Monday, 30 December 2013

How to have a fantastic Christmas with cancer


“...I decided that since last year's Christmas season kinda sucked, 
this year's will be fantastic!”
~ Facebook status, November 22 2013


I wrote that status for my Facebook profile on the morning that Mom went into hospital. Before we knew she needed surgery. Before we knew she needed further treatment. Before it was clear that Christmas might look and feel different this year.

Last year at Christmas time I was depressed and stressed out. I avoided the carols I used to love; I didn't decorate my own apartment; I rushed home from work rather than enjoying the lights on near-by houses; and the only cookies I indulged in were at my parents' house.

This year I had wanted to re-discover all those things and more!
But that was before cancer entered my family... Because how do you have a fantastic Christmas with cancer?

After the initial shock wore off, and Mom began to recover and gain strength after that first surgery, I decided cancer was not going to get me down this Christmas! This Christmas perhaps more than any other needed to be fantastic!

The secret I found? Surround yourself with the people and things you love.

I baked 5 different batches of cookies. I sang in my choir's Christmas concert. I played my Christmas CDs, and watched some of my favourite holiday movies. I toasted to holiday cheer and exchanged small meaningful gifts with some of my closest friends. I sang O Holy Night and Silent Night (in German!) for the Christmas Eve service at the church I grew up in. I played with my nieces and nephews. I laughed, hugged, and cried with near-by family and friends; and texted and e-mailed with those at a distance. I took lots of pictures, and ate tremendous amounts of food... including too many cookies!

And for a few brief moments, I forgot about cancer and just had Christmas!

There are still lots of cookies left over and some turkey for sandwiches. The last bits of wrapping paper have been cleaned up. Younger Brother and his family are packing up to begin their drive home. I'll follow soon after. And life will resume as we begin to create a new normal for our family that includes cancer. There will be moments that are hard; moments that it is impossible to forget – if only for a second.

But I will always have the memory of this fantastic Christmas, surrounded by the things and people I love!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

A Second of Carefreeness

“You know what I miss most? Being carefree”

~ Katy A. (diagnosed with cancer 2 years ago)

I was having a hard time deciding what to write about this week. Already having posted 3 blogs about my Mom's recent health issues, I wished for a different, unrelated topic to distract me if only for a short time. But the truth is, it consumes much of my conscious thought and energy in one way or another.  

Because, when something like cancer comes into your life in a real way, it's interesting how much more you notice it around you. The number of related buzzfeed posts and articles that have been linked by friends on a Facebook newsfeed (one inspiring a friend to “selflessly” offer to be the photographer if I decided to gallivant around the world half-naked wearing a pink tutu!). The stories from survivors; from those who know someone who has or is currently fighting it; and from those who have lost someone to it. You hold on to the nuggets of hope, swallow the reality of the threat, and share emotions deeper then before you were connected the way you are now.

Today, I came across this video:

which, though about cancer, spoke to my wish for a different topic for this week's blog. The truth is, we all have those things that occupy much of our thought and energy; that we wish we could distract or escape from – if only for a second.

This is easier for some than others. It's easier for me, living at a distance, than for my Mom who lives with this new reality every single moment. But still, I believe it's important that we allow ourselves those moments. To escape into a space of gut-deep laughter; of future dreaming and planning; of connecting with friends, doing the things you used to do before; of forgetting – if only for a second

I do look for these moments – with my friends, watching a favourite TV show, playing my guitar. And I hope to be able to help my Mom and family find some during the upcoming holidays.

So in the spirit of finding a second of carefreeness, tell me: What do you do, either for yourself or others, to escape – if only for a second – from the thoughts and worries that threaten to consume you/us?

Saturday, 14 December 2013

In the Waiting Room

There were 17 of us between the ages of 1year and 81 years old crammed into the small waiting room during Mom's surgery 3 weeks ago. We cried, we laughed, we hugged, we ordered pizza for supper, we entertained the children and alternated between appreciation for their beautiful innocence which helped ease our own discomfort and a sense of how unfair it was that their Nana was in surgery.

And we waited.

A million things were running through my head. About how long I would stay at my parents after the surgery. And if I would be able to adjust my work schedule to return again soon. About whether or not I should move back, depending on what happened after the surgery. And if I really was strong enough to continue to pursue a career as a counsellor, supporting people through their life struggles while coping with my own Mom's illness. And of course the worst kind of “what ifs...”, the ones I don't even want to say out loud for fear they would become true.

Three hours later Surgeon came to tell us that all had gone well with this surgery. But then he started using other words. Scary words. Words I don't want to type out. Words that, though official confirmation was still needed, meant this really was only the beginning of a process requiring further treatment.

We cried and hugged some more, trying to process the vast amounts of developing information we had learned in a mere 2 days.

A young woman came into the room during this time and took a seat among us. I felt annoyed at this violation of our privacy. But quickly realized she must have a loved one in surgery. And this was the waiting room. Really, it was us who was invading her privacy. It was her turn to wait.

Dad was the first to formally acknowledge her presence, asking who was in surgery. Her Mom. We asked her name and invited her to join our prayer. Leave it to my family to reach out to someone else during our own time of crisis!

We asked if she had someone coming to wait with her. With her response of “later, after work” I immediately knew, if she would allow me to, I could not leave this woman alone to wait.

It was somewhat of a profound moment for me for a couple of reasons. One was a reminder of how blessed I and my family are to have each other. Not only the 17 of us in the room that day, but the countless members of our extended family and friends who have offered support in as many different ways. I cannot imagine sitting in that room alone, waiting. No one should ever have to.

The other was a realization that waiting with this woman, reaching out and offering support in that way was never a question in my mind. It is part of who I am and something I must continue to pursue, supporting people through their life struggles. It is in part what gives me strength and inspiration to face and cope with my own.

Since that night there are times when I feel like we haven't fully left the waiting room. We waited for test results that confirmed what Surgeon had told us. And now we wait for a treatment plan and treatment itself. During which time we will wait for results, for healing.

I often think back to that woman who walked into the waiting room on her own. I admire her strength. I really don't know if I would have been strong enough to do so. And I am glad that I don't have to find out.

Because we wait,

Thursday, 5 December 2013

When it's your Mom

I remember thinking it was weird that middle Brother was texting and calling me in the morning, since we don't connect that often and we had just texted the night before.
I sat bolt upright in bed when he said, “Aunt called...”, knowing immediately something was wrong.

Mom had been taken to the hospital.

That was a day I was thankful for text messaging! Keeping in touch all day with Brothers, updating with the little news we could.

I remember noticing and thinking small things: that my overnight toiletries bag was still mostly packed; that I'd already made plans to do laundry that day so had something to occupy my mind and would have clean clothes if I needed to travel; that I should try to switch that night's shift to work longer in case I needed to take a few days off.

All the while thinking, hoping it would be a short visit to the hospital; simple test with an easy diagnosis and quick fix. Home again by the time Dad returned from work at a distance. This became less likely as the day wore on.

And Dad wasn't home yet.

I wished I was close enough to relieve oldest Brother at the hospital when he needed to go to work for a few hours. It's times like this that it is difficult to live further away.

Because common is only common until it's your Mom. Routine is only routine until it's your Mom. 
Then your Mom becomes someone other than the rock you've turned to. She becomes the most important person in the world for an entirely different reason. 

It's times like this that I think maybe I should move closer.
It's times like this that I think what if I lived further away?
What if I had moved to England?
What if I had taken that job in BC?

What if... I moved home again?

Later that night oldest Brother shared the news that it would be a longer stay and more invasive fix. I literally shrank into a crouch when he said the doctor suggested it would be a good idea for me and younger Brother to come home. That though unexpected, there are risks with any surgery.

Common and routine then takes a turn. And in that moment, it feels like the whole world is changing. Because it is. Because it's your Mom.

In these moments the true nature of friends and support shines:
Manger at work was great, saying not to worry; to do what I needed to do.
Friend was amazing, I can't even describe how much her words meant: “Please keep in touch this weekend; I want to be the person you call and I'll take time away to talk to you when you need.” 
Amazing, because she had family visiting from out of town.

Because who do you call when the people you'd normally call are going through it with you.

Sitting with friends that night, after plans were made to go to the hospital and my parents' place in the morning, Philip Philips song Home came on. And I smiled – it's become my Peterborough song! The song that helped me realize I felt like standing still for awhile. In a place where I don't feel so alone.

But it also reminded me that Home is never far away, because it can be in many places and in one place all at the same time. Home is where there are people who care about you and who you care about. 

And when it's your Mom, that becomes all that is important!