Monday, May 25, 2015

Cancer Patient Walks Into A Bar...

I bought a new grill. The old one was 15-years old and as my mother-in-law is fond of saying, "It didn't owe us anything." Parts had worn out, parts had been replaced. Multiple times. It was time. It's now sitting in my garage looking a little sad and lonely but its replacement is out on the patio all shiny and new. 

For the grilling debut we thought we'd try something new, a rack of ribs. I was pretty excited to be sitting out on the patio, having a beer while the ribs slowly cooked to perfection. But the ribs, well they ended up looking like this...

Now beneath the char, they were actually pretty damn tasty, but knowing that we had at least one picky eater, I started planning an alternative dinner and I mentioned to Stacy that I'd eat the well-done ribs and the boys could eat the alternative. 

"You probably shouldn't eat all that char, either," she said.

"Yeah," I said, "I might get lymphoma."

That's a long way to go for this point: even, and perhaps particularly, when you have cancer, you have to keep your sense of humor. Not to make light of your cancer, necessarily, but amidst all the heaviness that cancer contains, sometimes, you have to lighten up, Francis. That's why I love these cards from cancer survivor, Emily McDowell.  

People say crazy things to survivors, almost always because no one ever knows what they should say. They want to acknowledge your news but how? With hope? Sympathy. Pity? Encouragement? All of the above? McDowell's cards strike that perfect pitch - a healthy serving of support, hold the expectations, with an occasional side of humor. My favorite: the lemons one. 


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Glimpses of Perfection

It's been a busy three months, full of soccer, work, and more soccer... and of no oncology appointments. This is the first time since I was diagnosed that I've gone more than three months without an appointment. It takes a little getting used to but hopefully, I'll have a lot of opportunity to adjust. I started this post back in April and finally finished it up.

* * * * * 

This morning as I sipped my coffee on my train ride to Boston, I found myself in my electronic notebook, which took me to a post I wrote about my friend Carolyn who died a year ago, and then to her blog, and then to this post about anger.

I also wrote about anger and cancer, when I emerged from chemo two years back, and a lot of what I wrote then, remains true. One of the great ironies of cancer is that the cliche of daily gratitude which I always feel should come naturally, is sometimes harder to discover under the cloak of cancer. You feel you should be thankful for all the little things; but those little things can set you off - not into some rage or deep depression -- but into a funk - a destination that I sometimes find myself in, and often wonder what train took me there. 

The state of gratitude, I think, is a transient one -- hard to notice, and harder still to grasp. Like a fleeting light dancing around in the background, waiting to be noticed. Glennon Melton aptly describes it on her Momastery blog. The problem is that cancer is like a shadow that blocks the light. You have to look around it, through it, over it to see past the anger, the anxiety, the unfairness to glimpse the gratitude that's hiding off and on in those bright flashes. 

Fear and anxiety are two of the uglier heads of this ugly multi-headed beast known as cancer. I've seen how anxiety can paralyze people and all but take away their life; it's a scary thing. Anxiety feeds on doubt and uncertainty, and fuels fear. It lives in the idle moments and threatens to block out all light. It takes work -- hard work -- to see past it because no matter how busy you make yourself, there are always quiet moments when your body is still but your mind is overactive. 

Getting my mind to rest remains the challenge. Now, nearly four years post-diagnosis and two-plus years post chemo, I'm working hard to see the light that is so often there. It's there in a quiet ride home after a hard soccer game, with Matthew asleep in the seat besides me. It's there on a walk through Boston in this well-deserved spring. It's there in Noah's smile as I sit on the grassy sidelines of yet another soccer game.

Too often we set the bar of expectations so high that we all but guarantee disappointment. We want the perfect day; the perfect weekend; the perfect vacation. Those don't exist except in fiction and in memories. Unless that is, we recognize that a perfect day is full of imperfections and what makes it perfect is not the flawlessness of the day but the small moments of perfection that pop up throughout it.

The challenge is not in seeing these moments, these glimpses. It's in being in a state of mind to receive them.