Archive | September, 2012

Cancer Causes Love

26 Sep

On a recent sultry September afternoon, I watched happily as my seven year-old daughter, Isa scrambled around with other children at the park, her long, dark hair swinging across her back as she dodged the hot sun under a canopy of shady oak trees. She’s come a long way since that time five years ago when her little bald head was as smooth and hairless as a ripe honeydew melon.

Last Sunday, our family attended the annual reunion party for the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Pediatric Oncology Department where Isa was treated for her leukemia when she was two years old. We always look forward to going to this event because we get to see the many friends that we’ve made at the hospital, but mostly we go because sometimes we just need to be reminded of how lucky we are.

Isa, about a month before her cancer diagnosis.

Isa has now been cancer free for over five years, and so our day to day lives no longer revolve around chemo treatments, bone marrow aspirations, spinal taps or blood and platelet transfusions. No longer do I wake up in a panic in the middle of the night because my daughter is running a fever and I have to rush her to the hospital. It’s been a very long time since I had to cradle her head as she vomited from the chemo or deal with her black moods brought on by the steroids.

As time goes on it gets easier to forget that scary time in our lives. Things have returned to normal—or to whatever “normal” is. My husband and I still experience the usual day to day worry that many other married couples do—such as how to pay the bills, how to pay the bills, and how to pay the bills, but this particular worry is nothing compared with the added anxiety that our child could possibly die.  Luckily, we’re now home free and we get to cross cancer off our list.

Isa, bloated and bald after six months of chemo.

This is why I’m writing about pediatric cancer again. At the hospital reunion party I saw children of all colors and sizes—more than a few of them with bald heads, and I was reminded that there are still too many families who have yet to cross cancer off their list. I was reminded of three year-old Lexi Krasnoff, who at last year’s party, took off all of her clothes and ran naked through the park, the dome of her fuzzy head gleaming in the sun. Lexi wasn’t with us at the party this time because she died of her leukemia last February. Her parents have crossed cancer off their list, but not in the way they had prayed.

Cancer is always a very nasty thing, especially when it comes to children, and it’s always a struggle no matter what the circumstances are. Yet there is one beneficial side effect from cancer, whether your child lives or dies from this disease: It is LOVE.

During those first days when Isa was in the hospital, when I was as terrified and vulnerable as a child lost in the wilderness, I experienced a huge shift in my consciousness. I became aware that I was not all alone in this universe and that there were multitudes of people around me—hospital staff, family, friends, and even complete strangers whose love for Isa and our family enveloped us in huge bear hug and lifted us out of that all consuming darkness and fear. I was open to something I would have never known before Isa’s cancer diagnosis: the genuine connection of pure love that exists between each and every one of us.

There’s just something about a child with cancer that makes you forget that negative way of thinking—you know what I’m talking about—those feelings of judgment, resentment, envy and hate with which we’ve become so damn comfortable.

When you learn of an innocent child who’s been diagnosed with cancer, your first reaction is “That poor family! What can I do to help?”  You stop thinking of yourself for a moment and your heart opens up a little more. Your perspective on life changes and you realize how lucky you are that your child is not experiencing something so dire. Perhaps you even begin to appreciate those around you more and your capacity to give and receive love becomes more significant. Your connection with others begins to synchronize and you begin to understand that all of us are exactly the same on the inside.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could experience this profound connection with others without a child having to suffer through the disease of cancer? Wouldn’t it be incredible if it didn’t take something as hideous as pediatric cancer to allow us to love and appreciate each other on a deeper level?  Wouldn’t it be perfect if no child ever had to suffer through surgery, chemotherapy or radiation again in order to teach us about this magnificent gift of love?

There’s no doubt about it—love grows and evolves when a child is diagnosed with cancer. I’ve seen it happen over and over again. And because September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, it’s a time when we all need to be reminded to nurture this love and spread it around. There is ample opportunity to help: volunteer for an organization that helps children with cancer, make a donation to cancer research, or reach out to a family whose child has been diagnosed with cancer.

Let’s keep this awareness alive and do all we can to find a cure so that someday, an innocent child won’t have to suffer through the pain of cancer treatment just so you and I can learn to love each other the way we’re meant to.

http://teddybearcancerfoundation.org/

http://www.sbch.org/OurHospitals/CottageChildrensHospital/tabid/150/Default.aspx

http://www.curesearch.org/

http://www.lls.org/

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A Novel Idea

12 Sep

I have a secret: I’m writing a novel.

There—it’s out there. Whew. I’m uncomfortable telling you this because it sounds so ridiculous. Sure, I can play a Bach Fugue on the piano, grow exquisite flowers in my garden and bake a delectable batch of cookies. I can even write a good blog post once in a while. But write a novel? Keep dreaming, girl.

Voice of tiny person sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear:

Why in the world are you telling people that you are writing a novel? Keep your big mouth shut, you idiot. Now they’re going to expect you to finish it someday!

After all, who am I to think that after only a few years of semi-serious writing I could possibly have a novel in me? Although this past year I’ve devoted a myriad of hours developing my writing skills (well, not quite a myriad) I still have a difficult time believing that I am clever enough, captivating enough, or focused enough to actually get it done. And even if I did get it done, would anyone actually care about what I have to say?

Voice of tiny person sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear:

I’ll answer that question: Nobody cares!

Unfortunately over the years, I’ve romanticized the dream of being a writer in my head, yet I ignored the crucial part of turning this dream into a reality: I never wrote down the words. I just let them run through my mind like quiet conversations or static background noise, too afraid to listen in and take stock of their meaning and validity. Instead I suppressed the urge to create through words and focused on playing and teaching the piano because that’s one thing I knew I could do well.

But words, not musical notes, have always been my true love. Since I was a child and discovered that a good book could take me to a place where I could change into someone else—into someone better, I’ve always been most comfortable losing myself in a good story. As I age, I’ve become even more of a voracious reader and often read two or more novels a week. Yet now that I’m finally writing regularly and becoming more aware of the writing process, I find that reading a good book can be agonizing at times because every so often, my little friend Envy rears her ugly green head. She’s more than happy to tell me that no matter how hard I try, I’ll never be able to string words together in a seamless succession of perfect stitches the way a really good writer can.

Recently I read a fantastic book by Gillian Flynn called Gone Girl http://gillian-flynn.com/ and I’ve got to say, I supremely enjoyed it.  The disappointing part is that now I almost have to dislike Gillian Flynn because she is so good at doing what I have yet to learn to do: crafting a story with fascinating and fallible characters, creating an out of the ordinary plot, and writing riveting dialogue. I almost have to dislike her because I know that for a very long time I will not be able to compose word such as these:

“…the sun climbed over the skyline of oaks, revealing its full summer angry-god self. Its reflection flared across the river toward our house, a long, blaring finger aimed at me through our frail bedroom curtains.

Wow.

This is probably what I would’ve come up with:

“….the sun came up over the trees in an angry red haze. It shone on the river behind our house and came through the windows, shining in my face like a bright light bulb.”

Voice of tiny person sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear:

Trite, trite, trite. Dull, dull, dull. TRY AGAIN!

Okay, I’m playing around here—I could do better than that. The point is, I’m like one of my adult piano students who comes to the lesson and enthusiastically exclaims: “I really have this dream of playing ‘Fur Elise’ (please God, any piece but that one) And even though I only took six months of piano lessons when I was seven, I know that with a little bit a practice I can learn this piece!

Now, the old me would mentally roll my eyes and kindly tell this student that Fur Elise is harder than it sounds (and that would be the truth) and that one should never start with something difficult because you may get frustrated and sad and end up truly resenting Beethoven for writing such an exasperating piece. (Oh, and by the way, you’ll never in a million years be able to play it well.)

But the new me might say, Why not? Anything is possible! And then launch into my spiel about the importance of consistent practicing.

The truth is I can’t expect something magical to happen without putting in the time and the work. And maybe—just maybe, if I spill my guts and tell you my secret, I’ll feel more obligated to put in the time.

Because if I write it down, it becomes more than just a possibility.

And to the little person sitting on my shoulder whispering all those negative comments in my ear: Take a hike, baby.