Cancer Check-Ups & A Kitchen Remodel

doc It always starts like this: the stick of a needle, the smell of latex gloves, the sticky red blood that drains from my arm into the plastic tubes.  They will send it off and analyze it and my results will be uploaded and stored in my file.  And then my oncologist will read the report and determine whether or not cancer has crept back in.

Every six months this happens.  Each time I feel like a sailboat without wind.  I’m in the ocean, waves in my face, no site of land.

It is a little embarrassing to admit how hard these check-ups are for me.  In some ways I feel like I have come so far these past two year since diagnosis.  I feel stronger, braver, more connected to the present . . . and my hair is growing back (I even used a hair dryer the other day).  But in other ways I feel more fragile then ever.  More aware of how we are all just dangling on by a thread.  Just one phone call away from our world turning upside down.

In the weeks leading up to my appointments all my positive thoughts and energy somehow take a backseat to fear.  I try to wrestle it, but the “what ifs” still feel all to real.  And now I KNOW what it feels like to have cancer.  I know the true torture of having chemo in my veins.  I can still feel the tears on my face, as I hear my kids asking “why can’t mommy come, too?”

It wasn’t that long ago.

And it flashes back in my mind like this.  Like an instant replay of all that can go wrong.  And sometimes I can’t even breath.  What if my cancer is back? What if my cancer is back? What if my cancer is back? An impossible endless refrain that steals my sparkle.

Anxiety is the worst.

Fear is the worst.

What a crazy waste of time — worrying about something that may never happen.  I know it.  It makes perfect sense.  Worrying is foolish.  It only robs us of the present joy that is ours for the taking.  I know it.  I understand it.  I say it often to others.

But as I sit in the waiting room with Joel holding my hand and I see all the suffering that is so neatly arranged in rows, I can’t help but worry.  My knee starts to bounce and I wonder why the doctor is taking so long to see me.  Are they reviewing my results?  Is it so bad that they have to collect themselves before calling me in?

It sounds crazy.  I don’t even like typing it.  But it’s true. And it is real.

Let me clarify that it is not all of the time.  I am 90% free of these kind of stifling thoughts.  But when this anxiety strikes, I feel small.

My oncologist and the Siteman nurse practitioner think it could be a bit of PTSD.  They recommended I see a counselor to give me strategies on dealing with the stress that comes with my six-month cancer check-ups.   And I plan to call to make an appointment.  The kicker is- I have to go back THERE for the help.  To the place whose smell literally turns my stomach.

“Your blood work is perfect. You can breathe.”  The nurse practitioner says as she holds my hand, as she gives me the counselor’s flyer.

I breathe.  I let it settle into my bones.  I’m okay.  I’m okay.  I’m okay.  And I squeeze my eyes shut and say a silent prayer for the women in the next room, or down the hall, or sitting two hospitals away — the woman who is getting the news we all dread, “it looks like your cancer is back.”   I say a prayer for her, and for all of the women, men, and children who are waiting, or wilting, or worrying because of cancer.

But for now, I’m okay.  And I’m happy.

And I know it is a COMPLETE stretch, but I just can’t help but make a comparison between cancer and our kitchen remodel.  Sometimes you start out like this:

before-kitchen

And life throws some crazy shit your way.  And then you feel like this:during-kitchen

But because you were willing to to be knocked all the way down (like all the way down to the studs), you end up feeling like this:

And you realize that even when things are completely dismantled (and you are forced to eat cereal out of paper bowls for weeks on end and drink coffee from dirty/dusty mugs, and have your refrigerator in your dining room for months), even when things seem like they will never be normal again — the sun comes up, winter fades to spring, and you find yourself staring at your husband preparing a turkey for Thanksgiving.  And you feel so grateful.  So blessed. So okay.

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For my sad friends, the day after.

123_1Like many of you, I didn’t sleep last night.

And like many of you, I felt like staying in bed this morning.  Too tired to face the reality of a Trump presidency.  I could list all the reasons I voted for Hilary, or I could angrily spit out the reasons I did not vote for Trump.  But what good would that do?

I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t feel a sense of despair.  I was surprised at how angry I felt.  How scared.  How powerless.  And then those feelings were followed by an awareness that my race and economic class so often protect me from feeling this way.

And then I got a text from my friend Pam.  Pam is lovely.  She is good and kind, and patient and forgiving.  She has a quiet way of making the world better.  She is one of those people that is always working behind the scenes.  Pam is hope.

Pam says: “I’m remembering the Martin Luther King quote: ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’ I have to believe that love does trump hate in the long run.  I think we’re living through a period of backlash.  Progress is never linear.  Politics, in particular, goes through cycles…”

Progress is never linear.

Pam is brilliant, and right.

Pam’s text made me breathe again.  And the very act of breathing made me feel hopeful.

Do we have work to do? Yes.  Are all the people who voted for Trump hateful, racists? No. I know some really good people who voted for Trump.  People who feed the homeless, and do important work in their communities. Do we have work to do? Yes? Is it hopeless? No.

My students read an article today about the election results.  I gave them time to respond to the news in writing, and then asked them to write words that made them feel hopeful on my board.  They each came up and contributed.  I’m not sure if they felt better, but I sure did.  Words have a way of working into our souls, they smooth our edges like ocean waves on sharp glass.

My favorite blogger, Glennon Doyle Melton, posted this quote today:

“They tried to bury us.  They didn’t know we were seeds.” — Mexican Proverb

If you feel buried, be the seed.  Be the love.  Be the change.  Be the light.

And breathe.  Think of all the wonderful people you know.  All the acts of kindness and grace that helped you get to where you are. Find ways to reach out to those who feel like their voice isn’t heard, and listen to the ones that do.  If you feel buried, be the seed.  Let those words settle into your soul.  Let love smooth away the sharp edges like ocean waves on sharp glass.  It takes time.  But we are in this for the long game.