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.