Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Day 365: A Year with Cancer

A year ago today, I got that call from the surgeon that the biopsy of my lymph-node was positive for follicular lymphoma.  The picture of that moment is seared on my brain.  I remember my husband sitting at the bar that overlooked our kitchen as he was working.  My children were chattering away upstairs--I remember hearing them.  I sat down on the foot of our staircase, and laughed at the surgeon, "You are joking right? I don't have cancer."  We hung up the phone.  Our farm box of veggies had just been delivered.  I remember stabbing the box with the kitchen shears trying to open it to put away the vegetables.  And I remember putting my head on that box and sobbing.  My son came in the kitchen just at that moment.  He bust into tears to see me crying.  I held him really tight I remember.  I couldn't imagine how to have this conversation with my family.  I couldn't bear to break the news to my mom.  Shock doesn't begin to cover what you feel. I am neither surprised, nor anything really that the gamut of my emotions followed the pattern of grief that is well identified by experts.  I find no comfort that how I have progressed through this experience meets the norms.  You never feel normal when you've been diagnosed with cancer.  And while many talk of "finding the new norm," I am not sure there will ever be a new norm.  Just like I am never sure that even if people go into remission, they "get rid" of having cancer.  You see, I have come to believe that whether I live for 40 years with this lymphoma, or at some point in the future I go into remission, I think that I have been undeniably changed by this experience.  In my minds' eye, I will always have cancer.  It is making me into who I am today.  I never expected it on my journey, but what do you know, it's making me.

I have not blogged over the last six months very much.  There have been a variety of reasons for this lapse.  One, I've been writing.  There will be two more books out by me in the new year, "Christ Walk Kids" and "Sally and the Constellations."  So there are successes to this story.

But I've also been silent because I have found that somewhere along the 6-11 month part of this journey, I looked into a mirror and saw a fractured image of myself.  I was there, but parts of me were broken.  To say I moved on from anger and frustration would be to lie to you.  I STILL get annoyed when I allow myself to think of my cancer.  Who has time for cancer?  It irritates me on the days it rears its head and says "slow down."  And being unable to do anything about the cancer, is a bit of a kick in the gut.   I don't always watch and wait well. God always seems to be trying to teach me the art of patience. I often fail miserably and I don't know that I will ever get over that.  Waiting is a part of that whole "new norm" thing that causes me to roll my eyes.  Waiting doesn't fit into the world view of the action hero I want to be when I grow up. The new norm forces you to think about your perceptions of yourself.

This new norm really forced me the last several months to stop and focus.  I really had to work with my doc on a means of living with cancer and still functioning, because it was tenuous at times.  Those broken bits of me kept trying to fall out.  And I found myself needing to apply glue to me.  And in a very private way, I needed to do it without blogging.

Glue comes in many shapes, forms, and substances.  It came in the form of prayer over the last year.  My own and others.  We pray as a family every night that God continues to take care of mommy's cancer--and thus far, God continues to show me grace in many ways.  Glue comes in the form of friends.  Those who were willing to listen.  Those who were willing to receive random texts about fear and anxiety.  Those who were a distraction.  Those who treated me like "Anna" so I could figure out how to treat myself like "Anna" again as well.  Glue comes from professionals who were patient enough to answer repeated questions of the same thing, that were a calm when new symptoms cropped up, and were unfailingly reassuring that watching was still the right thing to do.  Glue comes in the form of the mundane.  The pleasure of walking.  The pleasure of doing things with the kids.  The pleasure of writing.  The pleasure of still having value in the world although I am a broken, semi-repaired, cancer carrying, child of God.

You see a year ago when I was receiving this diagnosis, my book "Christ Walk" was being published.  I could not imagine that the book would do well.  Who wants to learn about living a fit, healthy, and spiritually fulfilled life from a cancer patient?  I was so afraid that this diagnosis was the end of my passion for health in the church.  I thought God had made a mockery of what I perceived was my calling in life.

But you know, God works in funny ways.  My book has gone on to do very well at Church Publishing, Inc.  They tell me I am one of their best sellers.  They've graciously decided to pick up my second book, "Christ Walk Kids."  And people want to hear my story of faith, fitness, and health.  You see, people desperately want to know they have value in the world, that they are needed and they are just as important when they have illness and disease.  Illness, cancer, disease--these labels are devaluing to what we think of ourselves.  We need to stop this.  EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US IS BROKEN, DISEASED, OR DAMAGED and we ALL have value in God's creation.  I can still be healthy: mind, body, and spirit; even with disease.  I really believe this.  My cancer is a part of me and my journey and will continue to be for a long time.

So this is where I am now a year later.  I am in a good place.  I exercise daily, but not always running and training for distance.  I pick things that feel good and bring me joy in movement. Each day, I search for the lovely in my life.   I am awed by God's grace.  When I feel anxious, or fearful of the future, I stuff glue in those pieces of me that want to fall out and pass the glue bottle to God to hold it all together. There is much I will never understand.  There is much I have little patience for, and when those failings come to get me, I remind myself that I do trust God more than I trust in my limited understanding and funnily, peace follows.

In two weeks, I go for my annual CT scans.  They will pump me full of radio-graphic material to see if anything lights up in my body as a new, or growing tumor.  They keep telling me that I'll know when things start to go south.  Huh.  I still look at them a little crazy when they tell me this.  It is so anathema to current medical practice not to treat when early detected.  Consequently, if you are the praying type (and if you are not, I ask that you consider it--it makes a huge difference!), I'll take your prayers.  I'm not sure to ask what to pray for?  Spontaneous remission (always good); continued status quo (also acceptable); patience with the "new norm" (okay); lots of glue bottles if things go south (eh, it could happen)?  I believe in prayer.  I'll take whatever you are willing to offer.

So, keep walking with me, I am still on this journey and we will continue to find faith, fitness, and health together.  I've decided to hold the hand of my cancer and bring it along with us.  It's teaching me a thing or two.  It might not have been the lessons I was seeking, but it's always teaching me.  I hope you are learning something too.

With love, and prayers for another 365 day report.....Anna