To Begin Again

Watching hair grow is like taking a snail for a walk across the Sahara desert.

Strangely, as soon as fuzz appeared on my head, my wig didn’t feel like me anymore.  This was surprising considering how it had made me feel completely like myself at the beginning.  But after eight months, it felt like the old me, the chemo me, the sick me, and I was ready to leave that me behind.  Although I was still a frightful sight for the general public, around the house I would sport my five o’clock shadow style.

My inching hair was outward evidence of an inward healing that was equally as slow.  Although I had days of aching joints, deep tiredness and very foggy thinking, I began to see small improvements over time. A bit more physical strength here, a longer period of activity there, a little less needed sleep to make it through the day.  I was making progress.

As the chemo mist lifted, I began to see more clearly.  But what I saw simply overwhelmed me.  So much catching up needed to be done.  The house needed repair, the yard needed tending, furniture needed replacing, work needed work, and our bank account left a lot to be desired.  There was too much to do, too much money needed to do it, and it was all going to take too much time.  Things were a mess, and improvement seemed unattainable.  I simply felt… behind.  And for some reason, being behind was an awful, horrible, terrible thing.  It meant that I had lost.

And the reality was, I did lose something.  I lost time I could not reclaim.  Try as I may, I could not possibly catch up for the previous year.  It was gone.  I had to let go of something I never really had a grasp of anyway, and I had to stop beating myself up about it.  Yes, I had won the battle, but I needed to cede that it had cost me something.  And I had to acknowledge that what it cost me was well worth what I had won.  This is obvious, and still, it is a process.

One of the reasons recovery takes so long is that the damage inflicted from the struggle can be so far-reaching.  It can touch all the events that make up the daily flow of our lives, reach all the people we know, and affect our total being; our emotions, our minds, and our physical bodies all the way down to the cell level.

So yes.  It takes time.  But what I found was that before you can even begin to move forward, you must start by leaving what is behind behind you.  I had to accept my reality, grieve what was lost, forgive myself even though it was not my fault, and then to lay it all down at God’s feet.  Only then could I turn my eyes to the next sunrise, be grateful for the new day, and realize how blessed I was to have the chance to begin again.

Sunrise © Lynnea Washburn

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

This is a late addition to this post (because at first I chickened out):

To save you the journey through the Sahara Desert with a snail leading the way, I’ve compressed my hair-raising experience from three years down to a minute and a half.

Deep breath, here I go… if I don’t share it now, I may never.  If I can get through it, so can you.

Walking through Water

Healing.  It’s a slow walk tempered by an elusive resistance that you are unable to fully grasp and move out of your way.  Some days you feel you’ve made great strides, other days you feel your feet are stuck in muck.

With treatment over I was eager to reclaim my life.  As much as I wanted to simply put everything behind me and pick up exactly where I left off, that really isn’t how it works.  For the next five years,  I would be under close supervision.  Year one would include a scan every three months, year two, every four months, year three to year five, every six months.  The first year was critical, as it held the highest probability for the cancer to return.

But I really wasn’t listening to any of that.  I knew I was done.  In fact, I had arranged for my port to be removed by a practitioner shortly after my last treatment.  Afterwards, when I arrived for my first post-treatment evaluation, my onocologist was shocked.

“You did what?!”

“I had it taken out.  I don’t need it any more,” I said.

He sort of fell back upon his chair as he muttered something about that was “ballsy”.  I swore I thought I had heard him give me the green light to remove it.  Guess I was being too selective in my hearing, too literal, too confident, or simply too eager.  What he did say was that I could have it removed after the chemo was done. What he didn’t say was that we might need to use it for chemo again.

Nope. We will not be doing that.  I was certain of it, and I was proven right in the end.

For me, getting that port out was a huge proactive step away from illness.  I had always hated it, and the way it made me feel so… alien.  I felt I belonged in a science fiction movie where you get plugged into a slimy entity that simultaneously provides you with sustenance while it poisons you slowly.  You endure the chill of the swab, the noise of juicy suction, the heat in your veins.  You dare not break the tether for you know the alternative is far worse.  I craved to be rid of it.  When not in use, it often sent waves of pain down my left arm, making me fear I was having heart attacks.  Where ever I went, I had felt it’s invisible chains keeping me linked to the chemotherapy chair. The day that tie was finally broken, it was as if I was finally free, to run again… to run fast… to run away.

Ah… but healing.  You start off with a bang, excited and pent up and ready to sprint like the wind.  But it’s a lot like running full speed into water, all the motions are there, but the minute you reach it, you hit a wall.  No matter how fast you were when you entered this seemingly benign substance, it immediately forces all your efforts into slow motion.  That’s when you realize you better readjust, for it turns out you’re in a long distance event after all.  A five year matter at least, perhaps longer.

In many ways, Overcoming the Cancer was the preliminary heat in a new contest called Overcoming the Treatment.  Turns out they’re both Olympic events, albeit in very different ways.  Now, triumph would be measured in the smallest of gains over the longest of periods with the most consistency of effort.  Like walking through deep water.  So you plod.  You keep going.  One heavy foot in front of the other.  You don’t quit, for there is no going back.  No way.  You remember how God had shown up for you in the past.  And you trust.  You keep the faith that you are getting somewhere.  That you are healing.  And with the grace of God, you will prevail.

Water Lily 1 ©Lynnea Washburn

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The Day

“Your tumor is gone,” he said.  My mouth dropped open.  “What?”

“Your large tumor is gone, and all the other lymph nodes except one are back to their normal size,” my doctor said, “and that, we believe, is only scar tissue.”

My eyes filled, and blinking back the tears, I asked if he’d wouldn’t mind telling me that again, I wanted to hear it again, I needed to hear it again.  He knew, and obliged… about five times in all.

My husband and I sat stunned and then quickly found each others arms, and held on for the emotional ride that followed.  Tears poured out with relief unimaginable, words lost in overwhelming gratitude.  A joy never understood until now rushed in and filled every corner of my mind, my heart, my soul.  A complete release overcame me like I had never known before.  It was over.  A new breath of life filled me, breathing in relief, exhaling release.  Relief, release.  And I began to pray.

What I had claimed all along, that my God was bigger than my cancer, was now a reality.  What I believed from the start, that the treatment would work in accordance to His plan, was now a fact.  But to have this day come, and to hear the words “your tumor is gone”, was not something I had allowed myself to imagine.  It took time before I could find my voice and repeat the words out loud for fear I might somehow jinx the results.

What I didn’t know was that the next several months would be critical in keeping the cancer at bay.  But I didn’t need to know that now.  It was gone.  I had won.  That’s all I needed to know.  The Day of dancing, The Day of singing, The Day of praise had come.  The Day of good news, of laughter, of living completely unbound was here.  It was The Day my future was returned.  Life was mine, and it was mine right now.  How interesting that it came after I had surrendered completely to God.  I was on a cloud that could not be brought down for anything.

How I longed for the extraordinary ordinariness that had been missing in my life.  How refreshing it would be to operate from a viewpoint that did not center on me.  I was looking forward to looking outward.  Yet, it is only after the battle that one can take stock of what’s left on the battlefield, and just because my cancer was gone was not the same as if it had never happened.  Yes, there was collateral damage to contend with, and yes, there was incredible bounty as well, but all that could wait for tomorrow.  Today was a new day with new hope.

In my profound gratitude, I spent time simply residing in the love of God.  Grateful that His will for me aligned with the answer to my prayer, the intimate cry of my heart, spoken prior to the coming news of The Day.  Lord, mold me, use me, shape me to become who you want me to be.  Use my cancer to do your work.  How can I serve you through this Lord?  Use my cancer to make me… into anything you want.  You know how much I love my children Lord, my heart overflows with love for them.  Allow me a full and healthy life so I may raise them completely, let me experience the joy of their lives.  I know you must feel the same way towards me that I feel towards them.  It is impossible to express.  I pray, Lord, that you will heal me completely.  Thank you Lord.  Amen.

And amen.

Queen Anne's Lace/Welcome Home ©Lynnea Washburn

The Edge of Life

I’ve been to the edge of life. I have leaned over the void with an outstretched arm.  I have tilted perilously.  I have strained back and grasped onto my lifeline, made of the things I love.  My children, my husband, my world.  I have teetered this way, and that.  This is how the edge is.  To be sure, it is a solitary place.  Only room for one.  And there, and only there, a single question hangs in the air.

What.  Do.  You.  Believe?

Odd.  I was a bit put off by the question.  I was pretty certain I knew what I believed.  But then… there is knowing what you believe in theory, and there is knowing what you believe in reality.  There’s put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is knowing.  There’s put-your-life-on-it knowing.  So although I was taken aback by the question, I realized there was a good reason for its asking.  I spent time with this, mulling it over in my mind.

All the while, I just couldn’t get my thoughts away from a certain Old Testament story that always chilled me to the bone.  The one about God asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac to Him.*  I could not fathom what the father must have been going through as he set out to obey God.  I could not begin to understand the level of faith that he must have had as he made preparations to carry it out.  I simply did not think I would ever be able to have that kind of faith, to put something you love so dearly so completely into God’s hands.  This story always haunted me, but why so much more now?

Then I realized.  God was speaking.  He was asking me if I was willing to put what I held most dear into His hands.  He was asking me if I would offer up the one thing I was fighting so hard to keep.  My very life.   All of it.  My boys, my husband, my family, my friends, my present, my future.  Would I trust Him to do what He wanted with it?  If I truly believed, would I surrender all?

I had a choice, and just like Abraham, it seemed there was no good choice.  I could say yes to God and possibly lose my life.  I could say no to God and possibly live the rest of my life without Him.  For me, the latter was simply not an option.  I realized that more than anything, I wanted to be where God was, instead of where He was not.  No matter where that led me.  Be assured, this was difficult.  It was not easy to bind all the things of my life together, prepare the tinder, and set them upon the altar.  Fighting back my own will, I knew this was exactly what I needed to do.  Then I was reminded that once Abraham set Isaac upon the altar, God let His plan be known, and He supplied an animal to be sacrificed in his place.

So with that, I slowly opened my firmly clutched fists, and gave everything over to Him.

My chemo treatment was complete.  All that could be done was done, and now it was The Time of Waiting.  Waiting for the medicine to work, or not. Waiting for the scan results, good or bad.  Waiting for an answer, whatever it may be.  I was in no rush.  There was no point.  For I knew this: if my whole world were to fall away, I would still be with God, and somehow, some way… it would all be okay.

* * * * *

Often, before God acts, He asks us to first believe.  In this way He grows a great faith in us.  Sometimes it takes being at life’s edge before we truly know what it means to believe.  Sometimes when we are most afraid, we must offer our Isaac up, give it all to Him, and simply trust.  Once we do, God shows up, and lets us know He’s been there all along.

*Genesis 22: 1-18

Reshaped

I looked like an alternate version of myself.  My bottom eyelashes were finally gone.  I still had some on top, although they were pretty wimpy too, and my eyebrows were not much better.  My shape was also shifting, my weight was up and my face was round.  Without my wig on, I looked rather a lot like Buddha, especially when I sat cross-legged.  But darn it all, I had made it to the halfway mark and could use a break, so I decided I would still go to the party.

After finding a new blouse (in a larger size), squeezing into old jeans (for the last time), I put on my wig, and painted my face.  Literally.  My eyes were constantly watering from the meds, and the bit of eyeliner I managed to get on kept wearing off, so I brought it with me to reapply often.  It took a lot of work, but I thought I looked okay.  Apparently, I wasn’t fooling anyone.

I was met with concerned faces.  Everyone was so kind and caring… but also so worried.  I began to feel uneasy.  I had wanted some fun, to forget my troubles for a while, mingle in a happy crowd, and have a pleasant distraction.  But I wound up spending the night explaining my diagnosis, my treatment, and how I was feeling about everything.  Consolation followed me everywhere.  Not exactly the night I envisioned.

Near the end of the evening it slowly occurred to me.  Oh…I thought, they think this might be the last time they see me.  This set my jaw. I wanted to stand up on a chair in the middle of the room, stomp my foot and scream WAIT! I am not going anywhere!  I decided it would be my last public event for a while.  How long, who knew.  But one thing I did know, I was just going to have to prove them wrong.

Looking forward, I braced myself for the second half of treatment.  I had begun to count them down backwards, four to go, two after the next one, one more after that.  Somehow this helped.  Chemo was slowly reshaping my resistance.  It was getting a little harder to bounce back, that “flu” feeling was lasting longer, and I was getting more tired out each time.  Seeing that last date finally approach was huge.

On treatment day my husband and I arrived with an edgy eagerness.  Deep breath, here we go, last one. But at the check-in desk, I was told I was not on the schedule.  What?  Heat began to rise within me, and I fought to keep my voice in control.  No I’m there, you must be mistaken. I sat right here when you made the appointment. No. You’ve got to be kidding. This is my last time.  You can’t tell me that.  I could tell by her nervousness as she checked her books, that she knew it wasn’t going to happen.  I’m sorry was all she could say.  I stomped my foot and cried WAIT!  I am not going anywhere!  Then, I lost it.  I began to sob.  Uncontrollably.  Loudly.

Wisely, they found me a room where I continued to weep in private.  It was only then that I realized how much it took to get here, to this building, to this floor, to these rooms with their smells, their day-chairs, their IVs.  It took every ounce of strength, every bit of courage I had to walk in here knowing how critical this all was, how venomous the drugs were, how sick I’d feel afterwards, how desperately I needed it to work.  It simply took everything.  When it all came spilling out, there was just no stopping it.

We waited through the morning hoping for a no-show, which would allow me to take their place.  This was a good thing, as it gave me the time I needed to gain some control over my emotions.  When it became clear there was no chance for this to happen, we scheduled it once again, and silently went home.  Not nearly the day I expected.

* * * * *

When things go awry, it’s not always easy to see what God is doing.  But often He uses circumstances to mold us and shape us into who He wants us to be; a better version of ourselves.  One experience can shape our determination, while another can temper it with patience, forming a new resilience not present before. And when He is finally done, no doubt His fingerprints will be all over us.  The bad news is that it hurts sometimes; the good news is that all the while, we are in His hands.

* * * * *

Olives/Faith ©Lynnea Washburn

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Prayer

Most days I felt hope.  It really was quite unexplainable.  But after a while, I began to see why.  Prayers were being said for me everywhere, virtually all over the country.  From my family and friends, to their friends and families, to their congregations, they could have easily counted into the hundreds, most probably the thousands.  I even knew of someone, unsure about this whole God thing, turn to Him and pray on my behalf.  Now that must have really gotten His attention.

Of course, I also prayed.  A lot.  Being the visual person I am, I often put my prayers into imagery that I could really connect with.  Daily, I visualized God’s hand wrapped around my tumor and squeezing it, crushing out the cancer.  Some time later, a scan would show that the tumor had shrunk by 60%.  My doctor explained that although we might always see something where the tumor once was, to think of it like a burnt marshmallow; if you hold it up to the sun, you would see a solid, but if you touched it, it would turn to ash.  I visualized God’s breath blowing the ash away.

In prayer, I visualized my body as a home for the Holy Spirit where nothing unholy was allowed to live.  Later, I was told that my Non-Hodgkin’s cancer was in fact “curable” and not something I would need to “manage” my entire life.  I was told that in time, all my enlarged lymph nodes would go back to their original size, and my lymph system would be working properly again.  A house put back into order.

As I walked into treatment, I felt emboldened as I visualized myself arm in arm with Christ.  After a couple of rounds, treatments became easier, and as a result my drip speed was increased, shortening my treatment time significantly.  Anti-anxiety medications were soon dropped as they were no longer needed, and the side effects of the medication were gone as well.

When I went in for the Famously Painful Injection the day after chemo to boost my red blood cells (one that required warming the skin and an extremely slow rate of injection to ease the wasp-like sting), once again I visualized myself alongside my Trusted Friend, and walked out without experiencing pain.

In the long slow hours of the most difficult days of sickness, when there was nothing left for me to do but simply endure, tears fell as I visualized myself sitting like a child curled up at the feet of Christ.  Simply being in His presence, leaning on Him, I found the inner strength to bear the discomfort, but more than that, I also found peace.

I had always believed in prayer, but now I actually felt prayer.  There were times when I would find myself suddenly uplifted and smiling for no reason at all.  Times when I felt as though I had already won the battle, and optimism would escape from my lips with a gasp.  Yes, there were hard days, but there were also many more days when I felt… well… happy.  And although the whole matter had not yet been settled, one thing was very clear.  Prayer mattered.

Did I think my chemotherapy was working?  Absolutely.  Did I think that prayer was also working?  Absolutely.  To my mental, emotional and physical state, prayer made a difference.  It was clear I was not fighting alone.  Christ said whenever two of you come together and ask anything of my Father, it will be done for you. When two or three gather in my name, I am with them.*  This I take to heart.  Whether it is spoken in thousands of whispers or in the small voice of a boy with his mom, prayer works.  Whether it be expressed with words, with imagery, or only with tears, God hears.  And God cares.

*Matthew 18: 19-20

Thankful ©Lynnea Washburn

The Circus Master

It’s amazing how fast things whirl around you when you are set perfectly still.  There are times when no matter how hard we try, we just can’t keep up.  Instead of the perfectly spinning top, we find ourselves wobbling like one about to topple.  It’s in those times when we must accept that we are no longer the efficient version of ourselves.  But it’s hard to give yourself permission to carry less than you once did, and it’s hard to be the one taking on the extra load.

From where I sat, watching our Family Circus, I thought things seemed pretty typical.  The boys skirted their homework, played video games too loudly, bumped off the walls while doing just about anything, and were generally the same old mess makers they had always been.  But for some reason it seemed this was no longer tolerable to their dad, and his patience was clearly running out.  A casual thing for some perhaps, but a rare event in our household.

Our easy-going guy had become the barking task master and was now making everyone jump.  So many things got under his skin.  The dishes, the schedules, the appointments, the laundry, the housework, the meals.  All the things that made up our three-ring life.  Even my reminder of whom-needed-to-be-picked-up-when resulted in a sharp snap in my direction.  Something was definitely off.  It didn’t make sense that the regular routine had now become so irritating.

Certainly things weren’t working quite like they once had, and I could see my husband was working harder than ever.  The energy required to parent this household was already demanding enough, and now he was going it alone.  His juggling act got very complicated.  On top of his job, the boy’s schedules, and caring for me, he was trying to keep normalcy balanced up in the air for fear it would all come tumbling down.  It was no wonder he was losing his grip.  I worried, wondered if he had anyone to talk to, and decided we had better try to sort it out.

Carving out some time alone, we finally got to talk.  As we did, we began to unpack the load, sorting through the tightly bound piles looking for things he shouldn’t be carrying.  Would things go smoother if the boys pitched in more?  Sure.  But we know they aren’t going to become perfect children just because of my cancer.  A loosened knot.  It’s unrealistic to think any of them will change into superman overnight (or ever).  An untied bundle.  And you know, you can’t expect to, either.  Another burden set aside.  The piles of shoes, the backpacks, the afternoon dishes, are these really worth being so upset?  Unbound.  Considering everything… do these things really matter…?  Unloaded.

We sat talking, working, unwinding, unbinding, until there was only one thing left in our pack.  And then I saw.  It wasn’t about any of those things.  It was about the single, biggest, hugest thing we had ever carried before.  It was about the one thing we couldn’t bear to speak.  The thing too difficult to articulate.  Beyond what to do with anger when there is no right place for it to go.  Beyond staying mute with indignation while wanting to cry out I am sorry that I am sick.  It was about standing on the high wire of our life and looking out and seeing nothing underfoot.  Not daring to take a step forward, not even daring to take a breath.

Finally, we exhaled.  Then the words came.

“We both know… if God decides it’s my time to go, then no one and nothing can prevent that from happening.  But if God decides it’s not my time to go, then no one and nothing can make it happen.”

And for some reason, simply knowing only that, it was enough.

Enough to gather up the things we should carry, give all the rest to God, and walk hand in hand into another day.

Queen Anne's Lace ©Lynnea Washburn

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

Overliving

Halfway to the halfway mark.  You’ve got to find your milestones no matter how small they are.  A new cycle had emerged; treatment, side effects, normalcy, repeat.  Four cycles, evaluation, then four more.  It was a deceptively simple routine.  One in which I felt I was accomplishing nothing, but at the same time experiencing everything way too much.  I called it “overliving”, a side effect of sensory overload, an awareness dialed up to the tenth power.

It began with oversmelling.  Every smell had intensified so much that a once-pleasant scent was now acrid.  Cooked chicken smelled like dead foul, steak like rotting cow, and coffee smelled exactly like what it was; burnt beans.  The smells were closely paired with overtasting.  Even water now had the flavor of chemicals and chlorine.  Nothing tasted as it had before, or perhaps it tasted exactly as it should… about this I have continued to ponder.

Then there were the soaps, the cleansers, the shampoos.  I can’t tell you how many different varieties were tried.  Even the unscented had scent.  And oh, how they lingered!  On the sheets, on my clothes, on my skin.  The products certainly did their job, and no amount of rinsing reduced their ever-so-fresh guarantee.  Each scent was now overdone and overblown, and made my nose zing in agony.

Body temperature was another thing.  Whether it was my skin or my internal gauge, I was completely out of whack.  At times overly hot, but more often much too cold.  I felt every little draft, and spent many hours wrapped up and still chilled to the bone.  When a wood fire was lit in an effort to bring me comfort, it smelled as if I was inhaling the burnt cinders themselves.

Surprising however, were the emotional changes.  This wasn’t on the radar of possible side effects.  I started noticing and enjoying seemingly little things I had missed before.  I felt happiness more strongly, gratefulness daily, and found much to appreciate around me.  The purity of a bird’s song, the warmth of a single ray of sun, the peace found in the dusk of the day, and the uplifting breeze that held the promise of spring.  I found new appreciation for small joys.

Music fell fresh upon my ears, with new meaning and more emotion than before.  Sunday messages held words spoken uniquely for me as if I were the only one in the room.  Conversations were filled with insights and resonating truth.  Books were read with new levels of understanding and empathy.  I often felt as if I were seeing things for what they truly were for the very first time.  I found new significance in familiar places.

It was as if somewhere it had been decided that if I had to endure the physical discomfort of this new kind of overliving, then I would also get to experience a new kind of overjoying.  And although the physical effects would gradually diminish, there has been something lasting about the emotional ones.  One was clearly medication-based, but the other?  Perhaps… this was merely grace.

And once again I pondered, if life is not the same as it was before… perhaps now it is exactly the way it should be.

Water Lily 1 ©Lynnea Washburn

Water Lily 2 ©Lynnea Washburn

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Beauty for Ashes

“Would you like me to cover up the mirror?” the wig maker asked.

“No,” I said.  I thought that watching the progression of my hair being removed would be easier than seeing it all gone at once.

I had been warned that it would fall out suddenly, and that long before I was ready, I would need to make a decision about what to do with my hair.  Or lack of it.  They were right.  It was mere weeks after the first round of chemo that it had begun to fall out.  Reality hit too soon as hair filled my brush, laid upon my pillow, and came off in my hands when I stroked it.

I hadn’t sought out the wig maker.  Someone I once worked with some ten years prior, in another state no less, just happened to have a close friend from her college days that lived not far from me.  I had met this friend briefly some 12 months before, and when she heard I had cancer, she called me.  It was upon her recommendation that I considered the wig maker, and I had made a consultation to find out more.  But since the hair had started to go, my consult was quickly changed to a hair removal.

His name was Kurt, and his talent was amazing.  Kurt’s father had immigrated from Europe to the United States with the craft of wig making using human hair.  What began as a thriving high fashion business in New York City changed over time to become a specialized salon that catered to the needs of cancer patients.  Kurt’s father may have taught him the trade, but Kurt’s tender disposition was uniquely his own, empathic, caring and kind.

With my husband in tow, we arrived early in the morning, as Kurt had cleared his entire day for me.  Gently he began, starting at the back of my head, and he carefully removed my hair in sections.  He then placed them on a bed of long pins in a very specific order.  This way, the hair would be sewn onto a silk cap exactly where it had once belonged on my head.  All the while, he left the front of my hair in place which framed my face.  He knew what he was doing.  From my vantage point, all I saw was me looking back at myself looking normal.

“Ready?” he asked before the last of it was taken.  After a quick breath and an encouraging smile from my husband, I nodded.  The last two sections were removed as I watched, and I sat there in disbelief as I looked in the mirror.

“I look the same!” I said in surprise.  Then I laughed.  What was I thinking?  That my whole face would suddenly change?  That I would morph into someone else?  Or something else?  I startled myself with this silly realization.  The fact that this irrational fear had only vanished when all the hair was gone was equally stupefying.  I gained some composure, put on a long scarf, topped it with a hat, and turned to my husband. Voila.

“You look beautiful”, he said.  I married the right man.

Later that day, when the wig was finished we returned.  It looked amazing.  You couldn’t even tell I was wearing a wig.  I was shown how to wash my hair in the sink, attach it to my head with double-sided tape, and style it as usual with the blow dryer.  It was a bit challenging to find where my hairline used to be as I positioned it on my forehead.  A bit off and something just looked… well, a bit off.  With practice I would get it… most of the time.

But the hardest part of the day came as we prepared to leave.  I attempted to tell Kurt how much this meant to me.  To still have my hair, to keep a part of myself, was huge.  Overcoming my fear that somehow I would lose myself was even greater.  I was humbled by the fact that his talent, this gift, would help keep me whole.  He had gathered the markers of illness and had woven them into a crown.  My gratefulness overwhelmed me, and the longer I stood there the harder it was to speak.  I got as far as saying thank you, but the rest of my words were choked back by tears.  It’s okay, he said.  He gave me a hug.  He understood.

Later that evening, as I was saying goodnight to the boys, I asked each one if they wanted to see my bald head.  Tyler and Nate’s reactions were the same.  They looked me over and slowly nodded, as if to say… so there’s your head, uh huh, okay, we can deal.  Then when I showed Nick, I laughed aloud for the second time that day as he exclaimed,

“You look the same!”

From now on every morning, my cancer was going to show its reflection to me when I looked in the mirror.  But it would be my choice to decide what it is I truly saw… how I had changed, or how I remained the same.  And it would be my choice to decide what I would reflect to the world.

* * * * *

God says He will give you a crown of beauty instead of ashes*, and this I know to be true.  He tends to your needs through providence that appears to be coincidence.  He tells you what you need to hear through someone words.  He comforts you through someone’s gifts, encourages you through someone’s smile, touches you through someone’s hug, and loves you through someone’s heart.  He sees you for what you really are, and no matter what you’ve been through, you are beautiful to Him.

Roses & Damask ©Lynnea Washburn

* Isaiah 61: 3

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

The Author

Up until this point, as the author of my life, I had a number of chapters outlined well in advance.  These included the boys’ graduations, college experiences, careers, weddings and eventual families.  Chapters about a growing art business, more time with my husband, maybe some travel, and what life might become in retirement.  But when cancer entered the plot line, all those future chapters were shelved.

The long view of my story had shortened.  Now all I saw was January to June, during which eight treatments would occur every three weeks.  Then we’d see what things looked like from there.  My view was shortened again as I realized I just needed to focus on getting through those 3-week intervals.  The first week was always the hardest, followed by two in which I gradually regained strength, just in time to do it again.  It was during that first week of each cycle that my view shortened even further.  At first it was an accomplishment to get dressed by ten a.m., then an accomplishment to get dressed by noon.  Then by four p.m., then at all.  The view from here became a view of here.

What you find in the long slow hours is that you have too much time for your own thoughts.  When the clock slows down, you contemplate your situation, ponder the outcome, and wonder about everything.   This is part of the battle, these debates in your mind, when on one hand you say, OK Hope, let’s hear your argument, and on the other you say, OK Despair, let’s hear yours.  Today’s topic; a miracle.  With the theme being settled, I had plenty of time to hear both sides and decide what it truly meant.

You see, once cancer becomes a reality in your life, so do other things.  Like the idea of dying… like the idea of miracles.  These are no longer abstract concepts, but very real possibilities.  A miracle just didn’t apply to some distant bible character, or a story of someone of someone I knew, it applied to me.  My situation.  Right now.  I knew I could pray for one, I knew God answered prayer.  I knew He was completely capable.  And it intimidated me completely.  How was I possibly worthy?

Who am I to call down the power of the Creator to attend to me in such a personal way?  How in the world would I ever be able to repay God for a miracle?  How could I ever honor Him or thank Him enough for such a thing?  I was paralyzed by the very idea.  I simply could not pray for one.  In today’s war of words, Despair had won the first round, and Doubt had been his right hand man.  If the long slow hours of the day were for fair debate, the dark lonely hours of the night were for Doubt’s soapbox.

Wrestling with sleep, the questions wouldn’t stop.  How would the boys do without me?  How would they get through school?  Through relationships, through life?  How would my husband handle being a single dad?  Being alone?  How would college be paid?  How would the bills get paid?  Would the household continue to run?  Who would keep things on track?  Should I prepare?  How could I prepare?  How this… what if that…?  With Despair’s constant monologue clamoring in my head, and Doubt’s hot breath raising the hairs on my neck, I felt the dark world closing in.  With my heart racing, I bound out of bed, sank to my knees and cried… oh please Lord, grant me a miracle.

Silence.  Then peace.  Then sleep.

By the morning light, it was settled.  Despair was gone, nowhere to be found, leaving only Hope to remain standing.  Hope was the debate’s rightful victor, and in its arms, held a prize called truth.  I am worthy.  I am loved.  And when you are loved, there is no “paying back”, there is only loving back.  About this there is no debate, no matter how the story plays out.

God is the true author of my life, not I, and He writes much better than I ever could.  He knows the beginning, the middle, and He alone knows the end.  When the antagonist shows up, He can use him in the story too ~ as a catalyst for action, for growth, and for trust.  And just when you are certain that the next page is blank, God fills it, and the story goes on.

Daybreak ©Lynnea Washburn

All portions of this blog are ©Lynnea Washburn.  All Rights Reserved.