This week has been challenging on so many levels. Sunday night after mass I had said to a man that what I was going through compared to others in the chair seemed like nothing. He looked at me funny and I double-backed. Well, not nothing, I admitted. He looked me straight in the eye, something he sometimes has trouble doing, and firmly stated, No, it’s not nothing. Something about the fierceness with which he said it took my breath away. The words echoed in my head on the way home. Am I playing small? Am I denying what I am going through? In many ways, it did not matter because this week changed that. I have been dragging myself around when I am not sleeping. I open and close the fridge door without eating anything. I turn to computer games to numb whatever I am trying to avoid about the state of my physical and emotional health. I make tea that tastes amazing and drink as much as I can, trying to flush out the poison that now hurts to have inside me.
I had said to that same man that I probably would not look any worse than what I currently did and two minutes later a woman came by and remarked that I was wasting away. He nodded in agreement. Has everyone who has said I look great been fibbing? I had also said my hands were open more than ever and that I was surrendering more and more of my will. I do not know if Satan was eavesdropping that night and thought, Fine, I am going to kick it up a notch. Let’s see how you do now. Truth be told, most days I have not felt horrible until this week. Yes, the third week of my cycle was a challenge but I could handle it knowing that if I hung in there for four days, I would be feeling pretty good again. Well, I am wondering if I do not have the stamina to carry on like this for 11 more weeks. The pain in my gut is annoying. The fatigue is relentless. Yet, something inside of me is not totally surrendering so I am guessing that Hope is digging in.
In terms of still believing God.has.this, I am still there. On Wednesday night, despite feeling horrible, I spoke to the current group of retreatants on First Week of the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises. I shared my thoughts on how God loves us as the beloved sinner. We do not need to do anything to earn that love. God already has loved and redeemed us. I did not discuss my health issue but this cancer diagnosis does not mean that I am more or less loved by God. The visitation of the suffering is not a punishment or a reward as some camps may think. All I know is that God.is.with.me. I can tell in the moments of hard consolation when I still find myself dancing in the kitchen to a song that has just come on Christian radio and when I lift my voice to sing along to the dance moves. Despite the suffering, there is the joy and calm found in my Saviour’s arms.
On Thursday evening, thanks to the kindness of another director, some of us went to one of the fancy Catholic fundraising dinners in town. I often support this one because it is for a good cause. The event sells out within hours and I had to let the opportunity pass by as I could not predict how I would be feeling. God clearly wanted me there for several reasons. First of all, I had not eaten much in the proceeding 48 hours and I gobbled down my food as if I was starving. Everything was delicious. Secondly, I laughed lots which is always good for my soul, and forgot for long periods that I was not feeling great.
Third, my childhood neighbour is the chair of the board of the organization that benefits from the evening. She had not known I was sick and when we caught up for a few moments, she grabbed my hand tightly and she was adamant I was going to be well. You say, I am well. When you say that you are saying God’s name–I AM. You are calling on God each time you say those words. Then she softened and said, Don’t you wish we were back playing barbies again some days? With tears in my eyes, I nodded. Life seemed somewhat less overwhelming back then indeed.
Lastly, the stories from the evening captured my attention. From those who sang grace to the neighbours who shared some of their stories of arriving at House of Peace, my mind wandered the earth, remembering people I had met or known from far away countries….and I found myself counting my blessings once again at the amazing opportunities I have had in life. I spoke to the Rwandan woman afterwards, explaining that I had a Rwandan goddaughter in Nairobi that I have yet to meet. She was so excited to know that. When the keynote speaker got us to share her story, it did not take long for the room to become silent.
A woman who lost both her legs from the knee down, Carolyn Lindner has incredible strength and courage. As she explained how she shocked doctors and others with her recovery from an illness that threatened her life, this special education teacher who was used to encouraging students to overcome adversity now had to focus her energies on herself. Coming out of a coma, she had to learn to breathe on her own, decide to have a surgery to remove her legs below her knees, walk on prosthetic legs, eat solid food, and speak again. Through positive self-talk and visualization, she pulled on the skills she had to not let the disease get the best of her. Clearly, as she stood before a room with 800 people in the audience, she had overcome adversity and was now teaching those of us present that we could do it too. This was exactly what I needed to hear–someone who defined their illness instead of someone who let their illness define them. She was determined to thrive, not just survive.
I sense that could be my lesson here. Today was another hard day of dragging myself out of bed but I remembered that on First Saturdays my parish has healing teams after mass. As I went to one of the teams, I began to cry. I did not feel as if I was overcoming my adversity. I felt beaten up and like cancer was winning. I know that I will have to begin pulling back even more as my immune system struggles to remain well. I will have to let go of more parts of my identity. The gift I feel that was given at the dinner was that I can still make the choice to define the disease and how much control it gets. As my friends laid their hands on me, my tears fell. I know they care for me. In fact, one said during his prayer, that I was the first person to talk to him when he first came to the church 30 years ago. The other made me laugh that I was still finding the energy to minister to one of the mentally ill women at my church who, as she said, had been retelling the same stories she had told me during our last conversation. In some ways, both reminded me that I am still more than this disease and that I am overcoming adversity in small but concrete ways.
My cousin called just as I awoke from a nap this afternoon. She really is one of the people in the world that I love most. A lot of people fall in that category, I suppose, but she is family and gets me in ways that I do not have to explain. Her words helped ground me again and re-set me on the path with grace and hope. I still physically feel lousy but I am more confident that I can get through the next set of decisions and treatments. The prayers continue to rise. Out running an errand today, I checked my phone and had a message from a person on my caseload who was sending love my way. These are the little things that will help me overcome and if Satan is still listening, I want to remind him that God.has.this. I am in good hands, God’s hands.
Have you ever overcome adversity? How?
What can pull you out of the mire and set your feet upon solid ground again?
Creator, you plant us
to flourish, to overcome
harshness and adversity
You give us more than we need
and love us through each
and every painful
step of the crawl back
How blessed are we!