The Tale of Us Against the Monster: Learning to Do It Anyway

I know it might seem a bit soon to write another segment of the “Us Against the Monster” series.  Usually I write them when I have come to yet another realization in our battle with the cancer demon…when I have an epiphany.  Well…it happens fast sometimes.

My husband and I are dealing with a pain breakthrough that has become a crisis.  You who are familiar with the evils of the Monster will be, sadly, all too familiar with this.  For those of you who are blessed not to be touched by this menace, a pain breakthrough happens when the regular pain medication stops being effective.  The pain can return so fast and overwhelmingly that the medication you have been taking up to that point no longer works, and it’s time to either increase the dosage or turn to another drug entirely.  This can take a while, because first you will begin by upping the dosage, and if this is not the answer, you must try other medications until you find the one that works. But all this happens while you are in pain.  This last pain breakthrough has gone on for almost eight weeks, and so when I call it a crisis, I mean crisis with a capital C.

It’s easy to lose hope, and to think “this is the end.” How long must this go on?  I have thought these thoughts often over the past few months, wondering “how much longer can he battle on?”  It’s easy to fall into a depression. Sometimes I can feel depression creeping up behind me and laying its cold hand heavily on my shoulder.   A friend posted to Facebook yesterday about the concept of “Depressive Realism.”  This concept “dictates that perhaps while none of us want to be depressed – it’s possible that those who suffer from depression may in fact be right” (Loewen, Psychology).  Basically, a person who experiences Depressive Realism does not see the world through rose colored glasses, but as it really is: sometimes exceptionally harsh.  They look into the darkness, and see the darkness looking back at them.  I know that I feel this way at times, and lately, in the face of terrible, ongoing pain, more often than not.

Last night, a close friend touched base with me, just to chat and check in on how we’re doing.  I gave her a “monster” update.  After, I asked about her and hers.  She told me that very recently, the tragedy of suicide had touched her partner’s family, and that he is devastated.  Suicide is such a horror for the loved ones of the suicide victim; questions are asked and with the grief and confusion, there is the inevitable guilt—why didn’t I see it coming? What could I have done?  And of course, Why??  Her answer was a heavy laden “life was too much for him.” I understand. Pain, no matter kind it is, can make life simply intolerable.

The French philosopher Albert Camus, in his book The Myth of Sisyphus posits that people want the world to be reasonable and when they discover that the world is a chaotic mess, they can’t see the meaning in life.  Everything seems absurd.  Therefore, people will reconcile this absurdity by either accepting that life is truly meaningless, or they will choose to take a “leap of faith.” He asks, if life is meaningless, is suicide an option?  If there’s no meaning, then what’s the point? But he suggests another possibility, and that is to face the absurdity head on.  In essence, don’t run from the madness of the world, but embrace the struggles of life day by day.  Don’t try to find universal answers that probably don’t exist anyway—just respond intelligently to your own set of absurdities.  He believes that this is the way to overcome and find a rich and purposeful life.  It’s all very existentialist, but isn’t pain the most existential experience of all?

As a person of faith, my thoughts on suicide are complicated and unresolvable, because as a person living with the Monster, I am in a position to see both sides of the argument as valid and reasonable.  My husband’s physician has clearly explained the prognosis of our particular Monster, and it’s not good.  Pain will be the unbearable, unavoidable element of my husband’s journey.  Our doctor has, very gently, made us aware of the option of physician assisted suicide.  For later on…when the inevitable is upon us.  He put it out there for us to discuss while mulling over my husband’s end of life wishes.  Yes, we have talked about it, but again, as people of faith, our feelings are extremely complex where this subject is concerned.  However, for this series, I feel that it is important to at least make mention of it.  Some of you who are fighting the Monster, and can see the shadow of the journey’s end closing upon you, this may or may not be a discussion you choose to engage.

Later, after my conversation with my friend had ended, I spent the last part of my evening working on a writing project.  Usually when I write, I like to have music playing quietly in the background.  I don’t care what it is, as long as it’s not hard and aggressive.  I happened upon my husband’s playlist…

I keep saying that my husband and I are people of faith.  What does that mean exactly? It means that we are among those who have seen Camus’ absurdities, and have found our meaning in life in spite of them by taking a leap of faith…by looking to a Power greater than ourselves.  Even though, I admit to feeling that my prayers hit the ceiling sometimes, bounce back, and ricochet off the side of my head.  Further, I admit that sometimes I wonder what if no one is listening, and then despair begins to bubble hot inside me.  I think, if this is what’s coming, what is the point? Why face it if we don’t have to?  Who would fault us for wanting to escape the agony?

Then, as I said, I happened upon my husband’s playlist, playing selections at random.  The lyrics of this song spoke to the chaos in the world, and doesn’t it feel sometimes like this world is becoming madder by the day?  We seem to be careening off the rails toward something dark and frightening.  Yet, the lyrics also expressed the need to embrace life…to face the dangers and grief head on and find our strength in perseverance…like Camus suggested.  However, the lyrics also implied that to take on this arduous task requires more than strength and determination, it takes a leap of faith, and that faith is not useless.  As I worked on my project, I stopped to listen as the words came to me like poetry…like scripture…like a still, small Voice…

“You can spend your whole life building something from nothing; one storm can come and blow it all away.  Build it anyway.

You can chase a dream that seems so out of reach, and you know it might not ever come your way. Dream it anyway.

This world’s gone crazy and it’s hard to believe that tomorrow will be better than today. Believe it anyway.

You can love someone with all your heart for all the right reasons, and in a moment they can choose to walk away. Love them anyway.

God is great, but sometimes life ain’t good. When I pray, it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should, but I do it anyway.

Do it anyway.”

It is not lost on me that I found this song on my husband’s playlist.  Nor that it came to me when I was feeling sad, and both emotionally and intellectually confused.  Nor that I was looking around me for some universal truth to help make sense of everything going on around me.  When I went to sleep, I dreamt the words “do it anyway.”

You who are feeling beaten down and consumed by the Monster’s ferocity, I know that not a lot makes sense right now. Up is down. Down is up.  The Monster tells you that there is no point to anything, and that he is all there is now in your life… just a constant brawl with pain, despair, and futility.  Don’t listen to his lies.  Building, dreaming, loving, believing, and praying…together, these things give life meaning and purpose.  They make life beautiful.  Even though moments of beauty seem rare, they become more plentiful when you are eager to embrace them, because you are focusing on them and not grappling with the Monster.  When you engage with the beautiful, precious moments, they will confirm to you that there is a point after all.

I don’t know all the answers.  I can only share the answers I have found that work for us.  My husband told me today that he doesn’t want to be a burden to me. When I told him that it was him and me until the very end, he looked at me with such love and gratitude in his eyes that I was stunned. Shocked by the beauty of the moment.  There followed peace, the kind that passes understanding.  The Monster does not want us to find solace, but even as he bares his yellowed fangs at us, we embrace the love and beauty that transcend fear and pain.  He growls with fury, but we do it anyway.

“Anyway” is written and performed by Martina McBride.

#pain #cancer

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The Tale of Us Against the Monster: Becoming a Slayer of Spiders

 

I have always been afraid of spiders.  Let me assure you that I know the foolishness of arachnophobia.  By comparison, spiders are smaller and weaker than I am.  I know that they will avoid me if possible.  I know that they are not hunting me.  I know that they are not my enemy.  Essentially, they don’t give me any thought…if they think at all.  That being said, I have always been afraid of them.  I dunno, maybe one crawled across my face in my crib when I was a baby and startled me.  I have no idea where the phobia stems from.  To me, they are hideous, monstrous things that I can’t wrap my head around.  I mean, why all the eyes?  Ugh!  And I don’t understand where their mouths are.  Gross.  Also, they’re little vampires, sucking their prey dry who, by the way, are still alive when the spider starts eating them.  They’re like horror movie fiends.  I know all the arguments about the good spiders do, how useful and amazing their silk is, and how beautiful and intricate their webs are.  I agree, and it’s true.  We need spiders…there…I said it.  But I am still horrified by them.  Horrified… Interesting word.  I am horrified by them, but does horrified mean the same as terrified?  I have begun, of late, to rethink my phobia and gain some perspective.

 

Before the Monster entered our life, my husband was my champion when it came to tracking down an invading arachnid, eliminating it, and disposing of its carcass. (Flushed down the toilet only.  It can’t be put in the garbage in case it comes back to life and seeks vengeance…which is just how weird the phobia can be.)  Spider-Slayer was a mantle, among many mantles, that my husband took on for me.  Even amid his chiding “C’mon, it’s just a spider, you big baby,” he never shirked his duty.  When it came to de-bugging our house, my husband was my hero.  But now, as the Monster’s shadow spreads its venom further over my husband’s body, he cannot always rescue me from spiders.  These days, I must battle them alone.  I don’t even call my husband when I see one now.  You see, spiders just don’t frighten me anymore…not like the Monster does.

 

You don’t realize, I guess, how roles are different in the home when you’re in a marriage until those roles are somehow disrupted.  My husband and I have always maintained a “pink” and “blue” balance that seemed to work perfectly for us. For instance, I did the cooking and he did the washing up.  I did the laundry and he cut the grass.  I cleaned the bathrooms and he cleaned the car.  I did all the grocery shopping and he took care of fixing stuff.  I vacuumed and he took care of spiders.  Balance.  It worked flawlessly until the Monster threw us off kilter and set our life on its ear. I suppose, too, that our idea of balance will not work for everyone, but I guarantee, every happy married couple has a balance of their own.  Same, same, same…and when that balance is out of whack, it seems everything is out of whack. For a while…

 

Lately, and especially now that my husband takes to his bed for extended periods during the day, I have learned the “blue” jobs.  And I’m okay, mostly.  I was considering earlier this year as I dug out the soil of the garden, sifted it, and planted my veggies, that maybe I could manage by myself. I’ve been cutting the grass all year. And why can’t I take the car in and have the oil changed?  It’s not that I’m helpless, it’s just that I’m used to having help.  Then it occurred to me, a terrible realization, that maybe I was learning, very naturally and unconsciously, to prepare myself for life without my husband—learning who I must be when he is gone. Then I wondered if this is the same for everyone in my shoes.  Is there a part of our brain, that we aren’t even mindful of, that begins the transitioning process out of necessity?  Is it a self-preservation mechanism?  Because I am not ready to say goodbye to him—not at all.  I can’t help feeling that there is still so much more. 

 

So, I killed a spider the other day, and I wasn’t afraid.  I saw it coming down the wall—big, black, and evil.  There was a time when the mere sight of it would have sent me screaming from the room, calling my husband in a panic.  People who know me well will attest to this truth.  However, on this day, I simply used the flyswatter, tissued up the remains, and threw it away…in the garbage can.  Done and done.  Don’t get me wrong—I would not want a spider crawling on me, but something inside me has changed now, and I have bigger fish to fry.

 

There is a famous bible verse that says, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways (1st Cor 13:11).” That quote has come to mean more to me in the past couple of months than it ever has before. Simply, there comes a time to be rid of folly.  I know that what lies ahead will require a fully actualized adult, a mature mind, a grown-up capable of critical thinking…one who doesn’t run away if there’s a spider on the wall. 

 

When it’s a nice day, my husband gets up for a while.  He sits outside on a lawn chair, his feet up, wrapped in a blanket while the sun shines on his face, and watches me.  He tells me he wishes he could help me in the garden and I tell him he is helping by keeping me company. And so we chat about radishes and tomatoes, and while away the afternoon.  It’s peaceful, the Monster is silent, and we have more.  This is not the end.

 

You who are finding the strength to go it alone, you can do it, and you will surprise yourself.  Since the Monster invaded your home, you have often wondered, as you lay in bed at night, staring at the ceiling when sleep eludes you, just how you will manage alone.  It’s okay.  In a way, you already are, aren’t you?  Somehow, you will grow into these changes, little by little.  Some of these changes will happen almost without you noticing, and you will look back, astounded.  While your attention was focused elsewhere as you did battle with the Monster, you forgot to be afraid of inconsequential things. 

 

You see, it’s not that I don’t need help. Often I do, and when I do, I’m not shy about reaching out anymore.  However, I have learned to help myself too, and it makes me feel little bit safe. I have answered some of my own questions, and by doing so, the balance has returned, fragile though it may be.  Normalcy is important.  The Monster wants fear and chaos.  Ignore him.  Instead, cut the grass, or bake some cookies, or run the vacuum over the living room floor. Wherever you can take back control, take it!  It’s what I do now—I’m getting the knack slowly but surely—and if a spider happens to trespass, no worries.  I got this.

 

La Vie Est Belle: Kudos to Servers

Most everyone I know has been to a restaurant to eat a meal.  I have been to so many restaurants in so many cities that I can’t begin to count them all, and in all of those restaurants in all of those towns, some person has served me. 

I like servers because I used to be one.  In fact, before I returned to university, I waitressed for…decades.  I can tell you right now that it’s good honest work.  For those of you who have never been in the service industry, I can tell you from personal experience that serving is the first and central aspect of the job description, but there is much more to it.  In every restaurant I worked in, the wait staff was responsible for cleaning the restaurant—this included the bathrooms—and the service areas of the kitchen.  This is called “side work” and it is often a dreaded list of tasks done either at the beginning or toward the end of shift.  And no one goes home until it’s done!  Them’s the rules.

Needless to say, servers work hard for their money, often working weird hours, like 9:00 pm until 5:00 am…and they said there was no 9 to 5 in serving.  It is to laugh… 

Notably, serving is usually a minimum wage job.  Always has been, and probably always will be.  Wait staff rarely get raises unless they are unionized—which is rare—or have a generous boss—which, unfortunately, is also rare.  Once, I asked the owner of one restaurant I worked in, why the cooks got a raise but the servers did not.  His response was that the wait staff make tips.  When I mentioned that each of the wait staff was required to pay the cooks 20% of their tips after every shift, he said it was not the same thing.  This seems to be the attitude of many owners.  In one restaurant I worked in, the two cooks made more in tips than the individual waitresses.  And had a higher wage.  Not the same? You’re right. Not the same at all.

So, hard work, weird hours, no raises, no benefits.  No pension.  I began working at one place because the lady who had my shift was retiring after 30 years of service.  No parting gift, no pay out, no going away party, no pension, no nothing.  There was a “thank you and goodbye” and that was when I realized I had to get out of the restaurant business.   To be fair, not all restaurants are as horrendously unkind as this one was.  Some are extremely good to their people.  Yet serving, for the most part, is one of the most thankless jobs out there, even though servers are some of the workers in society upon whom so many depend and without whom restaurants cannot survive.  Strange, isn’t?  To me, they are unsung heroes…

How many times have you seen a waitress bring a pack of crackers to a fussy toddler, or mop up a customer’s spill, or listen patiently and apologetically as someone loudly criticizes food which the server had no part in cooking, or respond politely when a customer snaps their fingers at them, whistles, or shouts “hey you?”

However, the two things about serving that seems to make the job worthwhile, are the great customers and the gratuities.  Wonderful customers are the backbone of any restaurant.  They treat the wait staff like human beings and in return, wait staff are eager to serve them. You know what?  It isn’t hard to be a wonderful customer!  One simply must treat the wait staff with a modicum of respect and civility, smile if possible, say please and thank you, and if there are any complaints about the food, direct them to either the manager or the maitre d’ because your server has no control over how well your food has been prepared.  Finally, and most of all, leave a tip.  Yes, a tip that is 20% of the bill. 

Let me explain about tipping.  Now, most people I know will tip even if the service is mediocre.  Let me say also, if service is well and truly bad, by all means, do not tip.  That said, I know a few out there who won’t tip even if the server backflips around the restaurant at their customer’s request.  A waitress friend of mine, back in the early 90s, served a birthday party for a lady’s 80th.  It was a group of 25 people who arrived an hour after my friend’s shift began, and left four hours later, two hours before her shift ended.  They ordered cocktails and appetizers, followed by surf and turf, with many bottles of wine.  Then after, stayed for drinks and desserts.  The server was run off her feet, but the people who attended the party spoke her praises to the manager.  The bill came to hundreds of dollars and was being picked up by the son of the birthday girl.  He left my friend a two dollar tip.  Later, she was in the break room crying because, after she gave the cook his percentage, she’d made approximately a buck fifty on top of her lousy $35.00 wage.  Worst of all, she kept going over and over the evening in her mind, wondering where she failed at her job, or if she forgot something, or if she got an order wrong. The truth is, she did nothing wrong.  Some people just don’t tip, as bizarre as that might seem to some of us.

Here’s another thing you might not know about your gratuities.  The federal government taxes servers on an additional 10% on top of their gross income, as a gratuity tax.  Whether wait staff get tips or not, are forced to give a percentage of their tips away, or are forced to pool their tips with other servers, they get taxed an extra 10% on top of their taxable income.  True story.  Therefore, if you see a service charge on your bill, don’t complain.  The fact is, lots of people don’t tip.  Ever.  However, servers nevertheless are taxed for the tip they did not get. That’s just the reality of serving.

Now I’ve heard the argument that servers get a wage, or could get better paying jobs, and all the other arguments given by people who are plain and simply too miserly to tip.  They don’t have to, so they refuse to.  And they are right—they don’t have to tip if they don’t want to.  But you know what? To them, I say, if a server gives you good service, then get a crow bar and pry open your wallet, you cheapskate, and give the server a damn tip; he/she did, after all, help make your day a little nicer.  So, you can be a little nicer in return. 

And some people truly are nicer:

Three weeks ago in Napavine, Washington, a waitress was doing her job—the job she’d been doing at that restaurant for 20 years.  She was so busy that day, she didn’t have a lot of extra time to spend chatting with customers, and when a certain couple left, it wasn’t until a few minutes later that she noticed.  Their bill was $44.00.  They thanked her for her service and noticed how hard she worked.  They left her a $3,000.00 tip!! On the back of the cheque, they acknowledged that times were tough, and asked only that she take a bit of the tip and pay it forward somehow.  Well, after she’d picked herself up off the ground from the shock, she did just that: she shared some of it with her fellow wait staff, used some of it to spoil her grandkids a bit, and then used the rest to fill up the holes in her finances.  She said that the money changed her life, and she will never be able to thank the people who tipped her so extravagantly for their incredible generosity. 

These days, I am a patron, not a server, in restaurants, and I would like to give a shout out and many kudos to the hard-working servers in the restaurant industry.  Thank you for the refills of coffee and tea.  Thank you for bringing extra water. Thank you for cleaning up all the “goo” after I leave.  I appreciate you.  You will always get a minimum 20% tip from me…in cash…because cash is invisible…wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

 

Note: Thank you to my friend, Carol M, for her assistance with my terribly inadequate French.

The Tale of Us Against the Monster: Becoming Giraffes

My husband and I are visiting his family in Ottawa, and staying with his sister and her husband. Also visiting are her son, daughter-in-law, their two little girls, and their two dogs. My husband’s sister has a dog also. And we brought ours along for the trip. The front door has become revolving with other family members going in and out constantly. The kitchen is fragrant with on-going cooking and baking. Kids running around. Toys strewn across the family room floor. Either hockey or cartoons on the television. Dogs barking. People grazing the fruit, cookies, muffins, etc on the counters. Wine flowing like water. Lots of laughter and conversation. It’s a loud, busy family circus. I come from a family background that is hilariously similar, so it’s like home. To me, this is what family living is, and being with a husband who can closely relate, he and I have a noisy, busy life also when family comes to visit us. We are humans at play, in our own little gaggle, in our own ample den.

This morning, I had a few moments to interact with my husband’s three year old grand-niece. Such a bright and lively child, we were admiring the way her tiara sparkled in the sunshine. I asked her if she was looking forward to school, and she replied enthusiastically that she was indeed. So then I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She wasn’t certain, so we entered into a short but in-depth dialectic about her choice of future careers. I asked her if she wanted to fly to outer space and walk on the moon, but she wrinkled her nose at this. How about a teacher like mommy and daddy? But that wasn’t it either. Okay…maybe a doctor that looks after sick puppies? She hesitated, but then decided she didn’t want to look after dogs. I asked her what her favorite animal was. “Giraffe,” she replied. Well, how about a doctor who looks after giraffes? Her response was, “No. I want to BE a giraffe.”

For those of you who may not know the essential attributes of giraffes, I am given to understand that they are tall, they are orange, and they play. I have this information on great authority, related to me by a small person who sees life on its most uncomplicated, truthful terms. In her innocent opinion, an opinion neither tainted nor scarred by this world, being a giraffe is where it’s at. I have to admit that I entirely agree with her. In fact, I discussed this further with my husband, and we’ve decided that we’d like to be giraffes too.

Right now, she’s going to and fro in her tiara, dress up clothes, wearing her grandmother’s fancy dress shoes, and rocking a pair of bedazzled pink sunglasses—seeing her world through them…through rose colored glasses. My husband watches her consuming the space where she plays, and his eyes sparkle with amusement. He watches her and looks at me with a grin as she changes or adds to her costume for the fiftieth time. She’s lovely, and warming, and free. When she is in the room, the Monster is no match for her…because she’s as big as a giraffe.

You see, this child still holds the sunny magic within. She is able to be a princess in one moment, and in the next moment a teacher, instructing her baby sister in the dynamics of crawling. How could she otherwise? Her world is filled with movement. She knows who she is at the most fundamental level—the intangible, indescribably complex human soul—yet without the superfluous impediment of words. She just knows. She alone holds the power, above any of the adults in her company, to open the wardrobe door, push through the fur coats, and enter the fantastical snowy wood. And that is why she can be a giraffe is she pleases…because she still believes. The Monster’s dark sorcery is overcome by this brilliant light.

We all need a little of her magic. Her vast capacity to believe. A portion of her light. It is time for her nap now, and so she goes to her unencumbered sleep, wrapped cozily in the light, protected by the noisy, busy love of her family. She is not disturbed by the chatter and laughter on the other side of the door. Likewise, my husband lays down for the afternoon, tells me I look pretty, and kisses me with his eyes. I can’t see the Monster today, and it’s on days like this, that I manage to reach out and catch a bit of the magic as it breezes past me…just for a moment…like the glitter of fairy dust in my palm. An inkling of belief. A stir of faith.

You, who are searching for magic and longing for the light, I can tell you that it is there, beyond the Monster’s reach. It’s not the magic spell kind. There are no incantations that can be learned and spoken against the Monster. But there is magic, transformative magic, that lingers in the light. And the light is where your love resides. It’s okay to believe that the Monster has fled for the day. It’s okay to take advantage of his absence, as temporary as it might be, because his return is a sad certainty, but the time to worry about that is later. For today, we return to the magical light. Today, we live in the clamor of love and family. Today, we wear tiaras. Today, we become giraffes.

The Tale of Us Against the Monster: High Blood Pressure, Sisyphus, and Massage Therapy

The other morning, my husband announced that he had made me an appointment to get an hour’s massage…and that I had to be there at noon. My immediate reaction was irritation caused by the fact that he had made the appointment without consulting me. I am in the center of a scheduled diet and exercise routine to rectify high blood pressure and out-of-control blood sugar levels. And I had plans! I was going to the gym, and then I was going to work on a paper, and then I was going to do errands, and then I was going to do a little shopping for my mother, and then I was going to get some vacuuming done at home, and finally, make supper. All that went out the window when my husband made the massage appointment for me…without my consent…without first checking on my busy day. I took it personally. And then I found out that I couldn’t reschedule without a fee, and was stuck with that day and time. I was so flustered and pissed off, that I forgot that I was being upset by a “spa day.” Well, I went. I begrudgingly kept the appointment.

So I’m there, at the spa, gritting my teeth as I fill out annoying and invasive questions on a questionnaire. Why do they need to know my family’s health and wellness history in order to give me a one hour “rub down” with essential oils in a darkened room while ocean waves play in the background on a CD player? I just don’t have time for this!! I am served green tea with eastern flavors and a cayenne pepper finish poured into in a little earless cup of turned pottery as I sit there barefoot on a bamboo floor, spilling forth personal information, while the front desk staff, operate in hushed tones by cheerful, fragrance-free, vegan, yoga-posing students of Eastern philosophies, smile and wait on the forms I am filling out. “No rush. Please take your time.” Ugh…fine. I’m happy. I’m peaceful. I’m at one with the universe. Whatever…

My “Registered Massage Therapist” comes to the waiting area to collect and deposit me in the massage room. She leaves for a few minutes as I shed my clothes and get onto the massage table—all covered up nice and discretely and modestly, even though I know that, in the middle of my busy day, a stranger is going to pour essential oils on my naked body and put her hands directly on me…and all over me. It’s an odd dichotomy…the impersonal intimacy of a body massage.

So now I’m staring at the floor through the little donut hole face rest…waiting…again—thinking about all the things I still have to do today. Listing them in my mind. Pissed off at my husband for not respecting that I had a day ahead of me! I have high blood pressure that requires medication and regular cardio work-outs!! I absolutely MUST do a regular stress detox!! Doesn’t he understand that I’m headed for a stroke? I need to stay healthy so that I can look after him!! Doesn’t he realize that the bills aren’t going to pay themselves, and the milk doesn’t just, of its own volition, walk over to us from the grocery store? And who is going to pick up and drop off mom’s coffee cream and Apple Cinnamon Cheerios?? And when am I going to find the time to put in a couple hours on my paper and tutor foreign students?? I’m just so angry now! My face heats up. I can hear my heart beat in my ears. Ah crap!! There goes my blood pressure again!

And then the Massage Therapist returns. After a few moments, she learns what style of massage I need in terms of pressure, and where I ache on my body—which is literally everywhere. Yet, I can’t resist the urge to inform her that my husband booked the appointment without my knowledge and in a roundabout way “can we just get to it please?” I feel grumpy, but then she delivers the deathblow to my stressed-out, irritable, self-righteous, completely obtuse indignation. “What a loving thing for him to do for you…to take you away from all your running around and worry, and put you in a place of peace…sometimes it’s enough that we accept and receive…”

Damn that new age eastern philosophy!! She pretty much nailed it though. And my husband was completely right.

In the battle with the Monster, we can feel like Sisyphus…rolling a boulder up a hill, watching it roll back down again, and then rolling it up the hill again, forever, never finishing our task—our arduous, meaningless task—and always, we are at the task alone. The Monster wants you to believe you are alone, and that you and only you are capable of completing the tasks that hold your life together. The Monster insists you buy into the belief that all your many tasks must be performed in order to maintain your grasp on reality—like a sacrifice on an altar—and it is this sacrifice that brings peace and somehow holds the Monster at bay.

He’s lying to you…and messing with your head. He’s convincing though, isn’t he? If the Monster has deceived you, you’re not alone. He’s deceived me too. Many times. There is an old proverb that says “A problem shared is a problem halved.” Let people help you. Even if help comes from the one you must help. It’s not selfish to escape for an hour now and again. Actually, the brief escape is a stress release. You just have to receive every now and then. You must forget about the Monster and just do you. As it turned out, my life didn’t collapse in on itself just because I missed a gym day. We did without milk for an evening. My mom had toast and fruit instead of Cheerios. It worked itself out for me, and little things like this will work themselves out for you too. That being said, you are not foolish. I know how distorted and big the little things seem when stacked alongside the Monster’s looming shadow.

I always fall back into that “being all things for everybody” routine…or, rut. It consumes me. It blinds me so that I am unable to see the gift in something. I can’t see that my husband is providing for me…still. He’s in the very center of this with me, after all. Our battle with the Monster. Nevertheless, he stands by quietly as I scurry back and forth, making not a dent, and changing zip… “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (from Macbeth). The Massage Therapist urges me to breathe deeply and to put away my ideas of what I want to do today, because I will need to go home and recuperate after the massage. “Give yourself permission…” and so, resigned, I do. However, when I do, the day evaporates, I release my clenched muscles, and I am able to receive. The sound of the Monster’s taunts are drowned out by the rhythmic crashing of waves and the light airiness of the pan flute.

Thank you, my love…

 

#Cancer  #Surviving Cancer  #Fighting Cancer

The Tale of Us Against the Monster: Star Light, Star Bright…

I have been considering writing this next installment of my series “The Tale of Us Against The Monster” since Christmas, but I have been unable to gather my thoughts until lately. For me, I need peace and quiet, and time to get to my computer to write.  This past holiday was a riot of movement and action and people and places.  Allow me to explain:

My husband and I waited too long—because we were worried about ‘if’ the Monster attacked—to buy airline tickets, and when we finally booked, we had to take what was left. We travelled with our fur person, so that limited our choices further, and we ended up taking a flight with a connection we didn’t like, flights that departed either too early or arrived too late, and a return time that forced us to extend our holiday by several days.  It left us feeling that we had over-stayed our welcome.  Now, I know that last part isn’t true at all.  My sister is my friend, an excellent hostess, and she had prepared a lovely guest room for us, but I think that my husband and I began to pine for our own space and familiar pillows.  We got homesick.  And…the temperature hit a record low. The thermometer dropped to -40! So we were all stuck inside, running out of things to do, and finally not doing much much more than staring at each other. (Well, not really…)

It didn’t help matters that on the second day there, I got sick as a dog! I spent my entire holiday hacking and snorting and sneezing and stuffed and plugged. Ugh. Bring on the Buckley’s, ewww!! And of course I was worried that I would pass this vile plague on to my husband. He never got it. I’d had a cold like that the last time we took a long holiday to Florida to visit his sister.  My hubby never caught that one either. It seems like there might be a pattern there, I dunno. Lol.

For this holiday, my hubby was either in pain or exhausted from being in pain for almost the entire time. The trip there wiped him out, and sent him to bed for two days.  And it went like that off and on for the entire two and a half weeks we were there.  Just un-fun.  Poor guy.  I know I got impatient with him because, well, Christmas!! “Why can’t I drag a smile from you!! Do you even want to be here??”  And the truthful answer was “No.” He didn’t want to be anywhere but at home. Then I felt guilty, selfish, and regretful for my impatience because I had forgotten my empathy somewhere in all the madness. Plus I was sick and feeling rather sorry for myself.  Then I reminded myself that my mission now is to adapt my focus as he progresses in his battle with the Monster.

It’s hard to change all the time though. To change how we think of life every few moments.  To dial plans, hopes, and lifestyle back, so to speak…to evolve on a downward slope.  What was okay last month is not okay anymore and now we must compensate again, and again, and again. You who have met the Monster know what I mean all too well.  I know your frustration.  You’re not alone.  Sometimes you feel like you didn’t sign up for this, right?  Ya, me too.  But we did, you know.  That whole niggly, bothersome “in sickness and in health” thing, and even if some of us didn’t take that particular vow at the onset, it’s kinda implicit anyway…even if the one in question is a parent or a sibling or a best friend. That’s because we love them.  And that’s the price of love.

So, needless to say, Christmas seemed like a bit of a bust for us, but there were moments that shone, and I realize now, thinking back, that such moments are what I need to look for, and just forget the rest…let it go. Life is short.  I know that sounds cliché, and it is, but it’s a cliché only because it’s always true.  I remember a splendid Christmas dinner and watching old movies as a family.  I remember feeling unrushed and relaxed—everything had been taken care of ahead of time. Lots of food and wine and laughter. Also we saw the new Star Wars with my nephew, so I guess not a bust after all.

As for New Year’s resolutions, my husband and I really made only one: to live as fully as we can for as long as we can. And that brings me to the present.  I suppose I have been trying to get my mind around the idea of “living fully” because my idea before of living fully differs extraordinarily to how I consider it nowadays.  What is a full life anyways??  That’s what’s taken me so long to come to terms with these past few weeks.

When we got home, unpacked, and sighed with the satisfaction of being once again reunited with our own pillows (cuz pillows are important), my son and his wife came over to bring us belated Christmas gifts. I put on the coffee, and we shared a lovely afternoon together.  For Christmas, they gave us a certificate stating that they had a star named after us. Yes, they gave us our very own Christmas star officially and for all time named “Peter and Linda.” Our kids wanted to give us something that would “last forever.” That idea moved us all to tears.

Of course, as soon as I could, I got on Google to investigate our own personal star shining down on us from the heavens. Then I learned the truth about the star they named for us… In fact, our star will not live forever.  It has exhausted its core hydrogen and has become a supergiant.  Our star is dying.  But now, as a supergiant, it burns hotter and brighter than ever it did in its 11 million year lifetime.  And it will continue like this until it depletes its fuel and goes supernova. Thus, at the end of its life, it will live more fully than ever before. Of course it will outlive both my husband and I, but it bears witness to the eventual mortality of all things in the universe…both small and big…and in the meantime, while life remains, to live larger and louder than ever before.

And here’s the thing with living fully…life can be grand even if grand looks small from someone else’s perspective, because that’s who we were before the Monster invaded us…we were other people—not at all who we are now.

You who battle the Monster, a full life is a life that sates your hunger. Color your own picture! You don’t have to have enormous items on your bucket list. A full life comes to us in moments, hours, days, and weeks. Sometimes our hunger is sated by a lazy afternoon spent on a jigsaw puzzle with a friend, or skiing down a hill, or eating a delicious meal.  Sometimes it just takes a hug or a kiss.  My wish for you is that you—in whatever way is possible for you—will burn fiercely, that you will brighten the sky, that you will live so that you use up every ounce of fuel in your reserve, and finally, that you will go out in an explosion of light. Be a star…the Monster can’t compete with that. Happy belated New Year!

#cancer

#living with cancer

#surviving cancer

The Tale of Us Against The Monster: Grappling With Faith

There is an old adage which says “to trust God in the light is nothing, but to trust Him in the dark—that is faith.” I was speaking to my sister the other day, telling her that the Monster had broken free of its chains and has invaded my husband’s lungs.  I felt hopeless.  This, I thought, is the beginning of the end.  The Monster’s return, my sudden despair, the unravelling of our world. It will all happen now.  I said, “he will die.”  This was not accompanied by tears, just a heaviness, a knowing, like standing at the bottom of a steep mountain path rising up into fog and gloom, and understanding it is a path I must unavoidably climb.  That somehow, my husband and I must climb it together.  But my sister responded by warning me not to speak death into my husband, but rather to have faith.  There is still life to be lived.  For a moment, I had forgotten that.

Faith, like life, is a tenuous thing. Fragile if not nurtured.  Weak if not nourished.  My husband and I have spent our lifetimes believing in God…or should I say, believing that there is a God.  I have learned, of late, that these are two different things.  I know my faith has been tested.  I know it has come under attack.  I know that it has caused me to question myself and my motivations, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a crisis of faith before.  It’s a strange thing actually.  It’s not that I doubt the existence of God.  What I have begun to doubt is whether or not He is as near to me as people keep telling me He is.  Somehow, somewhere, I fell overboard, and no matter how fast and hard I swim, I can’t seem to catch up to the boat.  It’s adrift, moving away from me, and I am flailing in the middle of the sea calling for a God Who doesn’t answer me. I’ve heard it called the ‘dark night of the soul’…lost, alone, and Heaven is silent.

My grandmother used to tell me that you can’t always get what you want. Sometimes you must simply ‘hurry up and wait.’  And waiting takes patience.  And patience takes discipline.  And discipline takes determination. And determination takes strength. And strength takes faith.  In fact, nothing in this life is possible without faith. That we will wake in the morning, that we will eat food, that we will get to work on time, that we will make it home, that we will return home again to find everything where we left it.  That we will connect again with the ones we love.  That we will have the power of speech.  That we will see and hear.  That we will understand.  That we will breathe. Faith—we believe what we do not yet know.

You who are struggling as the Monster batters your faith, I have no answers for you except to say that I know just how you feel. There is darkness beneath the Monster’s consuming shadow; your eyes are not deceiving you.  It is cold here; your senses are not cheats.  But this is not the end.  It just feels like the end, as we sometimes imagine that ends must be.  Here in the darkness, I imagine the end, because what else is there to do in the dark but suffer horrors of my own invention?  I obsess about terrors and forget what is real and true and all around me, like my husband lying in bed right now propped against pillows with his glasses low on his nose and squinting at the small print of an article he is reading on his tablet.  He is sipping from a bottle of water.  The dog is laying across his feet.  He is comfortable and warm, and starting to feel like maybe it’s time to put the tablet down and sink down into his bed for the night.  All around him, there is light and there is life.  Only God knows tomorrow.  Still, it’s hard to make myself move and strike out in this darkness even though I can clearly see my husband from here.  He is where the light is, and I think I can get back there.  Perhaps it just takes a leap of faith.

#cancer #faith #surviving cancer #new normal