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.
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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…”
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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