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.


ajcmjan said...

Dear Allison,

You got me in tears (again). I am so happy you made it to this birthday, even though the last year has been difficult and full of moments that you shouldn't have had to face. But one way or the other you struggled through and allowed us to be there with you through your blogs. They make us understand what you are dealing with and how it affects you. You wrote about the gifts you leave behind. My dear friend, you have no idea how much impact you have on my life and what amazing gifts you have given me that will be with me for the rest of my life. And that means you'll be around as long as I will be because your gifts will be part of me. Thank you for that. Love and a big hug, Annemieke

Brenda Coffee said...

Hi Allison,
It's so easy to let the cancer win in every area of our lives, but resist. You are still here, still breathing, so keep living. Continue to claim your power in one area, maybe two, and make them a priority. Sing everyday as loud as you can. Make your voice heard. Try and put as much thought and energy into them as you must give to cancer.

I know this is not an easy suggestion, and no one has told me I will die from my cancer, but there's not a day I don't wonder about that. Wonder if I would handle it with as much grace and courage as you are. Wonder if I, too, would call cancer a gift if I were in your place. You are in my prayers.
Brenda Coffee,

Debbie said...

So beautifully written! Thank you so much for sharing your reflections and your journey with us, You are such and amazing person. I try to focus on the joyful things in life and be grateful and not judge each moment or let it spill into the next as you say. Thank you and Happy Birthday!

Claire said...

Dear Allison,

Thank you so much for sharing your heartfelt blog. I come from a family affected by cancer many times and you story is very touching and reminds me to keep hope even in the midst of the fight. I was in tears by the end of the post as were the many other readers of your blog as well. The Family you mentioned are as wonderful, genuine and as close knit off camera as they are in their videos. I had the pleasure to grow up with three of the children and watch their talents grow over the years. I wish you the utmost strenghth in your battle and will keep you in my prayers. I would like to wish you a very happy birthdy Alli.

Kris said...

Happy Birthday Alli! Usually the birthday girl gets the birthday gifts, but on this birthday, you have given all who know you and read your blog, a gift. The present is a gift, that is for sure, but you too are a present, because you are willing to open up your heart and share with others.

You have become willing to delve into the depths of your hopes, dreams, fears, and everyday thoughts, and share the revelations you find in doing so. What I want to be sure that you know is that you are not the only one benefiting from these insights. As someone who also has cancer and someone who has enjoyed talking and writing back and forth with you, I am enlightened, inspired, touched, sometimes brought to tears by your words, but always learning because of you.

We all know that our physical existence will come to an end at some point, but it's easy to put it off thinking that you'll get to sorting it out when the time arrives, or is at least closer. You remind us that we don't know when that will be and we should live and love with open hearts, letting the "bad" parts wash over us and out, and embracing all that is amazing and wonderful in our lives, moment to moment.

A week doesn't go by that I don't tell someone in my family or another of the cancer women I talk with, about your indomitable spirit and how honored I am to have gotten to know you even a little bit and exchange thoughts with you.

May spring continue to unfold more of life's wonders for you, for you are a gift.