Wednesday, May 23, 2012


I don’t think any of you would be too shocked if I said I believe in God!  I don’t think that’s too unusual.  I was raised Irish Catholic and spent fourteen years in the Catholic School system which I left with an excellent education, a disciplined work ethic, and all the guilt I could carry! 

I also believe in prayer and I believe God answers all prayers – in His time frame, not ours!  In my experience, He has three boilerplate answers: “Yes,”  “Not Now,” and “I have something better in mind.”  Recently I have had this picture of God in my head, with His hands over His ears, adding a new answer: “Oh please shut up; I can’t stand your whining, begging, pleading, and haunting anymore!!!”  I think I have finally over-prayed the Great One!

Somewhere around the time of my surgery four years ago, I had begun to really pray, and pray, and pray – basically to stay alive.  I was truly petrified that I was about to die.  If one novena was good, than five would be better.  I would say a litany of saints and was terrified if I left one saint out.  I had prayer cards for different saints in every book and magazine I was reading.  I had made a deal with God that everything I picked up to read, day and night, would be preceded by a prayer to some saint.  If I woke up during the night, I would begin the rosary.  If I fell asleep before I was done, I felt guilty.  Overall, it was a few years of a generally uncomfortable and exhausting relationship with a God I had always trusted.  Maybe that was the key – did I really trust Him now, when my life depended on it???  I said all the right words – “I place my trust in You” –“I trust in Your plan for me” – but did I really?  If I did, why did I whine and beg and plead all day and night.  Was I afraid He would forget about me if I didn’t keep reminding Him what I wanted?

About six months ago, we were at 9:00 AM Mass on Sunday and a visiting Deacon said the homily.  It was about trust, but not the usual Let Go and Let God.  This was about real people who were getting a little ticked off at God and His seeming indifference to their prayers. 

His first story had to do with an article written by Catherine Marshall called “When We Dare to Trust God.” It told how she had been bedfast for six months with a serious lung infection.  No amount of medicine or prayer helped. She was terribly depressed.  One day someone gave her a pamphlet about a woman missionary who had contracted a strange disease. The missionary had been sick for eight years and couldn’t understand why God let this tragedy happen to her. Daily she prayed for health to resume her missionary work. But her prayers went unanswered.  One day, in desperation, she cried out to God: “All right, I give up. If you want me to be an invalid, that’s Your business.” Within two weeks the missionary was fully recovered.

Catherine Marshall laid the pamphlet aside.  She was puzzled by the strange story. It didn’t make sense. “Yet,” she said, “I could not forget it.”  Then one morning Catherine cried out to God in words similar to those of the missionary: “God, I’m tired of asking you for health. You decide if you want me sick or healthy.” At that moment, Catherine said later, her health began to return.

The Deacon who was giving this homily told us that he had been a school principal and Director of Religious Education for over 40 years.  One part of his job that he found very difficult was finding teachers for the various religious education programs each year.  One year, he had to replace almost half of his teaching staff.  After exhausting every lead he could think of, he was still three teachers short. 

On Sunday of Labor Day weekend, he found himself assisting at the 12:00 Mass.  He was sitting next to the priest during the first part of the mass and looking out at the congregation … going face to face, looking for someone that he could contact after Mass to become teachers.

He said, “Suddenly it hit me that what I was doing was wrong.  Instead of giving praise and glory to God, I was using the Mass as a venue for recruiting new teachers.”

He continued, “I had an Epiphany, a moment of clarity that is hard to describe.  It was part frustration, part anger, and part relief all at the same time.  I said, “Lord, I give up.  This is your program.  If you want it to have good teachers, find them for me. From this moment on, I’m not going to worry about finding teachers anymore!”

He said that once he put things in God’s hands, it took less than a few hours for God to drop the three best Jr. High teachers he had ever had right into his lap.

The thing that grabbed my attention was that these people didn’t say, “I’m putting my worries in Your hands and I trust You will take care of them for me.”  I’ve never been able to wrap my mind and heart around that attitude. I have to keep reminding God what I want and need.  What they did say was,
“All right I give up – if this is what You want, it’s Your business.”
“I’m tired of asking for health.  You decide what You want.”
“This is Your program.  If You want good teachers, You find them!”

The Deacon had had his epiphany and I had mine that morning in that church.  It suddenly became so clear to me that all my begging and pleading and whining couldn’t do anything to affect the things I was praying for. There were currently three serious concerns in my life, my health being one, and the only person who had the power to bring about solutions was God.  I made a deal with Him that day.  I told Him I would stop the constant repetitious begging.  I said I finally realized that only He had the power to solve these issues.  So, they were ALL HIS and I would accept whatever He chose to do with them – but I was DONE with pleading!  In exchange, I offered to do some smaller things for Him – things I did have control over.  So, now the big things are in His lap and He sends me little things to do for Him.  Works for me! 

As to the problems I dumped on Him, my health is doing very well and I hope to be in remission very soon.  The second is 95% resolved – no thanks to anything I did and pretty much out of the blue!  The third and most difficult problem is on a very good path to the solution – again unexpectedly.  Maybe this would have happened anyway – but I’m not sure how much longer I could have kept up the begging.  And I’m more afraid that God would have tuned me out completely by now.  I really was such a PAIN.

No, I’ve learned a valuable lesson.  God wants a relationship with me that involves mutual love and respect and a lot less whining.  When it comes to the BIG things, the things that only God has the power to bring about, He wants me to put those things in His hands and trust that He will do the best for me – and then just leave Him alone to do it.  I do say thank you every day and tell Him what a great job I think He’s doing.  Even God needs a pat on the back once in a while!  In exchange, I continue to take on the things I can do for Him, like being His hands when I crochet prayer shawls, or maybe His ear when someone needs to talk, or maybe His taxi service or cook to someone who needs it.  It’s a great deal for me and I love living this way.  And after 67 years, God can finally put His earplugs away when He sees me coming.  

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Mother’s Day – I know it’s over for this year and I’m a little off schedule with this post.  But I think I’ll take the 5th (5th chemo treatment was a few days before Mother’s Day) which leads me to blame everything on the “C” word (Chemo brain)!

I don’t remember much about Mother’s Day when I was growing up.  I actually began wondering if the reason I didn’t remember was because Mother’s Day was a relatively new holiday.  I know people who call it a “Hallmark Holiday” insinuating that its only purpose is to sell “stuff.”  So, maybe it only began 40 or 50 years ago when I wasn’t exactly a “kid.”  That could be why I don’t remember!  WRONG! 

It actually dates back to a 17th century English holiday called Mothering Day.  The idea of Mother’s Day in the US dates back to the Civil War and a woman named Julia Ward Howe.  She felt the country had witnessed so much bloodshed during the war and this was her idea to promote peace.  It was celebrated for a while, but eventually fell by the wayside as the war became a distant memory.  It wasn’t until 1907 that a woman named Ana Jarvis got the ball rolling to turn it into a National holiday.  By the time President Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day an official holiday in 1914, it was already being celebrated in every state. 

Okay, I can’t use that excuse - so back to why I don’t remember.  What was Mother’s Day like in our home when I was a kid?  I really have no clue.  I guess you could call me the 2nd generation of kids in our family.  My three older brothers were well-settled into their teen-age routines by the time I arrived.  Did they have any Mother’s Day traditions or any special ways of honoring our Mom?? She was gentle, and soft-spoken, and definitely worth honoring, by the way.  I’ll have to ask them one day.  Unfortunately, we lost my Mom when I was very young, so I never got to start any traditions of my own.  I’m sure mine would have been better because they would have been “girl” traditions – but dwelling on that will only get me in trouble with my BIG brothers!

My earliest remembrances of Mother’s Day as a mother are all warm and fuzzy – funny and full of joy – sometimes with a little added shock and awe – but always filled with laughter.  It would begin with breakfast in bed.  In the beginning that consisted of a raw English muffin and tepid weak tea.  It quickly evolved into French toast and bacon and English tea with lemon.  Next would come the homemade cards that got more beautiful every year.  Sometimes there would be flowers picked from our garden – or someone else’s garden – either way beautiful!  Oh yes, whatever dog we had at the time would be dressed up in something festive.  Actually, every dog we ever had was always dressed for any and all occasions – but that’s another story!
Then my favorite part - the gifts - would follow – the ceramic ashtrays and mugs, the Paper Mache sailboats, the popsicle-stick photo frames.    It wasn’t just the gift – I’m not quite that materialistic!  It was what came with the gift: a questioning look in their eyes, the pride in their creation, that little twinge of anxiety – “Will she really like it?” “Will she know what it is?”  “Maybe I should have made the ceramic vase instead.”  That’s what I treasured and carry in my heart to this day.

Last Sunday was another very special Mother’s Day full of the usual emotions – including some shock and awe!

I had requested take-out from a local restaurant so all of us could relax – HA! After a lovely relaxing afternoon with my daughter and granddaughter, my husband went to pick it up.  My daughter’s dinner was missing and mine was burned.  He called and they urged him to come back and they would make it right.  This time the whole gang decided to go for a ride in the Jeep to pick it up.  Three minutes later, I get a call – they had all realized that no one had taken any money with them – so back they came.  I met them in the parking garage with my husband’s wallet.  Surprise! The restaurant comped the whole thing as an apology.  Too bad they didn’t pay for the gas back and forth and back and forth and back and forth! 

We finally sat down and enjoyed the dinner.  While we were still sitting around the table, we set up my iPad for a FaceTime visit with my son and daughter-in-law and our two grandsons.  Remember the Shock and Awe part – as we passed the iPad around the table, it began having wardrobe malfunctions and flipping this way and that way in its case.  My poor son on the other side of the camera began yelling “Stop! Stop! You’re making me nauseas.” The iPad finally flipped out (of its case) – literally – and landed on top of my husband’s full wine glass (red wine, of course) shattering it and spraying Cabernet and shards of glass over a significant area of carpeting, tile, and sliding glass.  The cleaning began and very soon the laughter took over.  The iPad is fine, the glass can be replaced, and all I remember is a warm, fuzzy feeling (that could have been the wine, though), the wonderful sense of humor that came out in the comments to follow, the laughter and feeling of pure joy, and a very special sense of awe.  Once again, I received a homemade gift – this time from my Granddaughter.  It was accompanied by the “questioning look” that I treasure.  This gift I would like to share with you.  I hope you all had as wonderful a Mother’s Day as I did and that you have memories to fill your heart with joy and awe. 

A poem by K.A.M
Age 11

Time is fragile, as delicate as a flower.
Time is scary, it can take away lives.
Time is joyful, you can spend it with your family and friends.
Time is endless, it goes on as long as numbers.
Time is silent, as noiseless as a ninja.
Time is silly, it tickles your mind.
Time is its own person, it is always changing.
Time is a gift, you are lucky if you get more.

SURVIVAL  TIP :   Let’s substitute the incurable cancer diagnosis with incurable joy, permanent laughter, inoperable optimism, untreatable warm and fuzzy spells, and a terminal case of shock and awe at life’s ever changing majesty!

Monday, May 7, 2012


Hair loss is one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy treatment.  Of course, this depends on the specific drug.  One drug I was on didn’t affect my hair at all – I wish it had.  Maybe then it would have left the rest of my poor battered, beleaguered body alone.  Oh well, I survived that too! – onward and upward!!!

Chemotherapy drugs are extremely powerful medications that attack rapidly growing cancer cells. Unfortunately, these drugs also attack other rapidly growing cells in your body — including those in your hair roots.

The first drug I was on attacked my hair roots pretty quickly except, as I’ve said before, my 12 super-hairs.  Planning ahead, as I’ve been known to do, I ordered 2 wigs the minute I saw the first fallen hair on my pillow.  I played around with scarves and bandanas.  I wish I could wear them; they look so great on others.  But it turns out I’m more of an everyday baseball cap and special occasion wig person. 

Well, the wigs arrived and the hair left – all in a very organized, if depressing, fashion.  I never went anywhere without one or the other, but at home, I remained au naturel.  My husband has never cared about things like that, God bless him.  The mastectomy years earlier didn’t phase him and neither did my bald head.  He actually said it was a pretty head. He really is pretty special himself. 

I knew I couldn’t keep my naked scalp under cover forever, especially from family.  I was particularly concerned about how my 7 year old granddaughter was going to react to Grammy’s obvious baldness.  She is a most beautiful, sensitive young lady and I didn’t want to frighten her.  She also has the most incredible sense of humor – inherited, no doubt, from my side of the family!  I had expressed my concerns to her mother – my brilliant and equally sensitive psychologist daughter!  She said not to worry – she had it covered!  When they arrived, my little one gave me a big hug, looked at my catalogue hair piece and said, Grammy, can I wear your wig?  She spent the next hour modeling it, styling it, making Grandpa wear it, trying to talk me into letting the dog wear it, and examining my “neat” baldness.  She actually thinks I’m cool!  She likes to call me “The Gramster” when she approves of my “coolness.”

In most circumstances, the hair does come back.  In my case, it took about 4 months after the last treatment had been completed.  On the day of her First Communion, I emerged for the first time in public sporting my newly sprouted snow white peach fuzz.  She still said I looked pretty and cool!  Maybe it was pretty cool.  I don’t care, it made my day!

In a few short weeks, a new generation of grandchildren will be arriving to visit.  I’m anxious to see what our grandsons – 3 ½ and 2 – will think of Grammy’s new “hairless do.”  I still have the old wigs, so maybe we can have a wig parade.  There’s no dog to model anymore, but I’m sure they’ll come up with something on their own.  I’m not as apprehensive as I was the first time.  Little ones are much more accepting and resilient than we give them credit for – and so easily amused.  I’m actually looking forward to some fun with the whole wig thing – almost as much as I’m looking forward to their visit. 

Right now, the small percentage of my hair that remains really isn’t a lot better than being totally bald, but I’ll take it and be grateful!  I’m back to my baseball cap (NY Yankees) and beach hats – but a new wig had been sitting in the drawer.  Once again I had ordered one when the first hair hit the pillow.  But 4 years had made a big difference in my “natural” color.  The old wigs were called “salt & pepper.”  This one is more like “snowdrift with a sprinkle of soot.”

We went out to dinner this week to celebrate my birthday “twins,” Grandpa and our granddaughter.  I was no longer worried about her reaction to the baldness – now I couldn’t wait for the reaction to the unveiling of the new wig.  I knew they would start out complimentary and kind – and they did.  “Wow, Grammy, it looks so real!” “Grammy, it looks like it’s growing out of your head.” “Wow, Mom, I didn’t know you had gotten to the wig point yet – it looks great!”  Eventually the humor won out, as I knew it would, and there was lots of laughter and giggling at the table.  Fortunately the other patrons were very tolerant.  My granddaughter reminded me how smooth my bald head had been (like a baby’s butt) and how funny the dog had looked wearing it!  She was very happy that I still had the old wigs.  Now she’s planning the wig parade when her cousins arrive.  Even hair loss can initiate humor and create memories that will make us laugh for years to come.  We had a great time that night, and I look forward to a lot more “hairless” but kindhearted humor.

When I was recuperating from the initial diagnosis and surgery, family and friends were incredibly generous with their prayers and gifts.  Every day something would arrive – food, cards, flowers, inspirational books, special prayers guaranteed to work.  Everything was truly heartwarming but I was craving something else.  I just didn’t know what it was until a dear friend sent me a copy of “Not Now, I’m Having a No Hair Day,” by Christine Clifford.  Ms. Clifford hit the nail right on the bald head:

“Just once, I wish someone would bring me something to make me laugh. I had cried so many tears the well was dry.  I needed the tonic and release of laughter. I needed something to fill me back up.  People are the only creatures on earth who can laugh. To laugh is to rejoice in being alive. Laughter flings open the shutters and lets the sunshine in. A shared gift of laughter is a priceless gift to the spirit.  And it’s a great poke in the eye to the adversary that cancer patients are struggling every day to beat.”

Every day since, I’ve tried to find the humor in my life – humor in the baldness, in the memory freezes, the fatigue, the balance issues, the neuropathy, the scans...  Some days it’s harder to find, but it’s always there.  Concentrate and find the humor in every day  – then do two things: laugh out loud and share it with someone else. 

SURVIVAL TIP FOR THE DAY - CANCER , that vile, despicable, contemptible, gutless, cowardly excuse for a disease, hates laughter.  It thrives on fear and anxiety.  Throw your laughter in its face and watch it shrink away – at least until the next laugh!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Today was one of those unplanned, what-should-we-do-today? days.  Being retired and currently unencumbered by homeowner responsibilities, we are often presented with opportunities to be spontaneous – to be impulsive and free!  The operative words here are “presented with” opportunities – but do we take advantage of them and make the most of them?  Unfortunately, not as often as we could – and should!  Usually, we can make a case for something we really SHOULD do instead.  And our weeks are usually pretty well filled with doctor’s appointments, or something related to medical “stuff!”  Well, today we walked out the door, locked it behind us, and went exploring in our new environment.  It was the very best medicine of all – no time-restraints, no specific plans, lots of sunshine, laughter, new discoveries – just freedom and pure joy!

We took the Jeep, opened the windows, put in a Zac Brown CD and sang along to “Knee Deep in the Water” – loud and very off key.  First stop was the Canaveral National Seashore, about 3 miles from our condo.  Being a senior citizen, I paid $10.00 a few years ago for a permanent pass to the park.  We call it my “Old Lady Pass.”  I don’t care what anyone calls it; it allows us entrance to one of the most beautiful and pristine National Parks in Florida.  You won’t find cars on the beach; no places from which to rent rafts or buy hot dogs; no pier parties; no looming condos; no surf shops; no motels or lights.  You will find 23 miles of pristine beaches with large-grained sand, heaped into dunes like Mother Nature intended - untainted by car exhaust and unleveled by bulldozers. The Canaveral National Seashore, which includes beaches from south of New Smyrna Beach to Titusville, is one of the last of the Florida wildernesses.

Turtle Mound is the highest shell midden (heap) in the nation and located at the northern end of the seashore. This two-acre site contains over 35,000 cubic yards of oyster shell, extends more than six hundred feet along the Indian River shoreline, and stands about fifty feet tall. (In prehistoric times, it was at least seventy-five feet high.) Visible for miles offshore, the mound has been used as a navigational landmark since the early days of Spanish exploration.

You can swim or fish in the ocean, walk the nature trails, climb the Turtle Mound, fish or kayak in the lagoon, or just do nothing!  Today we decided to check out the fisherman on the beach and see what was running.  No one was admitting to any great fish stories, but we did come across an amazing discovery.  We had been there many times in the past, but usually with a purpose – catching dinner!  Today we just wandered the beach and, being shelling nuts, we realized that we had been missing something incredible all this time.  We found the motherload of shells!  There are other special spots we have come across that, depending on the tide, have more than their share of beauties – BUT this was beyond belief.  Our pockets were so full walking back to the Jeep that we had to hold up our shorts with both hands so the shells didn’t take us down – and probably get us arrested for indecent shelling! 

Our next stop was to check out a playground we had heard about at Bethune Beach, just a stone’s throw from Canaveral seashore.  Our young grandsons will be visiting soon and we wanted to check out some of the local toddler hangouts for them.  Considering the average age of the residents in our area, I didn’t have very high expectations for this playground.  WRONG again!  It’s modern, safe, bright and colorful – and it comes with a beautiful fishing pier on the lagoon, covered picnic facilities, and restrooms – all adjacent to the playground.  We spent a good half an hour watching a dolphin playing within 20 yards of us and a huge brown pelican just floating around and looking for lunch.  Kayakers were in and around, also being entertained by the local wildlife.  What a terrific find! 

We left there and drove a few short miles to an area where I thought I recalled seeing some sort of nature trail.  We thought we would check that out.  It turned out to be the Indian River Lagoon Preserve Park.  The park includes 200 acres of natural uplands/wetlands and has a 2/3 mile walking trail featuring eco-educational signs posted along the path with information about the natural habitat. As you walk through the paved path (very wide for walking or biking) you will encounter the elevated sign posts with detailed information about the native bird life, invasive species, animal/mammal habitat and more.  It wasn’t exactly what we were looking for as entertainment for toddlers, but Grammy and Grandpa had a great time. 

Next we decided to see what the Marine Discovery Center had to offer.  I knew they did Eco tours and kayak tours, but they also offer a variety of hands-on and feet-wet summer adventures. Activities include island and laboratory investigations, arts and crafts, kayaking, fishing, snorkeling, SCUBA diving, surfing and more. What I enjoyed today were their hands-on exhibits of whelks, and crabs and all sorts of aquatic creatures.  Since there were no classes in session, we had the opportunity to survey their classroom.  Tanks and microscopes and nets and ...  I’m not really sure what most of it was, but it was very impressive.  I’m sure kids never want to leave.  We really didn’t either, but the day was beginning to wear on me.  Even fun can tire one out – especially this old lady! 

All in all, this turned out to be one of my most favorite days.  Medicine comes in many different forms.  This was, by far, the most enjoyable form and, I truly believe, just as vital to my recovery as all the others.  Living with and fighting cancer is a journey as well as a battle.  Try to put some joy into the journey – it will also build your store of ammunition for the battle.  

SURVIVAL TIP FOR TODAY:  Find joy wherever you can and incorporate it into your treatment plan.