Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Stumbling Greed

I'm sure that by now almost everyone has heard of the tragic event that took place recently in a Walmart store, located in New York. Apparently, at approximately 5:00 in the morning on black Friday, an angry crowd, anxiously waiting outside the store in anticipation of buying items at reduced prices, stampeded inside as soon as the doors were unlocked. One tiny click at the door, one small turn of a key and within minutes, a 34-year-old, part-time Walmart employee, died as a result of being trampled and suffocated. Just as horrific, other employees as well as police who arrived on the scene minutes later in an attempt to render aid to the poor victim, were allegedly pushed to the side by incoming shoppers as they stumbled over one another.

Can there be a more ironic and disgusting chain of events? What we see in this scenario is a representation of the lowest and most immoral acts known to man: greed.

Perhaps most of the shoppers didn't even realize that there was a man who was literally dying at their feet. In the flurry of all the noise, shouting, pushing and yelling, it is possible that the majority of the customers were unaware of the direness of the circumstance. Like race horses whose adrenalin rockets the second that the gait in front of them is raised, the customers, eyes wide and pupils dilated, most likely piled inside the store as quickly as they could in order to purchase their coveted item before someone else bought the last one of its kind.

Isn't it sad that when we think about this tragedy, we shake our heads in disbelief and wonder where has all the humanity gone? "What is this world coming to?" we ask aloud as we read about this story and others like it.

Well, as much as this event shakes our trust in human interaction, we know that there are hundreds of other stories that revive our spirit. In particular, I am reminded of the firefighters who risked their lives to climb up tens of smoke-filled staircases in New York on 9/11 to rescue people trapped inside, some of whom were confined to wheelchairs, in order to bring them outside to safety. Many of those rescuers lost their lives as they went back inside the burning building in futile attempts to save others. Ironically, if the Walmart store had been on fire and deathly smoke had quickly filled the precious air, we would have most likely seen a different picture: people fighting, pushing and screaming to get out alive.

Greed. Unfortunately it is a word that lies dormant in each of us, and rears its ugly head in many ways. We all suffer from greed, and we all stumble over it at times. I ask myself if I could have willingly run back inside the burning towers, knowing full well that I might not come out alive. I'm not a trained firefighter, but nevertheless, if it were on fire, would I run into the Walmart building in an attempt to save people inside? Most likely, I would not. Why not? Because I want to live.

I thank God every day for the One who died for all of us, Who risked everything for us, Who endured the pain and suffocation for us, and Who ultimately picks us up as we stumble along in life. Give others a hug today, and let them know that in the scheme of things, we are only here for a such a short time, too short in fact, to let greed stand in our way of serving others.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I'll Take Routine, Please

Another routine checkup with my oncologist yesterday turned out to be just that - routine. No changes, no red flags raised, no unusual bumps anywhere, no scares or surprises. I like things being routine sometimes. Days like yesterday make me almost forget that I even had cancer at all, that it's been over five years since my diagnosis. I say "almost" because we never really forget about it. The visits to the oncologist's office remind us without any doubt that we definitely had cancer, but we're just coming back to see if "it's" come back. Strange thing, that cancer. We come back to see if it has returned. Our limited minds conjure up all sorts of scenarios on the way to the office.

And what if it does come back? What will I do then? I don't honestly know. But I guess for now - today - I'll just keep doing what I do every day; I'll trust in the Lord to take me through each struggle, every valley and every storm. Because when you really stop and think about it, even our most challenging days, our troubling pasts, and our difficult moments are all part of His plan to draw us closer to Him. Nothing surprises God. Praise God that our routine days - as well as those that weigh us down - remind us that we're in this together, with Him holding our hand.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Get-Away Days

This past weekend, my husband and I enjoyed a wonderful time traveling with another couple to Cape May, New Jersey. In the aftermath of the recent unusual and surreal natural disasters, namely the earthquake centered approximately 60 miles from our town which shook my house as well as thousands of others up and down the east coast, then Hurricane Irene whose gale-force winds caused mature sycamore trees to bend over like little daisies blowing in a field, followed by severe rains that dismantled nearby roads and washed over two huge bison in the Hershey Park zoo, ultimately leading to their demise, we needed this get-away.

This mini-vacation had been scheduled long before the earth quaked, before the rains and winds pounded around our home, and before I felt so vulnerable. The dates of this get-away had been marked off on my calendar for well over a month. As the days following the storms passed and we surveyed the damage either via television or through our own front windows, there were times when I hesitated about going away at all. There were moments when I questioned traveling more than 200 miles from home and leaving my two girls (who are very capable of taking care of themselves) alone.

What if something happens while we're away? What if we get into an accident while we are driving? Who will be there for my children if I die? Should we cancel the trip all together? The pricey hotel rooms had already been booked and carried a "no refund" policy. Am I overreacting? How can I possibly proceed with this?

Coupled with the approaching anniversary of the attacks on our country ten years ago, those questions brought a sense of angst and worry within me. Then I remembered particular scripture verses that spoke to me. One is Jeremiah 29:11, which states, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." You see, during those days after the storms raged through my town as well as in my mind, I foolishly began focusing on my presence here on earth, and not on God's plans for me - as His child. I was stuck on the side of the storms and refused to see the blessings waiting on the other side.

God knew about those storms, and in His sovereignty He allowed them to happen. We don't always understand why events occur and why innocent people and animals have to suffer and die. We only know that God keeps all His promises, and that He gives us the hope that we need each day. Without hope, we're just those small daisies blowing in the wind. But with the promises of our Lord, the hope we have in Him allows us to see the real reason we're here at all: to press on and trust Him even through the storms of life.

Don't live life in fear of tomorrow. It only robs you of the joy of today. God has a plan for you. All you need to do is trust in Him to carry you through the storms to the blessings that await you on the other side.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Overnight Changes

Breast cancer is such an interesting ice breaker. It can bring women (and men) together in ways that might not have happened otherwise. I've found that having had breast cancer makes a woman an "expert" in so many areas of this disease, and almost overnight, it's as if others see her as someone packed with knowledge about it, simply because she's personally "gone through it." At least that's what I've noticed.

Tonight the phone rang and an acquaintance of mine from church informed me that she had recently been diagnosed with non-invasive breast cancer. She'd had a lumpectomy, and she's scheduled to undergo 30 radiation treatments. The woman had some questions about what to expect. You know, for a brief moment, I had to pause and think about the radiation treatments that I received more than five years ago. But my initial hazy recollection of the events suddenly became crystal clear in my mind's eye, as I spoke to her, and in an odd sense, I found myself reliving some of those moments all over again today.

I told her that compared to the chemotherapy, the radiation treatments were a piece of cake for me. Knowing that chemotherapy was not part of her protocol, in some ways I found if difficult to relay my experiences to her because the effects of the chemotherapy overshadowed nearly every other aspect of my care. In my experience, chemo. became the "thing" that led to virtually every negative side effect. While the radiation left visible purplish skin and itchy patches at the site under my armpit, the chemotherapy left much more inconspicuous - and permanent - marks within my body. I still find myself stumbling in its wake. The hot flashes. The difficulty remembering a phone number just seconds after hearing it. The weight gain. The loss of sex drive. Osteopenia, a precursor to osteoporosis, at age 44. And the feeling that some things just seem "different" in my body, but I can't really verbalize what they are. I just don't feel the same anymore.

Maybe I can attribute the "different" post cancer feelings to menopause, which was also brought on by the chemotherapy, almost overnight. But I firmly believe that there's more to it than that.

The phone call tonight was a difficult one, because it was hard for me to separate the side effects of chemotherapy from those of radiation. Who knows? Maybe the two treatments had a synergistic effect and actually made each one worse than either one would have been on its own. All I know is that after speaking with literally tens of women with breast cancer over the last five years since my diagnosis, no two women have had the exact experience.

However, there is one the that we do all share: we've learned to appreciate each day that we're here. Each new day is a bonus. We all remember the day and time that we heard the news that we had cancer, and our lives were changed dramatically from that point on. We know that each hug we give, every smile that we demonstrate to a stranger, and each silver-lined cloud are all so much more precious than ever. Because we've learned that things can change literally overnight, we don't want to waste one single day wishing things were as they used to be.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Edit Profile

Edit Profile. Yep -- that's exactly what I did today. I changed one word. My profile page now begins with these words, "I am a five-year breast cancer survivor." Five years. I changed the number four to five years! It's so hard to believe that I've been cancer free for five years.

Webster defines edit as "to modify, or adapt so as to make suitable or acceptable." As compelling as it was to make the change to my profile so that it was more accurate, I couldn't help but feel somewhat hesitant about changing that small word.

People might ask me, "How in the world could you feel any hesitation? You are done! You've passed the five-year mark!" I guess the only answer I am able to give is this: Cancer caught me off guard, rocked my world, and forced me to "modify and adapt" my entire view of life. The moment I'd received the news that I had breast cancer, I needed to remind myself daily that I would be okay, and that I would survive. Never before had I needed to adapt my outlook so dramatically.

Of course, I hope that it's over, and that I am indeed "done" with cancer forever. Who doesn't hope for this? The thing about cancer is that it's taught me to live one day at a time, and to hold on to the little things even more tightly. Little things like my kids' hugs, and the sounds of the peeper frogs chirping at night. Or the beautiful sunny daffodils blooming at my doorstep, even though there's still a chill in the air. It's not that I took all those things for granted before my diagnosis. It's that now cancer has forced me to modify my thinking and to savor those things like never before.

Yes, I've changed my profile page. It was easy to edit one little word. Looking back over these last five years, though, I've realized that the real challenge is to allow God to "edit or modify" me, as to make me more suitable or acceptable in His eyes. Not only did I change the letters on my profile page to reflect the passage of time since my diagnosis, but I need to change my spiritual profile so that it reflects God's image. For our actual profile isn't really up-to-date until we accept that His plan for our lives is absolutely perfect. And that concept is something that I can definitely accept, without any modification.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Remembering the Fight

I met with a nice young woman yesterday. Jen is finishing up her master's degree and was given a list of breast cancer survivors' names, including mine, to contact. As a final part of her degree requirements, she is writing a paper which details the type and quality of support that breast cancer survivors received while going through cancer treatments. The endpoint for Jen's studies is finally within her view.

I was surprised at the feelings that surfaced within me as she asked the questions, one at a time, and proceeded to jot down my answers. Even though more than five years have passed since my breast cancer diagnosis, our brain is an amazing organ, allowing us to remember small details of past events as if they occurred just yesterday. Although I didn't cry during the interview, I could see how many people would become emotional as they described their experiences, or if they were indeed going through a recurrence, perhaps in the midst of treatments at the time of the interview.

For me, though, even though my treatments are now only a memory, just the simple act of recounting the events - the number of radiation and chemotherapy treatments, for example - left me feeling somewhat depressed, almost grieving. I felt as though I was reliving a part of me that I have, in some intangible way, put behind me. Oddly, as I walked through this journey again yesterday with Jen, something occurred to me. Although she appeared kind in her demeanor, her furrowed brows and facial expressions revealed to me that she really couldn't understand what it was like to deal with all the fatigue, nausea, family issues, and uncertainties that people with cancer face on a daily basis. Unmarried and without children, Jen didn't know what I do: that cancer is so much more than just an obstacle that we hurdle and then move past it. No, cancer is an everyday fight - for the rest of your life.

The real truth is, I didn't know what it was like, either. I didn't really know how to fight, not until it happened to me.

Which is why I'd like to start a support group in my area. I haven't any idea about how to initiate such an adventure, and I welcome anyone who could point me in the right direction. If you have any advice about how to get a breast cancer support group started, please let me know.

I'll never forget the feelings and emotions that go along with this journey. My hope is that I can help others remember to keep fighting, too.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Silence of Daffodils

I heard something on the radio yesterday that made me think. The guest speaker was Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Although I typically don't agree with all her comments, she usually provides a strong argument for adherence to basic truths. The one thing that she said was this: "We won't remember the words spoken from our enemies, but instead, the silence from our friends."

I remember how helpful people had been to me during my cancer diagnosis and treatments which began nearly five years ago. I remember receiving encouraging, out-of-the-blue cards and phone calls from friends, neighbors, or my husband's coworkers whom I'd never met before. I recall people bringing home-cooked meals to my doorstep and hearing the doorbell ring as I rested my head on pillows, feeling too nauseated at the time to even roll over in bed. I can still hear the footsteps of my kids - my cheerleaders - as they ran to the door and said "thank you" to the person standing there, and then ushered them into the kitchen and placed the dinner on the counter top. I remember the woman who offered to plant yellow daffodils along my front walkway. "They symbolize cancer and new life," she had told me as I watched her and my girls dig into the dirt and plant each bulb. I remember feeling too fatigued to kneel down and help her dig.

And I wait each spring in anticipation of seeing the first new shoots pop up through the soft dirt. And oh, how beautiful this picture of silence can be!

Yes, I remember all the kind words, both spoken and unspoken, provided to me many years ago. But as difficult as it sometimes is, I try not to focus on friends who might not have spoken much to me, or called me, during my trial. People who I would have expected to hear from, but didn't. People who, for whatever reason, didn't step up to the plate. Because focusing on those people, takes time away from my real focus: the people who blessed me in so many more ways than I can comprehend. Those are the people I'll choose to think about and remember well. I'll not dwell on the ones who were silent during the hard times. Life is too short to remember the "silence from our friends." It's just too short.

Instead, we all need to wait patiently for our own "daffodils" to bloom each season, because that is the type of silence we should try to remember.