About this time one year ago, I was headed home from a church council meeting when I received a call from “Unknown.” On a hunch I pulled over and took the call. It was my primary care physician–bless her–with the news I had already been steeling myself to receive. “Your biopsies were positive,” she said.
Yep, my old teacher cancer had returned after 14 years, metastasizing to my rib, back, hip, peritoneal and lung fluid (ascites). My very kind and thorough doctor promised to try to get me in with an oncologist in whom she had absolute trust, and she did. Within a couple of weeks I was receiving “palliative” chemotherapy every week (talk about a sobering turn of events). Taxol knocked out the problem with the ascites in short order, and to-date the existing lesions have remained stable with no new spots present on this summer’s CT scan.
Today (September 20, 2019) I celebrate this strange sort of anniversary, my first METS “Cancerversary.” It’s been a strange year indeed, with changes, losses, and a new measure of normal that has included:
- Going from pink hair to no hair (but cool hats) to salt-and-pepper wavy hair,
- Transitioning from working 50-70 hours a week to medical disability (I prefer to refer to it as my unplanned sabbatical),
- Grieving the loss of the pastoral vocation that I truly love (at least the way I’ve been accustomed to ministering to others),
- Trying to figure out what to do with myself now that I’m living in what my oncology team graciously refers to as “retirement,”
- Watching myself age about a decade in twelve months,
- Slurping more green smoothies, eating more salads and beans, and drinking more anti-cancer tea than I’d ever thought a human could consume,
- Learning a new “normal” thanks to a variety of chemo side effects,
- Discovering that multi-tasking and grossly overstuffed schedules are highly overrated,
- and learning that, yes Sharron, our bodies really do have limits and if you push it too far for too long there will be a price to pay.
Yes, there’s been a fair share of loss and grief and pain in these last 365 days. But the yucky stuff will never get the last word in my life. There have also been some amazing gifts and “aha moments” during this trip around the sun with cancer. Here are a few highlights:
- The very first thing I do every morning before my feet hit the floor is say “Thank you, God, for another day of life.” And I MEAN it with all my heart. Life is so precious and fleeting and beautiful. We need to celebrate every single day.
- My beloved husband and I have found ways to spend more quality time together and savor every moment that we can squeeze out of each day.
- Relationships with family and friends have taken on new poignancy, meaning, and vitality. I love and value you all SO much!
- Emotions and chronological time are like amusement park rides–just hang on and prepare for change. Nothing lasts. Not pain. Not sadness. Not fear. Not joy. Not even the present moment (which is the very best place to be, I’m learning).
- Cancer is not a death sentence. It’s a LIFE sentence. You learn while living with cancer what it means to savor life and appreciate everything. (Well most of the time. There have been a few moments that just plain suck.)
- Creation is absolutely amazing. If I want to hug a tree, I will hug that tree for all I’m worth. I’ll smile at and speak to strangers. I can spend an hour just watching our new cat and marveling at how brilliant she is. I thank the plants before harvesting their bounty in our garden. So much of life takes on a brighter hue and vibrancy when you realize that we all contain the imprint of the universe and the breath of the Creator’s Spirit. Everyone matters and is beloved. Realizing and embracing this will change your life–trust me on this.
- Hope is real. Attitude matters. Naps are bliss. Love wins.
So cancer, my teacher and companion, happy first anniversary. I can’t say that you’re my number one choice for how this life thing is going to play itself out, but here we are. So thank you for all that you’ve taught me this year about appreciating people, creation, and the present moment. Thank you for finally getting me to grind my overworked gears to a screeching halt so that I can finally listen for the Spirit’s whisper and divine direction. And, thank you for teaching me how to live better and love better. Yes, thank you.
That said, I still have a lot of living and learning to do, so let’s blow out the anniversary candle, raise high the glass of green smoothie, and keep on keepin’ on. L’Chaim!
(Photo: Jens Comiotto-Mayer, Creative Commons. Thanks!)