Sunday, December 30, 2007

Hallelujah, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

I know -- many two year olds don't blog. (Or if they do, it must not be very often.) However, even though I recently enjoyed celebrating my second "birthday" (the end of A.D. Two) I should blog like a quadragenarian on steroids.

Cancer in my right brain didn't stop me from singing Messiah again this Christmas, and neither did cold and flu season! (Hallelujah!) It was a wonderful experience, singing two back-to-back performances in a full house. There is always a thrill listening to the orchestra begin with the overture, because it's usually when I'm thinking to myself, "Wow -- I'm really still here, and I'm really going to sing this again!" The first choral piece is "Glory to God", and I use that as a last little warmup and check of my voice. Usually my first aria follows shortly thereafter: "O Thou, That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion". I sing it, thinking of the good tidings of the Savior's birth, and all that it means for us. And I am reminded of the good tidings that I have enjoyed during another year of miracles. My next aria was "He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd," and ever since I was diagnosed with cancer and began worrying about my two children I gained a new appreciation for the words:

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd, and he shall gather the lambs with his arm.
And carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

A soprano follows, singing:

Come unto him, all ye that labor
Come unto him, ye that are heavy laden, and he will give you rest.
Take his yoke upon you and learn of him
For he is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

(Amen. I've enjoyed that rest. I've also enjoyed being gently led through life along with my "young".)

Toward the end my husband and I sing a duet: "O Death, Where is Thy Sting?" I try not to make it sound like a challenge, but rather an acknowledgement that the Messiah takes the sting out of anything we face in mortality. There is a choral response that is often left out of performances, so I have only heard it in recordings:

But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ.

I know people who have lost loved ones, or who have suffered other tragic events close to Christmas time. My own cancer diagnosis came about two weeks before Christmas, and I wondered if that would taint the holiday for us. But I later realized that Christmas was a fitting backdrop for any life experience -- happy or sad. Because Christmas is a celebration of the birth of the One who gives us victory over sin and mortality. He is "ris'n with healing in his wings."

Christmas has been wonderful this year, not only because of the two prior Christmases that I thought might be my last, but also because I have been able to share it with so much family. All of my brothers came to visit with their families, and it was so fun to be together again. Our last time all together like this was in Manhattan during Thanksgiving 2006. It's nice to have family gathered around for non-funeral occasions! (I hope we have more!)

We'll soon be ushering in the new year. Each new day feels miraculous, and seeing another year roll around is even more exciting. I hope I see the ball in Times Square drop many more times, and I hope I get to kiss my husband each time it does.

Reflecting on the year that has passed, and on all of the years that preceded it, I think of the words from one of the songs in Michael McLean's The Forgotten Carols:

All I ever wanted, all I ever dreamed of,
Everything I hoped, and all the things I prayed for
Couldn't hold a candle to what I've been given;
I've been given what I need.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I've got half a mind to share this one...


A couple in their nineties are both having problems remembering things. During a checkup, the doctor tells them that they are physically okay, but they might want to start writing things down to help them remember.

Later that night, while watching TV, the old man gets up from his chair. "Want anything while I'm in the kitchen?" he asks.

"Will you get me a bowl of ice cream?"


"Don't you think you should write it down so you can remember it?" she asks.

"No, I can remember it. "

"Well, I'd like some strawberries on top, too. Maybe you should write it down, so as not to forget it?"

He says, "I can remember that. You want a bowl of ice cream with strawberries."

"I'd also like whipped cream. I'm certain you'll forget that. Write it down," she says.

Irritated, he says, "I don't need to write it down -- I can remember it! Ice cream with strawberries and whipped cream! I got it, for goodness' sake!"

He toddles off to the kitchen. Twenty minutes later the old man returns from the kitchen and hands his wife a plate of bacon and eggs.

She stares at the plate for a moment and asks, "Where's my toast?"

(Much thanks to nurse Charlie for sharing this one with me right before my chemo infusion! Between the Avastin and the natural killer cell boost from the good laugh I had over this one, I think any last tumor cell crumbs don't stand a chance.)

Happy Birthday to Me

...or maybe Happy Birthday tu-mor...
...or maybe Happy Birthday -- TWO MORE!

It's 12/12. I've survived two years. Based on Lance Armstrong's view that his diagnosis date marked the day he "started living", I'm enjoying the second birthday of my new life. And I got an A+ on my neuro exam yesterday. Time to break out the hats and horns.

One more year, and I would reach "long-term survivor" status. Two more years (two more with the tumor) and I'd get to see my son baptized without waving from a cloud. I might even have my black belt by then. Three more years, and I'd be a complete freak of nature. (A happy one, however.) And who knows...maybe there will be a cure somewhere in there, or at least a treatment that lets me hang on until the cure is found. Until then I'm hanging onto my good medical team and many many prayers.

I just hope I'm not entering the "terrible two's"...

Sunday, December 02, 2007

To "bee" or not to "bee"?

(I need to "bee" posting to my blog more often -- I think I set a new record for space between blogging...yikes!)

My husband's parents came to visit during the Thanksgiving holiday, which is one of our favorite holidays (even though every day becomes Thanksgiving Day when you have cancer and are still alive). While they were in town we took them to the Mary Kay building where my husband works, to see the Mary Kay Museum. Among the many fascinating artifacts are items that symbolize the bumble bee. Mary Kay Ash used the analogy of the bumble bee to reinforce her positive, "can-do" attitude. Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn't be able to fly, but it does. On Friday night we took the kids to see The Bee Movie, where they mention the same thing.

Mary Kay Ash said that bumble bees fly because they don't know that it's not aerodynamically feasible. She's right -- they don't have the ability to doubt their possibilities, so they just do what they have to do. People aren't as lucky. Sometimes we only know enough to be dangerous, and it's too easy to let information work to discourage and defeat us. I've heard the question asked before: "What would you try if you knew you could not fail?" And my karate teacher has explained that a black belt (ranked person) is "just a white belt who didn't give up".

With cancer there are many things that can cause discouragement, from the initial diagnosis to days that don't feel so good, to days when setbacks occur. But I was taught by an enthusiastic cancer survivor (who trounced her odds) that it's important to avoid giving into discouragement, clinging instead to hope. Norman Cousins (who laughed himself into remission and became a best-selling author) would agree.

Bees aren't the only ones who (literally) fly in the face of conventional wisdom. I think there is a reason why the scriptures caution us against trusting in the "arm of flesh". Not that secular learning and knowledge aren't important, but sometimes we let our universe be confined to what we can see and touch and empirically demonstrate, and then we miss out on a real universe of possibilities.

A bee has a fat body and tiny wings, and based on available knowledge, it shouldn't fly. I have been diagnosed with a disease that claims most people within a year, so based on available knowledge I shouldn't be expected to be alive today (especially since I had tumor progression occur during the first year of treatment). But somehow I managed to "bee" alive today--with my book in print and a purple belt in karate to boot.

I have subjected my right brain to surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Based on available knowledge, my brain shouldn't be able to process music as well as it used to. But somehow I managed to "bee" singing today! I actually sight-read music better than before. And within a few weeks, if I can manage to fend off cold season, I am slated for my fourth Messiah solo performance since my cancer diagnosis and surgery. Previously I had never had this many opportunities in such a short period of time.

My story is not that unique. Statistics aside, I am meeting more walking miracles every day. Trust not in the arm of flesh.

The Apostle Paul struggled with a "thorn in the flesh", which was not removed despite repeated prayers for healing. Yet he gloried in his infirmity and testified, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Paul decided to "bee". And he's right. No matter what challenges or obstacles we face, we have the choice to either "bee" or "not bee", when it comes to realizing the possibilities before us, based on where we chose to put our trust.