Surprises part two

(Just a heads up I’m going to talk about what it was like to find out I have either pre-cancerous cells or cancerous cells – the doctors aren’t sure yet. It isn’t very light reading so you may not want to read it. My main intent is to give a sense of solidarity and normalcy  to anyone else dealing with this type of news. Also I’ll write more this week about how I’m doing so much better now.)

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One thing no one tells you who has had to deal with oncology (and that you couldn’t imagine even if they did) is that when a doctor tells you they found a tumor during what you thought was a routine appendectomy, is how often you think about dying.

At first you hope and pray benign, benign, benign. You cling to that in between imagining your own funeral and your family without you. When you find out no, not benign, the fears come even faster because you are not ready to leave this beautiful life. In a bizarre turn of events at age 37 your body has cells that (whether the doctors are unsure until your next surgery if it is technically considered cancer yet or not) if left alone, if you carry on the same path, will kill you.

When oncology calls you put your head between your knees and breathe because you notice you are hyperventilating and trying not to have a panic attack. Also you are nauseous everyday and you wonder if it is the growths spreading. (It’s one of the questions they keep asking you, are you nauseous? Were you experiencing nausea?) Also you still have some post-surgery abdominal pain, is that normal at this point? And you are tired. All of it in your mind, cancer, cancer, cancer. You lose twelve pounds and people who don’t know tell you you look great.

You avoid people who can’t control their own panic because you have absolutely zero emotional reserves for anyone other than your very own people in your very own walls and you tell yourself you are barely holding your own shit together although truthfully, during this time you really aren’t. At times you are mad you are a person who needs help, who needs empathy.

You don’t tell anyone about how many times a day you picture life without you in it because you realize it is totally crazy town up inside your head, but also because no one imagines their loved one will be the one that actually dies tragically. You think longingly about when you had days, weeks, months, years where you didn’t think about dying, not even one little time.

Then maybe the worst day, you google. If you are reading this and you are recently diagnosed please listen to what everyone says. For the love of all that is good and holy don’t google. Don’t google. Don’t google. You will read things you cannot forget even though you will really, really want to. You totally loose it and spend the whole day weeping, absolutely sure you will not live to see your children move out.

You consider the progression of pleading in your mind. Please let the tumors be benign. Please let me not need chemo. Please let me if I need chemo that there be one that works. Please let me live at least long enough for my kids to be okay.

You also joke, you joke a lot because this helps take away from having tears spring up unexpectedly at bill paying, carving pumpkins or putting your kids to bed. When you get calls for test appointments you didn’t know you needed, you joke that if you don’t have cancer already, after this many CT’s you will. There is also a lot of numbing with facebook and with television and the election because you just need some non-cancer distraction every day. You feel thankful for this, but also a bit guilty because thinking about death gives you an awareness that you really should be making the most of your days.

In between all this you hug your kids, you hug your husband, you list your gratitude’s. And pray, yes you don’t really stop praying although it would take God to make sense of all the anxious, frantic, disjointed thoughts coming from your mind. Thankfully that is what God is for. Someone who has been through a lot and has a beautiful faith and spirit reminds you that when you don’t have words the Holy Spirit will pray for you. You count on this. You ask other people to pray for you because you know they are more coherent and rational and also they love God and they love you and prayer feels like the best gift anyone could give right now. You borrow some of the faith of everyone you know because this really is the only thing getting you through.

 

You can read Surprises Part I here

 

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Surprises

Life is full of surprises.

Some are the best things you could have never imagined like a vivacious daughter named Haven-Kate and eighteen years of partnership and love with a small town boy from Northern Alberta. Things like how much you ended up loving being a mother and how you finally came to peace with needing to write. Things like a small handful of women friends who you love like your very own sister and who love you back better than you ever knew women could.

Some surprises are different, like waking up from an emergency appendectomy to hear they found a tumor and also some things on your ovary. Then over the next while learning that there is a seemingly massive grey area between outright benign and outright malignant. That ‘precancer’ is a very real thing and who actually knew?

So many are bittersweet. Like learning to trust just the tiniest amount and how to wait well as medical people sort out their opinion of what is happening. Like how to find hope. Surprises like learning your body is a vital part of you and not just a tool. I could write much more on that. Surprises like taking help and telling your real life people what a mess you are.

These are surprises that serve well and you wish you didn’t need a crisis to learn them better.

Then there are the just plain ugly surprises, like how badly you want to be well, because there is real shit to do in this world and so things like cancer and surgeries should fuck off so you can get on with it. And also you don’t want to worry so, so much about not being here to see your babies grow all the way up.

Some are perhaps predictable like how even though the world seems to be such a mess you still see God’s beloved everywhere getting on with doing the next right thing and loving their people so, so well.

Predictable like how even if you aren’t sure how this (or anything) will specifically turn out you can still believe – God is good, God is good, All the time God is good.

Read Surprises Part II here

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In Which it is All Sweet

We have no babies anymore. Our youngest Haven-Kate is turned six this summer and Liam turned eleven this spring. I’ve been a mother for over decade.

Liam our oldest, his labour was long and hard and far from natural. I knew less than nothing about having a baby or what I was supposed to do or how to get things off to a good start. He has never been much of a sleeper.

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Aaron was transferred provinces when Liam was just four weeks old. I got our house ready for showings and packed up and commuted between provinces for months by myself, with a newborn. I was exhausted and I spent a lot of time nursing on the side of the highway and shaking toy after toy behind me while I drove to try and keep him content for another half hour.

But this isn’t what I remember. I remember his heavenly baby smell and nursing him for hours reading books or looking at his little fingers and face while sitting in the sunshine. I remember crying because he would only be five, 13, 47 days old once and it was all going by too fast. I can still see him being cuddled on Aaron’s chest on the couch after I crept back downstairs after getting a few hours sleep and the primal feeling of missing him during that time. I remember his very first baby laugh that sounded like the most perfect thing I couldn’t have even imagined. I remember how having him filled in a part of me I didn’t know was missing.

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The same is true for the girls – there were hard things, busy things, exhausted things when they were babes. More moves, three year olds, work and family challenges, stress.

Yet with Raine – I remember only the way she looked up at me with serene wide open eyes right after being born, no crying and how that changed my soul, again. I remember rocking her in the rocker and nursing her warm against my chest and how small she felt in my arms. Liam loved to hold her and Aaron too but when she was upset, she only wanted me and I secretly cherished that so much. I remember thinking how absolutely perfect she is and how her amber eyes sparkled and how stunningly she did life on her own terms right from the very beginning. I remember how she filled a piece of me I didn’t even know was empty.

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And Haven-Kate I remember how she came into the world – just her and I and the peace and joy of a stormy summer night. I remember her cuddly little self and her happy gummy grins and more nursing and more sunshine and walking through our very own woods with her on my back. Haven was everyone’s baby and she lived her joy with every pore of her little body. I remember how we didn’t know when she had woken up because she just lay there peacefully waiting until someone happened by. I remember her staying up late with Aaron and I after the other two had gone to bed and cuddling and talking to her and singing her little songs and how I looked forward to that, every night. I remember how we weren’t sure we would ever have a third and how she was the baby that filled my desire I wasn’t sure I had.

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I rocked them all and smelt their heads a hundred times a day and held them to my chest and slept cuddled around them.

Those were the sweetest years, those were the days. Those are the ones that are over now.

Those are the memories I know I will think back on fondly when my face is creased with wrinkles and my arms are too feeble to heft a toddler.

This summer when we were on vacation on the west coast Aaron looked at me at the end of the day and said ‘Today was perfect’ with a satisfied sigh. He was right. We’d stumbled upon the most beautiful lake. It had rock sides plunging deep, continuing down from the mountains above. The water was clear and clean and warm.

My babies who aren’t babies anymore cliff jumped into that water for hours and hours. They are their father’s kids too and he has a strong passion for rock climbing and adventure running through his veins and it was passed onto all three of our kids. It thrums there inside of them leaving little fear of anything and much passion for challenge and life.

So they scrambled up the rocky sides and jumped 15, 25, 30 feet into the water below. I held my breath as they flew through the air, seeing the people they are becoming. I felt a little scared, yes, but mostly I felt gratitude to bear witness to something so wonderful, to plunge deeply into such beauty, such life beside them. We left smelling like line dried sheets, exhausted and filled with joy from just being alive.

 

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There it was so apparent to see in all of that day’s perfection. We have no babies anymore. We have three amazing kids who are growing into their own people. I am learning on the cliffs and I have learned thousands of other times. There is nothing to be scared of.

Every age and stage, I see my kids, I see them filled to the brim with life. I see in them goodness and humanness and their very own selves. I see things I will remember.

Turns out there is no joy shortage, there are no golden years, there is only abundance. Yes, the baby years are so, so sweet. 

But it turns out – all the years are.

Because I also remember when they learned to walk and learned to talk and when they didn’t cry anymore when I left. I remember when they moved to their own beds and when they stopped nursing and when they learned to ride their bikes. I remember all the books we have read cuddled up and lazy Saturday breakfasts and making art.

I remember them cliff jumping and seeing them clearly beneath that crystal water.

I remember so many things as they have grown, things that show them as their own people with their own passions and personalities and stories and plans. And all those countless times I have felt only gratitude and amazement that I get to share and bear witness to their goodness and their aliveness. And all these memories they will join me too, when I am old, with my wrinkles and my old lady arms and my full heart.

After all;

these are the days

these are the days

these are the days.

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Posted in Alive by the water, Everyday holy, Life in the 30's, Lifelong Learning, Parenting | 4 Comments

Happiness and sadness

We are camping on the west coast which is my favourite way to start a blog post or a day.

I think everyone has a place or places that make their soul come alive, more than it is anywhere else. For some people it is the dessert with all the warm colours and sparseness or the prairies with their crops blowing and never ending horizons or a restorative and warm lake that is contained by soft sandy hills.

The Canadian Rockies are like this for me, with their peaks that reach way into the sky but root you down into the ground, settled. The water that flows or is nestled between them, turquoise and ice cold in how it wakes you up, makes you pay attention. They make my soul hold still, which is fortunate for an Alberta girl as I can head there sometimes relatively easily when everything is blowing apart.

But then there is the ocean, especially the Canadian west coast. My soul has been singing here in the summers since I was a wee babe and there is nowhere else that I have been where I feel so myself, where my vibrations steady into an expansive and free song. My intuition tells me no matter where else I may wander in the rest of my days: this is it.

The west coast is brine and seaweed and seacreatures and abundance. It’s the essence of seafood but only the kind that has just been caught that afternoon and cooked that evening on an open grill, tasting like salt and a day well spent that ends in happy fatigue. The west coast is the deep smell of decaying old cedar and the bright chartruse of new things growing right straight up out of it. The west coast is sunlight on water and peace and goodness. The west coast is seeing God and knowing.

I got sick this winter, when we were on vacation in Hawaii with something that no one I have been to is still quite sure about. Since all their ideas have been ruled out I wait to see a specialist while, so, so thankfully as the months pass I also continue to feel better. Being forced to slow down and worry about long term things is not very comfortable for me, or anyone. It challenged my work ethic and perfectionist tendencies and spirit but I will say this: God was with me and so were other people who love me and turns out that is all I really need. 

As I continue to feel more like my healthy self I’m more grateful for the ability to move and swim and explore and have some energy than I ever have been before. So is true of all things we have faced the fear of losing.

This was one of our family’s year’s hard things. We all have these hard things if we live long enough. Hard things tie us into humanity and give us understanding that just as we all have joy, we all have our struggles. Even when our hard things aren’t as clear as the ones we see on the news; of refugees and violence and hate, they are there for everyone and they are all valid.

Hardness isn’t a contest where you aren’t allowed to struggle or get upset or seek compassion if your hard isn’t the hardest there is. We all are allowed those feelings, there is no scarcity or absolutes here. Remember there is more than enough to go around, there is only abundance.

One of the simple yet so complex lessons of my thirties is this: it is okay to be happy and it is okay to be sad. I’m allowed to be content and I’m allowed to have hard times in my very blessed and privileged, yet imperfect middle class life. 

Maybe you need to hear that you are too.

Now I’m at the ocean and I’m healing inside and out because I’m not sure I ever will not be again. After all I’ve got a lot of growing left to do and I believe in things dying to make room and in a God of new life. 

But also – I’m happy and grateful and safe right now and that is okay too.

I hope wherever you are with your happy and your sad or your sad and your happy there is space for compassion, being held. I hope there is room for love and hope and healing. I hope you can be somewhere where your heart beats like nowhere else and you feel peace and surity. And when you are ready I hope there will be room for something new to grow and one day you see something really beautiful come up from all that dirt and decay.

Posted in Alive by the water, Everyday holy, Life in the 30's, Mental health | 2 Comments