Ghosts of Red Rover

My husband’s oncologist’s office is next to an elementary school and by the time we arrived this morning for his appointment, the kids were already out on the playground for their morning recess. I gathered our bags and coffee cups from the car and I smiled to myself at hearing the raucous screams and laughter of the kids. As we walked toward the door, I stopped and placed my hand on my husband’s arm and asked him, “Wow, do you smell that?”

The moisture in the air from the coming rain warmed by the sun’s rays layered with the children’s voices wove together to become a tactile explosion of memory fueled even further by the shower of dropping leaves around us. All of a sudden I was back to being seven years old again, running around playing tag and Red Rover in the playground of my grammar school.

It seemed as though a thousand memories and feelings flashed in my mind in one second and it felt so good to feel that carefree again, where my biggest worry was trying to stay ahead of Colleen while I dodged Laura and Pat on the schoolyard in the race to avoid being tagged “it”.

Maybe it’s that my birthday is coming up or the fact that I’ve always loved this time of the year but my mood was melancholy to begin with and it didn’t need much more of a nudge to wax poetic. The very adult me who was accompanying my husband to the oncologist office, smiled at the memory of the (much) younger, innocent, me and mentally told her that everything will be okay and that things will work out. Then I took my husband’s hand, and walked inside.

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Doctor Doctor, Give Me the News–I Have a Bad Attitude

I have to say that though I understand, I don’t like the way some people wear their illnesses like a badge of honor. Having been diagnosed with an illness does not give someone carte blanche to be rude, brash, nor arrogant. Some people give off a sense of entitlement that somehow came along with their doctor’s prescription for treatment. A perfect example of this is a woman I met yesterday.

She was having her eighth and final chemotherapy treatment before going into surgery next month. From the moment she sat down in the waiting room and well into her treatment she did not stop talking about her illness, how she was going to cut people from her life because since being diagnosed they didn’t ask how she was doing. She even admitted that she stopped speaking to her son because he did not ask her soon enough (for her opinion) how she was feeling. They are still not speaking to this day. And yet, she kept saying what a happy person she is and has been through the entire treatment. She even went so far as to say, “I don’t like people who are not happy. What have they got to be unhappy about? I have cancer and I’m a happy person.” I bit my lip when I heard that and refused to look up from my iPad to even give any sort of acknowledgment to one of the most outrageous statements I’ve ever heard.

I believe that illnesses happen to not only get our attention to something that has gone remiss in the body, but also, sometimes, it is the universe’s way of forcing a redirect of our life. I’ve known people who hide behind their illnesses and use them as a way to get what they want from other people, via sympathy, or attention, and get out of doing things they don’t want to do. Maybe having a diagnosis and an illness is giving them a voice for the first time in their lives or perhaps, it is giving them justification for stepping back and away from jobs, people, friends, family–sometimes life itself. I get that. But my problem are with those people who feel entitled to bully because they wear the cape of cancer, or arthritis, or whatever.

While I admired this woman’s resiliency and her can-do attitude, she made me angry and sorry for her at the same time. Her energy of “Look at me and what I’m going through” was invasive and filled the room. Sometimes an illness is a wake up call for someone to find their own voice or empowerment, and sometimes people miss the message. I remember when I had cervical cancer many years ago, a month after I was diagnosed with anorexia. Feeling brazen, with both barrels loaded, early on, I was almost daring people and circumstances to contradict me because I was harboring feelings of “Oh yeah? Well I have cancer and anorexia, so I can do and say what I want. What are you going to do about it?” As shocked as I was to feel those things within myself, I quickly reigned them in and shook them off because they were ugly feelings of entitlement that I knew didn’t belong and definitely wasn’t who I really was. Thankfully with incredible support, I got over it—the illnesses and the attitude!

I applaud everyone who has beaten an illness or is fighting against one and I am sorry that people have to suffer, but it’s when people use that suffering or illness and turn it to a dishonest crutch or battering ram, I can’t help but feel sorry for them because people like that will never truly heal and are missing the whole point of what an illness can really teach them.

Blogging From A to Z: On Being Ordinary and Having an Ordinary Life

O

As a teenager, I wanted so badly to be different than who I was. I didn’t want to be ordinary me. I didn’t want to have this ordinary life. How boring! I wanted to be a star! In what? No clue. I wanted to travel anywhere and everywhere. I just wanted to be extraordinary and live an extraordinary life.

Well, life went on, and as I grew older, learning the ropes of college, first jobs, a corporate career, and a starter marriage overshadowed my concerns of being ordinary. Heck, I was too busy learning about myself and how to be in my various roles to figure out how to be extraordinary on top of all that!

It really wasn’t until I reached the “O” letter in my Blogging From A to Z journey that I thought about the word “ordinary” and what it meant to me. Now, when I think of being ordinary, I feel at ease with the concept and it’s associations. Maybe it is just a matter of getting older and wiser and learning to accept the skin I’m in. I’ve come to see that there’s something to be said about being ordinary and living an ordinary life.

A strong backbone to this realization has been the chaos that has been my life for the past 6 months: issues surrounding broken water pipes and frozen furnace pipes at my home; the passing of my father-in law; my husband’s cancer diagnosis and accompanying him to his chemotherapy treatments; bronchitis that came on just in time for our flight to Michigan for my stepdaughter’s wedding (she was so beautiful!); constant threats of layoffs at my job and then having to say good-bye every few months to some wonderful people I’ve known for years; more house issues; snow/ice storms; panic phone calls from my mother for everything from her feet being swollen and she couldn’t walk to getting lost while driving home from the doctor’s office. There was something every day, and in fact, there’s more, but I think you get the gist.

Events have finally slowed down and paled a bit, letting me catch my breath here and there. I know that life can be messy and that there will always be something, but I just felt blindsided by having it crunched into such a short timespan and the enormity of the challenges.

I think my takeaway is my newfound appreciation for the ordinariness of a calm, uneventful day. I look in the mirror in the morning and though I may be a rock star to my husband, I see an ordinary woman staring back who is doing the best that she can and realizing that there is definitely something extraordinary about being ordinary. An ordinary person, on an ordinary day, drinking her ordinary cup of coffee.

Learning to take things deeper…

Ram Dass Was Right

Watching my husband deal with his illness has taught me more than just dosages and side effects that people going through chemotherapy have to deal with. As a partner, a witness, and being a survivor myself, if you ask anyone who’s had it, cancer can be one of life’s biggest teachers–if you allow it.

It was many years ago that I had my own struggle with cancer, and now, I find I’m on the outside looking in at another cancer battle. I know this fight is not about me, but I can’t help but see the lessons that are here for me, too—as a wife, caregiver, partner, nurse, woman, daughter, human being.  I cannot speak for my husband but we talk a lot about what he’s going through and what lessons there are for him in all this. It was after one of those conversations I realized that the lessons that illness can teach, aren’t necessarily limited to those directly suffering from it.

I’ve learned things about myself, some good and some not so good. I’ve finally learned where my limits are and that it’s completely okay to say, “No.”

No, I can’t do it
No, I’m not going to worry about this
God, you can take this one.

So I didn’t and God did, and because of that, I am trusting more and having faith that things will get done and whatever way it falls, things will be alright. Really.

I’ve learned how uncomfortable people are with the word “cancer”, and because of that, I have become more aware of other people’s unspoken fears.

I’ve learned that sometimes, the deepest unconditional help and love can come from the most unlikely people, so I’m learning to stop being judge and juror.

I’m learning to accept help with grace and not taint it with feelings of failure because I couldn’t do things myself.

I’ve learned how genuine the human heart can be and that there really are good people who put others first when they see someone needs help.

I’ve learned that when someone is in pain, or afraid of the unknown, or just plain feeling like crap physically, emotionally, mentally, it doesn’t matter what my deadlines are, what I’m wearing, how much I weigh, or how much the cable bill is this month. I’ve learned the most important thing is to be present with that person right there right now.

I’m learning to be out of my comfort zone and being okay with it.

I’ve learned it shouldn’t take an illness or the death of someone to find ourselves realigned and reawakened. Sometimes this has to happen—we have to get shaken up—in order to wake up. There will always be that call to make and that book to read and that TV program to watch, but there is a rhythm to life and relationships that seem only to get noticed in times of fear and problems. I’m learning to be more aware, more present, and to get more out of my head and into my heart.

Finally, I’ve learned to thank the circumstances that have surrounded my family for the past few months, because without them, I wouldn’t have learned to dance to this new rhythm and Be Here Now. As long we’re alive, we never stop learning and I don’t know what future lessons will bring, but right now, I can tell you that if you asked me what I know, I’ll say I know nothing. If you ask me what I’ve learned, I’ll say a lot.

To be continued.

Patterns

Patterns. Seeing patterns for what they are. Allowing the witness to step out of the shadow. Begging the sky to make it stop and allowing myself the one anguished cry, “why?????”

Today I sat by the woodpile and cried. I felt the clouds and sky closing in. I took a deep shuddering breath and let it go and as I slumped against the garage door.

And then a peaceful calm slowly came over me. The whispering in my ear was gentle yet insistent:

“She has other people who live closer that she can call if this was a real problem, a real emergency.”

“She could take a cab.”

“If it snows, we’ll just leave earlier or take a different road.”

“You can’t cure your husband’s cancer.”

And then even more insistent, “You don’t have to solve the problems. You can let it be and see how it rolls out. What would happen if you didn’t try to solve all this? What if you put down the superhero cape and just listened. No one elected you hero.” I winced.

My heartbeat applauded this sudden reveal of the subtlest of subtle patterns that I had on some level, at some time, created and now truly saw for perhaps the first time in my life. The witness kept whispering and the breeze suddenly blew a lover’s kiss upon my cheek, drying my tears.

I stood up, stretched, and looked up to the sky, suddenly feeling lighter with the realization that the answer doesn’t always have to come from me.

Just for today

They say that God only gives you what you can handle. I don’t know how true that is but with recent events, he must sure think I have some pretty big shoulders! I’m one of those people who will get done whatever needs to get done and then collapse afterward. Because of that, I was nicknamed “The Rock” by some friends a few years ago. These days, when someone calls me that, I say right back that even rocks get worn down over time.

While waiting with my elderly mother in the doctor’s office for her to be seen, I was struck by how frail and vulnerable she has become. When did this happen? There comes a time when the roles switch and the parent becomes the child and the child becomes the parent (aka caregiver). This change started for me a few years ago but is rapidly advancing to the point that there is a new problem/situation almost every time she calls. I try to be patient but when it’s the fourth and fifth and sixth time of repeating the same thing within a few minutes of each other, I find my voice rising in frustration and white-hot fear that this cannot be happening. Right here right now right here right now right here right now has become my version of counting to 10 as I shut my eyes against the conversation I don’t want to see, to hear, to have, but I must. Because I am the rock but like a river, my tears are wearing this rock down.

I always feared losing my self, my identity if I had children and I jokingly refer to my 80-year-old mother as my child. As I find myself in this not-asked for caregiver role, I realized that I have indeed lost my identity and my self as I knew me to be….but I am finding a new self and a new identity I never would have known if I wasn’t going through this.  To help speed up the process of roughing up this spiritual piece of coal to a diamond, I am also tending to my husband as he goes through chemotherapy. Off with one caregiver hat and on to another! So while I’m scared and I don’t know what I’m doing, I just repeat right here right now right here right now and am incorporating a write here write now write here write now to bring this diamond in the rough more out into the open and see where this will all bring me.