A Thing Called Hope

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Between the pain and the chaos of divorce, hope has been a difficult thing sometimes. I think I have it in hand, but if flies away, leaving me alone. It flutters just out of reach on those hard days.

That is when I remember all of the loss of the past year, all of the endings. So much that it feels like my life will break in two.

Indeed it has, with part of my heart going with my husband. I truly understand now the meaning of “one flesh” and the heartbreak that divorce leaves behind. There will always be that emptiness in my life, one that can’t be filled with activities or fun.

Am I still entirely me? I don’t know.

But I know that I must continue, must keep moving forward with my life. Hope is still here, and it is time for some beginnings. Something good.

As Katie Davis Majors says in Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful,

“Dreams die and seasons end and terrible, unspeakable things happen that don’t make much sense, but God is not done with us yet. He uses the bending and the breaking and the dying to prepare the harvest, to prepare more for us. We reach high to the Son and He comes down and pulls us closer.”

Today I reached high. I was baptized, fully immersed and washed clean. A new beginning after so many, many endings.

I am ready for some good. I still have hope.

 

Mother’s Day and Breast Cancer

Source: Mother’s Day and Breast Cancer

Mother's day cancer

My mother died in 1999 after a recurrence of breast cancer.

With little information at the time–no internet, only the beginnings of patient rights–we didn’t recognize the signs of a recurrence until it was too late. Her behavior began to change over time, showing signs of recklessness and forgetfulness. And then she suddenly had trouble walking, having collapsed at home.

Doctors in the ER informed my father that a scan revealed tumors along her spine. She was released home with pain medication, but little else to do as far as next steps. Her extreme reaction to chemotherapy in 1992 precluded any more chemo treatment for the recurrence, and so we were left with pain management and the awareness that her time with us would be limited.

After a call from my father, I drove home from college. She died the next morning on our couch.

Since then, I have regularly avoided going out on Mother’s Day, and that now includes social media as well. People say that the pain and loss of losing your mother–or any other family member, for that matter–lessens over time, but I believe it is more your learning to live with the loss.

And now this year, I have breast cancer yet again. The same cancer that killed my mother so long ago.

I am finding this day to be more difficult than I expected. My flat chest, many medications, and constant pain only serve to remind me of my mother in the most horrible way, that of a shared illness and possible death. And the celebrations that litter my Facebook stream only enhance that awareness.

My mother was loving but a rather complicated woman in that she had a misdiagnosed mental illness. If she had lived longer, she might have been able to receive the treatment that she needed. I know that she did the best she could considering her struggles, and I will honor her for that.

But I cannot join in on the celebration of this holiday, especially this year. I loved my mother despite everything, and the pain of her loss is still too great even after all these years.

If this is the first Mother’s Day that you face alone, please know that my heart and prayers are with you.

In the Mirror

in-the-mirrorHaving had many surgeries, I am familiar with the feeling of seeing scars for the first time. Whether it was the odd bulge of the port protruding from my chest or the strange caved-in area on my leg where a large tumor was removed, I knew that it could be difficult to assimilate these things into my idea of myself.

But this surgery, this has been something much different.

Although I had looked at plenty of pictures of women who had gone “flat,” I suppose I wasn’t really prepared for how I would look after my surgery. Looking at my newly flat chest, I don’t see me. It’s someone new in the mirror now.

Regarding my surgery, I have been told many things by other women, including:

Well, you weren’t using them [my breasts] anyway, so it doesn’t matter, right?

You should just be glad to be alive!

You’re almost through with all of this, and then you can move on with your life!

At least you won’t have to wear a bra any more!

Just think positively!

Hearing these statements, I didn’t feel consoled.

Going through cancer treatment involves a lot of loss. From the first diagnosis to the last treatment, patients like myself must confront the continuing changes in our bodies and our lives. Even after one loss is accepted, another lies ahead. And for many, this cycle of scan, treatment and more can last a lifetime.

I agree with Nancy’s Point that women are often made to feel guilty about grieving after their mastectomy.

The truth? I miss the old me. I miss having breasts. 

At this point, I don’t know who I am seeing in the mirror. My chest is mainly numb with some areas of shooting pain, neither of which helps to make a connection with the “new” me. There’s nothing I see in the mirror now that resembles myself.

Sparse hair sticking up out of my scalp, thinner after chemo, and a flat chest. That is what I see in the mirror. And there will be even more changes to come in the new year with radiation treatment, hysterectomy, and anti-estrogen therapy.

The rapid nature of diagnoses, scans, treatments, and surgeries provides little time to think about all of this. It often leaves you gasping for air, desperately searching for a break in the busy-ness of cancer. But there are always more doctor’s appointments, and always more shocks that must be quickly accepted, or more likely, pushed back into the darkness where they are often hidden behind a forced bravado.

The scars are beginning to heal, but it will be awhile before I can accept them as part of my new “normal.”

I don’t feel brave, and I’m not a warrior. Right now, I’m just tired.

Continuing On Despite It All

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Photo by wenx on Morguefile.com

This year seems to have been one of loss and struggling through the mess and the aftermath. There have been many things over the past several months, some shocking and others mundane, but all full of letting go, cleaning up, and moving on.

This has been a year of …

  • Major loss of hours at work.
  • Loss of friends.
  • Breakdown of a relationship.
  • Breaking down of cars, appliances, plumbing, etc.
  • Disappearance and (possible) death of a cat we fed and cared for.

Some problems, of course, came with easy–if not inexpensive–fixes. However, others left only questions.

I have prayed, seeking guidance and answers from God. So far, no answers have come.

What do we do when life continues in the muddle of brokenness and unfulfilled desires and questions and worries and pain?

Today I baked cinnamon cookies.

It was a small little goal that was easily finished on a busy day. Cleaning up the stray crumbs after bringing the first batch out of the oven, I thought about the blessings that remained even after everything.

There’s only one question now.

What will I do if my prayers aren’t answered and the miracles don’t come?

Reading Kaitlyn Bouchillon’s upcoming book, Even If Not: Living, Loving, and Learning in the in Between, I am encountering some confirmation of my feelings at this moment:

“He may answer our questions, but even if not we have the Answer above all answers. And the truth is, even when we don’t have all the answers we so long for, we don’t actually need to know the future. We just need to trust the One who authors it into being.”

Yes.

Sometimes it takes a bunch of heartache and pain and worry that just continues and continues and continues to bring you to your knees.

And if the answers don’t come? Or the changes we desire? Or the blessings and miracles and dreams?

Can we still praise God and say that Jesus is enough?

Drinking some afternoon coffee and eating one of my homemade cookies, I can finally smile a little and say, “Yes.” I will trust Him and praise Him, even in the middle of my mess and even if those answers never come.

 

 

 

Where Are Your Batteries?

Krista-RonnieWhen my brother and I were young, we would often spend much of the summer with my grandparents. During those hot, boring days back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, we would make the long trek to the local 7-Eleven to play Pac-Man and eat candy. It was on one of these sweaty trips that my brother, looking for batteries for our small radio, asked the clerk, “Where are your batteries?” One of our friends that had accompanied us certainly laughed about that statement, teasing my brother that it sounded as though he were asking the clerk if she were a robot with batteries in her back.

Silly, I know. For some reason, that day came back to me this morning and brought a smile to my face. The fact that the fun of that day doesn’t quite translate to others definitely proves a certain point that I encountered in an article so long ago—when you lose a sibling, your history is gone. There is no one to share those jokes and hysterical moments from your childhood, no one who can share that smile with you. While the loss of a parent makes you an adult, the death of a sibling robs you of someone who truly understands all of your stories.

My brother died in 1995, quite a long time ago. I still think of all those fun times that we had as kids, trying to beat a world’s record by swinging on a swingset or creating a movie with our Star Wars figures. Now, I hold those memories for both of us.

For those of you who still enjoy the company of your own siblings, please learn from this story. Love them while you can and build lots and lots of good memories with them. Share those laughs and knowing smiles with the understanding that one day, that pleasure may be gone.

Endings and Beginnings

I suppose that today is officially the end of my online teaching job. All grades have been submitted, and the students are eagerly looking ahead to their new classes. There will be no goodbyes, no packing up of desk supplies. Just the simple shutting down of my email account.

Although the work could be overwhelming at times, I will miss that job. It was challenging to find ways to convey concepts and ideas related to writing and literature. Too, there were always the “thank you” emails from students as well as those students who showed such talent and dedication. They definitely made the work worthwhile.

And yet, even with endings, there are beginnings. This blog, for one, and the return to writing. There is some excitement brought by the change and the new endeavors. Also some recognition has already come my way, bringing happiness of its own. One of my Hubs, What to Do When Your Family Member Has a Mental Illness, has been nominated for an award for quality content. You can vote for it at this link. This makes the loss of my job at least a little bit easier.

So yes, jobs come and go, but perhaps we’ll be alright.