Tuesday, January 12, 2010

there's a place

With the use of Facebook, I have come in touch with people from my distant past. Although there are some that I don't really want to renew contact with, I have observed a fact about my cancer diagnosis that I didn't really appreciate before now. Having known quite a few people, if you count all the 45 years that I've lived, reestablishing contact with those from 25+ years ago, has made me realize that I really am the unlucky one. Among all those I've known, I am mostly alone in having been given a cancer diagnose.

Why does this surprise me? Maybe it's because we are always hearing about how prevalent cancer is in our society. What about the 1 in 9 statistic? Certainly I have met a lot more than nine people in my life. Yet, I can't say that even 1% of them have acquired cancer.

I'm often in communication with other cancer patients, as a volunteer or even as patient myself. I suppose when I'm around others like me, I tend to think there are a lot of us out in the world. But now I'm seeing that is not true. We are 1 in 100, or 1 in 200, or 1 in 500 among our family and friends. I suppose this is good news for those who have not been afflicted. And it kind of explains why people clam up, or even change the subject when I start to tell them about my cancer journey. How uncomfortable they become.

Most the people I know seem to be pretty much the same as when they were younger. They have the same habits, and mostly the same interests. They didn't really change all that much, except that they look older. But when I think about all the changes I've been through in the last several years, I'm afraid others may not feel they are in contact with the person they used to know.

So I do what to know – why me? I know it may be a little late for this question, but I still want to know; of all these people – how did I become the one? Although my mother-in-law and cousin have been diagnosed too, my cancer was far more serious than either of them. They have been long over their treatment but I will never be done. I am forced to accept my life of continual monitoring, treatment and a limited lifespan. I know I am only a step away from this worldly life; I can feel it, and part of me actually welcomes it.

As a hospice volunteer, there is an unmistakable place where those who are dying drift towards. It's like an in-between state; sort of between here and "there". I have become very fond of the "there" place. To be able to walk up to the threshold, with my hospice patient holding my hand, is the greatest honor ever.

Monday, November 16, 2009

it's never too late

I planned a career, and plan events, like my wedding. I planned to buy a house someday, and drive a nice car. I even planned to start a family and live somewhere nice with them.

But I didn't plan to have cancer. That was not in my plans.

So what happens to all the other plans when I'm stuck in treatment for 2 years and I am so sick I can't leave my house, or take my kids to the movies. Even now that I'm recovered, my prognosis still hangs over me and sometimes keeps me from pursuing some of those "plans", especially now that they don't seem so important anymore.

I know I'm here for a limited time, maybe that's the trouble. I want to make the most of it. I am not willing to waste time in crappy job or around crabby people.

I find myself wanting to be around people that are on their last leg, other people that aren't making any plans either. I want them to know that I also know; I'm here, I care, I feel.

And in the end, it doesn't matter what sort of career I have, or the which neighborhood I live in. My legacy, like all of us, will be who I am to those around me.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Promise

Entering the room was like stepping into another threshold. It is startling to see her, completely alone, bent over with an oxygen mask, loud gurgling sounds coming from her gasping breath. I immediately notice how young she seems, compared to the other patients. Her hair is dark, not gray like the others I’ve visited, her is face smooth, barely showing the effects of someone approaching 60 years of age.

Lung cancer is what put her in this facility that normally houses seniors 15 to 20 years older. Having read that 90% of lung cancer patients smoked, I assume she is a smoker. Nevertheless, no one deserves to suffer from cancer.

The loud gurgling takes some adjustment to accept. If I don’t check myself, it can have make me very uncomfortable, even sickened. I walk over to her bedside and touch her hand, announcing who I am and how long I would be visiting. I stroke her hair; it’s so soft and beautiful. She may just as well be in her 30’s rather than late 50’s, it is all the same.

Second to her age, the other striking observance is all the tiny scars on both her arms. None of the nurses know for sure, but it is hard to dismiss it as anything but a desperate response to her declining condition, a form of self abuse. This made me especially sad, I didn’t want to stop touching and praying for her.

There are photos of her on the board across the room. They show her as a round, jolly looking woman. In two of the photos, as she is being hugged by characters from Disneyworld, she has a huge smile. The rest of the board is crowded with photos of her teenage grandchildren and a recent high school graduation announcement. A yellow note pad documents visits from the hospice nurse and others, including her sister who is the only one to see her regularly in these last few days.

A short time after arriving, I notice mucus building up in her mask. I call the nurse’s attention to it. They clean it out, suction her throat, then adjust her position. The gurgling doesn’t improve but the mucus no longer fills up her mask. I can hear her moan until she is given some meds, then the moans faded but her struggle to breathe continues. I have an impulse to call everyone I know and beg them not to smoke, but no one will believe it will happen to them.

I settle into my newspaper, and then my book. I forget where I am and what I am doing for a little while. The room is cold from the low set air conditioner. When I step out to get a hot cup of coffee, I re-enter the world of bustling nurses and seniors chatting in the hallways. I wonder if anyone knows there is a woman dying in here, but It seems best left unnoticed. It too easy to enter and exit her room, walking between two worlds: one bright, busy, alive, and full of people; the other dimly lit by daylight leaking in from the closed blinds, accompanied by a life and death struggle, but still serene and compelling to me.

Her illness must have taken hold quickly, as it does with lung cancer. The older patients I’ve been with don’t want to die, but they are more resigned to the reality. Those under 65 don’t know how to stop living, or why they should have to prematurely end their life. All I ever want for these patients is for them to let go, not resist the process. Everyone else seems to know they are not going to win the battle but I don’t always know if the patients understand that.

I am not sure what makes me want to look into the face of those who are dying. I do know it is something I feel called to do, a compelling desire, and an oddly comfortable one too. I am not certain if I am on some kind of personal mission to make sure no one dies alone, or if am I trying to find something out about myself?

I do know as I’m staring right down the barrel of death when I look into their eyes I’m not afraid. Maybe it’s because I know the promise of Jesus calls me so I may escort those in transition to His outstretched arms. It is my faith that brought me here in this room, and my belief that accepts who He is and what He does. ©

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Birthday Wishes

growolderwithhusband kidstoadults withfamilies grandchildren travelingwithhusband staywell 25yearsormore closertoGod followingJesusmore servethealoneandneglected mymom whattosaytoothercancerpatients loveunconditionally bepeaceful promiseofJesus betotallycontent feelblessed bebestparent setagoodexample familyknowJesus believeHetakescareofmeandthem Heoffersgiftsbeyondmyimagination

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

for a moment, i stopped wanting to be somebody

It had to happen sooner or later. I knew I’d make a mistake at some point. This was a big enough mess up to be noticeable. It was all because I didn’t go to bed early enough. I just couldn’t stay focused and retain the liturgical reading well, despite having practiced a bit the day before and that morning.

Funny thing though, I’m actually happy I screwed up. I mean, yea, I’m sort of embarrassed and wished it didn’t happen, but it’s also a relief too. I was especially glad right afterwards, like I was thanking God and wanted to smile.

While I was wondering how many people noticed, and what the may have thought, I felt like I was finally removed from the pride of being a lector. Now I really can’t take credit when people say I read so well. My record has been marked. Only the Lord can deliver these readings through me, as long as I don’t get in the way. Since I made a bad enough mistake, my ego has been beat down. Finally there is more room for the Lord to work in me, once again.

We have to be pushed to our limit, and beyond, before we can grow in spirit. My idea of what I am capable of is so much less then what God sees in me.

While I was watching the Preparation of Gifts, basking in the joy of my error, I wondered why some people get cancer, and why some survive and some don’t. I know of my own lack of trust in my recovery.

Then I heard an inspired thought, as if to suggest some don’t recover because they don’t change their ways. Is that why I’m still alive? I have definitely changed my ways, quite dramatically and unquestionably. So much that I at times feel as if I betrayed those that have known me for a long time since I am not really the same person. It’s as if I left them, and not just them, but my old self. And I haven’t even completed the process; I’m still leaving myself, a little more every day. ©

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Gilligan - An Island of Faith

Baby boomers the world over, are thoroughly familiar with the television comedy from the 60’s. Amusing as it seemed, beneath the absurdity, the popular show may have had more to offer than just a few good laughs.

The time was right for a message. Many films and television shows from the era offered more than entertainment; they boldly reflected the revolutionary social and political ideas then emerging in our culture. Supposing the producers of the show actuall had some deeper, underlying message to convey? Let’s take a closer look at what’s really going on …here on Gilligan’s Island.

First, we look at the premise of the show; we find a small group of people shipwrecked on a deserted island together, spending every waking moment trying to devise a mode of escape. Among them ranges every American stereotype from the excessively wealthy Mr. Howell, to the everyday guy like the Skipper. We have more than a fair chance to pick a favorite character to identify with, or even just admire. Only one person seems to have the least to offer, although by far most endearing and that is Gilligan himself.

Second, we note the composure of Gilligan, especially in the face of almost hopeless disaster. Gilligan seems pretty much okay with being stuck in this remote paradise, away from all the worldly means that we feel we must have to live properly.

When we examine the character of Gilligan, we see someone who is has no special quality to offer the mix, and at times causes more trouble than not. Yet, it is Gilligan that seems the most content, feeling right at home on the deserted island, happy to sleep in his hammock, and eat bananas and coconuts all day. He is neither lazy nor industrious, and he is always willing to lend a helping hand to the effort of being rescued. Gilligan’s good nature makes him the hub of the group; everyone loves him and although they don’t seem to take him seriously, they all relate to each other, mostly through him.

Third, despite the diverse skills of the castaways, we quickly see their helplessness. It doesn’t take long to realize that their rescue cannot be bought with the extreme wealth of Mr. Howell and Lovey, or figured out by the keen mind of the professor, or won by the beauty of Ginger, or charmed through the innocence of Mary Anne, or even earned by the expertise of the Skipper. It’s only Gilligan who seems to accept the circumstance and the possibility of never being found. He is unusually comfortable on the island. It may even be that were it not for the balance offered by Gilligan, the others may very well have not been able to cope with the circumstances.

It is never made known to us if Gilligan is the only one aware that all their money, intellect, beauty, knowledge, and sweetness are rendered useless on the island, just as they are in the God’s kingdom. Not unlike our worldly life, the efforts of castaways towards their want of freedom, do nothing to further their cause and only provokes constant struggle and frustration. If they would observe the guru of peace, Gilligan, who has found the setting most livable, they may abandon their desires to rejoin the rat race, and all its frustrations, in favor of the abundance of food, tranquility and beauty that they enjoy daily on the island for what turns out to be countless years. Gilligan’s lack of ego has allowed him faith beyond his own means; trust that he has enough food and shelter provided from the island, and love for his friends despite their discontent, none of which can be acquired through human will alone.

If we ponder the scenario of the castaways finally being rescued, we wonder how they would be able to re-adapt to life in the world again. I can only imagine they would become depressed and feel empty after a short time back, soon longing for the time they spent on the island. It’s harder still to see Gilligan wanting to leave the island, even if given a choice. The bubbling idiot who can’t seem to do anything right, turns out to be the spiritual master who recognizes the faith, love and truth in his kingdom of paradise, for which is aptly named, Gilligan’s island. ©

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Thursday, March 01, 2007