A Walk Down Memory Lane

On September 18, 2015, Carnegie Mellon University posted (on Facebook) that 8 years ago, Randy Pausch delivered his famous Last Lecture.

My memory does not reliably record dates. I have a little rhyme to help me remember the birthdates of our sons; I definitely don’t remember any dates connected with any of my cancer news.

But my initial diagnosis is forever linked to Randy’s talk.

That September, our four-year-old had just started pre-K at a new school. We were about to move into a new home. And, on a Monday or Tuesday sometime during that month, I had a colonoscopy. The doctor found something that looked like cancer but we would have to wait for pathology to confirm. He assured me that they got a clear margin, though it was thin. “Clear margin” was encouraging. I had had brushes with cancer in the past, but we always caught it early (funny moles, DCIS), so I wasn’t particularly anxious as we waited for the results.

On Thursday of that week, my friend Julie called to tell me that there was an article in the Wall Street Journal about a talk given by Randy Pausch. She recalled that Randy and I knew each other from our days at CMU. We were no longer in contact, though I did hear through the grapevine about his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

I read the WSJ article, mentally noting that it was written by Jeff Zaslow, one of my favorite WSJ reporters (who coincidentally also graduated from Carnegie Mellon). The next day, Friday, in the very late afternoon, I decided to watch Randy’s hour-long lecture online. I figured that I would watch for 15 minutes and if I wasn’t drawn in, I would stop.

Of course, I was drawn in. I watched and watched and watched. I recognized so many aspects of the Randy I knew 20 years before – the way he laughed, how he moved his mouth when he made a joke, his style of jokes. I admired how he had grown into an incredible lecturer and how his values, still the same, became even stronger and more clear.

When I finished watching, I sat back in my chair and took a deep breath. Still sitting there a few moments later, basking in the after-effects of the lecture, our home phone rang.

It was the doctor calling to confirm that I had colorectal cancer.

“Thank you,” was my first response. He thought I didn’t understand him, so he repeated himself.

“I understand,” I assured him. “Thank you for calling to tell me, especially on a Friday night.”

“I’ve never had someone thank me for a cancer diagnosis. Are you okay?”

I tried to explain that I just watched this lecture but I didn’t say much about that before I started feeling silly, so I switched to, “I’m just glad you caught it.”

We talked a bit more – he recommended surgery because the margin was thin but we could discuss particulars next week – and then we hung up.

Shortly after that, the phone rang again. It was my primary care doctor.

“Dr. C told me that he talked with you. He is worried that you are in shock, because you kept thanking him. I wanted to check in.”

“I’m fine. I just watched this lecture….” I again started to explain and then I trailed off. It was Friday night and quite generous of these doctors to spend that time with me. I didn’t need to ramble on about something irrelevant to them.

“I’m fine. I’ll be okay. Thank you for calling.”

(She wrapped up by giving me her cell number and telling me that she was available all weekend if I wanted to talk. I totally love my PCP.)

Not only was Randy’s talk fabulous, but also, I happened to watch it at the perfect time for me. The way he handled his diagnosis and his life both sobered and inspired me. His Last Lecture created a mindset and space that provided a buffer where I could receive the news of my own diagnosis, which didn’t feel nearly as dire. In fact, I felt like I was in a state of grace.

Carnegie Mellon’s Facebook post reminded me that it has been eight years since this all occurred. I am grateful for and awed by the gift of that time.

At the many points when this path felt impossible, I would often think of Julie’s prompting, Randy’s talk and the phone call that immediately followed. These serendipitous events marked the beginning of feeling like I was being cared for and carried. They helped me to trust that the support I needed would come. Sometimes from surprising and unexpected places, but it would come. When I remember the connection between the events of that week in September, I am reminded that I can trust that.

I know that many of us have been handed enormous burdens. I hope that you can feel tangible ways in which you are being cared for and carried, that serendipitous events make your burden more bearable, and that you feel the love all around and through you.

Blessings and light,
Marie

Energy boost

After the last chemo, I laid around for more days than I would like. My energy was low and I didn’t have much to write; each day looked like the one before it.

Despite my low ability to get around, we decided to go ahead with a planned trip to Naples, Florida. Last Tuesday, with quite a bit of help, I was able to travel with my family. Once we arrived, I spent the first two days in bed while they explored the beach and pool. For me, it was more of the same, just new surroundings, but the kids were having fun and it was nice to have some new scenery.

A friend of mine, a wonderful woman I met on one of my trips to see John of God in Abadiania, Brazil, lives in Naples. She had JUST returned to town (again from Abadiania, Brazil) and texted me on Wednesday morning that, that very night, there would be a crystal bowl meditation with a focus on the Divine Mother. Did I want to go?

Wow. Crystal bowls, meditation and Divine Mother. Any one of those would get me there. Yes.

With some effort, I got dressed, put on make-up and made my way downstairs, where my friend picked me up.

The meditation was being held in a salt cave. More coolness (even literally). We arrived early so that I could sit near the large crystal gifted to the owner from John of God and the entities. (That is a story in itself.)

Before the session began, the owner showed my friend and me some of the bowls she would be playing, and I suddenly felt Shira beside me, smiling and laughing. Of course. Shira was the first one to introduce me to crystal bowls and sound healing, and she owned a few that she played beautifully. They gave her much joy. And another connection: Shira traveled to Brazil with my friend even before I did! I loved feeling her there with both of us.

The meditation lasted about an hour and a half, and afterwards, I got to visit with my friend, staying up later than I had in weeks. These events shifted my energy for the rest of the trip. The next day, I could get out of bed early, leave the room, enjoy the resort, and even eat a couple of real meals of solid food! That may not sound like much, but it was a big shift for me.

I remain surprised and grateful for the things that arise to keep me going. Deep gratitude to my friend for initiating all this.

And I hope that, as you read this, you know that you are on your way to your next energy boost as well. You never know where it will come from, or whose energy you will boost by your thoughtful actions!

Love,
Marie

I’m half crazy all for the love of you

Slogging through a rough week, this cheerful bicycle appeared on my doorstep last night:

Bicycle buit for two

I read the note and immediately broke down in tears. That’s a good thing overall – I have come to believe that tears can indicate the presence of God.

The most lovely, happy, heartfelt ANONYMOUS note was attached to it, and the givers went to great lengths to make sure they weren’t seen in the process. So I can’t thank them personally.

But they did indicate that they read my blog. So I hope they see this here.

Thank you. Right now, I don’t know what else to say. You have my gratitude and my heart. My admiration for pulling this off. And my marvel at the two seats on this sweet ride, reminding me that I do not have to go it alone.

Know that you are the presence of God in my life. And the enabler of some good cheer that keeps on rolling!

Love,
Marie

Angel in the waiting room

When I walked into the waiting room at Dana Farber, I noticed an older couple sitting together with some space between them. Her face pointed slightly away from him and turned toward a wordsearch book she was holding. She held a pen in her right hand but wasn’t using it. Her eyes appeared to be unfocused.

Settling into my seat, I heard his harsh tone.

“You are crying? You can cry when I croak.”

Without even thinking, I looked up. Since I was sitting in the section next to them,  I wasn’t looking straight at them, but saw them both from the side. She was closer to me and I now noticed her shaking shoulders and realized she wasn’t saying a word.

He repeated his words again, in the same harsh tone. “You can cry when I croak.”

Of course, everyone has their own way of dealing with emotionally difficult issues, especially heartbreak, and no one way is right. I still felt this overwhelming desire to help somehow (see previous posts on stranger-friends!), to hold her hand or give her a hug, I also felt like they would both turn on me and that it wouldn’t help. This was a private matter playing out in a public setting.

Her shoulders were shaking while she still made no sound. Soon, the nurse called him to get his vital signs taken and she remained seated.

Right then, a man in his early 30’s sat down next to her.

“Hi,” he said kindly. “Can I sit here?”

I didn’t listen to the rest of their conversation and I don’t even know how much they actually spoke. I did see that she looked at him almost as one would look at a lifeline as he continued to slowly connect with her.

I don’t know about her, but I was grateful.