Thursday, December 19, 2013

Belated Blog Anniversary

Last day of work today until after the New Year. I am looking forward to the break.

My mom is back in the hospital. Hopefully she will be coming home Saturday. I don't think she has ever been in an ambulance before. I hope she never needs one again.

Dear Sweet Boy aka my grandson continues to be such a healing presence in my life. I walked in the other day, bent down to say hello to him and he greeted me with the sweetest smile. Love him to bits.

Advent has been next to non existent for me. Poor weather has kept me home from Mass for weeks. On the radio today they said we've had the same amount of snowfall in the past month that we normally have for a 12 month period. No wonder I have had some cabin fever. The commute has been so stressful that one night we got a hotel room instead of driving home.

I missed my blog anniversary earlier in the month. Nine years ago this month I started tapping away on my keyboard on this site. What a lot of life has happened in that time!

Thanks for reading along - some of you have been with me the whole journey!

Monday, November 04, 2013

A Long Silence

My siblings and I have definitely entered the next stage of having ageing parents. My mom got both quite awful and quite splendid care in the hospital. ICU nurses rock. I shudder to think what happens to patients with no one to advocate for them. She is back in the hospital with complications - ones we're grateful did not kill her. The best thing health care professionals can do is listen. When that doesn't happen - stuff that lawsuits are made of happen. Except in this country one rarely sues health providers. DH is always saying if it happened more often we'd get better care. Lordy, we had to fight to get my mom what she needed.

My sister in law has made an incredible recovery so far. She went from being in organ failure to being able to sit up in a chair in the space of a week. She has a long road ahead of her and is still needing assistance to breathe but the fact that she is here is mind boggling. We are grateful.

The day the photo of me and my mastectomy scar went on social media was quite overwhelming. The response to it was unexpected. I was in tears a few times at some of the replies. It did seem to help someone out there and I ended up feeling less alone in the journey which was a bonus.

My brother is still recovering from his health scare. When I offered him the information that would prevent the complication from happening again he was none too open. A simple fix that prevents me from having that particular complication. When he declined it was a reminder for me not to get wound up about stuff I have no control over. Which is basically everything except my attitude. I need to remember that.

I'm headed back home for an extended stay to care for my parents. See you when I get back.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

One Thing After Another After Another

It has been a week of highs and lows and at the moment there is no end in sight although life experience tells me that normal will return in time. It just feels like a lot at the moment. Maybe because it is a lot. I wish I could write all the details but I can't. Good old search engines make me cautious.

One of my siblings had an outpatient procedure this week and ended up going back to the hospital in the ambulance to spend a few days getting sorted out again.

The same day one of DH's siblings was in a serious accident in another country and is still there in a medically induced coma.

My mom is having open heart surgery this coming week. I will fly there to spend a good part of the week at home.

The photo shoot for the breast cancer awareness project was incredible. I have felt lighter inside ever since. The photographer managed to capture exactly what I was feeling. DD said the photo I chose to go on social media challenges the viewer to accept my reality and dares them to look away. If you'd like to see the photo and aren't on my FB page email me at asongnotscoredforbreathingATyahooDOTca and I will send it to you. I don't know if that's grandiose of me to think other people will want to see the photo or not. It was a big deal for me to go through with it.

Last night we put on a supper for friends and family to celebrate DD's recent wedding. I think the new grandbaby stole the show which is just what a baby should do - I think! My goodness people, he is absolutely adorable and I cannot get enough of him. Actually I told someone this week that spending time with him is healing something in me and I am loving every minute of it. It's much harder to find fault with the world with a baby in my arms.

We showed our home this week in the hopes of making a sale. Did you know you can stash piles of clothes in all kinds of places if you're desperate? We will find out in the next few days if our place is sold and we can make plans to move to the city.

Prayers for all of the above appreciated.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

When You Want To Be A Cheerleader

A year ago today I was in my surgeon's office for a postoperative visit after having had a lumpectomy a week previously. The last thing he told me when he left my hospital room, in fact he stopped, turned and looked at me sideways and said, "the pathology report won't  be back when I see you next week." The report came back much sooner than he expected. A year ago today he told me I did indeed have cancer.

Thank you for reading along side me while I have muddled through this past year. I so wanted to be a rah-rah happy go lucky cancer survivor. I so wasn't. And still am not. A few months ago I did a silent retreat and the single thing I took away from it happened in the blink of an eye when I thought I heard these words" "Accept who you are, as you are, where you are."

I have been open for several months now for some kind of ritual, some kind of happening, to mark my cancer journey. This week an opportunity presented itself to me in the form of a local professional photographer who fund raises for breast cancer awareness yearly. He does a photo shoot of women with pink ribbons tastefully covering their bare chests and every woman donates money in exchange for the photographs. Some friends of mine had their photos taken last week and they are beautiful.

I contacted him and will be photographed before the first anniversary of my mastectomy which is coming up later this month. I asked him when he photographed a woman who had had a mastectomy if they ever left that side of their body bare of ribbon. You know the photos are nice of women with both breasts intact but it feels a bit like playing dress up. If you want breast cancer awareness let's get to the nitty gritty of its reality. He told me he had been waiting for a woman to be brave enough to let her mastectomy scar be photographed. I guess that would be me.

He plans of having my photos complete so they can be shared on his social media page on the one year anniversary of losing my breast. I have many feelings about doing this but mostly I feel empowered.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Joy Full

In the space of 48 and a few hours we celebrated the birth of our grandson, the wedding of our daughter and had a house deal done and then fall through. We have yet to see our grandson because we were on our way to the wedding (8 hours away from him) when he was born. In a few hours I will get to hold him and I am full to the brim with joy at the thought. I cannot wait to touch my nose to his head and breathe in his new baby smell.

The wedding was wonderful. My daughter, full of grace and beauty, is a testament to the grace of God. All my fuck ups in her growing up years were not the end of the story. We so need that reminder, don't we? She was the most beautiful bride. Wish I could show you photos. If you're friends with me on social media there is an album on my page with a sneak peek at them. When I was leaving the venue after the dance, I stopped to thank one of the servers for her work that night. She said they'd never had such a respectful, responsible family and she found it refreshing. In the space of a few minutes we talked about sobriety and found we had that in common. It's a small and beautiful world.

The house deal. Well, we loved the house. Could picture ourselves there, evenings spent in front of the fireplace in the cosy living room. We were holding the deal with open and light hands though, because it hinged on someone else getting financing to buy our place. They got cold feet last night at the thought of all that debt and backed out. It was a very young person and Dearest One encouraged him to listen to his heart. Despite our disappointment, at the end of the day it is what it is. I'm grateful to be able to feel my feelings without being devastated that what I'd hoped for didn't materialize.

This week will mark a year since my first surgery that ultimately ended in the cancer diagnosis. That I am here to witness all these great things is something I am grateful for.

Friday, September 13, 2013


Yesterday I spent part of my day getting some computer training with a head honcho kind of guy. A guy who told me, when I answered the phone at work last week, "It is so good to hear your voice." I hadn't spoken to him since before my cancer diagnosis. I don't know him well at all but he said it with a warmth and sincerity that touched me.

When we were done work for the day he asked me how my energy was holding up and I knew he was meaning in light of what this past year has held for me. So we talked.

At one point, after sharing about the mistake that saved my life,  he said to me, 'You are blessed. Someone was watching out for you." I looked away from him and nodded feebly. I wasn't ready to have a conversation about my difficulty in hearing things like that.

I feel like I do a disservice to those I know who've died from cancer by saying, "why yes, God was looking out for me." and I feel like I do a disservice to God by not proclaiming it. Blech.

There's that part of me that says if it's Truth [with a capital T] then it has to be true for everyone or else it's just empty words. It's what makes me grimace when people talk flippantly about God stuff and I cannot help but think whether their statement holds true in a third world country or a refugee camp. If it doesn't, then what?

I came home late last night after Dearest One was asleep. He woke as I crawled into bed to tell me that the woman who took me to my first AA meeting over 25 years ago had phoned while I was out. She had told him of the death of a mutual friend of ours. He was diagnosed earlier this year with cancer and was gone in four months. He and his wife are a bit older than us but we met when our kids were babies. I lay in bed last night and thought about how next week Dearest One will walk Only Daughter down the aisle. And between now and then he will most likely hold his first grandbaby in his arms. Outloud I said, "Our friend is never going to walk his daughter down the aisle. The sun rose and set on that girl."

I don't want to wrestle with this stuff anymore.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Bizarre Dreams

I've had a week of bizarre dreams. The kind where you wake up because it's so scary/horrible. Waking up is a relief because then you know the dream is just that, a dream.

One little sane bit of a bizarre dream last night that included hundreds of people parading through my house was a conversation I had with a woman who had been praying to be able to stop blaming other people for her issues. (love  recognize with some dismay how a person can be all the characters in the dream) I told her that an answer to prayer looked more like catching herself when she was doing it or recognizing she had done it again and then apologizing for doing it. Little steps. I told her that we often think the prayer is only answered if the problem goes away 100% but answered prayer can look much different than that. She cried with relief and her mascara ran down her cheeks as I sat there and wondered where the heck those words came that popped out of my mouth.

Friday, August 30, 2013


Yesterday I was getting a stack of papers ready to file when I realized that I no longer find my worth attached to how efficient, organized, or on being on top of it all I am. I asked myself, "What am I here for then?" and then promptly wanted to burst into tears.

I had no idea that I had been building my esteem on such flimsiness. I don't even know if I can explain it. I still take pride in doing a good job but there is no frantic energy attached to the outcome. Does that make sense? My worth is not wrapped up in having done my work in record time so that an invisible they can pat me on the back.

Today I visited with a friend who has also had breast cancer. When I shared with her my new realization she reached across the counter, hugged me and affirmed just why I was in my job. They were all reasons that truly matter.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


I returned to work this week after having the summer off. I made a commitment to myself that I would not belly ache to my co workers about our boss. We've gone through quite a tough change due to downsizing in the past few years and the atmosphere took a downward spiral as a result. It's never rebounded and honestly, rightly so in some ways. Our trust was completely shattered in the company by the way they brutally let a long term employee, close to retirement age, go. But I know that after all is said and done I get to choose my attitude and I just don't want to add to a negative atmosphere. There's nothing worse than going to work where no one wants to be there.

Every day this week I have caught myself ready to push back from my desk to go tell someone, anyone about the latest happening that makes my boss the bad guy. In those moments I've prayed this prayer. Embarrassingly, I've prayed it too many times to count. Often the surrender I feel while doing so makes my eyes sting with tears. It is worth it to give up my petty momentary bitchfest designed to make myself look better at someone else's expense.

I must confess though that I have sent Dearest One several text messages that warn him I will need to vent on the way home.  Thankfully he does not encourage me to think bad about people. You know how that can go? You belly ache about someone and then they join you in the cesspool and then it feels like you have guck stuck to your skin and can't get it off. I'm grateful he knows I am venting and then can let it go.

The week has been exhausting. I am in bed at the same time a toddler goes to bed. Well, considering how much whining I've been tempted to do this week, maybe that's not so surprising.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Words To Ponder

"Fairly late in the catastrophic phase of my illness, I began to understand three facts I'd known in theory since early childhood but had barely plumbed the reality of.  They're things familiar to most adults who've bothered to watch the visible world and have sorted their findings with normal intelligence,  but abstract knowledge tend to vanish in a crisis. And from where I've been, the three facts stand at the head of any advice I'd risk conveying to a friend confronted with grave illness or other physical and psychic trauma. 
1. You're in your present calamity alone, fars as this life goes. If you want a way out, then dig it yourself, if there turns out to be any trace of a way. Nobody - least of a doctor - can rescue you now, not from the deeps of your own mind, not once they've stitched your gaping wound. 
2. Generous people - true practical saints, some of them boring as root canals - are waiting to give you everything on Earth but your main want, which is simply the person you used to be. 
3. But you're not that person now. Who'll you be tomorrow? And who do you propose to be from here to the grave, which may be hours or decades down the road?" 
~ Reynolds Price in A Whole New Life

This was such a worthwhile read. This man lived a path that I wouldn't wish on my dearest enemy. Can't wait to read more of his stuff.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Blessed Relief

The Sacred Wound               Meditation 22 of 53         

Pain teaches a most counterintuitive thing—that we must go down before we even know what up is. It is first an ordinary wound before it can become a sacred wound. Suffering of some sort seems to be the only thing strong enough to destabilize our arrogance and our ignorance. I would define suffering very simply as “whenever you are not in control.”
All healthy religion shows you what to do with your pain. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it. If your religion is not showing you how to transform your pain, it is junk religion. It is no surprise that a crucified man became the central symbol of Christianity.
If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become negative or bitter—because we will be wounded. That is a given. All suffering is potentially redemptive, all wounds are potentially sacred wounds. It depends on what you do with them. Can you find God in them or not?
If there isn't some way to find some deeper meaning to our suffering, to find that God is somehow in it, and can even use it for good, we will normally close up and close down, and the second half of our lives will, quite frankly, be small and silly.

If you go to the link in the title of this meditation it will take you to a page where I receive these daily emails from.The one above, in light of all this past year has held, spoke to me this morning. I believe that my inability to find a way to make my wound into a sacred wound was what was leading me to bitterness. I don't know if I have found any deeper meaning to it all. 

One of the insights I gained last weekend during my silent retreat was that I was holding a grudge against the surgeon for my reaction to the way things went with the mixed up pathology report and everything that happened after that. I am grateful for that insight. 

Tonight at Mass I had a strong feeling of consolation. Blessed relief.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What I've Been Up To

I recently spent three days in silence and solitude. Well, I didn't quite last the full three days. I caved in about three hours before my 72 hours were up. For a first try I was happy with that. Much of the time I was content to be silent and alone. There were times when I just wanted to talk to someone and I felt antsy.

The worst was when I sent Dearest One a text late at night to come make sure the noise I was hearing outside was not a bear. He concluded - after hearing the same noises outside the house later - and because the hair on the back of his neck stood up when he stepped outside - that it was more likely a cougar than a bear. Gives me the shivers to think about it.

My dog stayed with me in the holiday trailer for company - well truthfully I had my dog along so he wouldn't drive Dearest One batty in the house looking for me for three days straight - but I knew if I started talking to the dog I wouldn't shut up, so I didn't.

I found it soothing to sit and look out over our pasture and watch the birds flit between the fence posts and barbed wire. The weather was lovely and warm. A touch of mugginess with plenty of heat. Sitting in my lawn chair reading a book or just sitting and doing nothing. I soaked it up. It felt like a beautifully simple few days.

Three weeks ago today I wrote in my journal, 'the despair has lifted." I am so relieved that it's still true and that I am generally happy these days. Hopeful. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Showing Up

"And may you always remember that obstacles in the path are not obstacles, they ARE the path." ~ Jane Catherine Lotter

Yesterday I had coffee with a good friend, the one who suggested I write a lament to God at that gathering we were both at. She said she'd been quite concerned about me after that get together because I seemed so different than I used to be. She gently asked me if anyone had suggested to me the idea of consolations and desolations to me.

Unexpectedly, tears rose within me as I nodded and managed to choke out, "I hope it doesn't last forever." When she commented that I'd been very honest with my feelings throughout this cancer journey I gulped and tried to swallow my tears. I took a few minutes to try and compose myself but was unsuccessful. Through tears I said to her, "It's the most courageous thing I've done."

Crying in a coffee shop is not my idea of a good time. Being with a friend who has no desire to fix me but simply bears witness to my journey is. Those tears were the most painful ones I've experienced in a while.

At my final appointment with a specialist yesterday we talked about amalgamating my experience of this past year into who I am now. He wryly observed that life changing circumstances are just that, life changing. It would be so much easier to accept if my life changing experience seemed to be bearing good fruit. Maybe I need to let go of what good fruit looks like, too.

I returned to the practice of Centering Prayer just over a month ago. It is an internal consent to God's presence and action in my life. This week I started a month long course in Welcoming Prayer. Showing up. That's what I feel like I am doing.

Yesterday showed me that this is where I am at. I trust it is part of a bigger picture. And that desolations do not last forever. This popped into my head as I typed that:

I have always loved this song.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Waning Days Of Summer

I woke in the night and saw stars in the sky. It's been months since it's been dark enough in the night to see stars. It's lovely and bittersweet because it means winter's coming. But not today.

Doing laundry is on my to do list. Earlier I thought of my grandma and how she noted in her diary every Monday how grateful she was for her washing machine. Her wringer washing machine. Mondays and laundry were synonymous in her world. I like the predictability of that.

My priest commented yesterday that he could tell I was feeling better because it showed in my face. It's always nice to have outside confirmation of what is going on inside. I feel better for the most part. No longer feeling depressed. Spiritually I still feel stuck sometimes and I am at a loss as to what to do about that. I am headed to Adoration this week. It is a refuge for me and a laying bare of the soul.

At a meeting the other day I listened to someone just out of treatment, be completely surrendered to their God in incredibly difficult circumstances. I had to ask myself if I was completely surrendered to mine. I feel like being completely surrendered will mean spouting off pat answers that are not based on reality and I have a gagging feeling in my throat at the thought. I will be so glad when I no longer have invisible walls go up in nanoseconds. I just don't know how to get there. I think I am past having walls go up and then someone says something - thanks Jesus for some random happening - and I shut down instantly. It's not how I want to feel.

Open. I want to be open.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


A year ago today I had the fine needle biopsy that led eventually to my cancer diagnosis. There are a bunch of little one year dates coming up. I'm trying not to run ahead of myself but I am looking forward to being on the other side of them.

By the time I am we will have celebrated the wedding of only daughter and the birth of our first grandchild (it's a boy!) I am incredibly grateful to be here to witness these milestones.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Simple Human Act

This bit from this book caused an acute sob to rise from within me:

"We traveled to Boston to see a specialist, at the time the only person in North America who was doing research on my particular disease, and he terrified us by speculating - irresponsibly, it now seems to me - that my symptoms suggested that he cancer might already have caused amyloidosis in my heart:  a death sentence.
That was the cloud I was walking under early one bright winter morning, maybe a week after the exchange of emails with the preacher, when I heard my name. I turned around to see him half running down the street toward me as he tried to pull a flannel shirt on over his T-shirt, careful not to trip over his untied shoes. I was in no mood to chat, especially not to an enthusiastic preacher, and all my thoughts were hostile. But I stopped, we had a kind of introduction as he tied his shoes, and then he asked if he could walk me to the train station. Those days are a blur to me, but I remember two things from that morning very clearly. I remember Matt straining to find some language that would be true to his own faith and calling and at the same time adequate to the tragedy and faithlessness - the tragedy of faithlessness - that he perceived in me. And I remember when we parted there was an awkward moment when the severity of my situation and our unfamiliarity with each other left us with no words, and in a gesture that I'm sure was completely unconscious, he placed his hand over his heart for just a second as a flicker of empathetic anguish crossed his face. It sliced right through me. It cut through the cloud I was living in and let the plain day pour its balm upon me. It was, I am sure, one of those moments when we enact and reflect a mercy and mystery that are greater than we are, when the void of God and the love of God, incomprehensible pain and the peace that passeth understanding, come together in a simple human act. We stood for a minute in the aftermath, not talking, and then went our suddenly less separate ways."


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Greater Than You

I have had this quote from this book taped to my wall for several years now:

``What makes for an authentic personal story is that the hero is not you; the heroes are the people who put up with or helped you or accompanied you along the way. The star of the story is not you; the star is something greater than you.``



Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Ways We Comfort

More from this book:

"Part of the overall plan seems to be that no matter how sad, wounded, neurotic, or needy we are, that may be exactly what some other person needs us to be at that time. We don't know the ways we comfort and save each other, not only in spite of our wounds, but also in some cases, because of them.  No one is likely to be more sympathetic to an alcoholic than another alcoholic. No one is likely to have more compassion than the person, guided by love, who needs compassion him or herself. That is why we must never judge. That is why we must always look for the good in the other."


Friday, July 26, 2013

To Give Up Misery

From a recently read deeply compelling book who is quoting another author:

"To give up a to deprive the ego of one of its main sources of nourishment.....In order to feel meaningful, the old self must always be either dramatically weak and miserable, or dramatically strong and unselfish, busily helping the weak and miserable and deciding what is right for them...the "new self," on the other hand, will, when in misery, ask for help with simple acceptance and willingness to let go no matter how empty he may feel; or....he will give of himself without any sense of being thereby increased in significance." 


Wednesday, July 24, 2013


This past weekend one of the women from this conversation spied me at a community event and immediately came and sat beside me. The first thing out of her mouth was how she had mulled our last conversation over in her head and wanted to apologize to me. It was a very grace filled moment. We had a good conversation about pat answers and I was able to share honestly with her how difficult that conversation had been for me. She was a model of graciousness and humility to me. Her sincerity and generosity of spirit touched me. She had not one iota of defensiveness about her. It humbled me.

Then I listened as she shared with me how her Catholic raised son-in-law wasn't a Christian when he married into the family but was saved now, praise God. Oh, Lordy. I just listened and stayed quiet, finding the good in this young man's growing faith.

There is always so much to learn.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Give Time A Chance

I had a long talk with an old friend yesterday. Someone who has seen her share of sorrows. She told me sometimes there are no answers. No way to make sense of tragedies, of life's circumstances. Somehow I heard her, believed her and my resistance faded. Tonight I prayed one of Anne Lamott's prayers, "help me, help me, help me."

When I last saw my grief counsellor and was feeling angst about not knowing how this experience of cancer has changed me he said, "you are in the process of integrating that experience into who you are now. It takes time." My friend commented today that time itself was a cross. That to be able to give time a chance to do its work was hard.

I noticed when this long time friend commented that I seemed to be doing good and preceded her words with, 'don't get mad at me' that I still have some resistance to admitting it. It comes from feeling like I am being disloyal to or diminishing the journey to just be happy. But really, she's right, I am doing good.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Possible All-Rightness

Nine months ago, on a Monday like today, I had my mastectomy. I want to write something far more dramatic than that such as  they cut off my breast, the bastards. The cancer was gone already by then, carved out in the lumpectomy. The margins were barely clear so they recommended that more tissue be taken. However, the mastectomy was my choice, on the advice of my geneticist,  in order to avoid radiation.

How hard it is to own my choice.
I want to point fingers other directions.

Visiting with a childhood friend last week, one with whom I later raised my shirt to show her my scar, my hand involuntarily went to my missing breast when I told her, "I miss my breast." I have lost count of how many times my hand has flown to my chest when I speak those words.

I was told that at nine months post mastectomy my scar would be my scar forever. It's taking all the faith I can muster to believe that my invisible scars are not permanent. Yesterday it came to me that I am trying to hurry the process, impatient with what is. Scared that my inability to trust in God's goodness is permanent. Trying not to beat myself up with thoughts of  you could be somewhere else on the journey if you just tried harder.

Reading this book yesterday I came across this sentence:
"And then Father's death pushed me right out of the slippery world of human control, and I had no choice but to try to open myself to the darkness and horror in order to search for a hope of finding a possible all-rightness on the other side."
And so here I am.

PS. I am participating in this challenge so you'll be hearing more from me this week.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Toward A Strange Land

I came home from a week's holiday last night to three new books waiting for me in the mail. You can't get a better homecoming than that! I started reading one of them and turning down corners of pages to remember where I wanted to highlight. Every time I turn down the corner of a page I think of my grade three teacher and how she would be frowning at me.

The first thing I wanted to highlight was this:
"When we get right down to it, none of us wants to remain where we are. We are not awake until there stirs in us the possibility of what we can become. Then, and only then, can we begin a journey and belong to the migrant people of God."
                                     ~ Elizabeth O'Connor in Search For Silence

And more:

It was at length the same to me
Fettered or fetterless to be,
  I learned to love despair.
And thus when they appeared at last,
And all my bonds aside were cast,
These heavy walls to me had grown
A hermitage -- and all my own!
And half I felt as they were come
To tear me from a second home:
My very chains and I grew friends,
So much a long communion tends
To make us what we are: - even I
Regained my freedom with a sigh.
                              ~ George Gordon, Lord Byron
                                  "The Prisoner of Chillon"

"It is a strange and frightening discovery to find that the sacrificial life that Jesus is talking about is the giving up of our chains -- to discover that what binds us is also what gives us comfort and a measure of feeling safe. Change, while it has promise, will take from us something we have found sweet. The image we have of ourselves may keep us from wholeness, but it has some very satisfying compensations. There are dividends in being known as the one for whom nothing ever works out. It is never easy to lose the paradise of one's innocence and to have to struggle with growing up and being held accountable for one's own life.  There are all kinds of anxieties in having to leave the land one knows and be on one's way toward a strange land. No wonder Jesus comments so often on the people who look and look, but see nothing; and hear and hear, but do not understand. If we really saw and really heard, we might turn to him and become involved with a migrant people who may have no place to lay their heads when night comes."
                                                              ~ p. 39 The Search For Silence

Such a biting thing, truth is.

I'm pondering what my chains are and if I'm willing/ready to give them up.

There is a part of me that feels embarrassed for where this journey of the last nine months has taken me and then for writing about it so publicly. That's my ego taking a kicking there. Which is humbling and good. Among other things I was under the illusion that bitterness was beyond me.

I know that where I find myself is not where I want to stay. 

As Anne Lamott writes in Traveling Mercies, "Don't forget, God loves us exactly the way we are, and God loves us too much to let us stay like this."

Thanks be to God.


Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Vulnerability Rises

I recommitted to doing centering prayer and sticking with it through the long haul. Normally I eventually feel too vulnerable and I flee until I try again. Rereading this book helped me see that sticking  it out would be the better option. For the past week or so I've spent twenty minutes daily in silence. Much like writing morning pages I can only have the same thoughts go through my head for so long before I am forced to look them square in the face. For a few days now I've had the uncomfortable feeling that something has been off in my attitude in general for a while. Today I was able to attach a word to it: bitterness. Lord have mercy.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Plenty Of Opinion

"If Angelina Jolie was here right now I'd punch her in the face. Who is she, with all her money, to parade around what she did?"

I'm a bit startled by the aggressiveness of her tone. We're strangers sitting together at a friend's anniversary celebration. The happenstance of place cards set across the table from one another. When the topic of breast cancer came up this is what she said to me. Lord have mercy.

I sat there and thought about Ms. Jolie's mother and aunt who died from cancer. I thought about when my geneticist said I would have had cancer again had my BRCA 1 & 2 test came back positive. I thought about the worry that Angelina might have experienced waiting for her test results and then the stress of trying to decide what to do.

I thought about how we are in situations where we have no life experience but plenty of opinion. That about sums up most of my life so I am guilty of it as well. It wasn't until I realized that my opinion was just that, an opinion, not fact, that I stopped trying to shove what I thought down other people's throats. It`s a vulnerable feeling to hold my beliefs in an open palm instead of clutched tight to my chest.

For many years I walked away from conversations thinking the other person was so stupid for thinking the way they did and patting myself on the back for showing them the error of their thinking. I wrote letters to friends and family telling them exactly what I thought of their behaviour, too. Lord have mercy.

Dearest One had no idea of this side of me until after we were married. Five days afterwards to be exact. Squirreled away in a hotel room with a bunch of other people, trying to empty a Texas mickey I asked a travelling salesman if he cheated on his wife while he was away from home. It wouldn't have mattered what he'd answered, I wouldn't have believed him because I was so sure I was right about everything, even the behaviour of strangers I'd just met.

I'm only thinking about this in retrospect of that conversation about Angelina Jolie. Up until I started typing this post I was still sitting in judgement of her. I still want to sit in judgement of her. But I need to remember I've been just like her -probably worse -  and am still capable of it, too. I want to think I am better because I practice restraint of tongue and pen. Most of the time. That`s the catch though, isn't it. Funny how I want to let myself off the hook for behaviour I see in others and condemn them for harshly. Well, not funny at all. Lord have mercy.

I told her that I thought Angelina brought an awareness to the disease that was good. I didn't apologize for having an opposite opinion nor did I get angry and snippy in voicing it. I just stated how I saw it and left it at that. I had a moment of feeling uncomfortable but it passed. Then she had a moment of feeling uncomfortable when I didn't back down and it passed. When we started talking again it was about other, less volatile, subjects.

Friday, July 05, 2013

The Other Side

My dining room table is full of my computer stuff because I've been painting my office this week. What started out as wanting a new desk soon morphed into new desk, new chair, new paint, new flooring. It will be a first for me to have a room to call my own and decorated to my liking. I painted the walls a soothing blue denim colour with white trim. It looks lovely. It is a very tiny room that is like a cocoon to me.

The weather has been hot for a good while and I have enjoyed the heat. So grateful that it is summer after a very long drawn out winter and cold spring. Dearest One and I have been enjoying sitting around our fire pit in the evenings which is my favourite summer activity.

I had my bone scan earlier this week. After pointed questions from the technician part way through the scan about where all I was in pain I was tempted to start worrying about test results. I reminded myself that all I knew was that I was having a bone scan. Full stop. Worry could wait until there was something concrete to worry about. Which might be never. The doctor is on holidays and by the time he will be back I will be away on holidays so it will be weeks before I know the results. A friend of mine who had cancer eons ago told me it would take at least a year before I stopped fretting every time I had a new pain.

I was going to write that the one thing I do better than before is be present. However the fretting about test results is not exactly being in the present, is it? And yet I am much more present than I was. A few nights ago my father-in-law was speaking to me - yelling really because he is deaf - and I was nudged in my spirit to be present to him. How much better the world would be if we could be present to one another. To do it means to forget about  myself for the moment.

I saw my spiritual director this week. He lives several hours away and the drive was a nice change. It was a good appointment. As I left I thanked him for bearing witness to my journey. Much like you all do, too. Thank you for hanging in there as I work my way through this period of my life. I wonder what it will look like when I'm on the other side of this.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A Work In Progress

I lie in bed looking up at the summer night sky, watching the trees titter back and forth, giving off a breeze much like that from the cheap hand held fans I played with as a child. Here, in the land of the midnight sun, darkness only comes in the deep of the night and lasts a few scant hours. My mind drifts to thoughts of God as I watch the trees sway their hips. 

I've been fighting against how other people think God works.” 
 “Fighting against how I think God should work.”


I don't know how God works

My belief shrunk down to just one sentence that is both manageable and unmanageable, too. 

It is a start.

I remember a conversation, over 20 years ago, with this woman, where she’s telling me about the long ago death of her one year old little girl; a much desired sister for her teenage daughter. She seeks my eyes with her own, as only one mother to another would, as she tries to explain what happened. Her sentences are peppered with -  “I didn't know” and “if only” as she tells me of an undetected simple infection that led to her daughter's death.

Is this how she came to believe that God is in control of everything? Did she need to in order to be able to lift her head off the pillow every morning to attend to her other children whose ages, 13, 12, 11 and 10, descended like steps on a staircase? I don't know her well enough to ask. We've only ever talked at each other.

I think of her lying in her bed wrestling with these things. Wondering how long her darkness lasted. I know her daughter died in the winter time, where there are but few hours of daylight.

A little spark of compassion ignites within me for her.

It's a start.

Like Christ, after his resurrection, we will carry on our bodies and into the rest of our lives the scars of the hurts done to us. Maybe one day they will become signs of our humanity and of our covenant moments with God. We will look at them and remember how we have been rescued. But for the moment, all we know is we are a work in progress, held in the hands of God. Our redemption has not yet been fully realized, but we lean into the love that leads us, and all, to the fullness of life.”                                

~ Monty Williams, SJ, Stepping into Mystery, p. 313

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Looking Into The Void

"God is good."

The thought slips into my mind and catches me off guard. As I let the thought settle in me tears prick at the corners of my eyes. It's been so long since I had a thought like that.

I'm heading out of town for work and that thought - the one where I realize some calamity could befall me on the road - pushes me to send Dearest One a text. "I hope you know that I think our life is about perfect." He sends me a text back that lets me know he agrees. There is a contentedness between us - born from all that these past eight months have held - that feels deep and true.

I saw my grief counsellor this past week. I came away from the appointment knowing that I will think up a ritual to help me let go of the old God Of My Understanding and make room for the new. I told my counsellor that even though my belief system seems to be shot to smithereens there is a stillness within me that I've never experienced before.

I cried with recognition when I read the following from this book:

"The present world we live in does not have much use for God as a living reality. It finds a dead God who can be used to justify dead systems more manageable. That is why the path of contemplation is so difficult - because to walk that path we have to come to the edge of those myths which give our lives meaning and look down into the nothingness surrounding them. (emphasis mine) 
Only in contemplation, when we spend time in this nothingness, do we discover that this nothingness is really the mystery we call God.... 
To live in that radical insecurity is painful, because we not only lose a way, we lose even the name of the way. We lose all sense of direction. We are lost in the dark.....
We can only wait in that darkness beyond a particular broken myth until our perspective changes, until our attitudes change, until we come to the lived awareness of how conditional our existence is.... 
We have a hunger for what we do not know. That hunger not only takes away the myths by which we organize reality. It also takes away even the desire for knowledge, for knowledge is now seen to be ineffectual against our need. At this stage, even the wisdom of the wise does not help."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Speck Of Redemption

"Have you thought of writing a lament to God?"

Another woman, at the same gathering as the first, is asking me this after I share with her that I can hardly stand a single comment from anyone about how God is working in situations. She is a longtime friend and also a spiritual director. She suggested writing a lament after we were both present when someone else shared how the seeming manifestations of God were evident in a situation. My face feels like it's cracking when I try to smile in these kinds of conversations.

Dearest One and I talk on the way home about whether or not we are a blight on God's witness by not being able to cheer with people when they feel God is at work because all we can think of is our two friends who died by suicide within a day of each other and this short time later we still feel like we are walking around in a daze wondering where was God in that situation? If God can find us a parking space why can't God step in and prevent such deaths? Why didn't He?

I know there are no answers to my questions.
I know that.
I also have to trust that there is something to be said for wrestling with the questions. There is a part of me that whispers within, telling me to stuff this all down and put on a happy face and pretend I am in a different space than I find myself in. And it's not that I'm not happy. I am finding little joys daily and I am wrestling with my beliefs daily. My sponsor helped me see the other day that it was my beliefs not my faith that has been rocked off its foundation.

Lament To God

Good Friday - the day You hung from a tree
he hung from a tree, too.

It makes me want to scream.

I remember looking at her face as the pain of losing him had etched itself deep in the space of 24 hours.
Her shoulders shook with emotion and I reached out to hug her
knowing that my hug could do nothing to bring him back.

Later that day she joined him.

Fucking trees.

I hear stories from friends.
The one who put her trusted revolver to her head
and pulled the trigger only to have it not go off.
She had fired it often
it had always come through for her
whether she was scaring someone off
or intending to wound.
This time it didn't.
She lived to tell me.
And gives God the glory.

I so wanted these two to live to tell the story, too.
To find a speck of redemption somewhere.
And You who created the heavens and the earth.
Who can do anything.
It feels like You did nothing.

Except I know that you knelt and cradled them to your bosom,
enveloping them in the love they craved their whole life long.
I pound the steering wheel until my hands are bruised.
Why was it only in death that they found what they craved in life?
For God's sake - why?

"A failure of love"
reverberates in my head
like a needle stuck on a record.
Around and around it goes.

How long will I weep?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

God Is?

"God is in control of everything." She's standing just inches from my face and her face radiates joy. I tell her that that is of no comfort to me.

She tells me surely it must be a comfort! I reply that maybe one day but not now. I can't even begin to tell her why it is of no comfort. I've opened myself up to so much already just by disagreeing with her. She turns to the woman beside me and they talk about other things that they also are so sure of when it comes to God. I decide to look at my feet because I don't want to give any indication that I am in agreement. It also helps me keep my mouth shut tight. Conversations like this make me want to scream.

I've made it through the evening in the company of many people we used to go to church with before we became Catholic. A church that held a Sunday School class on cults after we left and included in that teaching was Catholicism. That makes me want to scream, too.

It's a wonder I was honest with this woman. She's probably forgotten the Sunday, when I was still trying to go to both churches in an effort to support my sons whose friends were all there, when she remarked to someone while right in front of me that what could ever be wrong with the gospel that I'd have to go 'there' to church. It's a reminder to me that what I see and the conclusions I come to are just that. My conclusions. Not the truth. But man, it stung.

She had stood just inches from me telling me who God is at a celebration of mutual friends' reaching milestone birthdays. I'd looked forward to the evening, to good visiting. Despite our veering off in a different direction and the misunderstanding of those we used to fellowship with, I still can visit about a myriad of other things and enjoy myself a lot. They are good and decent people. They mean well. Generations of belief that Catholicism is not only downright wrong but perhaps evil cannot be changed in one conversation. I have reminded myself more times than I can count that my only recourse over the years is to live out my belief. And I'm aware, more these past 8 months than ever, how poorly I do that.

There are many things I do cherish about my time amongst these people. They loved me when I was a brand new Christian and forgave me for much spoken out of turn and in mockery and bluntness. They watched me grow and cheered me on. They were long suffering and extended grace upon grace. Which is perhaps why it bothered me so much to be judged when I became Catholic because it was as if they had to forget all they knew about me because my choice made no sense to them. No doubt, no doubt, I do that, too.

I'd told God on the way to the party that perhaps I was done being mad at Him and would go to church on Sunday. I haven't been to Mass in a very, very long time. Why? Because there is no getting around God when presented with the Eucharist. Opening myself up to It renders me completely vulnerable. Several months ago I  told God, ' sorry I can't open myself up to you right now because if I do I am going to start sobbing and won't be able to stop.'  You know, that snot inducing ugly crying? There's no place to hide that level of emotion in our little church in the boondocks when there are only 10 other people present. In the past long while I've guarded myself every time I've been lector at Mass, unwilling to be undone by reading Scripture in front of anyone.

My plan for today is to go to Mass really early. Our little church in the boondocks has a key we all have access to. I will sit in its cool interior on this hot summer day and have a heart to heart with the God of my understanding. Who, if He is in control of everything, sure fucked a lot of things up.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Scapegoating Unaware

Yesterday was my first six month post cancer check up. I sat in the waiting room and thought about all the people who would be getting bad news that day and felt grateful that it wasn't me. I shared that with the doctor when I saw him. He's seen me through the worst of the tamoxifen/cancer related depression and my inability to find a speck of gratitude so he knows a glass half full is improvement.

A friend of mine in recovery told me last week how he accidentally broke the turn signal handle off his car the second time he was diagnosed with cancer because he was so rattled by the news. He's a crusty old bugger with a warped sense of humour and a deep well of compassion, too. I only winced when he told me on parting that I was stronger than cancer. I decided to let it go. Maybe he has to tell himself that in order to keep putting one foot in front of the other after having faced cancer several times.

I've been back at work for nearly three weeks now. Mostly I have been observing myself in relation to others. Grateful for the moment when the word 'detach' popped into my head while a co worker was sharing some work related drama. There is a lot of scapegoating happening and I keep reminding myself that people cannot scapegoat in awareness. I've stopped myself several times from getting up from my desk and whining to others about the person being scapegoated. I come home and tell Dearest One about the times I was tempted to say this or that and we talk about zipping our lips and stepping back from the drama. He's told me some hard things about my attitude towards the person being scapegoated which come from his years of working in a professional environment. There's something to  his wisdom that shuts up every 'but, but, but......" within me. It is good.

In our personal lives we are involved with people right now who thrive on drama which usually includes the police every single week. I have detached there as much as possible because the drama is exhausting and just hearing about it is draining. When I did not engage in the drama with my coworker I heard her later telling someone else the same story. I know that feeling. I had to ask myself if that's what I sound like when I go over and over whatever my personal drama is at the moment. Most likely. The best thing I've done about that lately is to have self compassion.

I came away from my doctor's appointment yesterday with a requisition for a bone scan to make sure that the new hip pain I've been experiencing is not metastatic cancer. Neither the doctor or I think it is but he's being safe and I appreciate that. It's most likely a symptom of the anti estrogen medication I'm on. It was a bit of a shock to the system to see the word metastatic on the yellow piece of paper and a reminder of all that I have no control over.

The scapegoating at work and the whining I'm attracted to is like a metastatic disease in itself.   I have total control over not spreading that disease any further. It's become my main prayer as I drive to work every day.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Slivers Of Grace

"I'm sorry you are questioning your faith."

"Oh, I don't think it's a bad thing," I say with a smile.

I believe that even though I'm at a teenager level of angst about how God does or doesn't work these days. And even though I find myself wanting to still, still, be a superhero when it comes to all things faith wise, I feel like I'm dragging my super hero cape behind me like a deflated balloon on a string.

Who knows, maybe I will let go of the string one day or at least become comfortable with the tension between my ego's need for hero status and my soul's desire for what? I want to write communion with God but don't even know if that's it.  This spiritual journey is about being nothing more and nothing less than who I am, where I am, in the here and now. That's who I am when I pray. Well, God, here I am in the fullness of my humanity. 

The conversation at the beginning of this post happened a few weeks ago after I shared at a meeting. I wasn't totally comfortable sharing that my faith has been shaken to bits because I knew I was risking people coming up to me afterwards and telling me how to fix it. The man who was sorry I was questioning my faith was totally sincere in his concern. The most comforting thing someone did was give me a hug and talk about how we learn compassion on this journey of recovery. He was someone I thought would try to block my pain with advice so it felt like a possible sliver of grace when he didn't.

How long will it be before I can once again say the word grace without feeling like I am trampling on the lives of those whose journeys seemed devoid of grace and for those of us whose journeys zig zag all over the place without much to go rah-rah about?

Decades ago, when I was searching out a relationship with God, a minister asked me what I thought about God's grace. I had no idea that the word could even mean anything other than something my grandma said before Christmas dinner. Decades later I find myself cringing any time someone tells me how God's grace was at work. They say it with such conviction that I alternately pity them and stand amazed at their certainty. I so want to shout at them but what about this person or that person's story? Where was God's grace then? Where was the neat and tidy all wrapped up in a box ending? Huh? Huh? I wonder if we know when and how God's grace appears.

And so I find myself shying away from any mention of God's grace in my own story or anyone else's. I wonder then if I am a shoddy witness with my silence?

It's not a bad thing to question my faith but it sure can be uncomfortable feeling like God has slipped through the grasp of my certainty.

Friday, June 14, 2013


My BRCA 1 and 2 test came back negative. This news felt like getting the last piece of information in a very long journey. It's such a huge relief to know I am not passing this on to the next generation. And I'm sure it's a relief to my mom that even though she's had breast cancer (twice!) I did not get it through genetics. I know - as if a person can do anything about their genetics  - as if it's in one's control but still, I'm relieved. That and the geneticist laid out what my reality would most likely be had the test come back positive. I don't blame Angelina Jolie one bit for being proactive after she tested positive. 

I've felt such anger towards the surgeon who has told me repeatedly that sure, mistakes were made but had they not happened and if certain other things hadn't happened then my story could be a whole lot different than it is today. I have felt an undercurrent of  "so be happy and grateful and if you feel those other feelings, then you aren't grateful and shame on you."  to his words. It could very well be that we just have the same chatter going on in our heads and well, I can guilt trip myself without any outside help, okay? I have wanted to tell him look, could you just listen to me without telling me how I should feel? Feeling my feelings through this journey has been my biggest triumph. Much scarier than putting on a brave face and faking it for the sake of those around me.

The day after I got the latest test results I thought to myself, mistakes were made and had not things happened after that then your story could be turning out so differently than it is. I checked and couldn't find an ounce of  internal pressure  or a sense of  "I should feel this". I felt no emotional charge, instead I felt calm. And grateful. Who knew?

It was a shock and a relief to feel something genuinely positive. I have not felt a whole lot of gratitude through this journey. It's been a blow to my ego not to qualify for a gold star poster child award. I've heard people eulogized lately who have died from cancer as people who never complained and were always other centered.  I think to myself, well - that won't ever be my story. And there's a part of me that really wants it to be. I did chuckle while reading an obituary the other day that said that so and so would be remembered for their lack of patience and their love of cooking. Mine might be something to the effect of being remembered for her vocal opinions and love of dark humour. 

After I reflected on the surgeon's words the next thing that popped into my head is that I owe it to - I don't know - God - my fellow human beings - myself? to make the most of this life I have. I don't know what that looks like and I have no intention of being anyone other than myself while I do it. But I am trying to not take what is before me for granted.


Thursday, May 30, 2013


I've had a lovely few days. I spent the night with a good friend whose company I enjoy. I went to the city to buy groceries and run errands, shopped for a rocking chair for my soon to be grandchild. Every day kind of things that make me feel like life is getting back to normal. I stopped in at work to get caught up to speed on what's been happening in preparation for my return to work next week.

As I was driving into the city yesterday I felt full of gratitude for being able to do stuff like that. It's the first time since my breast cancer diagnosis/journey that I can remember feeling such deep gratitude. I thought to myself what a nice change it was to smile without my face hurting and to be able to truthfully say I was good when people asked me. Genuine gratitude felt like such a gift in itself.

Last month I listened to this author being interviewed and he talked about a new mantra of his: Here. This. Now.  I have repeated that mantra to myself many times since I heard it. It works to remind me to be in the present moment instead of running a million miles ahead of myself like I'm want to do. I take a deep breath and repeat it and for the moment I am in the moment.

The geneticist's office just called me to let me know that they will have my BRAC 1 & 2 test results back within the week and could I please come in to discuss them on such and such a date. I asked if they couldn't just tell me over the phone? After all it is an 8 hour drive to hear that I don't carry the gene. And if I do, well, just tell me already. They said either way I needed to be seen in person. My appointment is on my birthday. It's either going to be a great birthday present or one I won't forget any time soon.

Here. This. Now. Breathe.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

This Encouraged Me Today

Patient Trust
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
To reach the end without delay.
We would like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
Unknown, something new.
And yet, it is the law of all progress
That it is made by passing through
Some stages of instability –
And that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
Your ideas mature gradually – let them grow,
Let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
As though you could be today what time,
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
Acting on your own good will)
Will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
Gradually forming in you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
That his hand is leading you,
And accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
In suspense and incomplete.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ