Posts Tagged ‘cancer’

The people who help me find my courage are not the ones who swoop in to save the day. They’re the ones who sit with me in the fear puddle and hold my hand while my knees shake. Here’s to the hand-holders. (Nanea Hoffman)

Our blue spruce tree needs a few limbs removed. The tree is being treated for spider mites and a variety of other ailments. Spikes that contain healing potions lead into the ground.

I watch the goldfinch, sparrow, and purple finch at the bird feeder. I have no idea how many have passed through blue spruce’s branches in its forty years in our yard. The number doesn’t matter. My husband and I don’t want to lose our bed-and-breakfast for birds. Even if the squirrels take advantage and eat sumo-wrestler-sized portions of feed. Cats watch and wait for slower flyers. Cooper hawks attack sparrows. Life is not perfect. Anywhere.

As I enter the house, my arms laden with groceries, I notice dead limbs. The word amputate comes to mind. A conversation I had at the store returns in my memory as if it is happening now:

“Terry, hi!”

I stop studying the varieties of paper products and turn around. I see a friend I haven’t seen in eight months. She has been through two rounds of chemo and one course of radiation for breast cancer.

“How are you? I have thought about you so many times.”

“I’m doing okay.” She pulls back a section of her scarf. “See. My hair is growing back in.” She reaches for my hand.

An employee comes by to check something in the aisle. I move to give her room, but don’t let go of my friend’s hand. The warmness of her being washes through me. And I don’t know who is offering whom courage.

She talks about the experience of chemo without putting glossy euphemisms on it. Yet, she is accepting. And hopeful. I have no idea how much time passes and don’t care.

I may have remembered everything on my list. Then again, I could have forgotten an essential item for tomorrow evening’s meal. It won’t matter. Something else will do. Larger matters surround me. Another friend is beginning a second fight against breast cancer. A neighbor lost her husband.

The bare branches will be gone soon. The tree will survive.  I lent my car to a family member this week. She needs it more than I do right now. I used my husband’s car for the weekly grocery trip. Suddenly the car loss appears trivial. The time I have been given to care for at-home chores seems essential. Basic. I’ve been neglecting some core needs. It is time to face them.

The tree reaches into the sky. My friend’s head shows tiny gray stubble. And today begins another day. No promises, but plenty of both sun and fear puddles. And I am grateful to join friends through both.

closeup blue spruce



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Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking the whole world belongs to you. (Lao Tzu)

Put too many items on a moving flat surface and a few are bound to slide off. If I listed everything I plan to do today, the city’s yellow-page phone directory would probably be thinner. That’s a huge hyperbole, but I feel overwhelmed.

So, when I drive away from the Y and realize that, oops, I’ve left my hand brace inside the building, I’m not surprised by my forgetfulness. And I am frustrated. With me. I need that brace. I’m performing tomorrow and don’t want my hand to cramp in the middle of a song.

True, the return trip is no more than a drive from exit to entrance, but backtracking isn’t on the sacred agenda.

Fortunately, Amy catches my eye as I approach the door to leave. Again. She is smiling. She has good news. She has been battling metastatic cancer. Her most recent tests have come back normal. This may not be the final report, but it leads in a positive direction.

Amy is an amazing young woman. She volunteers almost every day. And rides her bike, not a car. She doesn’t give up easily.

I wrap my brace around my wrist and realize the pain in my hand has lessened. And so has the weight of my self-imposed agenda. Suddenly, a few items fall off. And it is okay. They didn’t need to be there anyway. I add gratitude for people like Amy. The kind of addition that lightens the burden.

the brave and suffering The Optiism Revolution

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Man has never made any material as resilient as the human spirit. (Bernard Williams)

I have just shared the news that my youngest granddaughter is doing extremely well. Her joy has leaked into me. All is well in my world. However, within minutes I learn that all is not well in another person’s world.

I greet the young woman I introduced in my April 14 post: A Child’s Wish: I Hope You Never Git Hert. She tells me she has stage-four cancer. My hug feels tense, overprotective; I wanted to relay hope, a huge cancer-crushing hope. She ran a marathon last week. That run was her choice. Chemotherapy doesn’t fit anyone’s desire.

I would reach for a second hug-try, but the lack lies within me, not within her. I haven’t processed her news yet. This can’t be real—it is. I sense frailty in her body and I want to change it. Make her well. Now.

Platitudes go nowhere. But I tell her that I thought about her at two in the morning again last night. I did. Perhaps she had taken part in an immediately forgotten dream. It doesn’t matter. Something about her inspires me. An ordinary kind of sacred. I suspect that this girl is planting seeds in people simply by being herself. She demonstrates how courage works, but the kind of growth she initiates in others doesn’t necessarily appear until later—sometimes years.

Philosophical banter is too lofty for someone who is suffering. It isn’t what she needs right now. I tell her once again that she is incredible. She smiles, briefly, as if a little light has gotten through to the part of her that doesn’t see her beauty. Enough for now maybe. Incredible is such a vague word. It doesn’t say as much as I want it to express. At some place every analogy limps. My words can only be a representation of a thought, chosen to celebrate a spirit I want to see thrive as long as possible, the life of a common hero.

She is that hero, with seeds left to plant… and she knows the fight is never easy.


Heroes Jodi P PIQ

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Life isn’t about getting and having, it’s about giving and being. (Kevin Kruse)

 As I’m dusting the windowsill I see the note Kate wrote to Ella, probably several years ago. I saved it because it reflects who Kate is. Ordinarily I choose to publish only quotes and pictures that include correct spelling and grammar. However, there are times when perfection can ruin the beauty of the moment. The sincerity of my eldest granddaughter’s wish blasts out from her innocence. She wants the best for her young cousin. I can’t fault that.

However, no one experiences a perfect life. Our Ella probably understands that better than many people do. She approaches a quarantine time. Her open heart surgery has been postponed twice. Now, so that she can move forward, we must keep her away from crowds and lots of germs. Of course she has no fear of infection. Saturday she dropped a vending machine M&M on a restaurant floor and then picked up the candy and chomped on it. Fear of another sick day does not govern her life.

I would like to delete fear from my own life. I would also like to send a message like Kate’s to a few other folk I know, to wish safety, health, and simple joys.

There is a young woman at a place I visit frequently who has recently had a recurrence of cancer. She is frightened, as anyone would be. She says she does not expect to recover this time.

She shows me the site from her biopsy, just below her throat. We share a few tears. I hug her. This is all I have to give. She says six words that scream a lifetime of experience: “I have always been the oddball.”

We are standing in front of a public bathroom mirror. I want to turn her toward the glass and point out what I see—a beauty that isn’t superficial. Tenacity and willingness to serve don’t appear in a flat reflection. Yet, I can’t find an opening in her spirit to explain that different is not a synonym for inferior. She is devastated, too broken for words to seep in yet.

I recall how I was the taunted kid through twelve grades of school. And I never understood why, except for the innate inferiority theory. After all, my parents never told me that I had gifts of any value.

This young woman has struggled through developmental handicaps. She has gone through chemotherapy. She volunteers. Daily. With a smile. She is in too much pain to understand more than a hug. Moreover, my recent accomplishments can obscure the realities of the past. She doesn’t see a future. Now is not the time for me to talk, but to listen.

Then I see her again this morning. She wears a pink fighting-breast-cancer scarf. She readily accepts my embrace and tells me she is taking her driving test on Tuesday. I grin. She talks about her nervousness. I think about facing tons of steel on the road. I envision this young lady approaching a 32-wheeler on the expressway and crushing cancer in the passing lane.

Perhaps enough people have listened to this volunteer. Maybe she is beginning to see her own worth, prayer answered before it was barely begun…

May that power continue to grow.


Dear Ella



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Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you. (Maori Proverb)

The man at the pool grill, grate-thin, talks to my husband and me about the brats and hamburgers he prepares. He compares them to other means of cooking and rewarming. With a smile that expands him beyond his slender frame he announces, “I have stage-four cancer.”

My hearing is poor. I need new hearing aids; after nine years the old ones gave up trying to help me catch sounds—and occasionally actually to listen. Even if I didn’t hear every word this sunny gentleman said, I caught the line about his health, thrown in like a significant clue in a fascinating stay-up-all-night mystery novel. His tone sounds out of context. And yet, it doesn’t at all. He faces the sun and lets the shadows fall behind.

I watch his eyes and try to follow the level of his fascination for life—even the mundane turning of food on a grill at the YMCA pool.

The ordinary is no longer ordinary when someone’s hours could be counted, when those do-it-sometime-in-the-future dreams become a maybe. Taking-a-blessing-for-granted is not a luxury.

I am not a big fan of fast food. I like to create different vegetable and main course combinations maximizing color as well as choose salads with multiple greens. But somehow, as Mother Nature offers a blue overhead that can’t be duplicated by creatures, a pleasant warming sun dries our bathing suits, a gentle man demonstrates perspective. A white bun with grilled meat doesn’t seem all that boring.

This moment is innately good.

(quote found at the Optimism Revolution, tiny illustration by Terry Petersen)

beautiful things in humble places06042014_0000





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