Friends and Guardian Angels

As if a horn blew some warning call, so immediate were they that rallied around the one who was down… uplifting, soothing, encouraging, feeding, caring.  In all my life, I had never experienced anything like this.  Still to this day, when I think of the hours so well-tended by friends, my heart swells, my eyes fill, and I choke on humility.

My deep fear was that I would wear them out.  How long could they last, exactly what would I need?  No one knew.  I discovered it’s not a question friends ask.  They came with dinners, with books and with flowers, with lists of whom to call ~ for rides, for cleaning, for spending the night if needed.  They came with encouraging words, with prayer, with humor, and with hope.  They came with love.  I felt so undeserving, so overwhelmed, so incredibly grateful.  I was aware I was accumulating a great debt.  How in the world, I thought, how in the world… would I ever be able to thank them.

I tried keeping lists of who brought what, said what, did what.  With my mind clouded by chemo, the only clarity had been that there was absolutely no way I could keep up with all the thank yous I owed.  No way.  Tears of sadness at my own inability mixed with profound thankfulness for their deep capacity to care.  With regret I tenderly set aside the many unfinished lists, tucking them somewhere into the pages of these days.

Allowing myself to accept help was never my forte.  Admitting I was struggling was not really my thing.  Accepting this kind of friendship was like receiving a gift beyond measure, at once being something you can’t live without, and something of which you can’t possibly be worthy.

At the time, I felt completely disarmed.  Yet now I see I was armed to the nines.  For certainly I was in the trenches fighting the battle of my life, but somewhere behind me my ammunition kept coming.  Those behind me stayed steady, behind me stayed true.  I dared not turn to take my eyes off the prize. And I knew if I could reach victory, it would not be mine alone.  For each of us fought, all the way, to the end.  Each of us won, not just I.

* * * * *

Every prayer you say makes you part of the healing.  Every encouragement you speak makes you part of the hope. Every kindness you offer makes you part of the light.  Every moment you give makes you part of the fight.

And every time you held me in your thoughts, you lifted me.  Know that I felt it.  Know that I needed you.  Know that I thank you… with all of my heart.  You were both my strong guardians, and my very real angels.  Even more than that, you were my friends.

Cattails and Marsh Birds ©Lynnea Washburn

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Singing

He said if he had a choice of tumors, this is the one he would want.

“Oh really?” I said, “Well then, can I give you mine?”

The radiologist doing the biopsy chuckled. When I asked him if it was going to be hard to reach the tumor since it was so near my spinal cord, he chuckled again.

“Honey, I could stand you across the room and throw a dart at it and hit it,” he said.

I burst out laughing. Fortunately, he had a sense of humor. Unfortunately, it also meant the tumor was the size of a potato.

The doctor clearly loved his work, and his energy was infectious. He explained that in this procedure, a “core sample” would be taken in order to determine the type of Lymphoma present.  Animated, he showed me the cat scan on the computer screen, and in detail explained what all the colorful images meant. When I asked him what the tumor was made of, he said it was a number of lymph nodes that had grown together with a kind of connective tissue.  I felt like a student that had stumbled upon an unknown topic that was immediately beguiling.

“Let’s measure it,” he said brightly.

As he measured the largest mass (2.5″ x 5″), he also pointed out all the other radish-sized lymph nodes that were enlarged and well on their way to becoming more tumors.

Huh.  This would all be very interesting, I thought, if it weren’t happening to me.

During the procedure, which required only a local, a few minutes had passed before I realized that I had begun to hum. I knew all the words to the song that popped into my head, and ever so softly, I began singing it to myself.  I found the praise song to be very comforting, and I liked how it flew in the face of Dire Straights, the uninvited guest who had so rudely taken up residence in my life.

I noticed slight movement in the room.  Perhaps a nurse had cocked her head… or exchanged glances were made. Then I thought… maybe it’s kinda odd for them to hear a little tune coming from someone in my position.  A cancer patient growing a veritable vegetable patch of tumors lying face down on a table with a sharp instrument, very possibly a dart, sticking out of her back.  Singing.  And then that idea made me start giggling.  So then I was singing and giggling.

I always wondered why they never mentioned it.  Perhaps it was because they knew something I did not.  I would need these moments of humor. And sure enough, it didn’t take long before the pain kicked in.  Even so, the events of the day tickled my funny bone, and I still laughed, and winced, out loud.

* * * * *

Cancer cannot halt the humming.  Cancer cannot hold back the giggling.  Over time, I would learn many interesting things about cancer and the human body, and come to better understand what was going on inside me.  In more ways than one.  Most importantly, I would come to learn the many things that cancer could not do.

Yes, there would be procedures, and yes, there would be pain.  But there would also be choices.

One of them would be singing.

 

All portions of the blog are ©Lynnea Washburn.  All rights reserved.

Battle Cry

I knew I couldn’t do it. It was too fresh. I was too raw. It’s one thing to find a semblance of strength to accept the truth, and quite another to look into the eyes of your children and not completely crumble. I am still grateful for how remarkable my husband was when he agreed to head home before me to tell them.  With what words I could not fathom. Then when I arrived, well… there was really no plan after that.

Nick, then 14, took one look at my face and read me completely. Funny how he was always able to do that. But I could tell that this time, what he saw there concerned him. He immediately wanted to know everything, and I told him all I knew. We held each other.

“I’ll pray for you, momma.”

This was good. God has always been very attuned to Nick’s voice. And with that, he was satisfied that the most important thing had now been done.

Tyler, being 16, was feigning distraction while listening intently. Then as though he wished for more time to think, measuredly he approached, and with a small sigh, gave me a hug.  All the while remaining his confident self, standing firmly in his big-brother space, trying to help dad hold up the walls.

“You’re going to be OK mom, you’re going to be okay…” he said again and again.  Only later did I realize he was saying the words that he himself most needed to hear.

Nate.

My youngest came rushing to me. We embraced tightly.  A long time.  Just standing there. Dad watching.  Tears falling.  I just couldn’t… let go of him.

“Precious… I love you so much…” I started, but then I could find no more words.  Finally, a question from him.

“Is it catchy?”

A smile. “No, honey.”

These kids represent the tenderest area of my life, the place where I am most vulnerable. Of them all, it was the time with my youngest that hit me the hardest. Maybe it was because he needed me most. But with a broken heart, and all defenses gone, “The Mom” with the cape turned out to be a mere mortal… struggling under the weight of a world she so easily lifted just the day before.  And in the weakest of moments, with the most defenseless of children, the first stake in the ground was laid.  Unsteady at first, then more firmly, then strong, the line in the sand had been drawn. I had found my battle cry.

“I will fight for you, Nate.”

* * * * *

Sometimes we are brought to where we are the weakest because what we find there is exactly what we need.

Although love requires vulnerability, where there is love, there is strength. God says, in our weakness He is strong. I get that a little better now. But I wonder… perhaps this is not because He is simply God, but is because God is simply love.

Birds and Nest copyright Lynnea Washburn

All portions of this blog are ©Lynnea Washburn.  All rights reserved.

The Fifth Year

It was as if I was present in someone else’s news. Looking down on a scene of someone else’s life.

A whisper here, a knowing look there, then all of the sudden the room seems to shift… ever so… off kilter.  As the air thickens, it feels as if you have to push it aside to move in any direction. At the nurse’s desk heads subtly turn to catch a glimpse of the person too young for the diagnosis, the mother in mid-stride, the wife with plans, the artist with deadlines, the woman who came in with a backache… and left with cancer.  I catch an eye, and immediately wish I hadn’t.  Sad eyes full of knowing. Fear begins to creep in underfoot. Wait! Wait! I want to say. But there is no voice.  After all, this isn’t really my life… is it?

“Sometimes life isn’t easy,” one nurse says as she draws yet more blood.

“But I was fine before I got here,” I say.  I swear.  A weak laugh.

That was five years ago. This month. I have now lived to The Fifth Year.  That magical year when your file is quietly moved one location to another. When the scans finally stop. When the battle is declared settled, and a victor is named. When your future is handed back to you with no strings attached. The year when the oncologist pulls out the “cured” stamp and with it, inks your forehead.

“If you insist,” he’ll say.

“I do,” I’ll reply, and wonder what else the stamp could possibly be for.

I have learned much through this cancer experience.  I have learned about the sort of things that require more from you than you think you have. About things that will make you reevaluate what you hold most dear. About things that will define what you truly believe.  And about things that apply not only to dealing with cancer as it turns out, but to life challenges of all kinds.  I am still learning.  It is still affecting me. The battle may be over, and yes, there is plunder… but yes, there is also collateral damage. These are the things of this blog.

One thing I know. When you find yourself in a room where all the air has vanished, where there is enough fear to fill every nook and cranny, and you are standing with your back to the wall… know this.  There is not enough space in that room for both fear and hope.

I choose hope.

So can you.

©Lynnea Washburn

All portions of this blog are ©Lynnea Washburn.  All rights reserved.