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,


Guiding lights

Drawn by one of my students

Drawn by one of my students

I hope your holidays were wonderful and that you can see beauty in your life as 2013 begins.

I took an extra week off chemo so that I wasn’t doing chemo on New Year’s Day. And yesterday was the feast of the Epiphany (celebration of the visit of the three wise men, who followed the star to find the baby Jesus), which marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas. It makes sense that I return to my normal life this week, though I hope to continue the Christmas magic.

Intertwined with Christmas is the story of the Three Kings. I heard it several times every year in Catholic school, through cartoons, and during Sunday Mass. That would mean I heard that story more than 50 times, making it so familiar that I tend to listen to it on autopilot.

But this past Sunday, when I heard the story again and the homily that followed, a lightbulb finally went off in my head: If it hadn’t been for the darkness, the three wise men could not have seen the star, much less followed it.

Okay, I’m a little slow on the uptake, but that insight clarified an ongoing puzzle for me.

If you have been along on this joyride for awhile, you may recall that, when I am in the depths of despair and my heart is ripped from my chest and life feels like it totally stinks, I become open to all this grace pouring in. I lie there in awe, unable to move and or do anything other than soak it all in. Once I start to feel better, I basically say, “Thanks, I’m good” and go on my merry way.

After awhile, I would fall into the pit again, and again I find it is just me and God, and I reach out for help and promise promise promise that I will never forget this awful feeling or the gratitude that I have for His help if I can just get to someplace bearable. Then His grace shines in my life, in one surprising way or another. Life becomes not just bearable but wonderful and then, despite my frantic and desperate promises, I do forget.

It feels so good to receive all that powerful and loving grace. I truly did want to maintain that connection and that openness to grace without being in a bottomless pit. But I couldn’t see how to do it, leaving me feeling puzzled and a bit guilty.

Lately, I don’t carry that same angst because, for whatever reason, I somehow feel more regularly connected to God and to the myriad of other spirits out there, but I do still wonder how all that works.

And then – epiphany – of course! You can’t see the guiding star without the darkness. And the darker it is, the more stars can shine.

From my friend Abi:

We humans like to quantify and label to live in duality: good bad, happy sad, easy hard, as though one is better than the other, when in fact, the human experience is a tapestry of all the infinite possibilities of feelings…when we embrace the fabric then it all seems to move through and we can have a very full emotional life.

Not that I wish for darkness in my life, but given that it is part of my tapestry at times, I am incredibly grateful to be able to see the light you shine in my life. I’m sure it has always been there, but it has been shining so brightly for me. Thank you for allowing it to shine.

Whether you are a guiding star or one who lights the path so that I can see it in my own good time or one who twinkles merrily and inspires joy or one who enables others to bathe in your light, you create an elegant beauty to the darkness and make it beautiful in its own way.

So…I have chemo tomorrow, and appreciate your good thoughts and prayers and your ever-present light as I do this. And I wish for you that you can see the lights to guide you, no matter where you are.

Love and blessings,