The gift

December 20, 2011

One of the most difficult things about being homebound with a serious illness (or two) is remembering that (most likely) things will get better.  That you will have enough energy to go up and down the stairs again.  That you will be able to play with your children again, and not just from your pillow or your chair.  That you will soon put away the oxygen, and plan days that include leaving the house.  That you will be able to do, and see, and go … and be YOU again.

The past two weeks have been terribly hard for me.  I don’t do sitting well.  I tried to fill my days with learning about my new tablet computer (love it!), with reading classics (like Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy book – did you know that the real story of Sleeping Beauty has hardly begun when she is woken with a kiss?  In fact the whole castle awakes, and they don’t live happily after – there are ogres!), and with keeping up with the latest on Slate, Salon, HuffPo, and the Daily Beast.  But those diversions were not nearly as fun as they could have been had snuggling into the soft recliner and reading been a choice.

I just wanted to get up and do things again.  Encourage my kids with games and playtime more of the afternoon instead of just homework and learning in the half hour after school.  Eat dinner with my family (I collapsed in bed at 4 or 5 p.m. most evenings, exhausted from the day, and nauseated by warm food after the chemo).  Work on my computer again, catching up on what I’ve missed, and plotting new work for the spring.  Make and address all those Christmas cards (Will they make it there by Christmas now? Who knows?).  But my body didn’t cooperate.  It wanted to sit.  Or sleep.  And the cough just wouldn’t go away.  Every time I went upstairs – or over to the fridge, even – I had to rest, lie down, and use oxygen to get my breath back.

And then, Sunday night, Marty came to visit.  The novena my church family is saying neared its close.  We continued our family time for Advent.  I finished the pill bottle of antibiotics, and I began to recover from Thursday’s chemotherapy and bone strengthening infusion.

That night we talked and talked and talked, well into the wee hours, and when I tired we went upstairs or put my oxygen on.  But Monday — I can’t explain what happened Monday, but after talking in the recliners downstairs for a while, I got up and began to fuss with my fish tank.  It had suffered during my illness too – you can barely see the little guys through all the muck on the walls!  We talked and laughed and scrubbed the walls.  We scrubbed algae off the glass, walking back and forth to the utility sink, and we laughed when Marty almost dropped the tank hood onto the Science magazines below.  We made that sucker shine, and we talked about her getting a fish tank too (before she left, I sent a dozen beautiful guppies with her, sharing new life in my house with hers).  We watched a movie together, The Help, that we’d planned to watch the day of its release in the theater.  We played with the boys, and I comforted Widget after school, when his earache flared, and Marty tried to engage them in a craft.  We addressed Christmas cards, as we do now, the week or two before Christmas, no matter how I’m feeling.  And then we went downstairs and I ate dinner with my family – and I mean ate.  After three weeks of illness, where I lost 25 pounds because I couldn’t even stand the smell of warm foods, I ate a whole dinner, including seconds.  We were up and doing things the whole. entire. day.

And today I feel like a new person.  Wait, that’s not quite right.  I feel like myself again. I woke up this morning ready to go, showering, eating, and helping the boys get ready, starting a blog post when they went to school.  I’m smiling again, and hopeful, and ready to get back on track and start again.  I went to prayer group, alive and alight with the happiness that comes of being reminded that today is a new day, full of possibilities.  Including possibilities of me getting things done again, of games to play and talks to have and maybe even taking Widget to church tonight for practice – for he is going to be in the Christmas Eve nativity with his class!  Today I feel alive again.

I’m bemused by the thought, juxtoposed with the past few weeks, and I laughed out loud as I related it to my friends this morning.  How could such a difference happen so fast?  And yet, it wasn’t fast at all, was it?  It took days of sitting and waiting and resting, weeks of praying, and treatment after treatment at the hospital.  I believe in prayer.  I believe that medicine works and that my treatments will be successful in extending my life and improving the time that I have left here.  Why, then, was I so surprised yesterday that I finally felt like myself again?

On Sunday morning, I sat quietly with my husband before they left for church.  We were grateful for the day, another day granted to us after such a scare at the hospital, and he whispered softly to me with amazement that I was still here, saying, “This Christmas is God’s gift to us.”  Yes, it is, I agreed, and sent him off with a kiss.  We will celebrate this Christmas together with joy, just as we celebrate God’s gift to the world over 2000 years ago.


Like Mama won over cancer

April 6, 2011

Little Bear, worried about a field trip yesterday, “But Mama, I need you there in case there is something scary.”

You’ll be okay, Little Bear.  Mama can’t go today, but your teacher will be there, and she will keep you safe. 

Cuddled in my arms, he asked, “But what if there is something scary?”

Well, there will be, Little Bear, it’s the story of Passover, and Pharoah gets angry.  He’s the bad guy, remember?  But Moses wins.  It’ll be okay, because Moses wins.

From deep in my arms, came a small, confident voice:

“Like Mama won over cancer.”

That’s right, Little Bear.  And we cuddled and were strong together.

I haven’t talked about my cancer with them in months.  But of course they know, since I’m still gaining strength and taking naps in the late afternoon, when the morning just isn’t enough, or when I’ve pushed myself to get work done.  I’m stronger and stronger, but still not close to 100%.

And we have scans on Friday.  I’m nervous, I’ll admit.  But I want Little Bear’s words to be true, one more time. 

I want to win over cancer.  Again.  And yes, I know that’s a selfish hope, to beat cancer a FOURTH time, but it’s selfish in protecting my children.  They’re not ready for me to leave yet, and I am not ready to leave them to grow up in the world without their Mama.

Moments of Joy

December 14, 2010

On the wall in our family room there is a saying: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”  Now, I’m not one to fall for sappy sentiments (really!), but this one is special to me, and it’s kind of become my motto.  A challenge, if you will, to stuff the goodness of living into every day, to make it a habit, which is actually a pretty cool way to walk through life.

Every day we have the opportunity to make a memory, with our children, with our spouse, and with our friends.  Every day, there is beauty, if only we stop to look for it.

TV with the boys

There is beauty in children – and friends’ children – doing the most mundane activities together, like setting up battles with playmobil castles or watching a little Super Why while their mamas rest.  (Look at that little hand!  Instant friends, I tell you!)

There is beauty in teaching children about caring for pets, even if their pets are only guppies that swim to and fro in their tank, among the plants and their own little castle or Eiffel Tower.  When my three-year-old woke me up yesterday with the news that his blue guppy was sick, the concern in his voice melted my heart, and we went to check him out (okay, after just ten more minutes.  It was still dark outside, people!).  As it turned out, the fish wasn’t sick, but injured, and that prompted a trip to the fish store after preschool, our first venture outside in a week, and the purchase of four more girl guppies so the boys wouldn’t fight over the girls so much.  (That will totally be an object lesson when they’re older.)

Meeting @Stimey's mouseThere is beauty in introducing little ones to new ideas, new activities, and new creatures – in seizing opportunities as they arise.  I was blessed to be able to do this last week, when @Canape visited me and we went over to @Stimey’s for a little while, to see friends and to play Wii.  Baby Colin and I were admiring the mice, and Stimey asked if we wanted to hold one.  Did we ever!  And from that moment, a memory was born, of brave Baby Colin reaching out to pet his first little bitty creature (check out the concentration on his face, and the determination in that little bitty pointer finger!), of a friend encouraging us in exploration, and of me holding Canape’s baby boy, introducing him to something new in his world.  Oh, the memory that we made that day is precious indeed.

And one more memory that I treasure today – the friends who have come by to visit me during my illness, grabbing an easy chair and sharing their latest, talking and quietly keeping me company, which is quickly becoming a highlight of my week.  How often do we get to sit and talk – really talk – with a friend for a half hour?  Not nearly often enough.  The friends who have come to visit me while I’m down are friends indeed, and as I move forward through this battle and the rest of my life (link goes to a survivor story I liked today), I will keep those memories in my heart, and remember how friends gave of their time, their precious, oversubscribed mommy time, to help a friend who was ill and tired of being alone in the house.


December 13, 2010

Somewhat against my instincts toward wallowing in the mud of uncertainty, I have listened to my patient husband and soft-spoken oncologist and followed their advice this week:  Rest.  Relax.  Heal.

I was able to attend two telecons for work, to accept the renegotiation of my NASA contract for later deliverables due to the delays that chemo has caused, and to start – and almost finish – a gift for my eight classmates who reached a milestone as they were accepted into the church last Sunday.  Something moved me to take up needlecraft again, and as I sit patiently and rest, I’m stitching each of them a bookmark to carry with them in their brand new Bibles – the first that several of them have ever owned. (Each has a cross-stitched cross, and a single word: Love.)

We put up the Christmas tree – and by that I mean that C did, while the children laughingly danced around the back and helped him hang the strings of light while I sat snuggled up in my chair with my fuzzy pink ribbon/AGD blanket that was sent to me during my treatment in 2007.  I wear it like a talisman on days that I’m sick, alternating it with the beautiful one sent by friends in Australia to keep me warm and cozy during the same time.  I took pictures of their laughing faces, and Widget took a video of me saying how deliriously happy I was to be decorating the tree with my family this year.  My heart swelled seven sizes that day, and it wasn’t just the Christmas carols on the radio, either.

We’ve kept up many of our traditions, although we haven’t introduced the Advent wreath this year, to my embarrasment, but it’s probably just as well, as Little Bear is only 3 and would surely be fascinated by the flame.  We do have our Nativity up and tell the stories in our quiet moments.  We went to church on Wednesday for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, prodded by 6-year-old Widget, who reminded me that it was a day important to the Sisters in our parish, so off we went.  When the twelve raised their voices in a song of commitment, I was struck to the very core with the realization that angels do not just sing in the voices of 20-year-olds, or with the cherubic voices of children like the one sitting beside me, hand in my hand, head resting gently on my shoulder.  Sometimes we hear the voices of angels in places we do not expect.

In my church growing up, Mrs. Suzanne Guthrie always sang the same song near the end of the Christmas Eve service: O Holy Night.  (Mel, if you could have heard her sing it, you would have tears in your eyes –)  She sang it in the same high first soprano voice that melts hearts all over the world each December 24th, but she did it so well and for so many years that Christmas just wasn’t Christmas until Suzanne sang O Holy Night.  One of our madrigals, Beth Jones, took over the carol when Suzanne “retired” from choir solos as her voice began to tremble, but it was never really the same.

Oh, and I realized yesterday that I had not gotten an Advent calendar for the children in my pre-exhaustion weeks, and so I turned the problem over in my head a few times until I hit upon a solution – make my own, using a muffin pan and some little giftLego fun!ies I had hidden away for a time when I would need them, and be too tired to go out and buy something.  I put cupcake liners in the pan, filled each with a few new and interesting legos, and covered the whole thing tightly with wrapping paper.  I later found some much prettier versions on Etsy, but it was exciting to me to be able to improvise on the spot, to uphold our family traditions even when I couldn’t get out to the store.  The children opened their first one today and found twenty little white bricks with eyes on them – and spent the next half-hour creating new animals, robots, and space planes with laser eyes.

When they saw what I had made, their eyes lit up.  When we decorated the tree, it was magical – for all four of us.  When they unthinkingly suck their little thumbs as they move the donkey and ox about the Nativity scene, when they jump into my lap, when Widget tells Little Bear, “No, Mama’s too tired, but we can snuggle her,” when we snuggle to read bedtime stories, and when they remind me, “Mama, it’s time for church,” I know that I’m doing the right thing.  As hard as it is not to jump back into work and everything with both feet, that’s not my first priority right now.  Right now, I’m doing what I need to do with work, and making time to make Christmas for my children.  My beautiful, sweet, thoughtful boys. 

And I write this not only for you, that you see what life is like for a woman constrained by illness, but for them, that they will one day see that even in the difficult times, there is room to encourage and appreciate the beauty in ordinary life.  That my greatest joy is my children, and that they bring me no end of gratitude and love, and for them I will do anything – even rest and heal – so that I can write them love letters for months and years to come.