Friday, March 19, 2010

Birthday Reflections

I turned 38 this week. In many ways this is a miracle since I was not expected to live this long. I truly did not believe I would be alive to see this birthday. Two years ago, I was told I only had 6 months to live and I was fairly sure that it would be my last birthday. I stopped praying for a cure and concentrated on having more time. That prayer was answered and I was given another year of life. Then again last year the doctor’s told me I had a short time to live. Again, I was facing a birthday as though it was my last. I even had a huge party – a celebration of life. This year I tried not to think about whether this was indeed my last birthday, but tried to take it as a gift. It was another day I was able to spend with my 3 of my nephews. Tuesday was also the first day in a while that was sunny and I am ready to embrace spring.

I have had a couple of conversations this week that have made me reflect on my feelings.

I was talking with someone about my nephews and she said that she always thought I would be a good mom. She then asked me if I ever thought about being a mom and if I regret not having children. I told her I think I was always meant to be a great aunt and not a mom. I have thought about children before I got sick and I never really thought I would have any. Now, facing my prognosis, I am glad I have not had children. Leaving behind my parents, sisters and nephews is hard enough. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a child while facing my mortality.

Tonight I was talking to a new friend and she asked me if I was at peace. I answered with an easy yes, but it is not really as simple as that. It has been 2 years and 10 months since I have been diagnosed and I have been dealing with the fact that I would die from this disease for over two of those years. At first the idea of being at peace with the situation was laughable. I spent the first year taking whatever treatment that was offered and concentrated on fighting as hard as I could. Peace was not something that was achievable so I did not think much about it.

Much of the second year was spent trying to accept that the treatment was not working and that I was dying. Part of me knew it would not be a fast process and for that I was happy that I had time to find acceptance, enjoy “today” and prepare myself, family and friends. Most of the second year I cried every day, I was mourning the loss of my life, my independence, my inability to do the things I loved. I was so angry, I could not pray and felt so removed from my relationship from God. There was not much peace during this time.

Something changed during the last six months or so. I shifted from measuring life in the number of days I had left to taking every second as a gift and enjoying the moment. One of my favorite quotes these days is “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift”. This change of thinking is one of the reasons I believe I am still alive. I try not to focus on the bad stuff. Believe me this can be hard. There are days I feel like shit and do not want to get out of bed. These last month’s I have been dealing with a nasty respiratory infections, difficulty breathing, headaches, and weakness causing me to use a cane, increase lethargy and pain and to top it off a broken tail bone. Those were just the physical stuff. I have also had to adjust to living with my parents, not being able to drive anymore, cleaning out and selling my house. There are also conflicts with my church and a couple dear friends that weigh heavily on my heart.

There are days I don’t think I can take anymore and then I remind myself the gift of focusing in the now. I cannot think about what happened an hour ago, or might happen tomorrow. I have to live in the moment. Alcoholics talk about talking it a day at a time. Sometimes I take it second by second. I allow myself to feel whatever is crossing my mind and then I decide if that is going to affect the next minute of my life. Lately, I have found that am having a tougher time with this and have been allowing things to spill over into the next moment and cloud over that time, but I continue to focus on this goal and try to move past the bad stuff.

This is a long way of explaining my answer being at peace. I have no control over the cancer and how it is affecting my body and ultimately it will kill me. But I have been given time to experience the phase of dealing with a life threatening illness. I have reflected over my life and all the joy and opportunities I have had. I am truly blessed for what my life has given me and what I gifts I may be able to pass on to others. I am not facing death with a lot of regrets, nor am I resisting it, but rather accepting my journey will go one in another way. I believe I wrote a couple months ago about what I think heaven will be for me. It is that belief that helps me get through the difficult hours, minutes and seconds.

The third question that I was asked this week is what kinds of things help me cope.
There are so many. First are my friends and family, the connections I have made with people through the internet. Through Facebook, Twitter, and my blog I have met so many incredible supportive people. My blog gives me an opportunity to write out my feelings and hopefully helps someone in a similar situation. I also have a new project I am working on and hope to introduce in April.

I have been keeping up with my passions. I cook when I have the energy; I have been knitting and have a whole list of projects I want to finish. Music has been crucial – when I can’t sleep, my iPod helps me deal with the night’s silence and soothes me to a place I can fall asleep. Two weeks ago I learned about a family of eleven brothers and sisters that record music and publish their videos on YouTube. They are all extremely musically talented. The videos they have created so far offer incredible harmonies and you can tell by the videos that they are tight knit family and are enjoying what they are doing. They sing because it is something they enjoy and I don’t think they realize how much their music has effect on others. They may not know there are people like me that receive strength from songs and seeing the joy other people have when doing something they love. I reached out to the family to let them know they have inspired me and their music has been a great gift. I was overjoyed to get a response from them and to top it off they sent me an email this week wishing me an early birthday greeting. The email included the link to their new song and they included a message to me at the end of the video. Please check out this incredible family – Fannin Eleven. Here is the website and their YouTube channel with their latest song.

I hope you enjoy their music as much as I do.

Enough birthday reflections for one night, however I’d like to leave you with one more thought. Think about what things you have in your life that bring you great joy. Focus your thoughts on living life while enjoying those things and let go of anything that might distract from that.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Irish Blessing

Last week I was at a craft store when I saw a display of items for Saint Patrick’s Day I saw a bunch of plaques with Irish Blessings in them. . I always loved the Irish Blessing “May the road…”. At first I did not see it and then I found it all the way in the back. I started saying it to mom and busted out in tears. I used to sing this at a camp/retreat I attended for youth leaders. For some reason this really spoke to me. Mom bought it for me and hung it in the family room. All week I have been walking around singing it. This week I have been watching YouTube videos and got the idea to try my hand at making a video. In honor of St. Patrick's day and my Irish roots, I recorded the song and found pictures that I have taken throughout the years on my hiking and exploring trips. Please forgive the singing, but I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Is cancer a gift?

I have not written a blog post in what seems like forever and a day. I think there have been several reasons for this, but I am going to try and post at least once a week from here on.

Lately I have been talking and reading about people’s journey with cancer and other life changing illnesses and events. One theme that has come up over and over is these events in our lives are gifts. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this and reading over past journal and blog posts. I think I have even used the gift metaphor myself. I have come up with the following questions and thoughts that I want to share.

Has my cancer been a gift?
My cancer has definitely changed my life in so many ways. I am not the same person I was before my diagnosis and treatment. I think some of the changes are good, but as there often is, some bad has come along as well. I think I took things for granted before I got sick. The biggest was time; I always assumed there would be time for me to accomplish my dreams. I focus more on the “now” and try to make the most out of every day. I also let things go more. Before I used to let the little things get me upset and would sometimes dwell on them. These changes did not happen instantly upon getting sick, but have happened as part of the journey. I also say what I think, this includes the negative thoughts. I sometimes think the world should revolve around me and other people’s needs are not as important as mine.

Are all gifts positive?
Have you ever received a birthday or Christmas gift that you did not like? I have opened gifts and looked at them and thought “What was this person thinking”, “Who can I re-gift this to?” or “How soon can I exchange this?” I have ended keeping some of these gifts and while they might have come in handy (like the carbon dioxide detector from my boyfriend), t hey were not some of my favorites. When I found out I had cancer, I thought immediately that I did not want this. I certainly did not want to give this to someone else, so the re-gift was out, but I did not want this “gift”. I have decided to use my experiences to help others by sharing my story and have often been told I am an inspiration, so I think that I have used this experience for the good, so in the end it might be a gift that I can give to other people, but still would like to not have received it in the first place.

Where is the exchange policy?
If I think of cancer as a gift, I wonder what I would have done if there was an “exchange” policy. Would I have traded in my cancer for a different type of illness? If so, what illness would I like to chosen? Definitely something treatable and not always life threatening. How about irritable bowel, diabetes, chronic allergies or arthritis? I am not trying to say that other illnesses are not bad and do not want to diminish anyone who has them, but if I had to be sick, I would like to be sick with something else. I have had Asthma for over ten years, this has not been in a walk in the park, can be very scary and has landed me in the hospital, but I never questioned my reality or if I would die from it. I broke my tailbone 4 weeks ago and can’t believe how painful this has been and has certainly affected everything in my life, but I would gladly have chosen this over having end stage cancer.

So I ask you these questions and hope that you will comment and share your answers.

If you have cancer or experienced another illness or life changing event, do think it is a gift?
What do you think about gifts being positive or negative?
If you could trade in your cancer or other illness, what other illness would you choose?