Monday, June 5, 2017

Where Was God When I Had Cancer?

I haven't said much about God while talking about all the crappiness that's been going on in my life.  That's more because it takes a lot of explaining, than that He hasn't been there!

As I went through the waiting for a diagnosis, eventual confirmation of cancer and then surgery, He was there like a warm, comforting presence.  Not saying anything or expecting anything of me, just there for me to lean on.  And then He wasn't.  I wasn't concerned, but I was aware that that closeness wasn't there any more.

As you know, if you've read any of my other posts, I love gardening.  It makes me happy, and sometimes also produces veges and flowers. :)  One of the things I found particularly hard, going through chemo while spring happened around me, was that I wasn't able to do even quarter of the gardening I usually would.  I didn't grow anything from seed this year, despite having lots and lots of packets of seeds begging to be planted.

I was complaining to God about this, around the time of my first chemo round, and He told me that this spring, I was the seed.  I had been planted.  And when I didn't like the sound of that, He said 'Peace, be still.'

For all my lovely friends who are now thinking that this was most probably chemo-brain and I have obviously lost my mind if I think I can hear God, relax, calm down, and let me unpack that a little for you.  Yes, I believe God speaks to me.  And sometimes, I hear Him!  No, I don't hear a voice speaking, with my physical ears.  What usually happens is a thought cuts across my train of thought, which is different to what I was thinking, with a very different perspective to my own.  Sometimes the thought comes with a picture, sometimes it doesn't.  But there is always something about the thought that is so different to my own, that I know it wasn't my own thought.

There is also something consistent, every time, about the thought, and this is the hard bit to explain.  You know the times you hear the first few notes of a song, and immediately know who it's by, even if you haven't heard it before?  Or the times you start reading a book/article/blog post, and the style of writing is so familiar that you know who wrote it, even before you see the author?  That's what it's like when I hear God.  There is always the same feeling to what is said, and I am familiar with it now.  What I hear is always better than myself - kinder, more loving, forgiving, and often funny.  The perspective the thought brings is bigger than my own.  What I hear isn't always about me, sometimes it's about other people.  And no, I can't make it happen. Sure, I can pretend, and make stuff up... but it's like the difference between seeing a three year old's painting of a sunrise, and seeing the real thing.

So, God had told me that I was a seed, that had been planted.  As I was going through the awfulness that is chemotherapy, I mulled over this thought.  I thought a lot about seeds, and dirt and growing conditions, and I eventually realised a few things.  First, a seed has no control over what happens to it.  It does not choose when it is planted, or where.  When it has been planted, it has no control over creating the conditions it needs to sprout - it can't make the dirt warm up, or bring the right amount of moisture.  All a seed can do, is wait for the time to be right.

I didn't like the thought that I'd been planted in the dirt - that sounded an awful lot like burial to me, which isn't a very comforting metaphor when you've got cancer!  So I ignored that bit, and focused on the seed.  One thing really intrigued me, which was that I had no indication at all of what kind of seed I was - dandelion, maple, mangrove, apple, coconut or carnation?  It was a mystery.  I sincerely hoped that I wasn't the type of seed that needed a forest fire to sprout!

And then there was the 'Peace, be still' bit.  I knew that this was the exact expression Jesus used when calming a storm - which seemed appropriate!  I had been talking with a friend about breath prayers, and I found that this phrase fitted perfectly.  So when my mind was churning in the middle of the night, and I was scared and worried, I would lie in the dark and focus on my breathing.  Every time I breathed in, I would think 'Peace'.  And every time I breathed out, I would think 'Be still'.  And I would remember that I was a seed that had been planted, and all I could do was wait.  However, there was one thing I could do that a seed couldn't - I could hope.

So I did.  I waited, and breathed, and hoped, and spoke peace to my body and soul in the middle of the storm.

To be continued...

Saturday, March 4, 2017

I Am A Survivor, And I've Got The Sash To Prove It.

I've just had one of the more surreal experiences of my life.

Today was the annual Relay for Life, organised by the Cancer Society.  I had been asked if I would like to go, to participate in the first lap of the relay, which is walked by cancer survivors and their families.  I decided that, yes, I would like to do that, so today we made the long drive, and got to the sports park where it was being held.  My husband had to work, but was planning on meeting us there, so I got the kids sorted, and got us all over to the marquee where there was a little bit of shade (it was a beautiful, scorching late summer day), and drinks and snacks were being provided for survivors and their families.

The marquee was packed, and there wasn't anybody there that I recognised, so I found some spare chairs, sat the kids down, and texted my husband that we'd arrived.  Some kind girls brought orange juice over for the kids, and I was told to help myself to food off the tables, so despite having to edge in between people already sitting round all the tables, I did so.

That was awkward enough... but it was about to get quite bizarre.

We were sitting in a row, eating our snacks, when a man walked up to me and said, 'Hello Donna!  Do you recognise me?'  I looked at him for a moment, and he helpfully added, 'I'm your cousin.'  I looked again, and then I realised - he was my first cousin, whom I hadn't seen in 19 years, since I left the brethren!  As I glanced away from his face for a moment, the penny dropped.

There were quite a few adults, teenagers and youngish children all dressed the same, in smart dark blue outfits with red logos, and a ute nearby with the same logo on it.  The logo was RRT, which stood for Rapid Relief Team.  These were the people doing a great job of supplying the food and drink for survivors at the relay.  These people also all belong to the brethren, the cult I had been brought up in and left, many years ago.  I hadn't seen most of them since the day I left, and now here they were, all smiling at me (and whispering behind their hands when they thought I wasn't looking), and offering us food and drink.

Two others came up and introduced themselves - I couldn't talk to one of them because my phone rang - and it was such a surreal experience, seeing teenagers that I'd never seen before, but knowing exactly who they were because they looked just like their parents, who were teenagers the last time I saw them!

So.  There I was, sitting awkwardly in a row with my kids, not knowing any of the other survivors at any of the tables, and eating food I'd stolen (it felt like) from off the tables in front of other people, surrounded by members of the cult I had left 19 years ago.  One of the rules of the brethren is that they don't eat or drink with anyone who isn't a member... except that now they were quite happy to provide me, an ex-member (ex-members are regarded as the worst of all sinners) with food and drink.  In fact, they were quite insistent about giving us drinks, and my kids had to keep saying they didn't want any more drinks just yet.

At this point, my husband arrived, and now all of this had to be explained - several times, because the kids all wanted to know what was going on - while trying not to make it obvious to the milling brethren that we were talking about them.  A brethren lady who had been friends with my mum came over and said hello, and we chatted briefly, which was nice... but very odd.  The whole experience was very odd!

Eventually I saw a fellow survivor whom I recognised from the Look Good, Feel Better programme I'd been to, so I went and talked to her for a few minutes.  Her gorgeous four year old daughter bounced on her knee while she told me that she had been told she was going to die before next Christmas.  Her cancer had spread throughout her body, and the treatment she was having wasn't stopping it.  We talked for a while, and then it was time for the relay to start.

As I walked towards the starting line, holding my husband's hand and surrounded by a gaggle of kids, I started to laugh.  I was wearing a sash I'd been given, which said 'SURVIVOR', and I told my husband that when we got back from doing the survivors' lap, I was going to ask for another sash.  He looked surprised, and I explained that the representatives of both the things I've survived were there - the cult, and the cancer - and I wanted a sash for each of them.

We stood with the other cancer survivors, their families, and the families of people who had died from cancer, and I listened as the Lord's Prayer was said, a drumming group started playing and led us all round the track, and I walked.  Holding hands with my husband and one of my sons, my arm around another son, and my other two children huddled in close, we walked past the brethren group I used to belong to, and I smiled at them as they took photos of the parade of people streaming past them.

After the first lap, we watched as the real work of the relay began, and hundreds of people walked and ran round the track.  Eventually we left them to it, and walked out the gates.  Past the Cancer Society tents, past the brethren now busily setting up water stations for the relay participants and getting a bbq going, and out into the clear air and sunshine to get on with our day.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Life's back to normal now, right?

It's been a while between posts... again.
I finished radiation on 9 January, 2017.  My husband and kids came with me for the last treatment, and afterwards we went to the food court and everyone bought whatever they wanted for lunch.  It was fun, I was glad to be done, and glad to be celebrating with my family.

Then we went home, my husband went back to work, and me and the kids had to survive the next three weeks of school holidays!  That was hard - I was tired, my skin hurt, it was hot and the kids were unsettled and wanting my attention, and I was struggling to keep up with them and just wanting to be on my own so my head and heart could start to process the last seven months of trauma.

The school holidays ended eventually, my daughter started high school, the boys went back to primary school, and I FINALLY got a few hours of the peace I'd been craving.

So... it's all done. I've survived cancer and the treatment, and now I can get on with my life, right?

Not exactly.

The last effects of chemo are still working their way out of my body.  The skin damage from radiation wasn't nearly as bad as I was told it could be (thank goodness for Mepitel, the wound dressing that protected my fragile skin), but the radiation zone is still discoloured and very sensitive.  And then there's the side effects from the tamoxifen!

The biggest problem are the hot flushes.  These are really unpleasant, and very disruptive to getting a sound sleep at night.  My feet and ankles have become really stiff and achy - if I've been sitting for more than ten minutes, I hobble like an old lady when I get up.  This seems to be getting worse, rather than better.  So now I've started on a blood pressure drug that is supposed to help calm both these side effects down.  I don't like taking yet another medication, but I could really do with some decent sleep.  I've only had the occasional good night's sleep since I started chemo, back in September, so I'm giving this a go.

There's more... but I'm not going to go into it all.  Suffice it to say that hormone treatment is not fun.

I don't really feel like myself yet.  I don't think I'll ever be the person I was before cancer - going through all of this has changed me.  I've lost parts of myself, physically and emotionally, and that's no small thing.  I am still grieving, and I don't know when that will change.  I'm craving quiet and peace.  Emotionally, I'm tired down to my bones.

There is a lot of joy, but there is also a lot of grief.  One does not cancel out the other.  I don't feel strong yet, but I've made many small steps towards becoming stronger.

A while back I said that going through all this is like an eclipse of the moon.  If I stick with this analogy, I'm coming out on the other side, the light is getting brighter, but the shadow isn't all gone yet.