Month: June 2013

Finding Comfort from the Inside Out

starfish

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.

—Epicurus

The distinct smell of newly fresh cut grass is exquisite to me and triggers an early childhood memory – something so nostalgic it gives me goose bumps.  Turkey dinner with all the “fixings” or even homemade mac & cheese (especially my Grammie’s) are favorite comfort foods for me.  Even hearing old “Journey” songs brings peace and comfort—Steve Perry’s voice soothing to the soul (don’t judge me).  Gulls . . . as annoying as they may be . . . the screeching sound of them soaring high above the sea, coupled with the smell of the ocean, gives me an amazing, amazing high.

I honestly believe I’m not alone.  Each of us has a bit of Epicurean in us . . . the Greek philosopher’s devoted pursuit of sensual pleasure, things that bring comfort to the senses.   Though perhaps different in nature, we each carry with us distinct lists of gratifying moments, those unique memories that arouse the senses and bring comfort to our souls—all the “go-to” things that help ease anxiety and stress.

Thursday was a LONG day and physically speaking . . .”fairly” comfortable.  The drains were finally removed at the plastic surgeon’s office.  Yes, a combined 3 feet of tubing was removed from my body . . . seriously–3 ft.  It was like exhaling a giant EWWW and WOW all at once.  It was indeed a very odd sensation, but nonetheless I felt a bit of relief having them removed.

Results.  The oncology team met me to go over the pathology results, the very thing I’ve been all-consumed by since rolling into the OR on the 14th . . . or honestly actually since beginning chemo in January.   I guess I felt since I’ve been on a fast track doing what I need to do, as aggressively as possible—those results will be the very comfort I’ve been seeking for the last 6 months.  They sat and explained that typically neoadjuvant chemo does one of two things when it works:   melts tumors like ice cream in the hot sun, or explodes tumors like atoms.  My treatment did the latter and exploded most of the tumor beds into fragments.  Of the many fragments left they found a small amount of invasive carcinoma left.  After removing everything, they are confident they got clear margins, no chest wall or intravascular invasion revealed.  They also removed 13 lymph nodes.  They considered the lymph nodes a macrometastases.  One particular node that clearly showed the goopy evidence of chemo at work, though cancer was still present—was most prominent.  Unfortunately, it was difficult to determine how many of the 13 nodes were positive for cancer pre-chemo . . . but for now we know for certain chemo did a pretty good job and my prayer is that my radical surgery helped a bit too.

So all in all the results were “good” . . . not crystal-ball, magical moment of “You’re cured for good, no further treatment necessary, all cancer forever gone”  good . . . but good.   Isn’t if funny that even with cancer we seek the best answer that will bring “comfort” to our minds.

My next stop on this exhausting journey is 7 straight weeks of radiation, 35 sessions.  That should start in a few weeks and based on my age and the aggressiveness of the cancer, my oncologist plans to then start me on daily Tamoxifen, an anti-estrogen therapy for 10 years—God willing He’s got at least another 10 year plan for me here.

I love to preface everything with the cliché “in a nutshell”, but you all know that my mind (even in chemo-crisis fog mode) is constantly moving and active and it’s rarely possible to find a nutshell big enough to wrap up my thoughts.

Comfort and contentment always come with uncertainties and all too often bring results we can’t predict.  All our feel-good moments are simply sought and fed by the desire to momentarily free oneself from pain, constraint or even fear.

I can’t help but think of my Grammie’s house.  Her tiny house in Maine has always been a source of mostly fond memories during childhood.  I always remember playing in the backyard, my secret little special “fort” far in the wooded area of the yard.  I laugh hysterically now, because honestly the memories of the yard when I was young were memories of this HUGE piece of land.  Now,  I don’t exactly recall the age when I visited the house after being away for a while, but I’ll never forget getting that nostalgic feeling pulling up to the house, eagerly running out into the backyard, my “comfort zone” of childhood.  There I stood—my heart sank.   Where was it?  It was unfathomable that this postage stamp of land was actually the same enchanting romping ground I enjoyed playing as a child.  For a quick moment … that nostalgic “comforting” memory shattered before me.  One would call it:  the Epic letdown moment.

Can it be that those “comfort” memories of the senses, can often disappear by our own shallow expectations of what we remember and how we wish to freeze such memories to permanently make us feel good.  I had the pleasure of talking to my dear friend, Jean this afternoon, and she said it perfectly:  “We need to find our contentment on the inside and not worry about the temporary comfort measures that come from our senses.”

While Epicurus did believe that pleasure alone should be humankind’s pursuit, in actuality, Jesus is the only true source of comfort, when He sent us the Holy Spirit.  Though I learned perhaps later in life than some, I now know that the same God that gave us our intellect and senses is also the only true source of comfort.  He is our ever-present help in need, the only guarantee that never shrinks like Grammie’s yard in my mind.

Though I know this truth in my heart . . . I realize how often I’m still so self-reliant on my own sources of comfort to bring me through this rocky journey.  I pray for strength and courage to continue to press me into the only source of comfort that will keep me going . . . and ultimately keep me sane.

Please continue to hold me up in your prayers.

I love you all so much!

Nicole

For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.  If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.  And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.   

2 Corinthians 1:5-7

Swinger of Birches

birches

. . . So was I once myself a swinger of birches.  And so I dream of going back to be. It’s when I’m weary of considerations, and life is too much like a pathless wood where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs broken across it, and one eye is weeping from a twig’s having lashed across it open. I’d like to get away from earth awhile and then come back to it and begin over.  May no fate willfully misunderstand me and half grant what I wish and snatch me away not to return. Earth’s the right place for love …

–Robert Frost

I love birch trees … I always have.   The beautiful bark and graceful branches and shape have long been sought after landscape choices for many seeking beauty and exquisite charm in a simple, artistic way.

Some months back I remember traveling and as the passenger looking dreamily out the window, I saw what seemed to be a good mile of nothing but clusters of birch trees.  I was mesmerized by the beauty and remember commenting to John how I’d love to be lost there in the woods amidst the birches.  Fortunately, John’s known me long enough to know how “unique” my imagination is . . . but also how crazy I am; therefore sped up a bit, most likely afraid I would ask him to pull over and drop me off—me all too eager to be lost in the “forest of birches”.

Surgery happened.

My surgical oncologist is a rock star and knowing a bit about my music interests and the frame of mind I was in, I let her choose what music would be played in the OR.  So after praying and being wheeled down the hall, I entered the bright OR with the very unique and melodious Dido—calming my nerves incredibly.  My surgeon and anesthesiologist held my hands until I slipped away to Dido’s beautiful voice, remaining in never-never land for the next 7 hours.

I don’t actually recall awakening per se, but I do remember in my dreamy, morphine fog, seeing John for a moment, next my mom, and then my sister.  My eyes couldn’t stay open for long, but what I later realized was that I had to be alone that night, which killed me.  My family was told they were only allowed about two minutes to see me as we learned the hospital was over-capacity, meaning  there were no rooms to send me to—so I would be spending at least one night alone in the PACU, no visitors allowed. The pre/post anesthesia care unit (PACU), consisted of a lovely 2×4 curtained-space where I was surrounded by sick people going in or coming out of surgery.   Not to whine, but I honestly felt helpless and alone, knowing that my ONE expectation and comfort pre-surgery was that I would have my family around me when I awoke.  In my mind, I needed this more than ever, because though this necessary “thing” needed to happen, this surgery (that I still don’t vocalize all that much), the thing that was vainly and intensely dreaded—yet eagerly anxious to get over with, hoping to remove this thing called cancer out of my body (with the goal:  for good)—I felt more vulnerable and weary than ever and desperately needed people who loved me around me when I awoke.

Now let’s face it— typically, any type of amputation is a day surgery these days with insurance or at best an overnight stay.  Staying 4 nights was over the top for my little “Angie Jolie” procedure.   The result of my surgery was apparently “beautiful” …. odd choice of wording, but okay, whatever.   By the middle of day two in PACU-ville (still no room available) I was told I would have a private room by dinner time.  Yay.  What I didn’t know was that in all the unseemly unfairness in my “lonely Nicole land”, the staff, some very special angels in my midst who really understood my emotional struggle really hooked me up—BIGTIME.  My room was in the “celebrity hotel quarters” of the hospital, or the place where those who choose to spend a month’s salary per night out of pocket after insurance go to heal—private chef and all.  Honestly, God is good, because this is NOTHING I would ever choose even if I were celebrity-status, but after my disenchantment post-surgery, it was indeed a lavish treat, though not exactly one of my “bucket list” return spots of interest.

In and out of sleep the last two weeks, I’ve thought and dreamt about birch trees … I don’t know why, but they’ve visited me in my dreams.   What does the birch tree symbolize?  I guess from what I’ve gathered, the birch tree symbolizes a fresh start and can bring courage and determination especially to those of us who are treading the path of spiritual growth and weariness.   Although the birch does appear fragile, in all its “romantic” carving ability . . . (y’know , the way lovers can permanently make a mark on its writeable bark), instead, the birch tree is extremely hardy—teaching us that in apparent weakness there is often to be found great strength.

Worldwide, birches also promise new life and love, and are great symbols of purification and renewal, helping to focus our attention on our potential for change and on the consideration of new directions and goals to be experienced in our lives.

When I think of Robert Frost’s masterpiece—“Birches” I’m reminded of the swinging motion—the substance of the poem and the deep force that comes with such a motion.  My life is filled with the contrary pulls of truth and imagination.  Tangible and spiritual.  Control and abandon. Flight and return.   The upward “swinging” substance of the poem brings me to imagination and escape—away from the ultra-heavy truth of cancer and all the changes and uncertainties it has brought to my life and those I love.  The downward “swing” and truth of Frost’s brilliance, brings me back to earth, to face the challenges set before me and to look with fresh eyes at the many areas of my life that need clearer focus, new direction, deeper love.

I’ll be honest—Truth with a capital T for me is that I often desire to get away from the earth awhile these days, becoming a swinger of birches.  The thought and attraction of climbing a beautiful birch, leaving the difficulties and weariness of this journey behind is in many ways a no brainer.  Who wouldn’t want to escape?  Life is so much like the “pathless wood” Frost speaks of.  One easy way to navigate would be to climb a tree, high above every obstacle below.

God, however is Love and has intricately put each of us here for a plan and purpose bigger than ourselves.  When I think of that, it motivates me to pursue all He has planned for me regardless of how much time that may mean here on Earth.  I love how Frost says in his poem:  “Earth’s the right place for love.”   For now, he couldn’t be more right.  In my deeply imperfect state, constantly craving escape, I must return from my upward swing and come back again … to keep going where He wants me.   I’ll always want to push toward Heaven, where difficulties and heartache don’t exist, but as His plans have me here, I need to know the limits and limitless abilities my Father has chosen for me, and pursue them now with passion.

Yes . . . I love birch trees.  They are the perfect vehicle.  A thrill to climb, yet firmly rooted in the ground—never allowing one to sever the ties God has with His plans for us here on Earth.  Swinging down takes experience, skill and courage . . . leaving that higher place.  It means that you take risks and you explore the mysteries of life. Being a swinger of birches means I can look back on life and be proud of the accomplishments and challenges.

I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree, and climb black branches up a snow-white trunk toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more, but dipped its top and set me down again.  That would be good both going and coming back.  One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.     

Tomorrow’s a new day, and actually the day I will learn of my pathology results and hopefully have these dreaded drains removed … (for all you who’ve had them, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about).  I will keep you updated on the news of my results.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.      

2 Corinthians 4:16

Nicole

 

 

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