Month: March 2013

The View from Below

Santorini

“One sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak.”

― G.K. Chesterton

Pent house suites, mountaintop lodges, castles atop grand cliffs . . . the allure of high places is something we all crave to experience at one point or another.   Top level retreats seem to indeed be sought out destinations of choice—the very essence of luxury.

When traveling to Santorini, Greece—John and I chose the breathtaking town of Oia to call home for the duration of our stay.  The idea of staying in a traditional cave house carved inside volcanic earth was in and of itself—thrilling to the core.  Add the fact that it’s panoramically set 1000 feet above the Aegean Sea—well, let’s say the feeling was nothing short of Utopia on steroids.  The views coupled with the meandering narrow paths along the steep cliffs proved that though Oia is certainly not for the faint of heart, it is most definitely the choice destination for anyone seeking ultimate beauty . . . on high.

Recently, I’ve hit a low point on this pilgrimage called cancer, a point where time seems skewed, warped in fact.  One moment everything appears to be moving in slow motion, then BOOM—time seems to be running full speed ahead.  As if by magical “clockwork,” my emotions follow suit, stuck in vacillation-mode.  One minute, I’m eager to have chemo in the rear view mirror, while a split second later I become crippled with anxiety about moving beyond chemo onto the next phase of treatment—desperate to stop time in its tracks.

Just hours from now, I’ll be infused with my final dose of Taxol, followed by 4 rounds of dose-dense A/C every other week— that lovely chemo cocktail better known as the “Red Devil.”  How pleasant.  Not exactly a happy hour beverage of choice.  It would seem anything with the word devil tied into its nickname . . .  can’t be good.  As appealing as a free Brazilian wax may seem, if it means having someone gown up to stick a syringe of bright red poison into your vein . . . well, I guess I would have to say hair isn’t such a hardship.  All joking aside, as eager as I am to be done with chemo, the thought of what awaits me on the other side is almost too unbearable to embrace just yet.  Don’t get me wrong, I yearn for the fatigue, pain, neuropathy, malaise, and hairless head to be in my rearview mirror, but it’s hard to fathom the idea of surgery . . . that which will permanently change me.  Forever.

I recall the goose bumps I got over those surreal cliffs in Santorini.  Truthfully, those goose bumps never came while looking down at the “tiny” wonders more than thee football field lengths away at the bottom.  Instead, they came when we were at the bottom—looking up.

The view from below always took my breath away.

Right now I stand somewhere at the base of my cliff in this cancer journey, longing for that destination on high.  Why aren’t I looking up?  Only here can I really see the hope and future blessing stretched out before me, the surreal beauty that might even take my breath away . . . if I let it.

Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.  (Romans 8:25)

Love,

Nicole

xoxo

Castaway

dingy

We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.

~Winston Churchill

I’ve missed you all.  I’ve had “behind the keyboard withdrawals.” I find this wonderful forum or as I like to call it:  my c-blog therapy sessions behind the computer, help to keep my spirit soaring as I express my heart.  I won’t get into too many details about my computer drama causing my longer than normal absence, but let’s just say when the hard drive goes unexpectedly on your computer and you lose all your files and pictures because they weren’t properly backed up . . .big girls do, in fact, cry.  Actually, they bawl.

As many of you can guess by now, I’m about as right-brained as one can get.  As such, my scattered mind makes me more of a creative thinker than other, perhaps more organized folk.  I’m wired by feeling and intuition as opposed to sequence and logic when gathering information.  I tend to visualize the whole picture first then work my way backwards to fit the pieces together that create that whole picture.

Over the weekend, the boys wanted to rent a movie—one that in all honesty, I’ve had no interest seeing, despite all the acclaim it has received.   Life of Pi was the chosen feature presentation and all I can say is that my initial “non-interest” turned to—WOW!  I was truly blown away by every aspect of the film.  Sadly, I’ve never read the book, a New York Timesbestseller that the movie is based on.  Perhaps if I had known how incredibly rich in symbolism and full of deep truths this gem was, I would have read the book ages ago and been more than eager to see the movie.  Actually, I’m usually not fond of endorsing movies based on novels, because often the film doesn’t live up to the book.  However, book or no book—the movie was wonderful and moved me to tears.

Pi, the film’s protagonist, is a shipwrecked castaway that spent over 220 days at sea.  This boy, in the face of unimaginable tragedy and inconceivable adversity, brings the viewer into a truly magical journey—weaving a fantastic story in the face of a cruel reality— the story, becoming his life vest of survival.

Do you ever notice that during times of great suffering and tribulation come unexpected, powerful moments that give meaning and purpose to life?  Often these moments become the very necessary tools for survival.  Pi’s storytelling became his means of survival.   In fact, the Bengal Tiger in the life boat with Pi, is the symbolic side of him that though he wishes to escape from, he instead embraces, learning how to live in both opposition and partnership with it.

Though I refuse to be defined by it, breast cancer is unfortunately in my life boat whether I like it or not.  Though I’m also opposed to embracing its hold on my life, the truth is . . . it’s real and I need to be in partnership with its place in my life, so I can positively bring hope and light to others who may be a castaway in the face of darkness.

My appointment on Friday was semi-optimistic and difficult all at once.  The oncologist confirmed that what I’ve been feeling on my skull is real, discovering that in addition to the lymph node at the base of my skull, the bone above that area feels different because there is another lymph node on top of the actual bone.  She honestly felt these areas were “normal” and not to worry about them because the size of the lymph nodes are not at a worrisome size.  Meanwhile, the pathology report I’ve never actually held in my possession finally was printed . . . and honestly, that was more difficult to look at than I had thought.  Though I have hope and trust in the plan laid out before me, the truth is the staging is a bit scary to look at in black and white.

The same earnest hope in the face of a cancer diagnosis still comes with the reality that there’s a bad side of breast cancer—not all “pretty in pink” as the awareness ads dangled in front of us make us believe.   In fact, the reality is that in the U.S. alone, breast cancer death rates among women are higher than those for any other cancer, besides lung cancer.

Reality can indeed sometimes scare us . . .  but it’s okay to acknowledge it and even talk about it, as long as it exists in partnership with God’s promises.  Like Pi, I’m but a castaway on the open sea, ready to use this moment to produce an inspirational story of hope and survival that blesses many.

My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.   

~Psalm 119:50

Riding the Wave

girl-surfer

(transferred from my CaringBridge site created on 3/9/13)

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.”

~ Helen Keller

It seems like “chemo-Thursdays” always falls on a birthday or holiday.  This past Thursday was my birthday and it was wonderful to have some ultra-special people with me:  my mom and my sister in addition to my three little princes.  As per normal, we livened and lightened up the infusion floor . . . birthday presents and all!

Tired of the cold and feeling a touch of Spring fever (even during the lovely chemo-induced fatigue and allover malaise), I’ve been busy thinking about warmer thoughts . . . like surfing.  I love watching surfers being challenged by huge waves.  To the ordinary swimmer, like myself, being in the midst of such a wave would frighten me to the core.  To the seasoned surfer, however, that same wave is precisely what produces their tremendous thrill.  Many of you may remember “soul surfer,” Bethany Hamilton, who in 2003 at only 13 years old, while relaxing on her surfboard waiting to catch a good wave—in a split second, lost her arm from a great white shark attack.  Amazingly, this talented, faith-filled girl got right back in the water, surfing with one arm—less than a month after the attack!

Thrill-seeking has always been the subject of much speculation, from Sigmund Freud’s “innate death drive” philosophy to some modern psychologists’ view that dangerous activities make us feel more alive.  In reality, though, thrill-seeking behavior can mean different things to different people.

Though I still have a bit of a risk-taking drive in me, I’ve grown more conservative over the years—especially as a mom . . . in a way hoping that my boys will not completely follow in some of my crazy footsteps.  John will laugh while attesting to some of my craziness, like on the slopes.  From the moment we started skiing together, even as a beginner, I would hit the slopes—racing to the finish, often times on trails I had no business being on.  For me, it’s all about the thrill and challenge, and ultimately the whole experience in the moment.  I guess most people will both seek and avoid risk at different points in their lives.

Now if my slope were instead replaced with that ultimate wave, a surfer’s dream . . . I’ll be honest, I’d be running for the hills.  Cancer, in many ways . . . has become my wave.  I would love to run far away from it . . . or simply remain in the still waters.  Some people will say of one going through a cancer trial as “brave.”  I laugh when people say that to me because the truth is bravery is about the furthest from the truth in my reality.  A firefighter running into a burning building is what I envision as brave.  I would do anything to run far away from this, not toward it.

Though Bethany describes that tragic morning on her surfboard as her Tsunami moment, infringing on her pro-surfer dreams, she also realized that bad things happen to everyone.  “But for me, knowing that God loves me and that he has a plan for my life—that no shark can take away and no contest result can shake, is like having solid rock underneath me.”  Wow . . . what an amazing young woman.

I desperately seek to apply the same thrill-seeking behavior I’ve often sought in life to meet me on this latest adventure—the very wave I would love to avoid and fight against.  The truth is, tribulation, suffering, and persecution—are the very things that produce abundant joy in us.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  James 1:2–4

God tells us that trials produce perseverance . . . perseverance produces character; and character brings hope, which never disappoints.

I’m on the board, ready to put my sights on the wave before me.

Thank you my friends for your constant prayers.  My regular chemo-Thursday will be changed to Friday this coming week as I meet with my oncologist to further examine the lymph node at the base of my skull.  Please continue to pray that this is nothing.

I in turn will:  Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and be constant in prayer. (Romans 12:12)

Mastering the Keys with Precision

piano keys

(transferred from my CaringBridge page from 3/5/13)

One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.

~ Bob Marley

This weekend, I had the distinct privilege of experiencing one of my favorite jazz pianists and composers—Joe Sample.  Working with the likes of Miles Davis, B.B. King, Eric Clapton and George Benson (to name a few), Joe incorporates jazz, gospel, blues, Latin and even classical style into his amazing compositions.

Jazz.  There’s something about listening to it that brings such peace to my spirit—in many ways like a deep soul massage.  Just thinking about Joe Sample’s music relaxes my shoulders.  I’ve always found the best musicians to have a distinct sound that can easily be discerned from the ears of a true fan, even if you were blindfolded.  Sample could play a simple melody like Chopsticks on the same Yamaha as hundreds of other pianists, and still have it sound incredibly unique to him.  At one point during his performance, he talked about all the painful hours he has spent exercising his fingers.  He continued to share that the exercises were not about how well he could execute an entire piece of music, but instead how well his fingers landed on each key.  The precise placement of his fingers touching each key—determined the kind of sound only he can produce.

This past week was tough.  No sugar-coating . . . it was exhausting, trying and demanding of all my focus and energy.  “Mental drain” sums it up well.  In a moment during the week when my spirit seemed too weak to think let alone pray, it brought priceless encouragement to see one of Colby’s scriptures on my mirror:  “Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:7)  Because He cares for you.

I was doubly blessed to have my mom join me on Thursday for chemo.  While we were able to have some great one on one time, I was also able to share some of my struggles with her.  Though I can’t imagine the intense pain a mother must feel having a sick child with no way to fix it, my mom always encourages me while also allowing me to have moments of weakness, moments of human frailty—without going into meltdown zone because of my lack of optimism.  Though people don’t mean to communicate additional stress, often a sick person feels pressured with an expectation to be perpetually positive.  “Stay positive” is the mantra of choice.  The mentality behind the saying is sensible and wise, yet with it comes the added anxiety of probable failure.  Instead, my mom listens earnestly, never discouraging me from expressing honest pain.  She’s the perfect best friend/mother combination—loyal, unconditional, honest, loving and true . . . never letting me sit in worry and confusion, but also never dismissive about my feelings.  I thank God every day for her.

Sometimes we put our Faith in full compositions, instead of individual key strokes.  I often find myself busy praying over the big picture instead of the smaller, intricate steps that would be easier to hit with ease and precision.  I need to exercise my Faith the same way Joe exercises his fingers . . . not on a mission to perfectly execute my ballad of sorts.  Instead, the crux of this composition laid out before me is about the way my fingers graze each key.

I recognize that every step along the way of this trial is going to be difficult, even unbearable at times.  If I look too far down the road, it will be easier to falter.  Instead, I need to look at the placement of my feet, one step at a time . . . trusting the Lord’s lead.

“Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One who is leading.” ~Oswald Chambers

This week marks week 9.  Almost ½ way there!

 

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