The Power of Prayer

Thank you for your prayers and good wishes. They make a world of difference. I will give you three examples from the past seven days.

#1
Years ago, when I initially (thought I) finished chemotherapy, I had a ring made in commemoration. Heavy and beautiful, it was meant to remind me not only how heavy the process was, but also how beautiful life became.

Over a year ago, we were going on vacation so I hid it somewhere in the house, then  promptly forgot where I put it. Since that time, I searched the everywhere. I would wake in the middle of the night with new ideas. But never found it.

As you may suspect, I pray to God and a myriad of saints. Among them is St. Anthony, to whom I pray for my healing and the healing of my friends (providing a long list of names and specific healings for each).

Last Friday morning, I suddenly remembered that somewhere I heard that St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost items. So, I threw in an extra prayer to help find the ring.

Less than 30 minutes later, I heard my husband call out, “Look what I found!”

#2
On Thursday, I had a CT scan and I appreciate your prayers for good results. The following Tuesday, I met with my doctor to get the results. These meetings make me feel like Alice in Wonderland: I walk into the office feeling my normal size, information is shared, and I leave the office feeling larger or smaller.I suspect that is why they take your weight before you see the doctor.

The good news is that, in spite of skipping two of my last three chemo treatments, I learned on Tuesday that all tumors are smaller. Woo hoo!!! Thank you for your prayers to this end!

#3
When I returned to Dana Farber today to get my pump disconnected (I’m connected to chemo from Tuesday – Thursday), everyone was very nice. I even saw my friend Chuck, which usually makes me happy. But I had just spent three days vomiting and was on the verge of more. So instead of talking with Chuck, I found a seat away from everyone and collapsed into silent tears.

“God, I just need to know that you are here.”

I felt a hand on my leg and looked up. I feared that it was Larry, a well-meaning man who visits each person in the waiting room asking if they need anything. I don’t mind him but didn’t want to see him right now.

Instead, I saw a young woman with dark skin and a kind face. I saw a tear falling from one of her large, beautiful eyes. She said that she could feel me in her heart, and she asked if she could pray for me.

She placed her hand on my leg for a long time and prayed outloud, certain of my healing, peace, grace and all good things through God. I felt calmer, more relaxed, and less like I was going to lose my insides.

At the end, I thanked her and she asked if she could hug me. I warned her that I had not bathed for three days but she laughed and said, “You are filled with the scent of God, more beautiful than the most beautiful flowers. Honestly, that is what I smell.”

God bless that amazing woman. God bless all of you. I am constantly in awe of the power of prayer, and thankful that you include me in yours. May your life be blessed, always.

Love,
Marie

Birthday gifts

“There are so many gifts still unopened from your birthday.” –Hafiz

Last Thursday, I had my CT scan and I get the results on Tuesday. Of course, the CT scans trigger anxiety but I was fortunate to be distracted by fun life events.

On Tuesday, before the scan, my husband and I attended the Elton John concert. I loved Elton John for as long I can remember. When I was younger, I would lay on my bed and listen repeatedly to his albums, memorizing every lyric. I learned the names of the band members. My best friend and I made up dances to his songs.

At the time, I couldn’t afford concert tickets (and I’m sure my parents would not have let me go anyway), so I was thrilled, a few years ago, to attend my first Elton concert. And then, he returned this week so I GOT TO GO AGAIN! Knowing that I haven’t done something for the last time always gets me excited.

The concert itself was fabulous. He opened with Funeral for a Friend / Love Lies Bleeding. Funeral for a Friend used to creep me out (mostly because of the name) but now I get lost in the music. From there, we were dancing and singing (still without a voice, but getting better) and taking it all in, for the entire 2 hours and 45 minutes of his nonstop playing. I remembered all the words and recognized the original band members onstage. (They got older for sure but still fabulous.)

It seemed that the other 10,000 people in the stadium enjoyed it just as much as I did. And as he thanked us, I realized that he gets to share his gift, which he clearly enjoys doing, and 10,000 people were happier as a result. Win win.

It made me look anew at all the gifts that you share daily with me and my family – the gifts of who you are and how you move about in this world – your humor and perspective and music and love, among others – and how much happier we are as a result. I hope that it also makes you happier, and that you continue to open more and more of the gifts that you were born with and get to share with the world.

Much love,
Marie

Heart explosion

Much of this weekend was spent in religious services, which also means that much of the weekend was spent with me tearing up from all the beauty.

On Saturday, I attended the bar mitzvah of the son of our friends. Let me start by saying that I love the Jewish faith. I happily immerse myself in the prayers, the songs, the cadence of the words. I adore the history, the rituals, the intellectual leanings and conversations. I admire that one practices certain holy days at home with family and others in community at the temple. At one point in my life, I studied, just a bit, toward conversion.

So in addition to the honor of being invited to share in this very special day with friends, I looked forward to the service itself.

Still, I arrived ten minutes late. Plus, my laryngitis turned into a chesty cough, so I slid, hopefully unobtrusively, into a seat in the last row on the side, away from everyone else.

From that position, I settled into watching the bar mitzvah boy lead the service. Clear and composed, he obviously prepared well for this day. The rabbi and cantor surrounded him with infectious joy, smiling throughout the service and, at times, almost lifting themselves off the floor. Their phrasing and tone was consistently positive and upbeat. Though I entered a bit grumpy and sat on the sidelines, I couldn’t help but be quickly drawn into their current of happiness.

The service itself focused on our interconnections, God’s loving kindness, gratitude for the simple things, making this world a better place, and all those other topics that slide right into my heart and make life feel warm and wonderful and full of possibilities and love.

Because the Hebrew words and the corresponding actions do not come automatically to me, I watched others for guidance throughout the service. What page are we on? Was it time to sit or stand, bow or close our eyes? Do we all sing or is it just the cantor for this part?

As I looked around for hints, I saw so much more. The husband and wife sitting in front of me, with their school-age son between them. Each of the three of them wore a yarmulke and prayer shawl, clearly reverent. They also clearly shared a strong bond of love. The family of the bar mitzvah, each one beaming so strongly I would not have been surprised to see light pour out of their faces. The woman across the aisle from me, heartily greeting everyone who came her way as if each were a long-lost friend. The husband near the front, who tenderly put his arm around his wife at various points in the service. The son who held his mother’s hand when she need to take a few steps, and her smiling response. The sisters who read from the bimah together, supporting each other with smiles and a few giggles, then, when they finished, putting their arms around each other. All these connections demonstrating deep love and joy brought tears to my eyes.

In the midst of this crazy love, I realized that I didn’t want this service to end, and suddenly worried that it might be coming to a close. Right then, the rabbi had us pause, take a deep breath, and hold onto the beauty, sacredness and awesomeness of the moment we just all experienced together. My heart expanded until it was about to explode and I could have screamed with joy (if my voice were back to normal).

I woke the next morning in some pain (unrelated to the bar mitzvah), but dragged myself and a thermos of tea to Sunday Mass. I am almost always touched by the Mass and, after Communion, often moved to tears.

Again, I was late. I was thrilled to see that this Mass would be led by a priest who also spreads kindness, joy and acceptance. As I eased into the Mass, his infectious and joyful demeanor helped to move my focus from myself to the service itself, and I felt my own pain  dissipate.

Midway through, I remembered yesterday’s advice of the rabbi. Inhaling deeply, I took in the awesomeness of the moment. Ahead of me and across the aisle to my left sat, side by side, three teeny grey-haired ladies wrapped in wool coats and hats and the comfort of a long friendship. Just then, an older man entered alone and sat a few rows ahead of me, shoulders slumped but relieved to be here. Directly in front of me, a mother and teenage daughter periodically leaned toward each other, touching shoulders as they gave the usual Mass responses. The toddler directly across the aisle sat so quietly and attentively on his father’s knee; I admired the peace between them. The pianist wore sunglasses that made me think of Ray Charles and I giggled inside. With each sight, my heart expanded. When my eyes fell upon families who have children the same ages as mine, I realized how much they have helped me to grow and to feel a part of this parish, and my heart expanded yet again.

Both days, it felt as if God’s love was running through all of these connections, then through me, eventually pouring out through the tears that landed on the lens of my eyeglasses.

It doesn’t stop there. I feel this connection with you, when you read this or write or pray for me or even do something kind for someone else. It expands my heart to exploding. I overflow with tears, and my smile could break out of my face. Thank you for all that you do to make my life, and this world, a better place to be.

Love,
Marie

The Wheels on the Bus

At the end of last week, I had one of those dreams that stays in your system long after you wake. In it, the kids and I were balanced together on top of one big bike. Suddenly, the frame, with us still on it, lifted off the wheels and fell to the side, leaving the wheels still standing.

Last week could have knocked off our balance, though the groundwork was laid a few weeks before that.

At that time, our afterschool babysitter left. It was on good terms – We love Marinda but she has a lot going on right now. (One of her amazing actions made the front page of the NYTimes, and watch for her soon on Katie Couric’s show.) But that meant we needed to replace her.

Finding and training a sitter requires time and work. Then add the emotional component of the personal nature of the job, compounded by the fact that he or she needs to fill in for me while I am down. I want them to be some projection of the best of me, fill in the cracks for who I am not, BUT not be so good that the kids preferred her (or him).*

The search felt overwhelming, so I put on blinders and took it step by step. Or maybe I settled for the first taker. Who knows. We found fabulous Dot: Lots of experience, good references, and a mom who was loving yet could lay down the law.

Out of our necessity, she started during a chemo week, but I was confident that she could handle it.

In the meantime, I went into chemo knowing that there was a cold brewing in my throat, though the staff encouraged me to do chemo anyway Not to blame them; it is their job to push things forward. It is my job to say yes or no. But I was getting sick and my ability to advocate for myself was weak.

Returning home after chemo, I retreated to my bed and slept for the next two days. I forgot that my husband was traveling all week, so the kids were essentially passed from sitter to sitter for days on end and totally without a mooring. I was no help. Dot stuck out her two days then literally ran, shaking and screaming, from our house.

That is all just runway. This past week was the steep takeoff. My white count dropped and a cold settled in. I lost my voice on Monday. Started the search for a sitter, then, due to my lack of voice, had to accede control as my husband and an assistant conducted the phone interviews. Led a religious education class after school for 11 very active first graders (thankfully, Rachel helped me through this one).

Still, this felt like alot but not too much. At the end of the week, friends asked why I didn’t see a doctor. Reflecting on my week, I realized I saw many doctors, but none for me. I took the dog to two different vets for two different issues. One son to two already-scheduled doctor appointments, and the other son fractured his foot mid-week and the pediatric foot doctor kindly agreed to squeeze us in on Halloween.  Husband either working or again out of town, so I was the adult for the appointments. With no voice for any of them.

Toss in Halloween. We typically create a haunted house. On Halloween morning, I looked at the decorations and the room that would need to be converted, then made an executive decision to simply cobble together some outside decorations and call it a holiday.

After making the decision to bag the haunted house, I decided to cancel Friday’s CT scan. The drinks and the contrast certainly would not help my throat to heal, and I coughed violently every time I reclined, which would mess up the scans.

I asked my ten-year-old son to call Dana Farber for me. I planned to whisper or write the instructions to him as he spoke.

He dialed Dana Farber and got a live person. I could hear only his side of the conversation and the thoughts in my head.

“Hi. My mom is sick and can’t talk, so I am calling for her.”
This can’t be the first time this has happened, I think.

“She needs to cancel her appointment.” His tone was polite yet firm.

A pause.

“No. She can’t come in. That is why she needs to cancel her appointment.”
Ah yes. Their job is to keep events moving forward. My job is to say yes or no. Politely yet firmly.

“Mom, when do you want to reschedule?”
Nov 14, I write.

“She wants to come in on November 14.”

He turns to me. “How about next Tuesday? You can do it right before chemo.”
I recall how sick I got the last time I did the scan extra close to chemo. I violently shake my head no.

“November 14,” he states firmly into the phone.

Another pause.

“That is not November 14. She said November 14.”
Wow. I didn’t realize he actually regards my word as law.

“Mom, they have an opening at the Shapiro Center.”
Where is that? I scribble.

“Where is that?” he asks them. After a pause, he turns to me. “At the hospital, not at Dana Farber.”

Seeing my face fall (routine is my lifeline in this process), he speaks into the phone. “Do you have anything at Dana Farber on the 14th?”

Then he turns to me again. “This is the only appointment if you want the 14th.”
I weighed my need for routine during treatments against the schedule for my life outside treatments and nod yes.

Impressed, I realized that it is way more fun to have him negotiate for me than against me.

During the week, I took it minute by minute and we made it through each of the new events, in addition to our regularly scheduled programs. All doctors were seen and next steps gathered. We found a sitter who came for a 30-minute interview that turned into 7 hours of work at our house. She was up to the task but noted that the job was way more intense than our ad indicated. So she is smart, too. Thankfully, she agreed to return this week, and I will kiss the ground she walks on.

As I enter this week, I am grateful for the help that supports us, including yours. Without it, the wheels would definitely be coming off the bus. Or off the bike. Thank you for holding us all up.

With love and gratitude,
Marie

*This wording courtesy of my wonderful friend, Anna Huckabee Tull, who sets words to music.

Open heart

Last week at yoga, my instructor gave me a new routine with poses for opening my chest a bit more. Maybe because of this, I began to consider opening my heart a bit more.

I don’t generally lead with my heart. Most times, I approach situations with my guard up, even a little. Lately, I try to recognize the feeling of impending doom that makes me put that guard up, and instead, I work to shift my heart to open (as much as I can – I am still new at this!).

For example, the other day, I smoothly glided into a parking space at the grocery store, inadvertently cutting off the woman who was waiting for it. Only after I drove past her car and into the space did I see her angry expression.

She snagged another nearby space so I hoped that all was well, though I cringed inside as she got out of her car. I could feel her fury three cars away and I felt my defenses move into place. When it comes to interpersonal interactions, I generally feel like I can handle almost anything, so thankfully a new approach felt more experimental than scary. I shifted to open my heart and walked toward her.

I approached her, immediately and sincerely apologized, and even offered to trade spots. She was still angry when she spoke to me, but the whole interaction felt different than I expected, at least from my end. Retrospectively, this “open heart” approach seemed to allow her feelings flow through me, rather than bounce off my armor. This was even kind of fun.

Fast forward to chemo. I start by getting my port accessed. A nurse jabs the port (which is in my chest) with a needle that will stay there for three days. This needle, with a tube dangling from it, enables them draw out blood and pour in chemo and IV fluids as needed without finding new veins every other week.

As soon as they start prepping my skin for the jab, my inner self escapes to a better place while they do any invasive or uncomfortable procedures to my body.

This time around, I noticed the similarities between the feelings I have just before they access the port and the protective feelings I have in other situations. In that split second, I wondered, what would happen if I approached this with an open heart.

So I opened my heart to a situation involving smelly alcohol rubs, a needle, bandage and a nurse totally invading my happiness circle, all in the name of a larger healing. This time, the open heart exercise was decidedly not fun. But here is what came to mind: How the HELL did Jesus keep an open and loving heart through that entire crucifixion when I struggle to do it for this short process to access my port? And this didn’t even kill me (even if someone later thought that I was dead). I surely got a new appreciation for that scene.

One week later, Tiron and I went to a Wynton Marsalis Gospel concert and these lyrics jumped out at me, driving the point further home:

Our Lord gave with loving kindness
On Mount Calvary

So amazed.

Though I always appreciate these insights through pain, I truly appreciate that it is way more fun to practice having an open heart with you.

Love and blessings,
Marie