Health, Memoir, Personal

Cancer Graduation Day

It finally came.

The day I’ve been looking forward to for 10 years.

I went to see my oncologist yesterday and she said, “Congratulations. You have graduated from oncology.”

Oncology — the study and treatment of tumors.

The field of medicine that is devoted to cancer.

About a month ago I went to the breast surgeon’s office and she said, “You don’t need to come back anymore unless it gives you peace of mind to keep coming.”

No thank you, I told her, I will not be back.

I am done with cancer.

I am done with the doctors, the drugs, and the anxiety that is caused by every visit to a medical facility.

I wonder if doctors understand the impact of their words when they tell a patient their cancer case is closed.

The sudden rush of emotion surprised me — so many memories flooded my mind.

  • Sitting across the desk from doctors talking to me about treatment options and survival rates.
  • Looking out the window of the doctor’s office at the trees for a brief mental and emotional escape from what I was hearing.
  • Sitting for hours hooked up to a chemo cart with bright red fluids infusing my body.
  • Friends streaming into my home with food, cards, flowers, and endless amounts of love and support.
  • Doug organizing my medications, running to the drug store at all hours of the night, and showing up unexpectedly for doctor appointments and chemo treatments.

“I never have to come back?” I asked her.

“Only if you want to come back or if there is another issue,” she said.

Another  issue…

That worry will always haunt me, but for now, I will celebrate the end of the cancer era.

Ten years is a long time.

One minute everything was normal.

The next minute, I was processing words about invasive ductal cancer.

What have I learned in those 10 years?

I’m not sure I could cover the lessons of 10 years in one blog post, so let me name just a few…

  1. I’m never alone. Even in the dark of the night when pain and anxiety will not subside and sleep will never come, I am not alone. I have God to “hear my soul’s complaint” as the church hymn goes. And, I have friends and family who astound me with their love, support, and kindness.
  2. I am stronger than I think.  I like what Elizabeth Taylor said about doing hard things. “You just do it. You force yourself to get up. You force yourself to put one foot in front of the other, and you refuse to let it get to you. You fight. You cry. You curse. Then you go about the business of living. That’s how I’ve done it. There’s no other way.” I would amend her list — you fight, you cry, you curse, you pray your heart out, and then you go about the business of living. It’s that prayer part that gives you the strength to go about the business of living. It might sound silly but from the day I was diagnosed, I promised myself I would never spend one day in my pajamas or in my bed. I would get up every morning, shower, put on my makeup and get dressed for the day. No. Matter. What. For some reason, those small daily routines made me feel stronger. I also decided I would always cover my bald head with a scarf or a wig because, for some reason, I felt less like a victim of cancer when my head was covered.
hair
This was taken when my hair had grown enough for me to lose the wig! What a great day.

As I walked out of the doctor’s office yesterday, I stopped and texted my family to tell them the good news.

“I never expected this day to feel so HUGE,” I wrote.

Then, when I got into my car to come home, I cried.

Unbelievable relief washed over me.

I can never be sure cancer won’t terrorize my life again, but for now, after 10 years, I will celebrate that it’s finally part of my past; and I will move forward with profound respect for the magnitude and depth of the lessons it taught me.

I’ve enjoyed many graduations in my life, but this might be the best one yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

Does Prayer Work?

I recently read a call for blogs on the topic: “Does prayer work?’

Since it’s October and Breast Cancer Awareness month, I thought about this question as it related to my breast cancer diagnosis.

Since that experience, my answer to the question of whether prayer works is, “It depends.”

If we believe praying is as easy as placing an Amazon Prime order, we might be disappointed to learn it might not work like that.

I learned to pray as soon as I could talk. So, when I heard I had cancer, my natural instinct was to pray.

Truthfully, I felt like I was begging God more than praying to Him, like I was pulling at His holy robes and saying, “Stop this from happening!”

Before cancer, I would have said unequivocally that God answers our prayers.

As I plodded through months of cancer treatments, however, my knowledge and understanding of prayer changed. Praying didn’t deliver the results I wanted.

I believed Jesus’ promises – ask and “it shall be given, seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.”

I thought I was doing my part – asking, seeking, knocking; then asking, seeking, and knocking some more. So, why wasn’t God answering my prayers? Clearly He knew that I desperately needed His help.

I prayed from the beginning that the “abnormality” they found would be benign. It was malignant and I needed a lumpectomy.

I prayed for a clean removal of the tumor with no cancer in the surrounding tissue. It invaded the surrounding tissue and I needed a mastectomy.

I prayed that cancer wouldn’t travel to the lymph nodes, so that I wouldn’t have chemotherapy. It was found in my lymph nodes and I was scheduled for months of chemotherapy. Just reading and hearing about all the side effects made my brain numb.

I felt prayed out.

I didn’t know what to ask of God anymore.

It was a hard truth for me to accept that God did not want to save me from cancer.

In my state of bewilderment and grief, I asked Doug, “Why did God give me cancer and why isn’t He answering our prayers?”

He said, “God doesn’t sit up in heaven and deal out cancer cards or any other kind of terrible cards. Some things just happen. Maybe God dealt you a growth card and He expects you to learn and grow from this. Maybe you should just be asking God to help you respond well.”

Respond well to cancer? What would that look like?

I decided it would look a lot like Christ’s ultimate prayer — ”Thy will be done.”

I began to understand that God could give me strength, courage, determination, an excellent medical team, supportive friends and family, and even medications and treatments to help me survive, but He couldn’t rescue me from what amounted to a test of living in a mortal world where surprises and disappointments are just part of being human.

In my case, it was a matter of understanding the definition of prayer, which according to my Bible Dictionary is, “the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other…Prayer is a form of work, and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.”

If we expect answers to prayers like we expect Amazon purchases to arrive within two days and come with a satisfaction guarantee, then we might be disappointed.

If we expect to receive the grace to respond well to life’s challenges and heartaches, then, yes, prayer works.

If we expect God to change us instead of expecting Him to change our circumstances, prayer works.  

Like I said, it all depends…

Family, Uncategorized

Advice From Mom

I know I blog about my mom often.
Mostly, because she’s smart and funny and provides me with good material.
But, also, because I love her. A lot. And, I want to remember as much as I can about her.

mom readingWriting about her helps me do that.

While we were at the beach in March getting the house ready for the busy rental season, I asked her what advice she’d like to pass on to her grandchildren.

Without hesitation, she said three things:

1. Run. That’s right, run. Runners are passionate athletes and take good care of their bodies. If you don’t like to run, find another physical activity you enjoy and do it everyday. Forever.

While Mom has never been a runner, she is an avid walker. Five days a week at 6 a.m., she meets her best friend and neighbor, Shelia, at the corner and they walk. They often walk home on Main Street and notice everything, including that city has the ugliest flowers in the world in big, bulky pots all the way down the sidewalks. “They’re a mess,” she said. “They never take care of the flowers, and they look a sight.” This is coming from a woman who can’t tolerate one weed in her flowerbeds.

While she loves her morning walks, if she could rewind the clock, she’d run instead of walk. “Start with walking and pick it up a little more every day until you can run. Then, don’t stop. Run everyday. Be passionate about it. You’ll never regret it.”

2. Cut out the junk food, today! Don’t let all the garbage that has found its way into our grocery stores be part of your regular diet. Develop healthy eating habits while you’re young, and keep it up for the rest of your life. Your health is too important. If you eat poorly now. You’ll develop habits that will be hard to break, and you’ll regret it.

3. Pray. Pray. Pray. It’s what’s helped her get through her life’s toughest challenges. You can’t do it alone, she said. Everybody needs to pray. Then, get involved and stay involved in a church. An unstructured religious or spiritual life doesn’t work. You need to be part of a church community.

If we followed her example, there are few other things we would do too. One of them is read. She reads the Salt Lake Tribune every morning, never misses a day. And, she plows through more books than nearly anybody I know. When she tosses off some bit of knowledge that surprises us, someone always says,” How do you know that?”

“I read,” she says.

And there you have it — good, practical advice from a great woman who knows a lot of stuff.

I hope my kids, nieces and nephews will listen up.

Oh, and me too.

kissing mom

Family

Happy Father’s Day, Dad

I miss my dad.

Robert Douglas Snow_0001

It’s been 21 years since I heard his voice, felt his strong hugs, and smelled the Old Spice Aftershave on his cheeks.

What I wouldn’t give for a conversation with him.

Sometimes I imagine him showing up, like when I’m walking on the beach by myself, thinking about him.

As I walk past the fishermen on the beach, I remember how my dad struck up conversations with anybody and everybody holding a fishing pole.

“Are they biting? What are they taking?” He’d ask.

Before long, he knew a bit about everybody and a lot about where the fish were biting, and what bait they were taking.

I try to imagine how a conversation would go with him if I saw him fishing by the shore.

Maybe I’d start by asking whether he’s getting any nibbles on his fishing line.

But, that small talk would not be enough.

I’d probably pepper him with questions that were too big to answer.

You know, questions like “what’s heaven like?” “what do you do all the time?”

I imagine me asking them so fast that he couldn’t answer one before I was on to the next one.

Then, I visualize him smiling and shaking his head at me, and saying, “You still can’t slow down, can you?”

It reminds me of the story about when I was born.

It was October when my mom called my dad from their little two bedroom apartment in Utah to tell him she was in labor with me, and he said, “Now? But it’s the opening of the deer hunt!”

As the owner of the town dairy, Dad had just finished his home delivery route and I’m sure he was ready to start cleaning his hunting rifle or seasoning his Dutch oven for his campfire dinners.

“You can’t have the baby now!” he said. “I’m getting ready for the hunt!”

“To hell with the deer hunt,” Mom said. “This baby’s coming whether it’s the hunt or not, so you better get yourself home now and get me to the hospital.”

Even with the deer hunt looming, he dutifully drove his milk truck back to the dairy, parked it, got into his red Chevy pickup truck and headed back to their apartment to pick up Mom.  He helped her up into the cab of the truck, and then hurried her to the hospital for the delivery.

English: First Series 1955 Chevrolet 3100 Pick...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then he waited patiently in the lobby like a good fifties dad.

At the end of my birth story, he always said, “You were in a hurry to get here and you haven’t slowed down since.”

I’m sure he’d still think I haven’t slowed down, even though I’m always trying.

Aside from knowing what it’s like where he is, I’d want to know how he’s involved in our family life.

It doesn’t make sense that he wouldn’t still be involved.

I believe our family members are closer to us than we know, like our guardian angels.

Maybe God dispatches them to answer some of our prayers.

Jeffrey Holland, one of my favorite LDS apostles, said, “From the beginning down through the dispensations, God has used angels as His emissaries in conveying love and concern for His children.”

 

https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/10/the-ministry-of-angels?lang=eng

He said, “Usually such beings are not seen. Sometimes they are. But seen or unseen they are always near. Sometimes their assignments are very grand and have significance for the whole world. Sometimes the messages are more private. Occasionally the angelic purpose is to warn. But most often it is to comfort, to provide some form of merciful attention, guidance in difficult times.”

I believe my dad’s been around during some of my difficult times to give me some of that merciful attention.

How could he have stayed away during those long months I battled cancer?

How could he have stayed away when my brothers, sister, mom, or his grandchildren have needed comfort?

Elder Holland said,  “I testify of angels, both the heavenly and the mortal kind. In doing so I am testifying that God never leaves us alone, never leaves us unaided in the challenges that we face…On occasions, global or personal, we may feel we are distanced from God, shut out from heaven, lost, alone in dark and dreary places. Often enough that distress can be of our own making, but even then the Father of us all is watching and assisting. And always there are those angels who come and go all around us, seen and unseen, known and unknown, mortal and immortal.”

Because of this and my belief that my dad is one of those angels, I can confidently wish him a Happy Father’s Day and know he’s near enough to hear it ,and know I mean it.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

Family, From the News, Parenting, Relationships

Trying to Find Words of Comfort

Last night I heard on the news that a post office box has been set up to receive condolence letters for the families of those killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings.

I felt like I should send notes to the grieving parents. But, what could I possibly write?

What words of condolence could I share that could uplift these heartbroken, bereaved families?

On September 11, when I heard that terrorists had attacked our nation, I immediately drove to the elementary school to pick up my children.

The principal met me at the door and asked me to let them stay in school because it was the safest place for them. The school was in “lock down” mode and the principal wanted the children to stay in classes and return home on the bus as usual. Then, parents could explain the events of the day to them after they’d had time to process it themselves.

I saw the wisdom in the principal’s words and went home without my two daughters. They were in the safest place for them at that time, I kept telling myself.

Those words have haunted me for the past week because the children in Sandy Hook Elementary were thought to be in one of the safest places for them. Most children spend the bulk of their time at home or in school, and both places are supposed to be safe havens for them.

Parents worry about their children every time they walk out the door — even when they leave for school. But, for most of us, school shootings of the magnitude experienced in Newtown, Connecticut are beyond our fears because they are so utterly evil that we can’t let our worries even go to that extreme.

So when I think of those bewildered parents in Connecticut, and see them on television or read their words in the newspaper, my heart literally hurts. I know what it’s like to have your normal breathing pattern halted, and I wonder when they will breathe normally again, and when will their goals of survival stretch beyond a mere second at a time?

I want to console them but I am lost for words.

We went to the Kennedy Center Monday night to see “An Enchanted Christmas” performance by The Choral Arts Society of Washington.
As we sat in the Concert Hall listening to and singing Christmas carols, I thought of the peaceful feelings and the spirit of warmth that enveloped that beautiful roomful of strangers.
IMG_1741

Then I thought of the people in Connecticut and wished I could transport the sweet serenity that fell upon us in that Hall to Newtown, and just wrap the entire town up in a cocoon of safety and love.

Yesterday, we went to the White House and marveled over the gorgeous holiday decorations and listened to a children’s choir sing “Still, Still, Still,” one of my favorite Christmas songs – “Still, still, still, one can hear the falling snow…”
IMG_1790

As we left the White House, we noticed all the flags at half-staff, and again I wished so deeply that just one of the peaceful still moments I’ve experienced this week could float in a cloud to Connecticut and hover there for months to come dropping heavenly dews of tender mercies on the heartbroken, devastated people there who are just trying to get their bearings.

US Navy 040609-F-3050V-009 The U.S. flag atop ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“…The tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance…”

Deliverance is what I want for them.

I guess if I were to send a letter to the new post office box, I’d say something like this:

“To all the families, friends and loved ones affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy:

I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. I won’t pretend to understand what you are going through, but I want you to know, I love you. I pray for you. My heart breaks just knowing of your unfathomable loss and acute sorrow.

I know the deep, unparalleled love that parents have for their children, and that just the fear of losing them is unbearable.

So, my urgent and heartfelt prayers on your behalf are that during this time of sadness and bewilderment that God will swoop you up and cradle you like a child in his arms, just like he is cradling your little ones. And, that you will feel his love, warmth, understanding, and compassion and know that his heart beats in sympathy with yours.

I know your lives have been permanently altered, but I also know there is a God who lives and loves you, a God who can and will carry you through this, a God who welcomed your babies home and healed their wounds instantly, and one who will heal yours too.

While I’m sure you feel utterly alone, there are good-hearted people all around the world kneeling in prayer and pleading with the heavens on your behalf.

I wish my words had the power to elevate your grieving souls and to assure you that while your heads hang down in sorrow now, they will rise up in joy again. You will be reunited with your children one day and your joy will be exquisite. I hope you will all faithfully live for that day.”

Sometimes our words are all we have, and yet, they are so inadequate and can seem so empty at times like this. I can only hope that when I send my words skyward that God will hear them and send these dear families the healing balm that they so desperately need.

Check out this beautiful piece by Jeff Benedict http://www.ldsliving.com/story/71249-jeff-benedict-witnessing-grief-and-compassion-in-newtown

From my Bookshelf, Uncategorized

I want to be like Anna Quindlen

I recently read Anna Quindlen’s new memoir, “Lots of Cake and Plenty of Candles.” I didn’t get past the first paragraph in the introduction titled “Life in the Fifties” before I stopped reading to think about one of the first things she wrote. “It’s odd when I think of the arc of my life, from child to woman to aging adult. First I was who I was. Then I didn’t know who I was. Then I invented someone and became her. Then I began to like what I’d invented. And finally I was what I was again. It turned out I wasn’t alone in that particular progression.”

I’ve spent a lot of time studying my life’s arc because I’ve written and rewritten a memoir about a million times. (Okay, not a million, but it feels that way.)

It’s not easy charting the arc and story line of your life. You can’t do it with any degree of integrity if you don’t take a thorough and honest look at the inner workings of your life, and sometimes that can be both too revealing, and a little painful.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write a book about my life.  But I’ve fought the inner critic that says it’s downright arrogant to think your life is worthy of a memoir.  After all, who would be interested enough to buy it and read it?  And could I handle the scrutiny of those readers if I ever really published it?

I talk back to that critic and say there are people in the world that are born to write just like there are people born to make music, paint, quilt, garden, cook, or be accountants and biologists.

While struggling to write my memoir, I spent a lot of time going over old journals to find out who I really was at different times of my life. In journal after journal, I started the first page by writing, “I love starting a new journal and having all these clean pages waiting to be filled.”  Then at the end of a journal, I was always wistful about closing another chapter of my life. Sometimes I was happy to close a particularly painful time or excited about what was ahead.

So when I read Quindlen’s introductory paragraph to her book I wondered about the shape of my life and whether I’d made the complete circle that she described. “First, I was who I was.”

As a child, I was probably more authentic and less intentional because my family, friends, community and circumstances were shaping my personality and values. Then when I get a little older, my maturing mind starting wondering who I was and what I wanted in my life. I figured it out a bit at a time, and then set out to be that person. I think Quindlen is right that we all do this. Sometimes we like the person we create and sometimes we don’t.  Then, we have to re-evaluate everything and make adjustments or start all over again.

The tragedy is when we don’t like the person we’ve created and we refuse to redo ourselves and become someone better, someone we actually like and respect more. I think this the hardest and longest part of our lives. (In fact, does it ever end?)

Learning who are and who we want to be is hard work because we worry about disappointing ourselves, not meeting our own expectations and goals, and not living up to what others expect of us, even God. I’ve spent my life trying to figure out who God really wants me to be because right when I think I’ve figured it out, He surprises me and puts something I never wanted or expected into my life, and I think, “Really God? Am I that woman? Do you really want me to be that woman?”

I hear my daughters and their friends often say, “I don’t want to be that girl or that person.”

But sometimes, probably more times than not, we get “those lives” – not because we want them, but because they are somehow good for us. They usually come with big, hairy life lessons that we wouldn’t learn without them. It would sure be nice sometimes to learn them without so much pain, wouldn’t it?

I’m generally happy with the woman I’ve created, but I’m still in the “development” stage because I don’t feel fully invented yet. I know there’s always something new just around the corner.  I just have to be “that woman” that deals with it, responds well, and becomes better because of it.

The truth is I’m not happy with some of the things that “just are” in my life because I didn’t really get a say about whether they happened or not.  (Cancer is always a good example.)

I know I get a say in how I respond but I’ve always wished that some things (like cancer) could have knocked a little more gently on my door and that I’d had a choice of whether to invite it in or slam the door. Of course, none of us get that kind the choice. Unwanted experiences often bully their way in whether we want them or not.  Sometimes we can do everything in our power to make them feel unwelcome and go away, but they just lounge around like a bad houseguest that you can’t get rid of.

What I’m trying to figure out is how we live graceful, happy lives when we negatively think we are “that person” with “that life” we didn’t want. I know all about positive thinking, and I try to apply those positive psychology principles but I’m not there yet. I’m not fully “who I was again,” and I’m not sure I’ll ever be.

In many ways, I’m much better than who I was, but I think I’ll always be a work in progress, trying to accept things I can’t change and yearning to be like Anna Quindlen, the one who claims to be quietly, sublimely back to the innocent childhood state of just being comfortable with who she is without feeling any internal or external pressure to be more. I want to be that woman, but now I’m not.

I want to know: Where are you in this process?  Are you happy with the person you’ve become?  Are you learning from the bad house guest that barged his or her way into your life or are you sublimely happy in your own skin and your current place in life? I’d love to know.

From the News, Religion

Does Truth Exist?

Last week we went to the beach in North Carolina.  Annie invited a group of her high school friends to join us.

Every night after dinner we asked each other probing questions and talked about the big concepts of life.

Is there a God?

If so, what is He like?

Does God have a plan for us or are we in complete charge of our lives?

What beliefs and values shape your life?

Where do you want to be in 10 years?

What is faith?

Why do some people have faith and others don’t?

How can someone really live by faith?

Why is it so central to some people and irrelevant to others?

How do you know whether something is true and is there such a thing as truth?

This group of 19-year old college students astound me with their passion for answers to these questions.

They are achievement-oriented and live their lives “on purpose.”

They believe that being their best matters.

They believe in being good people and they know right from wrong.  Even though there are many questions on their minds, they are clear about their own ethics and morals. They are true to what they believe even though they are still sorting out what it is they really believe.

They all come from different religion backgrounds and some grew up without any religious influence in their lives at all.

Yet, they yearn to define themselves.  They want to stand for something.

thank you Griffin Harrington for the photo!

Part of me wanted to tell them all the answers to these life questions because after living so many years, I’ve figured a lot of things out.

But part of me relished the conversation, the struggle, the growth that comes from figuring out life on your own.

I enjoyed listening to what they wonder about, what scares and worries them.

Annie Turner photo

I learned their fears and questions aren’t much different from my own, and that while I have a strong set of beliefs and values, I have much to learn from them.

I wanted to tell them what it’s like to grow up and finally have all the answers.

I discovered two problems with that.

First, we only learn by experience and by figuring things out ourselves.

Second, and most important, I still don’t have all the answers.

Even after all these years of forming my own beliefs and relying on a certain set of religious guideposts, I still have a lot to learn.

And I love learning it from optimistic, bright, questioning 19-year olds whose minds are on fire with curiosity.

There is power in their intellectual form of gymnastics as they ask hard questions, and seek inspired answers.

Our conversations reminded me of Mormon Church President Gordon B. Hinckley’s words:  “The time has come for us to stand a little taller, to lift our eyes and stretch our minds to a greater comprehension and understanding of who we are and what we stand for…This is a time to move forward without hesitation, knowing well the meaning, breadth and importance of our own mission…It is a time to do what is right regardless of the consequences…It is a season to reach out with kindness and love to those in distress and to those who are wandering in darkness and pain…It is a time to be considerate and good, decent and courteous toward one another in all our relationships…It is a time to nurture yourself spiritually, intellectually and to have no fears, no doubts about your future.”

This stellar group of friends are living up to these words, giving me no doubts about my future because I feel assured that as I age and they take my place as the responsible adults in life, I am in capable hands.