Monday, December 29, 2008

Spam

Nothing like a little spam to give you a reality check.

Friend and fellow-blogger (and editor--but not mine), the ZimmerMan, sometimes blogs about the spam he gets in his email account, and it's always very funny, but I usually just delete the entire cache of the spam I get, without looking at the titles and only sometimes glancing with amusement at the supposed names of the senders. Today one caught my eye, though. It said:

"A Submariner SS watch is for people who know the true value of life."

Really? What have I been doing all this time?! Shoot.

Well. Now we know. Consider this a public service announcement.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

On the Other Hand

It is Christmas. And everyone's safe. And there is something kind of poignant and relief-inducing about having the semblance of control wrested from one . . . at least, once one comes to terms with it. (Again. And again. And again.)

So . . . happy Christmas, everybody!

Christmas Journey

What a long, strange trip . . .

My dad arrived here on Monday. Is it ever great to see him. After weeks of my mother's and my breaking out the self-sufficient New England Amazon role (these are Amazons who know how to keep a fire going in the woodstove and lug the wood in all by themselves), I was really kind of done with that. Dad would have helped us get the tree "vegetage" (well, what do you call it when it isn't meat--it's not carnage?) off the lawn, except that it snowed all over it. A lot.

Yesterday, as you might have noticed, was Christmas Eve, and that was the day Dave and Lu and Hannah (aka brother, sister-in-law and baby niece) were going to arrive. Their flight out of the Midwest was scheduled to leave at 11.30 a.m. That was a nice idea.

At the time they were meant to be landing in Boston, they phoned saying they missed their connecting flight in another part of the Midwest, and now had to switch airlines and fly to still another part of the Midwest, where they would get on a flight that would get them to Boston twelve hours after they were meant to have left in the first place.

At 10 p.m. or so, they phoned again saying their plane was having technical difficulties.

Then we started having techical difficulties: the power went out again.

Are you kidding me?!

At 1.30 a.m., the three of us who were here woke up because the power came back on. Phew. The three who were traveling were still traveling . . . and we couldn't get through to them. It was a little hard to get back to sleep, although I guess I must have--pretty deeply, because I didn't hear the three travelers when they finally arrived--at 3.15 a.m.

At 8.00 a.m., someone from Ireland phoned to wish us a happy Christmas. Um . . . thanks? Hannah woke up. Well, we all woke up. Dave and Lu told us that yes, they were here . . . but their luggage had got delayed in the airline switch and was not here with them.

My godly mother said, "This the Christmas from [someplace we could euphemise as 'Hades']!"

"Wow," I said. "I've never heard you describe anything that way, Mom." Not that I disagreed with her.

My godly father said, "We've never had a Christmas like this, either."

Nope. That is true. We haven't. Thank goodness.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fashion Slave

This is ridiculous.

Last night I received an early Christmas gift from some people I haven't received a Christmas gift from before. It was a sweatshirt. This is truly awesome, because I am in need of such types of clothing these days. It was a hoodie, which I also like. It was neon blue with neon green and pink and yellow flowery designs silkscreened on it. That last bit . . . well, it was cute, but my initial gut-reaction was, "Can I wear this in public?" I don't think I've ever worn neon anything. Even in the 80's. I said to my mother, "I'm not sure I would have picked this colour . . . "

About two seconds later, I noticed that the hood on this hoodie was emblazoned with the word (in neon pink), "Diesel."

"Diesel?!" I exclaimed.

Suddenly, I think this sweatshirt is beyond cool, and after my shift at Starbucks today, instead of going down to the church and changing out of my uniform there, I changed in the Starbucks bathroom, just in case when I came out, anybody happened to notice that I was wearing a hoodie that said "Diesel" on it in neon pink.

I'm not sure who decides which clothing companies are "cool" and get to overcharge for their merchandise, nor why I find it thrilling to own one of their products even though I doubt we stand for much of the same thing. I'm approximately 100% sure that this mindset does not line up very well with Jesus' "ideology" (if you want to call it that) about Stuff. But . . . I would be lying if I tried to tell you that I'm not quite pleased to be wearing a designer hoodie. And . . . it's not like I was trying to be designer. It just happened. (That statement right there? Also ridiculous.) I do find it kind of embarrassing that I am so easily convinced, though.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Iron Sharpens Iron

Here's an idea to keep you honest:

Make a really close friend whose worldview is totally opposed to your own and who isn't afraid to say so, and with whom you aren't afraid to disagree either.

I don't know that it's possible to go out and intentionally do this, but I would just say that if you find yourself in this position, you might want to consider thanking God for it and learning from Him in it, instead of running away from it like I tried to do that time (and sometimes keep trying to do). Particularly if you have been intentional about finding people who do share your worldview and can make sure you're not running off the rails somewhere.

The Milk Guy's really good at calling my bluff. I don't get to start sounding all super-spiritual without having to think about what I'm saying, and if I really mean it, and if I even begin to live up to it. And every once in a while he'll come up with a zinger of a theological insight that will set me on my heels.

This week has, as I keep mentioning, been a little rough for me, and actually the weeks leading up to it haven't been exactly stress-free, either, as we at Starbucks scramble to get enough work hours to support ourselves, for example. This kind of scenario makes me grumpy and weepy and I start making up new rude words out of existing rude words and find, to my chagrin, that I am kind of delighted with them because they are clever, even if thoroughly inappropriate for a Christian. (The Milk Guy doesn't help with that so much, because he thinks they're clever, too, and has no such scruples.)

The thing about all that is that though it doesn't make me look--or feel--very good, I don't get to make excuses for myself, like I might if I were going to go to a prayer meeting that night and rehash the day in Evangelese to my friends. The Milk Guy sees my moods and reactions in all their un-glory, and there's no explaining away with him.

It's kind of a lot of pressure. And sometimes I feel like I'm making a complete hash of reflecting Christ to anybody, let alone him. (And . . . I probably am.) But he doesn't let me wallow in "I'm such a horrible Christian" mode either. Recently I said, "I feel like God's trying to communicate with you . . . but He sure could have picked a whole lot better representative . . ."

The Milk Guy paused (understandably, as I think about it), and then said, "Aren't you kind of making yourself out to be more powerful than God when you say that?"

Oh. Right. And so we keep talking. And so he challenges me and I appreciate that, and I remember from time to time that not only am I not the perfect representative of Christ on earth, but that I don't have to be--because, as the Milk Guy himself reminded me whether he meant to or not, God is God and He'll cause whatever transformations He sees fit. Including in me.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hallelujah!

The title might seem a little sacrilegious, but I think I am not amiss, these days, in praising God for small mercies . . . and maybe they're not so small, really.

Last night, shortly after I wrote the last post, I guess, the lights came back on. I didn't get to experience them until tonight, as I was still staying with Pastor Ron and Mrs. Dona, but ah, is it ever a relief!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas

The balloon ended up deflating in a flood of tears rather than a round of screaming, and the techs who did my first radiation treatment this afternoon (who were women, and not the guys of the initial visit) thought I was crying because I was upset about the treatment.

I suppose there might have been something in that. But mostly it's because I feel that, like the Milk Guy's appliances, my circuits are fried--by a whole lot of little things rather than one big thing. And added to that is guilt. Huge amounts of guilt.

I live in a "developed" country. I am not homeless. I have healthcare. I have friends with electricity and food and . . . heck, I haven't had to cook or go grocery shopping in weeks. The Nurse Practitioner's comment kind of rankles, because I want to be selfless, but apparently only on my own terms. I used to think I would go On The Mission Field for the rest of my life and maybe live somewhere less "developed" than this country and, you know . . . have to boil water or something. I've been in many different countries and managed the hole-in-the-ground toilets and eating mystery foods with my fingers and washing my face in a bowl of water and wearing the same clothes days in a row, and it didn't bother me at all. But I chose to go there and do those things, and those were the things that were "done" in certain locations.

Those things aren't generally done here, and I had no control over the circumstances bringing them about. It's not like a camping trip, which I don't enjoy much either, but which I can choose and modulate a little. And so everything in me revolts (as it does in many people, I've observed). I can listen to myself and think I sound absolutely pathetic, and yet I'm still a bundle of nerves because I can't flick a lightswitch and see the entire room.

I feel that the timing of this "ordeal" (which I feel is an unfair word, because this could have been so much worse--it's no Katrina) is sort of interesting. By which I mean, it's making me think of Christmas a little differently. Usually there's all this talk about "the true meaning of Christmas" and to some extent, I usually squint my brain every year and try to remind myself that the birth of Jesus is so much more important than the Christmas tree and that it wasn't all pretty and cozy and lights. Not . . . that there's anything wrong with that.

This year I'm probably about as distracted from the birth of Christ as I've ever been, but I can't pretend I'm not interacting with it on some level all the same. There's so much going on in my life right now, and there's this kind of deprivation, and there's a very distinct (if presently guilt-inducing) reminder that Christmas is actually about inconvenience and deprivation. Jesus gave up all his glory (light! weightiness! splendour!) and schlepped around in a Roman-occupied "under-developed" country for thirty-some years, talking to a bunch of people who often didn't get what He was talking about. And Mary and Joseph gave up their reputations, and had to pack up their lives and trek down to Bethlehem, and then down to Egypt, and their lives were in upheaval for, oh . . . pretty much the rest of them.

Jesus kind of does that, I think. I suspect Mary and Joseph had to come to terms with that more than once. Unless, of course, they had no controlling tendencies at all . . . I kind of doubt it. But maybe I'm just thinking like that to make myself feel better.

Don't Stress the Cancer-Girl

When I first met the Nurse Practitioner at the Comprehensive Breast Center, she sat me down and said, "You seem like the type of person who's always thinking of others first, so you need to shift gears a little bit. While you're working through this cancer diagnosis and treatment, you need to just work on taking care of yourself and getting better. This time is about you. You need to have as little stress as possible."

Too bad nobody told the New England climate and global warming that.

Right now I feel like somebody put an alarm clock inside my stomach--that old-fashioned kind that jumps around in cartoons when it rings--and that in a second it's going to go off, and I'm going to go flying around the room like an untied balloon and scream my head off like . . . me when I'm stressed and nobody but God is around to hear me. Right now, I'm so on-the-edge that I might do it even though other people besides God are around to hear me. It will not be pretty.

Yesterday some girl came into Starbucks and said glumly that her power was still out, and I said mine was too, and she said she heard that her neighbourhood wouldn't be up and running until after Christmas.

Christmas is next week, folks. The power went out last Thursday.

And my father and my brother and my sister-in-law and my baby niece and my grandmothers and my uncle will converge on my mother and me and our house, and if we don't have lights? Um, excuse me? This is not okay.

I'm staying in the city for the mid-part of this week, at Pastor Ron and Mrs. Donna's apartment with them, and it's a huge help, but I never seem to have everything I need with me in the same place at any given time, and for example I realised two hours ago that I did not bring enough changes of clothing for the number of days I'm going to be here, and I don't have internet at church, and I don't have church phone numbers at the apartment, and I have two magazine articles to write, and a confirmation class to organize and two youth group events to cancel and the Milk Guy's power came back and then surged and fried some of his appliances and even though that doesn't directly affect me, it kind of stresses me out, too.

I think National Grid should have consulted me. I'm glad they got Old Church street up and running so that Old Church could provide food for those of us less fortunate and so that the nursing home on the same power line would be able to keep running. Hear hear. But didn't anybody tell them that there's a cancer survivor on my street, who's starting radiation today? And if they didn't, why not?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dependence

I feel that there are some lessons to be learned here about dependence. Whether or not I learn them remains to be seen. But since the power outage on Thursday I have:

1. Showered at the Clevelands'.
2. Eaten breakfast at my Old Church.
3. Done laundry and watched a movie at Pastor Steve and Pastor Val's. ("Pastor Val" is not really what anyone calls her, but it is essentially what she is, so that's her name for this blog. So there.)
4. Worshipped at my Old Church because my New Church didn't have power either.
5. Had dinner with five other families at the Barrows'.
6. Availed myself of the Clevelands' intervention with my car.
7. Used the Barrows' computer.
8. Used my computer at the Barrows' house.

I also anticipate staying at a friend's or friends' in the City a couple of nights this week.

Besides all that, I have spent the entire autumn depending on rides and hand-outs and cooking and cry-on-able shoulders of various and sundry friends and relations before this weather-related disaster, because of my health-related sort-of-disaster.

This is hard for an American. And a New Englander. And a Jennwith2ns.

I feel very dependent. The cancer diagnosis made me feel dependent on people in new ways. The "Ice Tornado" (as some people have dubbed it) has not only heightened that feeling, but also kind of highlighted how dependent I am on things that are not people. Like electricity. And my telephone. And the internet. And my car. And clear roadways. And showering.

The whole ordeal is very blessed and very irritating (two qualities which may, I suspect, belong together more often than not). Most of all I'm realising how God is the only one I can depend on. But I'm also resonating more fully with Teresa of Avila, when she told God, "If this is the way you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few!” (I also resonate with her saying, however, “What a great favor God does to those He places in the company of good people!”)

Fed Up

On Friday I was going to write a post that went a little something like this:

"I have decided that I think that auto insurance and health insurance plans should merge. I do not think I should have to pay more money this year for ailing anything."

I figured by this you would know that I was having car trouble.

It turned out, though, that I wasn't having car trouble. I was just stupid. I don't want to tell you what I did, because then the full extent of my idiocy would be on the internet for all to read, and I need to retain at least some self-respect . . .

But anyway, before I found out all that, and before I could whinge about it, we had an ice storm. As the Milk Guy said, "I used to kind of like ice storms. They made things all shiny."

Yeah. Not anymore. I lay in my bed all night on Thursday (after the power had already gone out), listening to tree after after tree losing life and limb. You might know I kind of like trees. I felt like crying for them. I was also scared out of my brains that one of them was going to fall on my house.

It's kind of surprising one didn't. The yard is a wreck. The road is a wreck. I would like to know why I voted to keep our state tax, when so far nothing has been done (except by neighbours) to take care of the trees leaning on power lines and the branches dangling precariously above the road. I'm immensely grateful my mom has been here during this ordeal, or I might actually have lost my mind, being in the house and dealing with this all by myself. (It hasn't been totally by myself, as it turns out, and as I will likely describe later, but it would have felt a lot more like it without Mom.) Still, I feel mighty close to losing my mind anyway. Fortunately there's a woodstove in the house, and people around who do have power, but meanwhile, we're filling up water bottles at friends's houses, flushing our toilets with water from a creek, washing dishes when we have to, showering elsewhere, and stumbling around in the dark. It doesn't look like things will get better any time soon.

I have a whole lot of processing going on in my head, but suffice it to say that right this second? This ordeal is bugging me a whole lot more than the cancer diagnosis ever did.

Plus, yesterday my exhaust system started dragging on the ground. Maybe I do have car trouble after all.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

All Fun and Games

I'm kind of a sore loser. When I was growing up, I didn't like games of strategy because I'm just not that strategic of a thinker. And I didn't like games of chance because I'm not that lucky. Once I got old enough to opt out, when my family would sit down to a game, I'd camp out in the same room with a book and make more or less helpful or snide comments to the players in the background. Now that there are team games like Cranium or Pictionary, I'm more likely to play, maybe because they involve teams so if I lose there is an entire group of people who goes down with me.

That's a nice realisation for a Wednesday night . . .

All the same, when we had group projects in eighth grade social studies class, I liked inventing board games. I'm not sure someone who dislikes games is capable of making good ones, but I am here to tell you that, nevertheless, I have come up with a new game. It is great, because it combines both strategy and chance. Get ready for next Christmas, folks, and start saving now. It's pretty expensive. It is called:

Cancer: The Board Game

The object of the game is to move from cancer diagnosis through treatment to being cancer-free, first, and without dying. The "Start" block is a doctor's office for a routine check-up, and depending on a roll of the dice, you can end up with a clean bill of health, or with a complication which you have to get checked out. If you get a clean bill of health, you're pretty much out of the game. I haven't figured out if that means you won or you lost, since the game is called Cancer: The Board Game, and since you pretty much haven't completed any of the objectives. Anyway, whatever. Go get yourself a book and make snide comments to those of us who get diagnosed with cancer in this game. (Note: that part is not very true-to-life. No one has yet made any snide comments about my real diagnosis. Also not very true-to-life is the idea that cancer patients are out to race each other to a positive outcome. I think this is something that is Not Done. But we're talking retail profit here. No one wants to buy a game where all you do is help each other. Do they?)

Everybody else who rolls a complication is guaranteed to get a cancer diagnosis, because this is Cancer: The Board Game, and not Anurysm: The Card Game or Deep Vein Thrombosis Solitaire or anything like that. Various things happen based on dice rolls, and then finally you get to treatment stage where you encounter "Treatment Cards." This is where actual thinking might happen. If you feel like it.

Say you roll the dice and you land on a space that says, "You have stage 1, grade 2 cancer. You may opt for the traditional treatment [which entails going down a long and circuitous chemotherapy track that has all sorts of pitfalls sending you back five spaces or something] or draw a Treatment Card." You know that if you draw a Treatment Card, you might mis-roll later and end up back in that very chemotherapy trail you were hoping to avoid, but if you don't, you'll be that much closer to the end of the game and beating out your fellow cancer-sufferers.

So you draw a Treatment Card and it says, "You are going to be treated with radiation and hormone therapy. Go to Radiation." You move your playing piece to the Radiation section and it says, "You will be here for six weeks. Every day heterosexual members of the opposite sex who are your age or younger will radiate a part of your body you do not wish them to see. Lose six turns." (I haven't figured what happens when everybody is losing multiple turns at once . . . )

Then after that you move your piece to Hormone Therapy and it says, "You are taking Tamoxifen. Side effects are usually mild and treatable, but may include . . . [yeah, actually, I don't want to write them here. You can click here if you really want to know]. Lose a turn and go back two spaces."

I'll let you know how the game ends up. These are just examples of the hosts of diagnoses, moves, decisions you can encounter in this fabulous game. Don't you want to play?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Pre-positions

There's a church down the street. It is neither my Old Church or my New Church, but I used to work at a living history museum with one of their lay leaders, so I feel a mini-connexion with it anyway.

They have one of those signs out front where you can put out the movable white letters on the black backdrop and either announce church events, or put a thought-for-the-period-of-time-before-you-remember-to-put-the-next-thing-up-there.

Back in September and October the sign said, "Everyone is invited at God's table."

For the entire time it was up, whenever I would drive by, I would do a little grammar-and-theology shuffling with that verse. Something doesn't seem quite right, but I still can't make it say what it seems like it should, to be both grammatically and theologically correct.

To me, "Everyone is invited at God's table," sounds like what we often do in the Church anyway. We sit around and look at everyone already at the table (as we assume, anyway) and yeah, we're all invited. The question is, to what? If we're already there, what's next? Going into the Divine Family Room to watch angel football?

Or maybe it's one of those assertions of the obvious: "See all those people at the table there? They were invited." Oh. I guess it's comforting to know there are no gatecrashers? I guess?

I thought maybe it should have said, "Everyone is invited to God's table." That could, I suppose, sound like we can just help ourselves to the table and leave. But when I first thought of it, it was in the context of the invitation through Jesus being open to everyone, and we just have to accept the invite. I suppose it could be further clarified by saying, "Everyone is invited to come to God's table," or to "dine at God's table." Or something.

My dad suggested it could say "Everyone is welcome at God's table," which I think probably says the "invited to" thing a little better, although it might imply, "under any conditions," which, if the conditions were without the received forgiveness of Christ, I think would also be erroneous.

In spite of all the brainwaves being invested in this conundrum, the letters on the board did not move. I still have questions, though. The first one is, do you think we as Christians act as if we're the only invited ones, sometimes? What do you do with the "many are called but few are chosen" verse, and are any of the above sign-posting suggestions valid in light of that? Are we actually supposed to do anything with that verse, or should we just treat everyone as if they were both called and chosen? And if we did that, what would it look like?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Balking

When I saw my Oncologist a week ago, she gave me a choice: chemo or randomisation (wherein I would either get chemo anyway, or I wouldn't, but I'd have no choice in the matter). I was feeling tired and stressed and sort of resigned, so I thought I was going to go for the chemo. I didn't feel like fighting with my very pro-chemo doctor, and I didn't feel like deciding anything. I didn't feel like talking to my Second Opinion Doctor, either. But I did.

"Great!" she said. "You have a low recurrence score! You'll do great in the protocol!"

But I don't like the idea of being randomised. Waiting some more, just to find out I'm being assigned something by chance, doesn't really thrill me. No one was suggesting I could just opt out of chemo altogether. My Oncologist is a treatment-conservative (which, for some reason, translates into very un-conservative treatment). My Second-Opinion Doctor is a researcher. Why would they offer me the "third way," I guess?

Then the People Closest to Me started asking questions, which basically boiled down to "How on earth is pumping extra toxins into your body when you only have a 9% risk of recurrence actually going to help you?" and "Why don't you just refuse the chemo?"

Oh. I can do that?

I understand that my cancer may come back. And maybe it will be worse. And maybe I'll have to have chemo then. But maybe it would even with the poison. And maybe I'd go into menopause before I'm forty. And maybe I wouldn't be able to work at Starbucks because my immune system would be compromised and working there is pretty much like working in a preschool with how everybody gets sick in the winter. And maybe the long-term effects would be such that years from now I'd be regretting the treatment more than the recurrence of the disease.

I kind of feel like Daniel and his friends when they asked the Babylonian steward to let them be vegetarians. Maybe someone should do research on the hormone-therapy/radiation/prayer course of treatment.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Punny

Look! Star-Bucks!Oh yes I did.

(Someone had to lighten things up around here . . . )

Why Do We Do This, Again?

The Milk Guy says that if there's a God, He must be a cosmic Sadist.

I never really know how to respond to this when he brings it up, because frankly, sometimes I think things like that myself, and so I have no idea how to explain how Christians (generally) view trials, without sounding like we have made ourselves into Masochists-for-the-God.

Here are some cases in point:

1. Pretty much all the Old Testament prophecies. God's people are not cooperating with Him. He gets mad. He causes or allows (depending on your theology--but the words in the Bible usually sound like "causes") really horrific things to happen to them. Today I read in Zechariah 14.2 (NRSV) "For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses looted and the women raped . . . " It actually goes on from there, but the rape thing alone causes me to recoil so violently, I kind of lost track of the rest of it. He mercifully allows some people to be spared these monstrosities, and then He restores them, and they're supposed to (and do, at least for a time) return to Him with love in their hearts because He essentially beat the stuffing out of them. Or . . . that's what it reads like.

2. I'm reading an autobiography of an English evangelist, whose prayer as a child was that she could get into the center of God's heart. Or something like that. She had a fairly difficult childhood and then suffered some serious health issues (and miracles) as an adult, and at the end of the second-to-last chapter, she renewed her request to God that she be satisfied with only Him. Three weeks later, her husband of 30 years, who had been involved in ministry with her, left her for another woman. What?!

3. I've prayed similar prayers, and meant them, and I've even asked God to do whatever it takes (even to me) to cause certain people to come to know Him. Now I have cancer? I don't know if that's "what it takes," but I do know there's some way that this is supposed to draw me closer to Him.

Don't get me wrong. I love the Old Testament prophets (although I've decided I don't like Zechariah all that much), and I think the prayer for God and God alone is probably the best one we can pray. (It's also pretty audacious, if you think about it, and so the fact that we can pray it is pretty amazing.) I love that God wants to relate to us enough to open Himself up to our rage--to the point of His own death in Jesus. I know (at least intellectually, although sometimes that's all it feels like) that He doesn't ask us to do anything He didn't live through Himself, or experience along with us. I've sensed His presence with me in this cancer adventure and I've seen Him answer prayers in surprising ways and I know He's been faithful to me through my whole life.

I also understand that if He tried to coax us to Him with blessings all the time, it wouldn't work. We just get distracted. All right, I get distracted, okay? I get all caught up in the blessing and start to treat it, instead of Him, like God.

I'm just saying that causing or allowing the rape of the people He chose when He hates rape, or answering Jennifer Rees Larcombe's prayer through a divorce when He hates divorce, is downright baffling, and I don't really know how to argue with the Milk Guy when he says, "You talk like everything God does is perfect. But He makes bad stuff happen, too. You have to take the good with the bad."

"As for God, His way is perfect," but I do see the Milk Guy's point. For all I said about "It's all good," God's perfect way often feels really bad. And even if I am settled in myself that I have about as complicated a relationship with God as I do with the Milk Guy but that it's good; even when I feel that I can trust in God when I suspect He might hurt me and that I love Him even when He does; even when I know that I am free (thanks to Jesus) to argue with God and that somehow through all this turmoil it will bring me closer to Him, I really don't know how to explain that to anybody without its sounding like I have some kind of psychological malfunction that causes me to seek out pain. I don't. I really don't like pain.

So . . . why do we do this, again?

Choice

I do have a choice, I guess, really. I was thinking about this at the Thanksgiving Eve service at my Old Church. Everyone was talking about things they were thankful for and I thought, "I should be thankful because actually, I have a choice."

I can get all mad that my fertility choices may reduce to nearly nil after I fry my body with chemotherapy, but actually, I don't think that's really what I was angry about. Like I said--I'm still not convinced I ever want kids. I think I was angry that I had to make a choice about the chemo or the protocol. I think I was just being contrary.

I don't think there's anything wrong with my feeling a little upset about this. But I do think I was being inconsistent, and whining over the "wrong" thing. This didn't stop me, however, from feeling very bereft when the Sixes were not around when I got home, or from crying on about six different people's shoulders after the service.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Life's Little Injustices

I'm not really too sure what I think about birth control. I mean I think it's okay with God, but there are some of His people who feel pretty strongly that it isn't, and so sometimes I feel a little insecure in my position that, were I married and were my husband of the same mind-set about this, I would rather adopt children than bear them myself. This has to do with personal inclination as well as some beliefs about over-population and taking care of (widows and) orphans.

One time, however, I was on birth-control pills for another health issue (because my skin is really appallingly flaw-prone, if you must know), and it didn't help anything, and while not helping anything, they also made me dreadfully ill. So I always thought the whole preventing-childbirth thing, should it ever become a live issue in my life, might be kind of a hassle for me as well as being a source of moral confusion.

Given all of these details you never asked for, you would think I might be secretly relieved that chemotherapy is likely to reduce my ability to have children. That way, if I ever do get married, well--maybe I won't have to be as intentional about not having kids.

I'm nothing if not complex and contrary, however. Although my feelings about all these issues have been as delineated above for years, and although I feel exactly the same about them as I write them, I also feel inexplicably disheartened and a little angry that the option is potentially about to be removed from me. I don't want to be "damaged," I guess. I want to be whole, and be able to make these decisions on an equal footing with other people who make them all the time.

And here's the other thing that's ticking me off about the cancer I don't even have anymore: I'm pretty much going to be paying rent on my life for the rest of it. Here's what I mean: For the next year I will be undergoing various significant treatments to reduce my risk of cancer. For the next five years I will be on a hormone suppressant to further reduce my risk of recurrence of specifically hormone-related cancers like the one I just had. But from now until I die or Jesus comes back, I'll have to have check-ups on this area of my body at least twice a year. These aren't simple physicals, and they aren't cheap. I get to pay someone bi-annually to make sure I'm not going to die. I kind of resent this.

Huh. Happy Thanksgiving, eh?

Let's see what I can come up with tomorrow.

Niece

On Monday I went to see my counselor, as I do, and I told her my brother and sister-in-law and my niece-I-hadn't-met-yet were coming out this week. "Interesting," she said. "I wonder how that will affect you." She said this in the aftermath of my revelation that chemotherapy is now almost a certainty for me, and in consideration of the fact that such treatment is often damaging to the reproductive system. "I know you said you've never been that interested in having kids," she said. "I wonder if that will change when you meet your niece, though, and how you'll feel about it in light of the impending chemo."

The next day I hied myself to Boston to spend some time with Dave and Lu and Hannah there before we all went back to my place. They were staying in a hotel because of a conference Lu had just been at. As my brother let me in the door of their room, Hannah was bawling her head off. I thought about what my counselor had thought. Second thoughts about having kids? Hmmm . . . let me check . . . nope!

My assessment remained constant even after Hannah proceeded to revert to her unbelievably adorable self for the rest of the next two days. I love kids. They generally like me, too--this niece of mine warmed right up, in any event. But I'm quite content not to bear my own. On the other hand, it has been a lot of fun getting to know Hannah, even if briefly. I've been reinforcing good habits.
And teaching her new ones.
Oh yeah. Being an aunt is pretty good.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Chapters


Life has been so . . . strange . . . lately, and so all-at-once, that it's been a little tricky to find precise markers. It's not that there haven't been any. It's that there have been so many, they're hard to unravel. Sometime, say, ten years from now, someone will say, "Do you remember the fall of 2008?"

And I'll say, "Oh, you mean that time when the cat showed up in the car that the Family-of-Six was driving when they came to stay in my house and I had just gotten a new job and had just about had it with my old one and the Milk Guy and I were complicated and I started seeing a counselor and I got diagnosed with cancer? That fall?"

It's like one of those letters that people used to write in the "Olden Days" when they didn't have much paper so they wrote about four sheets' worth on one page, all on top of each other, going all in different directions. If I knew how to search such a thing on the internet, I would, so you could see what I'm talking about.

I don't know how people could read those kinds of letters, but I guess they could, and when they did, they would know when they had gotten to the "bottom" of the page in one direction and which way to turn it to read the next bit, but I don't suppose it was easy. In another sort of messy, confusing way, there have been definite beginnings to all of the different things that have happened this fall, and some of the chapters are ending now, too.

For example, the cat moved away down the street a few months ago. Now the Sixes are going, too, although they're moving around the world instead. I still find something almost surreal about how it happened that I had a place for them all to stay and they had the time to stay here during this first and scariest part of my illness and how we became better friends than we had known we were to begin with .

I'm going to miss them . . .

Coin Toss

After all that, this is not an allegory post. (Just consider yourself warned, for when I spring one on you.)

Today I went to see the medical oncologist. I have a belated infection at the surgery site. Oh yes I do. Better late than never, I guess. (?) Also, possibly even less delightful, was the copay for the prescription I had to buy to get rid of said infection. But yeah, I'd like to get rid of it. That wasn't why I went to see the doctor, though. I went to see her because she scheduled me to, so she could tell me the results of the Oncotype-DX.

Wouldn't you just know it. I'm in the middle category. This means I can a) bite the bullet and decide to have chemo and Tamoxifen or I can b) become a lab rat and let them put me in a random process which, at the equivalent of the flip of a coin, will allocate me to a group that is treated as above, or a group that is only given Tamoxifen. (Radiation therapy is a given in either case.) Then they will use the data from my ensuing life--what treatment I had and whether I ever get any kind of cancer again or not--to decide how to treat other patients, years from now.

There isn't a lot of data on this stuff for women my age. It would be very heroic of me to decide to become a lab rat. But it turns out I don't think I'm that heroic. I am a little perplexed about the numbers the doctor showed me, as compared to the ones I was quoted as needing to fall below. So I'm going to go ahead and phone my Second Opinion Doctor tomorrow, just to confirm. But, all Opinions being equal, I think I'm going to go for the chemo. I already pretty much have a wig picked out. (Did you think I said, "I already pretty much wigged out"? 'Cause I did that, too.)

But boy. Will those Starbucks customers be confused.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Allegory

I have a confession to make.

A couple, actually. The first one is that I am strongly considering changing the name of this blog to "I have a confession to make." That seems to be what it's about, most of the time. Thank you, Confessors. Sorry about that.

The one I started being about to make is this:

I like allegories.

Shhh! I know! That is sooo not cool of me!

Allegories are stories-non-grata in the literary world (and most other worlds, too). They're usually not very good literature. The whole point-by-point symbolism tends to grate on most people, and nobody likes moralising. I totally get it. It's just that . . . sometimes it's kind of a relief or something not to have to do the work of figuring things out. Sometimes it's kind of nice to have a prepackaged spiritual truth, pretty much spelled out, but with different pictures, as it were. When I encounter one, if I like the "pictures," I feel kind of validated. Or, if the beliefs being spelled out aren't the same as mine, I feel like at least I know what they are so I can consider them without being force-fed philosophy (which, for some reason, I always have a harder time processing).

Since I secretly like it, I also (sometimes less secretly) look for it everywhere. In books I read. In every day life. In my defense, though, unless I'm feeling even lazier than usual, looking for allegories can kind of be heady work in itself. And it turns out that the allegories I prefer are more often the ones that aren't intentional, or that don't translate exactly point-by-point after all. Maybe kind of like . . . a parable. Hey! Jesus used parables . . . !

I bring this up because I've been allegorising and analogising lately, and some of that is probably going to spill over into the Confessional pretty soon.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Back to Work

I had no idea punching orders into a cash register or swiping credit cards was so physically draining. All I had was a five-hour shift, and I only "rang" for half of it, but my arm feels like it wants to fall off. Good thing I didn't have to lift anything. ('Cause I can't. And am forbidden to.)

Also--why did only three customers ask me where I had been? Is it the haircut? Do they really think I was away for two-point-five weeks because I got my haircut?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Illumination

Have you seen this yet?It jumped out at my eyeballs the other day while I was waiting for a friend to turn up for coffee at Barnes and Noble. I managed to scan through the Gospels before she arrived. I guess I don't agree with every single visual interpretation, but I found a lot of them unbelievably powerful, and some of them made me cry.

Today I was at another Barnes and Noble with my mother on her way to the airport. She wanted to see this book, and I couldn't find it anywhere in the shelves, so I approached a clerk behind one of the counters.

"Excuse me," I said, "Do you know if you have--I don't know exactly what it's called--it's a version of the New Testament that looks like a magazine?"

He looked slightly perplexed but dutifully turned to his computer and began searching. "You don't know who published it at all?" he asked hopefully. "The author?"

I paused a moment before saying, with a bit of a grin, "Umm . . . God?"

Strangely, he didn't grin back.

"It didn't look like this, did it?" he asked after a moment, turning the screen toward me.

"Yes," I said. "That's it."

So . . . I didn't get the grin. But there was a look of surprise and interest. That might be good enough.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Mail

Having cancer does weird things to my postal "habits." By which I mean, the type of mail I habitually receive. (I'm still not sure I'm using "habitually" properly here.)

First it was this amazing influx of cards and notes and letters. Very cool. It was like extra Christmas, with way more personal notes.

Now it's this amazing influx of business envelopes that I don't automatically get to chuck into recycling. Rather less cool. They have return addresses on them for the hospital, or for my insurance company, or for those people doing the Oncotype-DX. Today I got my insurance print-out of everything I've been billed for so far. Although I had already heard the amount I had raked up, seeing it on paper, and seeing how many pieces of paper it too to tell me, was kind of awe-inspiring.

Note: This is not me complaining. I am simply observing trends here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Good for Goodness' Sake

Earlier this week, a friend of mine, who more or less espouses this view, alerted me to this ad campaign.

The thought of it does weird things to my stomach. It kind of awakens my inner reactionary and makes me want to stamp up and down on a poster while wearing stilettos and rant or something. This would probably not go very well, partly because I never wear heels and a first attempt at stilettos while trying to destroy something would likely end up destroying me more quickly than the poster. Also I don't think reactionary reactions are usually very effective.

Having said that, I've got to say I agree with Wildmon on this one. I just don't see where the basis of goodness comes from without a God. We have sort of discussed this here before. Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, while coming from the mouth of Jesus, might work as a basic manifesto for all people with or without a belief in God. But I've discovered that, just because I love to be given books for my birthday, not everybody does, so if I literally did unto others as I would have them do unto me, some people might not consider I had given them a good birthday present. On a larger scale, somebody might say that assisted suicide is good because it prevents suffering, and I might say it's bad because it short-circuits personal development and denies God's sovereignty over that life.

Although I think there are really solid reasons for believing in the Christian God, for the sake of argument let's say I could be wrong. Or the assisted-suicide-advocate could be wrong. Or somebody that believes in a totally different kind of God could be wrong. But we can't all be right about what good is. And without a God, who decides? I suspect even atheists have different ideas about what constitutes "good" in any given scenario. So do Christians, if it comes to that. But atheists, as far as I can tell, don't have any external basis for deciding what goodness is; it's entirely arbitrary. Christians may not always get our goodness right, but at least we have a basis for it. I think, frankly, that an atheist's basis is the same one--it's just not acknowledged.

On the other hand, I do think there's a reason to "be good for goodness' sake," particularly for Christians. We have a God who loves, who didn't want robots, who doesn't add up points for us to get into His good graces. He wants to relate to us, and He wants our goodness to come out of relating to His goodness--He is goodness. I'd rather be good for His sake than because Santa Claus was coming to town . . .

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sparrows

Now that everyone has very cleverly made the points, in the comments, that I made myself in the actual conversation, I'm going to reiterate them all here.

The first thing I suggested in my chat with the Milk Guy was that, if there is indeed a God, He would not be subject to time, and so therefore His helping out with a shopping trip wouldn't exactly waste any for Him. But I also got the sense that asking for help with something as seemingly shallow as a shopping trip was perceived as just a little audacious, beyond the issue of time.

I conceded that, say, praying about my cancer diagnosis is probably more important that praying about the results of my shopping trip.

("You think?" said the Milk Guy.)

But it seems to me that if there's a God, it would either make sense for Him not to care about anything that concerned us, or to care for everything that concerns us. He's God, not us, so who decides where the line is regarding Important Enough for God? He has every right not to care about my shopping trip--but given my relative importance in the universe, I would expect that if He didn't care about that, my ex-tumour wouldn't be that big of a deal to Him either. In which case I should just not bother to pray at all.

Since, however, I believe that God does care (based on my understanding of the Bible), then who's to say He doesn't care about my shopping trip as much as my healing? I remember when I was a teenager and first became aware of I Corinthians 10.31: "So whatever you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." I remember feeling completely flummoxed by the concept; how could I glorify God by eating a sandwich? Of course I know now that there are a lot of ways to live that verse out in a lot of contexts, and I feel it applies here, too.

Sure, I can pray about everything so much that I paralyse myself and become incapable of making the simplest of decisions. But I think in this case, asking God to give us a successful shopping trip opened us up to being able to glorify Him in that shopping trip; as my mother pointed out in the comments, though God is not bound by time, we are. We had limited time and, in spite of a financial gift, limited resources, and to me it makes a whole lot of sense to talk to God about the endeavour first, so as not to waste what He had provided us with.

And that's another thing. Jesus told us not to worry about anything, particularly food and clothes, because our Heavenly Father knows we need them and He will provide them for us. But He did tell us to ask that same Father for good gifts. The Heavenly Father had already provided my mother and me with the means to supply these specific needs, so it seems a logical next step to ask Him to help us find the things He had, essentially, already given us.

("Fascinating," said the Milk Guy.)

I do recognise in myself a tendency to pray primarily for myself, and maybe one or two others who are particularly close to me. I don't think this is the right way to pray. I agree that there are much more selfless things to pray for than even my battle with cancer. But I don't think that means I should pray for the minutia of my own life less. I think I should just pray for everybody else more. If God clothes the flowers, and if He knows when a sparrow falls to the ground, and if it's true He wants a relationship with me, then it may be audacious to ask Him for a good haircut or something. But I believe He loves that kind of audacity, and in gratitude, I'm just going to keep telling Him about and asking Him stuff.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Shopping With God

Today the Milk Guy asked me another God-question, so I took that (whether wisely or not) as an invitation to throw in a few other thoughts about God that he didn't ask for. It just led to more questions. Basically, I confessed to him that my mother had prayed about the effectiveness of our shopping trip on Monday.

Here's the thing. My mom and I always go shopping when she's home. But the last three or four shopping trips have been sort of duds for me, because although there have been clothes I needed, I have been completely unable to find items that correspond to my need, or else to my price range. So evidently, with this in mind, my mother prayed on Sunday night that (since we had already been provided with money for the purpose) we would have a productive shopping trip. And we did. I found everything I needed, she found some things she needed, and we still had money left over. (Kind of like the loaves and fishes, only with fewer people involved. Zero, I suppose, if you are only counting men . . . )

But the Milk Guy (quite understandably) protested something like, "Don't you think God has better things to do with His time?"

I wonder about this sometimes. College-Roommate-Jenne once had a professor who asserted that God doesn't care about the minutia of our lives--that it is up to us. So I know even within Christendom there are differing opinions on what constitutes a prayer-worthy request. I have my own opinions on this, and I'm prepared to write them (maybe even within the next couple of hours), because I already rehearsed them today. But I'm curious to know where you stand on this issue.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sci-Fi

Sometimes I feel like I have inadvertently ended up in one of Madeleine L'Engle's sci-fi novels; an adult version of A Wind in the Door or something. (I just need a sibling to shrink into my bloodstream and sort out my mitochondria and such. Um, Dave . . . ?) In what other context do people phone you whose caller ID's show up with names like "Quadax"?

Anyway. A very nice lady from said company, who talked like my college friend Marcia-Marcia-Marcia (who is also a very nice lady), phoned me this afternoon as I was surfacing from a nap. Because I was surfacing, I might have got this wrong (I didn't, though), but it sounded like she was telling me that my insurance company will, in fact, cover the Oncotype-DX test. I mean . . . I still have to pay a portion of it. Given how much the test costs, though, it's pennies. (And trust me, it isn't pennies!) If you're a Praying-Reader (which I'm pretty sure most of my readers are so far), thanks for that.

Now you can pray, if you want, that I end up testing as having a less-than-10% chance of recurrence. We'll see what other freaky science-fiction kinds of things end up resulting. I've already seen some. Thanks for that!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Disgruntlement

First of all, why do they call those obnoxious blue things with the asymmetrical ties in a hospital "gowns"? Why do we use the same word to refer to the article of clothing that can make a woman look the most regal, and the article of . . . something . . . that makes everybody look completely stupid? I'm just asking.

Secondly, it turns out my insurance may not pay for the Oncotype-DX, the test which is meant to show what my risk of recurrence (and therefore need of chemotherapy) is. It is a very expensive test. Also, nothing got sent away for it yet, which means that my wait time is growing proportionally. Also, my medical oncologist is still just itching to dose me up with dangerous chemicals, although she did give me the paperwork to fill out to at least get the ball rolling, which is more than anybody else managed to do.

The good parts of the day, which I feel I should mention to battle my crankiness, included:

1. A good chat (probably also and professionally known as a "session") with my counselor.

2. The Milk Guy's homemade mac-and-cheese, plus his loan of a (metal) thermos so that my mom's and my Starbucks Signature Hot Chocolate would stay hot.

3. A shopping trip (on which I actually found some things I needed, for once), brought to me (and my mother) by some very kind people in another country.

Friday, November 07, 2008

It's All Good

Long, long ago, on a PC far, far away ('cause I didn't have my Mac yet), I wanted to date a guy who had among his life goals the desire to eliminate the phrase "It's all good" from the English language. We didn't end up dating, although that's not why. At least, not to my knowledge. Now I hang out with the Milk Guy, who says, "It's all good," at the end of almost all of our arguments. ('Cause, um, sometimes we have them.) Occasionally I find that mildy frustrating. It almost sounds dismissive or something, even though I don't think that's how he means it.

A week before my surgery, I was having dinner with him. We weren't arguing this time, but he started getting philosophical and asking me how it was that since I believe in God, I am not mad at Him for, if not giving me cancer, at least not preventing it.

The short answer, as we have already discussed here, was, "I have no idea." Getting mad at God has been my modus operandi for a very long time. The long answer was a little harder to get out and was, evidently, completely unintelligible to him anyway, but it did start a train of thought that I'm still riding toward the station: It occurs to me that the Christian understanding of God gives a unique ability to assert, "It's all good."

Of course, it's not all good. The Christian understanding of things also argues sin, which by definition is not good. But there's also redemption, which is. And I'm beginning to think that the whole "God works everything together for good" thing could actually be another way of saying, "It's all good."

I have cancer. (Or . . . I did, until they took it out--yay! they took it out!--but there's still treatment to come.) I could be angry and ask God why He didn't prevent it or outright heal me or something like that. I could be upset about the purely financial aspect of it. Or I could open my mind to the idea that He might have allowed it so I could learn something new about Him, or about me, or about His people. I could open my mind to the idea that furthermore, my concept of "good" might not be exactly the same as His anyway, and that while there may be reasons beyond my own understanding of the need to suffer, He knows what I need and what He needs to do about it. The Bible uses birthing analogies a lot when talking about suffering that results in something wonderful and alive. I really believe that that's what this cancer is about.

I confess I have a little bit harder time reconciling myself to something's being "good" when it involves human mistakes or selfishness or evil. I still get all bent out of shape when my friendships get slightly off-kilter, never mind when something really horrendous or horrific happens. I don't know that I could look a child-abuse victim in the eye and tell him or her that the abuse itself was "good." I have friends who fall into this category, and I know I couldn't say that to them. But I really do believe that God works everything together for good for those who love Him, even if they don't know how it's going to work together, or what the "good" is going to look like. And I guess, verbal crusades aside, I do believe that in the end, "It's all good."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Post-Op

Today I went to see the surgeon and make sure everything was going okay with my healing. The good news: as supposed, the lymph nodes taken are definitely without cancer cells, and the tumour, though slightly bigger than they had first thought, is all gone, with sufficient margins of healthy tissue around it.

I asked if it was normal to still feel like I had fluid coursing down my arm and he said, "Tell me about it in six weeks." I took that as a yes?

Now tissue samples are going to be sent out to the west coast, and at some point between now and being allowed to tell the surgeon about fluid coursing down my arm, I will find out if I need chemo, don't need chemo, or need to decide if I need chemo. I would like to find out I'm in the least-risk category. But if I'm not, I'd rather be in the highest-risk category, because I feel like I have enough decisions going on these days; I'd rather not be right smack in the middle result-wise, and then have to worry about choosing "right" or "wrong."

But don't worry. I'll let you know. Oh yes, you know I will.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Word Verification

Today I posted a comment on the inimitable (though it was, itself, an admittedly ripped-off idea) blog, Stuff Christians Like. When you post comments on there, you need to also "word-verify" and my verification-word that time was "ficticat."

I think this could almost be a real word. (As opposed to a fictiword.) Please . . . let's have all your most creative uses.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Menu

I was going to be all, "The entire world is blogging about the election today so I'm not going to!" Then I realised there was yet another area of self-deficiency I could expose and over which to horrify people, so I changed my mind.

The way I realised this was through this moment of epiphany:

I vote the way I order at a restaurant.

When I go out to eat, I look at a menu and usually one entree catches my eye instantly, but the price might be slightly prohibitive, or else everyone else is taking way too long to decide, so I peruse the rest of the offerings. And then a little further down, something else catches my eye, and from that moment until the time the server comes over and I open my mouth and order something, I don't know which of the two things I'm going to order.

I am terrible about politics. Politics and math are pretty much the same thing to me. I don't understand them, and (as some people feel about God) would rather pretend they didn't exist. So every election season, I say, "This time I'm really going to find out something for myself about the candidates for a change," but I never do. I didn't even do it this time, even though I actually thought the candidates were kind of interesting. I did, however, mainly through hearsay of various types, have a "menu item" that had initially caught my eye. Then, within the last week, people who I felt sure would have voted for one candidate have told me they're voting for the other, and vice versa, and I am so startled that I am confused. This morning I prayed, "Dear God, I know this is terribly irresponsible and is pretty much the same thing as asking you to help me pass an exam I didn't study for, but would you please help me know what to vote?"

I know. I am a terrible Christian. I should be praying about this country and the world and our leaders every day, but instead they're lucky if they get a mention from me even on Election Day.

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for my dad to return with the car so I can vote. There are still two items on the menu I'm deciding over. I'm pretty sure I know which one I'll pick. But there's still always a chance . . .

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Slippers

I don't know why they call slippers "slippers." Mine have rubber (or something) soles so that I don't slip. But they're not as comfy as socks, and so sometimes I can't be bothered to find them and put them on.

Yesterday I was heinously uncomfortable. Not in pain, exactly, but my bottom was sore from sitting so much, and I was more swollen than ever, and I hadn't been able to sleep the night before so I was exhausted, and I kept laughing hysterically which made all the wounds on my right side remind me that they were there . . . and then I'd start crying hysterically instead. (It didn't help, by the way.)

At supper time I decided I was in better shape standing up than lying down, so maybe I'd go down and help my dad with whatever last-minute details he might need help with. I did not bother to put on my slippers.

On the top step, my socks slid and my feet flew out from under me. I'm pretty sure if I had been less tired and less wounded my fumble-and-slide down the entire flight of stairs would have seemed really funny to me; as it was, it got the circulation going again in my posterior, which was sort of a plus. But the actual process was somewhat terrifying; I just couldn't catch myself or right myself at all, and on reflex I flung my right arm out and grabbed onto the banister. I caught the banister, but my slippery socks had the upper hand, and I just kept going . . . at the end I yelped and my dad and Heather-of-Six came running and I burst into tears.

The tears were purely from the terror and shock. The weirdest thing about it all was that I hardly hurt at all . . . and none of my stitches ripped. However, I think they're considering suturing my non-slip slippers to my feet from now on.

PG-13, Because of TMI

The information in this post is not for the squeamish . . . or for those who don't really want to know. But I just thought I'd put it out there:

1. The radioactive blue dye? Makes everything that comes out for a day or so afterwards, radioactive and blue. Looks like toilet cleaner. Doubt it has the same effect.

2. Percocet aftertaste is like plastic. The inside of my mouth has tasted like the inside of a balloon for days.

3. Percocet aftereffect is . . . to keep the radioactive blue stuff at a minimum. That's why I also had to buy something called "Stool Softener." Lovely.

4. For someone who sleeps best on their stomach or right side, the whole sleeping thing this week has been near-torture. Apart from the Percocet. (Actually, now I'm on Tylenol and herbal sleep aids, and that worked pretty well last night.)

5. I always wanted to be this size. Just didn't want it to hurt quite so much. Or be quite so lopsided.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Virtual Liveblog

If I could have blogged my experience on Thursday while it was happening, it would have gone something like this:

4.45: Ugh. Seriously? Do I have to get up and take that creepy shower again?

5.00: Read some of that stuff I mentioned last night.

5.15: Semi-consciously scrub down (for the second time in twelve hours) with toxic shower gel.

5.40: Dress in low-maintenance clothes, foregoing, as required, make-up, deodorant and hair-drying. Also food.

5.49: Dad's late. What if the herbal sleep aid he took last night worked so well he doesn't wake up in time? He has my car . . . at someone else's house.

5.50: Call the Someone Else's. Fortunately at least one of them is up already. My dad is outside the door by the time the call is over.

6.20: Arrive at the hospital. Park the car and head up to surgical admissions. My hair is getting nappy, on account of not putting conditioner in it or drying it at all.

6.30: Why are hospital johnnies so uncomfortable? Even the "nice" ones? Also, I've never lain on a stretcher before. It could be worse, but I'm clearly taller than the people they make them for.

6.35: Why does this chart make my dad and me laugh? That's not very nice . . . But seriously. Does your face turn magenta when you're in moderate pain? (Actually, this chart comes from UCLA, but the ones at my hospital were black and white and differentiated solely by the curvature of the mouths in the faces.)

7.10: Why did we need to get here at 6.30, again?

7.30: A nurse appears, gives instructions, including to wash the relevant area for surgery with more toxic cleanser, this time on wipes.

8.00: A wheel-chair appears to take me down to Mammography. My dad goes and finds the waiting room. I get wheeled to "the Old Building" by a strapping young college lad named Luke who has obviously been well-trained to make conversation with the patients as he wheels them down mind-boggling corridors.

8.10: Mammography is still setting up shop for the day. I get ID'd by a nurse and then apologetically parked in a hallway while everybody puts their coats away and sets up their offices and rooms and things and guzzles their coffee. I really want a coffee. My caffeine-receptors are few but insistent. I am wearing a johnny, scrub pants, and a hospital blanket around my shoulders, sitting in a wheelchair in the hallway with no make-up and thoroughly disheveled hair. I consider rocking back and forth and talking to myself to complete the picture.

8.20: I finally get brought into the room where they will give me Ativan and then inject me with radioactive blue dye, the easier to find my lymph nodes in the OR. I am given the Ativan and a stack of magazines. Although I don't feel particularly nervous, I am not conscious that either tool has relaxed me at all. The nurse, after my dosage, says, "Now don't get up and try to walk around at all. You are now drunk." I don't even feel buzzed.

8.35: I definitely do feel the injections. "Four points of the compass" and a fifth for good measure, apparently. I hope that I will be unconscious for anything else they decide to do in that area.

8.45: I get wheeled back to my original docking bay, put back on my stretcher, and tucked in. Extra blankets is good. Then I get wheeled up to a room full of doctors and stretchers and wires and talking. A bunch of people I have never met introduce themselves as nurses and anesthesiologists. One of the latter sticks the IV tube in my hand, and although it hurts a little, he definitely does a better job with the needle than anyone else I've encountered in the last month or so. He finds me warm IV fluid because my hands are cold, and gives me even more blankets. I like blankets.

9.00: Dr. Quinlan is going to be late. For some reason he thought this surgery was scheduled at 10 instead. I ask the Talented Needle-Sticker to please let my dad know, and he does.

9.10: The Talented Needle-sticker comes back and asks, "Do you drink at all?" "A little," I say. "What do you drink?" he asks. I barely do, so I cast around for a minute before suggesting "Bass ale?" "Okay," he says. "Just before surgery, I'm going to pump the equivalent of half a case of Bass into you, and you'll be a little groggy." (I should think so!) "Then we'll wheel you into the operating room and I'll give you the narcotic . . . " he starts talking about nose and mouth tubes. I don't know anything about this. I try to listen but it's scary. He goes away. I take a nap.

9.45: Dr. Quinlan wakes me up, makes me laugh, gets me to sign my shoulder on the side they're meant to cut open. "Okay," says the Needle-Sticker, "I'm going to start the . . . "

?.??: Wha--?

?.??: Lots of noise. Lots of beeping. Lots of white. People running around. I am opening my eyes and maybe someone will notice that I'm starting to wake up. Am I done already? My right side does hurt a little, so probably so. I crane my head forward a little and observe something that does resemble a fairly significant cut. Gross. I am also still sleepy. They can figure out I am waking up later.

?.??: Someone has noticed that I am starting to wake up. They keep checking the tubes. Apparently I do have tubes coming out of my nose after all. That's mildly surprising, but not uncomfortable. I don't remember when they take them out. Someone has asked me some questions and I guess I have answered them. I get wheeled in my stretcher back down to the docking bay, and there's my dad, reading or writing or something.

1.30: They ask me if I want to sleep for a little bit. Yep.

3.00: Have I been sleeping for an hour and a half? Should I start waking up? I wasn't supposed to be here this long. I sit up.

3.30: Paperwork and instructions (also written down because I'm not likely to remember anything--except that). I stand up. I want to throw up. I lie back down. The nurse brings a tray to vomit into. My dad goes to get the car.

4.00: I purge the cranberry juice and saltines I had earlier. Now I feel better, and I still want to go home. They wheel me outside and I get in the car. We get almost all the way home and my dad has to pull over for me. The rest of the cranberry juice ends up in someone's front lawn. Sorry, guys!

4.30: I go straight to bed and listen to my iPod for a while. Good thinking with the iPod, Starbucks-Awesomeness!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Encouragement

I had about five blog posts I wanted to write today. Instead . . . I didn't. But here's a start.

On Wednesday, the night before my surgery, this Psalm turned up in my readings:

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation—
so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
so why should I tremble? . . .

4 The one thing I ask of the Lord
the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
delighting in the Lord’s perfections
and meditating in his Temple.
5 For he will conceal me there when troubles come;
he will hide me in his sanctuary.
He will place me out of reach on a high rock. . . .

7 Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
Be merciful and answer me!
8 My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”
9 Do not turn your back on me.
Do not reject your servant in anger.
You have always been my helper.
Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,
O God of my salvation! . . .

13 Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
while I am here in the land of the living.

14 Wait patiently for the Lord.
Be brave and courageous.
Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

(Psalm 27, excerpted. New Living Translation)


On Thursday morning, dark and early, before I left for the hospital, this came up in my morning readings:

6 “What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins[b]? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. 7 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows."

(Luke 12.6-7, NLT)


On Thursday night, back home, groggy with painkillers and lingering anesthetic, I read this Psalm:

1 I will exalt you, Lord, for you rescued me.
You refused to let my enemies triumph over me.
2 O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you restored my health.
3 You brought me up from the grave, O Lord.
You kept me from falling into the pit of death.

4 Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones!
Praise his holy name.
5 For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime!
Weeping may last through the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

(Psalm 30.1-5, NLT)

Kind of an encouragement-sandwich. I just feel like giving a little credit where it's due. More disgusting details, happy thoughts, and wry observations in the next few days. It's not like I don't have time for this, after all . . .


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Second Thoughts

I'm not having any.

But I am glad I went for the second opinion. I like my surgeon better than Their surgeon, but I like Their medical oncologist better than mine. This might be good to know, after my surgeon is done with whatever cutting he needs to do.

Meanwhile, what my surgeon told me at the very beginning was upheld by Their medical oncologist, which is that chemo is not a foregone conclusion. It's a possible conclusion. The surgery and another special type of testing will shed light on the issue. But it's nice to know I might possibly have a choice.

As for what ails me (besides, you know, cancer), I seem to be feeling better, so all systems are go for tomorrow. I have to shower with some crazy antiseptic solution which, if I accidentally get it into my eyes or ears, will make me go blind and deaf, respectively. I have to do this both tonight and tomorrow, so I get two chances, even. Then I will go to the hospital where they plan to give me some happy pills so I don't get nervous before they knock me out. I don't know that that will be necessary, but maybe I'm secretly more nervous than I feel. Who knows. I'm considering bringing all the cancer literature I've received in the past month to the OR and telling them they don't need to anesthetise me because I can just read that to knock me out.

Okay, not really. But it seems like it could work. In any case, I'll talk to you when I wake up . . .

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ambivalence

It's not that I don't care what's happening to me at all. It's just that I don't really know what I'm feeling about it these days. I no longer have this desire to announce to random customers that I have cancer. ("Hey--how's it going?" "Not bad--it's Friday, and that's always good." "True . . . except I'm working this weekend. And I have cancer." Note: that conversation never happened. Well, okay, it has, but not the last sentence.)

I have ceased--at least at present--to worry about financial fallout. (This is partly because of some assistance on the part of numerous generous souls, but also because after the bill hits a certain amount it all starts to look like the same number.)

I don't feel like I'm facing imminent death. Everything seems strangely manageable. But I have a feeling I still want it to happen on my terms or something.

Yesterday I felt like I was coming down with the flu. Everything ached. Also, the thought of eating made me ill. I drank bouillon and ate some bread and didn't even wish I was eating more. I don't want to be sick, because if I'm sick on Thursday, my surgery will be postponed, and I just want to get something done regarding this already. Today I feel better, but the cough I had with my cold a few weeks ago has come back.

Tomorrow I'm going to another hospital to get a second opinion on treatment. Likely this will not change the Thursday surgery, but it might affect some other treatments. But I have to get up earlier than anyone should have to get up unless they're opening a coffee shop that morning, and I'm so tired. And I already feel like I know what I want for treatment. And I no longer feel like I want anyone else's opinion. I don't want any more sitting in doctor's offices talking. I either want to get this show on the road, or to lie in bed and sleep for about 24 hours . . .

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Secrets and Surprises to Arrange

It's not that I'm all that observant or savvy. It's just, I guess, that I usually have at least one friend at any given time who is a little secret-impaired. Anyway, I haven't been surprised by, say, most of my surprise birthday parties . . . even when they were happening during a time of year in which my birthday isn't.

I mention all this to highlight how extra-spectacular my colleagues at Starbucks are.

Last night Ed! and his band had a gig at a local establishment. Everybody from our store who wasn't working was planning on going. I myself was planning on going. But I feel like I've been running from one thing to another for almost two months straight and I was tired. I didn't want to go out. I didn't want to get dressed up. I wanted to stay in my pyjamas and read or blog or something. But Ed! as you know, has been very supportive of me lately, so I felt like I should probably go along in spite of my druthers.

When I got there I found out that, barring a few folks, everybody really was there, which was cool, because we are "technically" not supposed to fraternise with each other outside of work. But now here we were, fraternising, and Manager-Hillarie and Assistant-Manager-Laura were even there, and we all looked like actual people instead of green aprons, and the women were wearing make-up and stuff, and it was pretty cool.

And then Manager-Hillarie handed me a gift-bag.

The store had taken up a collection and bought me an iPod nano, engraved on the back with the words "This one goes to eleven" (select readers will understand), loaded it up with 185 songs, 40 pictures of themselves, and a movie, so I can entertain myself while convalescing. They also bought me an iTunes gift voucher. I was overwhelmed. Once again I feel like I'm the recipient of stuff that . . . should belong to someone else or something. For one thing, I can't figure out how to load music that's on my computer onto the iPod without erasing what everybody loaded on there already . . .

Then today my New Church left a gift basket on my desk. I'm not entirely sure how all the things that were in that basket were in that basket--it was a little like a Mary Poppins bag, except that it all dumped out in my trunk on the way home and that was how I discovered how superhuman a feat it must have been to fit it all in in the first place.

I've been getting parcels and cards and emails and other generosities and I just kind of don't really understand it--I think I said that once--but I'm grateful. And . . . heck. It's kind of fun. I'm not going to lie. Surgery is on Thursday and I'll deal with that when it happens, but meanwhile . . . thanks.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Costume Shopping

Some girls get to take their friends or sisters and shop for wedding dresses. I got to take one of mine and shop for wigs and scarves for when I go bald. I was hoping I would have one of those bride-to-be moments where (as when some pending brides see a dress, try it on and never have to look any further) I would see a wig that looked just great and not need to worry about anything else. That didn't really happen, though. I've never really gone shopping for a Hallowe'en costume (the times I've dressed up, I've made my own), but I suppose there might have been similarities to that sort of trip, too.

Anyway, Kristin was a good person to have on hand. We both agreed that the square bandanas tied in the back looked good, and that dark auburn hair is a great colour on me. It was a little hard to tell about wig styles exactly, because I currently have so much of my own hair, it ballooned all the wigs out to comical proportions. I think I found one I like, though, in said shade of auburn, and although I at first thought I wouldn't bother with wigs at all, if my insurance covers enough of this one I might go for it. Meanwhile, I shall definitely be stocking up on bandanas.

Afterwards, Kristin and I went and got dinner, drank imported ale/cider and talked about the implications of everything that's going on in my life right now. And about the infestation of critters in her and Jerry's apartment.

Nothing like a girl's night out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cheers

The people at the Comprehensive Breast Center (not a name I would have chosen, but then . . . I'm not sure what other name could have been chosen) are starting to recognise my name. Pretty soon they're going to recognise my face, too.

I'm not sure how I feel about this.

Ever since I was probably in high school, I've said, "I don't want to be made a fuss over. I just want people to know who I am." This is partly why, I suspect, I got a job at Starbucks. And write a blog. But . . . the only way anyone at the Comprehensive Breast Center can get to know who anyone is, is for Anyone to get breast cancer.

I like that these seem to be a caring bunch of people who see their patients as people, too, instead of as problems or random assignations or something. I like that. I do. But . . . I'm still not overly delighted to be one of the patients, I think.

The Reaction Is Not Always Equal. Or Opposite.

Some days I discover I'm a control freak. Today might be one of those. I'm just saying.

We were only down a person for half an hour of my entire shift, but since one of our sister stores closed last week, we've been a little busier than usual. Plus, I had one of those stupid six hour shifts which does not give enough time to open the store, do the cash deposit, and take the legally-required "lunch" break all without going over on hours. Trust me. It just doesn't. Today especially.

By the time my relief came in, I was too stressed to be relieved; I felt a little like I did on the day of the Last Straw--nearly hyperventilating and kind of shaking. This time I didn't feel like slamming lockers, but when the safe didn't open as I asked it to, setting me back another few precious minutes, I found myself starting to cry.

This, I told myself, was ridiculous. (Everybody else clearly thought so, too, although they were too polite to say so.) There was absolutely no reason to be so upset or so stressed. These things happen. Once I left, two more people arrived so they had plenty of people to get done the stuff that I hadn't. But I still had to go in the back room and take a deep breath and calm down. And I got neither the cash deposit nor the legally-required lunch break done before it was time for me to go.

I guess I was upset because I was trying so hard to have a good shift turnover for the next person in charge, and no matter how fast I ran up and down my gerbil cage, I just couldn't do it. The money still hadn't gone where it needed to go, the sink was overflowing with dishes and recyclables, the brewed coffee kept running out, the pastry case looked like some pastry-locusts had descended, and my stomach was in knots. (Not to mention growling.) But . . . it still didn't make sense for me to flip out over it that much. It's just that I felt out-of-control, and I don't like that, evidently.

After I left I felt much better, but then I talked to someone in my surgeon's office and found out that he (the surgeon) wants to move my surgery to the 30th instead of the 31st. Not only does this mess up my really good Hallowe'en joke, but it messes up my work schedule, which messes up things for everybody I work with. I was supposed to work that day, and I need those hours, and that pay, and . . . I'm afraid I got a little snippy with Diane. (Poor Diane. I'll bet she gets this all the time.) Also--it didn't help. If I want my particular surgeon to do my surgery (which I do), I have to cooperate with when he is able to do it.

I guess I was upset because this cancer is messing with my plans, and it's opening me up for other people to mess with my plans. It makes me feel helpless, and I don't like that.

Then I had to stop by the hospital to pick up some documents and drop off some documents and try to find the financial counselor's office so I could ask them a question. I couldn't find it, and I wandered down scary hallways past people who looked like they knew where they were and what they were doing, and I had no idea where I was or what I was doing at all. I started to feel like crying again, so I gave up my search and wandered back down all the scary hallways and left. I knew if I went to the desk where the document transfer had occurred and asked for a parking validation, they'd give it to me, but they'd also ask me if I found the financial counselors and I would have to tell them no and feel stupid, and then they'd give me the same directions again and I would want to cry some more. So I paid more for parking than I legitimately should, and went away.

I don't think control should be an issue for Christians. I think we should all just trust Jesus and at the very least keep moving forward with a kind of curiosity to see what happens next. I guess some people do that. I don't, very well. Every once in a while I can. But today wasn't one of those times.
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