Saturday, March 31, 2012
And the angels sang.
And I felt like I had beaten radiation, just a little bit.
Their ribs were the first thing I threw up during radiation. We'd gone to Charleston's the Saturday before I started treatments and I'd brought home leftovers. I had my first treatment on Monday and was nauseated. I'd been told that any treatment-related nausea wouldn't start until halfway through (three weeks in), so I assumed that it was nerves. Or maybe the frozen yogurt Jo'd bought on the way home. (She refuses to let me do anything by myself the first time through, so she'd driven me to and from that first appointment. She's the most adorable mother hen ever, and I love her!) On Tuesday, again, I was nauseated. No actual vomiting, but I didn't feel well. On Wednesday... nausea again. But those ribs in my fridge were calling my name, if only because I knew they were five days old and not getting any younger. I decided I might as well eat them, even if I didn't feel that great. I mean, I'd felt sick to my stomach the last two days, but nothing had come of it. I figured I was in for another night of lying on the sofa holding my tummy and wondering what was wrong with me, no matter what I ate, so I heated up the ribs. And they were delicious. For about 5 minutes. No sooner had I rinsed the plate and put it in the dishwasher than I spun around and grabbed the sink. ... Who knew that grown women could projectile vomit? Also, who knew that barbeque sauce could be so revolting? (What had been so delicious going down was absolutely horrific coming back up.) And thus 12 weeks of debilitated nausea was born. Without prescription medication (both for the nausea itself and the dizziness that was a side effect), I never would have made it through the Fall of 2010. Radiation sucked. It killed the flora in my digestive system. Foods that I had loved were suddenly at the top of the list of Stuff That Will Cause Extreme Pain.
I haven't wanted to eat barbeque sauce since. Not even once, in the last 18 months, have I wanted any food that had barbeque sauce involved. Until this last week. I've been craving something with a sweet, smoky sauce all week. And tonight, I had ribs. Not just any ribs, but Charleston's ribs. The very thing that turned me off barbeque sauce in the first place.
I know, I know... It sounds like a very small thing, but I feel like like I won - just a little bit - in this fight of getting my old body back.
Now, my only problem is that I'm afraid that I'll want Charleston's ribs with garlic mashed potatoes and caramelized carrots for dinner every night for the rest of my life. Seriously, it's that good. (And I can totally eat them again. Hooray!)
Monday, March 26, 2012
That is a chocolate covered potato chip, people. Can you see the ripples in the chip, covered with a rich and delicious milk chocolate? Oh my goodness gracious, they are heavenly! I'll have you know that ever since I first heard about chocolate covered potato chips, I've wanted to try them. I figured that the marriage of sweet and salty, combined with creamy and crunchy would be absolute heaven. It turns out that my junk food spidey-sense was right, once again. These are basically the holy grail of snack/junk food. I am in love.
In love, and deeply beholden.
Last Thursday, at the SNC concert, I was gifted with a big blue bag of chocolates and the lovely plaque pictured below:
Isn't that fantastic?
My friend Melissa was also at the concert Thursday night, and when I walked in, she stood up from her seat and waved me over. She stood up and handed me a HUGE gift bag full delectable chocolates, that plaque and a very sweet card.
One of the few perks of having the cancer? Gifts.
I'm kicking myself for not having taken a picture of all my loot when I got home Thursday night. (You know I've been eating it since then and a picture now would defeat the purpose of showing you how great and glorious this haul was. Since, you know, half of it is gone.) So, I'll just make you a list of what all was in the bag (because we all know that I am a list-loving fool):
Dove Dark Chocolate
World Market Dark Chocolate (the salted squares, be still my beating heart...)
Rocky Mountain Chocolates (the potato chips - I swoon)
And I cannot forget the bag of chocolates from Cerretas. "If your sweet tooth says candy, your wisdom tooth says Cerreta's" was printed on their bag, and they were not kidding. ... I had never heard of this company before (West side friends, listen to me when I say that you should find this store and go buy yourself some mint truffles. They're the best I've ever had. And we all know that I've had a lot of truffles in my day.) Seriously DIVINE chocolate, people. Divine!
Oh my goodness gracious, Melissa thought of everything. There wasn't a single solitary high-end brand of chocolate that she didn't buy. They are (were) delicious and I've savored every single bite.
I love my friends. I love chocolate. I love my friends who know I love chocolate and buy it for me! Thanks, Melissa, for making my life-long (or, at least as long of my life as I have known they existed...) dream of having a box of chocolate covered potato chips come true.
Friday, March 23, 2012
It was March 25th. It was one of the hardest and worst days of my life. I mean, it was rough. I'd had surgery on Tuesday. My incision was only 10 inches this time around (versus 14 the first time - I'll take an incision from my breast bone to my belly button over an incision from my breast bone to my pelvis any day), but 10 inches is still a heck of an incision. Friday was the day that I was given permission to shower. I hadn't showered OR washed my hair (obviously) since Tuesday morning before I went in for surgery. After three and a half days of either lying in a hospital bed or sweating up a storm as I toddled around the fifth floor with my walker, I was more than ready to shower - if only to get my hair back to its natural state (or, rather, out of its natural state). Only, I had mis-calculated how difficult the shower would be. Between the fact that I couldn't stand up straight on my own, the nurse who thought it would be a good idea to let my bandage get wet in the shower, thinking it could just fall off (it did not just fall off, folks - a good 12 x 20 inch bandage that was taped to my abdomen was literally plastered to me in the shower and it was pure agony to have it ripped off me) and the earring that I tore out as I was trying, one-handed, to rub shampoo into my hair... The shower was not a great experience. And sadly, it was followed by my first ever suppository (ooh-la-la), which resulted in explosive gas and poop for the rest of the day. (Explosive gas is never fun. Explosive gas when you have absolutely no abdominal muscles to control the movement is so painful that I cannot even begin to describe it.) My brother Spencer came by to visit that afternoon and I had to relegate him to the waiting room with my dad so he wouldn't have to be around me while I was in my crazy pooping phase. My mom had gone down to visit with them. Without anyone in the room to talk to, I decided to check Facebook out and find out what was going on in the world outside the four walls of my hospital room.
Facebook told me a story that I hadn't heard yet. With my having been in the hospital since Tuesday morning and drugged beyond my ability to do much more than breath into a stupid incentive spirometer (the devil's tool if there ever was one), I hadn't been online much. I didn't know what Facebook had known for most of the week. My friend Marcus's son, Ethan, had been in the hospital since Monday, and he and his wife had just learned that their son was dying. Not just hospitalized with a scare. Not just a coma. (Like there could be such a thing as "just a coma" when it's your 7 year old in a hospital bed.) Ethan was dying.
Marcus had been in a hospital room all week (all week - he'd left the hospital one time that week) with his son. His son was dying. ... And I hadn't known.
I lied there in my hospital bed and I cried. With a stomach that could hardly bear the weight of a shallow breath, I sobbed. I sobbed because my skin was still smarting from the bandage that been ripped off during what could easily be considered the worst shower of my life. I sobbed because my ear ached where I'd torn my earring out while I was trying to wash my hair (again, worst shower of my life). I sobbed because the pain was ... well ... horrible and all encompassing. I sobbed because I was scared out of my mind that I would never truly be cancer free. And I sobbed because I had just learned that one of my two best friends from high school was losing a child.
This Friday last year was hard. Incredibly and inexplicably hard. In every way, it was hard. Physically, emotionally, spiritually - it was hard.
But you know what? I lived through it. (Even if I wasn't sure, for a while there, that I could or that I wanted to.) And a year later, I'm so glad that I did. Not that I'd ever go so far as to say that I'm glad that I had that complete and utter day from hell last year. Nor would I say that I'd sign up to do it again. (Please. I'm not crazy. Nor am I masochistic.) But, looking back, I had a lot more than pain going for me that day. My mom was with me. Always. She is always with me when I'm in the hospital. (Marcus Ellsworth has nothing on my mom. The woman sleeps in a chair in my hospital room so she can be there if I need her, and the longest she ever leaves my side is to go get something to eat.) My dad and my brother were there that day. Jo came that night with Roomie and they sat with me until I was tired enough to fall asleep. Did I have pain and suffering on that day? Heck yeah. But I also had family and friends every which way I looked. I had the miracle of modern medicine on my side and surgery had, once again, saved my life.
Friday of this week last year was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, to be sure. But it wasn't all bad, even if it was really (REALLY!) hard. I'm grateful for the clarity that the passage of time can bring, for the ability to look back and see that, even on a dark and horrible day, I was not alone. There's a lot of comfort that comes of knowing that there are people all around me who love me and are there for me. Remembering the hard days can be ... well ... hard, but the hard days have made me so much more grateful for the good ones. And the remembering of where I was last March has helped me put things into perspective this March. Is it easy to live my life knowing there's a malignant growth inside my person? No. But it wasn't easy to have a malignant growth removed, either, and I got through that (twice). I can do hard things. I know I can, because I have.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
I woke up again at 6:22 and my first thought was "This time, last year, Jo was here to pick me up to head in for surgery." And then I took a deep breath, rolled out of bed and got up and started to go about my day.
This year, all I have to do on March 22nd is get up and go to work. Much less dramatic than knowing that I'll be going under the knife in a few hours. And yet, I am flooded of memories of this day last year. All week, I've been flooded with memories. Having the memory of an elephant is both a blessing and a curse. (Having the ankles of an elephant, on the other hand, is just a curse. So, I guess I'll take the memory.)
The good/best news about today is that I have plans tonight to go out with some friends for Jo's birthday celebration. I'm so glad that I have something super fun going on tonight. This concert is something that I've been looking forward to for a couple months now, and it's been a blessing to have had something on my mind other than what was happening in my world a year ago.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
You want to know what else has been pretty constant for a couple weeks now? Peanut butter. I've been smearing it on toast, filling celery stalks with it, dipping Kit-Kats and other assorted chocolate candy right into the jar. I can't get enough of it.
And this morning, as I opened the jar of peanut butter for my morning snack, the edge of the lid slid across my thumb and that stupid pink spot on my right thumb started to throb. So, I guess now at least I know where this little pink spot came from. (And you've got to be kidding me if you think that this is going to make me stop eating peanut butter. That jar of Peter Pan may be the death of my right thumb, but it's too delicious to let a little battle wound get in the way of me and my current favorite snack food.)
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our Attitudes.” ~ Charles Swindoll
How great is that? And how true... We can't change what we've done, what other people have done. We can't change the past. But we can choose how we react to it. And if we don't like how we've been reacting to it, we can reframe it and change our attitude.
My goodness, I'm so grateful for the principle of agency. There aren't a lot of things in my life that I get to choose, but I always get to choose how I react.
This month has been fraught with memories of what was happening in my world this time last year. My guess is that it probably would have been an emotional full-of-memories month anyway, but the knowledge that I have a new little malignant friend growing in my body and that I am - yet again - destined for the operating table, has brought it home on a different level.
One thing that has really helped me this month has been knowing that I am not the only one living a flashback kind of month. My friend Marcus lost a child in March of 2011. His sweet wife, Kim, has been blogging about Ethan all month. (If you'd like to read their story, click here.) I so admire how she has focused on the happy memories they have with their son. I absolutely love that they have chosen to honor Ethan's memory by declaring the anniversary of his death as a day to perform Errands for Ethan (acts of service), and I love that they've extended an invitation to literally hundreds of people to join them in this. They are such great examples of finding joy and purpose in trial and adversity and I'm grateful to know them.
Again, I am so grateful for the principle of agency. Not often do we get to actually choose what roads life will take us down, but we always get to choose how we'll act or react once we get down that road. I'm so grateful for the blessings that choosing peace and finding joy bring into my life. I'm so grateful for incredible, faithful people like Kim and Marcus, who have been such examples of strength - not only to me, but to anyone and everyone else lucky enough to be on the fringe of their family's story.
"The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude." - Amen, Charles Swindoll. Amen.
Monday, March 19, 2012
This picture was taken a year ago, today. My Cousin-with-a-capital-C Julie had come to visit for a few days. It was a very Mary Poppins (by which I mean: practically perfect) weekend. We laughed, we cried, we tried on wigs and we ate waaaay too many Pringles. This picture was taken Saturday night, just outside my apartment, as we were heading out to meet Jo and Chris for dinner.
I love the gift that memory can be. "Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories." (1,237 classic movie points to anyone who knows the reference.) I love my cousins. I especially love my Cousin who is also one of my best friends. Some of my earliest memories are with Julie. (I cannot eat mint chip ice cream or banana popsicles without thinking of Julie and her sister Beth.) Julie and I were able to live together for years in our twenties. (At Halloween, we used to go "trick-or-treating" in our ward. We'd carry around a plate of rice crispy treats and a bucket full of cleaning supplies. We'd knock on the doors of apartments of our friends and offer them either a treat or a trick (chore). ... Pretty much, the only way to get me to do service is if I also have a plate of goodies to reward myself with.) Julie is one of the three people who are on speed-dial in my phone. I love her. I'm grateful for the time that I've been able to share with her, for the many, many years that she has been an influence for good in my life.
This coming week, last year, was an incredible week. It was full of friendship and laughter and love. It was also full of pain and fear and suffering. I'm grateful for memories of both what was good and what was hard. I'm so incredibly grateful for a good memory. It has been one of the great blessings in my life.
As I look back on the last year of my life, I sometimes shake my head and wonder what in the world has happened here... At other times, I look back on the last year of my life and I know exactly what has happened here. And at those times, I am amazed and grateful for the clarity that comes of knowing that people are what matter the most - and I have some incredible and amazing people in my life, Cousin Julie chief among them.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
It was a good dream.
I woke up and laughed to myself that I am now officially dreaming about doctors trying to pick me up. Also, I thought to myself, "What is up with my recent obsession with men of Middle Eastern descent?".
And then I remembered.
Uhhhh.... Maybe I've mentioned this guy before:
Oh, right. Him, too:
So, maybe my crushing on dark and mysterious men (who have accents) isn't such a new thing, after all. But hey, at least my new Middle Eastern boyfriends aren't torturers or mutants. (Not that I minded that Sayid had been a torturer. It was soooo part of his charm, actually.)
Now, to figure out a way to get myself to an outdoor table in Italy so I can meet that dreamy doctor. Or maybe I should start milking this cancer for all it's worth and schedule a follow-up with Dr. H. ... Tomato/tomahto.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Now, I may have gotten that a little out of order, and some of the details may be wrong (because it's not my story, and it's the second telling of it... and we all know how that old "telephone" game usually goes), but the story brought such a point home to me that I wanted to share at least the bare bones of it.
A few more details and thoughts:
From her vantage point on the road, and because of the nature of the fiery crash, the woman who saw it happen and made the call had been certain that no one could have survived. And yet, two people did. Two of the four people who'd been in the plane did survive the actual wreck. Could they have survived a possible hour or more of having been trapped in wreckage and/or in the fire that ensued when the plane went down, had there not been a witness who was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, with exactly the right skill set and experience to know NOT to call 911 and waste valuable minutes, who happened to have a contact on speed dial at the fire department? Almost certainly, no. And yet, she was there. She was exactly where she needed to be to have seen what she saw, to have made a call to her husband, who was in exactly the right position to be one of the first responders who pulled two bodies to safety.
Two lives were saved because she was where she needed to be, because she knew what to do and was able to respond in the way that she responded.
How amazing is that?
I mean... How AMAZING is that?!
And the thing is, I think things like that happen more often than we know they do. (Not plane wrecks, exactly. More like, we're in the right place at the right time. Or we do the right thing, not even knowing what kind of impact we'll have on someone else's life.)
I've been thinking about this story all day, and I'm just so amazed and grateful to have seen the Lord's hand in my own life this past week.
The last week has been hard. Not bad, necessarily, but hard. I've been processing a lot, which is exhausting. Emotionally, I've had a lot going on and I've been all over the map, and I don't think it's any kind of coincidence that I've had friends and family coming out of the woodwork (even more than usual) this last week.
Here's a not-so-secret about me: I love presents. Love them. Also, I love my people. Love them. (Are you familiar with the concept of The Five Love Languages? I am such a mix of quality time and gifts. Obviously.)
Again, I don't think it's any kind of coincidence that this week I've received three packages, one of which was a box full of Kleenex (we all know that I'm a crier) and two that had movies in them (we all know that I am a movie-a-holic and love nothing more than vegging out on my couch with hours of mind-numbing cinematic entertainment in front of me). I don't think it's any kind of coincidence that, on Sunday, I got a text from my friend, Kimmie, planning a GNO for Thursday.
Here is what I think (read: know) - the Lord is aware of me. He knows what's going on in my life. He knows how I feel and He knows how to help me. There were people perfectly positioned over a week ago, before I hit a major roadblock on Tuesday and landed myself on the floor, crying into my socks (I only wish I was kidding), to be in play this week.
I'm quite sure that none of the people who put packages in the mail last week, or early this week, knew that I'd need a visual reminder that I am loved. (How they could have possibly known that I would need to know - this week, more than usual - that even if I don't always get what I want, or what I think I need, that I am loved? They could not have known.) I don't think Kimmie had any kind of awareness that, by the time Thursday rolled around, I would be in desperate need of some quality time with friends. I'm so grateful to Kimmie, Annie, Cassidy and Liz for having (and/or making) the time to spend an evening with me. I'm so grateful for close friends who are only a phone call away. For Jo, who knows my favorite ColdStone creation and showed up on my doorstep Tuesday night, ice cream in hand. (This was the absolutely crippling, crying-into-the-socks night, people, and again... it was no small coincidence, to me, that she knew that I needed her and that I needed ice cream.) I'm grateful for my cousin who lives an ocean away, who thought of me when she read a New Era article and emailed me a reminder that sometimes the miracle we ask for isn't the miracle we're given.
I had either people or packages show up at my house every single day this week. I received more personal emails this week than I have in the last several weeks combined. I had verbal and FB conversations with friends from my childhood, and friends from my twenties and thirties.
I am so grateful for timing. Even when I think it stinks, and that timing is the thing that makes my life hard, or more difficult than I like to think it would be if I could just be in charge of my body (oh, and the rest of the universe) ... timing is the very thing that has saved me. Earlier this week, I was cursing timing and my lack of control. At the end of the week, I am so grateful that the Lord had things perfectly timed to have a different person show up every day.
My word, it is humbling and completely awesome to have been given yet another opportunity to see the connections between Heaven and Earth in my life. I am, once again, amazed at the clarity with which I can see and feel love all around me. I am so grateful for people who love me, who listened when they were told how they could help me, who followed hunches and made phone calls and sent emails or texts, for those who came over and planned parties and put packages in the mail.
I'm telling you, there are so many people in my life who have shown up this week - either literally or figuratively - and given me support and shown me love that it completely blows my mind. No less than a dozen people were as perfectly in play for me as the woman who witnessed a plane wreck was for the Hatch family. Did anyone literally see a plane go down in flames and come to my rescue? No. But they reached out to me and they showed me love and reminded me of the value in the relationships that I have in my life, which was its own kind of rescue. And for them, I am supremely grateful.
Friday, March 16, 2012
Yes, another package.
I am, truly, the luckiest girl in the world.
A month ago, my favorite aunt (who lives in UT) and her daughter came to visit me for a day. While they were here, my cousin Amy took stock of the movies on my wall so she would know what to send me when they got home. (I come from a long line of movie watchers and collectors, and Amy's movie collection makes mine seem paltry and small.)
Today was the day that I got my movie-watching care package from my sweet cousin. My sweet, puppy-loving cousin, as can be evidenced by the card:
And the back of the card cracked me right up:
Inside the package were no less than:
4 bags of microwave popcorn
4 packages of M&M's
2 boxes of Thin Mints
1 TV series
3 postage paid return boxes (and about $20 worth of stamps for return postage on future shipments)
And this sweet inscription from my cousin:
Thursday, March 15, 2012
I was raised on musicals. Anyone who's known me for at least half a minute knows that I love them. I've been known to burst into song at random moments, and I link thoughts and experiences to songs that I've known all my life. (Just last night, I was singing The Sadder but Wiser Girl in my living room and cracking myself up.)
Two Weeks With Love is a lesser-known musical (it's not like Sound of Music or 7 Brides, in that not everyone I know has seen it - or at least heard of it). I've looked for this movie for years. (For YEARS, I tell you!) It's so lesser-known that it has been impossible for me to find a commercial copy. My mom had a TV tape that I grew up watching. When I was in my twenties, my grandparents had a tape that my cousins and I would borrow and watch.
I freaking LOVE this movie, but I haven't seen it for years. I was super jealous of my cousin Amy (SUPER jealous!) that she had a copy.
Enter my coming home and getting the mail this afternoon.
I had a little slip that I had a package in the office. I wasn't expecting anything, so I was puzzled. Imagine my surprise and delight to see that my favorite aunt (who lives in CA) had sent me a prize.
And then I opened the package, and this is what I found:
My goodness, I love my family! I love that we're all tied together by a silly song about how the monkey loved the chimp. I love that I have cousins from multiple families that love this movie. I love that my aunt sent me my very own copy.
Sometimes, I am amazed and overwhelmed at how great my family is. I mean, great.
I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to a little quality time with Jane and Debbie this weekend. Seriously, there aren't words.
Thanks, Aunt Deb!
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
I mean, who's kidding who... I sort of did it to myself today. But still.
Here is my diet for the day: ("diet" being a word I use loosely ... we all know that I'm never actually on one)
Breakfast: whole wheat toast with avocado
Snack: peanut granola bar (the salty & sweet kind - yum!)
Lunch: Leftover asparagus (oven roasted with garlic... delish!)
Snack: celery with peanut butter and a cheese stick
Dinner: salad and bran muffins (stupid me) at Sweet Tomatoes
Dessert: ice cream cake (Thank you, Rook, for being born 11 years ago)
So, yeah. That was sort of a lot of fiber. I know, that was a lot of plants and grains to cram into one body today. But still... I'm here to tell you that, two years ago, I could have eaten all of that and I would have woken up the next morning and pooped at 7:00 and gone about my business and all would have been well with the world.
Now, I started getting stomach cramps at about 4:00 this afternoon and it's just gone downhill from there.
I am not actually sick. I do not have a stomach bug coming on. Oh, no. I just had my guts radiated in the summer of 2010 and I'm still paying a price.
You know, I have never loved what radiation did to my body. I repeat, I have never loved it. But up until last week, I could just roll my eyes and think "darn that radiation... someday this will get better". Now, I still like to think that it'll get better (and on almost every level, it really has) - but I'm still Bitter Bob that I went through 25 rounds of radiation that turned me into a stupid poop machine. It's irritating that my body doesn't know how to deal with what I put into it - some days more than others.
I feel a little like I need to write myself a new version of the Serenity Prayer.
God grant my stomach the ability to digest the things I ingest
The comfort to do so painlessly
And (maybe) a desire to eat a more balanced diet
Is that too sacrilegious? I'm too tired to be sure (or care, frankly). Either way, it's my new mantra.
Monday, March 12, 2012
That's right, folks. It's a box of Kleenex. By which I mean, a box full of boxes of Kleenex. Why? Because, clearly there was a need.
The letter below was enclosed.
Thank you, People of Kleenex (aka: Michelle Beal), for caring enough to send the very best. (And by "very best", I mean "something with aloe" - because as much as I've been crying these days, my little nose needs all the help it can get.)
Looking forward to our continued relationship,
Sunday, March 11, 2012
This whole day was fantastic, until about 10:00 tonight, when a sudden and extreme case of indigestion hit me. I'm not sure if it's the salad I had for lunch or the spicy chicken I ate for dinner, but something is definitely wrong with my body.
Here is what I hate - food never used to affect me. I had an iron stomach. I could eat a carton of ice cream - nothing. I could eat 2 dozen hot wings - nothing. I could eat half a chocolate cake - nothing. I could eat a giant plant of Lizzie's chicken and cabbage salad - nothing. ... What I'm saying is, I could eat whatever I want and nothing ever made me sick. The only indigestion I ever suffered was nerve-related and usually confined itself to first date jitters. I used to be so regular that I could literally tell time by when I would poop in the morning. (I know, I know. More talk about poop and other related activities. I'm sorry, but I'm on a rant right now, and my filters have been thrown out the window.)
I've been living in this body that is unpredictable and stupid about food for over a year now. Six weeks of radiation did a major number on my digestive system. As if two months of living on saltine and Ritz crackers weren't enough. As if weeks of living with radiation burns that were so painful that I would have to concentrate on breathing slowly so I wouldn't scream when I exhaled weren't enough. As if projectile vomiting water three feet wasn't enough. As if the radiation lasers didn't run through my body and wreak complete and utter havoc on everything inside me from my abdomen through my pelvis. As if I didn't have to gently and slowly introduce foods like tomato soup and spaghetti sauce back into my diet, just to be able to eat out with my friends again. As if I don't still have to watch my intake when it comes to starchy and spicy foods. ... Radiation did all of these things to my body, and this week, I was told that it didn't do anything for my tumor.
I am angry.
I am sick. Because I either ate something too fibrous or too spicy. For a year, I've been rolling my eyes when my body freaks out like this and thinking "Darn that radiation... but at least it was supposed to take me from an 85% to a 60% chance of recurrence" But on Friday I was told that radiation didn't really do anything for my cancer. It couldn't. General radiation doesn't do much for liposarcoma. I'm trying really hard to reconcile the knowledge that I did all I could do at the time with the knowledge that, in doing something that was supposed to help, my body was hurt. Badly.
So, at 2:00 in the morning, I am sick. I am sick and I am tired. And I am angry that my body is screwed up. Now, my stomach's a lot better than it was a year ago, and I live in hope that it will just continue to get better and better as I put more time between radiation treatments and the rest of my life, but tonight... Tonight, I want to scream bloody freaking murder. So, I'm typing. Because that's how I cope.
At the end of this week of crazy madness, however, I had a gem of a good time to look forward to. My cousin Lindsay and her husband came to town to see Wicked. Klancie had surprised Linz with tickets for Christmas. He contacted me via FB at about Thanksgiving, to ask if I'd be interested in coming with them. (Uhh... HECK YES, I WOULD!) I've known this weekend's been coming for a long time, and having Lindsay here was truly the bright spot at the end of my tunnel for the last few days. I just love her to pieces, and have been so looking forward to some time with one of my favorite cousins!
We went to Wicked last night. It was, as always, awesome. (I do love live theater. And Ga-linda makes me laugh out loud.) It was so fun to watch it with my cousin and hear her laughter right next to me. (Neither of us cried, btw. We're both proud that we did better than her brother did when he saw it. ... Yeah, we're a family of saps. Don't judge.) After the show, we went to dinner at Red Robin. We were going to go have Mexican, but I can't find my way around town and the restaurant that I was trying to get us to had been changed into an Irish Pub (someone needs to go out more... "someone" = me) since the last time I'd been there, so we back-tracked to get some basic American grub. We talked and laughed and had a good time last night, then met up again this morning. Talked and laughed some more, then headed to Cheesecake Factory so Lindsay could get some of her new favorite fix (the banana cheesecake) - oh, and some lunch. (I'm pleased to report that I tried two new things today. The avocado spring rolls (divine!) and the mango key-lime cheesecake (the first bite was weird, but it grew on me). I heart trying new things.)
Lindsay and Klancie's original plan was to stay tonight and drive back on Sunday, but they decided this morning to split the drive in half so they didn't have to do 12 hours in one day. (A plan I wholeheartedly support, having made that drive many a time - without having had back surgery every once in my whole life. How Lindsay could have sat in a car for 12 hours is beyond me, bless her sweet heart.)
We came back to my house after lunch to chat for a while before they had to leave. I'm sorry to say that within half an hour, I was literally falling asleep mid-conversation. (I tell you, I am like an old woman, with the lack of energy. And last week was a serious doozy.) Linz decided they needed to leave me to nap. I was bummed to see them go, but I will tell you that I was out like a light as soon as I closed the door behind them and I slept for a good 4 hours without even stirring.
I just woke up (it's 6:00-ish) and Kirk had texted to ask if we can hang out before he goes in to work at 9:00.
After such a dramatic week, I'm not really sure what to make of this low-key day. It's been so great to spend time with my cousin. I love her to death. Now I get to spend time with my brother, whom I also love to death.
My tumor hasn't grown. My family is awesome. I got to take a nap. I freaking love this day!
I met with the surgeon (Dr. G) first, and his nurse. He delivered the news that my tumor hasn't grown in two months (amazing!), which means that surgery isn't imminent - by any stretch of the imagination. He recommended another scan in 3-4 months to chart the growth, and if it's grown substantially by then, we'll talk turkey about cutting me open. He gave me the news, then sort of waited for a reaction. I was absolutely shocked to hear that my tumor hasn't grown, considering the tumor I had this time last year went from dime-sized to baseball-sized in the course of 7 weeks and it's been 8 weeks since my last scan of this little guy, but told him that I was fine with waiting it out. He said, "Really? Because Dr. H (the oncologist) was pretty sure you'd fight me on not having surgery right away." "Oh, really?" I said, "He thought I would be mad that you don't want to operate right away?" He explained that Dr. H had picked up in my first consult that I wanted this thing the heck out of me and thought I'd be a little more feisty about it not coming out right away. Dr. G explained that, between the size of the tumor being so small that there's a risk of missing it if he went in to get it right now and the fact that he'd like to give my body as long of a rest as he possibly can before he cuts me open, he wants to hold off. I told him that while I don't like having a tumor in my body, I understand and support his plan. I mean, he is the surgeon. It makes sense that he'd get to call the shots here.
We talked a little about what will happen when he does operate. Of course, it's all subject to change depending on what happens inside my body between now and then, but right now the plan is to go in and take all the fatty tissue off the retroperitoneum and leave only muscle (I told him that I approved of this plan, because I will at least be all toned and fat-free on the inside). He may or may not take my left kidney. He may or may not irradiate my left kidney before he goes in. ... This was a little surprising to me, as I'd been told a year ago that radiation would be off the table for the rest of my life, because to irradiate an area that had already received radiation treatment would, in essence, cause radiation poisoning. I asked him how that would work, and whether what they told me last year was a true story or ... not so much of a true story. He explained that it was a little bit of a true story, and a little bit not a true story. It seems that there are different types and levels of radiation, and that there are some areas that can be irradiated again after a certain period of time. When we get closer to surgery, he'll review my radiation history and make a decision as to whether or not he'd recommend radiation. The upside? He'll irradiate a small area, nowhere near what my last radiation oncologist did.
The tumor itself hasn't grown, but there seems to be a new ribbon of scar tissue forming. I asked how that can happen, if scar tissue just appears months or years after the fact. He explained that it can happen. There's a chance that it's a difference in the scans themselves, that one film had a line or damage that the other didn't, but it looks like it's new scar tissue. I told him about the now almost constant cramp in my lower back and asked if could be tumor or scar tissue related. He confirmed that it's most likely scar tissue related. The stinky thing is... there isn't much I can do about it, other than try to stretch it out when it gets bad. (It's sort of charlie-horse-ish in nature. Sometimes it's a sharp pain, but usually it's more of a dull ache. I feel it more when I bend or move in certain ways, which I am now making a daily effort to avoid getting myself into.) The good news about surgery is that he'll take the tissue where the scar tissue currently is. So, this pain will only last until these scars come out. (Of course, then I could soooo have the same issue with new scars, but whatever. I'll cross that bridge when I get there.)
He confirmed that even though this will be my third surgery, he believes this is really only my second tumor. He believes that the tumor I had removed last March was actually a remnant of the first tumor that was removed in June 2010. (We'll never know for sure, but it's certainly possible that when my surgeon did the first surgery, he didn't go deep enough to get the whole thing.) Now, I had scans after my first surgery that were clean, but there could have been microscopic matter there that didn't show on those scans. When I asked how a microscopic tumor could have withstood a full 6 weeks of radiation therapy, he kind of screwed up his face and explained that (drumroll please) this type of tumor doesn't respond well to general radiation therapy. (Awesome. These damn tumors don't respond to chemo OR radiation. ... I learn this over a year after I went through the special kind of hell that is radiation to the abdomen, when I am still living with the ramifications of what said surgery did to my colon. There are not words for how frustrating it is to learn things like this. I tell you, there are not words.)
We talked for a few more minutes, I can't remember the specific details right now. He excused himself for a moment. There had been some banter as to whether there was any other reason that Dr. H had sent him in to talk to me first. Dr. G said he didn't know what I was talking about (but we all remember that he knew darn good and well that I proposed to H the last time I was there). After he left the room, the nurse asked for the backstory on what happened the last time I'd been there. I gave her a quick run down of how my first appointment had gone down, that H hadn't exactly said "no", but that there'd been talk of cookies in his decision-making process. She laughed her fool head off. When Dr. G came back in, he let us know that Dr. H would be with us in a few minutes and he and his nurse headed off to surgery.
About five minutes later, a new nurse came in. She said that she wanted to introduce herself to me, since I hadn't met her the last time I was there. We chatted for a few minutes and she asked if I had plans for Dr. H. I wasn't sure what she meant, and told her so. ... She admitted that the first nurse had come out of the room laughing and told her that she needed to come in and ask me for the story about Dr. H. I related the story of my first visit and held up my tupperware full of sugar cookies to show her that I'd brought him a little prize. She laughed. She clapped. She proclaimed us "perfect for each other".
I love her.
As she was leaving, Dr. H came in and took a seat. He asked how I'm feeling. I was honest, in that I'm feeling pretty good these days, much better than I was a month ago. I told him that I've been sleeping better (this is true). I'd been planning on asking for sleeping pills the next time I saw him, up until about two weeks ago when I started sleeping through the night without any drugs or anything. (Yay going on walks! Also, yay for getting just a little bit more of a grip on what's going on. The first 4-6 weeks were absolute hell on my diet and sleep patterns. The emotional roller coaster of chemo/not chemo, surgery/not surgery has been crazy, but I seem to have leveled out a bit.) He asked if I'd be interested in meeting with the staff psychologist. I said "Sure!". I think my enthusiasm took him by surprise. (My guess is not everyone welcomes getting shrinked the way that I do. As much as I do love drugs - and I do love them, we all know how I feel about the Ativan - I also love talking to someone who can help me figure myself out and use words to come to terms with things.)
We talked about the plan of not having surgery for a while. I asked him why he'd told G that he had to go first. He just laughed and said that he didn't think I'd like that plan and didn't want to be the one to have to break it to me. I told him that I was right, I didn't really like the plan. But you know what? I don't really like having a tumor. Period. There is no plan that I do like. Surgery done too soon, with a possible miss of a tumor? This does not sound good. (Surgery at all doesn't sound fun - I've done it before and it's horrible - but surgery for no good reason? Uhhhh.... No.) Chemo that will for sure make me sick and only maybe kill a tumor? This also does not sound good. Again, there is no plan that I like, but this is a plan that I can live with.
We chatted for a few minutes. He asked how I'm doing, over here on Dobson. (Last time I was there, he asked what part of town I lived in. When I gave him my cross roads, he told me that he goes to the gym over here, and then he kind of winced and said "that doesn't seem like a very nice part of town". ... Gotta love the foreigners. They don't mince words. ... I confirmed that it isn't actually a very nice part of town, but that as long as I don't go on walks after dark, I'm okay. I had told him that his gym was probably safe, but I'd recommend staying away from the WalMart over there after 10:00 PM, because for some reason, that seems to be the magical hour when it goes from a low-cost grocery super center to a hang-out for creepers extraordinaire.) ... Anyway, I'd warned him about the WalMart the last time I'd seen him, and he told me that he thought about me during the last month, when he was going to the gym, esp at night - and that he'd stayed away from the WalMart.
*He thinks about me.* Color me giddy.
We joked a little about WalMart and Mormons and our attraction to all things cheap. He was shocked "I didn't know Mormons are cheap!". Oh, yes. Yes, we are. Out of the mouths of two more witnesses, Jo and I told him that we are a people who are known for looking for a bargain. (I explained that it comes of usually having large families.) ... And speaking of families and marriage and such things.... I asked him if he remembered our deal from my first visit. He raised an eyebrow and asked "What deal?" I reminded him, "I asked you to marry me and you laughed in my face..." Which, of course, caused him to start laughing all over again. "That's still not a 'no'", I said, "and besides, I brought you a prize". He got all excited, both eyebrows shot up, as he said "You did?! Where is it?!" I leaned over and picked up the tupperware wrapped in a plastic bag that had been sitting to the side of my chair and handed it over to him. "As promised, cookies to help you make a decision." He took the container out of the bag and laughed out loud. "Are they all hearts?", he asked. "Yup", I proudly answered. "You're sure? You didn't put any dogs or cats in there in the middle?" Then I laughed out loud and Jo said "You'd better know she would have, if she'd thought of it!". ... He thanked me for his prize, smiling like a cheshire cat. It turns out this is the first prize/baked good that anyone's brought him since he started working in Arizona. (I'm shocked. I really thought some of his other Mormon patients - he told me he has a lot of them - would have brought him something. We are, after all, a baking people. ... Maybe they're all married and aren't trying to con him into paying for their lives. That's the only explanation I can think of.) He asked if all the ingredients had come from WalMart. I winked and said "Most of them, but some of it's from Costco - where the food's even cheaper!"
We had a good laugh. He thanked me profusely. ... He didn't say yes, but then, he didn't try a cookie in my presence either. (I'm telling you, they're good. I'm pretty sure he'll feel compelled to marry me once he's tasted the cookies. And no, I didn't put any love potion in them. Just butter.) As he was leaving the room, he confirmed that he'll set up the appointment with the psychologist in two weeks. I won't see Dr. G until most likely June, when my next round of scans are scheduled, but he told me to call and set something up with him if anything came up in the meantime. (It was all I could do not to tell him that the phone works both ways, you know. ... It's tricky, this flirting with your doctor business. I mean, I so am not kidding about my offer to let him marry me and pay for my life - but I don't want to scare him off, or worse, do something that would make him file a restraining order.)
After he left the room, the nurse came back in, winked and me and told me, again, that we'd be perfect together. She'd seen him come out holding a box full of cookies and said he looked so happy. (I was just bummed that I hadn't thought of putting any dogs or cats in there. You know I have those cookie cutters and it's killing me that he beat me to a punchline.)
I love having the support of the nursing staff in my quest to make my oncologist love me.
Also, I love that my tumor hasn't grown. (There was a .2 centimeter difference between the scan done Jan 3 and the scan on Mar 8. That's about the equivalent of the ridge on the outside of a dime. So, it's nothing.) I'm stunned that it's stayed the same size. I mean, stunned. And super, duper grateful. The longer I can keep this puppy in me, the better I can heal from my last surgeries. Also, the closer I get to my 1 year work anniversary, the better. I started a new job in September and will qualify for a medical leave after one year of employment. If I can hold off on surgery until the fall, I'll be in SUCH a better situation - and I'm starting to think that could really happen. I am, as always, amazed that, even in a crappy situation, things work out to be not so bad. (Oh, and Dr. H's pants were a little too tight. That's adorable, and gives me hope that he will actually love me for my cookies. Since I know he's a gym-goer, I'd had some concerns, but too-tight pants bring me hope.)
I had the best dream last night.
I was visiting Phoenix, and going to see you at the hospital. I was at the store with my 4 kids trying to buy you chocolate when I ran into Nathan Fillion. "You have to come see my friend in the hospital," I told him, "She's your biggest fan."
So he DID. And he read to you the new Nikki Heat book.
Now isn't that a great dream?
So this summer, if you are in the hospital, I am going to take my 4 kids to the store to buy you chocolate just so I can run into Nathan Fillion and bring him to you. Why? Because I am the best friend ever, and maybe my dreams are prophetic. Once. Just this once.
Hope you have a great day, and dream a little Nathan for me tonight!
Knowing that Nathan and I are infiltrating other people's dreams makes me happy. As in, maybe it's a sign. (At the very least, it's an amusing thing to me.) And very much the bright spot in my otherwise difficult and draining day. :-)
It's not my best pic ever. I'm now regretting not having flashed a "thumbs up" with my left hand. Oh, well. There will be other opportunities to take lame hospital pics, I am sure.
Shortly after this picture was taken, I went from smiling and laughing to ... not smiling or laughing. I have bad veins, people, and it's hard to get an IV in me. Add the fact that my nurse was an over-sharer and kept talking about how it wouldn't "thread" to the natural trauma that is getting stuck with a needle/hose in the arm and you'll understand why I promptly burst into tears and well... didn't really stop until about 2:00 that afternoon. (I only wish I were kidding.)
I tell you, it was a dramatic day.
After a good five minutes or so of fighting with the IV, it finally "threaded" - whatever that means (gag) - and I was prepped for my CT.
To explain why they do both CT's and MRI's on me: The CT is to check my chest, specifically my lungs. They want to make sure the "spots" that were found in January are staying the same and that nothing new is showing up. The MRI's are on my abdomen and pelvis (that's right, twice the pleasure and time of being stuck in the MRI tube) to chart any tissue changes and/or tumor growth. Because my tumors originate in my retroperitoneal tissue - lower back - any growth could go up (into my abdomen) or down (into my pelvic area).
Anyhoo... just before I went in for my CT, the nurse advised that I take my second Ativan (yeah, I need two milligrams to get through the CT and MRI chambers without coming completely unhinged), because it looked like they'd be able to do my MRI immediately after the CT.
Off I went to the CT. Hooray for radioactive dye being injected into an IV that makes you feel alternatively and simultaneously like you're about to puke and that you peed your pants. (And as much as I don't actually love those sensations... I do SO prefer a CT to an MRI.)
I came back from the CT and they put me back into my recliner to wait for the MRI. I was told that they were just finishing up with the patient currently scheduled, but were pretty sure they could get me in there in the next 5-10 minutes. I was rebundled with warm hospital blankets. (By now, I was up to seven blankets. Seriously, seven.) I had gone into the CT with the two I'd originally been given when they IV'd me, but I was FREEZING on their table, so they gave me three more. I carted all five back to my recliner, where they literally swaddled me with two more that they packed behind my back and then brought over my head and around my sides. I tell you, I was virtually a mummy. All that could be seen of me was my little face, poking out. (Too bad Jo had left the area and couldn't snap a shot of that sweet setup, eh?)
I fell asleep in my mummified state and was shocked to wake up over an hour later, still in the chair. Why hadn't they come to get me to go do the MRI? I was in a panic. ... As soon as the nurse saw that I was awake, she came over and explained that there had been someone else scheduled before me for the MRI. (What? Because before I fell asleep, I'd been told it would be 5-10 minutes.) She explained that he had been scheduled ahead of me, but had been late, so they were going to give me his slot. He got there right as the other patient was coming out, so they prepped him and put him in ahead of me. She apologized and said she knew it didn't seem right, since I'd been there ahead of him and he was late, but that he was technically scheduled ahead of me.
Okay, fine. I get it. We all need the MRI tube. We all have cancer, even, so I can't play that card. But still... I was annoyed. Only because I'd been told to take my Ativan almost two hours prior, and it was starting to wear off. She said he was about halfway through, which gave me another 30 minutes or so to just sit.
Yup... the Ativan was most definitely wearing off, which was not a good sign, because I'd already had the maximum dose in a 6 hour period and I was waaaayyyyyy past the comatose state I need to be in in order to get through an MRI without a meltdown.
Half an hour after I was originally scheduled to go in (2+ hours after I'd been told I was next and expected to be going in), I was taken back to MR. I was visibly shaken. The techs asked if I was okay. Tearfully, I answered that I was not okay. They asked if I needed to take medication. I explained that I couldn't have medication, because I'd taken it hours ago, when I was told that I was headed into have the MRI. They apologized for the delay, and again explained that the gentleman had been late, but his appointment was scheduled for the slot ahead of mine, so when he got there, they had to take him. I explained, choking on tears, that I understood that we all need the same test run, and I understand the protocol and why he went before me... the problem was that I have about an hour and a half window after I take a double dose of Ativan where I'm relaxed enough to get through an MRI without having a grand mal freakout, and that window had passed about an hour before. I told them that I wasn't mad at anyone, I was just frustrated that the timing had been off for when I medicated versus when I was taken back for the test. As I cried, they walked me back into the room with the machinery and proceeded to prep me for the MRI's. I cried as they packed my arms and my legs with blankets to keep them warm. I cried as they put the pads on top of my abdomen and strapped them down. I cried as they talked to me about how important it is to breath slowly and evenly so they can get an accurate picture of what's going on inside of me.
It was awful. Just awful to be strapped to a board, going into a tube, knowing full well that I needed to relax enough to be able to breathe on command, but also knowing that I was fighting a losing battle against claustrophobia.
Bless those sweet techs' hearts, because they'd come and rub my right arm where it was hanging out of the tube, to calm me down. They talked to me through the entire MRI, not just telling me when to breath in and how long to hold it, but also telling me that I was doing a good job. They'd periodically tell me how many minutes I had been in and how much longer I had. I mean, really, bless their sweet hearts for being aware that I was struggling in a major way not to completely lose it in there, and for helping me get through it as best I could.
By the end of the MRI, my hair was soaked at my temples, because all I could do was lie there and cry for an hour, while I tried to breath on command. My arms were above my head, outside the tube, so I hadn't been able to wipe away any tears. Everything had gone straight into my hair and down my neck. ... I tell you what, I was pretty pathetic looking. (Think of a wet cat. Wide eyed and bunchy hair stuck together.)
Lesson learned: I will never (never ever, ever, ever) NOT be the first MRI on the docket. While I totally understand that we all need to have tests run and there's protocol and a reason they schedule appointments, and I really do appreciate that they try to stick to the appointments as they're scheduled, I absolutely cannot let myself get put in that position again. I will control what I can control, and what I can control is never having to do an MRI again after the meds have worn off.
After the MRI's were over (an hour after I'd been told I'd be done - grrrr), I got dressed and Jo took me to Burger King so we could break our stupid fast with a Whopper and a Coke, and then she drove me to work. (Yeah, "our" stupid fast. The girl didn't eat or drink anything that morning either, in solidarity. Bless her. I don't get it, because I don't give up food or drink for anyone, but bless her.)
Because I have limited PTO, going home and being done for the day wasn't an option for me. (I mean, really, people. As hard as that morning had been, it was only marginally worse than almost every other MRI day I've had, and I'm just gonna feel worse and have crappier days as this progresses. I will work as hard as I can for as long as I can. I have to believe there's going to be some kind of karmic payback for that.)
I got to work just after 1:00 and worked until 9:00 tonight. The good news is that my day got substantially better once I was at work and had something to focus on other than my soggy hair and stuffy nose.
Tomorrow, I'll go in to work at 6:00 so I can leave between 12:30 and 1:00. My appointments tomorrow afternoon are at 2:00 (with the surgeon) and 3:30 (with the oncologist). I'm not sure, right now, which is more exhausting: the crying fit I had in the MRI tube this morning, or wondering if and how far the other shoe will drop tomorrow when I get the test results.
Enter my immediate decision to bake the man a batch of sugar cookies. Heart shaped sugar cookies, because I think heart shaped cookies are almost guaranteed to make a doctor fall in love with a patient. (At the very least, they're adorable and delicious and will be a very good joke on Friday.)
Would you look at those? Adorable, right? I'm pretty sure he'll love me by the end of my appointment on Friday.
I went almost two weeks without one single high-speed come apart, and had a five day stretch in which I didn't feel like I couldn't breathe even once.
And then the dam broke this afternoon. In a major way.
I don't know if it's that it was a killer of a Monday, if it's the knowledge that my work week is going to be wonky because I will be working weird hours Wed-Fri to comp out my time for my doctor appointments on Thursday and Friday. It could be nerves because I a) hate to have MRI's and know that I'm scheduled for not one, but two, back-to-back on Thursday and b) I'll get results from said MRI's on Friday and I don't know what I'll hear. It could be that I've been feeling guilt for not doing enough, church-wise, in my calling. It could be latent frustration with the awkward date I had on Saturday. It could be anticipation of knowing that this week will be a really busy one, and I have no idea where the energy to do all the stuff I need to do is going to come from. ... It's probably a mixture of all of the above.
All I know is, the dam has broken and I'm a crying mess again. Thank heaven for Ativan and sleep.
Goodnight. (Literally, goodnight. At 9:00 PM, I'm getting in bed. I've had enough of this day.)
Victory is mine! (I love being the one standing in front of a room full of people, holding the chalk. ... I may or may not have missed my calling as a 2nd grade teacher.)
In Relief Society today, we talked about peace (see yesterday's post about the lesson planned entirely around a song that I love). I talked a little bit about why that hymn is of importance to me, why it is personal to me. I expressed my feelings that we all need peace in our lives, for various reasons. I threw out a few examples of situations we may find ourselves in when we search and long for the peace that only the spirit can bring: illness, death, unemployment or underemployment, loss of a child, infertility, divorce, children making choices not in keeping with gospel standards, the end of a relationship, general life stressors. The list goes on and on. We all have something, and the trick is to master whatever it is that we have, to learn how to live with what's happening in our life or in the lives of the people closest to us. ... Because we all have our own trials and struggles, I didn't want to go into that. (Please. Who needs to have a bragging contest about whose struggle is the hardest? Not me. That stuff is personal. And usually depressing.) What I did want to do was play a word game and make a list.
(I heart words. I also heart lists, probably because they're made up of words.)
So, I wrote the word PEACE at the top and center of the chalkboard and asked the sisters to give me words that they associate with peace. I am not kidding when I tell you that, for over 10 minutes, I wrote on that board while I had women suggesting words and telling personal stories of how "peace" had been able to carry them through overwhelming life experiences. It was an awesome experience to be the chalk-holding conduit for these women, who had such widely varied experiences, yet all shared a testimony of how important it is to feel the love of the Savior.
Some of the peace-associated words that made it to the board (the board was covered, I tell you, COVERED, from left to right and top to bottom) in our word association game:
I'm so grateful for the atonement. I'm so grateful for the ability to feel peace in my life, and for all the different ways that peace can be communicated or given to us. Sometimes peace means happiness, or joy. Sometimes it's a quiet strength and a reassurance that I can do hard things. Sometimes it's an overwhelming feeling of love and gratitude for the people and blessings in my life. ... Sometimes it is a numbness that gives me a break from the emotional turmoil that is learning how to live in a body that I know darn good and well is hosting a malignant growth.
I love words. I love peace. I love the Lord and am grateful for the way in which He speaks to me. I am grateful for the knowledge that he speaks to all of us differently, for all of the different things that peace and love and acceptance can mean to me and to everyone else out there. Truly, God is good. I love Him!
I feel like it's been forever since I've written anything. (It sort of has been. I mean, you know... in the world where 4 days = forever.)
The last few days have been blessedly quiet on the emotional front. To tell the truth, I've been numb all over. It's been sort of frustrating, because I've been feeling basically nothing - but then, it's been really nice, because I've been feeling basically nothing. After several weeks of highs and lows and a seemingly endless game of emotional whiplash, it's been nice to just kind of zone out.
As I was walking this morning, however, I was having a frustrated moment with the numbness.
I'm teaching a lesson in church tomorrow and have been at a complete and utter loss as to what to teach about. (Do you love how well I plan in advance? Yeah, me too.) I've always been sort of a last minute lesson planner and/or talk put-together-er, but in the past, I've had the ability to mull a few topics over and use the spirit to help me decide what I need to address. This time, the numbness was feeling a little bit like it was holding me back from "feeling it", if you know what I mean. I've been tossing around possible topics for almost two months now (I found out, back in January, that I'd be teaching the first Sunday in March), and I've been praying every day (sometimes multiple times a day) all week, trying to land on a topic. No dice.
I was walking down Rio Salado this morning, reveling in the sound of cars rushing by (is it sick that I love the sound of traffic? it's oddly soothing to me, much like ocean waves), wondering what in the world I should talk about, and getting really frustrated that I wasn't getting any answers. I asked the Lord (in my head, because I am not one of those people who have verbal conversations with Him - really, ever - but especially when I'm walking on a public street in the early AM) what I should teach/talk about. I explained that I have been grateful for the numbness (it's been really nice not to have a complete fall apart for over a week), but expressed frustration that I wasn't feeling any direction. I explained that I want to be able to present a good lesson tomorrow, but that I just don't know what I should do or where I should go with it.
Cue the song: Where Can I Turn For Peace?
Where can I turn for peace? Where is my solace when other sources cease to make me whole? When with a wounded heart, anger or malice, I draw myself apart, searching my soul?
Where, when my aching grows, where, when I languish, where, in my need to know, where can I run? Where is the quiet hand to calm my anguish? Who, who can understand? He, only one.
He answers privately, reaches my reaching. In my Gethsemane, Savior and friend. Gentle, the peace he finds for my beseeching. Constant he is and kind, love without end.
And then it hit me. I mean, like a ton of bricks, it hit me. My numbness was a version of peace. It's not the warm and fuzzy happy feeling that I usually associate with being at peace, but the numbness has been, quite literally, "a quiet hand to calm my anguish". And my mind started to work, thinking about peace. I thought about peace as a great healer, as a protector, as a warm and calm feeling. I thought about peace as confidence in knowing you've made the right decision, and the strength that comes of having faith to keep on going, even (or especially) when you don't know where you're headed. I thought about all of the reasons we need to feel peace, and all of the different ways in which we can feel that influence in our lives. ... He had reached my reaching.
Ladies and gentleman (I like to think I have at least one male reader), I had a lesson plan.
(The funny thing is, I'd been thinking about this hymn all week. For days, when I would wonder what I should teach a lesson on, this song would pop into my head and I would think "gosh, I love that song", and then I'd dismiss it as just a lovely, comforting hymn. I hadn't realized that the song being on constant replay in my head may very well be the answer to the prayers I'd been offering up, asking what to teach about. ... Yes, this is how awesome (read: not awesome) I am at receiving and following guidance from the Lord.)
I'm still not sure exactly how this lesson is going to come together. I talked to Cousin Julie for a good hour or so this afternoon (she's always one of my go-to gals when I need to talk through a topic and kind of land on a plan of attack), and I have a loose outline of what I want to say. Right now, I'm just so grateful for the realization (again) that numbness can be a protection, a blessing from the Lord, to help me get through the things that I have to do without having a constant emotional meltdown. I'm even more grateful for the opportunity I had this morning to feel Him reach right through the numbness and give me an answer that I had been searching for. Even when I am a bit of an emotional zombie, I am so blessed. I don't understand how He does it, but I'm grateful for the stability that comes of knowing that I am a daughter of God, that He knows who I am and what I need. ... I love that even when I can't feel Him right there, I know that He is.