Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Beyond Faith. Where is God in Cancer?

Does God cause cancer? Prevent it? Choose who gets it? Will he cure it? Cure it for some people? Our view of God is revealed in our prayers: God as punisher, as father, as parent or as Santa. In prayer do we ask for magic? Special consideration? Or do we ask for strength to cope with what is? Perhaps we petition for someone else’s cure? Do we believe that some people should have --or not have --difficult things, like cancer, to deal with?

A common first response to a diagnosis of cancer is, “Why Me?” Some people stay there and others move on to, “Why not me?” Implied in this is a sense of God or Higher Being or Mover in our lives or the universe.

Cancer often leads to these big questions. And that sends us looking for resources, experts, and theology. Now, a new book “Beyond Faith” looks at an intelligent person’s belief in God. The book by former trial lawyer, William Penick, deposes God in a thoughtfully imagined interview—yes, with God, and shows with humor and insight into human nature, how we create God.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Do You Still Have Cancer?

I have noticed a way that people will sometimes try to ask about cancer without actually asking about cancer. Saturday we were at a basketball game and John was seeing folks he hadn’t seen in a while. I heard several—guys—asking him, “So how is EVERY thing?” John would answer, “I’m good; I’m good”. I heard the question buried in the question: Do you still have cancer? I get this too sometimes, people will ask me, “How is he DO-ing?” and it is the slowing down in the question and the odd emphasis on “every” and “do” that signals the question they want to ask but don’t want to be caught asking: Does he still have cancer?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mammogram Poem

Mammogram By Teri Bordenave

Good luck she said as
I left the room, clothes in one
hand, borrowed garment clutched in
the other, protectively, against
my left breast.
My left breast - the one over my heart.
My left breast - the one she just flattened and x-rayed in the darkened room.
My left breast - the one they took another look at today.
My left breast - one of the two that fed my daughter’s life.
My left breast - the one that wears your favorite nipple.
My left breast - the one I now cradle, instinctively, in my sleep.

It was a voice I didn’t recognize,
the one in the message on my phone.
“I’m sure you’ve heard by now,” it said,
“we found some abnormalities
in your mammogram.” Turned out to be
Tanika, film librarian at the diagnostic center
looking to add more x-rays to her collection.
Mine. “So we can compare,” her voice
trailed off as my ears started to close up,
my whole head fell into a large pool
of murky pond water, body following, as I
tried to remember which way was up.

I’d been here before. When I was twenty, alone
and on medicaid. In those days, you were put
under, put up in the hospital for three days, put
through the wringer because you were poor and
the medical students needed to practice looking
at breasts, taking off and replacing bandages.

Filling out my paperwork, the woman in Admissions
asked me my religion. Agnostic, I told her. “No dear,
how were you raised?” she asked slowly, as though
I didn’t understand the importance of her question.
I think she didn’t know how to spell it. So,
I told her I’d been raised Catholic, but was now
in recovery. I don’t think she understood the
importance of my answer. When I woke from
the drugs, to a male voice calling my name,
and saw a priest, anointing me and praying, I knew
I was dying. Twenty. Alone. In a cold hospital
room, in the cold Northeast.
I was wrong.

“It will hurt more this time,” Ellen warned me as
I stepped up to the GE machine “ ‘cause we
have to look more closely at this one area; the
suspicious area.” How can a breast, something
so soft and maternal, so sexual and sensual, so
lovely and nurturing have a suspicious area, I
wondered. GE and its “Imagination at work”
tagline was bringing good things to my life today
I kept telling myself as the plates did their best to
squeeze all the imagination right out of me.

I waited as she consulted with the radiologist. I
sat in the cold black plastic chair in the softly-lit
room wondering why mood lighting is a part of
getting a mammogram. I sat hoping that I’d soon
be on my way, thankful for this tool, and grateful
I’d not have to see one again for twelve months.
Twelve minutes, felt like thirty, and back she came
Dr. Rad in tow. As soon as I saw him, heard him
tell me his name, shook his hand and tried to
look him in the eye, I knew. This was not good.
I was right.

Teri Bordenave is a poet and an organizational development consultant. She lives on Kent Island in Maryland and also in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Corporate Cancer

In Sunday’s New York Times business section there’s an article about Trish May, founder and CEO of Athena Partners. She’s 56 and has used cancer to find her mission, passion and profit.
She had breast cancer at 39 in the midst of a big career at Microsoft. She is the creator of Microsoft PowerPoint. Now there’s a mixed blessing; we can love her or hate her for that gift to society.

But her next gift was taking her cancer experience and applying her business skills to create a line of products—Athena Partners—including bottled water, chocolates with 100 percent fo the profits (it’s corporate not nonprofit) going to cancer research.

I was moved by her story and impressed by her actions. I had to ask myself why I liked her while many cancer survivor “It changed my life” stories turn me off. I think it’s this: there is nothing whiney about this woman. She is a survivor –cancer did change her life—but she is not a victim. She is committed to the cancer cause because of personal experience and her attitude is forward, “Let’s do something” rather than backward, “Look what happened to me.”

Can I make this shift in my thinking too?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Unexpected Gifts

A challenge this weekend became a gift.

On Friday I came home to find that John’s ex-wife had been to our home and left a pile of pictures and cards on our doorstep. It was creepy and felt like a scary intrusion. When I found the stuff I had to make a quick decision. We were heading into a long weekend that we’d planned to have some romantic time together. I was upset by the intrusion but didn’t want us --or me-- to devolve into anger and accusation. I realized standing on my doorstep—key in hand-- that this could become a blow up or we could do this differently.

I prayed.

John arrived a few minutes later and I showed him what I’d found and said, “Let’s do this differently.” We went inside and talked. I told him what I felt and my fear, and he told me what he felt and his fears. We agreed that we had to do something. John said, “We will respond as a couple, and as us, and as we.”

Instead of fighting we talked. Instead of losing the evening we made dinner and watched a movie. Saturday we talked again about what to do. He said this is happening to us as a couple and we will respond as a couple. He drafted a letter to his ex-wife that we edited together and both signed. The conversations were not all easy. We talked about hurt and fear and the future trouble that this might cause.

I kept praying to change my thinking, my beliefs and my behavior. I felt myself stretching and being stretched. I didn’t get mad. We held hands when we talked. We heard each other and decided together.

Sunday night watching TV we thanked each other. We had in fact done it differently. We had our sweet weekend and we had become closer as a result of working out a solution together.

Last night, coming home from a concert, we talked in the car and realized that this weekend was a turning point. Facing this unsettling situation together had helped us recommit as a couple. It was a gift.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Chekhov's Double Life

Today is the birthday of Russian writer, Anton Chekhov. In addition to amazing plays and stunning short stories, he also wrote:

“Medicine is my lawful wife. Literature is my mistress.”

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Marriage and Weddings

I loved Elizabeth Gilbert, “Eat. Pray. Love” Read it, listened to it: God and pleasure and faith and fear and overcoming fear. Yes it helped that she had a big house to sell and a huge book advance. But Ok that does not counter the humor and good grace of her book. I especially loved when she had everyone in the universe co-sign her prayer to have her divorce end and to have peace with her ex. And that water tower scene in India. Again turning that ex over to God—higher selves meeting and releasing.

In this week’s New Yorker magazine a review of Gilbert’s second memoir, “Committed” about marriage and reluctantly marrying the man she fell in love with at the end of book one. At the end of the book review this great line:

“There is good reason to end such stories with weddings, buoyant celebrations of love. Because what follows a wedding is a marriage. And marriage is an institution, not a party.”

Monday, January 4, 2010

Step Cancer

I am not alone. One of my worry what-if’s has to do with the fear of John’s cancer returning (Is it correct to say it’s gone? In remission? Hibernating? Officially you can’t say cured until five years but with colon cancer five years is half a miracle.) But with that recurrence a fear that I have is how that will play out with his kids. They opted to not be part of his life during the first year of cancer—they missed the surgery, recovery, recuperation, chemo, the pump and the ugly side effects and the skin, hair, feet, mouth, sleepless nights.

Now they are slowly—ever so slowly --returning to his life so if cancer comes back what role will they play? That little nagging bonus fear has given me some great hours of useless distraction. But shame being what it is I hardly wanted to admit I was having anticipatory resentments. But whoa—life lesson learned again: no one is ever the only one who has an experience!

In the Winter 2009 issue of CURE magazine there is an article called: “Uncertain Obligations: When Adult Children Care for Parents and Step Parents Who are Ill.” And there it is. Questions of divorce and blended families and how cancer and chemo become the acid test—the chemo test maybe?—of how successfully a family has blended –or not.

The author, Jo Cavill, writes about adult children reluctant to care for a natural parent because of divorce, unwilling to care for a step parent, the stress and strain between adult children and a new spouse sharing caregiving and the fights about both being the caregiver and not wanting to be the caregiver, and the supplementary issues raised by divorce and cancer: who makes medical decisions, how is money spent and who gets the money—if there is any left after cancer treatments—after the parent dies.

This is one of the best pieces that CURE has offered. It’s right in there describing real life and the scary realities of Love in the Time of Cancer.