Chemo Friday Reflection


Ports make life so much easier!

Receiving a diagnosis of a terminal illness (cloaked in the more palatable guise of something that’s going to be treated as a long-term chronic condition but that is 98% guaranteed to kill you at some point) can be a real buzz kill. I can’t say how it goes for other folks, but here’s how it went down for me.

First there’s numbness. It was difficult to wrap my head around the facts. I knew deep down inside the cancer was back; I could feel it quite literally in my metastases-hollowing bones, ascites-distended belly, and painfully swollen ankles. Part of me wanted to burst into tears and echo Scarlett O’Hara’s quotable line from Gone with the Wind: “I’ll think about it tomorrow.” Still another part of me wanted to stick my fingers in my ears and holler “La La La La La La La!” while floating in a dreamy hot pink kayak down that river called denial.

By contrast, the fierce, optimistic part of me kept saying “Suck it up, buttercup! Live your one-precious-poetry-of-Mary-Oliver-infused life like there’s no tomorrow! You’ve got this thing.” And when I ceased talking and thinking long enough, the still, small voice of God whispers from deep in my gut: “Just be. Stop. Stop doing. Cease fretting. Listen. I am with you.”

All the voices. All the feels and emotions. Just b-r-e-a-t-h-e. Just l-i-v-e.

It’s been four weeks since my official diagnosis, just shy of one calendar month. As of today I’ll have had three Taxol treatments, downed 23 quarts of super greens and antioxidant smoothies (love my collards, kale, and spinach!), ingested two bottles of enhanced Transfer Factor, four cups of special herb tea each day, multiple rounds of barley grass tablets, and a nightly bubbly akalyzer beverage. Add to that a delicious mostly raw, whole foods vegan diet (not very practical for church potlucks), and for the most part I feel and look better physically than I have in ages. My morning weight has dropped into the mid-120s, and were it not for the fatigue, I think I could go out and run a 10K with no trouble at all. Even the effects of the chemo have been minimal and manageable.

My biggest challenge in response to the diagnosis? Slowing down. I can no longer keep up the 12- to 14-hour work days I had been used to “managing.” And you know what? That’s a good thing. A healthy thing. A stewardship of life and Sabbath thing. Thank you, cancer, for teaching this hard-headed, over-achieving, duty-bound woman about priorities. We miss so much of life in our furious multi-tasking, our need to accomplish, to please, to do good, to achieve, to matter, etc. etc. etc. One might assume I would have learned a thing or two in my first go-round with breast cancer 14 years ago. Clearly, there’s still some learnin’ to be done: “Fall down seven, get up eight.”

#Thrive pose for Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day (10/13) 

My strongest medicine? It’s not the Taxol or the vegan diet and supergreens. It’s G-R-A-T-I-T-U-D-E. I am so grateful for the number of people who are walking life’s journey with me. My beloved husband, our children and extended family, friends and colleagues all have rallied to form a hammock of support and care. It’s a beautiful and amazing thing to behold.

Your friendship and solidarity–evidenced through cards, letters, flowers, books, chemo kits, encouraging words, time and presence, and above all your prayers–mean so much. Thank you. You lift my spirits. You help keep me grounded and focused. You point to all that truly matters. Thank you. Gratitude is indeed strong medicine, and your accompaniment and prayers have served me up a big dose of it in beloved community near and far. Thank you.

Now back to working on slowing down. To be continued…

Marvelously Made

I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well.  –Psalm 139:14

You, dear one, are marvelously made. You are unique. You have been gifted with talents and skills that only you, in concert with the Holy Spirit, can bring to  fullest expression.

In worship today, we focused today on the Baptism of Jesus and on his divine blessing. We gave thanks for the gift of baptism and for the gift of the Holy Spirit–the advocate, the gift that keeps on giving, the presence of God that never leaves us and that journeys with us. We also acknowledged that this is not a tame, calm gift. Our incorporation into God’s family and our the fact that we are blessed, named, and claimed sets us off on a life-long journey as wild and wonderful as any carnival ride. It’s a Holy Collision of grace, love, and mercy. Think of it as a combination of bumper cars and a wild, wet water ride.

Annie Dillard said it well in her 1982 book Teaching a Stone to Talk:

“Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

The wonderful news about this wild, crazy ride through life is that we are very well-prepared because we are marvelously made. This week I invite you into a deeper exploration of what it means to be created in the image of God, to be intimately known and understood by the One who spoke the stars into the night sky and who breathed a wild and wonderful wind upon the waters.

Let us be thankful for the gift of humankind and for one another. Peace, blessing, and joy!

For Further Reflection

Click here for a beautiful visual reflection set to the hymn “Borning Cry” produced by Wolfie Productions. The lyrics and music are written by John Ylvisaker, #732 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW). Click here for the lyrics and a reflection on Susan Stabile’s blog. Relax, enjoy, and know the presence of God in your life both this day and always.

As the week progresses, assemble pictures of you at various stages in your life. You might also wish to gather pictures of family members. Keep these in the area you set aside for your prayer and devotional time. Give thanks for the gift of life and for all the stages of the journey.

Photos by sabianmaggy, Daily Organized Chaos, and ohitzanna used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!