Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Balance

Well, the dust is starting to settle a bit. That's a euphemism, and one that is probably not all that funny if you're living in the eastern part of Australia. Since the big switch to digital TV, a move that was suppose to improve things for us, well, we no longer get TV at all, except for the public broadcasting station from Penn State University. That is actually not such a bad thing. We found that we do not miss television nearly as much as you would imagine. After three months, we scarcely think about it. If we want to watch something, we go rent a video. But I digress. In fact, if you take note, I've actually digressed from my original digression, which just may be a record for me, but I am of an unfocused state lately. Anyways, the original digression was to say how shocked I was to see footage of the sandstorms in Australia, to hear the estimates of the topsoil lost (I guess it blew right out over the Sydney Harbour, which is probably wreaking havoc on the marine life, although I've not heard anything about that.) Now that I'm done blabbering on about Australia and digital television, let me steer myself back on topic.

Cancer is a funny thing. I keep thinking about it. Last fall, I found a lump. It was cancer, and that was a bolt out of the blue. Apart from being tired, I really did not have any symptoms. I've gone back to re-read my blog posts, and it's ironic really, the weeks leading up to that. I did not have a clue. My life bumped along. Then there was cancer.

I've gotten through the treatment, and there is a wariness about me now. I'm aware of my body. What makes this difficult however is that I have aches and pains. Tamoxifen? Chemo induced menopause? Who knows, for sure. You learn to deal with them. Those highly touted breast self exams? They're kind of difficult. Scar tissue makes lumps and bumps itself. Radiation thickens tissue. I'm looking for changes, they tell me, new lumps, new bumps. And so I try to be patient with the aches and pains. It is what it is. I try to figure out which lumps and bumps are now normal for me. It's not so clear to me anymore. Next thing I know, the shoulder pain has become at times, unbearable, and in July when I found a lump under my armpit, I did not screw around. I'd been down this road before. And there was the biopsy, which was benign, but a mass was noted in my shoulder muscle. Then there was the PET scan which talked about four areas of activity. Last week, a mastectomy and surgery to remove the mass from my shoulder was tentatively planned. Friday, the word is that I don't have cancer. Something is going on. They do not know what it is, but right this minute, the one thing that they are fairly certain on is that this is not cancer.

I'm stunned. Do not misunderstand me at all. I am happy beyond all words. Truly. But last fall, I had a lump w/ no symptoms. Cancer. This fall I find a another lump and am dealing with something that amounts to a giant toothache in my shoulder, constant and unrelenting, and it is not cancer.

It is not fun to look your own mortality square in the eye. You spend a lot of time wondering about the importance of your own life. You wonder if your children will be okay. Those words that we sometimes keep tucked away, too shy to say them? Yeah. I don't have so many of those words anymore. I tend to say them. I tend to do the things that I always meant to do, instead of simply meaning to do things. I find myself feeling less guilty about doing things for my own pleasure. Tim and I went to see two concerts this summer. He built me a rose trellis. I spent a lot more time putzing around in the yard or visiting with friend or reading a book. So cancer hasn't been all bad, but really, it is a scary time.

I sit here with my aching shoulder. I don't have cancer. And I found myself with a funny dilemma on my hands: do I trust the diagnosis? I'm in the cancer free zone right this minute, but I will be monitored carefully, because I do have a lymph node that glows. It is at my windpipe. It is not on my lung, a big difference that makes me glad inside, remembering my own father's death from lung cancer. I've also got that area of activity inside the pelvic bone. The pain in my shoulder is not normal despite the claim of Pittsburgh's surgical oncologist: ('pain is unfortunately not an uncommon side effect for breast cancer patients after chemo and radiation'). The fact of it is, I don't feel well. I don't feel well a lot. The difference between this fall and last fall? This fall, I'm unwell. Last fall, I was not. Last fall, I had cancer. This fall, blessedly, I do not. Life's funny like that, isn't it?

A lot of you praised God for this news. My new friend Mary went with me to Pittsburgh three times last week, and we rejoiced at the end of the week. My old friend Mary (we do need to figure out a new way to differentiate between them, because old Mary is starting to get a little ornery) was with me yesterday. Her eyes got wide and she nearly leapt to her feet and shouted 'Halleluia!' right there in the doctor's office. I sat there, frozen in amazement, speechless, hardly daring to believe what I was hearing.

Now a day later, the news has begun to sink in. I am, of course, very grateful to God. If this had happened to anybody else, I'd be calling it a miracle. However, I'm embarrassed to claim that for myself - just who do I think I am, that the almighty God would take notice of me... But my prayers have been answered. Looming on the horizons are questions and scans, and 'waiting and watching'. Life is not going to be the same for me. Not for a while anyway. This is the new normal. But after the last two months, I have learned something, something big. I cannot waste time in dread, or fear. While I must be vigilent for changes, for warning signs, at the same time, I can not be preoccupied, let my life be derailed by the threat of cancer. It's a delicate balance, and after this last scare, it's going to be even harder to maintain that balance. I guess that is where, after all, faith comes in. We all live until we die. None of us know when that day will come, not for sure. My life has been shaken to its very foundations in this past year, but a woman of faith would figure out how to give thanks and fearlessly move on into the future, trusting in God. So will I.


Kelly said...

Beautiful post!

Why not claim it as a miracle? God has worked many miracles in my life, including a healing miracle when I was a child.

God does care about each and every one of us. We're all important!

Daria said...

Debby, go out and celebrate life ... you now know how precious it is.

All the best to you.

WhiteStone said...

Debby, change that last sentence "so will I" to "so I will". Because you are definitely a woman of faith. (big smile)

Pam said...

Beautiful post, indeed! And one that humbled me and brought tears to my eyes.

Yes, I've learned over my lifetime that God hears me, many times answering my prayers in the way I want them to be answered. He always answers them, just not always in the way I wish Him to.

Karen L. Holmes said...


You stated that you "just don't feel well." Yes, I can relate, more than three years after breast cancer. I was just re-telling that same line to my husband a few days ago. I really believe that cancer and chemo can change things - your body, your mind, and your overall outlook on life - in dramataic ways. Dramatic, because it seems like I experience more aches and pains than ever before. But, by the same token, as you've expressed, I try to remind myself that each day is a true blessing, and I no longer hesitate to hug someone or let them know that I love them, because we just never know what the future holds. Go on, enjoy yourself, pamper yourself when you can, and live each day to the fullest, trusting God completely, because He's the only One who has all the answers.

Lydia said...

Thanks for your post, Debbie.

You konw, we lost my brother-in-law to Alzheimers' last fall -- he was young, in his 50s. My sister (his wife) handled the whole process of the last 10 years by saying, "I don't ask, 'why us', I just say 'what makes us exempt from life? This could happen to anyone.'" There is such wisdom in that.

So, in the miracle that you are living, my sister would tell you not to ask "why me?". She would tell you to ask, "why not me?"

Take your miracle.

Nanny Goats In Panties said...

Cancer??? Crikey, woman! No wonder you digressed so many times. I feel lame coming in so late into the story, but I'm also glad to hear that you're cancer free right now. I'm not glad to hear about all the aches and pains, however. That part sucks. And yeah, just keep taking life by the balls while you can, if you'll pardon my French.

- Margaret

jeanie said...

It truly does sound a bit like a tightrope time, Deb - good luck on finding the balance between justifiable worry and relaxing.


Nana Trish is Living the Dream said...

Debby, although I have a different label with my condition, I can so much relate to so much you say. I have followed you through this whole situation and I have always felt you were trusting the Lord. I,too, have been guilty of putting others ahead of myself even when I shouldn't and I'm trying to learn that I need to have fun while I can. You are a loving person and it always comes through. One thing my doctor has told me is to say to myself, "I am the pianist, not the piano" It helps me. luv ya trish

Bush Babe said...

Well honey, I'm home and look-ee what I come back to. Gads. The rollercoaster continues it's journey unabated... and what a wonderful 'up' we find ourselves on.

As you know, my Belief is kinda earthy (and dusty thanks to that storm of ours this week) but I hear you on the miracle query. Perhaps some mixed-up medical messages clouded the real diagnoses longer than necessary, but then I think: Why should you NOT be important enough for some kind of wonderful?

It's more than time for the self-doubt to stop, my friend. Be humble, for sure. You wouldn't be you otherwise. But take this gift with both hands and run with it. It's not about Deserve. It's about What Is. I love what Nana Trish's doctor said. So true.

Hugs and happiness - enjoy the peace.

Anonymous said...

Goodness, what a merry go round of emotion you are rolling along with. So many tangents to come to grips with. Hugs from dusty us, down here.

PaintedPromise said...

i can't think of anyone who deserves a miracle more than you! i had my own this summer... although it took me a few weeks to realize it. there is NO WAY that my hand could have not been broken when Luna stepped on it. but it wasn't! and thinking back i realize that as i lay there in the dirt looking at my smashed and bleeding hand, i said "oh God, please no, i type for a living, i can NOT have a broken hand" - and, i didn't. there are small miracles, and big miracles, and in between miracles... they DO happen, all the time, to "regular" people - who quite often don't even recognize them. a friend of mine has a quote on her e-mail signature... "Coincidence is God choosing to remain anonymous" - what a different place the world would be if people recognized this!

PS and by the way you have me bawling at work again. good thing it's lunch time and the office is empty!