Inspiring the Senses
Finding richness in the beauty all around us: music, recipes, scripture and more through treatment and beyond
Finding richness in the beauty all around us: music, recipes, scripture and more through treatment and beyond
Motherhood: All love begins and ends there. —Robert Browning
Earlier this week I got a notification from Shutterfly that made me literally gasp. As I read “Look what we found for you. Remember eleven years ago?” I scrolled down to see your beautiful faces from one of our many memorable Nantucket vacations…so many years ago. My heart skipped a beat. For a moment I felt that anticipatory sensation on a roller coaster that typically comes right about midway up the chain lift of the biggest hill. You know—when the visual cues of what’s about to go down physically lead to that sinking stomach feel only to be amped-up while going full speed ahead down that amazing hill.
Time has gone by SO fast. It’s overwhelming.
When each of you came into this world, I was in awe of your miraculous perfection and couldn’t believe that God had entrusted each of you to me. It is truly an overwhelming privilege and joy to be the mother of three spectacular boys that God so perfectly knit together in my womb.
From your first steps to your first missteps…I’ve been your biggest fan and supporter. You honestly never stop amazing me. With every milestone each of you have reached so far, I’ve reveled in joy and celebration.
As you continue to grow and thrive, I’m in awe at the amazing young men you’ve become. You each have your own unique personality, your own thoughts and opinions, and your own crazy sense of humor. I embrace the individual uniqueness that makes up Colby, Logan and Lance. I am blessed and honored to be part of your lives—you’ve all undeniably taught me the meaning of true, unconditional love.
Years ago, when I gave you the book and keepsake CD—I Hope You Dance—I prayed that each of you would grow to understand the deeper meanings of these lyrics, and perhaps when you did, I would know that I’d done the best job I’ve been entrusted with—as a Mother.
My prayer remains…
Psalm 65:8—The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.
I’ll always pray for each of you to be satiated with His perfect plan for your lives. But even when you’re “full” I want you to still hunger and thirst for personal growth. Never stop pursuing your dreams or become complacent where you are. Live a life that has meaning and purpose.
Don’t forget to take it all in. There’s beauty everywhere…sometimes you just have to look a little harder. Don’t become jaded. Instead look for freshness in all that you do so it never grows mundane.
Philippians 2:3-4—Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
First and foremost, may you always know your worth and how incredibly precious you are not only to Him but to me. As your mom, it is my privilege to impart these important truths to you. Throughout your life, always be humble—never having an inflated ego. While I always want you to be confident, humility is even more important. By remaining humble, you are open and receptive to improve. A humble leader is secure enough to recognize his or her weaknesses so growth can take place.
Jeremiah 29:11—For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Don’t be afraid to take (prayerful) risks in life. You can often accomplish great things by taking risks. Get outside of your comfort zone, never letting insecurities hold you back from taking a chance. There’s nothing worse than saying…I wish I didn’t stay on the sidelines when I had the opportunity to be part of something bigger.
Whatever you do…don’t take life too seriously. Have fun. Laugh often…even at yourself when you make mistakes. Don’t worry about things you cannot control. Enjoy life to the fullest…and dance.
James 1:2-4—Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Struggles and other hardships are an inevitable part of life. Don’t let the challenges of tomorrow consume your “today.” It is often in these hard climbs in life that we learn and grow—making room for future opportunities to help and encourage others going through something similar. Ceaselessly pray on the climb, pray once you reach the top and continue to pray when you’re over the mountain and coasting along on the other side. Pray. Pray. Pray.
Hebrews 11:1—Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
God’s handprint is on each of you. Never stop striving to see Him—as He’s always there seeking for you to draw close to Him so he can draw closer to you and encourage you each day. Never lose the wonder of who He is and what He’s doing around you. Allow your uniqueness to shine through. You never need to change who you are for someone else. You are magnificent exactly as you are.
Time is indeed accelerating—even faster than the biggest drop on our favorite roller coaster. While I want to freeze so many moments and not let them go…I know that I need to make room for so many more to come.
Thank you, boys for always being the reason for my smile at some point in every day. While I know I can be tough and am FAR from perfect as a mom, I thank God for this gift of motherhood that is both overwhelming and beautiful. Know that I love and adore each of you…always and forever. *Don’t ever forget the words of my favorite book—you know…the one that makes me ugly cry—I’ll Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. Even though I don’t sing it to you anymore (insert sad face), the words will always be true:
“I’ll love you forever…I’ll like you for always…as long as I’m living…my babies you’ll be.”
Evoking feelings of nostalgia isn’t a hard task. One scent, one picture…or even one smile can drift you back to that sentimental place or time in the past. After a recent conversation with my Mom, I took a little nostalgic journey back in time, back to a period in my childhood where the “Council” existed. The Council, as it was known, was a regular gathering at my Great Aunt Rita’s house—made up of mostly Italian women—who would congregate around a large dining room table and talk and talk…and talk (usually in debate-style) about life, love, family, politics, memories—all while naturally being encouraged to mangia, mangia over the Italian yummies laid out before them (and yes…I can recall the redolence of anisette in the air from those fresh Italian cookies).
When it comes to Italians or Italy, let’s face it, the first thing people usually think of is the warmth, joy and utter magic created around the dinner table. It’s well known that Italians are accomplished in the gioie della tavola, or “the joys of the table.” In fact, the dinner table is one of the most steadfast images and emblems in Italian art—celebrated in our paintings and films, from the Renaissance to present day.
If you were an outsider looking in on those gatherings of the council, you’d likely be dizzy with confusion—because just like many large Italian families, all gathered around that table would not only talk at higher than normal decibels, but also all at the same time…and don’t forget the hands, which also spoke volumes. But it was there at the table, where hearts would open, and life’s greatest celebrations and sometimes even dramatic battles would unfold.
We all seem to crave time that will create nostalgic memories, like our winter bones crave the warmth of summer. Time with family. Time with friends. Time to reconnect to oneself. Just. More. Time. Yet the irony comes during the week when all we wish to do is speed that time up…a magical fast forward to Friday, where the challenges of the week can be left behind.
For me, with work and school dominating our days, and homework, sports and activities dominating our evenings, there often seems to be little room for creating memories as a family around our dining room table—but they’re a necessity. My boys crave “family nights” in the dining room during the week and they always become the high point of any day. There we connect. We laugh. We pray. We share our struggles and joys…and ultimately we strengthen the bonds of love and friendship.
There aren’t many members of that beautiful Council left on this side of Heaven, and though the table is still there in my Aunt Rita’s house, all you can really see is what is not there anymore. I guess a table is not simply an object in a room, it’s the people gathered around it that bring it to life.
Time is short and precious. Embrace more moments in gioie della tavola…appreciating the magical synergy that is created when the joys of conversation and intimacy commingle with the pleasures of amazing food and drink.
After visiting the Greek islands, not only did I walk away with a deeper appreciation for the architecture—amazingly beautiful structures that all spoke of bygone eras—but somewhere among the thousands of incredible little cobblestone alleyways and whitewashed streets, I got caught up obsessing over the doors. The mystery and allure of the rustic and charmingly seductive doors in Santorini are in many ways akin to passageways within our own lives—some invitations to great, even sheltered opportunity, while others yet signifying isolated imprisonment, an escape, or even bitter closure. To me all doors seem to speak of the powerful knowns and unknowns encountered in life—perhaps the very reason why I’m so intrigued by them.
Recently, when asked why I haven’t written a post in some time, I realized I couldn’t really blame my hiatus on a lack of inspiration. After all, I earnestly recognize the daily miracles all around me, including the abundant joy that my three amazing boys deliver—all opportunities to ignite a spark of inspiration to flow on paper. Instead, I think the heaviness on my heart these last months has been the source of the ink drying in my pen. As many of you within the breast cancer social media community know, we’ve recently seen several women reach new passageways in the realm of cancer. While some have opened doors to the unknown dreaded territory of metastatic disease (stage IV), others in the community are at the end of treatment options and have entered the doors of hospice care in preparation. Saddest still, are the beautiful young women who recently closed their final doors on cancer and are now journeying beyond this world, leaving loved ones gripped with grief behind. As Jada so beautifully wrote one day before her untimely death at age 36: “Y se me va la vida….and my life goes away….”
Every three seconds in the US, someone is diagnosed with breast cancer. All of these people share at least one common thread that ties them together—they are a statistic. Regardless of stage at diagnosis, we all walk through the unknown door of breast cancer with a 30% chance of going on to develop incurable metastatic disease. Now I know statistics may seem mundane, but when you’ve been touched by cancer, those numbers are painfully real. As a “statistic,” I have a vested interest in educating myself and others about this terminal disease and urging people to support research that helps those with advanced breast cancer live longer. So though the town may be painted pink every October and beyond, and while some in the world perceive breast cancer to be the “good” one, the richly funded one, or even the easy one—the somber reality is that in the US alone this year, we will see an estimated 40,000 deaths from breast cancer. Yes, that’s one woman every 13 seconds—gone. So it’s safe to say that though I’m grateful for heightened breast cancer awareness that has come from pink campaigning, this disease is not good—in fact, just like every cancer, it sucks. As the second leading cause of cancer death in women behind lung cancer, breast cancer is a fierce adversary on the cancer brigade.
Going through photos of my visit to the pearl of the Mediterranean—as Santorini is so deservedly known—awakened that odyssey of cherished memories that live in my heart … memories all scattered in between the doors-galore. Everywhere stood phenomenal, colorful doors: doors within doors, doors with seemingly no purpose at all, and my favorite by far, those charming and dreamy “doors to nowhere.” I get goosebumps thinking about them. My obsession with these doors was in large part because they were like an unlimited gateway into my imagination, allowing me to see what my mind’s eye envisioned to be on the other side.
My prayer is to find my door to nowhere on this walk, one where my eyes will be fixed on the Lord and my trust in His plan and purpose for my life regardless of what lies before me. On December 26, 2012, I was evicted from life as I knew it and had to close the door to my pre-cancer existence. You realize fairly quickly entering this brave new world that you’re forever changed, always wondering where this narrow passageway will lead, one where you feel like one inch in any direction—the walls on either side will come crashing down around you. In fact, it’s often hard to talk about those feelings, because it’s easy to feel guilty while there are countless other women who have current goals—like seeing their children graduate from High School or even Kindergarten. These women with incurable metastatic disease are part of the 30% to enter Stage IV or advanced breast cancer, and though some will live in treatment for some time, the reality is when you are stage IV, you will die from or with breast cancer.
Occasionally in my circle of close friends and family, I’ll get the question: “Why you, Nicole?” Without thought, my answer has always been “Why not me?” I am no different than the other 10 million cancer “survivors” in this country all going about our lives with a slight pause in our walks, wondering if the cancer is only hiding behind the next door. As a woman of Faith, however I try—instead of pausing to stop and thank God for being there, for holding my hand on the journey and seeing me through every step of the way. It’s easier to rest in hope under the umbrella of prayer and thankfulness. As I once read: “Those blessings are sweetest that are won with prayer and worn with thanks.”
In love … and hope …
Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.
Henry Ward Beecher
We all have a narrative, a unique story to tell. As individual collections of life experience unfold, we see before us a dramatic self-portrait form, a picture based on the very peaks and valleys that make up life achievements as well as life challenges. Often times we sit back and view the painting through a foggy lens, one cluttered with learned behavior, tradition, societal expectations we feel compelled to align with, and so on. The question surfaces: Is there really such a thing as an authentic self, a bona fide me?
Pure art. I once read that every good painter paints what he is. Every so often one is blessed to experience something that leaves you spellbound. I honestly didn’t expect a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts with the boys over the summer to render such a state, but this particular visit was so pure, so meaningful … I’ll never forget it. While exploring the unique handprint illustrated on every piece that day at the museum, I felt an intimate connection, a momentous view into the heart and soul of each artist. I envisioned their hands at work, powerfully expressing their life narrative, with the purposeful strokes of a paintbrush. Taking in the world around us, we often find relatable links to our own lives through the canvas of creation’s powerful pull. For me, words are my art medium …writing my paintbrush. Though not nearly as beautiful as a masterpiece hanging on a wall, my words become an artistic expression of my heart. When I’m silent, I’ve usually failed to claim the peace that comes from tapping into creation’s “voice” all around me. Recently, my silence has stemmed from allowing exhaustion to dominate my narrative.
I just completed the next “installment” of cancer treatment—30 rounds of radiation therapy. Similar to chemotherapy’s bittersweet end, my emotions took me off guard. Suddenly my head began to buzz in a sea of rhetorical questions: What now? Will I have the strength to not let fear dominate my existence? Will I fail at keeping hope close? I guess you could say treatment in some ways becomes supplemental courage. The poisons of chemo, the removal of body parts via mastectomies, and the cancer-causing beams that make up radiation—all contribute to a (false) sense of security. The truest test of faith comes when you have nothing else to rely on … but the very faith you entered this ride with. The past couple of weeks I’ve had a weighty question tugging on my heart: Who am I? Have I allowed this “life circumstance” to take over the pre-cancer me? Coco Chanel said it best: Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity.
When I encountered The Sponge Diver by Winslow Homer that day in the museum, I became instantly gripped by its beauty and authenticity. I envisioned myself there in the Bahamas, watching from a distance as a sponge diver emerged from a “naked dive” to the ocean floor, surfacing with his prize. I thought of the rich history attached to sponge diving and the remarkable courage of early divers—always equipped with a readiness for sacrifice and a willingness to take risks. In the old days when the skin diving method was used, divers went out to sea in a small boat, often using a glass bottomed object to search the ocean floor for sponges. These authentic divers used simple methods … relying solely on their God-given bodies and their own natural breath-hold ability—historically performing at levels rarely attained by contemporary divers. As time progressed, greed took over sponge diving and divers began using large, hard-hat diving gear to take on longer dives at deeper levels. What resulted was a great deal of death and paralysis among divers. The history of sponge divers shows us two faces of an empirical approach to life: allowing the want for more to influence you, compromising everything; or staying focused on your God-given unique qualities that will not only get you the prize but without the compromise. Fortunately, the beautiful centuries-old tradition Winslow Homer captured in his watercolor personified the original glory of sponge diving in its naked form. Homer once said “You will see, in the future I will live by my watercolors.” I’d like to think he pondered the authenticity of the scene set before him while painting this masterpiece.
Thursday, I have my next visit with my medical oncologist and the plan is to begin Tamoxifen, an anti-estrogen hormone therapy designed to stop the growth of cancer cells that may be present in the body, while blocking the effect of estrogen on these cells. The plan is to have me on this for the next 10 years.
Isn’t it funny … as a child, we just want to be like everyone else. As we get older, we desire to beat to our own rhythmic drum. As we further mature, the connecting events of life further complicate our sense of self. A diagnosis of cancer has made one thing crystal clear in my life: I desire to be defined by nothing more than God created me to be. My “now” plan is to be satisfied with my Creator’s design … the authentic, unique me. It is only after taking off the dangerous diving gear of the world’s pull on us that we can find freedom like no other.
Carousels. Growing up, I never liked to pass up a ride on the merry-go-round. Even now with my own boys, when an opportunity presents itself, I love to join them for a magical journey on the wooden horses.
What I remember most about carousels as a child … more than the mirrors, lights and creepy organ music being played—perhaps even more than the ride itself—was my need to thoughtfully search the carousel to find the perfect horse. I loved finding unique characteristics … noble features that would make me feel like a princess (on this roundabout to nowhere). Of course it was always necessary to find a galloping horse that went up in down. I remember running to my perfect horse when it was time to get on, and as I looked ahead, I’d often see that overlooked stallion— a spectacular horse I hadn’t seen from afar. Quickly I’d run ahead, eager to jump aboard my newly found beauty, then just as quickly I’d realize with a sigh, that my new friend is a stationary soldier, one that would not “gallop” up and down—a necessity on the merry-go-round. Turning back to see my “perfect” horse, it was too late … another rider was “saddled” up for a journey on the majestic horse I had originally longed for.
The past several weeks post-surgery have been difficult. As physical healing continues to flourish, the mental aspect of everything has really begun to seep in and though in some ways it’s been medicinal, in other ways it’s had a withering effect on my spirit. I’ve had real time to wrap my mind around what has been … what is, and the unknown future that lies ahead. Facing the unknown realities of the future often bring to light the significance of some forgotten truths from the past.
People in general have a tendency to long for something they don’t have or simply fail to appreciate the unique characteristics and beauty we’ve each been blessed with. For me, as a little girl, I hated being a redhead. Though I came to appreciate my locks as I grew older, the moment chemo took all my hair, I not only longed for that long, thick ginger hair to return, I felt real conviction for all the times I didn’t appreciate it when I had it. In a recent conversation with one of my oncologists, we laughed talking about how we always want what we don’t have. I shared how I’d complain about my larger breasts growing up, always wishing they were smaller. We then talked about breast reconstruction and the “silver lining” attached to breast cancer patients’ these days in the realm of options available—having “Hollywood” procedures at your finger tips to reconstruct your body/breasts to be fantastic and “perfect.” Cue the crickets. As I stood there dazed and confused … I imagined desperately how wonderful it would be to rewind time and take back all the foolish insecurities and longings I carried, and instead be content with what I had been given. Silent, my only real yearning: to have myself back completely, in every way.
Yes, many people do want what they don’t have—until they lose everything they thought needed changing.
During recovery, I spent a week’s respite on Cape Cod, visiting family. I needed quality time with my boys, time with my thoughts (uninterrupted by the guilt of not being able to run a house as effectively), and most definitely time to get away from the big C . . . even though it unavoidably follows me wherever I go. There, I was thrilled to spend a beautiful day at a historic museum with my Dad and the boys—one that also happened to have a classic carousel from 1908. Physically not quite ready to ride one of the beauties, I smiled, watching the boys pick out their “perfect” horse. “Come on, mom!” the boys beckoned me to join them. Logan, my middle son led me to the loof chariot … y’know that lame stationary sleigh ride that I never quite understood how or why someone would actually choose amidst the horses. But there I sat, chasing the painted ponies … on a magic machine full of life going around and around—on my chariot. I beamed watching my beautiful children ahead of me and realized there can be contentment in embracing change and the very real beauty that can come with it.
Radiation is starting tomorrow. My radiation oncologist needed to make a few corrections, but I’m “tattooed” and ready to go—even had my dry run on Thursday. Tomorrow begins my official 7-week cycle of daily radiation. I will be doing what they call a “deep inspiration breath holding” technique to help reduce radiation to my heart and lungs, especially useful, as my cancer is on the left side.
I learned that the word carousel comes from the Italian word: carosello which means “little war.” How apropos that this thing called cancer has indeed been a “little” war physically, mentally and spiritually. As I’m frozen, stationary on my chariot, the world continues to go around. Thank God I love to travel, or I may have jumped off a long time ago. Instead, I’m trying to embrace this season on the carousel, where though I may not feel like a princess on my chosen stallion, I can ultimately be content in drinking in the beauty set before me. I long to appreciate this ride that God has orchestrated … and I plan to embrace the carosello as I continue to chase my painted ponies until the music stops.
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!
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
“Easy-Peasy-Lemon-Squeezy” is a tune each of my three boys has declared on more occasions than I can count. The expression was mastered by the boys in Kindergarten, and has since become a jingle of choice, my little mantra in times of difficulty. What I never realized, however, was the amazing truth behind the cutesy rhyme—in its very literal sense. Lemons are truly an easy solution to a multitude of problems.
Many people have asked where I’ve been these days. The normal “zest” I try to tap into every day in some ways turned sour this past month or so. I think I’ve been in survival mode since Christmas, and as deep fatigue and malaise set in with the last phase of chemo, I guess the reality of the “big C” has really weighed on my mind much heavier. I have found it difficult to find inspiration in the things around me that usually bring clarity and joy to my daily life. Instead, I’ve been “puckering” up to the sour circumstances of this thing called cancer and all the un-pleasantries that come with it.
Chemotherapy is now done. Finito.
The last few visits to Dana-Farber had me physically ill before arrival. I guess you’d call it a psychosomatic response to the dreaded poison that was about to make its way into my veins. Ironically, the last infusion of AC was bittersweet—a real sense of relief that chemo was over coupled with the real fear that chemo is over …. surgery looming on the horizon. There were tears, hugs, well-wishes and love poured out on me and my heart ached a bit knowing that the very poison I dreaded every week , the very thing that made me so sick and tired was no longer going to be beating me up to make me well. It sounds sort of warped, but there was a sense of trauma that accompanied me out the door that day.
Lemons. A while back, my sister, Michelle lured me into a lemon love-fest, leading me on an exploration of this citrus gem and all the wonderful medicinal properties it delivers. I won’t lie, as a woman, I love learning about hidden beauty secrets that…well, help me look and feel 20 again. Who doesn’t? So learning that this citrus fruit full of Vitamin C is also a great source of protection from free radicals, y’know those pesky little things that, theoretically speaking—“age” us … led me to begin my love affair with the savant of the citrus family—limones.
Cancer treatment does a number on your body. For many, that number is called something like whopper-doozie or as I like to call it: “le destructeur” to the enth degree. Chemo is cumulative. In short, different symptoms present at different times, many worsening as you go. Completing 20 weeks of chemo—my “le destructeur” wreaked havoc on a few different areas of my body, some worse than others.
First up—Anemia. This past month, my red blood cells were at a relatively speaking all-time low. For me that equated to difficulty walking up a flight of stairs without looking like that annoyingly under-exercised person gasping for air at the top of mere 10 steps (no judgment here). Yup. I was that chick. Only as I was gasping for air, chest pain and often severe headaches accompanied it. It was frustrating. I’m usually the one racing up six flights of stairs in 4 inch stilettos, with a resting pulse rate at the finish line. Seriously—BEYOND frustrating. On the bright side: I could walk up a flight of stairs. After all, some struggling with severe anemia can barely get out of bed because they’re just too exhausted to even put their feet on the floor. Little by little, I am gaining back strength and stamina, but adding the bitter-tasting, yet miraculous power of lemon juice has the added benefit of aiding the body to produce red blood cells, thus speeding along the process.
The beauty of this little yellow fruit knows no bounds as it also helps ease anxiety. Lemon balm has a calming effect and therefore may be able to help remove fatigue and exhaustion, anxiety, nervousness, and tension—pretty much the very things that sour my spirit. I’m not saying Valium can be completely tossed to the curb, but hey…I’ll pucker up. Ironically, I also earned that though I’ve been in a state of brain fog from the chemo, apparently inhaling lemon oil helps to increase concentration and alertness. (I wish I had remembered this fact during all of my forgetful chemo-brained moments … that still plague me).
In many ways my lemon in life has been the source of much sweetness. Cancer’s sour taste has become the old adage: “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” My lemonade has been tasted in the sweetness of new relationships and the beauty that comes with having people to love and be loved by….so many bringing light and joy to my life.
Last Wednesday I had an MRI to see how the cancer responded to the chemo. I won’t learn results until this Thursday, but ultimately know the full picture won’t be revealed until I’m opened up. My prayer is that chemo did its thing … which will help guide the surgeon to a goal of a better outcome. My surgery date has been set: June 14. I felt a pit in my stomach when I got the call confirming the date… but I know it’s time. The date however does bring special significance—Logan’s birthday (also Flag Day). I was further inspired by my friend and colleague, Sarah—her Grandmother also sharing that birthday, a precious soul who lived to be 101.
Nothing in life is a coincidence. His timing is perfect.
My son, Logan recently placed a scripture on my bathroom mirror. His note brought tears to my eyes as he wrote: Mom, Isaiah 43:1-4 says it perfect— “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!”
Thank God, I am His.
Little by little, I’m shaking off my sour to make room for the sweetness and zest that comes from indulging in the lemon that has been sent my way for a season … for a reason … for a greater purpose than I may not be able to grasp just yet. Though I feel changed, I know that my Father has not changed and will forever be in the business of unfolding His plan and purpose for my life. That fact alone brings me peace that passes all understanding.
All my love . . . Nicole
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Life and work of a Scottish woman overseas, many years in Asia, now stepping into Africa - with the after and side effects of Breast Cancer thrown into the mix!
opinion and commentary from the author of "Breast Left Unsaid" http://breastleftunsaid.com Twitter: @JudeCallirgos
About 30% of people diagnosed with breast cancer at any stage will develop distal metastasis. I am one.
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