Archive | November, 2010

Just the Two of Us

29 Nov

On Saturday night, my middle son and I went out for dinner. Just the two of us. It’s a tradition I started a few years ago with my oldest son. When each boy becomes taller than I am, I take him out for a special dinner.

We talk about things like how a gentleman should open the door for a lady. We review concepts such as the proper use of a napkin and how it’s usually a good idea to chew with your mouth closed. We discuss how it’s not the best of manners to lick your fingers in a nice restaurant, even if you are eating really good coconut prawns dipped in pineapple sauce.

But mostly this special dinner is all about fun. It’s about celebrating the life of a child who is growing up. It’s about letting him know how proud I am of him as he makes the transition from child to adult.

As I watched my lighthearted, easy-going son enjoy his dinner, I thanked God for the privilege of being this child’s mother. And my thoughts drifted. I wondered what life would be like for him now if I had not survived cancer. How would his life have been affected by the death of his mother? Would my husband have remarried by now? Would the new step-mother ever be able to love my children as I have loved them?

Again, I am reminded that life after cancer is a gift.

The child I once held in my arms now outweighs me. The little boy who at one time reached up to hold my hand is now taller than I am.

Being a part of his life still brings me the greatest of joy.

Happy Thanksgiving

22 Nov

This year I bought a really big turkey. The biggest one I could find. Those of you who have teenage sons understand the need for a gigantic turkey.

Last year I made the mistake of buying a normal sized turkey which left us with almost no leftovers. Imagine having to eat ham sandwiches on the day after Thanksgiving. Of course, that wasn’t as bad as what happened two years ago…

Two years ago, early on Thanksgiving morning, I stuffed the turkey full of my Aunt Hattie’s sausage and cornbread dressing, and put it in the oven. For hours, we were tantalized by the delicious aroma of the roasting bird. My excited kids could hardly stand it.

Busy in the kitchen, my mom and I mashed potatoes. We baked rolls. We buttered corn. We warmed pies. At last, the turkey was done and the feast was almost ready. I set the turkey on the countertop so that it could cool a bit before we started making the gravy. Then my mom and I, in need of a quick break, left the kitchen.

No sooner had I turned my back on the kitchen, when I heard a rather loud thud, along with a loud clatter, followed by an even louder “OH, NO!” Definitely not the sounds I like to hear coming from my kitchen on Thanksgiving Day. Rushing back, I found three concerned and somewhat guilty-looking kids. And a turkey on the floor.

Note to self: Never leave a Thanksgiving turkey alone in the kitchen without adequate supervision.

Like any other mother when faced with a turkey-on-the-floor situation, I considered my options. I quickly determined, that at 2:00 pm on Thanksgiving Day, there weren’t any. So I did what had to be done. I picked the turkey up off the floor, plopped it on a platter, and told my husband to start carving. While I mopped up the mess, my amazing mother somehow concocted gravy from a can, and soon we were all seated around the table enjoying our Thanksgiving feast as if nothing unusual whatsoever had just taken place on the kitchen floor.

So I guess it really was not such a big deal after all. And there’s no reason to suspect that this would ever happen to me again, right? But just in case, I think I’ll go give my kitchen floor a really good cleaning.

The First Snowfall

19 Nov

My kids arrived home from school today with snowflakes in their hair. The first snowfall of the season. I love the changing of the seasons. I’ve got a fire in the fireplace, cupcakes baking in the oven, and a good book to read. Definitely one of the good days.

And I’m listening to Christmas music — which breaks my rule of never listening to Christmas music till after Thanksgiving. But hey, life is short, and sometimes it’s good to break a few rules.

There is much to look forward to in the next several weeks with the approaching holidays. And much for which to be thankful.

My oldest son gave me a hug this evening. He told me that at youth group on Wednesday night everyone was supposed to say what they were thankful for. He told everyone that he was thankful for his mom. I suppose most kids are thankful for their moms. After all, we are pretty wonderful! But it somehow carries a little bit more weight, I think, when that kid has had a really good glimpse of what life would be like without his mom.

Like I said, there’s much for which to be thankful. And much to look forward to in the coming days. Life is too short not to enjoy and appreciate every precious moment of it.

A Good Place

15 Nov

Seems like I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Valley these last few years. So I got to thinking that it would sure be a nice change to spend some time hanging out in the green pastures instead. And maybe put my feet up beside the still waters for awhile. You know, take some time out for a little soul-restoring.

Problem is – I had no idea how to get there.

So I prayed. I asked God to help me find his green pastures and still waters. I told him I was looking for some rest and contentment, as well as a deep sense of well-being, security, and refreshment that could come only from him.

Then I faced the real world… A dead fish floating in the fishbowl. Gum in the dryer. A sick stomach.

A few hours later, I sat in a hair salon getting my hair trimmed. The salon was unusually quiet. It was empty except for me and the wonderful lady who has been cutting my hair for the last 15 years. Both of us have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past few years. We both continue to cope with the lousy side effects of ongoing treatment. We both have plenty of things to complain about.

As she cut my hair, I looked in the mirror and watched our reflection. It was almost as if I were watching two unfamiliar women. Because the women I could see in the mirror didn’t look like they were hanging out in a valley. Instead, they were both smiling and laughing as they visited together.

To my surprise, I saw that the sense of well-being I had been longing for appeared to be right there in front of my eyes. Sitting there, I finally grasped the fact that I didn’t have to get to God’s green pastures. I was already there. I just needed to let go of life’s distractions long enough to recognize that the Good Shepherd has already led me to a good place.

A place where he reminds me that things aren’t so bad after all. A place where, despite the cancer, my cup does indeed overflow. A place where he assures me that his goodness and mercy will be following me – each and every day of my life.

Some Kind of Normal

12 Nov

I have a love-hate relationship with tamoxifen. I love how this drug is helping to protect me from a reoccurrence of breast cancer. I hate the unpleasant side effects it inflicts upon my body. Especially the nausea. Four years is an awfully long time to have an unhappy stomach.

Last night as I swallowed my last bite of dinner, I immediately wished I had skipped the meal altogether. Feeling queasy, I quickly cleared the table and cleaned the dishes. I needed to make sack lunches for the next day, so I grabbed some ham and cheese and set out eight slices of bread on the counter.

My little girl, who had helped me with the dishes, was still in the kitchen happily telling me about her day at school. As I began to spread the Miracle Whip, without any warning, I suddenly threw-up. TMI? Let me get to the point. While I continued to be sick, my daughter kept right on chattering about her day — as if it was perfectly normal for her mom to be throwing up in the kitchen.

When she finished her story, she did ask, “You okay, Mom?” But before I could answer, her attention turned to the food on the counter. “Hey,” she said, as if we were talking about a condiment, “you didn’t get any of that on my sandwich did you?”

How many other kids do you know that think it’s normal to go to school with a vomit-splattered sandwich?

In that moment, it occurred to me that my daughter had no idea what normal really is. As I pondered this, I thought back to how young she had been when I was first diagnosed with cancer. And I realized that she had been too young to remember a mom who had been healthy and energetic and didn’t throw up while making the sandwiches.

Sometimes I can’t remember that mom, either.

For Thou Art with Me

8 Nov

I knew it was coming. Yet, when it arrived a few days ago, I felt my knees start to crumple and I had to remind myself to breathe. To me, it was more than a simple white note card, folded in half and stapled shut. It was a startling reminder that life after cancer does not return to normal.

Without looking at the return address, I knew who had sent this card to me. Others in the medical field send nice notes to remind us to please call their office at our earliest convenience to schedule our next appointment. Not my oncologist. He knows I would never have the courage to make that call. So instead, he just states the date and time of my next appointment and tells me to be there.

Opening the card, I notice that he has scheduled me to be in the lab for a whole hour. A whole hour? I again have to remind myself to breathe. I mean, how many needles are they planning to poke me with? How much blood are they planning to draw? I suppose there are worse places to be than an oncology lab, but I sure can’t think of any at the moment.

Although a few years have passed since my very first visit to the cancer treatment center, that place still brings back unpleasant memories. I remember the initial shock of entering the crowded waiting room. It was like a scene from a horror movie. Many of the patients had no hair. Others were missing body parts. If you have ever experienced the inside of an oncology center, then you know that it is the valley of the shadow of death. I remember squeezing my eyes shut and telling myself I didn’t belong here. Then I realized that I, too, was missing a body part. Guess I belonged here after all.

And to think I used to get nervous about going to see the dentist.

Sometime later, a nurse called me out of the waiting room and escorted me to a room in the back. Apparently, it was the yelling room, because that’s what she did. She was angry that my oncologist had not received the final pathology report from my surgeon. I never was real clear on why this was my fault. To her credit, she did stop yelling when I started crying. Since that occasion, I’ve tried not to be too hard on her when our paths cross. But it’s difficult to believe that she could have been having a worse day than I was.

Despite my negative first impression, the truth is — the cancer treatment center isn’t all bad. It hasn’t been easy, but over the last few years, I’ve managed to come up with a few good things about that place. For one thing, they have an all-you-can-eat cookie table. My stomach is always doing too many flip-flops to handle eating any of them, but just gazing at those fabulous cookies always provides a pleasant distraction.

Then there are the people. The staff is cheerful and the lab technicians are kind and gentle. They understand that I don’t want to be there. My oncologist is wonderful. He acts like seeing me is the best part of his day. And he’s so intent on keeping me alive. I like that in a doctor.

Perhaps the most remarkable people there at the cancer center are the other patients. Seems like we spend a considerable amount of time together in that large waiting room. As I visit with them, I no longer see the lack of hair or the missing body parts. Instead, I feel the powerful and comforting presence of God as stories are told, tears are shed, and faith is shared.

The patients in that waiting room amaze me with their incredible testimonies of faith. I am strengthened by their courage. I am uplifted by their hope.

And each time I go back to that valley, I am reminded again that I am not alone on this cancer journey after all.

Chasing My Tail

5 Nov

Some days I’m convinced I do nothing other than running in circles, like a dog chasing its tail. Today, for example, I had a long to-do list and several deadlines to meet. And it was house-cleaning day. I tend to be a tiny bit OCD when it comes to a clean house, so that was first on my agenda. I figured if I worked hard and cleaned fast, I’d still have time to do the other things that needed doing.

When I clean house, I always listen to Lonestar. I call it my house-cleaning music. But today, halfway through cleaning, I decided to try something different. I put on an old Keith Green CD.

I should have stuck with Lonestar.

Our dog Ranger is 100% an outdoor dog. However, a week or so ago, we moved him and his dog crate into the dining room so that he could convalesce indoors (see post from October 25th).

Ranger likes Lonestar. Ranger does not like Keith Green. At least that’s the impression I got when he started barking and howling and rattling his crate. No way was I going to change the music for a dog, so eventually I kicked him outside. That’s when I noticed for the first time that I had a very dirty dog crate in my clean house.

Ranger watched through the window as I stuck my head and shoulders into his crate. The old bath towels he had been sleeping on were too filthy to be vacuumed. They needed to see the inside of a washing machine. But first, I figured I had better take them outside for a good shaking. Ranger couldn’t have been more pleased when I joined him outdoors. He thought it was a game. He jumped and nipped at the towels as I attempted to shake them. Then the crazy dog, still riled-up from the Keith Green incident, started nipping at me. Giving up on the towel-shaking, I stepped back into the house and slammed the door.

I had dog hair in my mouth. I had dog hair on my eye balls. In fact, I’m pretty sure there were more dog hairs on me than on Ranger. As I looked around, I could see dog hairs settling all over my clean dining room. So much for trying to clean the house quickly. Sighing, I decided I was way too tired to work so hard at accomplishing nothing.

Yesterday I read a newsletter from the Johns Hopkins Breast Center. One of their researchers stated, “Persistent fatigue is one of the most common lingering problems affecting breast cancer survivors.” I can sure relate to that, particularly on days like today.

Standing in my dog-hair-covered dining room, I was reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew. They go something like this –Come to me, all you who are weary and covered with dog hair, stop chasing your tail and I will give you rest.

Isn’t that awesome? Jesus always knows just what we need. He remembers that we are merely made of dust – (of which I am so insistent upon cleaning!) I love how he understands our frailness and invites us to rest.

After the Keith Green CD ended, I let Ranger back inside. He curled up in his crate and settled down for a nap. Perhaps I will too.