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.

 

Nina Speaks . . . and I’m Feeling Good

Nina-Simone

(originally posted on CaringBridge on 1/28/13)

Birds flyin’ high you know how I feel . . . Sun in the sky you know how I feel . . . Breeze driftin’ by you know how I feel—It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, and I’m feeling good.

~ Nina Simone

Feeling Good is one of those cool songs that when you’re feeling really bad, it’s got medicinal properties to pick you up and when you’re feeling really good, it lifts you up higher.  Nina Simone always executes that powerful cry for freedom in her music that just shouts . . . Whatever this world throws at me I am still blessed and refreshed because this world can’t take away my inner freedom.

This week marks week 4 of chemotherapy . . . only 16 more weeks to go.  There was actually a faint, initial excitement typing the word only until I looked at it a second time . . . then suddenly my mental energy was completely focused on the word – more.  The focus shifted to:  “What?  16 MORE weeks to go?  Seriously?”  In truth, this is the easy part of the journey, so I will stick with my optimistic sing-songy attitude “YAY, only 16 more weeks of chemo!”   Actually, let’s scratch sing-songy and go with raspy-jazzy-Nina-Simoney.  I’m Feeling GOOD.

In terms of side effects—overall, my body has done very well so far.  I have heard horror stories and read of people who really fight a brutal battle with the nasty side effects of these life-saving poisons.  Therefore, I try not to focus too much on my trivial physical “ailments”— as I’m aware it could be so much worse.  In short, I have had moments of extreme fatigue and many more moments of abdominal pain and malaise, but no signs (yet) of neuropathy in my fingers and toes which I’ve been instructed to “expect”—a numbness and tingling that often makes certain tasks more difficult.  As for my hair situation, my scalp has become very tender, sort of like that feeling I used to get as a little girl when wearing my hair in a ponytail all day—once that elastic came out at the end of the day, it was sore and tender to the touch.   This sensation, so I’ve been told, is the forboding of hair on its way out.  It has been gradually thinning a bit . . . mostly showing up in the shower, but nothing unmanageable or overtly noticeable.  I’ll know when it’s time to shave the head, and will make no bones about embracing the buzzer when the moment does present itself.

Another newer, more pronounced side effect I’ve had going on . . . joint pain.  I know people who struggle and suffer with debilitating forms of joint pain, including Fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.  My heart breaks for those living with thisdaily and I truly sympathize—what must be torturous day in and day out.  Now I’m not suddenly claiming to be an expert in pain by any means, but feel there is a tiny part of me that can trade my sympathy for literal empathy.  Though I have not walked a mile in the shoes of people in chronic pain, this past week I’ve experienced a noticeable, constant sense of joint pain.  One night, mid-sleep, it came out of nowhere and almost felt like there was a little sledgehammer banging by bones from my shoulders down to my feet—a little demolition taking place throughout my body.  The thought of people living with this constantly, makes my life look like a walk in the park on a perfect day.

Saturday marked exactly one month since my official diagnosis.  If I sit on that thought too long, recalling that day . . . it’s quite possible that the neuropathy I spoke of may actually be starting in my brain—a numbing sensation that still grazes that fine line between fiction and reality.  Is this all just a dream?  Unfortunately the answer would be a flat out:  No.  But fortunately, I know my summer’s on its way.  John Steinbeck wrote it perfectly in his book, Travels with Charley:  “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”

In the meantime, during my cold days of winter, I can say like the Psalmist, David who trusted God beyond anything else . . .

Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens, you who have done great things.  Who is like you, God?  Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. (Psalm 71:19-20)

Staying Gold in my Winter Season

Stay Gold

(originally posted on my CaringBridge page on 1/26/13)

Seize upon that moment long ago … one breath away and there you will be … so young and carefree … again you will see, that place in time—So Gold

~ Stevie Wonder

Being a music lover . . . everything from Gospel to Jazz, there are certain songs that move me in a way, releasing a level of intimacy in the core of my soul that is hard to even express in words.  When reviewing a discography of a magnificent legend like Stevie Wonder, it’s difficult to find one song that doesn’t move you at some level.  However, one of his least “famous” songs moves me in a way that few songs ever have or will:  Stay Gold.  The song was originally written for the memorable Francis Ford Coppola movie, based on the coming-of-age novel by S. E. Hinton—The Outsiders.

Michelle joined me on my trip into Dana-Farber this week, and let’s just say . . . we livened up the joint—double trouble in the infusion room, (pretty typical of any outing we undertake together).  We were our naughty selves . . .  laugh-crying in hysteria over things that certainly lightened the heaviness of the environment.  I was blessed.  She was my little slice of Gold in the moment.

I guess my love for Robert Frost and his brilliance kept me company all week, as I pondered yet another poem from memory that always visits me from time to time over the years . . . Nothing Gold Can Stay.

Nature’s first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold.  Her early leafs a flower; but only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf.  So Eden sank to grief, so dawn goes down to day.  Nothing gold can stay.

Ahhhh.  The poem may read almost depressing at first glance, but in fact . . . though the delicate, early golden leaves of spring will turn green, spring turns to summer, dawn will turn to day, youth becomes maturity . . . you can still hold on to the wonder, the “goldenness” of memories and moments, staying gold through each season’s changes.  We will find a blessed increase if we embrace the cycle of flower, leaf, bud, fruit—into the full life that includes loss, grief, and change.

…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.  ~ Philippians 4:11-13

This is my season of change . . . a winter season where the gold of spring may seem buried, but I can still ponder and reflect on all that I’ve been blessed with.  I have truly learned to be content only in Him who gives me strength.  When my content takes a downward turn to sorrow, I need remember to Stay Gold.

. . . Life is but a twinkling of an eye yet filled with sorrow and compassion . . . though not imagined, all things that happen will age too old—Though Gold

Miles to go Before I Sleep

Woods

(originally written on my CaringBridge page on 1/22/13)

 . . .  The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.   

~ Robert Frost

Sleep.  That simple 5-letter word, wildly underestimated until you’re getting very little of it.  Sleeeeeep.  Often something I’ve been reluctant to do, but don’t want to stop after I’ve started.  Lately, sleep has become that simple yet complicated word that’s constantly on my mind . . . especially during the hours that I wish I were visiting its happy, sleepy place.   Oddly, it is during the moments of heavy fatigue, an exhaustion I’ve never experienced before, that sleep is so desired—but not found.

Growing up … and maybe even in recent days . . . certain music often puts me into “movie-mode” (Michelle’s roaring out loud right now, because only she totally gets what I’m talking about), when the music becomes a background score to my own life soundtrack.  As kids, traveling on long road trips, we would be in the back of the car, with our headphones on, dreamily glancing out the window—the music bringing us into our individual, private utopia.  Tonight, I went there—movie-mode . . . only instead of music beckoning me into my movie, it was the peaceful blanket of snow lingering on the trees out my back window that became my life’s score.  It was beautiful.

There I was, “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”— trapped in a Robert Frost poem.  The outward simplicity of this 16-line poem brought so much depth to my movie moment.  Like the narrator, lately I find myself often yearning to linger in the quiet solitude of isolation . . . the darkest night, watching the snow fall.   In the poem, only through the resounding bell of the horse’s harness, does the narrator finally get jolted to remember the many promises he has to keep . . . miles to go, no time to give up.

<sigh>

Thank you, Lord for reminding me of your promises.  I choose hope, knowing that I have many miles to go before I sleep . . .

“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.    

(Jeremiah 29:11)

 

Indescribably Indescribable

Miracles Happen

Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.

C. S. Lewis

(originally posted on my CaringBridge page on 1/8/13)

There are some moments in life that are almost too surreal to adequately put into words.  Those of you who may read my journal (or as I refer to it—the c-Blog), and were actually witness to what happened Sunday morning . . . well I needn’t say more.

Divine encounters are just that . . . Godly appointments orchestrated on High, for a greater purpose, often times used to reveal Himself in an undeniably powerful way.  This particular encounter was something that I’ve never experienced before.  It was overwhelmingly beautiful to say the least.

We often go to church on Saturday evenings, but this weekend John and I both felt strongly about going on Sunday morning instead.  Upon arrival, we entered a packed sanctuary and were blessed to receive an encouraging, hope-filled message.  Then, in an unusual gesture during communion, the Pastor felt prompted to encourage those in need of any type of healing (physical, emotional, spiritual) to come forward to receive prayer.  Now normally, it takes a lot for me to be prompted to act on such an invitation, instead I’m usually one of the people interceding on behalf of others.  However, at that moment, I knew that I would be a fool not to take the invitation … acknowledging the simple truth that I need prayer even if that involves stepping completely out of my “comfort zone”.

During prayer, the Pastor felt led to ask if there was someone who needed to share a testimony.  One person, without hesitation spoke and when finished the Pastor asked again, if there was someone else who wished to share a testimony.  It was very unusual—clearly not a “planned” part of the service, instead Spirit-led.

A woman stood up in the sanctuary and started to move forward toward the platform.  The Pastor realized this was not a regular parishioner, but a first-time visitor.  Yet in an act of faith, the Pastor handed her the microphone.  Before she spoke, I looked at this woman, and though I’d never seen her before in my life, I felt an unusual connection.

When she spoke, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  She talked about being diagnosed with breast cancer, and being told that it had traveled to 18 lymph nodes, aggressively moving through her body.  She then shared the pain this brought to her life but how the power of God brought healing to her body and joy to her entire being.  Her story was moving and powerful!  You could feel His amazing presence there … “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20)

After the service, we talked for a long time and she shared how God had been waking her up for the past three nights at 3:00 am, prompting her to pray for someone, she was unsure who.  She then shared how she had no intention to visit the church but not knowing why, felt prompted to look up directions to the church the night before.  In addition, a week prior, she had dreams that God would be using her to touch and heal lives with her story.

The entire morning was indescribably indescribable.

Through this divine encounter, I met a soul sister handpicked for me at that moment.  The Lord reminded me of His promise — that He has no intention of leaving me or forsaking me and that it was He who knit me together perfectly in my mother’s womb, creating my inmost being.  His gentle whisper assured me that He would keep me as the apple of His eye, hiding me in the shadow of His wings.

I am blessed.