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….figuratively, literally… I’m in so many ways, feeling cluttered, spinny and a bit overwhelmed with decisions that need to be made, projects that need a restart, home-life that needs a system again, time that needs to be assigned, relationships that need to evaluated… yada, yada, yada.
I had a birthday this week. Better yet, I GOT another birthday this week. How sweet is THAT? I made it to 37. Seven months ago, we weren’t entirely sure. Heck, 6 weeks ago, we weren’t entirely sure. (see my dad’s reminder below)
Even yet, thirty-seven years later, I’m still working on becoming fully ME. Isn’t it easy to slip and slide on that? How many smokescreens do we create on a daily basis that dilute who we really are? I know I’ve done it. Don’t we continue to work endlessly hard at BECOMING something? Anything? Living up to what others want us to be, need us to be, expect us to be and less of what He wants us to be? (*raising hand* ) What’s even harder is doing that while not hurting anyone or disappointing anyone AND while still not sacrificing anything truly genuine. Eeeesh, that’s some hard math. I don’t think it happens all at once… I think it happens daily, when we wake up and choose it. Killing, slice by slice, the forgeries and the reproductions long enough to realize that the only one who REALLY sees, is Him anyway. That doesn’t mean we stop trying it just means we adjust where our priorities are. I used to REALLY be a people pleaser. I’ve recently let go of that (sorta) and made it a daily focus to let others’ know what I need, because before, I just morphed myself into what others’ needed ME to be.
So, for the rest of my little tiny life, on this little tiny planet … whatever amount of time that may be, I’m desperately trying to be a better person. I can’t have a redo. But I get to have a restart. Everyday is a restart, but I deeply hope I don’t need a daily restart. I kinda hope I take a few things with me each day from the day before it. With that choice, I get to be selective. Not in a non-inclusion, secret club, “what’s the password”, kinda way … but in a “hey, I only have so many days left, what am I going to do with them and who am I going to do them with?” kinda way. I think everyone who goes through some sort of smack in the face with mortality asks themselves what they want to cram in. Mine is coming on now. Slowly… and not in a non-realistic way, but more of a pragmatic, literal and straight-forward kind of way.
1.) WHAT DO I WANT TO DO ?
2.) WHO DO I WANT NEXT TO ME WHILE I DO IT?
I ask myself that a million times a day now and while God is certainly not an amateur at this whole, love unconditionally deal, I certainly am. With that in mind, I try not to limit things, experiences or people but it’s becoming necessary. I simply have to pour myself into those who need and want me to; into the things that are important, that will last, that will be remembered. What are my treasures? WHO are they? But also, what are my pangs? If my way is hurting people, I absolutely need to change and in the same breath, if my way is hurting me … I need to change.
I am tearing things down…. lots of them. Taking all things apart, so that I am able to see over the top of the dust cloud, and rebuild. Isn’t that what a remodel is? I’m being remodeled.. built UP…whether I have 3000 or 3 days left. THAT my friends, is the beauty of changing seasons.
And here, what is more than likely to become my next round of ink… maybe aside the scar that reminds me daily, two of my favorite verses, written together… Exodus 14:14 and Psalm 46:10
difficult… but not impossible.
… well, hardly … but the boys sure did get a kick out of seeing their sweet faces on the front of this months True North magazine. (and for those that aren’t local, it’s a wonderful parenting publication here in Central Oregon.) They’ve both gotten stopped in the grocery store from people who recognized them. Cooper quickly informed them that he doesn’t sign autographs cause he doesn’t like to do cursive.
In addition, I was notified a few weeks ago that, (by the sweet grace of God and the very wonderful people in my home community) I was voted Woman of the Year by the Source Weekly, an edgy weekly magazine in our area. I have no idea how one becomes anything of the year, but apparently, if you play your cards right and get a daunting diagnosis and have to undergo some tricky procedures, it puts you in line. Regardless, it was pretty difficult for me to accept such a nomination without including the entourage of people who have continued to make it even remotely possible. Thus the photo concept of the names which were written onto my naked, scarred torso making it just edgy enough to qualify for placement. Regardless, these two publications have done an amazing job of highlighting some important issues and bringing the ovarian ick, to the surface. So, I thank you.
Thank you, Ben-Ben… rockstar documentarian who always pulls my ideas out of my head and turns them into pixels.
Ok, so there comes a point when you’ve committed to blogging where, say, you don’t for a while and then you feel completely and utterly overwhelmed with all the updates, pictures and little ditties that need to be said to bring everyone up to date, but then you realize that not only is this bit about blogging going to be a TOTAL run on sentence and grammatically incorrect on a million levels, but that it’s been over 2 months since you updated last, and then you just sit and stare at your computer screen in a coffee shop surrounded by a lot of other stumped bloggers and think, crap… Facebook updates just aren’t cutting it, I just need a total cleanse. A blogoscopy.
This is my view right now. Mrs. Cheryl McIntosh is on a mission to detoxify me. AND she just scowled at me because after detailing all the the kinds of sugar I can’t eat anymore, I popped a sweetTart in my mouth and laughed. Stubborn? No. Deliberately rebellious? Nah. <insert another sweetTart here>
So instead of “Rice Krispy covered french toast”, she’s using words like: enzymes, burdock tea, yeast flakes, beets, dandelion root, liver and colon. And where she thinks she’s hilarious by making a play on words using the word Whey. Like, let’s make some “whey delicious pancakes.”, uh huh, you’re funny.
So here we are, in February. It’s been a freakin’ doozy of a lot of days and weeks filled with a lot of stuff that has been both really good, and also, really lame. We’re in over 6 months of this stuff. For some that may seems like no time at all, but for us, it’s been life altering on every level and unfortunately been the cloud over just about every single day.
It’s ALL we talk about. I’m kind over it. The last several months have been filled to the brim with downers and hope (mostly hope) but the downers are enough to sweep you out at the knee and knock you flat. Here’s the cool part… all of us in this together… we know more this year than we did last year, on SO many levels we’re just more wise. Confucius says … “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. So much has been experienced and only half of it has anything to do with cancer.
After a return to the hospital by ambulance for a crazy week of ANOTHER abdominal surgery, NG tubes, an ER visit for a busted open incision and our final (God willing) dose of chemo (this time, Carboplatinum, errrrr harf) … I will, with no pride, admit to being completely wiped out. I’m tired both physically and in my soul. Way deep down. Physically, I know I’m in for the long haul for recovery… emotionally, I’m turning a very wide corner… finally. I can finally see beyond today.
My friends have been incredible. Months and months later, still here, fighting along side me, literally tredging through no different than I am, providing everything from their smiling presence, to bags of fresh oranges, from homemade dinners and gift certificates to hospital visits and kiddo pick-ups, from cards, emails and weekend visits with plans to only chill and devour entire bags of chili cheese Fritos to homemade hats, wraps, jewelry and beyond, from midnight texts and charity benefits, to entire Fridays in the sun … it’s all a constant reminder that we ALL are intimately loved by the God who has infinite resources, that come in the form of these amazing people, these helping hands… adding strength and courage to any fight. I swear, without them, I wouldn’t try this hard. They are there for my sad days with endless solace and support and on the blessed victorious days, with tearful cheers. So much grace has been extended… I am constantly reminded that, I too, have so much of it to give. What a lesson! And while I struggle with letting down my walls again, with letting (just about everyone) too close to me, while I stand at a distance and prove daily, that this walled-up girl, isn’t always so tough…. always trying to keep hearts safe and the hurt and fear far away… while still trying to live out in the transparent open air of what life really is– with all it’s treacherous risk and unknown potential.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
So now we wait, to see how my body responded to all these months of ca-ca and ick, and pray, that God will keep it forever gone — and while that seems SO incredibly NOT easy; I keep thinking how hard it must be for our God… who waits on US constantly. Daily. I know that His best work happens in the dark. In the depths. In the despair. In the worry. In the fret. When the foundation is burnt down to ash. The rebuilding begins. Teaching us to lean on Him and Him alone. My gosh, I’m learning this the hard way, always one that is constantly aware of my own limitations and others’, my own flaw, my own mistakes and short comings… only now, nearly 37 years later, that only He is consistent and steadfast. His endurance and my trusting dependence that He knows better than I do, is sufficient. Because there isn’t any amount of darkness that even one small candle can’t brighten and in that, faith and hope are rising. Right. Now.
Less me :: more Him
I keep a trail of imagery on both Facebook and Instagram, it’s a simple way to document the little stuff… to which my friend, Lena is making me an album of as we speak! I took this picture at one of my favorite little Bend spots and instantly posted::
and then found myself quietly praying….
“Jesus, there are so many changes taking place. I know change can be a good thing, and I am trusting you to show me the way and give me the strength to embrace thatchange and to be and do all you have called me to be and do.”
Oh, if it were only so easy… I wouldn’t have to pray for it.
So for now, while I struggle with being ridiculously anemic and nursing a sore incision, missing my kids on the days they are gone so much it literally slices right through me, having so little energy that I actually get frustrated with myself and how little I can do physically…. I focus on what I CAN do.
Like my dad said to me on our last day in the ER after I growled in teary frustration “ughhh, why can’t ANYTHING go right!?” … he simply said “it has… you’re ALIVE.” Oh yes… THAT. And he’s right. I am still here, my kids are healthy and happy, I am swarmed with true friends and united family so committed to seeing this through, that I have absolutely no room to bark.
Difficult… but not impossible.
Let me just start by saying this: I am not a writer, a photographer, a designer, a marketer or an artist. I work at a bank.
That is where I “met” Jen. A customer told me about her and her diagnosis of Stage 3c Ovarian Cancer just days after she got that terrifying news. Through conversation, I learned that her and I went to the same church. Later that day something tugged at my heart. I knew that I had to do something. I knew with the resources I had available, I could help this stranger. I started by coordinating meals for when she came home from Portland and the months to follow but that didn’t seem like enough. After a few phone calls and texts with Cheryl … they let me in her house! The first time I went out there, I took my Mom and my daughter. I had no idea where I was going or what I was walking in to. I was in AWE of her house. Gorgeous. We folded laundry, put dishes away, took trash out, brought packages in. The 2nd time, Melissa and I had fun prepping for her return with vases of flowers, and a few understated welcome home goodies. And then the 3rd time. One of the ladies who had prepared a meal, wasn’t able to drive it out to Jen’s so I volunteered. I am not going to lie. I was a nervous wreck. I have no idea why. I was finally going to meet this Woman whose house I had been to twice, whose friends I had talked to numerous times. It was like she was sort of a legend! I also had no idea what to expect. I had never been around someone who just had a tumor removed. Someone who was the same age as me and had cancer. Who I met that day, was a Woman who would become my friend.
A friendship that I didn’t know would happen, but couldn’t be more grateful for. Most of Jen’s friends have known her for years, grew up with her, went to college with her, have been colleagues of hers. Not me. I never knew Jen “pre-cancer”. I can look at photos and imagine how different her life was and how drastically things have changed. In the last 6 months, I have learned so much about Jen and about myself also. The conversations we have range from silly stuff, to real life stuff and even to scary stuff, like death. My daughter adores her boys. If we had all the money in the world, they would have every single Angry Birds item we see. If you have spent much time with her, you know what I am talking about when I say her presence is calming. I have seen this thing called Cancer, bring her to some of her weakest points, both physically and emotionally. Heartbreaking.
The other night when we were chatting, she said she hadn’t written a blog post in a long time, and she felt badly. I told her to have someone else write it and she asked if I wanted to. My heart skipped a beat. Sure. But what did she want me to write about? She said, my view, my perspective. I always seem to have plenty to say but as I was writing this, my words did not flow as gracefully as I imagined. My view and perspective is more than I could write in a blog. To be a part of a tribe surrounding Jen, is seriously wordless. It has reminded me that no matter how much or little you are there, YOU are a support and an encouragement to someone. I guess what I am trying to say is this: wherever you are reading this: on your couch, in your bed, on your phone, hopefully not while driving , at work, at home or at school, wherever you are, you can make a difference. You may think you are “blessing” someone but at the same time, open your heart, your ears and your eyes and take in the unexpected that may come your way. You never know where a friendship will begin.
I know, I know.
I’m ridiculously behind. Like, REALLY behind. It’s been over a month and since my brain is fried from chemo-juice, I may or may not be able to recall a month’s worth of events (or the conversation I probably had with you yesterday). I’ll give it a shot.
It’s been a colossal month. We started treatment in Bend and fell in love with my oncologist, Dr. Kornfeld, who just so happens to be freaking amazing on every level. He’s personable, lovable, warm, funny and gives the best hugs ever. He gives me high 5′s when I gain weight and gives me permission to eat things everyone else tells me not to eat. He lets me obsess over my blood test results and accommodates all of my incessant questions and premature planning. I love him to pieces. The nurses here too. Seriously, amazing. Every single one of them, we have already fallen in love with. LOVE. Like, little, puffy, hand-drawn hearts appear magically and float all around them when they walk into the room.
So, a couple weeks ago… we decided to do the infamous BRCA test. (we call it Braw-ka). It’s genetic testing. Expensive, but totally worth the peace of mind. My main concern was for Bella, my niece … being the only other female under me on the Burgess side; I wanted to make sure SHE wouldn’t have this to face later, and if it was genetic, we could have her tested early. (Early detection, people!) Also, incase you didn’t know. Breast cancer is kind of like the horrible step-sister to ovarian cancer. I’m actually at high risk to get it. So is anyone I gave birth to. Like, my own boys. Yup, men get breast cancer too. We got lucky. It was negative. (In my heart, I already knew this.) This was not a genetic cancer… it was indeed, “environmental”. Here’s the quintessential piece of token cancer’y advise you’re obligated to get from me … if you think something is wrong, it probably is. Who cares if you sound like a neurotic hypochondriac. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is off. Listen to it. If you have a lump, get it checked. If you have a pain, ask about it. If they don’t listen to you, ask again. If you feel weird, ask for a blood test. If your lymph nodes are swollen, ANYwhere… have them checked.
**Note to men … those are NOT your lymph nodes. So, stop it.
Roughly two weeks after my first chemo, I knew my hair would start to be an issue. So… because I’m kind of a control freak, I took the reigns on that one. The first phase was just cutting off most of my hair to a short bob until we were ready to take’r down. Then we rallied the troops and had a head shaving night at Salon Envy. Ben came with his gear and we documented the night which ranged from giggles, to tears, to weeping and back to giggles again.(there is a video coming and we’ll put all the images up at that point.) I will say this… it was most definitely the most emotionally traumatic part so far. I didn’t think I would care about it until the moment JUST before we started, and I let out the most primal gasp and exhale of held in tears. Everyone just stopped and let me have it. I pulled myself together and that was that. Done.
The boys thought it was pretty cool.
A question I get a lot right now is… “What does chemo FEEL like, does it hurt?”
Chemo days are a trip. I have to gear UP for them. Now that I know what to expect, I don’t get anxious about it anymore, but I do dread them. Those days are LONG. They are boring. My tribe is there and I’m constantly worried about THEM being bored. Being tired. Being hungry. Being uncomfortable sitting in those ridiculous hospital chairs in that tiny little room they give us. My dad never brings anything with him. No books or magazines. No ipad. No computer. It bugs me.
But chemo itself is just sucky. It’s 10 hours of infusion. That means, dripping a long, slow drip of craptastic into my uncooperative veins after maybe 4 attempts at an IV. The chemo itself doesn’t hurt. But the process is uncomfortable. Once they start the stomach port infusion, I’m usually pretty full of fluid. I get REALLY uncomfortable around hour 7. By then I’m usually 5 bags of fluids in. I’m visibly swollen and feel ridiculously full. That night, is usually pretty uncomfortable and I’m typically pretty wired from the steroids they pump in that day. By the next day, I’m tinkling a lot. Like, lots. But the side effects don’t typically kick in until day 2 and they are really bad on day 3 and 4. Typically, I feel as though I can’t move without help. As the treatments have gone on and the cumulative effects of chemo have caught up with me, it seems like each infusion is a tad bit worse. I usually wake up feeling like I have the worst hang over ever. The side-effects usually kick in and every bone in my body usually aches. My skin feels flu-ish thin and paper-fragile. My muscles usually throb or burn a low, steady pain. It’s weird and kind of indescribable. Any strong smell is usually too much. It reminds me of pregnancy. I get intensely nauseas over brewed coffee or the smell of meat cooking. I usually feel weary tired but the kicker to the steroids is they make you unable to sleep. Nothing really helps either … not really. The steroids make it bearable, I’ve tried smoking pot and hate it, eating usually helps but the nausea makes that pretty hard, all in all … the days following chemo are pretty painful. I remember my dad came over one day, during the last double-dose we got, and I was on day 8 or 9 of being in bed straight, and I just started crying like a little girl. It just hurt THAT bad. Every so often, my mind literally just goes blank and I have trouble even finishing a thought or a conversation. The most recent side effect has been thumping in my ears… kind of like the sound of a distant helicopter… not continuous, but frequent enough to be annoying. The symptoms that come with each treatment only last for a few days – longer as treatment goes on – but for the first 6 or so treatments, those post-treatment symptoms would only last a week or so, depending on how much chemo I get. The last round was harsh, but the single dose I got after it was great! I just never know what to expect. Since my treatments are only a week apart there isn’t much time between to feel good. When they give me a week break, I actually get a good solid week of feeling good. Those days, are AWESOME. Like nothing hurts! I could think and actually REMEMBER conversations and I didn’t need a nap! Every treatment so far, I have a moment – after the side effects wean and I started to feel normal again where I just marvel at how good it felt to feel good. To feel N O R M A L.
On these days, I actually feel guilty. Guilty for leaving my bed, for putting on my new fancy wig, for having plans, for drinking a beer, for being out at a restaurant, for NOT being sick. Like, I have cancer… I’m not allowed this. Some people NEVER get to feel good.
I will and AM letting go of everything else, all of it… (you know… the ick and muck we all carry around like the initial swellings of grudges and anger and resentment and self-protection and heart guards and walls and…. and…) and clinging ON to the GOOD. There is SO MUCH GOOD.
I keep asking myself, have I lived enough IN the moment? In THIS moment?
To love life wildly enough to fight FOR it.
“Joy is always a function of gratitude — and gratitude is always a function of perspective. If we are going to change our lives, what we’re going to have to change is the way we see.”
Cancer is changing the way I see. Or maybe it’s God, USING cancer to change the way I see?
Difficult, but NOT impossible.