Tag Archives: going through the process

If Only

6 Oct

I hate that I always take on the emotional struggles of others. I can’t help it—there’s this insane need inside me to chase away the burdens of those whom I love. If only (fill in the blank) or (fill in another blank) then all would be right in the universe, and then I could take a deep breath and finally relax. You’d think at sixty, I might have figured out that this is NEVER going to happen.

We are taught to believe that in order to have a fulfilled life, we must be content at all times. Like most people, I’ve been striving for happiness since I was a young girl, creating so many “if only” scenarios in my mind that I learned to ignore the little miracles that take place in front of me on a daily basis. How can I possibly look out the window to notice the changing leaves of the Liquid Ambar trees when I’m worried that my children are unfulfilled in their careers? How can I feel comfortable in my home when all I notice is that the walls need painting, or that the termites are silently eating away the insides of my house? How can I sit and drink that second cup of coffee when I should be out taking a five-mile walk? What if my daughter doesn’t get into the college of her dreams? How can I prevent her from feeling hurt and disappointed should that comes to pass?

I remember thinking years ago that “if only” I published a novel, all would be right in my world.  I would finally feel accomplished, and experience that sense of worthiness I’ve been longing for my entire life. Yeah, right.  Sure, I wrote a book, and sure, there were some really wonderful moments, but eventually my life went back to the way it was before. Now I find myself again at square one, worrying how I’m going to find the motivation to work on that second book.

Ugh. Carrying all this angst is overwhelming. And yet, how effortlessly I throw it over my shoulders every morning. How easily I tighten the straps as the day progresses. For years, I’ve shouted to the heavens and beyond that we cannot control everything that happens to us—that we just don’t have that kind of power. That it’s not about the end result—but it’s about the process? Intellectually, I understand all of this. Yet my heart will not listen.

One moment, one hour, one day at a time.

One word, one sentence, one chapter at a time.

Process equals joy.

Say it with me.

Why Not Me?

9 Sep

I suppose I should begin by writing about my cancer experience. It’s really Isa’s cancer experience, but she was only two years old when she was diagnosed, and barely remembers any of it, so I’m claiming it as my own. I want to share my story because it’s the main reason I began writing again in the first place. It’s much too long a tale to tell in one post, so I’ll probably write about it here and there and spread it out over time.

Last night I was back in the hospital with Isa and my husband, Rene. No, I wasn’t there because our daughter was sick or had suffered any relapse of her illness; but because Isa’s pediatric oncologist had asked us to speak to the parents of a four year-old girl (whom I’ll call Lili to protect her privacy) who was recently diagnosed with the same kind of leukemia that Isa had. He thought it would comfort Lili’s parents to meet Isa and see that after two and a half years of chemotherapy treatment, our daughter is now a normal, healthy six year-old.

It’s still very difficult for me to go back to the hospital, even though I know that Isa is in complete remission right now. Walking through those endless tunnel-like hallways lit by the yellow glare of fluorescent lights, seeing all the doctors in their light blue scrubs, and especially the distinct sweet smell of hospital antiseptic, all manage to trigger a mental time-relapse in my head. I’m transported back to a place in my life when everything I considered normal blasted apart like two cars in a head-on collision.

Before Isa’s diagnosis, pediatric cancer was something I’d watch once a year while the St. Jude Hospital telethon played on television. Cancer in children was relegated to the narrow periphery of my life; a quick glance of a sunken-eyed, bald headed child lying in a hospital bed, tubes dangling every which way from her body like strands of dress-up costume jewelry. I’d pause a moment to sniffle noisily while the music swelled and think, “Good thing that’s not my child—I’d never be strong enough to handle that!” Those brave and miserable kids managed to bring tears to my eyes, but I was so removed from the reality of childhood cancer that I never even made a donation to St. Jude Hospital. Not once.

Then it happened. From one day to the next, I had become a member of a very special club— THE PEDIATRIC CANCER CLUB.  Welcome to stark hospital rooms, the endless scrubbing away of germs, sleepless nights, and life-altering anxiety. Welcome to anesthesia, surgery, blood transfusions, and an array of chemotherapies so toxic that the nurses have to wear protective clothing so as not to burn their skin while they are putting those cell-destroying chemicals into your child’s body.

Welcome to the abyss of primal maternal fear.


It’s not a place I’d wish on my worst enemy.

As we walk into Lili’s hospital room, I immediately feel that incipient fear oozing out of her mother, Marta, like thick, black bile. It’s almost as if I can see into her soul and I can tell she’s stuck in that dark and disconsolate place—a place I know intimately. There, fear is a hard rock in your stomach that won’t go away no matter what type of positive diagnosis the doctors give you. This place is a particular hell where you can’t stop asking the question, “WHY ME?—Why my little girl? Is she going to die?”

I will tell Marta that Lili will most likely not die—that her daughter’s type of leukemia has almost a ninety percent cure rate. I will tell her that she’s about to go through the worst hell imaginable; that watching her daughter suffer will be a heavy burden that she’ll carry for many years to come. Yet, in the same breath I will also tell her that she will come out of this experience with a greater appreciation for the beauty and preciousness of life. I will tell her all of these things, but I know she won’t believe me right away.

She won’t believe me because she has to experience it herself. She has to go through the process. Right now, she’s in that place that you can only escape through the passage of time and experience. Marta won’t feel safe again until Lili is done with her treatment; her hair all grown back, and is considered cured. Even then, the fear will never go away completely. She’ll do as I did: watch and wait and worry. She doesn’t yet know  that the fear will ease over time, and the evidence of great blessings will become apparent.

When Isa was first diagnosed, I spent time in that dark place: Why me? Why did this have to happen to our family? We don’t deserve it; Isa doesn’t deserve it. What I didn’t know then is that I would eventually ask myself, “Why not me?

Lives are changed by a child’s cancer diagnosis; normal family life is turned upside down in an instant. What I’ve learned is that patience is paramount, because many blessings are right around the corner. You’d never imagine it, but cancer can turn out to be a marvelous gift—an incomparable, transforming gift.

Isa’s cancer experience certainly changed me in profound ways: I learned that I am stronger than I ever imagined. I learned to accept a difficult situation with grace. I learned to allow others to help me when I was used to doing everything myself.  I learned that there are angels walking amongst us who are masquerading as pediatric nurses.

I learned to slow down and breathe and be grateful and LOVE more deeply. I learned that I have the ability to help others who are going through what I went through—that I have something significant to share with them, just because I’ve been there.

I walk into the very same hospital room that Isa stayed in over four years ago. There is Lili, sound asleep in her hospital bed, the static whir and beeping of the machines droning in the background, and I see her mother next to her. I reach out to hug her tightly and our tears flow together.

I will help her to not be so afraid.

Why not me?