The beings who surround us

In my post other day, I mentioned a two-hour time period between my “Hail Mary” and the feeling that she is here. Something strong happened during those two hours, and I was hesitant to write about it.

Because I started this blog in large part to write about these kinds of happenings in my life, it was nagging at me that I was not doing that. So I will write about that now.

During those two hours on Sunday, I went to Mass. Near the end of Mass, I began sobbing, shaking shoulders and all. This is unusual for me, but I couldn’t stop. And I know from experience that if I do try to stop, it just comes out in some other, more ugly way.

So while everyone filed out of the church, I remained in the pew, head bowed low over my knees, holding my face in my hands, sitting with the tears and the sobs and the sadness. It felt awful and never-ending.

After awhile, maybe 10 minutes, I’m not sure, I started to feeling these beings around me. They felt like wisps – mostly airy, not solid, but definitely there.

I just let them be there while I continued crying, mostly because I just couldn’t be bothered to do anything else. Slowly, they seemed to take more of a form. One of them felt like Jesus – He was peaceful and had a bigger energy than the rest. The other entities all felt really good to me – all kindness and love and light and easy to be around, like an old, dear friend. They didn’t do anything; they were just there. As time passed, I could feel my heart welcoming them, and the more my heart opened, the more they took a solid form.

Eventually, I felt like they were surrounding me. I don’t remember if this coincided with the end of my crying, but eventually, the sobbing subsided and got up from the pew to leave the church. I felt pulled to walk through a door that I never use. In fact, I consciously thought, “That door is locked. Why am I even bothering to head this way?”

But I continued to the door, where I saw the bulletin board with the notice of the guy from Medjugorje, the answer to my prayer to the Virgin Mary….and, when I went to actually, finally leave the church, the door was not locked.

Here is the thing, though….having gone through this, I KNOW that this isn’t just me. I know that each one of us has beings who surround us and love us and who are there to help us. We only need to ask, though frankly, sometimes, that can feel like the hardest part.

Added on May 13, 2014: A friend just wrote to me, recommending the book written by Artie Boyle, who introduced the main speaker and went to Medjugorje with a cancer diagnosis, and returned cured. I think I needed the reminder.

Answered prayers

I love it when prayers are answered!

I have a little morning ritual that involves water from Lourdes and the Hail Mary. (Lourdes is where the Virgin Mary appeared multiple times to St. Bernadette.) Yesterday morning, I was definitely feeling despair. At the end of the Hail Mary, I found myself saying something like, “I really need to feel you near me. It would be nice to know that you are here.”

Fast forward past lots of emotions over the next two hours, when I found myself on a path I never take, standing in front of a physical bulletin board. I stopped and read one of the posts three times before it sunk in: One of the folks in Medjugorje, who sees the Virgin Mary on a regular basis, is in the U.S. and will be speaking only a few miles from my house on Saturday night.

Wow. Okay. She is here. Got it.

Then, today, Hurricane Sandy was passing through Boston so the kids did not have school, though I still had an appointment with my amazing dental hygienist, Annmarie.

I had to bring the boys with me and thought of calling her to ask if she could bring her high school daughter into work to babysit my boys while she worked on my teeth. But I didn’t actually call Annmarie.

When I entered the office, there sat her teenage daughter, who had decided to come into work with her mother today. And, she entertained the boys for an hour.

This gives me the confidence to bring up some bigger requests….

I’m hoping that you can feel your prayers answered, big and small. Thank you for your prayers on my behalf.

Lots of love to you.

Social Encounter at Dana Farber

Dana Farber was busy yesterday. It was hard to even find a seat. There should not be so much cancer in the world.

Soon after I sat down, in rolled a man in a wheelchair, being pushed by another man. The one in the wheelchair joked that he comes with his own seat, and the two of them settled in by me.

Chuck, the patient, was thin, and I would guess he was my age, with more hard partying behind him. He had the yellowed teeth of a smoker (though I don’t know if he smoked) and the twinkly eyes of someone who knows his way around a party bar.

Like the rest of us, though, his heart was cracked wide open. He told me the story of his diagnosis, and then how life unfolded from there. How his best friend, who had moved away, returned for a visit. How his college girlfriend, who he hasn’t seen in years, came from NYC to see him yesterday. He was touched by all this, and sometimes, these extreme visits make him feel like he is dying. But mostly, he enjoys the connection.

He said that when people come to visit, he doesn’t know how to entertain them anymore. He used to take them out to a fun restaurant or the latest club scene. But now he can’t drink and doesn’t have the energy for going out. So they hang out and talk. And that seems to be enough.

Throughout our conversation, he would touch my hand or arm. I’m not a big toucher but then I realized that he needed to be touched, so I held onto his arm through his worn, brown leather jacket, and that seemed to work for him.

We talked about God and angels, prayers and parochial school – all things we have in common. Then our names were called and we went our own ways.

I turned to the man who was with him. “I’m sorry that I didn’t include you in the conversation,” I apologized. “Are you the driver?”

“Yes. And the father. He is my son.”

I cannot begin to imagine what it is like for a parent to witness all this.

For me, though, Chuck was a blessing in my day. In spite of his physical condition and prognosis, he carried true emotion – both joy and sadness. He displayed the ability to laugh and to cry. He worried about daily things and was grateful for small things. And, on that sunny day inside Dana Farber, we had a good conversation that connected the two of us. Regardless of the surroundings, that connection is the kind of thing I live for.

Chemo tomorrow…after a pause today

Chemo tomorrow. Thank you for your positive thoughts and prayers. Last time around really went as well as chemo has ever gone for me. Not only did I not vomit, I didn’t even feel like vomiting. SO amazing. And I am so grateful.

This past weekend was incredible in so many ways. I was graced with a visit from a friend, whom I met in Brazil but I feel like I’ve known forever, and the effects of our wonderful time together are still settling into my being.

While she was visiting, we went to the Head of the Charles (a race of rowing boats on the Charles River, competitive even to enter). My kids assumed that I was rowing in it. I simultaneously thought it was hilarious and loved that they had no doubt that I could compete.

I also love that Tiron thinks of me as a serious rower. Recently, he advised against my rowing at all, worried that some scary thing inside me would rip open. Obviously, he thinks that I row like an Olympian, where I might break a rib or something else. He should come and watch my languid style.

Still, I take his words to heart, so I canceled my next lesson. However, not only did that make me sad, like cancer was taking away something I loved, but it felt as though I was making decisions from a base of fear rather than joy, love, excitement, knowing what is right for me. When I rescheduled my rowing lesson, I immediately felt better.

The day of that lesson was gorgeous – cool air with warm sun, clear skies, and a calm river. I biked to the boathouse (even learning how to fill the bike tires with air – don’t laugh – I get intimidated by these things and was so proud of myself!) and I got to meet someone I have admired for over 20 years: The Native American* man who runs along the Charles River!

Rowing was fab, of course. We worked on several things, one of which was taking a pause between strokes, in order to set up for the next stroke.

Here is how I typically row:
When the oars are in the water, I pull them through the resistance of the water as hard and fast as I can. When I lift them from the water into the air to push them back and set up for the next stroke, there is less resistance, so they move quickly and I don’t see why I should slow them down. As a result, I am always moving quickly through each stroke, though I don’t really travel that quickly across the water.

My instructor suggested that, instead, I take a pause between strokes. Specifically, he suggested that I take the oars out of the water, let the boat glide begin (quarter slide for you rowers) and then pause to take a moment to gather myself for the next stroke.

The first few times, my pause was exaggerated to the point of feeling like I was literally stopping between strokes. But soon, the pause flowed into the rhythm of the movements.

In this pause, time expanded. I could now feel the way the boat slides underneath me and the relative position of my oars. It let me check in with my center of gravity as well as notice what was going on around me.  I even had time to gather myself and set up for the next stroke.

Then I noticed that, by taking this small moment of time and focusing during it, I was moving more efficiently through the water than I was when I powered through. Rowing became more fun, and I could enjoy more fun moments.

In your reading of this and my other notes, you help me to take that pause to gather myself and get centered as my days move from regular life to chemo and back to regular life again. And you help me to notice the fun moments every day. Thank you.

Love and blessings,


*So many of you recognized this man from my description, which was really exciting. I learned from you that he is not Native American but is Cambodian and the founder of the Elephant Walk!

Going for the ring

We recently took the boys to a gymnastics open house, filled with excited kids trying out all the equipment. In one area, the kids waited in line to stand on a platform. Next to the platform, two rings hung from the ceiling, side by side, and below all that was a pit full of foam blocks.

If a child stretched out their arm, they could usually reach the ring closest to the platform. But to reach the second ring, hanging on the far side of the first ring, they had to hold onto the first ring and almost leap from the platform.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, maybe this video will condense my post:

As I watched child after child take their turn, it was clear that this was do-able. However, some stood on the platform, looked at at the ring nearest them, then the pit below them, and the ring again. Many decided not to reach for the rings but to jump directly into the foam pit.

Most would stand on the platform and reach their hand to that first ring. There, with their feet on the platform and one hand on the ring, they would consider the second ring. Often, they would pause for a long time in this position. Some would try to reach the second ring, still keeping their feet firmly on the platform, and others would decide not to go for it.

As I watched, I wanted to scream excitedly, “Leap off the platform! Then you can reach the ring!” But of course, I remained silent as eventually, many put both hands on that one ring, lifted their feet off the platform to hang from that ring, and then dropped into the foam pit below.

Most exciting was watching others reach for the first ring and hold onto it while they LEAPT off the platform, flying toward the second ring. After leaving their solid ground, suddenly, the other ring was within their grasp, and, ironically, with both rings in hand, they could even choose to return to the platform.

Watching the whole process felt much easier, I’m sure, than it felt to the kids standing on the platform. I wish I could say that I lived life in that leaping group. I am more the “grab onto the rings without leaving solid ground” person, and then have to leave the solid ground anyway! At least, I could totally relate to that group.

But, just like I silently cheered them on, thinking, “You can do it!” I feel like you are doing that for me, encouraging me not just to reach for that elusive ring, but to leap toward it, and then, after solidly grabbing it, do whatever fun thing comes afterwards. It is huge. Thank you.


Fourth grade poetry recital

Thank you for your prayers and good wishes. They are definitely working – this was the smoothest chemo session that I can remember! I was SO HAPPY to not vomit.

Feeling good also helps my spirits, to help me really take one day at a time and be grateful for that. The kids are adjusting to my return to chemo, and that isn’t easy for sure, but we are finding our way.

When I was first diagnosed with rectal cancer, my older son was four years old and in pre-K, a grade that his school calls “Beginners.”

His school feels very much like a community. At morning drop-off, parents flow among the children and make it a point to get to know the teachers as well as the other classmates and their parents. There are countless ways to be involved in the classroom and the school as a whole, and the school holds parent breakfasts, community dinners, and weekly school assemblies.

The lower school assemblies include the kids from Beginners through fourth grade. They sit in a semicircle, and any parents attending stand in a semicircle behind the kids. Some parents, like me, attend most assemblies. Others attend primarily if their child is performing that day. There are presentations, skits, group songs and individual poetry recitals. The poetry recitals are a rite of passage. Each fourth grader selects a poem that is meaningful to them, stands in front of the group, introduces themselves, their poem and what makes it special, then recites it from memory.

I love listening to the poetry recitals. I imagine the children each carefully selecting their poem, the parents who might try to suggest alternatives, and the practice sessions at home, all culminating in this moment. This background drama exists only in my imagination, because my kids are too young for us to experience this reality.

One day at an assembly, when my older son was in kindergarten, I stood next to a mom as she excitedly nudged two people beside her, who I presumed were grandparents.

“He’s next!” the mom exclaimed in a stage whisper. As fourth-grade Jack weaved his way through the seated children to stand in front of the room, his mom and grandparents held their breath. Jack took the microphone and recited his poem, doing a great job. When he finished, his mother and his grandparents audibly exhaled as one and then shared smiles, even doing what felt to me like a little cheerful dance.

As I went through chemotherapy, I often thought about this scene. I felt that no one watched and listened to each fourth grade child the way that a parent would, knowing (as opposed to imagining) the work the child put into selecting and memorizing and practicing their poem, understanding their child’s particular challenges and fears, and appreciating how, in that moment with the microphone, they rose through and above all it all to shine.

I set a goal to be there for my sons, so that they have the feeling of reciting their poem to a broad audience who would listen primarily with their ears, and to their mom, who would listen fully with her heart.

My older son just entered fourth grade, and I hold my breath as we are so close to this milestone. He is scheduled to recite his poem sometime this winter. I jokingly push for him to select The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, which I memorized in fourth grade, but honestly, I am happy to listen to anything he selects. I just want to be there.

In the meantime, I attended assembly this morning and, as child after child recited their poem into the hearts of their happy and proud parents, tears of joy and pride quietly flowed from my eyes, for these children I have watched grow over the past six years, for all of us joined together in this ritual, and for who knows what else.

Thank you for enabling these kinds of moments. Thank you for helping me to realize how very, very special they are. And thank you for carrying me this far, to where my older son is now in 4th grade and so close to his poetry recital, and to where I get to have the opportunity to set new goals!

Handling bumps

Chemo tomorrow (Tuesday afternoon). Thank you for your positive thoughts and prayers. I can really use them!

We had dinner tonight with dear friends, and the 16-year-old, Ben, was describing how he rides his bike without his hands, using the core of his body to steer.

My husband asked how he handled bumps in the road, implying that, without holding on, one is more likely to fall off.

Ben patiently explained that, though hitting a bump might push his bike in one direction, he could still steer it with his body. So, if he hit a bump, he just moves the central core of his body in the opposite direction to return to the path he wants to travel. All the while staying upright. It is just like steering, but instead of the road moving gradually, it moves a bit more suddenly.

I love that image. I don’t have to hold on tightly to have control, and I can turn in any direction and handle whatever bumps come this way. Further, it isn’t necessary to go off track just because I hit a bump, and I do have some power to move forward on my chosen course, even using only my core.

I know that you will be able to steer where you want to go today, easily handling any bumps that might arise. Thank you for sharing your core strength and your heart with me; it helps so much.

Thank you.



Huff Post article on Spiritual Living

Awesome Huffington Post article on spiritual living, written by Ed Bacon. It reflects my points of view and just makes me feel good.

If you don’t want to click through, here are my favorite two lines:

My experience is that real love, authentic love, is not about just loving ourselves alone, as we so often hear, or saving our love for only those who are like us or think like we do. When we are motivated by love, when we become aware that it is the core of our lives, it then expands to other people and we cannot stop ourselves from loving everyone.

Preliminary test results

When I left Dana Farber, I got a copy of the disk with my CT scan. Since Tiron is a radiologist, he is often able to look at the studies at home and we get a preview.

The CT center inadvertantly gave me only part of the study, so we compared that part to last time. It doesn’t look the way I want it to, and while that initially bummed me out, right now, I am choosing to focus on the fact that there is work to be done. The specifics don’t matter so much.

I’m also thinking that, when I go in to see the oncologist on Tuesday, I don’t want to know exactly what he sees on the films. I just want to do chemo (and all my other “alternative” stuff) and take it from there.

I suppose that, while I was initially resistant, I am now glad that we did this baseline CT study. Keep those prayers coming!



The kindness of strangers

So here I sit at Dana Farber, waiting for another CT scan. In general, I should get one every other month, to measure progress, and I am not due for another until next month. But because I decided to go back on chemo, the doctor wants a “baseline” CT scan, so here I sit again. Not loving the radiation but alternately choosing to bless it or ignore it.

I set a goal to arrive to this appointment on time. When I drive someplace, I often set a specific target time, such as, “I will pull into a parking space at 12:45.” And then I see if I can make that.

On track and almost there, I got into the right lane to make my turn. There was already a taxicab stopped at the red light, and I pulled up behind him, waiting.

After a few moments, the light turned green and the cab driver GOT OUT OF THE CAR. He then walked to the trunk and opened it. The trunk was empty, so I assumed that meant he was waiting for a passenger and not moving anytime soon. Apparently, I now needed to go around him and get in the left lane to make my right turn (a common move in Boston driving).

I looked over my left shoulder; traffic was heavy and thick. I would be going nowhere anytime soon, and I realized that I would miss my target arrival time. I looked again at the cab driver in front of me. He was tall, with broad shoulders, strong muscles, short hair and dark skin. He moved gracefully, and his facial expression looked apologetic. I felt my heart actually open to him, and wanted to say it was okay. I couldn’t find it in myself to be angry or annoyed. He seemed like a kind man just doing his job and trying not to be in the way on a busy street, and really, this was just a minor inconvenience for me and one that I could manage.

And then….he stepped away from our cars and into the oncoming traffic, stopping it. Through my open window, he told me that it was clear to go. I wanted to stop and marvel, even fawn over him, but he waved me on again, so I just said thank you and drove off.

I wished that I could do more, somehow show my thanks in a bigger way. But I have no idea how to do that, especially now. I really appreciate his kindness, and want to pass it on.

But did I do that? No. Once at Dana Farber, the IV nurse kept calling me “Mary.” So I got snippy with her, when really, there was no need to do that.

Welcome to humanity. I’m aiming to do better. My friend, Alyson, told me that, in rowing, each stroke is a new stroke. I think that is my current mantra. Each chance is a new chance, and I am so grateful to even HAVE another chance to do better.

In the meantime, I send my gratitude out to that amazingly generous man who saw a problem, not even his problem, but a problem, and stepped in to fix it. And I send my gratitude to each of you, as you take time out of your day and, through your heart and your prayers, clear a path for all my twists and turns. Thank you.