on for varying lengths of time and involves random changes in the course.

You keep going because you are strong, you are brave yes, but also because you are tenderhearted. Because you have the will to live and grow and heal. You learn all kinds of things about God and your self you weren’t sure you ever wanted to learn. You make it through things that are taking every ounce of will you have.

Then one day the race is over, at least for now.

And whatever your race is that you didn’t choose and didn’t know how long it would be, when it is over you are tired. Maybe it was only a half marathon instead of a full or maybe you had to do the whole freaking iron man. Anyone who has trained for these types of runs knows, you lie to yourself to get yourself through. No I’m not tired. I can keep going. This hill is no big deal. But when you let yourself stop, when the race is done, it comes flooding in. Tired muscles, tired lungs, tired self.

So here I am in late March. Tired. Feeling acceptance about this messy middle, the place where I can’t feel all the gratitude I know I will feel when I’ve sat here long enough to catch my breath, when I’ve stopped racing long enough to have recovered a bit more.

It’s my nature to rush this, just like the last few weeks of winter, to wish it away, instead of learning from where I am at. So for now I tell myself, spring is coming, everything just needs a bit more rest.

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Posted in Cancer, Life in the 30's, Mental health, Nature | 2 Comments

Seven sweet things

You know things are still kind of heavy around here despite the fact that I have just avoided an insanely major surgery and chemo. All I can say right now is that going through cancer is a lot and it doesn’t just end when you get good news. (I wish it would!!) Although you are of course, thankful, you see how much you were just getting through and how much there is to deal with in the aftermath.

So I thought I would do just a fun little post of seven sweet things that are getting me through right now. Maybe you have some things that are getting you through too right now, whatever it is you are getting through, be that simply March (in Canada) or something harder.

  1. Koa Blue: Yes we got a dog. Aaron has been searching for years and it felt like time, then we found out I had cancer and I wanted to bail. Aaron however would not bail, which is just like him (fun parent!) and I’m so glad I was too tired to argue and also smart enough to trust him that it would work out. Because I love this dog and three of my four people are dog people and thriving with him in the house. He is basically like a real life stuffie.
  2. Afternoon naps: On the couch while my kids mill around and sometimes bicker. Oh well because they get me through until ten pm.
  3. Fresh flowers: Last two weeks of February and all of March are my very least favourite. Fresh flowers in the kitchen make this last stretch of winter so much more bearable. Bonus if they smell as good as these hyacinths.
  4. Forcing ourselves out of doors: Even though it has been -20 or more and snowing we are going out every day. We bought some wool face warmers and have been skiing, sledding and walking anyway. Bonus had the whole hill to ourselves.
  5. Thinking about my summer garden: I’m not too excited about my veggies this year to be honest, the whole veggie patch may end up in potatoes, but I am excited to hopefully expand my front flower bed and dreaming of all the pretty things I can grow there.
  6. Pray as you go podcast: listening every day through lent first thing in the morning. Helps me wake up purposefully and have a bit of reflective quiet with God and time of gratitude first thing.
  7. Smoothies: after juicing *most* mornings for months, green smoothies are such a treat! Mango, pineapple, spinach my current favourite!

What sweet things are getting you through right now?

 

 

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Blessing the Dust (Surprises Part IV)

There is this poem for Ash Wednesday called Blessing the Dust by Jan Richardson from her book called Circle of Grace.

She talks about dust and what humans are made from. About how old stars from who knows what galaxy live in our bones. It mesmerizes me and I will post it at the end as her sorrow mixed with hope brings me to tears every time. It was just the thing to soothe my soul this past Ash Wednesday

Also, my own words are not very eloquent right now. There is good advice among writers to write from where you are healed not from where it is still raw and gaping. This thing about which I’m to share is still very raw and gaping which may puzzle you once you read it but there it is.

I saw my oncologist on Wednesday and got some shocking news that they are not recommending the next surgery/hot chemo treatment at this time (what! and yes I argued with her about it and my results for a half hour.) By some miracle my two new lesions they thought were starting baby tumors were benign. More than that all the mucin they sampled (from multiple places but there was a large sample size on my right ovary that was removed) was acellular. After my ovary surgery no one told me it was even a possibility that this could be the result (no one even explained to me the difference between acellular and epithelial mucin) and when they called to book my next oncologist appointment (apparently before all my results were in) I was told to ‘discuss your situation and surgery’.  The only surgery this oncologist does is cyto/hipec. I was told multiple times along the way by several different doctors that new lesions and mucin would mean cyto + hipec. No one told me that there was a chance all that mucin could be acellular instead of epithelial containing. And my CT scan and bloodwork I had done a few weeks after my last surgery came back clear. Anyway I am in MASSIVE shock and grateful to have been a surprise to my oncologist, but also to be fully honest still quite stressed and anxious. My brain feels very holey.

For the first 24 hours after I got the news all I could think about is that my doctor was wrong and that I should get another opinion, trying to get in with another appendix cancer specialist in Calgary. I’m feeling a bit of shame about not feeling all the joy and relief those who love me are feeling. But as someone who loves me said: after five months of some serious ups and downs, two surgeries and many more other minor procedures and tests and appointments it is not surprising my brain and body are having trouble shifting out of fight or flight mode and to give myself grace in that.

Now that it has settled in a few more hours and I’ve had some time to search on pubmed and at look current pathology guidelines (hello type J who deals with anxiety with an attempt at control) I do feel like I am moving more in the direction of accepting this news.

I already have my next scans booked for late September and will continue to have scans for a good many years as there is a 10-30% chance of reoccurance (if so at which point they would give me the cyto/hipec surgery I was expecting to have this spring) but for now they are considering me no evidence of disease (NED).

Now I need to rest and have some time to let my soul settle and breathe and think about what all this means after an insane five months. Also to continue with the healing process; body, mind and spirit.

But first I have to say thank you. I know not all of you believe in God but I do, so I am massively grateful to God’s gifts to me in this which have not just been physical healing. Through all of this insane ride I have felt God’s presence by my side, even when I feared for the worst I was comforted and loved.  And also thank you to all of you: I have been so blessed through this by other’s thoughts, prayers (to all the complete strangers and people who don’t know me well praying for me, thank you), healing energy, making me laugh, sending me encouraging messages, information, cards, food, flowers, balloons, and so much more. It is humbling to think about and brings me to tears of gratitude daily at how good all you people are. Truly. To all of you thank you. To the few of you who were witness to my not so graceful parts of this – thank you too for listening to me through snotty tears and rambling incoherent thoughts and anger on my really hard days and standing by my side anyway.

To all of you: Thank you for showing me all the stars blazing in your bones.

 

Blessing the Dust: A Blessing for Ash Wednesday

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace

 

 

 

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