A Big Word Called Cancer

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Cancer.

Oh hell. With just six letters that’s a really big word, isn’t it?

Cancer.

Well, I guess if you haven’t had to deal with it, it’s just another word. But once it enters your life – either with yourself or a loved one – it becomes a pretty damn big word, doesn’t it? Like POW! KABAM! A punch in the gut or a slap in the face. It quite literally knocks the breath right out of you.

That little word suddenly takes over your life. You can’t think. You can’t breathe. It robs your mind and spirit of all hope. It destroys plans, dreams, aspirations, and visions of the future. With a simple word your life is changed forever.

Cancer.

It’s something we have difficulty understanding or wrapping our heads around. It’s not normal and it causes death, so it must be some type of foreign thing. An alien or demonic thing growing in an otherwise normal body. We envision black, gooey, smelly, hideous cells forming into monstrous growths. It’s an “ick” that needs to be removed, destroyed, cut out, fought against, yelled at, cried over. Then life can go back normal.

But life won’t be normal again. Not life as we knew it.

Cancer.

As a veterinarian, I deal with this word daily. Through the years I had developed a certain detachment from the word. I practiced a great deal of sensitivity and compassion whenever it came into conversations with clients. Because I could see the impact that unmentionable word had on people when it had to be finally mentioned, especially regarding their beloved pet.

And so I found myself in that same spot facing that same unmentionable word when Luke, my Chessie, was diagnosed with …

Cancer.

When I went through vet school, I remember the pathology professor explaining cancer as “normal cells that go haywire”. Meaning that cancer is a “mistake” in DNA sequencing that turns normal cells into abnormal or cancer cells. These abnormal cells do not understand cell boundaries, limitations of growth, or that they are supposed to stay in their own part of the body and not go elsewhere. They have since discovered that this “mistake” or genetic mutation is there from the moment of birth and a matter of preset destiny. So there really isn’t some icky black “thing” taking over the body.

For me, knowing that cancer is a “mistake” and a preset destiny somehow lessens the blow. I can forgive a mistake, just like I can forgive a friend’s misplaced forgetfulness. Plus it’s less disconcerting looking at Luke and envisioning “messed-up” cells interfering with normalcy instead of icky black crap destroying his body. And there is a sense of comfort knowing that no matter what – cleaner living, better choices, thinking more happy thoughts – it would not have changed this outcome. It is what it is.

Cancer.

This word no longer scares or terrifies me. I choose to live life to it’s fullest irregardless of what time is left or some doctor’s prognosis (medical terminology for ‘best guess”). I will not regret the choices of the past nor sit with remorse or guilt worrying over what I might have done differently. I will choose to cherish the precious life I hold in my arms now, and wait to grieve my losses when it finally comes – not before. I will not let the fear engulf me but choose instead to have faith in something greater. Because I know that no matter what, no matter how it happens, everything will be OK. I may not have the outcome I want, but that’s OK.

Because that is life.

Mistakes and all!

 

Returning

yourpast1I haven’t posted here for some time. Each day has been a struggle. An endless stretch of days, weeks, months of struggles.

I’ve been hurt. I’ve been scared. I lost faith. I lost hope. My world is unrecognizable to me. I really expected to be in a different place. To be a different person than I am now. I expected to be living a dream much different than my current reality.

And through it all my creative spirit has been crushed and silenced by my inner critic.

“Don’t write about that.”

“People will call you silly or stupid or a drama queen for putting it out there.”

“People don’t give a shit.”

“What you have to say has no value.”

“They will say ‘OMG you wouldn’t believe what she wrote on her stupid blog!'”

So the creative writer within me shut down, silenced herself, and closed up shop. The artist closed her walls and withheld her artwork within, believing it had no value. The dreamer gave up her dream world of psychedelic color and returned to the grayness and din of the real world of work, routine, and counting days. The balance between the artist and the scientist tipped hard towards the science/logic/black and white self. She turned to just living the struggle.

But the soul like any seed planted in the darkness, will always reach for the sunlight. It reaches up and out and forward to present itself to the world. It does not ask for the opinion of the other seeds or plants on whether to rise and open it’s leaves.  It does not seek validation of it’s worth or value or beauty. It already knows within that it has worth. That it has beauty. It just IS.

Our souls like seeds weren’t meant to hold back. Neither were meant to be planted in fertile ground and not emerge into something amazing. Something beautiful. Something miraculous.

Sometimes growth is sudden. Sometimes great growth comes from great pain. But from great pain emerges great strength.

I’m hoping to embrace that great strength now.

I’m hoping to bring my soul back into the sunlight and set it free again…

 

Heartbreak

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Dear Ex,

This still hurts. Even after several months, this still really hurts. Bad.

I will never understand why you threw me away and walked away from us. You didn’t fight to keep me. You didn’t ask me to hang until you figured things out.

You took me to family functions. We did stuff with your mom and daughters. We made plans for the future. YOU made plans for the future that included me. YOU invited me into your life.

When did all that change????

You got to decide it was over – I wasn’t even given a choice.

You. Just. Walked. Away.

I will never understand how it was so damn easy for you to do that. That you could so easily toss aside what we had built together without so much as a blink. This is not the man I knew and loved.

How did I ever fall in love with someone so cruel?

I’m thinking maybe I never knew you at all.

Signed, Me

Breaking up with someone brings an eruption of emotions into your existence. First you feel the pain, like someone ripped your heart out. Yes, ripping. No clean cut, surgical removal of your heart. It’s dirty, tearing, gnawing pain. There’s mud and shit thrown in that damn wound. You want to just curl up in a ball and die.

Next the sadness overtakes you, causing you to burst into tears at the drop of a hat. A song on the radio. A moment in a TV show. The way someone says a phrase. You feel raw. Like one giant exposed nerve. Life looks so hopeless.

Gradually the anger sets in and you declare your defiance. “How dare he do this to me” and “Prick!” become part of your daily vocabulary. You seethe with hatred, dreaming of ways to extract your revenge in big and beautiful acts of self-righteousness. Your inner self is once again finding it’s footing after so much turmoil.

Eventually the heat of anger subsides, and acceptance sets in. You begin to accept it is over. That what you had is truly gone. Your dreams are dead. You begin to think you’ve really got your head back on your shoulders and your heart is finally gonna mend. A sliver of hope for the future slowly creeps into the darkness of your injured soul.

Then suddenly in an instant it’s gone. Oh hell. You find yourself back at square one and you have just started the entire mess all over again…..

This is where I find myself now. I don’t know if I’m coming or going anymore. So many dreams and hopes have been shattered by the single action of another. I always figured myself for a pretty level headed gal, but this had literally knocked me to me knees. And it continues to knock me down. This hurts like a mother fucker.

How did I ever let someone else have this much power over me? I was such a fucking fool to believe and trust in him.

What I did I expect to gain? Why risk it all?

Because I believed in true love. I believed that true love conquers all difficulties that life can throw at you. I have seen it do that for other couples. Family, friends, colleagues – I’ve seen the miracle of true love in their lives. I had dreamed of that in my life. I truly thought I had finally brought that into my life.

Boy was I wrong.

 

 

Wisdom of Grace

This is the third in my Growing Older series in looking back at the lessons others have given me through the years. Lessons in aging with grace. When I started this series, this was the first person I thought of when I say the phrase “aging with grace.”

Aunt Alma

My earliest memories of my Aunt Alma were of a joyous, funny woman who, although she was my grandmother’s sister, acted nothing like my stiff, strict grandmother. Although she was a graceful older woman, she was like one of us kids, preferring to get down on the floor with us and join in our games. She would play hide and seek. She would bake us cookies and give us candy. She would chase and tickle us as we ran through her house. She insisted that a long life must be filled with laughter. And that the national drink was coffee – which is why the pot was always on at her house and someone was always stopping by for a cup. I loved and looked up to this wonderful woman, even though she barely stood 4 foot 10 inches.

The focus of my aunt’s life was my Uncle Arvid. They had met and married at a young age. Anyone looking at them could see they were very much in love. Even as a child I could see it, and it gave one a sense of security whenever you were with them. Not to be cliche, but they really acted and believed that love conquered all. And their life reflected that. Aunt Alma always liked to tell us as kids that Uncle Arvid was the love of her life, and that with him anything was possible. “You will find one too someday, then you’ll know what I mean,” she would say. They would playfully tease each other and even the occasional argument ended in teasing and laughter. “Never go to bed angry” was another one of her sayings.

The death of my uncle rocked my aunt’s world. Her better half was suddenly gone. But she eventually regained her composure, and embraced life once again with the laughter, joy, and childlike happy outlook on life that she had when he was alive. She surrounded herself with younger people, enjoying life. She filled her days with activity. One particular holiday our family had gathered and at the table Aunt Alma told a joke she had heard from one of her neighbors. It involved using popcorn as a dressing in a turkey. “That’s how you blow the ass off a turkey,” she laughed. I thought my grandmother was going to stroke out. All us kids laughed with Aunt Alma. She was our hero for saying a cuss word at the table. In the end, Alzheimer’s took her, but through it she retained her childlike, joyous personality, always looking to tell you a joke. Never mind that it was the same one over and over again, she always laughed as if it was the first time you heard it.

My Aunt Alma showed me by example that life is limitless and ageless when you have love and laughter in your life. I’ve recently discovered my own love of my life, and I’m beginning to understand what she meant. With such love, one’s life is truly limitless. You feel you can conquer anything. Life still has it’s highs and lows, but the lows are much more tempered with the support of love. There’s also safety and comfort in having someone else there with you on this life journey. When life is so filled, it doesn’t leave you wanting more. I see so much of my Aunt Alma and Uncle Arvid in my own relationship – laughter, childlike play and joy, mutual respect. It reaffirms to me that this love is real, that it is meant to be. Such love has also tempered my fear of growing old. Perhaps my fear of aging was really the fear of aging alone.

Thanks to love and my Aunt Alma’s wisdom of grace, I’m not afraid anymore.

 

Beginnings

This is the second post in my Growing Older series. Sharing the gifts of wisdom others have shared with me over the years. Gifts that I hoped will shine the light on my fears, open my eyes to the truths, and allow the beauty of sage wisdom temper my reluctance to age gracefully.

I had fully intended to start out writing about someone older than me who has given me priceless sage wisdom. Wisdom about aging. Wisdom about strength and courage. To share the precious gifts they gave me. But that isn’t a beginning. And for me to better understand the journey and the end, I must start at the beginning. Which brings me to…..

farm, baby goatMy Niece Truen

Truen is just in the start of her life. A teenager whose position in life I envy right now – a lifetime ahead of her. Life changes day to day and time does not move fast enough for someone her age. She views life as being stuck at home in some kind of limbo land until she turns old enough to leave. Stuck living by someone else’s rules. Stuck having to do things she doesn’t want to. Stuck. Her independent spirit is just beginning starting to sprout it’s wings. And she’s stuck. I know the feeling – I was once that teenager.

But having lived that stage in my life then gone on to bigger and better things, I see that point of time in a much different light. As well I also have the adult wisdom and freedom to remove myself from “stuck” situations. I miss the carefree days of being a kid living at home. Sure there were rules, but I didn’t worry about food, heat, electricity, a room of my own, or outdoor places to explore. It was all at my fingertips. I didn’t worry about making mortgage payments or paying the insurance bill so I could go to the doctor. My waking world was caught up in friends, making plans for the weekend, playing with my siblings, and exploring interests – not in the “business” of living. The only worries I had were those of a kid, which now seem so trivial in the bigger scheme of life.

So Truen has helped me realize these things:

  • No matter where you are in life, there are both good and not-so-good things about that time. It is only human nature to pine over a different time and wish that you were there. But it takes wisdom to understand that all you really have is now. Best to live in the present and appreciate life as it is now – both the good and not-so-good. When one is able to stay in the present, time disappears. (Now how Eckhart Tolle is that?)
  •  Life is not a timeline, but a collection of life events. Like when someone asks you about an event, and you run through all other events in an effort to categorize it. An example: “When did Bob and Abby get married?” “Oh, well it was 5 years after his dad died and a year before we moved into the house on Main. ’85 I think. The same year as the blizzard that shut down town for 3 days.”  See what I mean? Life events, not time. Having Truen in my life makes me want to be around as long as possible to see her life events, regardless of how old I may be.
  •  As I grow older I appreciate the lessons of my elders, but I also recognize the lessons of those following behind me. I try to lead when I can, but often I must step aside and let them wander ahead on their own. Sometimes there is joy. Sometimes there is pain. But by golly they can certainly teach me a thing or two if I just allow them to. Now I understand why my elders would get that certain look in their eyes when looking at a younger me. My goodness – I’ve become my Grandmother.
  • No matter how old you are, you can still dance and shake your booty. Even if it’s to embarrass your nieces.

Aging is a progression, a progression of life events. On the front side we experience the wondrous expectations of life, the promise of a limitless uncertain future, the excitement of new relationships and births, and face the first losses that death deals us. But as we walk further ahead, we turn to see the back side where we begin to fade physically and mentally, recognize the transfer of youth and expectation to our children and their children, we experience our lives through the life events of others, and death begins to loom as a constant reminder of our mortality. Perhaps to find that aging grace in our lives is to approach life each day by embracing all that life is in that moment, realizing that the present moment is all we truly have at any one time. And that is all we need. We can’t go back. We can’t go forward. We are only here now.

Is it really that simple?