The Cancer Journeys: The Gift of Peace

It’s been a while since I’ve written a cancer blog. Admittedly, they are difficult to write. And now, someone close to me is nearing the end of his life due to cancer. It’s hard.

In watching this person face the end of his life, and to watch those close to this dear man, I’m amazed at how calm and peaceful they are when confronting this awful situation. The faith they are exhibiting is extraordinary, even through the fear and sadness.

When any of us receive a scary diagnosis, our reactions can vary. I’ve observed, and experienced, the different ways we can respond. Responses range from fear, to denial, to anger, to hope and the courage to fight, to acceptance. These are similar stages in the grief process. That’s probably not a coincidence. There is grief with a cancer diagnosis, because you are changed from that day on.

In thinking through this, there’s a quote that resonates with me these days:

You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you. — Brian Tracy

I want to take a lesson from this person close to me and with how he is living up to that quote. I want to face life with dignity, grace, and no wasted time. That kind of strength only comes from God.

Cancer has taught me many things. Sometimes I want to ignore that I even had cancer. There are times I want to use cancer survival as motivation to spur me on and to remind me that I am stronger than I think I am. But it’s not cancer itself that affects me. It’s my faith and how I deal with cancer that can make a difference.

How we handle life’s difficulties can inspire others or disappoint or scare us and others. I can only hope I inspire like my dear family member is inspiring me…with peace and calmness, and serenity. That in and of itself is a gift.

The Cancer Journeys: Blindsided by Emotions

I’m currently planning a series of blog posts about cancer, called “The Cancer Journeys.” This will be a series of posts about my journeys with cancer that are designed to give someone else hope and courage, no matter what you’re going through.

As I was gathering old journal entries and making notes of my thoughts, my emotions started going all over the place. I stopped, and told my husband, “My brain is full.” I got really sad, and, if you ask my husband, maybe even a bit prickly. 😉

It’s taken me a few days to sort through my emotions, and I’ve come to a startling conclusion: I’m angry! This surprises me, because I’m not very temperamental, and not the anger type.

However, right before Christmas, I had surgery, and from that surgery, the pathology showed I had endometrial cancer. This is my third time with cancer, and all three are different types. With this most recent one, before the hysterectomy, we weren’t even 100% sure that it was cancer. With my other two cancers, we already had the confirmed diagnosis and had an idea of what we were dealing with. This time, we didn’t.

It’s really strange to find out you had cancer after the fact. We caught it early, and no other treatment is required. It was almost over before it began. My first symptom showed up November 1st, and by December 21st, I was in surgery. It happened quick, and before I could blink, I was recovering from surgery.

Now, here I am, just over two months later, I’m recovered, feeling great, and back to my regular activities and life. But emotionally, maybe not so much.

As many of you may know, my husband and I were high school sweethearts, who ended up at different colleges, and eventually to different lives. We reunited and married 21 years after high school. Yes, we’re one of those couples. During those 21 years apart, my husband married and had children, then tragically lost his wife in a car accident.

Over the years, we’ve talked a lot about grief, especially how grief can blindside you. You can be going along, doing okay, then hear a song on the radio or smell her favorite perfume, and bam! Suddenly, you’re a puddle of tears.

I think there’s grief with cancer as well. Please know, I’m not equating the loss of a loved one with the loss of a body part or two. But there is a level of grief and emotion when you’re battling for your health.

Even if the immediate diagnosis, surgery, crisis have all passed, you can still be blindsided. Any traumatic event is going to leave a scab. And sometimes scabs get ripped open again and bleeds.

You know what? It’s okay to be emotional. I’m good at stuffing my emotions and putting on a brave front. But once in a while, you just have to roll with the punches. And this week, I’m acknowledging my anger at a third cancer diagnosis, despite the fact that all is well right now.

I won’t carry this anger around forever – that takes too much energy! But I need to acknowledge it, face it, then put it behind me as best I can.

God has gifted me with a glorious life. It’s time to get on with it!

How about you? Have you ever had emotions sneak up on you from a past event? How did you deal with it? I’d love to hear from you.

Raising Step-Children: Not a Competition

Mother’s Day has just passed. In this age of COVID-19, many of us didn’t see our mothers face to face, but we all hopefully still found a way to honor them.

For me, I come at motherhood with a slightly different perspective. You see, I fell in love and married a widower with two children. Thankfully, that widower had been my high school sweetheart. But that’s a story for another day.

I never take for granted that those two wonderful children (who are now grown and married) were able to open their hearts and make room for a new mother in their lives. There were many days that were difficult as I tried to make room for them to grieve, to make it easy for them to share memories of their mother, and to keep their traditions alive while trying to create our own traditions and memories. It wasn’t always easy, but these two kids were worth it. No doubt.

The fact that they both honor me on Mother’s Day is a blessing. One I treasure immensely every year. And the fact that their late mother’s family also has welcomed me and accepted me is a gift, that I continue to marvel at year after year.

There were times while my kids were growing up, when things got tough, that I tried to think what their mother, or any mother, would want for her kids. My conclusion is that she’d want someone to love them, cherish them, and care for them. To show them as fierce a love as she would give them. That was my guide as I stepped into parenthood.

I’m not trying to pat myself on the back here. My point is twofold: first, to thank my kids, and thank their grandparents, for their love and acceptance of me. Trust me, it is a treasure in my heart.

And second, for all of us to remember what can happen when we open our hearts and let love in; when we quit drawing lines in the sand, and quit putting boundaries up that keep us apart. My kids still retain the love of their mother’s family. They still have their mother in their hearts. But they made room. They made room in their hearts for me, and for my family. And by opening up, knocking down the wall of grief, they received a whole new batch of people to love them. Their family just grew. No one “replaced” anyone else. More people were added into the mix to love them.

And I received a new branch of the family as well, with my kids’ grandparents, and aunt and uncles, and cousins.

If you’re in a step-family, second marriage, have children from one parent and another — keep the walls knocked down. Don’t draw lines in the sand.

Raising children is not a competition.

It truly is amazing what happens when you tear walls down and let love in.

 

God is Still Here

The world has turned upside down, hasn’t it? Most everything in our lives has changed and it’s hard to wrestle with that change.

Maybe that’s why I’m struggling so much to write these days or to find any kind of structure at home. I’m wrestling with the changes in our lives.

It’s not just wrestling with change. It’s wrestling with guilt, as well. Guilt that both my husband and I are still working and can both work from home. Guilt that we have enough to eat and have a roof over our heads, when others have lost their jobs and continue to struggle through this crisis. If my biggest issue is getting used to my husband being at home instead of being gone 12 hours a day, then I’m just a spoiled girl.

Along with change and guilt, there’s the issue of just missing my friends. Yes, we’ve started chatting with each other over Zoom, but it’s not the same as picking up the phone to say let’s have lunch or let’s all go to dinner, or let’s see a movie. Everything has changed and changed quickly. It’s going to take some time to adjust to that change.

And of course, there’s sorrow, sadness, and fear. This pandemic is real, people are losing their lives, and you never know if it’s going to hit your family next. The uncertainty is disconcerting to the say the least. No wonder I feel off-balance these days.

Some of the change is good. And I always try to hone in on the good things. The focus on families, time together, and only on the essentials that we need is good.  The overspending, overbuying, too much busyness, going 90 miles per hour from one event to the next, I think it’s good that we all have to slow down and refocus on what’s truly important.

However, like I mentioned above, I miss friends, and just the act of getting together for dinner. I miss the ease of leaving my home and going where I please.

Even though, I know deep inside, the slowing down, the simplifying of our life, is a good thing, there is a part of me that’s in mourning for what was. And I think it’s okay to mourn our old life, even with good things happening through this awful pandemic. The focus on the good, and the focus on the gratitude will get us through this.

At Last Sunday’s church service (thankful they can stream on-line so we can still “go to church”), our pastor talked about basically having an “anchor” verse. Having a piece of Scripture that you can hang on to during these uncertain times. I’ve seen many Scriptures on Facebook and across social media. All are good. The first one that came to mind for me was Jeremiah 29:11-13. Most of us are familiar with Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV): “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

So, yes, we can trust that God has a plan for us. But to me, I love the two verses that follow, verses 12-13: “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

How comforting it is to know that we can continue to call on the Lord, pray to him and he listens! That we can find him if we seek him with all of our heart. What good news that truly is these days.

The world may be upside down and the future is very uncertain. We’re treading on unfamiliar territory. But God is the same. And God is still here. We just need to take advantage of this enforced slow down in our lives to seek him and be grateful for our families and for our time together. God is still here.