Tuesday, March 14, 2017

I Few of My Not So Favorite Things about Cancer

This list has made me feel better than any conversation or therapy session that I have had since my diagnosis. 

I don't like what I have become.
I don't like what this experience has done to me. 
I don't like that I am still struggling. 
I don't like that I am in pain most of the time.
I don't like that I have to do this alone. 
I don't like feeling that no one really wants to know how I am doing.
I don't like having to pretend that I am okay for my family.
I don't like how I look now.
I don't like waking up. 
I don't like that I have to get dressed in the morning. 
I don't like people telling me that I look normal.
I don't like that I have to do normal things. 
I don't like that others are living full busy lives. 
I don't like that I  have had to face death. 
I don't like that I  have crumbled under the weight of it all. 
I don't like that I am just a number to the doctors and health professionals. 
I don't like that when people find out about me they have to share about someone they know with cancer. 
I don't like feeling that I am just one of millions with this problem. 
I don't like being told that my feelings will pass. 
I don't like being told that I will be normal again. 
I don't like that my husband is bored with this. 
I don't like that I can't give myself any grace. 
I don't like having to be mom and all that still entails. 
I don't like failing at being mom and all that entails. 
I don't like that I feel abandoned by my family and friends. 
I don't like that I now know that I am not in control of anything. 
I don't like having my bruised body cut open every week and my skin stretched beyond a normal threshold of pain. 
I don't like that I am doing this just to look normal in my clothes. 
I don't like being told that it isn't that bad. 
I don't like that I am scared, sad and angry most of the time. 
I don't like pretending that I am not scared, sad or angry most of the time.
I don't like that I am not stronger. 
I don't like that something this small has shaken me so badly. 
I don't like that my faith feels weak. 
I don't like that I no longer care about the things that mattered before this.
I don't like that I have to let a new life evolve. 
I don't like that I don't know what I feel anymore. 
I don't like that the best part of my day is the evening when I binge watch Netflix while drinking wine and eating crappy snacks. 
I don't like that I feel patronized and misunderstood. 
I don't like that those that I thought would help get me through this can't or won't.
I don't like that this realization has been more painful than any of the treatments I have gone through. 
I don't like how feeling alive scares me. 
I don't like that this has taken nearly 6 months of my life. 
I don't like that I have to rebuild myself. 
I don't like that I have survivors guilt. 
I don't like that what I am feeling seems foreign to those around me. 
I don't like that I have had to make difficult choices. 
I don't like having to live with my choices. 
I don't like that I have to be here. 
I don't like how tired I have become. 
I don't like feeling  vulnerable. 
I don't like pretending that I care when people are talking to me about their lives.
I don't like not caring about other people's lives. 
I don't like anything about cancer and what it has done to me. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Hollow Truth

I have not written much lately, even in my safe black leather bound journal. I honestly don't even know what to write or feel anymore. This has been one of the most confusing seasons of my life. If I thought at any point in the last few years that I had achieved some greatness of truth or developed a bit of wisdom from years of actively living, then I now know that I was wrong. I feel like any value or any knowledge that I might have been able to contribute to the world at large has vanished. I wake up each day more and more unsure of who I am and why I am still here. If I could stay in my small bubble of one away from others, this actually wouldn't be all that bad. It could even feel comforting to have such little accountability. But, I don't have that luxury. I have teenagers to finish raising and a husband that needs a partner. I have friends that my put together appearance has fooled into believing that I can still offer advice or help with paint color choices. In essence, my small world seems to think that I still have value. But, I feel more like a hollowed out shell. I am not sure if I am a sham of what I once was or if the sham that I have always been is now exposed.

Perhaps, this is a chance at a new beginning for me. Thanks to cancer, my slate has been wiped clean. Maybe, I can start over as I attain new knowledge and wisdom born from a place of true brokenness.  It is possible and even probable, but for now I am still empty. I am a person that has nothing to give and this makes me feel ashamed.

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