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

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Bow Named God

"You're too strong to let cancer beat you."

Oh, God love him. Words from a young man this past weekend who I hadn't seen in a long while. His face was so full of light and I hated to bring him back down to earth. But I did. I told him that many 'strong' people have died of cancer. In fact I was headed to a funeral later that day for a woman who would have loved to have not had cancer 'beat her.' She was a lovely, strong, vibrant woman who died too soon. His face fell a little bit at my reply. In fact he asked me to repeat it because he wasn't sure he'd heard me right.

It's not fun being the party pooper, speaking up for those who have been forever silenced. If positive thinking, being strong (I wonder what that means), fighting the good fight and all the rah-rah you can muster would make the difference between life and death there'd be a lot less dead people. I wonder if I'll always be touchy about believing that.

I'm waiting for my oncologist to call me. It's our last time of touching base before he writes up my discharge plan - the plan for follow up tests and check ups and the like for the next five years. There is already a CT scan and an MRI in the works over the next few months. I haven't yet made my peace with how to live in the tension of not knowing what the future holds but I want to and am inching towards it. (this is where some dumb ass tells me we know Who holds the future so don't worry, be happy. I bet they haven't had cancer.)

I wish there was a time and place for patients to tell doctors things that might help them deal more effectively with the next patient they see.

I'd tell my oncologist that he and the other medical professionals, who so readily wanted me to take medication to cope with the grieving process of losing my breast, needed to honour the time and space it took to go through it. All the way through it. I wish they had been able to do that instead of wanting me to short circuit the path of feeling the grief so deeply, as if something was wrong with me for being human. I can think I am being bad - a lovely remnant of my screwed up childhood - just because someone else thinks I am. Make it someone in authority and it can happen in a nano second.

The powers that be often said they knew I wouldn't get stuck yet when I showed deep feelings they whipped out their prescription pads. Six different times I was offered a pill to mask my feelings. I wish doctors were taught that patients need their doctor's support of a non medicated way through the natural grieving process of having had a serious illness.

I am all for medication when it is needed including for people coping with a serious illness. I have seen it bring incredible relief to people I love. But I knew in my gut that I didn't need it. My path was to be present to the whole she-bang of emotions.  I wish  a medical professional would've cheered me on for moving through the process and acknowledged the sheer courage it took to do that.

Had it not been for mental health professionals I might still be doubting that my instinct to wade through the deep was the right choice to make. It has been hard to trust that what often looked like being stuck was really just part of going through. I had to remind myself over and over again of that in order to have the courage to feel the feelings. The counsellors I've seen have been great at affirming the journey as it has unfolded.

I feel like I am coming out of the other side of it now. Not fully out but emerging nonetheless. I am both surprised and relieved. Life has colour again. I am delighting in the tiny things, mostly.

There is a part of me that I am hoping isn't here to stay; the return of my cynical self. A cynicism that rises when I hear people wrap up life's small and big things with a bow named God. When it rolls off their tongue with a flippancy that seems devoid of reality I feel an acute sadness. Being sure of how and when God works has disappeared from my belief system. I've been waiting for it to return and the other day it occurred to me that it might never be mine again. I told my spiritual director last week that it was a bleak place to be. Beyond believing that God is with me there is a deep void where I know nothing.

Funny the things one wants. I want to have a light/bright countenance like my young friend has. A few months ago I met several elderly women whose faces shone with inner wisdom. I want that, too.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


I walked into the living room this morning, saw what was either dog puke or shit on the carpet, and walked right back out. I went about making my breakfast and taking my medication all the while hoping that Dearest One would go into the living room to drink his coffee, see the carpet, and deal with the my dog's mess.

I was prepared to feign innocence so I didn't even tell him it was there. Here, this is my problem to deal with but let's pretend it's yours, okay? I don't think Dearest One even went into the living room  before he left for work. (This scene is so reminiscent of the days of I didn't smell a poopy diaper, did you smell a poopy diaper in hopes that he would be the one to change it. Which might mean I haven't matured a whole lot in the intervening decades.) Actually, I just didn't want to deal with dog shit first thing in the morning. I'm guessing that's what it is because the pugs haven't gone and eaten it. See what things one can be grossed out by and then hope for all in one sentence?

Want to hear the worst thing anyone has said to me this whole cancer journey? A doctor, when I showed up in emergency on New Year's Day, with my incision site red, inflamed and painfully swollen said I would be a good candidate for reconstruction because my skin is super stretchy due to the connective tissue syndrome I have. Wait, that's not the worst. What he said next is.

When I told him I wasn't going to have reconstruction he said "Well if something happens to this guy (as he motioned to Dearest One) and some good looking twenty something comes along, you might change your mind." I was stunned speechless. Twenty-something? I'm going to take up with (anyone?!) a twenty-something if Dearest One dies? Are you kidding me?

It was a doctor we've known for over 20 years and I can only imagine that his familiarity with us is what led him to think he could make such a crass statement in such confined quarters and not get kicked in his nether regions. Later, it struck me as weird that he thought what some hypothetically newly met twenty-something thought of my chest would matter to me more than what my husband of over 30 years did. I've puzzled over that more than once since then.

Until recently when I heard that said doctor was caught having a fling with a twenty-something. Here, this is my problem to deal with but let's pretend it's yours, okay?

I've been watching my thoughts lately, reflecting on what I say to others, and recognizing how much I think what they must be thinking is based on what I would in their situation. I confuse what I would do/think with what every other person would, too. If you'd asked me I would have told you that other people project their thoughts onto others, but I rarely do. I only have to say to someone "You must feel _______." instead of "How are you feeling?" to be reminded again how much I project onto others.

What a paradox it is that while we are much more alike than not as humans, what I would do or think is not necessarily the same thing as the next person would. (Although I want you to raise your hand if you've ever done the poopy diaper thing.)

I have no idea if Dearest One saw the dog's mess and chose to ignore it, too. He's a far more selfless person than I so my bet is that he never saw it. However, I know what I'll be doing once I finish this post. After all, it is my problem.

Monday, May 13, 2013

To See The Trees Again

The quote below- from this link - has given me much food for thought:

"On the morning of Frances' death, as I stood by her bedside, I made a secret resolve somewhere deep in my being which has only recently come to the surface. I made an agreement with God that from that day onward, everything I have to say about God, everything I have to say theologically, has to stand with me by Frances' bedside. If it cannot stand at the side of death, if it cannot stand by the side of a fifty-five-year-old woman who wanted to live to see the trees again, it had better not stand at all because it is probably not worth very much.
~ Zoe White, 1988"


Saturday, May 11, 2013


"The medical establishment is not going to validate what happened to you. You are going to have to do that yourself."

I sucked in a deep breath at my grief counsellor's words. I instantly knew what had been triggered all along by the lack of validation from the medical community. I gazed into the fireplace in his office and jiggled my leg in a furious kind of way as I remembered childhood stuff where no one in authority was willing to step forward and validate what was happening to me.  Remembering the time I thought to myself  'where are the adults and why aren't they doing anything?'

What a tender spot was pushed by his words. I have thought them over for the past month and while I don't exactly know what it looks like to validate my story, something is shifting within me. Slowly and surely the fog is lifting. I am finding bright spots in my days and last week, after a particularly happy day, felt such relief that happy days were possible again.

Thursday, May 09, 2013


"The next time I read a blog, I hope that it does not disappoint me just as much as this one. I mean, yes, it was my choice to read through, nonetheless I actually believed you would have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could possibly fix if you weren't too busy looking for attention."

Those lovely words made up the bulk of a spam comment which ended in a request for me to check out their web site lending bowlfuls of money at exorbitant interest rates. It's the only way I knew it was a spam comment and not a for real one. But you just never know what's going to speak to you, now do you?

I get lots of spam comments and delete them all.
I hardly ever read them.
But the one above sure got my attention.
It sums up how I feel about my blog some days, too so I stopped and considered that maybe there was some truth in an anonymous spam comment.

I told myself at the beginning of my cancer journey that I would not apologize for one single word I would write about it. That I would let my words stand even when I thought I was being a self absorbed whiny person whose ego fueled dream of being a poster child for recovery or Christianity or cancer survivors evaporated with every honest word I wrote. Some days it's easier than others to stay true to being honest. Some days I want to pretty up what I write so I appear more than I am. But I won't let myself. It somehow would seem dishonouring to the reality of my inner journey to do so.

My grief counsellor affirmed this week that where I am on the journey is exactly where I am supposed to be and he wondered where the expectation came from for me to be somewhere else. I told him that if I was sick of being in the grieving/healing process then surely other people were, too. And of course as soon as I said it I knew that I needed to give myself permission again to be where I am. That this is what reintegration into regular life feels like. He told me this is exactly what it looks like. That part of me that still wants to say, OMG this is what happened to me coupled with the other part of me that says OMG I am so sick of talking about this. It actually means I am making progress.

But I tell ya that spam comment stopped me in my tracks for a moment. And has the essence of a prayer in it if I look hard enough.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Vulnerability Armour

When I was in my early teens one of my cousins snitched on me about the foul language I was using at school. My mom told me that ladies didn't use that kind of language. As I wasn't interested in being a lady I didn't change anything other than not hang out with my cousin at school.

Not too long ago I was visiting with someone I don't know well but like a lot, when I noticed foul language coming out of my mouth kind of like spittle I couldn't take back. I've always thought I was drawing that person into my inner circle by letting them see me, foul language and all. I really believed that even though I often felt like I tripped on something when the f bombs started coming out of my mouth.

After tripping several times in my conversation with my friend I let myself ponder what my tripping was trying to tell me. I then had the uncomfortable realization that instead of foul language indicating I was gathering my friend into my inner circle what I was truly doing was putting up a wall.

I instantly thought of shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown and what she wrote here:

"Thankfully, I know myself well enough to know that "cool" is one of my favorite pieces of vulnerability armor. " 

And I thought to myself, when those f bombs start coming out of my mouth, with someone I know hardly at all, I am not trying to bring them into my inner circle, I am trying to keep them at a distance. I am scared and I want to appear to be cool. I do not want to be vulnerable.

I am still a little stunned by that realization.

I haven't felt the need to drop an f bomb in a casual conversation with a casual friend since.

**I believe there truly are instances where a swear word or phrase becomes a kind of prayer. I experienced that a month ago after unexpectedly losing two friends in two days.  What I really meant, what was underneath my words, was the thought that I couldn't believe this was happening. In times like that those words hang in the air like a prayer, like a cry for Someone beyond ourselves.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Score One For Me

I flick through the blouses in my closet trying to decide which one I will wear today. The day. The one where I will get fitted with a breast prosthesis. I've already stalled this day off by three months. I've told myself it's because the post surgical swelling was still going down and I  wasn't sure I could handle the pressure of a regular bra around my rib cage yet. Now I tell myself I have to go get it done because I am returning to work soon and as I'm the face of the company, the first one the public sees, I need to look as professional as possible.

Last week one of my nieces brushed up against her sister in my small kitchen only to have her sister exclaim, "ooh, your boob just brushed up against me. That creeps me out." Before her sister could answer I blurted out, "Hey with no boob on that side I bet I could stand even closer." Her eyes reflect both horror and compassion back at me. No small feat for a young woman not quite out of her teens.

When I was a teen I occasionally loved shocking people with what I wore. There was the morning I managed to slip out of the house wearing only a halter top and shorts, knowing both were against the rules at school. When my home room teacher told me to go get dressed I smugly told her these were my clothes. Later an announcement on the PA system reminded students to follow the dress code. Score one for me.

I've always said I don't like being the centre of attention but that's simply not true. There are many ways of trying to be the centre of attention. (Like my writing of blogs posts I think in my snarkier moments).

I decide against wearing anything that could hint of cleavage (that there will never be cleavage again still saddens me) or anything that looks like a sack. I settle on a top that clings lightly.

The fitter is very sensitive as she inserts different sized prosthesis, trying to find one that matches my remaining breast. And just like in real life, no two breasts match. My mom's own journey with breast cancer coincided with the beginning of puberty for me. While she was still in the hospital undergoing treatment, I worried aloud to my older sister that my tiny breasts did not match and did that mean something was wrong. I was both relieved and disappointed when she told me no ones' breasts ever did.

When the woman has found the best fitting prosthesis I turn to face myself in the mirror. I feel tears rising and I squelch them instantly. I am confused because they are not happy tears. When the fitter asks me if I want to wear the prosthesis out of the store I say in a clipped voice, 'No.'

Up to this point, especially when getting dressed to go out in public, I've had remnants of that teenage centre of attention thinking. I've felt no pity for the people who will see my lopsidedness. Deal with it I  often think to myself. This is what reality looks like. If I have to face it every day then so do you. Score one for me.

But I know behind my tears and lack of readiness to wear the prosthesis is the disconnect between my inner and outer realities. While so much is still healing on the inside of me how will anyone know what I've gone through now? I hate the thought of invisibly moving forward.

Which is what wearing a prosthesis is. An invitation to get on with living life after cancer. Surely cancer survivors surround me every day in the grocery store and at the gas station and I don't hear any of them reminding the world how their journey has marred them forever. They are quietly living their lives doing ordinary things, most likely with gratitude.

From there it's a short jump to remembering that every single person alive bears some kind of scar, emotional or physical that has changed them permanently. And so here I find myself again. Reminded that I am not unique in my suffering. I'm sad that I am not unique. My story is unique. But it's only that. My story. Not your story. Not the story.

Perhaps there is hope I will leave behind my teenage ways one day.

Score one for me.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

A Barren Tree

I pick up greeting cards and flip them open, reading and shoving them back in their place. I do it again and again reading phrases such as God will bring you through or You are a mighty warrior and God is on your side until I can't bring myself to pick up one more 'encouragement' card. I mutter under my breath 'utter bullshit'  as I close every card. I look around the Christian book store for more than an hour to find the only thing that speaks to me is a large black and white print of a barren tree against a barren sky.

I wonder if silence qualifies as encouragement.

I leave the store empty handed, get back in my car and drive on pounding my fists on the steering wheel while talking to God. I think about the unbloggable deaths in the past month that have ripped me open in ways that are beyond my comprehension. Tore from me the last bit of what I was holding onto in the faith department. Whatever it was I was once so sure of has slipped from my grasp. At a very deep level I know I will hold onto little from here on in.

All that ever comes to me these days is the thought of being present. Being still. In my more self absorbed moments I think of the encounter between Jesus and Thomas and how Thomas didn't recognize the resurrected Christ. I wonder if I will recognize myself on the other side of this.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013


I will write an in depth post soon. Am off this morning to a city far away for a medical test. The regular stuff - heart lung performance that I need to get done because of my connective tissue thingamajig. Much less stressful than the cancer stuff.

I got fitted yesterday with a breast prosthesis. Still sorting out that experience. Will write about it soon.