What is reality?

Thank you for your prayers and good wishes. I had chemo last week, Tuesday through Thursday, with no vomiting during my at-home time. Woo hoo. To top it off, usually Friday is a recovery day, but this time around, I was able to walk and pick up my son from school. I attribute that to your prayers and positive energy around no side effects.

Last week also carried a Joni Mitchell theme, specifically her song Both Sides Now. Friends on Facebook would post pictures of clouds – storm clouds overhead, clouds during a sunset, clouds below their airplane. Each time, the lyrics, “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now….”  popped into my head. Then a friend posted those specific lyrics. Another posted a picture of himself with Joni Mitchell.

In the meantime, chemo was done and I was feeling better. I reflected upon some point years ago, right after my diagnosis, when I was struggling to process all that was happening. At that time I thought, “What is the difference between the day before I got my diagnosis and the day I got it?” My body felt the same. The primary change was that someone else told me something they thought about my body.

Their words influenced my reality. They shifted how I thought and felt about myself and my life. So, I worked to form my own version of reality, and when I am feeling good, I like to think and act as though I don’t have cancer, and that makes me happy.

But then, sometimes, a different side comes roaring in: A friend sharing her experience on hospice, another experiencing a scary phase, a third who passed away. I felt deeply honored that they let me into their very personal experiences, yet my heart broke each time. I didn’t know how to handle all this, how to be a friend without layering my own concerns for them on top of it all.

You do that all time for me, and my gratitude expanded.

It is winter here, grey and cold. Driving to church on Sunday, the boys started to talk with each other about death and heaven. They discussed whether there is a point before you are really dead where you get to decide whether or not to die, who you might see there, what it would feel like. They seemed to have a pretty comfortable handle on the afterlife, and I was glad they were having this discussion. But it also reminded me that our family needs to have discussions like that, and I felt more and more of the darkness.

Once in church, the topic was about Jesus being a light in the darkness. When in the dark, look for the light. If opening my heart to my friends can have me feel heartbreak, it can also let in the light.

The day felt better now. Looking at it from a different side helped. Which is reality? I don’t know, but I like to think that it all is, regardless of the side we see.

Both Sides Now
Joni Mitchell

Bows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way 

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all 

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way 

But now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all 

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way 

Oh but now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost but something’s gained
In living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all 

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

Letting life unfold

Tomorrow, I go back into chemo and appreciate your prayers and good wishes for an effective session free of side effects.

Though I think I’ve long believed that there are greater forces at work, my trust in them continues to grow. I am used to planning and directing things in my life, but I’m excited to be learning how to simply let events unfold. It seems that one aspect is to ask for help when I need it.

For example, we decided to add an au pair to our family. I spent most of last week online, culling through the many candidates and conducting Skype interviews. At one point, we had three good candidates and one more to interview. I wasn’t sure which person to choose and my head was spinning.

So, I did what I am learning to do: I asked God for help and trusted that he would take care of it. And then I went to yoga.

During yoga, my mind drifted to the decision I needed to make. Typically, I would turn it over and over in my mind. But today, in the split second after I had that thought, I heard something like, “It’s not the time to think about that.” Then the thought mercifully moved on. This happened several times.

After yoga, I received three e-mails. One of the girls decided to leave the program, the second selected a different family, and the third was undecided and explicitly told me that she loved us but to keep interviewing others. (Felt a bit like dating.)

So I went ahead with our next scheduled interview, mostly out of obligation and without high hopes. But she was AMAZING. She had the infectious energy I was hoping to find, a positive attitude, and a willingness to pitch in and be flexible. She connected with each of us and her loving heart shone through. Our choice was clear. We felt so lucky to find someone so fantastic, and we look forward to her arrival.

I hope that your life is unfolding in wonderful ways, you are able to ask for help when you need it, and that you see the hand of God (or greater forces, if that is more your slant!) at work in your life. And I thank you for the help you share in mine.

Love,
Marie

Lisa B. Adams, don’t let anyone write you off

My blog post this week is on the WBUR CommonHealth blog, so feel free to check it out there!

http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2014/01/my-cancer-and-lisa-b-adams-dont-let-anyone-write-you-off

Health update: It took a little longer than I would like to rebound from chemo. Thankfully, my cousin was here for the week to manage all the comings, goings, and staying-puts. And on Monday, I woke with my life force back and raring to go! Always a joy when that happens. I’m still catching up with emails and life.

Thank you for your prayers and good energy, and blessings to all my friends going through chemo and other health challenges this week.

Enjoy the moments. I’m sending you lots of love.
Marie

All you need

Last weekend, we sent our seven-year-old son off with a snowboarding instructor who expanded J-man’s passion for the sport and confirmed that he could venture forth on his own. Though the J disagreed, I insisted that “on his own” actually meant “with his mother or father,”

So, he and I set off together. He wanted the challenge of an intermediate trail. But I, conservative and probably a bit nervous, was more comfortable starting with a beginner slope. To minimize any argument, I suggested taking the lift to the top of the mountain. Hopefully, the altitude would allow him to feel like he was embarking on a challenging trail, and I knew we could take a beginner slope from there.

We navigated the lift line and boarded the lift. As we rode to the top, my heart leapt to my throat. My son has a slight build, so I worried about him sliding through the safety bar and dropping to the terrain below. From his perch, he watched the boarders on the slopes, which sometimes involved twisting his body to see how they fared as they progressed further down the mountain. He occasionally needed to adjust a boot or mitten, or slowly scrape ice off the bar or seat. He remained cool and in control while he made these movements, but each one filled me with panic that he might slip through the safety bar.

We finally FINALLY made it to the top of the mountain and off the lift. I thought I could breathe a sigh of relief and relax but no. Of course not. When he skis, I ski behind him, partly to keep an eye on him but mostly because I am slower. After doing this for years, I can watch his body movements and predict his turns. I know how fast he can go and still be in control. I can tell when he is about to fall.

But now he is on a snowboard, and I am not so familiar with the body movements that go with snowboarding. The mountain felt like a crowded rush of fast skiers and boarders zipping way too close to my little boy. As for predicting his moves, I couldn’t tell if he was about to turn away from danger or head into it. As he flirted with the edge of the trails, I worried that he wouldn’t turn in time and then go careening over the edge. No matter how many times or ways I asked him to stay away from poles and other hard objects, apparently they have a magnetic quality.

I could do nothing but worry about any of these things, and that worry consumed me through that run, the next ride on the lift, and the following run. After several iterations of this, I realized that, even if he got into trouble, I had no real skills to help him. This only compounded my worry and feeling of helplessness.

I had to get off this ledge. The worry wasn’t fun, or useful, or anything I value. Think think think. In the worst case, what could I do? Really, all I could do was be there. I could be first on the scene, for whatever that is worth. I could let him know that I was there. I could hold his hand.

Knowing what I could do gave me a little tiny opening in the worry, and through that opening, I could see that he periodically checked to make sure I was watching him. Confident, he wanted to make sure that I saw his smooth moves, and he was happy that I had an eye on him. A few times, he stopped at the top of a steep slope to get my reassurance that he could do it.

From my perspective, my emotional support didn’t feel like much. But, if disaster struck, it would exactly what he would need from me. I could leave the more tangible tasks to the professionals.

My worry cleared a little more and I relaxed enough to learn his snowboarding movements, to predict a turn as well as a fall. I observed pieces of the culture as older snowboarders made nice comments or stopped to give him tips. He worked on his turns, going for longer stretches between falls and finding jumps. And he kept looking for me, making sure that I was watching him when he was doing something great and that I was nearby in case he needed me.

Fortunately, none of my horrific visions materialized. Eventually, he will snowboard as fast and well as he can ski, and the time will come when I won’t be able to keep up. But today, he was happy to have me nearby, and we did okay together.

I relate to this feeling of making sure that someone is nearby. Sometimes I write more often than others, reaching out to you. I am checking to make sure you are there. Even if I am not in trouble, your presence is still necessary, still strengthening, and still makes the run more fun. I reach out to you, as your presence makes good news even better and provides reassurance when I feel a little uncertain or scared.

Know that even if it feels like all you can do is be there, that in itself is often exactly what I need. Thank you.

Love and blessings,
Marie

Do you see what I see?

It has been fabulous to have an extra week away from chemo. I feel like my mind has some space to clear away the fuzziness I can get from the drugs.

Coincidentally, I’ve been talking with quite a few people about the anti-nausea drugs that I take and don’t take. One of them turns me into a different person. When I take it, I know that I am not thinking the way I usually do or acting the way I want to act, but I can’t help it. If someone were to tell me that I am being irrational, or that what I see isn’t really true, I become even more irritated, angry or sad, but it doesn’t change my view of reality. I can’t “snap out of it” or use logic. I just am where I am at that time.

That experience has helped me to see how thin the line can be that divides the way we each see the details of life and the feelings that drive our behaviors. It has also helped me to understand that maybe others cannot help what they are doing or saying, and maybe that it all makes sense in their version of reality. I hope it makes me more patient, though I suspect not as much as I would like to believe.

Regardless, I’m always glad when I don’t have to take that drug – I like the version of reality to which I have become accustomed.

In this version, I felt lucky to go to Mass at my parents’ church on Christmas morning with my family, my sister and niece and my parents, taking up an entire pew. Looking around, I noticed a woman in the pew to the left of us holding a baby girl who appeared to be sleeping. The woman was of the age where she could have been either an older mother or a younger grandmother. The baby’s head rested on the woman’s shoulder, on the other side of my view, but her arms lay limp at her sides in such a way that I assumed she had problems with her muscle tone.

I didn’t watch them much after that, though the woman caught my eye when she left the pew and headed to the back of the church, carefully carrying the baby and a diaper bag.

She returned a few minutes later, sat down, then held the baby face-to-face, nuzzling noses. I tried not to stare but noticed the baby’s perfect face.

Turning to my seven-year-old son, I told him, “Look at that perfect little baby. She looks like a doll.”

“She IS a doll,” he hissed at me, indignant at being in church at all and now annoyed to be with a mother so daft as to believe that could be a real baby.

I squinted to study the pair. Yes, it was a doll. But the woman was clearly interacting with the doll as though she were a baby, supporting her head as she held her, and making loving faces at her. She even glowed with the happiness of having a new baby.

I asked my mother, “Is that woman always here?”

“Maybe. I never noticed her before.”

At this point, I made up a story in my head. The woman always wanted to be a mother, I thought. Maybe she got this baby doll for Christmas and, for her, it is as real as any other baby.

As Mass came to a close, she carefully put a warm coat on the baby and lovingly wrapped her in a blanket. As for me, I directed my boys in a different direction so that they wouldn’t helpfully blurt out something like, “Don’t you know that is a doll?”

Who are we to interfere with her reality and her happiness? She clearly wasn’t bothering anyone, the baby (doll) was making her happy, and she got to share her love. We all have our own little version of reality anyway. This is evident when I mediate a disagreement between the kids, each of whom fully believes their own version of the truth. I am reminded of this when someone has the same values as me but their point of view differs radically from my own. And I live this when I take a new drug that shifts my version of what life is like. Through this experience, I hope that I am becoming more able to embrace the variety of views we each carry and meet each person wherever they are at that time. And I appreciate your embrace and good humor along the way!

Lots of love in this new year,
Marie

Come together

Christmas 2013

For Christmas, we travel to Pittsburgh to be with my family. Every year, we attend Mass together on Christmas morning, and every year, the kids practically whine, “WHY do we have to go to Mass?”

Usually, I feel crunched for time and rattle off some quick response along the lines of, “Do you know why we celebrate Christmas at all?” or “You got all these great presents and you can’t give an hour to God?” Even if the kids stop asking and move toward the door, I’m sure that answer doesn’t satisfy them any more than it satisfied me at that age.

Outside of Christmas, I sometimes wonder about the difference between attending a service with others or praying (or whatever) individually to connect with God. I do believe that God is everywhere, and we each have our own way of making connections. But still, I feel moved in a different way after gathering in a group or even acknowledging as a group that something is special.

I recalled a rare Easter Sunday visit to Pittsburgh, years ago. As my husband and I drove from the airport to my parents’ home, I realized that it felt like Easter but didn’t know why. My husband, craving a bagel, realized that all the bagel shops were closed and in fact, there were very few stores open at all. He found it odd and a tad inconvenient, and I suddenly felt like the whole city was celebrating Easter together, setting it aside as special from any other Sunday.

This Christmas, I received a note from a friend that reminded me of “The Vibe.” The short version is this: I once managed a project team where, at every weekly meeting, we would come up with a vision of what needed to happened in order to move our work forward in the best way. Though the vision might feel outlandish to our logical minds, our only criteria was that it had to resonate emotionally in the gut of every person in the room. Surprisingly, we came to a quick consensus every week, and every week, our logically outlandish vision came about. (If you want more of a description, I wrote a post about it here: The Law of Attraction.)

Recounting these random memories to a friend, she pointed out that in each case, there was the power of a group joining together, directing our emotional and spiritual energies toward a single vision. And maybe that is a big part of our human experience on earth: To connect with each other and to that which is larger than ourselves.

Perhaps it is similar when you pray for me. Thank you for coming together as part of a larger group. Together, your prayers and good will have power beyond just one person. Your vision of a healthy life for me moves my life and make it all more real.

God bless you.
Marie