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