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The Balance

Posted Oct 05 2009 10:03pm
Well, the dust is starting to settle a bit. That's a euphemism, and one that is probably not all that funny if you're living in the eastern part of Australia. Since the big switch to digital TV, a move that was suppose to improve things for us, well, we no longer get TV at all, except for the public broadcasting station from Penn State University. That is actually not such a bad thing. We found that we do not miss television nearly as much as you would imagine. After three months, we scarcely think about it. If we want to watch something, we go rent a video. But I digress. In fact, if you take note, I've actually digressed from my original digression, which just may be a record for me, but I am of an unfocused state lately. Anyways, the original digression was to say how shocked I was to see footage of the sandstorms in Australia, to hear the estimates of the topsoil lost (I guess it blew right out over the Sydney Harbour, which is probably wreaking havoc on the marine life, although I've not heard anything about that.) Now that I'm done blabbering on about Australia and digital television, let me steer myself back on topic.

Cancer is a funny thing. I keep thinking about it. Last fall, I found a lump. It was cancer, and that was a bolt out of the blue. Apart from being tired, I really did not have any symptoms. I've gone back to re-read my blog posts, and it's ironic really, the weeks leading up to that. I did not have a clue. My life bumped along. Then there was cancer.

I've gotten through the treatment, and there is a wariness about me now. I'm aware of my body. What makes this difficult however is that I have aches and pains. Tamoxifen? Chemo induced menopause? Who knows, for sure. You learn to deal with them. Those highly touted breast self exams? They're kind of difficult. Scar tissue makes lumps and bumps itself. Radiation thickens tissue. I'm looking for changes, they tell me, new lumps, new bumps. And so I try to be patient with the aches and pains. It is what it is. I try to figure out which lumps and bumps are now normal for me. It's not so clear to me anymore. Next thing I know, the shoulder pain has become at times, unbearable, and in July when I found a lump under my armpit, I did not screw around. I'd been down this road before. And there was the biopsy, which was benign, but a mass was noted in my shoulder muscle. Then there was the PET scan which talked about four areas of activity. Last week, a mastectomy and surgery to remove the mass from my shoulder was tentatively planned. Friday, the word is that I don't have cancer. Something is going on. They do not know what it is, but right this minute, the one thing that they are fairly certain on is that this is not cancer.

I'm stunned. Do not misunderstand me at all. I am happy beyond all words. Truly. But last fall, I had a lump w/ no symptoms. Cancer. This fall I find a another lump and am dealing with something that amounts to a giant toothache in my shoulder, constant and unrelenting, and it is not cancer.

It is not fun to look your own mortality square in the eye. You spend a lot of time wondering about the importance of your own life. You wonder if your children will be okay. Those words that we sometimes keep tucked away, too shy to say them? Yeah. I don't have so many of those words anymore. I tend to say them. I tend to do the things that I always meant to do, instead of simply meaning to do things. I find myself feeling less guilty about doing things for my own pleasure. Tim and I went to see two concerts this summer. He built me a rose trellis. I spent a lot more time putzing around in the yard or visiting with friend or reading a book. So cancer hasn't been all bad, but really, it is a scary time.

I sit here with my aching shoulder. I don't have cancer. And I found myself with a funny dilemma on my hands: do I trust the diagnosis? I'm in the cancer free zone right this minute, but I will be monitored carefully, because I do have a lymph node that glows. It is at my windpipe. It is not on my lung, a big difference that makes me glad inside, remembering my own father's death from lung cancer. I've also got that area of activity inside the pelvic bone. The pain in my shoulder is not normal despite the claim of Pittsburgh's surgical oncologist: ('pain is unfortunately not an uncommon side effect for breast cancer patients after chemo and radiation'). The fact of it is, I don't feel well. I don't feel well a lot. The difference between this fall and last fall? This fall, I'm unwell. Last fall, I was not. Last fall, I had cancer. This fall, blessedly, I do not. Life's funny like that, isn't it?

A lot of you praised God for this news. My new friend Mary went with me to Pittsburgh three times last week, and we rejoiced at the end of the week. My old friend Mary (we do need to figure out a new way to differentiate between them, because old Mary is starting to get a little ornery) was with me yesterday. Her eyes got wide and she nearly leapt to her feet and shouted 'Ha lleluia!' right there in the doctor's office. I sat there, frozen in amazement, speechless, hardly daring to believe what I was hearing.

Now a day later, the news has begun to sink in. I am, of course, very grateful to God. If this had happened to anybody else, I'd be calling it a miracle. However, I'm embarrassed to claim that for myself - just who do I think I am, that the almighty God would take notice of me... But my prayers have been answered. Looming on the horizons are questions and scans, and 'waiting and watching'. Life is not going to be the same for me. Not for a while anyway. This is the new normal. But after the last two months, I have learned something, something big. I cannot waste time in dread, or fear. While I must be vigilent for changes, for warning signs, at the same time, I can not be preoccupied, let my life be derailed by the threat of cancer. It's a delicate balance, and after this last scare, it's going to be even harder to maintain that balance. I guess that is where, after all, faith comes in. We all live until we die. None of us know when that day will come, not for sure. My life has been shaken to its very foundations in this past year, but a woman of faith would figure out how to give thanks and fearlessly move on into the future, trusting in God. So will I.
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