The Cancer Cringe

cringe manThe reactions I receive when I tell people about my cancer diagnosis are almost always kind and hopeful. I especially love the hugs and prayers people offer to me. I make a point to study the different reactions. I know cancer has such a scary stigma. Sometimes just saying “cancer” makes people cringe.

When I was getting radiation therapy, my oncologist recommended I use pure aloe vera on the skin that was getting directly hit with the death rays. I went to a grocery store that sold all kinds of natural products. As I stood in the aisle trying to figure out which bottle of goo was pure aloe vera, a chatty woman came and stood beside me. She started talking about all the many, many uses of aloe vera. She then asked me what I was going to use it for. I smiled and explained to her my plans for the aloe vera. Then as if on cue, she gave me that cringe.

During my chemo treatments, I carried a chemo pump for 4 days each week. I was given a horrid bag/fanny pack to carry it in. If I had to carry poison around with me, at least I was going to carry it in something pretty. I decided to go shopping for a purse. In one store, an associate eyed me curiously as I stood, trying to figure out which purse the pump fit in the best (and was appropriately cute). She walked up to me and asked if I needed help. I explained to her I needed a purse for my chemo pump. She looked at me blankly, then realization set in and then the cringe.

The cringe is humorous to me. It’s like I have a magic power that can strike fear in innocent people. I understand why people are afraid of cancer, Not too long ago, I was one of those people. Now that I’ve been on the other side, I’m not afraid of cancer at all. Cancer is just a bunch of confused cells and my body doesn’t know how to get rid of them correctly. My body may be challenged by the disease, but my mind and spirit are steady and strong.

Depression taught me that my brain can get sick. When my brain was sick, my spirit weakened. Without the strength of my mind and spirit, I wanted to die. Cancer is not allowed to affect my mind and I don’t have cancer of the spirit. Depression robbed me of hope and the will to fight. Cancer weakens my body, but it can’t break my will. I laugh at cancer and its attempts to bring me down. I have the power of God on my side and He is much bigger than any cancer.

Ephesians 3:16 – I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.

 

I Should Vanish

Like many people who struggle with depression, I did get to a turning point. It’s difficult to look up for light when it’s safer to stay in the dark. It’s difficult to allow hope in when you feel so hopeless. During my struggle several years ago, I did begin to allow a little space in the darkness for hope. As I read what I wrote years ago, it’s interesting to see that hope was all around me. I had to learn to trust it.

fading figure in fog

Let’s be clear, I had no business being born. God, I really think you made a mistake. You may prove me wrong at some point, but as of now I’ve made no impact. Without a doubt, I could vanish and besides my son, nobody would skip a beat. I think my son would be OK but it’s the control freak in me that thinks nobody can take care of him better than I can. There’s a thought to hold on to, being a control freak is what keeps me going, keeps me alive.

I see the pity in the eyes of people when they look at me. They know something is wrong with me, but it’s too uncomfortable to talk about depression or mental illness. I wish I could tell them what I’m struggling with and not feel embarrassed. Having to hide that I want to die is exhausting. I wonder what kind of support I would get if they realized this disease is deadly. Even though they may not understand what I’m going through, I know their acceptance would help me.

Today, two people asked me when my next “appointment” was. That’s great. I wish I knew what kind of vibe I was putting out there that would cause people to ask when I’m scheduled to see my therapist again. I used to think saying I’m seeing a therapist is a sign of weakness. It means I can’t fix what’s wrong with me on my own. I don’t have a physical ailment, it’s only a problem in my head. I’m not strong enough or smart enough to get over something that many think is imaginary.

But lately, I have begun to like the sound of having a therapist. It means there is a chance that someone can help this little girl, teenager, single mom, lost daughter, lonely sister. Maybe someone can help me bring all these pieces together and be normal and strong again.

I do think someday I’ll feel better. Right now, just sitting at the bottom with my head down is OK.

Mathew 5:1 – 5; Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 

I Was a Ghost

My family went on vacations when I was a little girl. They were the long drive to somewhere kind of vacations. On one trip, I remember not wanting to get out of the car. We would drive for 7 or 8 hours, but I wouldn’t get out until we reached our destination or stopped for the night. Throughout the day, we’d stop for gas and bathroom breaks, but I refused to get out of the car.

I wouldn’t get out because I was afraid of being left behind. I didn’t think my parents would leave me on purpose, I knew they would never do that. I was afraid they would forget about me. My mom would ask me several times if I needed to go to the bathroom. There was no way I would leave the security of the car. I wasn’t sad or upset. I was content. I would have felt bad if they drove on and after a while, realized I wasn’t in the car. Then they would have to come back and get me and I didn’t want to cause that much trouble.

JCA Teen 1

Fast forward to when I was 19. That’s me to the right. I believed I was invisible.  I wish I could go back in time and tell her she is perfect. That she mattered and deserved the best. She didn’t have to settle. That it is OK to believe in herself.  I would tell her to find out what she wanted first and to stop looking for her identity in someone else.  

Little girls need to know how important they are. They need to be told early on that they are precious and deeply loved. Without knowing this, they will spend years searching for anything that will provide that feeling. They will look to many things to make up for what is missing. Through my teenage years and twenties, my goal was to be wanted.  I was a chameleon, changing and conforming to whoever I was around, hoping I would be seen as worthy of acceptance.

I was called a ghost. The definition of a ghost is the soul of a dead person, usually a vague form, wandering among living persons, a mere shadow or semblance; a trace. A ghost is exactly what I was. I changed my mind often and waffled on decisions. I wasn’t grounded in anything, I didn’t have substance. I didn’t feel like I had purpose. I felt like I was a mistake. When I was struggling with depression, I was a dead person. I was willing to give up me if that meant I would receive love in return.  

Today I know who I am. I am a mighty warrior for God. Sometimes the people close to you don’t know how to give you what you need. But God knows how. Look to him for your identity, you are His child. Look to Him for approval, He knows you’re perfect. Look to Him for love, His love is never-ending. Look to Him for purpose, He doesn’t make mistakes. You are here for a very special reason. Ask Him what that reason is.

Jesus, teach me to speak life to others. Everyone needs to be lifted up, give me the right words to do that. Allow your light to shine through me so others see how awesome you are.

 

Mothers Aren’t Supposed to Leave Their Children

childs handWe’re getting close to back to school time. I’m glad, all these little hoodlums need to get back in the classroom and learn something! When my son was younger, I was usually ready for him to get back to the steady routine that school brings to our lives. Except for one year.

The thought of him leaving for college always hovered in the back of my mind. For so long I could ignore it and tell myself there was still plenty of time. Until his senior year in high school. I think I spent that school year holding my breath because I didn’t want it to end. Somehow I made it through.  During that painful weekend I moved him 3 hours away for college, I did something that went against everything I felt I should do for him as his mom. I left him. Below is the story about the day I did it.

It’s a typical hot, August in Texas day. Yesterday I moved my only child into an apartment for college. The fear and sadness of leaving him busied in the back of my mind, threatening to come front and center. I definitely had to ignore these feelings, this is no time to lose it. I wanted to be strong and stay smiling for him. I hoped that some of his excitement would come my way. But, none did. I have a pit in my stomach and my heart wants to sob.

He spent last night in his new apartment, his first night on his own. I spent last night in a hotel room, not sleeping and thinking about how I would be able to drive away from him. We met for breakfast. Worst…Breakfast…Ever. I ate something, but don’t recall what it was. I almost kept my eyes dry.

We finished and walked out of the restaurant. I hugged him. I was desperate to hold on to him forever. I wished he could be 4 again and I could feel his small hand in mine. I told him I loved him, then turned and walked away. It felt completely unnatural. I was abandoning my child.

I sat in my car and got myself together. As I put the key in the ignition, I heard a small voice. The voice said, “He is My child. I will take care of him.” I thanked God for the gift of my son. I thanked God for allowing me to raise him. I thanked God for entrusting me with him.  I am honored to call him my son.

James 1:17 – Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.

Cancer Pain vs. Mental Pain

It’s been a rough few days. I’m not bouncing back as quickly as I’d like after the chemo treatment last week. Yet, each day is a little better than the one before and I can live with that. When I’m feeling the most pain, I ask myself which is easier to handle: this physical pain or mental pain from depression. Without a doubt, the physical pain. I’ll take a clear head with physical pain over depression with no physical pain anytime.

In the infusion room last week, a woman came in and sat in the chair across from me. While in the waiting room she had broken down into tears and was very upset. She was tired of hurting and wanted to quit. Anyone who has fought cancer can relate to how she felt. During the next few hours while I was getting my infusion, I watched her improve. She wasn’t given any medicine to make her feel better, she only received her usual chemo meds. But, her doctor sat with her and encouraged her. Her nurse came by and prayed with her. The infusion nurses regularly checked on her and cheered her on. A friend visited her and reminded her how strong and brave she was. When she left, she probably felt worse physically. I’m certain she felt mentally much better and would continue to fight.

I wish people suffering with depression could rally support around them like this. During the times I was close to suicide and wanted to quit, I struggled to find a thought or anything to hang on to that would stop me from following through. I can picture myself, alone, with a gun in my hand. If I had the same support I do today while fighting cancer, I can imagine my therapist visiting me and reminding me that I’m stronger than I think I am. Then a friend would hold my hand and let me know I’m not alone. Then a family member would hug me and pray with me. I can see them loving me and accepting me and my struggle. I can see me, allowing myself to feel hope.

lone swan

Depression is lonely, cancer is not. People struggling with depression need just as much support as someone fighting cancer. Don’t dismiss depression as a minor illness that easily goes away. Depression can be as deadly as cancer.

Jesus, teach me that people with mental illness are in desperate need of my support. Help me to see them and reach out to them. Let the hope that can only come from You shine through me.