Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Strength of Honesty

Yesterday, I found myself sitting in a beige overstuffed recliner from the 80's facing my on again off again therapist. I had just been given the one word definition of anxiety: Fear. After her textbook pause for effect, she posed the inevitable question: What is your biggest fear?

To help with context, let me give a brief synopsis of my current cause for anxiety. I have a big deadline on Friday. I have to make a decision as to whether or not I sign on for 28 treatments of radiation to my chest wall. I could give you all the fun facts as to why this decision has to be made. Perhaps I should, that way you could all (meaning, Janice) weigh in on what I should do and make my choice for me. But, that would be counter productive because no matter how much I wish it weren't true, I am the only one that can make this decision. I alone have to say 'yes' or 'no' and live with the consequences. I will however point out that my situation is not a simple one. There is no big flashing red arrow pointing me in a positive or negative direction. Some words that were used by the best and brightest in Kalamazoo were 'probability', '.5 mm', 'consider', 'statistics', 'percentage,' 'risks', 'gray' and my personal favorite 'maybe'. For the past 4 weeks, I have been using these comforting words to process my final decision. 

I know what my surgeon would do, I know what my friends would do, I know what my husband thinks we have agreed to do, I even know what Jesus would do, but I honestly don't know what I will do.

This morning I let my mind wander back to the dimly lit room with the big chair, my therapist, and an unanswered question. I was not able to come up with just one answer. For the last three months so many different fears had driven my existence. How was I to know which one was my biggest? Then, nearly all of my crazy irrational thoughts disappeared and only one remained. Perhaps, this was the one. The one that kept me from doing what seemed so obvious to so many. The one that kept me from walking in with confidence on Friday and saying, 'The risks don't out weigh the benefits so my answer is, no.'

I am afraid a small part of the cancer is still there, that it will show up again someday and that next time my family will lose me. 

I have let this post sit for a day after writing the above words. Could this fear possibly happen? There is a probability that statistically the percentage of risk in my gray situation could involve the above scenario. But, 24 hours later this fear doesn't seem to have the power that it once did. Perhaps, by taking the time to be honest with myself and recognizing what is driving my fear is all it takes to destroy the debilitating power they it can have on me. No doubt there will be more anxiety and fear, but choosing to be honest instead of strong in those moments might actually provide the real strength I need to free myself from them.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Cliches and Unsolicited Advice

The beauty of my blog is that little to no thought goes into what I write. I wait until I have a moment and then just go ahead and dump the contents of my head onto a blank page. Not sure if this is standard blogging protocol, but based on my non existent readership, I'd say that this probably isn't the best way to go about things. Of course, this changes nothing and I will now dump my latest reflections.

I have been on this cancer journey for 3 months now. Unfortunately, it continues to throw me curve balls. After talking with and reading about people that have also been on this journey, I have come to the conclusion that these curve balls are just par for the course. It is just part of getting to travel this road. I will pause now and reflect upon the ridiculous number of cliches that I have just used to describe having cancer. Which leads me to my next thought, cancer is a really really uncomfortable thing to talk about. It makes people nervous. Those that don't have it, have no idea what to think about it and honestly find the whole idea very uncomfortable. Those that do have it are very aware of this since at some point they were in the 'don't have it' group, so they go out of their way to put a positive spin on everything and use words like 'journey' and 'road' to try and make everyone feel better. I am pretty sure that it doesn't work. No one is fooled by these ridiculous words. Cancer is not a journey or a road; it is a disease. And, since we are being honest here, it is a life threatening disease that doesn't always end well. I have this disease, and even though I don't plan on having it for long, I still have it. Even though I plan on fighting and doing what it takes to heal, I still have it. Even though I believe that God loves me and can heal my body, I still have it. Even if I choose to put a positive spin on it, I still have it.

What are we all supposed to do then? Being that I am not a licensed psychologist with a specialty in grief counseling, I can only give my humble opinion. Those of us with cancer need to be honest about our 'journey', and those without it need to come alongside and 'just be' available... a lot. Let us know that it is okay that we are overwhelmed and scared. That we don't have to always get it right, just so one day we can write a brilliant and inspirational memoir that, let's be honest, will only make others struggling with cancer feel like crap. Basically, just give us the space to breathe through this messy situation, knowing that some days we will be better at it than others. Don't forget that although you may soon become bored with this 'project', the person with the disease doesn't get that luxury and that they can't afford to go through this alone. I guess what I am trying to say is the person with cancer has to wake up each day and face a strange new existence; it would be nice if they had a few familiar faces waiting there on occasion.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

To Just Be

"Allowing yourself frailty is one of the kindest things you can do for yourself."
                                                                                                   - From the Book Undone

I can't seem to break the habit of journaling in real notebooks. It just doesn't seem as cozy to curl up in a chair by the fire with my computer. I remember years ago when I was much more diligent with this blog, I had the most adorable green laptop. Alas it is no longer, and now I have a plain black one that doesn't seem to bring me nearly the same amount of joy as I type. Perhaps, that is the root of my problem and not the need for ink and paper by the fireside. Anyway, here is a transcription of my latest thoughts or at least some very recent ones.

What will my life look like moving forward? I don't know. I am trying to have it all figured out now and that is not possible.

After a few weeks of kicking and screaming, in my head, I am finally getting used to the rhythm of rest. Sometimes, I feel guilty about it. I think that is when I am grateful for the pain. The pain reminds me that it is okay to sit and live quietly. As much as I hate the pain, it is for this reason that I am always relieved when it shows up again.

Normally when I get too comfortable with the quiet, I tell myself that I am dangerously teetering on giving up, becoming lazy or quitting life. Usually, this is all it takes to scare myself into picking up my burdens and responsibilities and continuing on no matter how uncomfortable or tiring they may be. But, now I find myself thinking very differently. I wonder if I am so necessary and valuable that the world will crumble if I stop. I have faced death or at least the possibility of it. What will happen to my family, friends and world? Will they die too? No, they will go on living and functioning without me.

I am no one's savior. I am just a woman that has never given herself permission to rest more than a week or two...ever. One that also has a warped sense of what she has brought to the table. The world can and will go on without me.

Today, I give myself permission to rest rest as long as I need it physically and emotionally. Just because I can now do almost everything (albeit at a slower pace) that I once did before my surgery, doesn't mean that I have to. I am checking out for as long as I see fit, maybe for good. Although my contribution to the world might be helpful, it is not essential. I have worked myself into a frenzy for years under the false narrative that I am essential that if I don't deliver others will fall apart. I have driven myself into a permanent state of anxiety and perfection for something that isn't even real.

I am just an ordinary person that has an ordinary life to live. Imagine the peace I can have if I choose to live it for the right reasons, to finally just be. All of my striving and pushing goes with me when I die. All I've done begins to fade as those still living make their own choices and decisions sans me. To only do what I should do, not what I can do, might be the beginning of a beautiful way of finishing this life.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A New Normal

I have always done my clearest thinking while writing. My thoughts seem to untangle themselves as they take shape on the page. If I choose to leave them in my head, they just seem to swirl around causing chaos and confusion. I suppose that they would sort themselves out just as well if I were to speak them aloud. No one has ever accused me of not being able to express myself verbally. But, I live a quiet life brought about by years of transient living and the only people that seem to cross my path on a daily basis are my husband and teenage boys. I have learned over the years that anything verbally communicated to them must be done in a single sentence and, optimally, one that only involves a simple subject and verb. So, that brings me back to writing. I have not maintained this blog very well.This is partly because I have embraced chaos and confusion the last few years and just let insanity grow in my head. But, mostly, it is due to the fact that what I needed to write the last few years was so personal that sending it out into the abyss of this blog was more than I was willing to share, even with the Russians. Instead, I filled up several journals with a copious amount of complex questions accompanied by an occasional answer.

I find myself facing one of my most personal crises to date. But, instead of beginning another tastefully bound notebook, I find myself, once again, drawn to the abyss. My thoughts and feelings need somewhere to go besides the basket next to my couch. They need room to breathe, to work themselves out and to hopefully return to me with some much needed clarity. I don't know how they will come out or in what order they will present themselves, but I do know that they will show up when it is their time to be released.

About a month ago, I sent out an email entitled "My Life at the Moment" to a select group of friends around the country. They had nothing in common with one another other than the fact that at some point in the last 30 years they had played the important role of friendship in my life. I was facing a scary and uncertain future and I needed to know that I wasn't alone. I needed to know that someone knew I had been diagnosed with breast cancer a few months before and that I was about to have a terrifying surgery to remove not only the cancer but my right breast. I just needed to know I wasn't alone. That was my only motive. I knew that some of them would encourage me and others would pray; I also knew that some wouldn't respond at all. Looking back, it was never about the responses. Actually, what I really wanted to do was scream into the universe my anger, fear and frustration, but being a semi reasonable adult that wasn't an option, so a group email was the next best thing. This email loop became a way for me to check in with myself weekly, to let me know where I stood in this process. Gradually, the responses became less and less. My updates had run their course. I had gone through the surgery and survived. I was healing at a normal and expected rate. I was given a less than desirable but typical post surgery treatment plan. My updates were becoming nothing more than one more email to have to 'check' in already out of control inboxes. I completely understood; it was never really about them anyway. It was just a way to make sense of it all. I have put the email loop to rest. But, find that I still need to send updates out to myself to let me know that I'm still here. I still need answers to all the questions and fears that haunt me daily. My hope is that with each post God will begin to provide the clarity needed to move into a new and unexpected normal.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Just in Case You Were Wondering

For those that have been asking and for those that have not but stumbled across this post anyway, here are some non professional before and after shots of our new home in Michigan taken over the last 3 months of non stop work. I am really pleased with what we were able to achieve on a limited budget in such a short period of time. No doubt there will be more pictures to come as we complete more spaces and tweak what has already been 'completed'. 

*Side Note: I absolutely hate that I can't figure out how to adjust the obnoxious brown border that is now around my photos. I have spent too much of what is left of the technical side of my brain trying to fix this tonight. Perhaps another time, but most likely not.

Kitchen Before

Kitchen After

Breakfast Nook Before

Breakfast Nook After

Another View of Breakfast Nook Before


One More After

Dining Room Before

Dining Room After

Living Room Before

Living Room After

Living Room Before

Living Room After


Thursday, January 15, 2015

R.W. Emerson and I Might Have Been Friends

I find myself with a little time on my hands.  What this really means is that I have forgotten to do something. But, that is neither here nor there since it has been forgotten. Today, I was reading a book by R.W. Emerson entitled Love and Friendship. Ralph Waldo and I have been on first initial terms for years now.  This pretty much began when I purchased the above mentioned book at an estate sale and noted that he referred to himself as RW.  Feel free to look up the book to verify this.  If you do, let me know if the actual title is Love and Friendship. Anyway, RW says that the two things that must be present in order for friendship to exist are sincerity and tenderness. He goes on for pages elaborating in ways that are mostly over my head.  Nevertheless, I think that I concur. In order for friendship to exist, both parties must be truthfully transparent but with a lens that desires to know and love the core of a person. I realize that me and RW have lofty aspirations for friendship, which is why my existence, much like his, is somewhat isolated.

I have no doubt there are a plethora of people out there that consider me their friend. Not because I am so amazing, but because modern culture uses the word 'friend' to mean anyone that you met for coffee and blessed with your presence once or twice. I, however, do not consider these people to be my friends. Although, occasionally, these meetings include sincerity, there is never time for tenderness. Tenderness requires a desire for genuine connection. It cannot be accomplished when there are pressing matters or better 'friends' to rush off to long before a $4 cup of coffee or $15 meal can get cold.

My definition of friendship might be a bit out dated, after all RW has been gone for quite some time now, but it is a beautiful ideal. One that has the potential to bring life and affirmation to all involved.  Two things that most of us, if we are being honest, are desperate for.

In case you are wondering or possibly even worrying if we are friends, just ask yourself three questions.

 (1) Have you and I been sincere with one another?

(2) At some point over the years, have we made time and room for one another in the chaos that is life?

(3) Have we ever had coffee together?

If your answers to these questions are 'no', 'no' and 'what is she talking about?', it is a pretty safe bet we are merely acquaintances. This is not a bad thing; acquaintances are great if you need to borrow something, have a laugh or plan a well balanced party. Feel free to use my little test to see where you stand with others. And, do yourself the favor of making sure you have at least one person in your life that gets a couple affirmative answers.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Unseen Worth

Let me start off by saying that I am very tired.  Not in a "I sure could use a nap kind of way", but true exhaustion.  The kind of blinding weariness that can only come with too much hope deffered.  Don't get me wrong, I have never believed that I am living a fairy tale and that a simple clicking of heels can get me out of this predicament called life.  But, after nearly 40 years of existing and observing, I currently find myself frustrated.  I could go on a tirade about how modern living has created a bunch of sociopaths that whine if they don't get their way.  "I really need a job with more hours making more money, so that I can buy all the things that I deserve" But, then whine even louder when they do get their way. " I hate my job and hate that I have to go to work AGAIN today."  Thankfully, I don't feel like going off on that particular tirade, at the moment.  The masses have been spared my sad little commentary.

 Today, my tirade is about myself. I once again find myself dealing with the aftermath of a less than stellar parenting moment.  The details are sad. But, the real sadness lies in their repetitive nature.  On the surface, it seems to come down to me having to face the reality that my 14 year old son doesn't seem to value education.  He seems caught up in a world of his own making, where Minecraft servers and imaginary Skype friends trump real life. Who is to blame for this? That's a rhetorical question, because I know that I am.

Even as I write this, I know that Minecraft is not the problem. He has always viewed education as something to be endured, something that was created to point out how stupid or less than he is.  Actually, he hasn't always felt this way.  I remember him running or at least walking on his own free will into kindergarten eager to see what the day had in store.  It wasn't long though, until his teacher sat me down and began to explain that he wasn't getting 'it'. She encouraged me to hold him back.  She was the first of many professionals to point out that something wasn't right.  I could share the details of the next decade of both our lives, but I don't think I have the strength to relive that kind of pain again.  Just know that many years later, I have a young man who doesn't know is own value and worth.  I have tried so hard to let him know how amazing he is.  But, I am flawed and every time I have come across a proud parent bragging about how smart their child is because they are writing novellas in the third grade or teaching themselves Chinese, I find it a little harder to convince him and myself that he is 'amazing'. These proud parents have never gone away and thanks to social media I am inundated with them much more often than my psyche can handle.  I understand that they mean no harm and want to give their kids their due or accolades for jobs well done.  But, it has made it nearly impossible for this parent to keep looking at her son and see someone of value.  Oh, I know he has value.  He has a kind heart and a quick whit.  He doesn't care about outside appearances and can spot BS a mile away.  He is wise beyond his years and has a beautiful old soul.  But, I don't 'see' his value, because in the world's eyes he has none.  He has had to fight for every ounce of success that he has had.  And, his success hasn't been measured in how fast he can read, but the fact that he can. Nor can it be measured in spelling bees or poetry contests or dean's lists.  His success is that he can now quietly blend in the background, so that no teacher will again approach his mother and say something is wrong. I am so proud of all his accomplishments.  We both fought so hard for every single one.  But, I can't brag about them.  No, on a good day I get to hide them so that no one sees his flaws or what him and I refer to as his successes.

My son knows he has no value in the world's eyes.  He knows his parents have nothing to brag about.  He hides his hurt and his own reality with the grace and dignity of someone many times his age.  In actuality, he has become so gifted in this deception that I rarely see his pain.  So rare is my glimpse that I too begin to compare him to all the people with visible value out there and see how short he comes up.  I forget about all his hard won successes and tear into him hoping to pull out something that the world can value.  He quietly takes it never voicing an ounce of emotion.  So, I press even harder.  Hoping, that this will finally be the moment when he becomes like everyone else.  I am relentless and cold in my battle for his worth.  Then when it is too late to stop or fix it, I see his brokenness and hurt staring at me.  I see in his eyes sadness and shame. He knows his lack has, once again, been exposed to the one person that was supposed to protect and encourage him, the same person that fought so hard with him for all he has managed to accomplish. The raw pain staring at me rips through my chest and I know that I can't fix what I have done.  I can only give him the space to once again put back on his mask of indifference.

So today if I seem a little tired, it's because I am.