Happy New Year and Happy February!!! I’m really glad that January is finally over. It’s my least favorite month of the year.
I wrote this blog a few weeks ago but then got caught up with my family ski trip to Aspen, so have delayed posting this for over a week. Also, after posting a picture on FaceBook of me on top of the mountain on my rape anniversary day and getting such an overwhelming number of “likes”, I hated to then immediately post something about icky cancer. It felt so nice to receive so much “encouragement” for speaking out about the ugly subject of rape and abuse. In hindsight, I must really feel the need to not keep silent about the darker sides of life and to somehow communicate that we are all in “this” together.
It has already been 3 months since I closed out the “F” word weekly posting. I never intended to end the blog entirely but wanted a break from my weekly self imposed homework assignment. Additionally, some family issues took precedence in my life leaving me little desire to write.
Namely and unfortunately, my sister was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in September. She has been receiving chemotherapy. Fortunately and thankfully, it is (via recent ultrasound results) WORKING to shrink and will potentially completely eradicate the tiny little bug-ass tumor. As I write this, she has endured 5/6 needed treatments. Surgery and radiation lie ahead but chemotherapy is widely accepted to be the toughest of all 3 treatment modalities. As a result, I’m hoping the worst of it is almost behind her now. She seems to have coped with all of it in the best possible way with the most positive attitude. I am AWED by her strength. (Not surprised, however, because she has always possessed internal strength).
I know I did a separate blog post on this occurrence last Fall. It has lead me on another cancer journey, albeit from a greater distance and different vantage point as a sister rather than as a mother. I had embraced the visual of “cancer in the rear view mirror” after one of my high school friends had written those words in response to my announcement of Marit’s 7-year survivor anniversary last May. When my sister was diagnosed, I felt cancer glaring at me through the front window again. I have found, that anytime anyone whom I love is going through a challenging situation, I am deeply affected. (I am a self-described empath). Compartmentalizing isn’t one of my strong suits. Is there anything more painful than anticipating and/or actually observing someone you love, suffer? I think not. I want to believe that I am a person who can “do hard” and not shy away from it. That said, I would often like to bury my head in the sand and hide under my covers from ugly realities. I asked one of my “positive” friends how a person, who is considered to be cheerful and happy all the time, would deal with a loved one having cancer. The answer was something like: “I don’t know, I guess I’d try to be be optimistic and provide the other person with a lot of hopeful comments.” I’m not sure a person knows how they would cope until they experience something challenging themselves? I have learned a lot about people and myself through experiencing 2 frightening (to say the least) experiences.
With regard to exhibiting or communicating fear, anguish and grief, is the person who denies it all the stronger person? I just really struggle with all of those questions. I only know how to cope in the way that works for me, which is to acknowledge the elephant in the room, talk about it, feel it and try to work through it. People always say: “People cope differently!”. I understand that but aren’t there some common elements?
This article was shared by a FB friend of mine a few weeks ago via my FB newsfeed. It seemed perfect to share here in my blog post: I absolutely LOVED what was written about grief and suffering. If you have time and interest, I thought this article was a worthy read:
Just a few weekends ago, I watched the 1980 Academy Award Winning Film: “Ordinary People”. I hadn’t seen this movie for decades.
*** [This is a complete digression but in addition to loving the film’s content, I love Pachelbel’s Canon and the fact that I went to the same college as the pretty, brunette girl who was from Lake Forest, Ill. (who stood between the two young stars Timothy Hutton and Elizabeth McGovern) in the opening school choir scene. In addition, I love the preppy 70’s attire featured in the film’s entirety. I am still a turtleneck, fair isle sweater and clog wearing LOVER- these timeless classics have never disappeared from my wardrobe. Who among you remembers the Dean’s of Scotland and Eagle’s Eye Fair Isle sweaters? (wink/nod to Chris Burch who founded the Eagle’s Eye brand with his brother in 1976)]
Though I remember loving the movie the first time I saw it, the film was even more riveting and relevant to me 30+ years later. It’s interesting how life experience and tragedy leads to a greater understanding of and connection to many things and people. I found one scene particularly compelling. The character Beth, played by Mary Tyler Moore, responded to a fellow family members (her brother Ward and sister in law Audrey) wish for her to be happy following the death of her child.
Beth: “GOD I DON’T KNOW WHAT ANYONE WANTS FROM ME ANYMORE!’
Ward: “Beth, we don’t want anything from you; Audrey, Cal, Connie and Me, we just want you to be happy.”
Beth: “Happy! Ward, you tell me the definition of happy. But first you better make sure your kids are good and safe, that they haven’t fallen off of a horse, been hot by a car, or drown in that swimming pool you’re so proud of!”
Audrey: “Oh Beth!”
Beth: “Then you come to me and tell me how to be happy!”
The exchange deeply resonated with me after knowing and listening to too many Moms from St. Jude who “lost” their children to cancer and after my own experience as a cancer Mom and fearing that same loss. When people express the desire for me to be happy, I sometimes, also just feel the desire to say: “Please don’t tell me how to feel unless you can fully understand the pain I have!” Can you tell I am still coping with anger and emotion around my cancer experience?
Undeniably, the cancer journey changed me. I once again fully realized how “not normal” I am several weeks ago. Days before the St. Jude Gala I co-chair (and the evening of the last teen gala meeting) I took my oldest daughter to our beloved pediatrician because she had annoying, lingering cold symptoms. He ordered some (shall we say “precautionary”?) blood work. Though he shot me a look and specifically said: “Don’t worry”, I asked (as my husband calls it) “the little, black, magic box” (cell phone-google) what that blood work and those symptoms could be indicative of. One result was leukemia. Thus began my 3-hour crazy odyssey. I was “out of my mind” for 3 hours with the only rational/positive thought being: “At least we know the best place to go for treatment!” After 3 long exceedingly stressful hours, I found out all her labs came back perfectly NORMAL and that she is probably simply exhausted and in need of REST. The chances seem remote that 2 children could be affected with this disease, but people I know at St. Jude have met people with two children affected. What I suffer from is likely “Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome” despite it being nearly 8 years since hearing a cancer diagnosis. I really hate that this experience has had such a remarkable lasting effect on me!!!
It has left me to conclude that both life is and people are altered after the word CANCER is uttered. I’m not believing it can’t be good again and believe it could be better in some ways…but the truth is, “things” will never be the same!
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”
OLIVER WENDALL HOLMES, JR.
One of the ways I have chosen to try to cope is by trying to give back to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I believe being part of the efforts in one small way to support research to find cures and improve upon treatments that already exist brings me some peace and satisfaction. The efforts aren’t about being some kind of “good person”. They are part selfish in nature. For if I did nothing, I might decide to permanently hide under the covers and wither away, if not physically, spiritually. (It’s easy for me to understand “coping” this way too).
My 2016 Mantra for Myself is: “Have Faith. Have Hope!” So consciously, I wish to stay alive and at least TRY to help raise funds for life saving research at St. Jude. I started the Red Carpet for Hope to pay forward a once in a lifetime gift of being given a role in the 2nd Star Trek Movie, “Into Darkness”. The gala film preview morphed into an annual Golden Globes Viewing party with a Red Carpet experience. Our tag line for the Gala this year was: “Some things are worth getting Gussied up for”. I like getting dressed up and I like a good party so this is one fun, joyful way to make a difference.
This year our Minneapolis Gala raised $351,550 ($101,000 of the total was raised by the remarkable teens in our generous Minneapolis community).
The 2016 St. Jude Red Carpet for Hope Committee: (A few members are missing)
The 2016 Teen Gala Committee:
The Teen Gala Co-Chairs and their sister and St. Jude Survivor! (Above)
The cumulative dollars raised from the other cities in which the event took place was: $828,360. Reportedly over 1.5 million dollars have been raised since the Red Carpet for Hope’s inception. Every dollar raised will help St. Jude towards their ultimate mission to cure childhood cancer. I truly believe the research that is done there helps with finding cures for adult cancers too.
I look forward to working with St. Jude to make this bigger and better in current participating cities and hopefully in other areas in the future! If it looks like something you may wish to be a part of in the future, anywhere on the globe, contact me and/or St. Jude! It’s just one way to try to make a difference and help CURE CANCER!!!