Lots of feels

One of my blogs is about to disappear, and in the interest of saving it I am coping some of my previous posts into this blog. This post was from July 6, 2015.

It is 6:30 in the morning on my day off work, and I am here, awake. I have a lot of feelings inside me and I am sitting here with tears in my throat and in my eyes, longing just to be able to write my feelings down and push them off into the world. Like the words from the Anna Nalick song, “2 a.m. and I’m still awake, writing a song. If I get it all down on paper it’s no longer inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to.” But maybe I just really don’t have the courage. One day I swear I am going to write my novel so I can say all the things I cannot say, turn loose all the feelings inside of me.Half of the feelings I feel are vapors in the wind anyway.

As I sat here at my desk, I watched a cloud outside my window. For a moment it was the stunningly clear face of a pitbull terrier. But in seconds it morphed, first into a kitty, and then on to several indistinct stages on its way to becoming the blank cloudbank that it is at this moment. And that happens so often with problems. You have a dagger in the heart, but then it dissolves and is gone, unless you happened to put it into writing or other communication where it becomes immortalized, or kind of. For me, writing and getting things out is cathartic, but the problem is that when you get things outside yourself sometimes they take up residence in others, and become things totally other, and totally beyond your control at all. Things that are minor can come to define you.The other thing about writing is that often it helps me to figure out just exactly what it is that is hurting. Like right now.

The immediate cause of my distress is that my daughter, who is 18 weeks pregnant, was experiencing anxiety this morning at 4-something. I woke up. Presumably she has gone to sleep and I am still awake. This anxiety, this problem, will probably dissolve when the winds shift. But in me it stirs something far deeper. Whether large or small, my child is suffering, and I am powerless to alleviate the suffering. I can, and do, talk my head off in an attempt to fix things, but honestly sometimes I know that just makes it worse. That’s the other dangerous thing about words. For some reason the same words can mean completely different things to other people. She is anxious, so in an attempt to alleviate the anxiety, I employ the analytical mode, trying to explain why the problem is not quite as bad as it feels, and/or how to avoid problems in the future. This works well for me, but my daughter is in emotional mode, and she absorbs those words completely differently, internalizes them as criticism, which they are not intended to be.Emotions. Sometimes you just have to get control of them.

I remember in the second year after Michaela was kidnapped, I just felt angry, and it finally dawned on me that my anger was nothing more than sorrow that I had turned inside out and thrown outside myself because that was easier than feeling the sorrow. That was a big thing. But the same thing happens with the little things. We feel pierced by that dagger, which would probably dissolve in a minute, an hour, a day, unless we let that sorrow become anger and let it out into the world where it will inevitably cause more hurt. I personally have counted the cost and decided it is not worth it. That means I end up with a lot of feelings that get bottled up inside. Perhaps I need to find another means to transform and express them, through something more positive than getting angry. There are a lot of things that never ever get resolved, because I don’t speak of them. In the end I guess I don’t trust that they would get resolved if I did.

This child, the one whose anxiety woke me in the early hours today, was born five years after Michaela was kidnapped. One of my strong memories is from when she was a little baby, and she was crying. I picked her up and held her and said, “It’s okay. Mommy is here. Mommy will take care of you.” I was reassuring her from my heart with every intention of making everything right, of keeping her safe and protected and not letting anything hurt her. But in that moment I was flooded with the knowledge of the truth, that this was a lie. It was a promise I could not make. I had said the same sort of thing to Michaela, but in the end I had not been able to protect her. She suffered the most brutal fear, grief and pain, and there was not a single goddamned frickin thing I was able to do to prevent that, or to save her from it once she was in its clutches. I completely and totally failed her.

And I have completely and totally failed all my children. It hasn’t been as dramatic as it has been with Michaela. The daggers that have pierced them have been the kind that mostly dissolve in time. But they have all suffered grief and sorrow, and there is not anything I can do about it. I have made midnight trips to the grocery store for chocolate, taken them for manicures, sat and listened, hugged and cried. But the only way I could actually have prevented my children from being hurt was if I had taught them not to love. Jobs, money, those things all can cause stress, but only love can pierce the heart, and it can pierce deep and hard and leave shards that don’t ever completely go away. I know, because I have them myself.

My daughter and her husband, they are happy and excited about the baby they are having. But they have feelings inside them that perhaps they don’t even understand. Do they understand the huge vulnerability they are being drawn into? They are both smart kids, and they are both very self-aware, smart, imaginative and creative, so maybe they do. Or maybe it is just a vague sense of unease. I know that as they have thought about their child, they have been drawn to look back on their own childhoods. In doing so, they have encountered the things that hurt them. They think, they hope, that these things will be different for their child, that their son won’t encounter the cruelty of other kids, for example. But somewhere deep inside, as they consider their own hurts, they may be coming to realize that those things are going to hurt even more if they happen to their child than they did when they happened to them. I looked it up this morning, that quote that I just kind of know. I discovered it has a source, author Elizabeth Stone. It is, “Making the decision to have a child — it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

Well, I guess I am kind of placing my own thing into other people’s minds here. I think it is valid to a point. But really it’s my own point. For me, it is magnified, because it triggers that deep sorrow of not being able to save Michaela from suffering. But the fact is, I can’t save any of my children. I can’t make any of them happy. I can’t protect any of them from hurt. I can just hope that they have the emotional wisdom to live well.

To you, Michaela, I just want to say that am so sorry that I was not able to protect you from harm, that I was not able to save you. Wherever you have been, whatever you have been through, I just hope that you have been able to feel always that love that is beyond life and death, there in your heart, forever.

What if God’s purposes are bigger than your answered prayers?

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The title of this blog was taken from a Facebook status posted by the associate pastor of our church. He and his wife are currently experiencing a heartbreaking situation, as she is pregnant with a baby who is not expected to survive more than a few hours after birth. What is in their minds and hearts? I can only guess. Thousands of prayers are being offered for them, for their baby. What are they expecting to happen? I don’t know.I can only imagine.

But I understand the sentiment of this statement, what if God’s purposes are bigger than your answered prayers? I understand it because when I was diagnosed with breast cancer there were people who wanted to (and did) pray for a miraculous healing. But I knew in my heart that was not to be. I knew that this was a journey I had to take, for whatever reasons, for whatever purposes. Maybe it is for myself, to learn, to grow, to become the person I am supposed to become. Will cancer weaken me, or will it strengthen me? Who knows, I might end up competing in the Tour de France after it’s over! Or I might just be in my own individual spiritual Tour de France. Maybe it will touch other people’s lives. My children’s, for certain. I have seen this already in a few ways, for better, or for worse which will end up better, if you know what I mean. Maybe there is one stranger out there whose life I can end up touching through this. Who knows?

But this I know, we were not promised a rose garden. Bad things happen, even to good people. Life is hard sometimes. God has works to perform in our lives and in our hearts, and like the works of a surgeon or an oncologist, those works are not always pleasant in the moment. But they are for good, for a purpose beyond what others may see.

We can see it, though, if we are honest. We may not understand it, but we can sense it. We know when God is moving in our lives, because even though we may not like what is happening, even when we might sometimes have sleepless nights, tears, even a panic attack, behind even those things there is a sense of peace.

I am afraid of what I am about to do, it is true. I’m not sure where I am going or where I will end up. But behind it all, there really is that sense of peace. I have had a whole lot of practice in resting in that peace while toiling through the deepest, darkest places in this world, as most of you know. This is just another thing.

 

Breast Cancer Journey: Stuff Gets Real

img_1406I had a second surgery this past week. Some of the skin they left after my mastectomy had died and had to be removed. After the surgery was over I posted on Facebook, “I had a great time.” The sad thing is, that was true. It says something about your life when surgery is the highlight of your day. But they numbed me. They sedated me. They all took care of me, including my husband. They made sure I was not in pain and that I did not get lost.

In contrast, that morning I had met with the medical oncologist for the first time. He explained to me that my cancer right now is Stage IIIC. That is the last stage before Stage IV, which is metastatic breast cancer, meaning cancer that has spread to other organs. And they haven’t ruled that out either. The oncologist also commented that I’d had a completely clear mammogram in 2014, and then in October 2015 they find a cancer that turns out to have already advanced to IIIC.  It is lobular cancer, which doctors keep saying is “tricky,” first because it apparently grows in sheets so is hard to find, and also, according to the oncologist, if it returns it returns aggressively. Therefore, we are going to have to use the biggest guns available: a total of 20 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by probably six weeks of radiation, followed by five years of hormone therapy. And the chemo? It’s not some new, gentle chemo that has been developed in recent years. It’s the stuff that causes you to lose your hair, suffer nausea, mouth sores, bone pain. The worst of it, a combination that includes “the red devil,” will be given for the first eight weeks. I think the following 12 weeks are a little easier. I also get steroids. So I think this means I get to be bald and bloated, although ultimately chemo generally results in a dramatic weight loss.

It will probably be four weeks until I start the chemo, because I have to heal properly from my surgeries. I also have to have an echocardiogram to make sure my heart is strong enough for chemo, and the PET scan to make sure there isn’t any other cancer hiding anywhere.

So how am I doing? I am going more than a little stir crazy with the recovery from the surgery. I still have a drain, which prevents me from being able to do so many things, including just rolling around in bed at night and wearing a bra.  I remain relatively calm, however. I’ve done only a little online research. It talks in terms of 5-year and 10-year survival rates, and I got a little choked up over that, because I was able to think about how old my grandson would be in five or ten years, and there was so much more of his life I wanted to see. But I spoke to a friend yesterday whose mother in law had Stage III breast cancer, and she just celebrated 20 years cancer free. And that is what I intend to do. I am not looking forward to the treatments ahead, but I got through the surgery and I will get through this. My faith stumbles along, one day at a time, and I am stumbling with it.

I was reading some old journal entries this morning, and I read the one I wrote right after my repeat mammogram, when I started to suspect something might be wrong. I was reading a YA book at the time, Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu, and I wrote a quote from it in my journal: “I’m not going to try to reduce the weight of your burden, but I’m going to help you grow strong enough to carry it.” Yes, that is what I believe. That is what I feel.

I have that faith for my own journey. But if there is an area where I struggle, it is my ability to provide for my family, both financially and emotionally. Why is it so much more difficult to muster faith for that? Nothing new, though. It has always been this way. And yet always, somehow, we have survived. I have been intending for years to write, have two books swirling in my mind and word processing programs, but I have a paralysis because I am afraid that they will amount to nothing. Silly, I know, because in the process what does the outcome really matter? God has given me grace periods in which to pursue this, and has extended them again and again. I pray that what he has given me will not go to waste. Also written in my journal were these words:

“And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the waters of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left…. And he will give rain for the seed with wich you sow the ground, and bread, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous.” Isaiah 30:20-23

But I noted also the verse right before it: “He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you.” This was one of the words my pastor gave me for the journey. He talked about Peter walking on the water, but later elaborated that Jesus had only stopped to allow that because the disciples had been afraid and had called out to him for help.

So, Lord, here I am. I am calling out to you! I am afraid. Be with me. You don’t have to do it all for me, but help me to do it. Set my feet in the right paths, show me the way, and let me walk in it.

Breast Cancer Journey: Perhaps I have not taken this seriously enough.

It is eight 15781015_10211421052747677_7308533655132470120_ndays now since my mastectomy. It was a modified radical mastectomy, unilateral, according to what my doctor told me at my one week checkup yesterday. That means that in addition to the breast they took a bunch of lymph glands. They biopsied one during surgery and found cancer in it, so they took a couple more that looked suspicious, and then she said they took ten others, most of which she didn’t think would be a problem. It turns out that cancer was found in every single one of the lymph glands that was removed. Not to state the obvious, but that is not good.

My mind went back to when I had that second mammogram, how I had though absolutely nothing of it, how routine and unimportant it was. Even through biopsy and diagnosis, I took it only kind of seriously. To me, even a diagnosis of breast cancer was a thing you dealt with and put behind you. My mother did that, a simple lumpectomy, no spread to the lymph glands, radiation for a few weeks, and it was done with. I have heard from so many people, breast cancer survivors. You do it and get on with it.

Now, breast cancer has become something that has run so far ahead of me that I can’t see it, and I know that I am going to have to run to catch up with it. It is not a simple fight anymore. It is going to be an all out battle. But it will be a battle.

Next steps: I meet with a medical oncologist (my doctor is a surgical oncologist), probably have a PET scan to see just how far ahead this beast has run, and schedule radiation and likely chemo.

Can’t do anything until I finish healing from this mastectomy, though, and that is my first goal. So the good news, for anybody who may be facing this procedure in the future, is that it was not nearly as painful as I thought it might be. I’d classify it more as discomfort. There are a couple of reasons for this, perhaps. One is that my doctors injected a local anesthetic that was supposed to last up to 72 hours post op. The other is that I have noticed I have a considerable amount of numbness. Not sure what this is due to. My doctor told me, but I think I wasn’t paying that much attention. I also didn’t pay that much attention when she said whether it would be permanent or temporary, because I am sitting here thinking that it can remain forever as long as it remains past the point where it would hurt if it wasn’t there! I have definitely had discomfort, and took percocet for a few days at the beginning, although within a few days I had switched to motrin except at night. But it was not nearly as bad as I’d anticipated.

The really annoying part is the drains. There are two tubes coming out of my body, each collecting liquids of varying shades of cherry and amber in these bulbs that hang by clips from my clothes. A couple of times a day I have to empty them and measure the liquid. It’s not awful, but it is annoying. There are little bandages that surround the holes where the tubes come out of my body, and they do not want to stay put at all. They are always having to be replaced, and this is annoying for me because the whole idea of tubes coming out of my body is very creepy for a germophobe like me. They were still doing their job too well to take them out yesterday, but hopefully within a few days they will be gone, and I will feel like a brand new person! In fact, healing this mastectomy is feeling like such a necessary step. It’s hard to feel like a fighter when you can’t lift anything that weighs more than five pounds, or bend over without feeling like you might break something, and when you are just so doggone tired.

So onward with this healing, which just takes time. And rest I suppose. Then to the battle.

Thank you for your prayers, and I guess I should take a moment to say that my faith doesn’t and never has rested on such things as absence of hardship or instantaneous healing, or answers to any other prayers. It seems pretty obvious to me that there are purposes to this life that require us to step outside our garden of comfort. All things work together for good, one way or the other. Meanwhile, I have been feeling a level of calm through this that amazes even me. So your prayer support is helping. Honestly, I am feeling very tired, like too tired perhaps to prop up a lot of my own faith. So thanks for holding me up with yours.

Thank you everybody. I love you.

Bone deep lonely

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I have been driving around town crying this morning. Mornings have just become really difficult for me lately. It is when my mind and emotions spin tales I can’t even read, leaving me a soggy mess of emotion. Most of the rest of the day I put them aside, or shove them into boxes of resentment. Even in the mornings I avoid them when possible by doing things like online classes. Distract. Disengage.

Right now, however, it is 10 a.m. and I am sitting in the parking lot at Target trying to pull myself together.

I was thinking this morning about God, and church, and I found what I was longing for was a place where I could collapse in a heap when I was scared, or when my heart was breaking, where there would be someone, or Someone, to catch me and hold me.

My first stop this morning was the hospital to get some blood tests. The hospital is new, built on the site of the old hospital, which was torn down several years ago. It’s set on a tiny mound of a hill, and as I was leaving the parking lot I looked out on the view, and I recognized it as the view I had looked out on from my mother’s hospital room as she lay dying in that old hospital. It will be 12 years ago next week, on October 10th. More tears, and the thought, I miss my mommy. If only she was here I would not feel this way.

But then I realized that wasn’t true. Don’t get me wrong. I love my mother, and I even admire her parenting. I look back on her bravery expressed in her ability to not get involved in my choices, to say very little in situations where I as a mom would be wanting to jump in. But I thought, maybe that is the problem, because if she was here, I would still feel lonely. I never ever knew what was going on with my mom because she never ever said. She was British and held to the stiff upper lip, and kind of encouraged that in me as well. Funny but I’d recently been engaged in an online discussion about whether kids should be left to cry themselves to sleep. I know my mother believed in that because she tried to convince me to do that with my kids. The opposing argument to the let them cry theory is that they learn not to trust that their emotional needs will be met. And I wondered, is that why I am this way?

Because I am never going to find that place where I can collapse and be held, because I am never going to be able to allow myself that vulnerability.

I have got a boatload of hurt here inside me, so deep. I have the worst kind of loss, betrayal, abandonment, grief, fear, all floating in this lonely ocean. And I just don’t know what to do with it, except for this. Write it down. As songwriter Anna Nalick says, “If I get it all down on paper it’s no longer inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to.”

As if.

Well maybe it helps a little. My tears are dry now, enough to go into Target anyway.

Just remember, it’s okay to hold your children when they cry. Perhaps they will not end up feeling bone deep lonely, because they will allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to allow others to catch them and hold them when their hearts are broken or they are afraid.

Zen and the art of pain and suffering

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I guess I should first confess that I know pretty much nothing about Zen. I have attended exactly one class in Zen meditation, and didn’t entirely get it. Meditation has always been extraordinarily difficult for me. My mind does not like to be still. AT ALL. I cannot stand in line somewhere without pulling out my cell phone to cruise the internet, or a book. I have a desire for continual input.

Here is the best I can do. You tell me to empty my mind, and my mind will think about emptying. Then it will think about all the things it is emptying out of it. If you tell me to think about my breathing, I will probably feel a need to cough. If you tell me to be still, something somewhere is going to itch. But still, I am giving it a try. I went to the class, and I have meditated two out of the three days since then.

Not that it has been easy. For one thing, I have been kind of an emotional trainwreck for the last couple of days. I can’t verbalize exactly why this is so, but I think at least in part it is my empathy buttons being pushed. So today I decided it might be a good idea to use meditation to explore this pain to find out what it is all about. Clue number one that this was not a good idea was that I was doing it in a reclined position on the couch. Not exactly Zen. I started crying, then I started praying. Then the dogs started barking. I quit.

I had a brief chat with a friend who is also taking the meditation class, then got out my cushion, put it on the floor, and tried again. This time I did as she suggested. When these thoughts came up, I noticed them and released them. I counted how many breaths I could take between thoughts. 1 … 1 … 1 … 1. But I kept doing it, thinking and releasing and breathing, and what do you know? I FELT BETTER!

My question at the end, though, was is this good? What is the difference between this and the denial of my feelings that I have indulged in for so many, many years, until they have reached an avalance? Perhaps there is a difference between denial and release, but I’m not altogether sure, because they feel kind of the same. This is the essential feeling: “My suffering is not going to do a single thing to change anything for the better. In fact it will just make things worse. Crying will only give me a stuffy nose. So stop.” Or in the context of meditation: breathe, release. Either way it stops, but have I killed off a little bit of myself? And if I have, was it a bit of myself worth preserving? Must ask my teacher this week and I will get back to you.

I understand this is one of the precepts in Zen, though, the acceptance that life is suffering, and the release of it. Perhaps I’m wrong or misunderstanding it. Again, I will get back to you.

So … Zen, God, Zen, God. Me in a state of spiritual dysphoria. Who is God? How I long in this pain and fear to feel that someone greater than I am is on my side, holding my hand, guiding me, protecting me, loving me, making sure that everything will be okay. Meanwhile, getting a grip on my own thoughts and feelings isn’t going to hurt, right?