Reflections To Help Me Be a Better Person

How I Learned to Have Boundaries Written by: David Sutcliffe

“I used to have a hard time saying no. And being direct about what I wanted.

I often found myself accommodating others, doing things I didn’t want to do. This would lead to lingering resentment, and if it persisted, an explosion of blame and victimization.

If I finally confronted someone the response was usually, “Well, why didn’t you say something?!”

It’s a good point. People are not mind readers, nor should we expect them to be.

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Cancer Battle

Learning to Fly While Falling

Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.

Leonardo da Vinci

I had just come to the end of an exceptionally traumatic year. Circumstances beyond my control had thrown my world upside down and I was forced to work through the emotionally exhausting work of repairing my life. The feeling like I had absolutely no control over my life was both angering and frightening.

It was a beautiful day in late August. The journey was long, but the anticipation was more than a distraction. At first I thought our GPS had taken us down a wrong turn because it looked like we were in the middle of Nowhere, Ontario, but driving a little further down the dirt country road and we saw the sign that told us we had arrived. The air was still, the sun was warm and there were beautiful fluffy white clouds dotting the sky as far as the eye could see. We were early but I figured if I showed up early, maybe they would take me sooner. I had wanted to do this for a long time but indecision was my driving force behind complacency. It was only when my world had come crashing down that I was prompted to act.  And today was the day, I was finally going to jump out of an airplane.

If I was going to be put into a situation where I felt out-of-control I wanted to be the one who put myself in that position rather than what I had experienced over the past twelve months.

I walked into the trailer adjacent the airport hangar where I was greeted by a youthful young woman. She had me fill out the necessary paperwork, including the waiver releasing them from liability in the event that I died, and then I was instructed to wait.

We waited for three hours.

Others were ahead of me. Dozens of brave, crazy, and enigmatic people were all waiting to be take up into the sky just to free-fall back toward the earth. My excitement was palpable and I could feel the rush of adrenaline before I was even hooked into my harness.

My son, in an attempt to disarm me, had told me in the days before about a woman who had gone sky diving on her birthday, she was seventy or something, and she had fallen out of her harness while in free-fall. I looked up the video online and sure enough, that actually happened. She survived but note to self: don’t loosen harness. When the airport owner took us all aside to instruct us on the finer points of safety and what we needed to know I was immediately reassured. I would be strapped to a qualified and certified jumper who was going to do all of the hard work. All I had to do was keep my head back, feet held back between his legs, and jump when he says jump!

The ride in the little two prop plane was bumpy, and we were all packed in like happy sardines. The men and women who had jumped a thousand times before were raucous and care-free, I liked them all immediately. I wanted to be like them.

At an elevation of approximately 17, 000 feet the plane hatch was opened and it was time for us to go. Looking down all I could see was white. The jump out of the airplane was seamless; it looked like all we had done was leap into a layer of freshly fallen snow. I was damp, my hair was wind-whipped and my ears needed to be popped but the rush of falling at exceptionally fast speed—faster than any motor vehicle on land—was amazingly liberating.  Descending through the clouds and eventually seeing the ground come into view propelled my line of sight across a vast landscape of farmland and shoreline approaching at an alarmingly quick pace.

Once we pulled our chute we were jerked immediately into a slow descent and my tandem jumper estimated we were then at an elevation of approximately 5,000 feet. The lack of sound at that height was mesmerizing. I could hear the sound of my own heartbeat as we gracefully floated down toward the waiting earth below. It was the first time I had experienced peace since my world had been torn apart and my urge to sob in gratuitous response surged through my body. This is what it must feel like to fly. I didn’t want my feet to find solid ground.

But we did land. I didn’t die. And life moved forward. My emotions began to heal and my anger ebbed away.

I couldn’t control the circumstances that turned my world upside down, but it didn’t kill me. If I can survive jumping from an airplane then I could survive anything.

A year later I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My world again had been ripped from beneath my feet, but it hasn’t killed me yet. And I am still here, still living and breathing and still remembering what it was like to fly.

Cancer Battle

Bittersweet Farewell: A Fictional Imagining

To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die. – Thomas Campbell

The sun is shining today. It had been a long winter and its tight grip on Spring was beginning to make me wonder if I would ever see the sun shine in time. I opened my eyes slightly and allowed the harsh glare to peer in through the slits of my eye lids. It was gleaming; the warm reminder of a brand new day.

sun-shining-through-the-window-with-sun-blind-picjumbo-com

The smell of fresh coffee aroused my nostrils. I lean over and sense a fresh cup cooling on my bedside table beside me. It’s steam slowly rising in wafting wisps of aroma. I try to raise my head, but the feeling of weight pulls me down toward the mattress, enveloping me into the fibres of the pillow top surface.

I look over at the chair in the corner of the room. It’s occupied by my sister this time, her eyes closed from exhaustion and emotion, a book of poetry on her lap and a crimson blanket limply wrapped around her left shoulder. She hasn’t noticed that I’d awoken, but I hadn’t the voice to call to her. Instead I stare at the ceiling, counting each intricate bump and crevice that outline each ceiling tile. I had stared up at these tiles countless times before over the years, but now they stared back at me as if to witness my fate.

I hear footsteps coming down the hall, and in vain I again try to lift my head. The door opens a crack, and my sister stirs. She rubs her eyes and notices that I am awake, and like a soldier she is at the ready and by my side. She takes hold of the comforter and straightens it for me, and as she does her eyes connect with mine. She desperately tries to conceal her emotion, but her eyes betray her, like windows wide open to the world. She is sad. She is fearful. She reaches a hand over and strokes my head where my hair had been. She reaches for the scarf that adorned my head, and gently places it back over my bare skull. Her hands are warm and soft, delicate and sure. Her hand lingers for a moment just above my forehead, and I can see she wants to make the moment last a bit longer. I don’t deny her. I blink once, trying not to break eye contact. Her eye lids flood with liquid and a gleam is hidden behind a sea of unspoken emotion and tears. She breaks her eyes away and I can hear her utter something under her breath. It’s unfair that she gets the last word, not like when we were growing up. She was insistent she was the smarter one, the prettier one, the better one. We were best of friends and the fiercest opponents. Stealing my skirts and make-up were only the tiniest of trivialities now. If only we could sit and drink our coffee and laugh like we used to. Unmade bed

At the doorway is my husband. He has a plate of food in his hand, and I assume it is for me. He smiles as he places it down beside me, and gestures to me that he would like to help me up from my pillow. I nod meekly. The pain in my throat is harsh and unyielding.  But after all these years, he sees beyond what my body can communicate. He reaches his strong, capable arms around my torso and attempts to bring me to a seated position.

He places the cup of coffee to my lips, and I try to reach for it to hold it for myself, but the effort is fruitless, I have no strength left. My body aches so much that I twitch in an effort to feel relief, but there is none. The coffee touches my lips, but the flavour is absent. The aroma is sensual, familiar. I desperately wish to taste it but the desire is futile. I haven’t tasted anything in weeks. Its a cruel sentence, facing the end without so much as a last meal, or at least one that can be savoured. I lazily blink my eyes, and my head is heavy again. My husband instinctively senses this and helps to gently ease my head back onto the pillow. His eyes also deceive him, but he remains stubbornly stoic; the caregiver, the lover, the survivor. A lifetime of love is communicated in a glance, and breathlessly he leans in for a kiss.  I can sense its meaning more accurately and plainly than I could recall the flavour of coffee. Its delightful, bittersweet recollection is like permission to breathe. The petty arguments, the strife, the pain and the struggle are forgotten in favour of laughter, passion, late night talks and endless love-making. The simple, quiet moments of seeming inconsequence are now vivid reminders of a life well loved, and I would give anything to have those moments back again. The early morning hours where I would lean into his slumbering frame and wrap my leg around his, snuggling into his warmth. The long walks down the road, hand-in-hand, saying nothing. The longer car rides where I would be attempting to read, but he wanted to talk. His phone calls when we were on our way home from work, where he would call to ask what I had planned for supper. I never had supper planned. The evenings at night, when we would finish our day snuggled up on the sofa, engrossed in a television program, never saying a word but instead sharing in the drama and the laughter of someone else’s creation. It was moments taken for granted. It was the everyday mundane things. It was us.

And had I told him everything I wanted to say? Had I taken every opportunity to let him know I loved him?

I closed my eyes, and he lifted his lips from my skin. We parted. And I fell into sleep again.

I open my eyes. The sun is still shining, but the colour is different. Through bleary eyes I can just make out the image of a familiar person but the effort is too great, and I close my eyes again. The soft sounds of a breeze whistles through the slightly open window. Its crisp air swirls around my body and chills me. I shudder involuntarily. The pain in my legs and my arms intensifies and I squirm in an effort to relieve the sensation. An unearthly groan can be heard coming from deep within my chest, but I consciously hadn’t made the sound. I desperately want to turn to my side, to roll over and go back to sleep, but my muscles won’t co-operate with what my mind is communicating to them to do. In defeat, I close my eyes and wish for sleep.

A slight pain in my arm arouses my senses, but I lack the energy to open my eyes. A pair of hands, soft and gentle, but decisive and quick, have taken a hold of my arm. It’s unclear what is happening but I assume its a nurse starting an IV line. I’ve been given something because before long, I can feel a fog of relief coursing through my veins.  It’s subtle at first, numbing the pain as it creeps through my blood stream. I welcome it, like an old friend.

It is dark outside when I open my eyes. My mouth is flooded with saliva, and I choke slightly on the sensation. I can barely swallow. My throat is so coated with mucous that it is almost unbearable and I long for the ability to spit. Instead I gurgle and someone places a soft cloth around my mouth to catch the drool that creeps out around the corner of my mouth. I look across the room, trying to focus but its difficult. The low light and the bleariness make it difficult to distinguish anything except what it familiar from memory. My sister’s unmistakeable silhouette is seated on the chair again. Her eyes are puffy and red and she has obviously been crying. My husband is seated at my side and I can smell the musky scent of his deodorant. Its a comfortable smell, and ordinarily I would be turned on, but that response in my body seems to be lacking. His hand is resting atop my own. Its rough texture and unmistakeable shape envelops my frail fingers that have lost almost all similarity to the youthful  hands I had once possessed. My wedding rings have long been removed due to swelling. My finger nails have lost their lustre and are now brittle and thin. But his hands never change. His hands were the hands that worked tirelessly to support us. His hands were the support for me in times of fear or worry. His hands were instruments of pleasure. His hands. The night we flirted with one another, the night we knew that we were falling for each other, it was his hands that reached out and grabbed mine. The wave of butterflies that welled up from the pit of my stomach flourished into a giddy sensation that made me desire him more. Of our souls and our bodies, our hands were the first to touch. And now they would be the last thing that connected us. I silently begged, oh please don’t let go.

I open my eyes, it’s still dark outside. There are others in the room. I can’t make out their faces, but their voices are familiar. Their timbre’s blend into a symphony of sounds lulling me into silent appreciation. It’s harder to keep my eyes open, harder for me to remain conscious. All I can feel is the pain, ever knocking at the door and being kept at bay by the fog. All I can smell is the scent of bodies and emotion and my Aunt’s perfume. I can hear the voices constrained by fear and respect. The urge to laugh is suppressed, the urge to cry even more so. I can hear the forced smiles behind their muted conversation. I can feel their eyes on me. It’s awkward. I wasn’t there to entertain, yet I was the central attraction. I feel rude and inconsiderate, despite what I know is ultimately my final good-bye. And I have no say in the outcome. I have nothing to contribute. I have no eloquent speech prepared, no flourish of creativity or drama. I don’t want to leave like this. I have so much left to do and so much left to experience. The anxiety swells within my lungs and an unearthly moan involuntarily lurches from within my throat. Someone new is in the room with me, I don’t know how she is. She moves deftly to my left side, pushing my husband aside causing him to let go of my hands, She has a syringe of some sort in her hand and she injects something into the tubing in my left arm. It takes only seconds for the fog to fight my senses for dominance, and it overtakes me. The silhouette of the stranger floats into the background and I again can sense my husband rush to my side. He grabs my hand and squeezes it tight. He squeezed just tight enough that I could sense that he never wanted to let go. How I wish I had the will to open my eyes.

The room is silent. My eyes won’t open, but I know there are only a few people seated around. Their breathing is low and laboured, like they are trying to preserve the last remaining air in the room. What day is it now? How long had I been asleep?

The sun was just slowly coming up. The soft pink and white glow was just peeking through the window blinds and I desperately wanted to see it. As if by determination alone my eyes opened and I turn my head toward the East. The rays of light reach out like beacons of welcome for a new day. The glowing lines stretch across the horizon and warm my face. My husband is fast asleep, his hand still resting in mine, his head lay beside me on the edge of the bed. My sister is asleep in the chair. Her vigil hasn’t ceased. Neither has my husband’s. I can’t tell them how I know, but it’s time.

I muster the urge to open my mouth and utter a tiny cry. My sound is like a blazing alarm, and they each rouse from their slumber. My husband draws my hand to his mouth, caressing my fingers with his lips. The warmth of his breath moistens the dry skin on my knuckles. My sister rubs her hand along the length of my shin situated beneath the thick comforter. I turn from one to the other, in voiceless appreciation. Their faces never looked sweeter. And as if time stood still, a light brighter then the rising sun fills the room, bringing with it the sweetest melody of hope and joy and laughter.

porch-1034405_1280Inexpressible sounds like a symphony of everyone I had ever known calling my name through song and the scent of every pleasant memory waft through like a sensual aroma. I smile, or at least I think I am smiling.

And then…my soul lets go, like letting go of a hand, or like blinking. I am gone.

Reflections To Help Me Be a Better Person

Status Anxiety: Keeping up with the Joneses to the Nth Degree

One of my best friends suggested I watch Alain de Botton’s video Status Anxiety (2004), and it placed a spot light on some of the philosophical questions I have been pondering over the past few weeks and months.

In the opening few minutes of the video, Alain describes what he perceives to be the foundational reason why our culture suffers so much from anxiety, and it relates directly to the expectations we place upon ourself, or the expectation we think society places on us.

Two-hundred years ago when European settlers came across the ocean and began colonizing the Western Continent of North America, they left behind a class society or hierarchy and aristocracy. In the new land they were building, anyone could become anything. It was a clean slate. In today’s culture, where we live in a class-less society and everyone is deemed “equal” there is a pervading myth that every opportunity and every advantage is available to all of us in equal measure. Men and women are equal and are afforded the same opportunities. Blacks and Whites are equal (and every other race) and have equal value. Rich and poor are just as equally important as one another. But even reading over this list, anyone can admit that this is just simply untrue. But that is the nature of our free, democratic society. The belief that if we work hard enough, persist long enough and continually make choices to be a “better” version of ourselves, then all of the above is true for anyone. We can be the best we can be.

But the flaw in this belief is that it creates an unending cycle of striving to be something we so desperately want to be, and we are NEVER satisfied.

These are the questions I have been asking myself:

  1. What if I don’t have as many friends as my friends do, does that make me unworthy or unlovable?
  2. What if I am never recognized for my accomplishments? What if my dreams are never realized?
  3. What if my house is not the nicest or the biggest? Does that make me a failure?
  4. What if people don’t like me, does that mean that I am a failure?
  5. What if I can’t lose the weight? Does that make me unattractive?
  6. What if the things I write are never published, never read by anyone but me and never appreciated?
  7. What if I never have the latest and greatest toys and gadgets like the people I know?
  8. What if I never get to travel to the places I so desperately want to see?
  9. What if I am not as successful as the person next to me? AM I STILL VALUABLE TO SOMEONE?

The above list is only a portion of the questions I have been asking myself, and I can’t be alone. But the underlying question is Do I have value as a human being? The politically correct version of that answer is yes. But the realistic version that culture subliminally pushes on us is, no I do not have value if I am not “successful”. If I am not striving to be the next best {insert thing here} then I am failing. If I don’t adhere to the latest parenting fad then I am a failure. If I don’t make x amount of money then I am a failure. If I don’t drive the newest car, or I don’t wear the latest clothes then I am a failure. If I don’t learn the latest hobby then I am a failure, if my house doesn’t look like a Pinterest ad then I am a failure, if I don’t subscribe to the latest political ideology then I am a failure. The list goes on and on. But who gets to define success?

The problem exists when we begin to compare ourselves to our peers. The people within our closest sphere of influence are the ones we equate our identity with, and so when one or more of our “peers” advance in a stage of life we believe that we too should be advancing in the same way. A co-worker gets a promotion over us, or a friend inherits a large sum of money or has a job where they make more money than we do, a friends child receives an accolade for something they accomplished, or a friend buys a larger house–it creates a jealousy that makes us look at our own life and think, “I don’t measure up.” When we do that it creates a problem in our relationships that didn’t exist before. I nearly created a problem between a friend and myself when I admitted to my own jealousy that they were selling their house when I had been wanting to sell mine for almost as long. (When I developed cancer last year it put my life on hold and I was forced to put all of my life’s plans on the back-burner). My jealousy prevented me from being able to effectively communicate how happy I was for her (which I was) because all she heard from me was my unhappiness in my own situation. That wasn’t fair to her.

But it made me realize that her accomplishments do not diminish my own successes. It also made me realize that the things I don’t achieve are not a direct reflection of my character or my value.

If I never accomplish another thing in this life or acquire any more wealth, and simply live every day like I am now, would I be satisfied? And if the answer to that is no, then it begs the question as to why? Is it for my own satisfaction or because I am too preoccupied with a deeply ingrained cultural myth that I have to achieve certain things or do certain things in this life in order to be satisfied?

In the past few decades our culture has seen and experienced such a vast accumulation of technological advancements and wealth, has been given access to great knowledge at our finger tips, and has seen the development of a globalized economy. But in those same years we have seen a steady increase in mental illness, anxiety, depression and overall dissatisfaction. Is it because as a society we have become more adept and more open about discussing mental illness or is it because there has been such immense pressure placed on us all that we are constantly trying to attain a lifestyle ideal that is unattainable?

If you have a couple hours to kill, I highly suggest watching Alain de Botton’s video. It is long, and his voice is soothing so don’t watch it if you are tired. But his views are worth pondering, and while he doesn’t provide any answers, he allows us to consider that our happiness is derived from the things we already have and not from what we desire.

Click the link here to watch his documentary.

Cancer Battle

If You Read This After I’m Gone

It was just supposed to be a mammogram. A few weeks earlier I had gone to my doctor to inquire about an unusual hardness behind my left nipple. I thought, in part, that I was a tad irrational. My doctor validated my fears during my first appointment and sent  me for a scan. I wasn’t crazy. But it was only supposed to be a mammogram.

I arrived at the hospital where the Breast Assessment Clinic is located and I was late because I had never been there before. The woman operating the machine was irritated. I was apologetic but it seemed to fall on deaf ears.

She smashed my breasts between the flat plexiglass that comprised the tortuous experience of having a mammogram, and within only a few seconds her attitude with me completely changed. I was no longer just having a mammogram, I was being sent for an ultrasound as well.

I tried not to cry. I tried to contain my emotion. I felt silly crying. I didn’t have a diagnosis yet. This was all still conjecture, a possibility, a potential reality—this wasn’t something that was confirmed yet. But an ultrasound turned into a biopsy. Within the span of two hours my life completely, and irrevocably changed. It was also my son’s eighteenth birthday. How was I supposed to remain calm and still celebrate my son’s milestone birthday with a looming dark cloud hanging over my head and my life?

It only took four days for the results to come back. Four days is nothing. Four days is insignificant in the context of a lifetime. But these four days felt like forever.

It was confirmed on a Monday. I had been diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer.

I remember sitting in the grey examination room of my doctor’s office while medical professionals conveyed the gravity of my diagnosis. My whole body shook with raw nerve. I was completely undone.

In the four days between biopsy and diagnosis I tried in vain to stay off the internet. I “Googled” survivor stories. Did you know there are none? There are statistics. A LOT of statistics. They are grim.

But I had found a blog by a woman from 2009. She was faith filled, positive and so determined that she was going to survive. In the early days she posted a lot about her treatment, her recovery and her hopes for the future. She was honest about her struggles and about her fears, which was hard to read but I appreciated her honesty. I loved her declaration that she was going to beat this, she was going to defy the odds and survive. It was empowering to read about her defiance of this disease. But then I read the last post. It was by a family friend. They informed the readers that she had lost her battle, and she was dead.

Dead.

I threw my tablet half way across the room. I cried. No, I sobbed. I sobbed an angry, bitter, sorrowful cry that echoed through my home. This was just the beginning.

I have since survived 8 rounds of chemo therapy, a left radical mastectomy, 25 rounds of radiation, and I am now in recovery. I, like the woman I wrote about above, am optimistic, defiant and determined that I will beat this disease. When they removed the breast tissue from my body, they reported that I had no evidence of the cancer in my body. They have told me that is the best possible outcome they could have hoped for. That gives me hope.

But if you are reading this after I am gone, I don’t want you to despair. This disease is aggressive, but there are aggressive oncologists who are tirelessly researching new and improved methods for fighting this disease. This disease will knock you down and cause you to feel all kinds of emotions ranging from despair to anger, but when you encounter a new victory it will give you renewed strength and hope to continue to the next phase.

And there are others. There are others all over the world who are living with this diagnosis. Some have passed away. But others are bravely facing each day and surviving. Some have two years, five years, seven years, twenty-eight years—they are surviving. It is possible. Do not lose yourself to despair.

I won’t sugar coat this: IBC sucks. There are seemingly no good reports online, NOW. But hopefully, in the future, YOU will be that good report. Hopefully because woman like me have gone before you and endured the pain and the tragedy, oncologists will have more data to compile that will provide answers for women like you. And I hope beyond hope that because of other women who have died before me, that because of their sacrifice I too can survive, and this article is obsolete. I hope that I can continue to provide anniversary updates that announce that I am still alive. I hope beyond hope that 20 years later I can say, you have hope because I am still here.

But if I am not, I will tell you this: I fought and endured so that you could have answers and so that you WILL survive.

 

**If you have found your way here because you have just been diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer, then I encourage you to reach out to the IBC Network Foundation, it is important that you find others who have gone through what you are about to go through. There is an entire network of support. They will help guide you.

Things That Could Get Me in Trouble

Love People, Whether They are Sinners or Not.

“Hate the sin, but love the sinner.”

Jesus never said this.

It’s from St. Augustine. His Letter 211 (c. 424) contains the phrase Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum, which translates roughly to “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” The phrase has become more famous as “love the sinner but hate the sin” or “hate the sin and not the sinner” (the latter form appearing in Mohandas Gandhi’s 1929 autobiography). 1

I read online just today about a high profile evangelical worship leader from the UK who recently admitted publicly that had been struggling her entire life with a conflicting idea about who she was. In short: she is attracted to women. She’s gay.

The response from Christians has been to boycott her music, preach to her, rebuke her, judge her, tell her how she is an abomination, how she is wrong, how she has twisted theology, or “comparing my gay orientation to someone “committing adultery, murder, rape, pedophilia or zoophilia“.”

This broke my heart. Let’s for one minute take the discussion of whether homosexuality is a sin or not off the table. She openly and courageously spoke about something that she has struggled with since grade school, and the public response from the body of Christ has been to silence her or shame her?

I hate the phrase mentioned above, because it is used as a means to cast dispersions against a people group that don’t think or act in a manner befitting an evangelical theology. The phrase has been so over-used that it is inherently unloving in it’s application. To begin with, by labelling a person a sinner, as if they were somehow in a class unto themselves because they are gay for example, is unloving.

So it begs the question, what does it really mean to love? The church is missing a huge opportunity to grow in love and they are missing it. Where the church has wrongly believed that the struggle of the LGBTQ person is because of their sin, it is more likely they have struggled against cultural norms that have kept them locked away in a prison of their own mind and body. Furthermore, focusing on the right and wrong aspect of what constitutes morality takes away from the crux of what Jesus was doing on earth.

I listened to this woman’s music. I had never heard of her prior to her public announcement so I sought out some of her previous recordings. Her worship is absolutely beautiful. I was in awe of the simplicity and the purity behind her voice and her heart. And I was reminded of the woman who came to anoint Jesus and wash his feet with her tears. The Pharisees all stood around and said, “This Man, if He were a prophet would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” Luke 7:39  The passage doesn’t describe what her sin was, it has always just been assumed. I remember growing up and hearing pastors inform the masses that she was an adulterer, or a harlot, because those were likely the most egregious sins of the day.

But this was Jesus’ response, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head…Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little. ” Luke 7:44-47  Jesus sends her on her way by saying to her, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” v. 50.

The magnitude of that passage speaks volumes to me, but perhaps that is because I have lived a life where I have been forgiven of much. The verse in Romans that reminds us that we are all sinners is used often but in equal measure forgotten.  So why, as evangelicals, does the church single-out the LGBTQ community? Why is it so important that they be wrong and the church be right? Does their sexual orientation diminish the truth of the cross? Does their sexuality diminish the truth of God and his great love for us? And if the church truly loved them, why does the church spend inordinate amounts of energy trying to silence them or shame them? (or condemn them?)

So the question I leave the church with is this: What does it truly mean to love? If our theology is more concerned with upholding a law or a rule, rather than the concern and compassion for people then our theology is wrong. When the emphasis is so much on proving that a people group is wrong, then how is that showing the love of Christ to the world?

Cancer Battle

It’s Not Over, I Just Pretend All the Time

The rest of the world is more comfortable when they hear stories of rosy optimism and conquering disease. I figured that out early. I could post glowing optimistic stories of each new victory I over came and I would receive endless praise. It was great, it fed my ego, but it wasn’t always honest.

When I was first diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC), the cancer machine whirred into action and I was surrounded by well-meaning and compassionate people who offered to do almost anything. For someone like me, who is very self sufficient and independent, it was difficult for me to accept the help. But I did accept the help, I needed the help, and I am forever grateful for it.

Now that I am through the hard parts, most of the people have disappeared. (I say most because I do still have an incredible support system and I do not want to minimize their contribution to my recovery) They are more comfortable knowing that I am healing and recovering. They don’t want to hear about the days that I can barely get out of bed because I am so tired from over-exerting myself. They don’t want to hear about the difficulty I have reaching things on high shelves because my arm no longer has the range of motion it once had because of the missing lymph nodes. They don’t want to hear about the struggle for breath when I am walking a block or two. They don’t want to hear about the depression, or the anger, or the loneliness that inevitably creates a barrier between me and the rest of the world. They don’t want to hear about the insomnia or the drug addiction that develops because of the long drug use. And they really don’t want to hear about the chance of reoccurrence or worse.

When the bell has been rung, it signals the end of chemotherapy or radiation. It doesn’t signal the end. That distinction needs to be made because in the minds of loved ones, it can sometimes signal relief for them. When a cancer diagnosis is given it feels like a death sentence, and so the sound of the bell can sometimes feel like reprieve. It’s not. For the cancer patient, the sound of the bell is merely a beginning of a new battle. It signals the beginning of reclaiming everything that was lost when cancer ripped the ground out from beneath them. It signals the beginning of fear—the fear when the other shoe will drop, when or where the next lesion or tumour would appear, the fear of having to go through all of this again, the fear of everyone disappearing just when the next phase of the battle is beginning. These fears are realistic and highly probable.

Through my own experience there are 9 things I have discovered that are the most effective way of continually showing love and support for those recovering from cancer or any other major illness:

1) Endure the loneliness and depression.

Cancer survivor stories are not always depicted honestly. The positive ones that depict overcoming great odds skip over the hard parts of struggle, frustration, isolation and depression, and focus on the triumphant end result.  The most loving thing a person can do is endure the rough stuff with the ones going through it. It is a long road back.

2) Talk about what could happen in the event of death

To the cancer patient, this is a possible reality. Even after a successful treatment, there is a possibility of reoccurrence or metastasis. If the cancer patient wants or needs to talk about their final days—their wants and desires in the event of a poor prognosis, their expectations and blessings for those left behind after they do die, or their funeral—let them.

3) Don’t just say, “I’m praying for you.”

This is no way is meant to minimize the power of faith, or to imply that prayer is not warranted. But often times, this statement can be used as a means of offering comfort. But to even the most devout, this statement can mean very little in terms of comfort or substance. If you feel compelled to pray, then just pray. But as a means of offering comfort, more practical ways would be reaching out and asking how you can help.

4) Offer physical support or time. They still need to know you care.

Cancer, as with many other major illness, is incredibly isolating. The most effective means of offering support can be to spend time with the person. Even just sitting in the same room saying nothing is more powerful than all the flowery words in the world. Watching a movie together, or rubbing their feet, or bringing tea and mindless conversation is more powerful and meaningful to someone suffering the after affects.

And keep inviting them to things. There will be times when they say “no”, and it might feel like they say “no” more times than they say “yes”. But keep inviting them. Just knowing that they are wanted or needed can be unbelievably comforting.

5) Don’t focus on the disease, but don’t gloss over it either.

This one might seem like a paradox but it’s not. Cancer robs so much from the lives of those it infects, it shouldn’t rob a person of their identity either. Where someone used to be a prolific writer, or musician, or cook, or [insert interest here]—they are still that person. But to try to forget that a person’s life was irrevocably changed by such a powerful disease is to minimize their struggle.

6) Don’t expect there to be a time limit to their grief.

Telling a cancer patient to just stay positive, or to have faith, or to focus on being grateful is only meant to make the rest of the world comfortable. If the patient is angry, let them feel that anger. The stages of grief don’t have a formulaic time frame and it is unfair to expect that from anyone. Cancer robs so much, not just time. Though the obvious struggle might be over, the loss can sometimes have a rippling effect. A limb or a body part might have been removed, chemotherapy might have caused infertility or put a woman into early menopause, there could be a loss of cognitive functioning as a result of “chemo brain”, there could be significant weight loss or gain, there could be a loss of muscle function, there could be a loss of sexual intimacy or function, and there could be a loss of identity. These things continue to cause no end of anger, depression or sadness. It could cause the breakdown of a marriage due to stress and conflict. It could mean the loss of dreams and expectations for the future. Cancer patients find that sometimes they lose friends because of cancer. The most loving thing someone can do is allow the cancer patient to feel those things.

7) Continue to offer help

Cancer patients can often take up to a year or longer to recover after their final treatment. Fatigue is a huge symptom that is hard to overcome. Fatigue is more than just feeling tired. It is an absolute feeling of moving through quick sand. It is mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. Cutting the lawn, doing a load of laundry, shovelling a driveway, going grocery shopping, or cooking dinner can sometimes take every ounce of energy from a recovering cancer patient. There are good days, and that feels like a huge victory to them, but they are often short-lived. More times than not, a recovering cancer patient will skip over these basic chores that normal people would take for granted in favour of sleeping on the sofa watching re-runs of Friends.

8) Don’t minimize or ignore their fears.

No one wants to admit that a loved one could face this disease again, but those fears are realistic. It would be more productive to re-direct those fears. Help them face those fears.  Let them know that you will be with them every step of the way, and help them develop a contingency plan in the event that the cancer does return. Knowing that they have someone to face this disease with should it return is instrumental in moving beyond it and living for today.

9) Don’t disappear.

This is often the most hurtful aspect of dealing with cancer. Life does continue to move on even though the cancer patient feels like they are living in limbo. Making a conscious effort to remain present can be the single most important thing a loved one does. The cancer patient does eventually feel like they have been a drain on the ones around them. They are not oblivious to the extra effort that has been put forth by those around them to help support them during the chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. There will come a point where they will stop asking out of guilt or a feeling of becoming a burden. But they absolutely do still need their friends and family around them.

Someone fighting a life threatening illness will almost never make their loved ones feel guilty for not being there, not intentionally anyway. They already feel like they have taken too much, or that they have become a burden. This is the harsh truth of their recovery after the bell has been rung.