"I got to thinking one day about all those women on the Titanic who passed up dessert at dinner that fateful night in an effort to 'cut back.' From then on, I've tried to be a little more flexible."
(Erma Bombeck)

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Quick Takes (aka Rambling Thoughts)

Last Friday, I was interviewed for an article in the community magazine, Healthquest, a publication of Skagit Valley Hospital. There really wasn’t an “angle” that I could tell. Rather, I was simply asked to talk about my experience as a breast cancer survivor.

Since I wasn’t sure how to prepare for the interview, I jotted down notes ahead of time as the thoughts occurred to me (and so I wouldn’t forget something important that I wanted to mention).

During the interview, I spent over an hour doing (mostly) a monologue and then, typically, felt guilty about talking so much about myself. I experience the same feelings writing this blog. Writing about my life is both humbling and a stumbling block (because of my pride), especially when a reader gives me a pat on the back.

I have become very aware of my vanity and wonder about the self-indulgence of blogging. At various times I have debated whether I should forget the whole thing. Yet, I occasionally consider whether God doesn’t use some nugget from my meager efforts to encourage someone else who may be going through something similar (I, myself, am frequently inspired and encouraged by other cancer survivors). So, I persist (at least this week).

In no particular order, here are some of the things I mentioned during the interview:

  • The environment of good humor in the hospital oncology ward surprised me. I always thought it would be depressing to be around so many sick people. Instead, the medical caregivers and most of the patients were friendly, smiling, and generally upbeat. It seems that people experiencing cancer are more aware of life’s small moments and try to enjoy them, especially in the midst of suffering.
  • I used the metaphor of crossing a rope bridge to describe my treatment. I was so busy concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, and just getting through it, that I didn’t realize what I’d traversed until I got to the other side.
  • One of the most important aspects of getting through treatment was the inspiration and encouragement from meeting or hearing about other cancer survivors. People who said things like, “My aunt had cancer 25 years ago and is still going strong today” gave me great hope. On the flip side, it was surprising how many people—in an effort to relate to me, I’m sure—shared about someone they knew who died from cancer. I was astounded at how many people blurted out things like, “My nephew had chemo and the treatment killed him.” Not what I wanted to hear, especially the weekend before I started chemo. But I learned to have compassion for these people, choosing to believe that it was an awkward attempt on their part to connect with me (or not).
  • The silver lining of having cancer is that the “main thing” becomes the “main thing.” People who were on the periphery of my life came forward to demonstrate how much they cared. Shallow conversations fell by the wayside and I felt an intimacy and bond with my friends and co-workers that probably wouldn’t have happened any other way. I miss that aspect already.
  • It’s important to assemble your “team” (e.g., caregivers and support network) to help get you through treatment. If one doctor doesn’t click with you, find one who does. I can’t emphasize how important this is.
  • Once you’ve decided on your plan of treatment, embrace it and don’t look back. You’ll need to focus all your efforts on getting through treatment and getting well; you don’t want to waste valuable time and energy second-guessing yourself or justifying your treatment plan to those around you.
  • I want to live while I’m alive. Every day, I think about the cancer recurring. But I do a little self talk and remind myself that if it recurs, it recurs. Why should I miss celebrating life now for something that may or may not happen?
  • Cancer is a major head game. The mental part of it is almost as challenging as the physical. It really messes with your self-image (among many other things).
  • My greatest fear is that I will have gone through cancer and remain unchanged.

It will be interesting to see which comments find their way into the article. I’ll keep you posted.

Last Sunday night, our church (St. Andrew Orthodox Church) and all other Orthodox churches around the world, observed “Forgiveness Vespers” on the eve of Great Lent. We all went around the church, in circular receiving lines, asking forgiveness of each other. Yes, every single person in the congregation personally asks for forgiveness from every other person in the congregation. Two congregants stand facing one another, bow, and say, “Forgive me, brother (or the person’s name).” Then they embrace and hug each person and say, “God forgives and I forgive.” Many people add a kiss on the cheek as well. Young and old alike participate in this yearly ritual.

The first year I engaged in this service, I wondered how meaningful it would be since I couldn’t imagine why I’d need to ask forgiveness of people I didn’t know very well. What I hadn’t considered was that I would eventually get around to embracing my own husband and daughter to ask for and grant forgiveness. It also dawned on me that we often offend people without knowing it. And vice-versa.

So the service only becomes more and more meaningful as I come to know the people in our parish. It’s truly a humbling experience to embrace someone—even someone I don’t know well—and ask their forgiveness, as well as grant it to them. You can’t come away from the event feeling the same about yourself or the people you’ve embraced—it’s a visible demonstration that you are indeed a family.

This is one of the reasons why I love Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Church is all about healing . . . because God is all about healing. And the Orthodox Church has given me the tools to make that healing possible . . . as long as I reach in the toolbox and use the tools!

This past week, I was reminded of the uniqueness of my worldview during a conversation at work. The discussion was about the attitudes of today’s teenagers toward sex (one of the teachers has another pregnant girl in his class).

It saddened and disturbed me that I was the only one in the room who believed that chastity was a viable choice. The prevailing attitude is a kind of throwing in the towel on the whole thing. Sure, my co-workers agreed that it would be nice for people to wait, but they sure didn’t believe it was realistic. I guess that makes the following definition I recently found in The New Cynic’s Dictionary (by Rick Bayan) so apropos:

Alternative Lifestyle: A living arrangement considered exotic and slightly offensive by the prevailing culture; e.g., a churchgoing nuclear family headed by a married couple, one (and only one) of whom is a woman.

I like the way Rick Bayan thinks, so I guess that makes me a cynic. If you’d like to take the Official Cynic’s Self-Test, hop on over to Rick’s website, where you’ll find the following:

You know you're a cynic if:

1. You’re overworked, unemployed, underemployed, or underpaid.
2. You’re a lonely thinker stuck among semi-literates and/or MBAs.
3. You’ve finally discovered that society doesn’t reward people like you.
4. You’ve discovered that the people who do get the rewards tend to be jerks.
5. You’d like to see the majority of our celebrities exiled to Uzbekistan.
6. You cringe slightly when you hear people talk about “team players.”
7. Politically correct zealots make you laugh (or cry).
8. You’re sick of hearing that everything you eat, think, or do causes heart disease (or cancer).
9. You find yourself wishing you lived in another era, like the Neolithic.
10. You think civilization is going to hell in a pooper-scooper.
11. You no longer CARE that civilization is going to hell in a pooper-scooper.
12. You wish you could find some decent curmudgeons who feel the way you do.

If you would like to submit your own suggestions for the Cynic Self-Test, please comment on this entry . . . cynics of the world, unite!

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