Baby steps

Luckily, my chemo regime is typically relatively routine – infusion from Tuesday through Thursday, followed by a relatively predictable recovery through Sunday. Within that, each day contains its own familiar cycles, including the depression that starts around Wednesday afternoon. It’s dark and it’s irrational. I understand that this depression is part of the whole cycle, but that doesn’t make it easier.

Even though I historically emerged from each depressive event so far, that logic doesn’t help me to see the light at the end of the tunnel. In the midst of each chemo cycle, every single time, I feel like I won’t make it through to a better place. Each time, I think that maybe there is no light or even an end to this tunnel. Maybe this time, I entered a cave that only gets deeper and darker.

When I feel like I can’t do it anymore, usually Wednesday night, I text one of my cousins in some socially acceptable way of saying, “this sucks and I just want to die.” She, thankfully, responds in a variety of ways that says “hang in there.”

“This is the part where I just want to go to sleep and have someone wake me when chemo is over.”

“Ah I’m sure. Hang in there. You are the strongest person I know. It’s helping you…Luv u”

 

“Not horrible but could be better.”

“At least not horrible. That’s good…Think good thoughts.”

 

“Less than 24 hours. Counting down.”

“Been thinking about you all day. Hang in there.”

I cling desperately to my connection with her, as if it were a strong rope that links me to the real world and prevents me from spiraling further and further into deeper darkness.

I simultaneously want to close my eyes and not open them again AND jump right back to the place where where joy feels effortless. I can see others being happy. But during that time, a happy place feels far away and unreachable for me.

I’m starting to realize that I can’t just jump from here to there, and I can never predict what will pull me out. This time, it was a series of baby steps that combined serendipity with a bit of grace that allowed me to step into a slightly different emotional space.

First, I prayed for help, not sure that it would come but promising to watch for it. Shortly afterward, I received a text from a friend who is going through her own horrible time. She was scheduled to fly to Florida with her children but felt that she couldn’t do it.

Then I got this message:

“Florida warm sunny and lovely…xo”

She did it! Her strength gave me a little strength, showed me a little bit of light.

Next, I received a blog post from someone who had a hard year but decidedly focused on the good parts, and I felt a little more positive.

Experiencing each of these moments was like Jesus holding my hand and helping me to take a small step forward, showing me: “See, here is a little bit of good that can enter your heart.” Though I was not yet out of the darkness, I could believe that, if I held on and paid attention, I would be led somewhere that was safe.

We traveled to Pittsburgh for Christmas to see the rest of my family. I was still sick and in pain, but slowly feeling better. On Christmas Eve, during the day, I went to see a friend. Even though she was tired, I was thrilled to get to see her and I took on lots of good energy from her. Baby steps.

That night, feeling like I was slowly making my way out of this dark place but annoyed that it was taking so long, I got an abdominal obstruction that caused waves of pain on its own, plus pulled on the tumors to make them hurt too. I lay in our dark bedroom as my husband put the Santa gifts under the tree. I couldn’t participate in anything and I hated that my illness was ruining Christmas for everyone around me and myself. Plus, we planned to travel to the Bahamas the day after Christmas, and I knew we wouldn’t make the trip unless I felt better. I used the mind-body techniques I knew, and they helped, but progress was slow.

I needed to know that I wasn’t alone, that someone was with me. I prayed, “I need some light, something.”

Just then, the bedroom door, which had been closed but not clicked all the way, opened just a crack and a thin stream of light poured into the room and onto me. Even though I was still in pain, I started to feel a little more optimistic.

I laid awake until about 3:00 in the morning, working through the obstruction. I started to feel better and drifted to sleep when, at 3:30 Christmas morning, the light on the bedside table next to my side of the bed turned on. I kid you not. It was not a timer. It just turned on. It was a three-way light and thankfully turned to the dimmest setting. I had to laugh inside. I might still be recovering, but so many things are out of my control. I felt like it was a sign. And if a light could turn on by itself, then maybe anything really is possible.

Christmas day was lovely, and as I write this, we are on a flight to the Bahamas….

Landing on Long Island, Bahamas

Thank you for all the tiny things you do (and the bigger ones too). Each one makes a difference that changes a life, including mine.

Love and light,
Marie

 

Stranger-friends from another perspective

Guest blogger today! “Grace” is sharing her version of Stranger-friends. Just like we all share different stories about the same traffic accident, we have different stories about the same life event. I will admit that hers does jog my memory a bit more.

“Sylvia” remains, as always, beloved Switzerland.

Here is Grace:

Marie walks in with a stranger, and says “I ran into <Stranger X>, and so he gave me a ride home.”  Sylvia and I say (thinking that he is an old friend of Marie’s), “Great, come join us for dinner and an episode of LA Law (or whatever the popular show was).”  Marie runs up to her room to change, and Sylvia/I start peppering him with questions, like “How do you know Marie?”  Our Asian eyes start to get big and round, and we start to chomp on our dinner quietly.  Stranger X then has to go to the bathroom, and we start asking Marie “Did you know this guy????  Why did you let him come in?” Stranger X returns from the bathroom and we all watch TV silently, afraid to move, looking for a self defense object (in case we need it). Stranger X realizes that it is very uncomfortable, and he makes a quick exit.  I have still not recovered from this episode.

Marie again: Since this is my blog, I get the final word. tee hee. From the outside, Grace has apparently recovered enough to marry a wonderful man and raise two very bright children who do not accept rides from strangers. This helps to alleviate my guilt.

Stranger-friends

When I first moved to Boston, right out of college, I shared a house with two roommates I will call Grace and Sylvia, who were also right out of college. They attended college together and included me in their a wonderful group of college friends for dinners, bridge, skiing, social parties and generally hanging out. Our house was open, welcoming and always full of much-loved friends.

I worked a few miles away from our house and one winter day, driving home in a huge snowstorm, I had almost every electrical item running in my little Honda Accord: the headlights, the windshield wipers, the front and rear defrosters, and, of course, the radio.

In the standstill traffic, I spent more time singing along with the radio than stepping on the gas pedal, so my battery eventually died. I wasn’t alone – many cars were abandoned along the side of the road. I figured that I should get my car out of the way as well.

While I stood outside my car to assess the situation, two guys jumped out of the pickup truck behind me and helped to push my car into a nearby parking lot. When they generously offered to drive me home, I accepted.

We spent a long time together, chatting in the car in that slow-moving traffic and, after dropping off one of the guys (because his stop was on the way), the driver and I arrived at our house. Grace and Sylvia were already home and dinner was cooking. Without thinking twice, I invited him to join us for dinner.

Because we always had friends around, Grace and Sylvia welcomed him as a friend of mine and, after he left, were shocked to learn that I had just met him on the street. Slight culture clash:  They assumed that I wouldn’t invite a stranger into our home and I didn’t think to tell them that we had just met.

Twenty-five years later, we still laugh about that.

When I read this article, I realized that my invitation to this gentleman came from something that got planted deep inside me, growing up in PIttsburgh. It helped me to realized that this is was just what we do.

The article, by a Pittsburgher who now lives in LA, is short, but I excerpted part of it here so that those of you who don’t like to click through will still get the idea:

My dad died last month. This has nothing to do with that.

What I have to tell you is how I pulled up in front of my childhood home the day of the funeral and the woman who lives there now stepped outside, looked at me and said, “Are you OK?”

I said, “No, my dad died.”

She tilted her head. “You used to live here?”

“Yes.”

“Do you wanna come in? I’m just going down to the market, but no rush, come on in.”

And she proceeded to let me walk around her home, asking if I needed anything, asking who had lived in what rooms, what doors to the porch we had used, and was my mother the one who planted the perennials, and how has it changed? All the time smiling and encouraging me to stop when I needed to, cry if I had to, she said,

“Please. Go upstairs. Which room was yours?”

To read the rest of that article: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/morning-file/local-dispatch-its-hardly-polite-to-be-outside-pittsburgh-294839/#ixzz2Ptpbi1IG

We recognize our connections as humans. We take in stranger-friends. We shift our plans to make room for them. We feed them. We try to figure out what it is they need. And hopefully, take care of them in some small way.

And while you may not be in Pittsburgh, I feel like I found that in you. You take me into your heart (and sometimes, your homes), you shift your plans to help us out, you feed us, and you try to figure out what we need, and you take care of us. Thank you.

Saying YES to God

I have changed so much in the past five years. The person of that time would barely recognize the person I have become.

Physically, my weight and height are the same. But my formerly wavy hair and flat abs have given way to a short boyish cut and a roadmap of scars on my abdomen. I used to wear clothes that clung to my body and showed my naturally thin shape. I now wear clothes designed to accommodate my breast prosthesis and my colostomy bag.

Internally, I have changed even more. I am more conscious of my breathing and infinitely grateful for each breath. My patience feels longer and I feel more accepting of others.

The biggest public change is that I am more conscious of my relationship to God. I try to be guided by Him. I now work to be open to His guidance, and to do His will as it is put in front of me, each moment. I’m not perfect at it, but there have been times recently that, when I do as He asks, a wellspring of Grace seems to flow forth.

It isn’t always easy. Sometimes, I feel like He asks me to do things that I imagine to be difficult, and I need to ask for His help to even attempt to do them. Sometimes, I decide not to do them at all.

But sometimes I do step into the place where I am guided, to do the thing that I am told to do, in full faith and confidence that He is there with me. In these times, afterwards, I am so filled with a deep joy that I only want more, more, more. I don’t know how to get it. I’m only happy that it exists, and hope that it comes my way again.

I struggled to describe this, and then I got a note from my friend, Shira, and she put it so well:

Somehow, blessedly, I have landed in a sweet spot. It has to do with realizing my choice, and that choosing to say yes to life, again and again and in all of its flow and movement is my deepest calling and lesson. So I keep saying, “Okay God, take me.” And I don’t mean to the eternal but rather to a merging that allows me also to experience the divine in our embodied existence…I can feel…, or rather hear, my deepest self saying “yes to life,” again and again.

Yes. That is it. Saying yes to life, and yes to God, connected through us, through each and every one of us, through our individual lives.