finding grace

The very first advice I received after being diagnosed came from a fellow survivor, several years out from treatment. She took me aside, and told me that I would be continually reminded how strong I needed to be throughout the treatment process, but that, in truth, there was far more grace and growth in accepting what my friends and family wanted to do for me. For the past four months, I have struggled with this lesson, attempting to recognize my limits while accepting the kindness and generosity of the people in my life. No matter how difficult this process becomes, every step has been softened by constant reminders that I am loved beyond words. Not that I ever denied the amazing qualities of my friends, family, and co-workers, I just never expected to be the one to test the depth of their compassion or, dare I say, dedication. I am one fortunate woman, cancer or no cancer, and not one day goes by that I don’t recognize it.

Friday marked my thirteenth infusion, leaving five to go (the countdown continues). Irene accompanied me, toting along a bag of healthy snacks, my chemo quilt, and the ice mitts that I purchased online in hopes of saving my hands from further neuropathy. Although it may be too late to save the nails that are pulling away from my fingers and turning a fascinating array of colors, I may be able to avoid further trauma to my finger tips. So, with fat blue icy mittens on my hands, I attempted to cozy into the treatment chair. Soon after, I was blessed by the fabulously distracting presence of Nayer, a new-found friend from work. Ahhh, the joy of diversions! While Irene went for coffee, Nayer kept me company. When Irene returned with yet another dear friend, Gol, Nayer played music and projected various images of the sea onto the wall in the treatment room. I couldn’t have felt more fortunate, surrounded by beauty and the joy of friends, even as the nurses came and went, checking my blood pressure, monitoring my meds, and confirming my name and birth date. I left my thirteenth treatment feeling like a princess, with a strong desire to dance under the wintery night sky. Although my energy quickly dissipated, my appreciation for friends (and an incredibly patient and loving partner) continues.

For the first time since beginning chemo, I took down the book of blessings from friends and photos of me and Irene  from the bookcase. I re-read the tender words that people shared at my blessing ceremony and I looked at the images of me prior to surgery- baring the chest that would soon be altered forever. That Wendi had only a slight idea of what was ahead of her, and yet I can see some amount of strength and courage in her eyes (along with fear). Looking in the mirror today, I see a different beauty- stark, humble, hopeful, and marked by a deep desire to find grace amidst the avalanche of change. On Friday, Nayer asked me what my relationship with this cancer is, and I didn’t have a good answer. I considered the fact that my body made this cancer, and that it is/was a part of me. Because of cancer, part of me has been taken away. And because of cancer, I have allowed the beginnings of grace to grow from the scars.

The deepest gratitude to everyone who shares this journey with me. I can’t possibly imagine what it would take to make it through this craziness without the love, laughter, and presence of my community. Oh, and the meals, cards, emails, surprise grants, and encouragements have been gratefully and graciously (I hope) appreciated. My heart is full of abundance, and I am blessed, blessed, blessed.

counting, “normal”, and heart connections

I’ve officially hit the double digits on my chemo- 10 down, 8 to go. Never thought I would be so obsessed with dates, but here I am marking my mental calendar in an attempt to sooth my psyche. I want hair! I want useful fingertips! I want to lose this steroid weight! Mostly, I need to know when life will get back to whatever normal will be post chemo. As if there is ever such a reality as normal. Seems “normal” shifts and changes minute to minute, second to second. Oops- that was normal this morning, but the afternoon normal has shifted to include urping and watering of the eyes. Tune in for this evening, when normal may well involve manic housecleaning and sudden onset of nausea….there is no planning for what a body on chemo will do, and it just adds to the excitement. When I feel great, like on most Saturday mornings, when I have steroids pumping through my veins, I feel as though I could run the hills of Seattle without taking a break- then I go to walk the dogs, and my muscles ache and I’m gulping for as much oxygen as my mouth and nose can ingest. Good thing Franny and Emma don’t judge me or require me to bound hills or even walk at a fast clip. I’ve found joy in just walking slowly and noticing the very small things. Only occasionally do I lose patience with myself (or those sweetly neurotic dogs).

This past week also marked my last class for fall quarter. I spent last weekend attempting to maintain my energy for writing a final paper, and it took every last bit of brain capacity and physical stamina I could muster. It was challenging, to say the least, but it also made me reflect on the fact that I am so thankful to have been in this program during this time in my life. Who would have guessed that I would have the opportunity to use my classmates as a therapeutic healing force in my breast cancer drama? But that’s exactly the gift that I have had, and so this week was both exciting (knowing that I’m taking a quarter off to rest) and sad (knowing that I won’t have class as a blissful distraction as well as a healing tour de force). I will miss having the anchor that school has offered. I will also very much miss the hugs, tears, and open hearts that I have encountered each and every time I entered the classroom.

And so here I am on my first “free” Saturday morning, reflecting on the past year, which has been, um, wild. I have no doubt that the year ahead will offer just as much thrill. My hope (fearful of the word “plan” these days- too many expectations attached) is that I can stay on this ride and yet keep as rooted as I think I have been. To be present. To be joyful when I need to be, and to allow the tears to flow when they will. Isn’t that what life is? I actually had just this reminder this past week when I had the opportunity to have what can only be described as a heart connection with my niece, Destyni (how perfect is that?). I won’t go into the details of our conversation, but I will offer that I remember being a “tween” and I could relate to the feelings that she offered of being lonely and smothered at the same time. Because who knows at any given moment what we may need as human beings? “Right now I need some space- WAIT! Don’t leave! I need you!” Random acts of being human. Give us all a break. We are filled with hormones (don’t I know it) that make us wildly irrational sometimes. It’s so damned fabulously wild and irritating that sometimes you just have to sit and laugh (or is that the hormones talking?). I am thankful for those heart connections. And I have lots of them. I experience pure bliss when I have what is a painfully rare opportunity to chat with my sister, Tami, who I admire beyond words for what appears to be an infinite capacity to be loving and giving amidst chaos (it’s humbling, believe me). I look forward to my weekly connections with my parents, who are a perfect blend of sweet and spicy, and always leave me grateful for being a daughter. I am joyful for friends who are experiencing new love (joy, joy, joy), who send me emails and cards, gifts of free facials (I’ve received two gifts for facials- yahoo!), as well as those who need to vent how pissed off they are about this or that. Truly, I am just disgustingly thankful. I just need to figure out how to tie these damned scarves.

gratitude

I’ve spent the past two days feeling dreadfully sorry for myself, and I’m absolutely sick of it. I am so blessed- beyond words- by so many wonderful people in my life. I have people making me meals, knitting me hats, sending homemade cards and haiku (sweet Amy, I love them each and every one), lending me scarves and hats, offering their time, love, and energy, and most importantly, continually reminding me that I am cherished. I have to remind myself when I begin feeling pathetically whiny about the side effects of treatment that this is not only a drag, but also an amazing opportunity for me to soak up some seriously fabulous attention. A year from now, I don’t want to regret not being completely present for this experience or for taking these gifts for granted. I want to recognize even the smallest ways that I have been enriched by this experience-every little bit of it. So, in honor of the season, I offer my gratitude for even the things I’ve complained about…

the nausea– I will forever appreciate my healthy appetite, and to love food as fully as possible.

the heartburn– I will continue to be thankful for my breath.

hours in chemo– quality time with Irene and the beautiful people who visit (thanks, Katie, Jenn, and Lena!)

exhaustion– I’ve never understood before now the wonder of an afternoon nap- ahhhhhhhhh.

hair loss– inner beauty, baby. It’s not about the hair- it’s the attitude one can have without it!

loss of breasts– no more underwire. ’nuff said.

I doubt that I will quit whining or being pathetic as my treatment drags on, but I want to mark this, the halfway point of chemo, as a time that I remember. I want to remember the people who have been there for me and who pointed out my strength, courage and beauty, even when I felt empty and tired, and I want to remember this as a time that changed me into a remarkable and kick ass woman- deserving of the title “survivor”.