Friday, September 23, 2022

 


Many years ago, I decided to host a family reunion for my Dad's side of the family. We rarely got together, and I thought it would be a good idea, so I began putting things together. 

I talked with my Mother and Sister, asking for their thoughts on the idea. They both thought it would be nice and so I moved forward. 

After drafting an invitation, I set a date and circled it on my calendar. I was excited to see cousins I hadn't seen in years. 

For days, I cleaned every inch of my house (which was normally very clean anyway.) I made sure to dust the ceiling fans and make sure every bathroom sparkled. I wanted my guests to feel free to roam through my entire house, after all, there would be almost 30 people coming! 

The day before the event, I went shopping and began to prepare the food. There was a lot to do in such a short amount of time, but with the help of my daughters, things began to fall into place. 

My refrigerator was filled with casseroles that I'd just pop into the oven hours before the guests began to arrive. Coolers were filled with ice and canned drinks. Tea had been made; tables had been set up. My home was beginning to look like an event hall, and I was happy. 

Hospitality isn't a gift I've ever claimed to have. It's one I've struggled with. I don't do well with the sitting and visiting part, but since the Bible says to "practice hospitality," I do my best. 

One by one, family members started to arrive. I welcomed them one by one and did my best to make them feel at home. 

Since I had things in the oven, I couldn't stay in the living room long. I had to keep going into the kitchen to make sure nothing was burning. And since several family members were already there, I figured they could talk amongst themselves while I busied myself attending to details. I was in full on "Martha” mode. 

When everyone had arrived, I showed them the varied tables set up for dining. They could choose where they wanted to sit and I had plenty of room. The older relatives, including my parents, chose to sit in the formal dining room. The kids sat at a card table in the living room, while most of the other family members scattered between my kitchen table and a long folding table set up in my formal living room. After everyone had their place, I asked people to take their plates and begin moving through the kitchen buffet style. 

As people filled their plates, I moved among them asking what they'd like to drink and asking if anyone needed anything. There were so many of them and only one of me! 

Soon, pleasant chatter filled my home, and I began the task of going from one room to another asking if anyone needed help. Some needed salt or a drink refill. I happily obliged. 

I don't know how long I served, but time was ticking by. 

On my next round through the formal living room, my cousin, Steve, patted the seat next to him and said, "Come sit down and visit with us." Throwing my head back in laughter, I chortled, "I'd like to, but I've got to keep moving! There's so much to do." He didn't press me, and I continued my busy work. 

The reunion was a huge success and my Daddy enjoyed it so much. That was my main goal, to bless him. 

Today, as I was studying about the the story of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus again, God hit me between the eyes. "Remember the reunion when Steve asked you to sit and visit?" "Yes, Lord, I do." "You didn't. You should have. Why didn't you?" " I was so busy. I didn't have time." "You should have made time. You would have been blessed." "Ouch!" Of course, that's my conversation with the Lord in my mind, and some of the words are very different, but it's the jest of it. That's when I realized, I'd been a Martha. 

I'd always wondered why Jesus chided Martha for her busy-ness and had pointed out that Mary chose the better part. I always thought Martha was doing a good thing, making sure everything was just so, but Jesus knew better. Martha did use her gift of service to please others but in so doing, she missed being able to sit and visit with the guests. Most of all, she missed being in the presence of Jesus and hearing Him speak. 

I missed visiting with my cousins. I missed the conversations that held years of updates, but by the time the reunion was over, it was too late to visit with anyone. 

My kitchen had been a beehive of activity and I'd been the queen bee but during that time, the "hive" had been busy laughing, loving, and lingering. I'd missed it all! 

And just a month ago, I missed another opportunity as my youngest sister and a cousin planned another family reunion. I'd had a scheduling conflict and had to choose between two events. Instead of choosing to reschedule an anniversary/birthday trip, I opted to skip the family reunion thinking there'd be time to do another one in the near future, but that may never happen. 

As God reminded me of those lost opportunities today, I wept bitter tears of remorse. I wanted a do over. But now, many of my family members are no longer here. They've already gone on to heaven. 

One thing I can do though is make time now. 

I won't ever forget the lesson I learned from that big mistake. I've asked God to help me be more Mary-like. Who cares if the dishes are in the sink or on the counter? It's more important to be present with the people I love and care about. Time is short and I won't make that mistake again. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Let go of the victim mentality

Victim. The dictionary defines victim as a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action. That about sums it up. It's how I see myself - as a victim of cancer. I didn't ask for cancer. I never expected it. But it came. And when it did, it did a number on me.

You'd think, after 8 years, I'd have let go of the victim mentality, but I haven't. I didn't even realize I was suffering from that type of thinking until recently. 

After a bout of Covid and then several consecutive illnesses, I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. I blamed it all on cancer or cancer related fatigue, really, since cancer, as far as I knew, wasn't still active in my life. But ever since diagnosis, I haven't felt myself. My energy level was practically non-existent. I was finding it difficult to get through each day without making myself do the things I needed to do. Every day was exhausting but I pushed through and did what I needed to do anyway. 

It wasn't living, it was existing. There was no happiness or joy. I wanted to thrive, but I didn't know how. How do you celebrate life when it takes every ounce of energy to get through a day? 

Oh, I'd wake up each morning, thanking God that I'd made it one more day but as the day wore on and I faced one challenge after another, I wondered why it was so hard. So, I asked Him. On my face, in my prayer closet, I wept turning my burden over to the Lord. 

"Why can't I let go and break free?" I asked. In that still small voice, He said, "You've got to let go of the victim mentality." 

Though I heard the words clearly in my mind, I was shocked. Had I really been living that way? Had I been thinking that way? I didn't consider myself a victim...not really...but I guess, somewhere in the back of my mind, I did. 

Eight years had passed. You'd think I'd have long since left thoughts of cancer behind, wouldn't you? But that nagging fear had taken root and wouldn't let me go. Every ache, every pain, every uncontrollable thing my body did made me wonder if I was going to be under attack again. 

That's what cancer felt like to me - an attack, just like a rape or a robbery or some other violent crime, an unprovoked, unexpected assault on my person. No wonder I'd adopted a victim mentality!

After any kind of attack, whether it be health related or otherwise, the victim has to decide whether or not to survive. Something inside them has to "want to" keep living. Making that choice is crucial and can greatly impact one's future. 

So, I had to come to the realization that I wanted to live. Not only did I want to live, I wanted to live well. I wanted to do the things I enjoyed and have fun doing it. No longer did I want to allow my body, and the way it was feeling, to dictate my choices. 

I asked God to forgive me and asked Him to help release me from the victim mentality I'd been clinging to and I'm happy to say, He has! 

The day He revealed my stinkin' thinkin' to me, I was dumbfounded. First of, that He'd point out my flaw. But He didn't do it in an accusatory way, the way Satan would have, He quietly and sweetly whispered to my heart and said, "You've got to let go..." 

I knew, He wanted the best for me because that's the way my Abba is. He loves me unconditionally. He knew I needed to be set free and He gave me time to come to the point of need so He could swing wide the gate and point me to freedom. It had to be my choice. 

Since making the decision to let go, I've felt an indescribable weight lifted from my shoulders. No longer am I carrying around a burden I wasn't supposed to bear. Now, it's like I've been given a new lease on life. 

Sure, I still struggle with fear, worry, and anxiety and I probably always will. Those are weak spots in my armor, but I know, He's got me. He won't let me fail as long as I walk with Him and trust Him. And no matter what comes into my life, He's able to handle it. I won't have to handle it alone. That gives me great comfort. 

My calendar already has several upcoming trips on it and I'm looking forward to those. In the past, I'd be hesitant to go anywhere because of the possibility of catching Covid or having a health crisis. Now, I move forward in faith. 

I'm so glad God allowed me to see the error of my thinking. I'm thankful He loved me enough to point out improper thoughts and gave me the key to freedom. Now I can honestly say I'm working on learning to celebrate life in big ways and in small ways, every single day. 


Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Old memories sneak up when you least expect them

My friend Karen and I, both survivors 

Yesterday, I went in for an abdominal CT scan. I'd been having a lot of digestive issues over the past couple of months and the doc felt it would be wise to do some further testing. I didn't realize it until we pulled up to the building, but I'd been there before. 

As we sat outside the diagnostic imaging center, I did my best not to think about the last time I was there. It had been shortly after we'd moved to this town and I was so unfamiliar with the city. 

We went inside the register for my test and that's when I saw it - the big pink neon lighted ribbon on the wall just in front of the registration desk. I remember seeing it 8 years earlier, the day I'd been sent over to have a diagnostic mammogram. 

I'd been petrified that day. Not only was I scared to death of what they'd find, I was scared to death because I was alone. I'd never really had to pull up my big girl panties before, but I definitely had to do it that day. I didn't like it one bit. Yeh, I was an adult, but I liked the comfort of having someone with me whenever I had a medical procedure done. It put my mind at ease knowing someone else was close by. 

I filled out the registration forms and sat down. In the waiting room, I watched as more and more people filed in. Trying not to stare, I wondered how many were there for mammograms. It didn't take long before I found out. 

Several women sat in chairs across from me. It wasn't difficult to overhear their conversations. One woman was there for her very first mammogram. She had her mother with her, lucky girl. Two middle aged women, clearly good friends, sat together chatting about their last mammograms. They were diligent about their breast health because they had family histories of breast cancer. A much older lady came in and went up to the desk. She reminded me of my mother in law, who'd passed away from breast cancer many years ago. This sweet gray haired lady had come to the wrong office. The receptionist explained her appointment had been at another facility where 3D mammograms were done. This facility only did 2D exams. She offered to help the elderly woman reschedule her test or contact her doctor to see if a 2D exam would suffice. The older lady opted for the 2D exam if her doctor would agree to it. She didn't want to inconvenience her travel partner by having to change locations. 

I watched as she took a seat and waited for news. My heart went out to her. I felt like she'd probably had a brush with cancer previously from the way she acted and the bits of conversation I overheard as she talked with her driver friend. 

That moment, I felt a wave of emotions I wasn't expecting to feel. I didn't want to even think about breast cancer again. I'd done my best to forget it. After 8 years of survival, I felt pretty good about being "out of the woods." But in the back of my mind, I always have a niggling voice saying, "You're not done." I do my best to drown out that little voice every time it dares to speak. Some days it whispers. Some days it yells. When I can, I say out loud, "Not today, Satan!" It helps. 

The constant fear of recurrence is a real thing. It's hard to live a life of uncertainty but no one is guaranteed tomorrow. The only thing I can do to stay ahead of it is to recognize the fearful thoughts as they come and remind myself that feelings aren't fact. 

I do a lot of self talk. I journal. I use art as therapy. Anything I can do to keep my mind from going to that dark place in the past, I do. 

One day, I know I'll die. We all do. Until that day, I want to live my best life possible. 

I found a form online, a short survey, for those who think they have a fear of cancer recurrence. I decided to take it and see where I fell on the spectrum. There were only 9 questions and the ratings went from 0- which meant no fear at all to 4 - which recorded a great deal of fear of recurrence. 

Some of the questions asked on the survey were: 

I'm worried or anxious about the possiblity of a cancer recurrence 

I believe I'm cured and the cancer won't come back

In your opinion, are you at risk of a cancer recurrence? 

How much time a day do you think about a cancer recurrence?

Those are just a few of the questions. Out of the 9, I scored 29. I have no idea what a healthy score is because I couldn't find the scoring criteria or an evaluation of the "test." I assume I fell within the moderate range - the range I assume most survivors fall into, but I'm not sure. I may be an anomaly. I do know it's affecting my quality of life in a negative way. I need to figure out a way to correct that. 

I'll see my oncologist in two weeks for an annual exam. I imagine he'll want to do a PET scan since I haven't had one done in the past 2 years and I've been having some significant spinal pain. While there, I'll talk with him about this test and get his feelings on ways to combat FCR (fear of cancer recurrence.) 

In the meantime, I'm going to cling tightly to this wise quotation: 

"Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones." ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Fear is an emotion you can't see or touch, but you can certainly feel it's power. Finding a way to strip it of that power can only be conquered by faith. And I have faith, even though it's just a little bit...the Bible says, "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to a mountain be moved into the sea, and it will be moved!" I'm not sure I have that much faith but I'm close. 

Here's a link for the form if you'd like to take it yourself: 

Fear of Cancer Recurrence Inventory-Short Form (FCRI-SF) Screening (cfp.ca)


Friday, September 2, 2022

The powerful impact of a novel

I was reading a book by one of my favorite authors, Elin Hilderbrand, yesterday. I'd only recently discovered her and had fallen in love with her writing style. I'd done my best to purchase every book she'd ever written and when that was impossible, I'd scoured thrift stores in hopes of finding used copies. I tend to do that repeatedly when I find an author I really enjoy and after I've read their entire collection, I pass it on to someone else and start with another author. 

The book I was reading was called The Matchmaker. It's about a woman who lives on Nantucket. She works for the Chamber of Commerce and has a complicated personal life. She also has the gift of being able to match people and launch them into successful long-term relationships. The book is filled with colorful characters and is an easy read. I picked it up and put it down several times over the past couple of weeks, reading snatches whenever I had time. Although I never wanted to put it down, I couldn't sit and read all day, there were other tasks at hand. 

When I reached the last chapter of the book, I was filled with sadness. The main character is dying of cancer. As the author describes her pain and the way her diagnosis affects her relationships, I couldn't help but weep. The story was too close to my own. 

I found myself reliving emotions I'd faced 8 years ago, during my own cancer diagnosis. It didn't feel good to go down that path again and I wondered, when I'd ever be completely set free from the hold cancer had over me. 

In the author's notes, at the end of the book, I discovered she'd been diagnosed with breast cancer a month before the publication of her book, The Matchmaker. She'd opted to have a double mastectomy, just like me. Her notes explained she rarely based her writings on real life events, but in this particular book, she'd given the main character a cancer diagnosis before learning about her own. Of course, the character's cancer was pancreatic while the author's was breast, but cancer is cancer.  

I was surprised to learn of the author's diagnosis and surgery. When I read about it, I couldn't help but think, almost every woman I've ever known or read about has had either a personal experience with cancer or has been touched by it through the life of someone they've loved. It made me angry. 

I searched the internet for information on the author. I wanted to find out if she was still living. The book had been released in 2014, so that meant Ms. Hilderbrand and I had been diagnosed the same year. I was relieved to find out she's still alive and plans to stop writing in 2024. 

In one of her YouTube interviews, Ms. Hilderbrand says, "I would take the cancer again - and why? Because it is only in facing that which threatens your very being that you learn what it means to be alive."  That statement gave me pause. Taking a few minutes to reflect, I had to agree with her. I felt the same way. Until I was diagnosed with cancer, I took life for granted. Oh, I didn't mean to, but I did. I just assumed I'd wake up each morning. I assumed, I'd get out of bed and do whatever I wanted. I assumed, I'd live to a ripe old age and then when cancer disrupted my life, I was slapped with the reality that no one is promised tomorrow. 

It's sad to think it takes a health crisis to wake one up, isn't it? But more often than not, that's exactly what happens and many times, by the time we get the message, too much time has slipped under the bridge. 

One thing cancer has taught me is that life is a precious gift, one not to be squandered. I can honestly say I'm thankful it's taught me that. Now I cherish every moment and plan to keep on doing that until the day I die. 


Sweet dreams

For the past several years, I've struggled with chronic insomnia. It's gotten so bad, I dread the nighttime because I know, when it&...