Friday, November 24, 2017

Eucharisteo 2017

Thanksgiving reminds me to point my thoughts toward the practice of giving thanks.  Eucharisteo.  This idea that Jesus had this tendency to give thanks prior to asking The Father for something.  In her fine book, 1,000 Gifts, Ann Voskamp shares her story of an early life heartbreaking loss and how she went about the next couple of decades going through the motions of faith, but holding herself back, not really trusting this God she'd had decided was not trustworthy.  Eventually, she leans into her faith, deciding God may be worth trusting afterall, and she throws herself headfirst into this gratitude experiment.

I took that ride along with her as I read the book, dutifully making my list of things to be thankful for:  my exquisite, blue-eyed fairy daughter, the way sunlight beams in and makes rainbows just when I need to be reminded of my beautiful friend Laura who left this world way too soon, the nicest Malbec with a new friend, a Steelers last minute win, the way missing someone lets you know your heart still works, perfect black heels, feeling cozy and safe, laughing until I cry, not getting a parking ticket even though I totally deserve one, my pregnant friend's pregnant lady glow, my hair growing back fuller and better than I ever thought it would.

Yo, I don't have cancer right now.  (Or maybe ever again.)  How about that.

When I'm cranky and frowning and sniffing the air and crossing my arms and frustrated and disappointed...I think of Ann.  And I think of Jesus.  And I am reminded to give thanks.  Not just because that's the example we have - but because this practice...this is a powerful force, infusing us with life and love.  It fights against fear.  It fights against apathy.  It helps you to decide not to give in to bitterness.  It keeps your heart soft and ready for whatever is next.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Help effectively

When you see a fellow human struggling, many of us - we feel compelled to help.  Whether it's the people in Houston on top of the roof, just a few inches away from rising floodwaters, or a panhandler at the on ramp of the highway asking for change.  A cancer patient.  An addict.  Mental health battles with nowhere to turn for help.  

We feel compelled to help, because, (in my opinion) we were created to connect and care for one another.  That empathy and compulsion to alleviate the suffering moves us to respond.  Some of us deadened those feelings long ago, and retrained ourselves to believe it's not our problem and it's probably that person's fault and they don't deserve another chance to receive grace and mercy. But some of us hold those feelings alive in our hearts and we are moved to act. Perhaps we put our change in a cup.  We suggest that the suicidal depressed woman "cheer up and pray more."  Maybe we send a box of old clothes to Texas, hoping they somehow find a human their size in need of our cardigan from college.  We inquire about the cancer patient's consumption of bottled water left in hot cars to help them target the cause of their body failing them.  

I'm asking those who don't feel the urge to care or help to consider that almost certainly, someone you love is struggling mightily, with one of those above overwhelming weighty life matters.  The world we live in is becoming increasingly shadowed by these dark clouds of sickness, mental health decline, natural disasters, powerful drug addiction.  You are impacted.  This stuff isn't going away.  These evils will hit closer to home.  I know it's hard and scary to love people who are hurting and imperfect. You worry that you'll get hurt because you might lose them. You don't want to get involved in someone else's mess.  You have your own problems.  But I ask you to allow compassion to foster in your heart.  You don't even have to get involved but lack of empathy is unhealthy.  It may seem subtle, but you impact the world differently whether you see struggle and shrug with contempt, or sigh with care and smile compassionately.     

And on the other hand, if you care. Are we caring effectively? What happens when you hand someone a dollar on the street? What might they be doing with that?  Is it to buy something that helps or hurts them?  I'm not interested in judging a panhandler for asking for money.  But I do know that many people on the street support drug habits by panhandling, or simply fund an irresponsible lifestyle that is harmful to them.  I don't judge them for doing it at all.  But I don't want to help them with it.  When you send that cardigan to Texas, did it help?  Did it get to the right place?  Or is it in a box sitting in some cargo storage room at the airport taking up space?  Did someone reputable ask for it and explain how it would be used?  How does a cancer patient feel when grilled about their diet or exposure to chemicals or genetics?  Do you think they haven't considered these matters?  How do these questions make them feel?  Is letting someone in active addiction or early recovery stay on your couch kindness or enabling?  Asking a deeply depressed person if they have tried yoga/meditation/your church - what impact does this have?  

Intent - wanting to help - does not always match impact.  Our INTENTION to help may have the following impacts in these kinds of situations:

-Providing the dollar that goes toward a stamp bag of heroin laced with fentanyl that causes an accidental overdose.  
-Demonstrating that you think a complex, heart wrenching problem is simple to fix when it is not.
-Sending unneeded, unusable items that end up creating work for people who are already overwhelmed.
-Causing someone to feel judged, guilty or shame when they are already struggling.  
-Enabling someone to continue in a deeply destructive lifestyle because of our inability to say "no."   

I'm advocating that we all care deeply, and then we thoughtfully consider how we respond to any situation. Sometimes, our instinct to help stems from the desire to alleviate the discomfort we have with observing another person suffering.  Can we look past that desire to remove our own uncomfortable feeling, and think through to a more effective action?  

I suggest we investigate the best ways to help in all situations. Look for expert advice on the most effective way to have a positive impact.  Here is some advice on how to help more thoughtfully and effectively:  

If you send money to Texas, consider sending to a local nonprofit that has a high Charity Navigator rating and knows how to handle the different problems: rescue, shelter, food distribution, volunteer management, childcare, animal rescue, medical care.  I suggest giving to the local rescue missions.  They are working hard to help people, and they do that 365 days a year anyway.    

If you want to help homeless people, give to an organization that wants to embrace and support the entire person on a journey of wellness, recovery and eventual independence.  Many nonprofits do this.  Light of Life is one.  Community Human Services is another.  

If you want to help a loved one struggling with addiction, don't enable them.  Seek support for yourself and find expert advice on how to encourage them to get help such as rehab.  Be able to say no, and be ready to assist them when they make that decision. Al-Anon is a great resource.   

Ask a cancer patient how you can be helpful.  Give gifts they would like.  Some people are hungry but too tired to cook and others might vomit if you came over with chicken soup.  Ask.  Send encouragement via text, email, etc.  It's OK to ask questions to try to understand what's going on, but don't act like you can figure out why they got cancer, or tell them how to cure it with some weird snake oil your friend sells.  Just be supportive, pray, visit if they welcome it.  Offer the ways you are willing to help and let them choose.    

If someone you know is struggling with mental illness, be a friend, be forgiving, offer help with kids or pets or bills that need paid.  Support their family.  Offer to help figure it out.    

Bottom line:  Don't not care.  But when you care, care thoughtfully.  

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Get this book

People often ask me what to do for people who have cancer. I have written about this several times on this blog. But I want to add a new suggestion. This little book is awesome. 

I'm embarrassed to say that I can't remember who gave it to me. Chemo brain is a real thing. Seriously, it is called post chemotherapy cognitive impairment and it can last pretty much forever. I remember lots of things perfectly fine, but certain things are just blank. So, whoever got me this book, thank you! I really like it. I don't usually have high hopes for small, cute looking, spiritual themed books. Which is kind of silly because some of my favorite books have fit that description. But there are a lot of dumb ones out there.  With pat answers and encouragement from writers I can't relate to.  

Again, I wasn't expecting much. But this book has brought a tear to my eye each time I've picked it up. I am only 12 pages in, but this lady knows what's up.  One of her first pieces of advice was about what to do when someone comes up to you and starts to tell you a story about someone they know who had your same kind of cancer.  And you start to tense up because you are concerned about how you're going to react when they tell you that they died. Just the fact that she would bring that up makes me know that she has been through what I've been through and she has thought about how to handle it well. 

Anyway, this book is great.  Get it for someone you love who has been recently diagnosed.  

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Changing the subject to...cancer!

I've spent the past 2 months hoping that when this day came, my oncologist would not look at me gravely, and then flip the monitor of his computer around to show me the scan images he would be looking at and point at some evil little (or big?) mass that was about to ruin my life over again.  If he did, it wouldn't be the first or second or even third time.  We've done this dance before, me and determined, thoughtful, jovial Dr. Mehta.  He's only in his mid to late 30s.  It's weird when your oncologist just held his own first, freshly birthed baby a few weeks ago, when your kid is in second grade.  Getting older is weird.  I'm sure it's even weirder for elderly people - they must look at their financial advisers, cardiologists and even the guy replacing their catalytic converter with such an odd mix of trepidation, concern, admiration and, finally, blind trust.

As for me, young(ish) means newly trained, up on all of the latest research, drugs, surgeries, treatments.  Careful.  Thorough.  Disciplined, and unlikely to let something slip by due to assumptions.  Don't get me wrong - he didn't hang up his cap and gown last week or anything.  As far as I'm concerned, he's just right, age wise.  It's just new and different, to think that people younger than me are curing cancer. l

So I spent most of the past two months trying not to think about this day.  And I'm pretty good at it, except when people randomly bring it up - I usually look at the clock and think "hmm made it to 3pm without thinking about cancer today."  I don't mind when people want to actually talk about it - like, have an actual question.  I am always, literally always, ready and willing to talk to a newly diagnosed person or someone who loved them.  This is something that I take very seriously and feel like it's part of my purpose to be available for that.  I also don't mind sharing my whole story, if it's a person who I'm getting to know and it seems like it's the right time to share.  Occasionally I'll bring it up myself because it seems appropriate, or because it would be weird to avoid.  But when someone just brings up casually like "so, ,how's your health?"  The way you might ask about someone's child's little league season.  Sigh.  I usually just say "fine."  And smile.  And say "how is yours?"

I hate having requirements of people - it makes me seem so picky and inflexible.  I try really hard to make supporting me easy.  But this one thing, if I'm honest, I've got to tell you - it throws me off.  Unless my scan is the very next day, I am simply trying not to think about it.  I'm trying to live my life, cross off my to do list, laugh with my friends, enjoy my child, train for a race, plan my next party, solve a work problem.  When you drop the "how's your health?" bomb on me in the middle of that, I'm halted.  I have to go into that realm.  I have to figure out how much to tell you.  How much energy I have to explain things.  How to respect my own boundaries without being rude.  I wonder why you don't just look at my million facebook updates, or keep in touch with me the old way or read this blog.  Even as I type this, it feels unreasonable to expect people to understand this.  It seems like a nice thing to do.  Ask how someone's health is.  I'm not a private person.  Obviously.  But I also don't always want to stop having fun, being normal, laughing, working, playing, thinking about one million other things, going about my business living outside of thoughts of cancer, and be plunged unwillingly into it.  We're out, having a great meal, I'm thrilled with the company, the weather, the food, the drinks, and then someone lowers their voice "so...when's your next scan?"  It shouldn't be hard for me, but it just is.  I'm sorry my brain isn't robotic enough to just compute your care and concern and move on gracefully from it.  Well, I do - I really do try to do that.  But it bothers bothers bothers me, and throws me off.

I guess, just let me bring it up?  Is that reasonable?  I don't want people to feel like they have to walk on eggshells.  But I also know that if I believe the best I can about you, and believe that you're asking because you care, then I have to believe that you don't want to ruin my day.

So quit ruining the mood.  If you have a serious question,, if you are worried about someone who has cancer, if you have just been diagnosed, if you are scared you have cancer, if you want to talk because you need someone who has been there, done that - I AM HERE.  Day or night.  Soccer field or gala venue.  But I am tired of laughing hysterically at some great thing that just happened, and then being hit with a gentle hand on my shoulder and a low voice in my ear "Hey, I just wanted to let you know that we've been praying for you every night."

Someone just told me randomly right after a very sudden "how are you feeling?" that he "prays that they do find something so at least if it's there, we know it's there."  Oh really?  You don't just want to really go for it and pray I don't get cancer again?  No?  Ok, umm, cool.  I love when people go for originality.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Say something else

Someone I knew recently died.  He died of cancer, ultimately.  He was young.  He had kids.  It's sad.  There is no getting around that.  I overheard a conversation about it.  Someone was asking what happened, what might have caused it, how they found it.  I've had this conversation a thousand times.  And it's ok with me.  It really is.  I asked those questions before, too.

But I want to explain something to you.

When you ask those questions, I think I know why.  I think those questions really are disguised versions of these questions:

Did this person do things that might have caused the cancer?

Are any of these things (smoking, drinking, drugs, inactivity, eating red meat, drinking unfiltered water, staring at goldfish) things that I do?

Was it actually his or her fault?

What's behind these questions is a desperate lunge for a bit of superiority, that will reward us with the feeling of safety.

And here, of course, is what's behind that:

Do I actually have control over my life?  Can I control how long I stay alive?

I don't know.  Maybe.  According to lots of studies, if you eat fewer animal products, you'll live longer.  And a lot of other studies suggest that a low grain, more Paleo approach will give you more years.  Some studies say that keeping excess weight off is ideal, and other studies say that a few extra pounds can be protective.  You'll read that running is terrible for you, and that it will save your life.  I know of healthy people who have dropped dead of a heart attack out of nowhere, chain smoking alcoholics who will outlive us all.

I'm an advocate for moving more and eating well - but I had cancer three times and I'm not exactly a bikini model, so if being healthy or skinny are your goals, don't listen to me.  I'm sort of kidding, because, hey - I'm still alive despite my body trying to kill me every year or so since 2013.  But also, not.  I mean, seriously...WHO KNOWS.

I do know this.  It's not kind or helpful or loving to try to figure out why someone got cancer or had a heart attack or died.  Say something else.  OK?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Into the Void? Maybe not.

Sometimes when I write, I wonder what the point is and what impact the words have.  I've blogged for fifteen years (and wrote horrible diary entries for about 10 years before that...seriously, they are so dramatic and self-obsessed and boy crazy and just terrible) and if I calculated all of the time spent typing away, it would be thousands of hours easily.  And for what?  A few laughs, a few "likes."  So what?

I wrote a book and no one told me that the easy part about writing a book is writing the book.  Someone has to care enough to publish you and then they have to care enough to promote your book and then you just hope and hope that your little book might somehow find its way magically to the people who will like it.  It's a process through which I only got through the very first step - writing the thing.  It sits, like an unwanted hamster whose owner went away to college, in this laptop I'm typing at now, gathering cyber dust.  I don't have the time and I don't want to spend the money it would take to get it out into the world.  What I have to say can be said here.  People trickle in, 50 here, 100 there.  Hi, Friends.  Mom.  Connie.  Aunt Barbara.  Random person seeking cancer treatment tips.  Hello.  Welcome.  I've made peace with my little audience.  I write for people who love me, to share how I'm doing.  And I write for strangers who are scared and overwhelmed and using their fingertips on a keyboard or touchscreen, seeking answers, information and hope.  This is the hope stop.  You've found the right place.  It's going to be ok.  Ok?    

But even so, sometimes I feel like I write and the words fling out of me and into space, into the void, never to be reflected back to me.  That's what we really want, as writers, right?  We need to tell the story, real or imagined, and we want it to fly out and bounce back to us.  We want to see something in the reactions of our readers.  Some writers want to get their readers to buy something.  Some want you to be scared.  Some want to make you feel sad about injustice.  Some want you to recycle.  Some want you to believe the same things that they do.  Some want you to laugh (guilty.)  Some want you to hear their story and feel compassion for people like them.  Some want to impress you.  Some want to inspire.  What do I want?  I want you to read what I write and when you're done, believe in yourself a little bit more.  I want you to know that we can get through hard things.  That you can get stronger.  That it's possible to survive pain and bad news and chemo.  That you can even have fun, like 98% of the time. I want to make the hard things in life a little bit less scary and a little more manageable.  I absolutely believe that if I can do it, you can do it.  I'm honestly not especially talented at anything.  I just believe in my brain and my body and my heart and I don't give up.

The other thing I want you to come away from my writing with is the understanding that I have faith.  I approach all of this with an unshakable belief that I'm God's kid and He watches me and walks with me with Great joy.  He has my best interests in His plans, and my only job is to trust Him.  He isn't keeping track of my mistakes with a clip board full of wrong doings and scheming to find ways to punish me for them.  He's cheering me on, urging me to do my best, and He's always up for getting ice cream after the game, win or lose.  There are other aspects of God.  He is holy and so perfectly powerful we cannot bear to look upon His face.  But I am so enamored of the side of God that I am certain would laugh at a slightly inappropriate but witty and well timed about flatulence.

So, I want you to laugh, I want you to believe in yourself, and I want you to understand that pretty much everything you like about me comes from my trust that the Creator of the Universe chuckles occasionally at my antics and loves me like crazy, even when I am not especially well behaved.

Today, I got some evidence that this is happening.  I got the coolest care package from the coolest group of young ladies.  A woman who has known me since I was born shared my story from the last few years with her church prayer group, and they have been praying for me for a long time now.  One of those people runs one of the church's youth groups for girls and one way or another she ended up sharing one of my blog posts that talked about getting through these tough things with faith, with the group.  Since then they tune in from time to time and read my stuff and talk about it.  This gives me so much joy.  I have mentored younger women since I was in college and continue to do so, most often, currently, in the form of trying to be the best boss I can to a small army of rockstar young women who comprise most of my team at work.  Helping women who I am a little further along in life than (ahem, old) is a real passion of mine.  I've been SO WELL mentored by the greatest women, ever.  It's been instilled in me.  Basically, if you learn something (a skill, a process, a method, a way of thinking, a way of looking at something) what good is it really if you don't turn around and teach it to someone else.  Sometimes there is a shortage of "the teachable" but when you find them, they are attracted to potential "life teachers" like magnets.  It's a beautiful thing when the mentor and mentee find one another.  It usually flourishes eventually into a friendship and mutual learning - and these relationships have been some of my greatest joys.  Just about everything I know is because some smart person was generous enough to share with me.

So, to discover that I'm having an impact, 30 miles away, with a bunch of God following girls I've never met is just the greatest thing.  They sent me notes and the notes gave me tears over and over.  One (or several?) of them made a jar and put little note cards in it.  The top of the jar said "Who you are..." and the note cards said "amazing" and "beautiful" and "inspiring" and "role model."

Holy cannoli did this encourage me.  I honestly had been feeling a bit down on myself, for not trying more persistently at "making it" as an author.  This picked me right up today!  I'm so full of love and joy from these notes (and the treats and sweet gifts they sent!) As a recipient of these blessings, I feel honored and humbled and invigorated to keep at it, sharing what I have to share.  And it reminds me, with great intensity how important it is for us to encourage one another.  Share with people the impact they have on you.  You're probably sitting on a lot of unexpressed gratitude and appreciation right now.  Think of three people you couldn't be where you are without - thank them!  Tell them how they impact you and how you couldn't be you without them.

Cancer has given me terrible things.  But the beautiful things it has given me so outrageously outweigh the bad.  When life gives you lemons, like cancer...well, I'm Lemonscarlet, and I'll be over here with my amazing friends, making lemonade.          


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Q & A

I've been meaning to dust this old thing off for a while, and even more so wanting to switch the whole thing over to Word Press like the rest of the world, but until I get 10 free hours and 50 other things done first, here we are.

So a few months ago, my doc notified me of some funk in my lungs that he wasn't sure was cancer.  So we kept an eye on it.  Eventually we decided we were tired of keeping an eye on it, and we thought we would crack me open and scoop that sucker out.

Lung surgery is about as icky and painful as you might imagine.  They put a camera down my throat and into my bronchial tubes and injected dye into the tumor.  Then they went in through my ribs on the left side and back.  They performed a lung resection, removing a portion around the mass and sewing it back together.  I woke up with a chest tube sucking blood and gunk out, snaking across the floor to a little plastic suitcase I had to carry with me to the bathroom.  I took one look at that thing and said "Leave the catheter in so I don't have to go anywhere.  And can I have more pain medication, please?"

I left the hospital in a few days, stayed home recovering, staring at my cat and working from home.  Then I got a colonoscopy because, why not?  :)  Three days later I headed to LA for a work trip and some fun catching up with friends who insist on living way out there.

I got home late last night and headed straight to the doc today to find out that the funk was, in fact, cancer.  Sigh.  This is my THIRD time having cancer.  Sometimes I honestly cannot believe this is my life.  On one hand, I can't believe it's my life because I'm 38 and super active and eat pretty healthy and I have cancer.  And not one of those "good" cancers that just needs to be treated and probably won't come back.  One that keeps coming back and attacking different organs.  And on the other hand, I can't believe it's my life because I have persistent stage 4 cancer that keeps trying to kill me, and yet I just ran my fastest two miles of my life 2 weeks ago, had major surgery, got on a plane 13 days later, and the same day was swinging around my friend's loft apartment on aerial silks like an acrobat.  An enthusiastic but mostly unsuccessful, hysterically laughing acrobat.

I stayed out until 1am in Hollywood at the coolest jazz club I've ever been to, and managed to get up the next day and make it through a full day of meetings that I actually fully enjoyed.

I'm three and a half years into this cancer experience.  (I will refrain from using the word "journey" because even though it totally makes sense and often it seems like the only apt word, I just really hate it.  You can totally use it if you want.  In fact, if you want to send me a card, good luck finding one that doesn't have the word "journey" in it.)  Anyway 3+ years in and the third round is on.  Treatment for now is "watch and wait" but chemo may be in the future.  My goal is to get through the Spring and Summer without needing treatment and then, come September, if it's back to the chemo bar, then back to the chemo bar we shall go.

People ask me the same few questions, so I will post them and the answers here for you:

Are you ok?  Yup.  I am.  I'm not thrilled.  I would plan things out differently if it were up to me, but that is God's job.  Most of the amazing stuff in the Bible I would not have been able to plan out, so I leave that to Him.  I am not always happy.  I am not always filled to the brim with joy.  But I am definitely ok.  And even when I'm not, good, familiar company, delicious healthy food, a song I love, a trip to the beach or maybe a nice Malbec or Sauvignon Blanc cheer me right up.

Are you scared?  Generally, no.  Sometimes I get scared about a specific thing, like an aspect of surgery, recovery or a chemo side effect, but between prayer and bugging my nurse friends, I usually get over that stuff quickly.  As far as being scared to die, I want to live as long as I possibly can.  And I feel hopeful that it might be quite a long while.  But heaven awaits. Then the real adventure begins, I am very convinced.

Are you mad?  Nope.  Occasionally, I am mad if I have to miss something I want to do, but I have been fortunate to minimize that. I get upset if I feel like I'm letting everyone down because I can't do as much as I am used to being able to do.  I get frustrated when I can't be as productive as I would like to be.  I think you are only mad about this kind of thing if you somehow think that you don't "deserve" what is happening to you.  I do not believe that challenging circumstances are punishment, and therefore the whole "deserve" it idea is very foreign to me.  No one deserves it, and yet we all do.  And, also...there is SIGNIFICANT growth and maturity and strength that comes only from suffering.  I basically don't put a whole lot of weight to the words of those who have not truly suffered.  It's the only way to show what you're made of.  And it makes you tough as hell if you let it.  I don't choose my suffering but the results of it, when faced with the proper attitude are a blessing you can't get another way.

Do you need anything?  There is not anything specific that I need right now.  But occasionally, I let my friend, Kait, know if there is anything that would be helpful.  If you know me, you almost definitely know Kait.  :)  For example, sometimes lending me a book is very welcome.   (I'm all set with books right now, fortunately, thanks to a few thoughtful friends.)  :)    

What is the hardest part?  Not knowing if or when it will hit again.  I struggle with long term planning. should plan a vacation a year ahead.  That is stressful to me.  That's when I know I'm in a different life than most people.  You don't not plan a trip to Fiji because you MIGHT get hit by a bus.  But I honestly would not plan an expensive trip six months out.  More like...can we go next month?  Great, I'm in.  Long range planning makes me nervous.  The other hard part is people I love worrying about me.  This worrying business is endless.  They worry about me, so I worry that they're worrying, then they feel bad that they're making me worry.  Everyone stop worrying, ok?!  Just pray and trust God.  Seriously.

How do you do it?  I don't know.  Focus on what's right in front of me.  Appreciate each day.  Refuse to miss out on something amazing.  Buy every shade of red lipstick ever invented.  Basically I choose to throw myself into all that I do, reject fear, love as hard as I can and embrace the adventure. So, who's with me?