All this week I found it tough to find my quiet time and focus.
Being a wife, mom of 5, grandma of 10. a full time employee of a job that runs more like 12 hour a day and resource minister, what is alone time again? I had pushed my time with God to quick moments…out of focus and not very devoted.
Guilt tried to creep in several times as I had been carving some time this week to do some decluttering and downsizing as I am making decisions whether to renovate my cute little house built in 1955 or move on to something bigger. Like I found time for junk but not Him.
Amongst the piles of what to trash, what to give away, and what to keep for repurposing, I found treasures and tears. Joys and lows. Memories kept and some that needed to be let go. I laughed as much as I cried. I held on to as much as I said “why do I still have this?”
This morning, I go to get up determined that God and I would have coffee no matter what! Yet before I could fully get out of bed, my foot would rest on one of the many piles of sorted clothes. My mind immediately thought to tidy up a little first.
“Find Me In The Clutter”
“Find Me In The Clutter”
Clear as day. In my spirit was an utterance to see God’s Glory in all my mess. As I refocused, I see Him.
He is there with me amongst the colorful stick figure drawings and piles of mother’s day cards from the joy of being a mom and Nama.
He is there with me in the butterflies I collect in memory of the beloved twin daughters and a grandson lost at birth.
He is there with me in the college diploma I received though I was told as a teenage mother I wouldn’t graduate high school. He is there with me in all 5 of their diplomas as well.
He is there with me in the mesh and metal cage bra I wore during 25 radiation treatments after 3 months of chemo and a lumpectomy.
He is there with me in angel figurine of a woman whom I never met who died herself but left the encouragement to celebrate my 3rd year as a survivor.
He is there with me in every photo of every loved one, every saved wedding announcement, every saved funeral program. In old records, old books, tickets stubs, vacation shirts and on and on.
I am writing to you now atop a pile of clutter in a hot mess of joyful tears mixed with “God, I’m sorry.”
I can’t quite find the words to express this feeling of knowing that He is always with me and speaking, even when I am a mess in a mess. What I had classified as a distraction turned into revelation and gratitude. A different kind of devotion…. initiated by Him.
I still have work to do…… both on working on “our time” and my cluttered environment. But He urged me to be mindful to let go of the guilt and allow this to be a “rested work”. A work that has purpose and meaning that will feel less like work as we clean it together.
So if any of you earth dwellers go looking for me today, listen out for the Hallelujahs in the hallway under the piles of kids clothes!!!!
On this last day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I just want to remind you that it is not just about one month but about one life, one family, one community, and one world at a time.
I still believe there is a cure out there but in the meantime there are things you can do to help yourself and your loved ones fight against a disease that robs so many families of the caregivers. Early detection is key. Get them Smash-A-Grams, do your monthly feels, and have honest conversations with your doctor.
I suppose I will answer in fuller detail later. But I was asked earlier about my “why me?” moments. My answer was this: of course I have them. But I try simply to avoid them because then I find my spiritual self asking my carnal self “why not me? ” to which both sides have lofty answers. And then the fight ends with the question to which no pure soul can answer with a holy heart “Who would I rather God had picked instead?”
Cancer sucked. Surgery sucked. Chemo really sucked. And I suppose my upcoming radiation will too. But no where do I believe I have a target on my back. My name is not Job or Job-ette. We live in a world where stuff happens even to those who love God and are loved by God. The magnificent difference is I am never alone. I would have lost my mind without His ever presence.
Would I have chosen this path? A resounding NOPE. But nor would I choose to hand it off to someone else. There is none else worthy to walk in my shoes nor is none else deserving to have the pain I bear walking in my shoes.
I fight on believing that purpose and goodness shall come out of this. That nothing I have experienced, bad or good, is in vain.
I shall not waste time wondering “why” on many days. I would rather spend the many days wondering how to powerfully live.
In the grand scheme of things, there was nothing nuclear about it. The world has not ended. But it certainly felt like I had been hit by a bomb.
I was prepared and unready all at the same time. My infusion nurse had warned me. My oncologist had warned me. Every book and every fellow survivor had warned me.
It had even warned me. In the three days prior, and without further description, everything below my neck had made a steady march toward the shower drain. Adding insult to injury by forcing me to repeatedly clean the “shower shroom” I had purchased in case of such of an event.
I even had a beautician and a back-up beautician on stand by. I was going to take control of this. I was not going to let it beat me. I was going to be brave and rid myself of the trauma. Was even going to go live on social media with it. I was going to declare that “Pink Warriors” rule. A group of us girls were going to fight back.
But this was not to be the case. Whether this was bad luck or whether it was divine providence, I don’t know. Every single lady involved but me was busy that Friday night. My power moment was quickly becoming a whimper.
I was desperate. I was edgy, but I was sure I could make it to Saturday morning. “Just go to bed”, I told myself, “It will be okay”.
Taxotere aka “The Hair Taxi” said ” Yeah, Right!”
Ever had a sunburn on your head? That’s what it felt like when the “glow bugs” came to fight. Woke me up at 3 a.m. with a jolt. Instantly, my hand rises for my head. Ascends empty and descends full of what used to be.
My face was wet with mourning before I even picked up the comb and started to loosening the plaits I had been wearing to lessen impact. But nothing could save me from the pain in my scalp nor the pain in my spirit as they began to fall on their own. For each one I pulled, another came with it.
Exhausted from trying to keep up, I woke my husband up at 4 a.m . I sat between his knees on the floor to let him finish the job. Towel around my shoulders and bag in hand to protect the carpet.
We turned on the comedy channel, though neither of us really felt like laughing. I was attempting to drown out the screaming that was going on in and on my head.
After nearly two straight hours of digging, pulling and stopping to cool my scalp with a towel, I was left with a gallon sized freezer bag of what used to be black (and grey) natural curls and braids.
My “Whoopie Goldberg” pigtails use to extend just about my shoulders. Very few in my professional life had seen them. I kept them neatly tucked under a curly wig of about the same length during daylight hours. They were my little secret that got exposed the minute I hit my door frame each night and all weekend long. Only my closest family and friends had seen them. Oh, and occasionally, the mail man who I felt no need to be fake with.
My “Whoopies” were my guilty little pleasures. My real me. My freedom. And now I was carefully gathering them for a funeral procession in a zip lock bag coffin. A sobbing march to the super can outside so I would not be tempted to keep them.
SIDE NOTE: It is just hair. I know that. But it was mine. The next person with a full head of hair who has not experienced chemo or alopecia…. and says that I should just get over it….. best believe they should stand at least my arm span away for a week or more.
In rotation, for 50 years. Together, thru a gazillion style and color changes. Fads and bad hair cuts. Extensions and protective wigs. Personality, definition, style! Alter ego! It was mine and I need at least 24 hours to pout and eat some of the crap I have been avoiding. I will smile again Sunday.
As I ran my hand again through the remnant still attached to me, the physical pain was very much there. I would spend most of the morning with cold towels on my head trying to minimize the burn. I tried to talk to God to do the same for my soul. I have come to the conclusion that I was not allowed to beat this part of the race because He needed me to “feel” this for somebody else. Testimonies are never for ourselves, but for those in ear shot or in the reading.
I will be real with you. This day, though horrible for a few hours, was truly never really about hair. It was about the feeling of breast cancer robbing me of something else.
Please, don’t read pity …. read mad as spit.
I know what millions of men and women feel as surgery changes your body. Scars criss-cross in vain places. Things taken off and things inserted in. Skin texture changes and color changes. Ruined taste buds. Weight gain and weight loss. Steroid hots and steroids cold. Steroid cries and steroids mean. Just this week, I met a lady who lost her hearing to chemo. Another of whom it caused heart problems.
Let’s not forget people talking to your chest like your tumor will glow and reveal itself or your missing boob will reappear before their eyes. Or the dumb things that are said like “my 3rd cousin didn’t make it”, “where’s your faith” or “it’s just hair”.
I got myself together Saturday morning. Since the beauticians were still not available, I grabbed my daughter and headed straight to the neighborhood barbershop where I take my boys to. I knew “Pop Trim” as he is affectionately called would be opened early. I needed to get this over with quickly. I called ahead and was greeted with a ” I got you girl”.
The shop is normally full of noise and a lot of trash talking guys. I am one of only a few ladies that can hang in such a place…. well trained by my large family of uncles and male cousins. But today I was first in the door and it was almost silent.
Pop, a veteran of the Armed Forces and a retired firefighter with strong hands, handled me like he was cradling a newborn baby. His quiet demeanor was almost unsettling as I had never seen it before… and probably never will again.
Scissors and clippers flying around my head, he took breaks in between when the sobs came. He never acknowledge them. Didn’t hand me a tissue. He just let me have my tears. I thought I wanted an army of women with me to cheer me on. But the healing touch of this stately rescuer who knew how to properly war was more than enough.
My eyes flowed upward toward the ceiling seeking my true Rescuer. I know He is with me and will never leave me comfortless.
And then into the eyes of my daughter who was filming my buzz cut. I pray for the day that breast cancer goes playing in traffic. I want my girly girl to never know what this feel like.
I am too smart for my own britches. Have always been. Probably will always be. A blessing and a curse, I read my diagnosis in my hospital’s electronic MyChart five or so days before my surgeon had a chance to bring me in to talk about my biopsy results. Big bold letters, Invasive Metastatic Breast Cancer = Stage 2 to Stage 3…. and a bunch of mumble jumble about hormone receptors and on and on.
Panic stricken, I did would any good patient would do…. I didn’t call my doctor…. I went straight to the internet.
Wasn’t showing too much brain on that one was I?
While the internet is full of great information, ( but only if you stick to national sites dedicated to cancer research and helps) I found myself drawn to my version of the “dark web.” I found every scientific thing on the planet that spelled doom and gloom. Horror stories and every memorial available. If that were not enough, the commercials on TV … (you know the ones…. “side effects include” every list of death imaginable) kept screaming at me “metastatic is relentless.”
By the time I got to Dr. Misti’s office (she is the greatest by the way), I had already planned my funeral (more about that another day). I brought my husband, my mother-in-love (she is too great to be an in-law) and my “always there” auntie with me, so Dr. Misti could verbalize the extent of my bad news without me having to do it.
“Oh, I am pretty sure we can fix this!”
Her casualness and chipper demeanor took me aback. This surely was not the drama filled meeting I had been rehearsing in my head for days. I saw my family smile and draw sighs of relief. My mother-in-love promised Doc a big pan of cinnamon rolls if she kept her word.
I on the other hand was totally confused and started off my list of but, but, buts.
Firstly, Dr. Misti was furious that my results had been released to me before she could sign off on them. We both agreed that was a tool of satan to mess my head up. He won that round. Had me dead without dying.
Secondly, she explained that while my treatment plan would not be easy, that I would be facing surgery, chemo, radiation and years of hormone therapies, however, INVASIVE metastatic did not mean that I had been INVADED. That a staging of 2 to 3, while more to deal with than a 1, did not necessarily mean death before God’s timing was on the horizon. And finally, the hormone stuff that I did not quite understand…. she said the hormone/biological gene patterns I had, while though they made me a target for breast cancer in the first place, they were also the kind to have. Basically, I was made to beat this.
If you have not figured it out yet, Catholic hospital with a soft hearted Christian surgeon. She prayed with our family before we left that day. My auntie blessed her hands. My mother-in-love was already working on the frostings in her mind. My husband tried to hide the fact that he “was leaking” as men who do not cry call it.
In the months, that have followed, I have repeated over and over, ” it aint easy, but it’s worth it.” Something I adopted after my son received his long awaited kidney transplant exactly 9 birthing months before I received the cancer diagnosis.
I have since had the tumor that I never felt removed. It was the size of the average ping pong ball. It was clean and tight, which was very much in my favor. I didn’t do any kind of reconstruction because the concave in my breast is not horribly huge and at my age and weight, I don’t wear bikinis anyway. ( You can laugh, I want you to. )
The invasive metastatic part is that it spread to my lymph nodes.
Invasive- meaning moving.
Metastatic – meaning attached elsewhere.
Lots of weird and sometimes scary testing proved that breast cancer (which does not travel by blood but by lymph fluid) had not appeared anywhere else in my body. All of my lymph nodes under my left arm have now been removed. Only two of the 7 tested showed cancer. One fully and one in early staging. Consequently, a huge scar where my armpit used to be. I now have to use deodorant in the form of a crystal ….. it actually works, I don’t stink.. My range of motion is not fully back yet, had some nerve damage in complication, and I have only driven twice in the past few months. Still hurts sometimes and getting used to an altered body sometimes has me walking in to door frames where I never had before. ( You can laugh here too. I want you to).
I won’t lie. Chemo sucks. I will detail that more another day. It is an aint easy but worth it moment.
Long story short, the only thing that was invaded last September, was my mind. I allowed a trick of the enemy to “steal, kill and destroy” all my hopes, dreams and plans for the future for a few short days. Just enough so that if I had not had God in me, I probably would have jumped from a bridge in fear.
You see, the enemy uses his taunts to make a lot of us lose the game before it’s played. The children of Israel had lost the battle with Goliath in their mind long before a spear was even thrown. He taunted them day and night with words and they caved in. It wasn’t until David came armed with the Word of God and a belief that the Host of the Armies was with him, that Goliath went down like a rock because of a rock. (1st Samuel Chapter 17)
I wish I could say I felt like David every day. The enemy really loves to whisper when the pain sets in or when I have been unable to eat for 3 or 4 days. Body snatched is what we call it. However, I am a lot more careful to make sure my mind does not get snatched with it.
Dr. Misti’s reassurances armed me with three especially smooth stones:
1. Guard Your Heart And Mind with the right information. The Word of God rightly divided and the word of experts rightly interpreted.
2. God has a plan for me as long as I focus. The enemy can only taunt me if I choose to believe. I can always fight back with the truth.
3. After two procedures and two pans of cinnamon rolls, Dr. Misti is addicted to my mother-in-love’s promises. She will always work hard to keep her “fixing” reward! LOL.
I have never been a very vain girl. Even the day of my wedding I would have preferred a T-Shirt and Jeans over the big foo foo dress and sparkly make-up. But I knew, I had a role to play and in doing so, you dress the part. You have to be able to tell the bride from the bridesmaids, right…. or at least from the groom. LOL.
Just six days after my 50th birthday and on the morning of one of the toughest days of my life, I woke up with the weirdest thought…. what does a girl wear? What does a girl wear to chemotherapy?
As of that date and 5 months into my diagnosis, I had become accustom to baby pink and “fight like a girl” shirts. All kinds of inspirational buttons and “you gonna make it” paraphernalia. And while I fully believed all the cups, the bags, and the jewelry have helped to develop a mostly healthy attitude about all of this, I wasn’t feeling any of it that day.
I only wore mostly all black, not to be morbid, but because it was convenient. It would not show blood in case there was any. My tank top had a very lose neckline so that the nurse could access the port line that had been inserted in my chest just under my skin. From it shoots a “line” that extends into the veins in my neck. Hate that necessary evil. It protrudes from my neck like the veins of a body builder ready to “pump you up!”
Over that and black leggings, comfy socks and shoes, I wore my favorite big blue jean shirt. My modesty point so that I wouldn’t be giving out peep shows. Chemo and infusion wards have no real privacy. Soft, worn, out and comfortable! Familiar and feeling like me. Tough for the wear but easy to the touch. Needed my old friend ….very old but not stained friend,….with me like the blankie I bought with me.
And speaking of blankie, that was my one pink deviation. A good friend had given it to me. It was covered with inspirational words… each of which I needed ….none of which I actually read that day as I watched 3 bags of what I call “glow bugs” seeping into my veins. Nor could I concentrate on the best seller I bought with me by Michelle Obama… nor my YouTube Videos. The only thing in my well packed “field trip” bag that got attention was my massive stash of ginger snaps (for nervous tummies) and 2 liter bottle of water (glow bugs are very dehydrating.)
For the next 4 to 5 hours, I watched a drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. At this point in my treatment plan, my ping pong ball sized breast tumor (which I didn’t feel by the way) has been cut out… along with all the lymph nodes (two cancerous) under my left arm. The march of drips is designed to go throughout my body on a seek and destroy mission looking for any remnants. Best explained as looking for any rapid producing “clumps” of redundant cells (which cancer basically is) to kill. I wondered why it doesn’t take out fat. I must remember to ask my doctor that next time.
From time to time a nurse would check on me.
“Anything hurt?” – Nope.
“Hot or cold?” – No Maam
“Need a pee break?” – No thank you
“Need a snack?” – What ya got?
“You are so funny!” she says. “Your positive attitude will serve you well thru this”
And that is when i realized what I really wore to chemo that day. The funny girl had worn her fraud face.
I told my husband, I wanted to do this first one alone. Told my aunties, I got this… go live your life. My kids didn’t even ask because they know their mama. I bravely noted I didn’t need nobody but Jesus. And while He is thoroughly all I ever need “my outfit” had started to crumble just about the 5th hour.
I have always used laughter to cover my fears. I use my faith as my own personal super hero cape. Taking care of others is how I am able to fly. My pride made me smile through the need to vomit just so the mother of the girl in the chair next to me would not be afraid. I even commented to another that I hope my face looked as pretty as hers when my hair starts to leave me. I joked about wanting to be a “Wakanda General” rather than a wig wearer.
In reality, I wanted to suck my thumb, something I have never done. I wanted to stuff my face with fiery Cheetos, something I have always done. For once I wanted to lose control and scream …. ” I hate this!, Cancer sucks! The Attack on Boobies Is Evil.” Something I will probably never do.
My personal kryptonite would not let me. I caught the one tear before it dropped.
Just then I knew I heard My Comforter, who was still with me even when i was being fraudulent, wooing me to sleep with the “its going to be okay” that I would not receive from any human that day. At some point I nodded it off, feeling my well created facade wrinkling as much as the chambray shirt I was wearing. Soft, comfortable, tough for the wear, able to cover a multitude of flaws. In the midst of my dreaming ( and some snoring) I felt in my spirit, “crying is okay, even for tough little clowns”