Month: February 2013

The Architect

Boston

(Originally posted on my CaringBridge page on 2/27/13)

The space within becomes the reality of the building.

~ Frank Lloyd Wright

Though perhaps not as magnificent as other larger cityscapes, Boston’s skyline at night is magnetic.  Whether approached from the north or the south, I always find myself drawn to it.  I remember when Logan was really little, he was in awe by this vertical city stretched out before him, and he began a series of questions:   “How does somebody make those buildings so tall?” . . . “How do they not fall down?” . . . “How long does it take to build one?” . . .   Always earnest in his questions, Logan refuses to settle for the vague-vanilla parental answers we often provide.  So each time I tried to give him a somewhat “knowledgeable” answer about tall buildings, architecture and construction, the reality of my lack of knowledge became evident to us both.  Finally I waved my white flag of defeat and explained to him that I didn’t know a lot about these towers in the sky, and maybe it was a good subject for us to learn more about.

We discovered that to build a skyscraper, careful planning is required.   It can take years to build.  A foundation must be dug a few stories deep below the earth, after which cranes are used to raise a steel frame up into the sky to form the superstructure with steel and concrete beams.  Both the foundation and the superstructure are needed to support the weight of the building—so the complete structure of the skyscraper must be finished before the most important insidecan be started.  It’s amazing to think that modern skyscrapers are also designed to hold off strong winds—safely able to swing a bit in each direction without damaging the structure.

Today marked exactly two months since diagnosis.  As far and wide as the road seems to loom dauntingly ahead on this highway to healing, it’s both encouraging and mind-boggling to think that in a mere 62 days since I heard the words Invasive Ductal Carcinoma—the day my world spun off its axis, I’m already on day 49 of chemotherapy, eight weeks into treatment.  It still seems blurry to me . . . an unreal reality wrapped up nicely with a big ‘surreal’ bow.

Yesterday, sitting in a small, narrow exam room watching a DVD on breast reconstruction, my mind wandered instead to architectural design.  This was my first plastics consult, and as I sat there in my Johnny after the video ended, waiting for the plastic surgeon to come in—I suddenly felt completely claustrophobic in the space.  I started sweating and had to really talk myself out of the intense urge to bolt from the room, Johnny gown and all.  I’ll admit I’ve definitely had a few Valium moments since diagnosis, but the sick feeling of sheer panic that confronted me in that room came out of nowhere—an anxiety I haven’t felt before.  I closed my eyes and finally managed to pull it together before the surgeon came in to meet me.

The lengthy appointment was filled with the challenges, possibilities, impossibilities, risks and “rewards” associated with the future rebuild of the imminent teardown that will follow chemotherapy.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.  By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.  ~ Hebrews 11:8-10

Though I’m overwhelmed by the path laid out before me, I know in my heart of hearts that I need to surrender to God, so that He, the trusted architect of my life might use this “structural” teardown moment to help refill and build up the space within my tower—the most important part, the reality of the building.  Though the structural process takes time and effort, the final inside portion of the architectural plan is the integral part of the finished product.

Please pray that as I sway in the wind, I will remain confident and secure in the plans and purposes my architect and builder has carefully crafted for my life.

Waiting for the Orchid to Bloom

White Orchid

(originally posted on my CaringBridge site on 2/22/13 )

Sing like no one’s listening, love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like nobody’s watching, and live like its heaven on earth.

– Mark Twain

Orchids.  There’s nothing quite like the rich elegance each orchid blossom exudes.  Early on in my relationship with John (that beautiful, “pre”-honeymoon phase), he would always have exotic flowers delivered to me at my office in Boston.  It was during that time, that I developed a deep adoration for the exotic—particularly rare, stunning orchids.

Carrying a plethora of meanings and symbolic references around the world, orchids are universally regarded as a symbol of love, wisdom, beauty, and innocence in most cultures.  While their blooms are distinct and stunningly beautiful—sadly, unless conditions are exactly right, their limited life span may be cut shorter.  If you keep them in direct sunlight, for instance, their blossoms may scorch.  Though I always knew that many flowers live in symbiosis with fungi . . . what amazes me most about orchids in particular, is that they are ultra-unique—because without their strong relationship with fungi, their seeds are unable to germinate.  So basically, this cooperative relationship is what ultimately gives us the beautiful, delicate, deliciously-aromatic “fever” for the orchid blooms.

Fungus.  What do you think of?  All I can think of is:  nasty.  Athlete’s foot, mold and yeast . . . to name a few.  Though not a fungus, I’ll even throw cancer into my nasty image of fungal disease.  How can something as beautiful as an orchid thrive on a relationship with a loathsome, utterly nasty organism?

Yesterday marked week 7 of chemo.  Almost half way there!  Though it was my long day in town, I had an extra special treat of having my boys with me.  Additionally, it was John’s birthday!  I called it the Dana-Farber “birthday-field trip” day.  They were actually looking forward to the outing.  Nothing like a school vacation week filled with pajama days, cousin sleepovers, rollerblading, Cape Cod . . .  and Dana-Farber.  Yay.

It was actually a wonderful day.  I needed the boys to see where I spend my Thursdays—what happens to me while I’m there, while ultimately showing them that this place where I receive medicine that makes me feel yucky some days— is really not a depressingly bad place, but rather a place filled with hope, love and healing.   The staff were amazingly creative and generous in giving them a field trip-esque adventure.  Beginning with the lab, several nurses gathered, having the boys pick out colorful wraps for my IV site, explaining how the needle goes in, leaving a little tube behind that the medicine goes through.  Next, they allowed them to put my blood in the Pneumatic tube and walked them through the process of the tube getting across the street to be tested.  It was genius.

When it came time for my EKG and oncologist visit, I had them sit with John in the waiting room.  There were many questions I needed to ask, some of which might be a bit overwhelming and potentially scary.  I was happy to hear my EKG was normal.  The oncology team noted that the lymph node on the base of my skull had reduced in size, along with the main breast tumor and axillary nodes.  All good stuff!  Still, though, I carried with me the many looming questions I had regarding staging, etc. etc. etc.  Y’know, all those questions that enter my mind at 3 AM and keep me up, as I desperately try hard not to research online.  In my heart of hearts, I hoped that perhaps through the great shrinking progress that was being made, maybe my ultimate cancer staging would change.  Unfortunately, that’s not how this adventure works.  Your stage is your stage form inception.  Therefore, based on my diagnosis, I am officially a Stage III breast cancer—all based on tumor size, node involvement and metastases—currently looking like no distant metastases to bone or organs.  As for the occipital node issue, sadly, there are no real answers to possible connection with infiltration of the lymphatic system.  We just have to “hurry up and — wait.”

I know God has plans for my life, regardless of the outcome of this cancer encounter.  Without a shadow of a doubt, I know that He is not only busy working out my details, but also busy working out the details of the lives of my precious family and friends.  He’s most definitely in the business of using every opportunity for His glory.

I love how orchids share multiple flowers on a single stem.  My desperate prayer is that through my “fungal” encounter with this thing called breast cancer, I will not only bloom in the cooperative relationship with the fungus of this trial, but through it, each of you will bloom. I want every life I touch to have hope and courage to get through any and all of the trials and tribulations that come your way—those fungi moments that would love to bring us down—replaced instead with the exquisite, exotic, beautiful blooms of beauty.  Our orchid moments.   We must remember, every test is a testimony waiting to be shared.

Isaiah 48:10 tells us perfectly:  “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.”

Life in a Snow Globe

snow globe

(originally posted on my CaringBridge page on 2/ 17/13)

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Snow globes.  Children always seem to have an innate attraction to them.   Once upon a time, I distinctly remember that giddy feeling, especially during the Christmas season when stores would display beautiful collections of these magnificent little transparent worlds frozen in time.  Instinctively, I’d rush to stir up the beautiful, idyllic scenes in each one, watching the snow gently fall over each perfect little landscape.

As I found myself pondering magical snow globes this past week, I’m not sure why, but I recalled a moment in a disturbing, but brilliantly written novel by Alice Sebold I read several years ago—The Lovely Bones.   I distinctly remembered a part in the book referring to a snow globe.  I found the book on one of my shelves and looked up the part that came to memory:

“Inside the snow globe on my father’s desk, there was a penguin wearing a red-and-white-striped scarf. When I was little my father would pull me into his lap and reach for the snow globe. He would turn it over, letting all the snow collect on the top, then quickly invert it. The two of us watched the snow fall gently around the penguin. The penguin was alone in there, I thought, and I worried for him. When I told my father this, he said, “Don’t worry, Susie; he has a nice life. He’s trapped in a perfect world.”

Trapped, isolated in a world being stirred up beyond one’s control is most definitely a lonely place.  The penguin, in many ways similar to how I see myself some days . . . stood lonely, frozen in time, with no control over anything going on around him.

On Tuesday night, while I was running my hands through my long, lavish locks (just kidding, they don’t exist)—I felt a very real, immovable lump at the base of my skull, an occipital lymph node, as it were.  John felt it and insisted I call the doctor in the morning.  Without having an active infection that could cause it, and also already having positive axillary lymph nodes, it was unsettling to say the least.  On Wednesday I called, and the oncology team asked to see me on Thursday prior to chemo, to check it out.

Thursday arrived—Valentine’s Day, and my four princes blessed me with love.   First and foremost, John and I were both overwhelmed by our three little men who wrote us a beautifully-written letter expressing their appreciation and love for us  . . . we were both moved to tears.  They had also put their own money together to buy us a Valentine’s Day gift.  It was beyond heartwarming.   I was later greeted to 2 dozen long-stemmed roses to beautifully color my office . . . from all my boys.

The pre-chemo Valentine’s Day blessings continued, as my best Valentine’s Day gift arrived, meeting me at work to be my Dana-Farber date . . . Jean McAdams-Jenkins.  Those of you who know Jean, know that she is that gift that keeps on giving.  As she says, once you’re in her life, you are there to stay.  So true.   Thank God.   Though I would have withdrawals, you could actually go months without seeing Jean, but just as if time stood still . . . as soon as you reunite, it would seem not a day had lapsed.   She is low maintenance with style.  Always there no matter what.  There’s not a day that goes by that Jean isn’t praying for hundreds of people . . . seriously.  The list, though miles long, is never forgotten in her memory.   I have absolute confidence that if there were no one else on the face of the planet praying for me, Jean would be.   Additionally, her life is a living, breathing testimony of God’s miracles—she is a 15-year pancreatic cancer survivor.  That is just one of the many ways her life has been an example of God’s merciful love and grace.

Needless to say, I was blessed beyond measure to have Jean with me on Valentine’s Day.  You always know you’re in for lots of laughing intertwined with many more moments of wisdom and thoughtful reflection when you’re with her.

I was seen by the oncology team regarding the enlarged lymph node.  Though there is a possibility that the node is in fact cancer-related, there is also a possibility (my hopeful one) that this could be a Nicole-variable.  A lymph node that may just be part of me.   They are thrilled by what they are seeing with regard to chemo-shrinkage in the breast and other nodes . . . and are hopeful, that if this were cancer-related, it too will suffer the consequences of the juice.   Time will tell.  In the meantime, they are keeping it under close weekly watch and have measured it for comparative purposes.

I think of the Dad in The Lovely Bones, assuring Susie of the Penguin’s nice life in the snow globe . . . trapped in his perfect world.  Though I feel Susie’s worry in the face of isolation and loneliness—having no control over the circumstances swirling all around me, the dad’s right.  In the midst of the inverted globe, life’s disasters and worries stirring about, the penguin remains immoveable— in a sense trapped in a perfect world.

There is nothing more meaningful and real than knowing earnestly your life is in the Lord’s hands.  I love the verse in John:  “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you . . .” (John 15:5-7)   It’s not that we make a wish and get what we wish for . . . instead it’s all about the steadfast dependence on Him.  As long as we remain in Him and His words remain in us, our desires will align with His will, and our prayers will reflect that.

It is in my best interest to embrace my scene in this snow globe.  I am safe there.  He will allow the snow to swirl around me, yet I can remain safe in His presence . . .  unharmed, immoveable.  It is a perfect place to be.

I can truly do nothing apart from Him.  Even when shaken, I hope to remain steadfast . . . abiding in the one and only true Vine.

Thank you all for being vessels of encouragement and support.  Please continue to pray.  I feel them.

Loads of love from the globe.

A Tumultuous Privacy of Storm

snowed in

(originally posted on my CaringBridge page on 2/12/13)

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky, arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields, seems nowhere to alight:  the whited air hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven, and veils the farm-house at the garden’s end.  The sled and traveler stopped, the courier’s feet delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit around the radiant fireplace, enclosed in a tumultuous privacy of storm . . .

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson (An excerpt from the Snow-Storm)

There’s something so romantic and nostalgic about being snowed in . . . the privacy and cozy isolation—blissful.  Yet in all the beauty that the endless blanket of heavy snow creates, like many things, it can be deceiving.  While many of us were comfy-cozy, bundled up by a radiant fire, watching the storm blow around outside . . . sadly, there were many people tragically hit by its force—some lost homes, while others even lost lives.

“Nemo,” apparently the name weather folk chose to call this blizzard of 2013, seemed an ironic choice to me.  After all—how does a blizzard of “epic proportions” get named after the Latin word for “nobody”?  How can something so big and powerful be a Nobody?  Nothing?  Null and void of existence?  Goliath, perhaps . . . but Nemo?  I guess, though, just like the very meaning of blizzard—sometimes a blinding series of unexpected, and often times, unpleasant occurrences find us along the way.  Life’s little nothings that come out of nowhere, turning our world upside down.

As you know, my “Nemo” of epic proportions decided to blow in around Christmas, disrupting my little corner of the world.  Just as this past weekend proved, in the midst of an epic storm, time seems to almost stand still.  Blizzards seem to force people into slowing down, allowing no excuse to be in a rush to go anywhere.  In a sense, they bring people together.

Late Friday night, in the darkness, as the winds were gusting and the electricity began flickering off and on, I wondered what would be waiting at the break of dawn.  Soon enough, when Saturday morning emerged, there it was:  a whimsical winter wonderland—decorated with over 2 feet of snow.  It sat heavy on the trees and in some parts of my backyard, appeared Narnia-like.  As I stood gazing at the sweeping “white” all around us, I suddenly gasped and winced as I noticed a massive oak had fallen from the neighbor’s yard through a fence into our backyard.  Ugh.  As time seemed to stand still in the allure of tranquility . . . very real destruction actively existed in the darkness.

What else will materialize from the wake of this epic storm named Nobody?  The aftermath of a blizzard sometimes doesn’t reveal itself until the snow melts—then a trail of surprises are left behind.

Will my personal “Nemo,” my tumultuous privacy of storm, leave a trail of dark surprises, or will it leave a lasting impression, a forever imprint on the hearts of those its impact has touched?  Will I one day be sitting back, recalling my blizzard of epic proportions as a life-changing moment of clarity?  A point in my life where time stood still and through its pause, my eyes were open wider to the real treasure all around me?

When the snow melts, I pray that my heart will urgently align with all that really matters . . . the Love that surrounds me . . . the “forever” treasure I wish to store for purposes beyond this miniscule stop along the path of eternity.

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  ~Matthew 6:20-21

 

What was I Saying?

your brain

(originally posted on my CaringBridge page on 2/7/13)

I’ve a grand memory for forgetting. 

 ~Robert Louis Stevenson

So yes, I’ve heard about it, read about it, and even laughed about it—but never really knew if this phenomenon was a realthing or just a sad excuse to drop the ball on one’s many obligations that never end.  Chemo-brain.  There ya have it.  Thirty days into treatment, week 5 of chemo . . . yup, chemo-brain exists.

Knowing me as many of you do, it’s no mystery that my feisty, type A-ish personality leads to over-multi-tasking and biting off more than I can chew . . . well I still manage to chew it, but my small mouth is really full in the process.  Anyway, that’s who I am.  God’s sense of humor showed when designing me.

Though I thrive on spontaneity in the realm of fun, I also lean on order.  Prioritizing, cleaning, planning, and organizing.  These things calm me.  However, in the process of all my “ordered spontaneity”— I always manage to lose something along the way . . . usually that would be my keys.  Now some of you (no comments from the peanut gallery) know thatadditionally, I’m notorious for going off on tangents.  Y’know, skipping from one story to the next seamlessly (to me) with the bonus goal of:  more thoughts achieved in less time.   It’s also quite fun watching people get dizzy keeping up with my “speed-dialogue.” 

Now considering that all of these lovely “Nicattributes” were PRE-chemo, I basically headed into this thing with a deficit.  Case in point:  Pre-chemo Nicole might head out the door realizing she forgot her phone somewhere.  She then narrows it down to her last two locations and boom, finds it . . . done.  On her way.  Chemo-brain Nicole forgets the phone, forgets where she was last, forgets what she’s even looking for, finally remembers, then after a 15-minute search, realizes it’s IN HER HAND.

THAT is my new normal.

I had to laugh when researching this very real cognitive “brain fog” associated with chemotherapy because many of the tips they offer to work around the short-term memory loss, usually involve reminders like sticky notes, detailed grocery lists and calendar organization.  Yeah. Okay.  First I have to rememberwhere the sticky notes and calendar live.

Fortunately, according to the latest research:  “chemo-brain is almost always temporary.  Patients usually regain their full cognitive abilities within a year or two after chemotherapy treatment ends.”  Wuh?  Seriously?  Apparently this thing called cancer takes and takes and takes some more—even my limited brain cells.  Yay.

So where was I?  Oh yeah, today is my 5th chemo session.  I’m sitting here with my one and only, dear ol’ Dadders, who is very used to my tangents, so by taking a little time to blog as he’s plugging away on his IPad = me SAVING him from the torture that will surely come if I pursue one of my many thought patterns.

Now, if I could find one word to describe my Dad . . . I would no doubt lose it with my keys and phone!  No really, one word would be tough, but the only thing that comes to mind is: Constant.   My Dad is a constant source of encouragement,constant model of clarity and reason, constant 10-fold Prince in thoughtful acts of generosity and kindness, and a constantreminder of the amazing love of a Father . . . Dad would undoubtedly walk through fire for his family.  He’s in a league of his own.

As for me:  I’m up . . . I’m down . . . I’m irritable . . . I’m elated.  But most of all I’m filled with Hope, one day at a time.  It’s real.  Healing is found there, brighter futures are found there . . . sanity is found there.

As for today, at Dana-Farber . . . right this very moment, being infused in my heated massage chair (aren’t you so jealous?) . . . it is here, by golly . . . where the magic JUICE is found.  Bring it!  I’m praying right now for some more shrinking miracles.  Though that doesn’t change what I have to go through or what my prognosis is . . . it does keep my Hope bank satiated—satisfied for today.

Keep praying for this wandering chemo-fog-brained redhead (sorry, I mean super-uncomfortable synthetic head) to stay steady and sure, never wandering too far off the path of Hope and Truth.

Ummm . . . okay, I’m done for now.  I think?

Finding My Way Back to the Farm

stars

(originally posted on 2/6/13)

“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I remember back in Junior High, being fully enamored with a farm I often visited.  The farm, belonging to my friend’s grandparents wasn’t active, but still had all the rural charm and glory of a traditional, working New England farm.   I always loved taking trips there . . . running in the orchards, playing hide and seek in the fields, sitting high up in the hayloft of the barn—looking out over acres and acres of green expanses.  Being there felt perfect.  As we got a bit older, we’d visit the farm less frequently, and when we would visit, it would usually be at night—typically to use the awesome land for . . .  (ahem) social “celebrations” with bigger crowds.  Though there were undoubtedly exciting, crazy adventures during parties on that farm, what I remember most about the ‘nightlife,’ is how magnificent the sky looked, the breathtaking illumination.  Far removed from any urban atmosphere veiling their awesomeness, the stars in the dark night on the farm shone the brightest, appearing almost within arms reach—touchable . . . heavenly in fact.

John and I recently recalled a conference from years ago, and though neither of us can remember the main topic at the conference, what we both do remember—is a speaker’s simple little exemplum of sorts . . . one that may be well-known to some of you.  For us, the imagery was simple, yet powerful.  The story was about a father trying to explain heaven to his son one evening:

Living in “Big Sky” country, this Montana-family enjoyed vast, wide open spaces on their beautiful farm.   The little boy in the story loved to play with his matchbox cars in his little secret place under the house.  He loved this special spot under the floorboards of the house, and there he would quietly build and create little roads and hills, houses and garages for his cars.  Though he could hear everyone walking about inside, they never knew he was just below, playing.

One evening sitting at dinner, the young man turned to his father and asked “What’s heaven like?”  His father thought about it for a moment and said, “Well son, you know underneath the house where you play with your cars?”  The boy had no idea that anyone knew about this secret hideout, so a bit embarrassed, he smiled and nodded his head.

His dad continued, “Well tonight after dinner I want you to go down where you play with your cars underneath the floorboards of the house and this time look up at the underneath side of the floorboards. Then I want you to meet me outside in the pasture.”

Obediently after dinner, the boy crawled underneath the house to his quiet, private play space and looked up.  He was shocked at what he found.  Rusty nails sticking through the floorboards, dozens of cobwebs clinging altogether with large spiders and nests in the corners, dirt and splinters that have been wedged between the cracks in the floorboards and shredded insulation mixed with glue and tar.  He quickly gathered up his cars and crawled back from under the disgusting floorboards vowing never to go under there again.

He then went to his father standing in the middle of the field.  It was a crystal clear night sky and the moon shone brightly while the stars brilliantly twinkled, some even dancing across the sky—perhaps one of the most beautiful night skies he had ever seen.

 Pointing up to the sky, the boy’s father said, “Son, while I don’t know exactly what heaven is like, I know that it’s up there, and that it is more beautiful than we can ever imagine. But do you see how beautiful the night sky is tonight? Think of it this way—this gorgeous, beautiful, brilliant sky is the floorboards of heaven.  What you saw under the house was grimy, dirty, and disgusting, yet compared to heaven that’s what the sky looks like. Heaven is more beautiful, more brilliant and more unimaginably spectacular than we will ever know.“

 As the little boy and his father stood there looking up at the gorgeous floorboards of heaven, the boy had just a little better idea of what heaven is like.

I just love that.  It’s such a simple, profound reminder that this side of heaven will never equate to that perfect destination we all hope to see one day.  Even in the beauty of creation around us, with all those stars in the sky . . . they’re all mere floorboards to what’s waiting on the other side.

Living closer to the city, far away from a serene, rural setting—it’s always harder to see the stars as brightly as my memory on the farm.  The fact is, the view isn’t as easy … no front row seat.  You really have to look to see them shine in all their splendor.

Staying grounded in Faith is a choice, not a feeling.  Sometimes, when the shadows of my “night” close in around me—even becoming pitch black at times, my sky seems void of light.  How can I find my way back to the farm, that awesome farm where the chaos and clamor of this world (those city lights) don’t block the very luminosity of the stars high above?  Stars give off light in the dark whether we realize it or not. It’s their very luminosity that lights the path for those who are stuck in darkness.  It is our job, as believers to look beyond, knowing there’s a path lit . . . even when you desire that easy, “big sky” view.

This road I’m traveling on is a dark one . . . fatigue, fear, pain, insecurity, confusion—just some of the cobwebs under my floorboards.  My prayer though is to follow the brilliant glow of the stars, regardless of how distant they may appear.  When I need those stars to burn brighter—I need to find my way back to the farm in the simple things, those little moments of joy often overlooked:   watching my gorgeous boys laugh and play . . . running with my dog . . . getting a little wink from John across the room . . . laughing with friends . . . singing in the shower . . . shopping with mom . . . extra dry non-fat cappuccinos . . . and just living to love.

If those beautiful stars are but the floorboards of Heaven, what possible dark shadows along this rocky path of life can hinder me from living with joy in each moment.

This old Irish proverb says it best:  “Drop to your knees and give thanks that you can stand.”  Too much time is wasted on dwelling on the rusty nails . . . the cancers of joy and peace.

Thank you all for twinkling bright in my neck of the woods . . . your encouragement, inspiration and love are without doubt helping me get back to the farm.

With love, light and hope . . .

He Remains

Ngong Hill

(originally posted on my CaringBridge page on 2/4/13)

Difficult times have helped me to understand better than before, how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way, and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no importance whatsoever.

~ Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)

After Thursday evening, I’ve been thinking a lot about Isak Dinesen and Out of Africa.  It was prompted by a conversation with my dear friend, the precious “Nana” Lynne who I was privileged to have accompany me to Dana-Farber last week.  Without fail, my time spent with Lynne always begins and ends in laughter, fun and a whole lot of love.   Thursday was no exception.

Lynne is no stranger to Dana-Farber, recently completing her chemo sessions for a rare lymphoma, known as Waldenstrom’s Disease that she has been living with (symptom-free) for over 5 years.  Her unshakable Faith and desire to be where God is at work, is like a breath of fresh air on any given day, but gracing me with her presence during my treatment  . . . was an extra-special treat!

I hadn’t realized until we arrived, as we got out of the car in Boston, how very boring my repertoire of comfort must-haves for a potential 10+ hour day at Dana-Farber were.  My chic, (weak) “Big C” tote—as I refer to it, was no match for the swanky “ride” Lynne rolled out of her backseat.  Any and everything you could need resided in her little slice of heaven on wheels . . . from cross-stitch to techno-savvy equipment and everything in between.  I knew, if I was missing anything, it was IN that bag.

The great part of the day came with my little rainbow in the sky during the oncologist appointment.  The clinical research nurse met with me first, who reminded me that though I’d be examined by the oncologist, there would most likely be no change in tumor size until at least 6 weeks of treatment.  When my doctor came in, we discussed lab results etc., then she, too reminded me that typically we can only expect a softening of the tumors at this point, but not much more in the realm of size reduction.  As she started feeling under my arm, she was taken aback by the change . . . noticeably smaller nodes.   Once she started examining my breast, her eyebrows went up and she looked completely puzzled.  These were her words:  “This is a REMARKABLY different breast than our last visit—practically unheard of after only 3 treatments.”  I cried.  My words to her were . . . “That’s the power of Prayer!”   In the waiting room, I celebrated the news with Lynne and we practically ran to the infusion area for chemo . . . “Bring on the juice” was our little anthem!

Lynne’s Mary Poppins’ bag on wheels didn’t disappoint as she got her game on with some fun.   We were going through some conversation cards while waiting to be called in for chemo, and one of the questions had something to do with naming a movie that you can’t forget, one that left a lasting impression somehow.   Though I love movies and could list many favorites . . . the first movie that came immediately to the forefront was Out of Africa—something I haven’t thought about it in a long time, but it hasn’t left my mind since.  I laugh because I seriously woke up Thursday night with the echoing remnants of my dream . . . “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hill.”  Ahhh, Nicole’s movie moment.

I understand the film was rich in every way, enticing the senses with the amazing African scenery and passionate drama . . . but what made it leave such an impression on my heart?  Knowing that the film was loosely based on the real life of Karen Blixen, better known under the pseudonym, Isak Dinesen, added a definite intensity to the story.  Then there’s her brilliance . . . a gifted writer, who had an amazing, earnest craft in storytelling.

The main impression that resonates with me, however,  is that like many of us, Karen Blixen put a lot of value in her “things” . . . she actually had trouble separating herself from them.  Yet, in the end, she was left with nothing.  Everything was stripped away.  I think of how often I’ve based my own joy, even my identity on things.  For some, being without a smart phone for more than an hour may send them into withdrawals.   Then there’s the vanity.  Will I still find joy when my hair is gone?   My breasts permanently altered?

Today, we shaved my head.  It was time.  I’ve been shedding more than Miles and the anticipation of losing it, coupled with the heightened tenderness of my scalp—every strand of hair feeling heavy, tugging on my head, made it an easy decision.  John was my Barber, with additional assistance from the boys—they were thrilled to participate in the process, each having a go with the razor.  I cringed a bit, when they were smelling my hair as it came out, talking about how much they loved the smell of my hair and how they’d miss that.  It was tough, but my head feels much better, and the “anticipation anxiety” is over.

Isak Dinesen wrote:  “But by the time that I had nothing left, I myself was the lightest thing of all for fate to get rid of.”

Are we weighted down so much by the things of this world, that in the end, we are but the lightest? When all is gone, what remains?

Lynne and I had a funny but very real divine appointment as I was being infused.  We got a knock on the door from the interfaith Chaplain.  This sweet girl was blown away by what we shared with her.  We talked about our joy in the midst of our trials, though difficult.  She seemed fascinated, unable to leave . . . even taking little notes.  By the end of chemo, we pretty much had to send her on her way.  We had to laugh as we marveled, knowing without a shadow of doubt, God called us to respond and share with this girl . . . her intent to reach out to us, in turn allowed us to reach out to her.

I pray wholeheartedly that I may be so unshaken in my Faith that I will stand firm . . . ready and willing to lose everything, with the blessed assurance that the very thing that matters most will never leave nor forsake me, on this side of heaven and beyond.  He remains.  In the end, when all is stripped away, He remains.

 

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