The Breast Cancer Diaries | Part 11Laura Ann Miller
Wednesday | March 23, 2022
“Convenience culture seduces us into imagining that we might find room for everything important by eliminating only life’s tedious tasks. But that’s a lie. You have to choose a few things, sacrifice everything else, and deal with the inevitable sense of loss that results.”
-Page 55 The Efficiency Trap
-Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman
This cancer journey is messing with me.
Time. Life. Dreams. Faith. Eternity.
God, what are those few things you would have me choose?
I’m reading Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. I am definitely not a professional on time management. Nor do I want to be…
I’m only on chapter three, Facing Finitude and It’s hard to put all my thoughts down on what I’ve read so far. This book is thought provoking, but does not approach our four thousand weeks with any holiness or spiritual depth…
Yesterday as I read chapter two, The Efficiency Trap, I came away emboldened and grateful for the life I’ve lived so far.
“Once you truly understand that you’re guaranteed to miss out on almost every experience the world has to offer, the fact that there are so many you still haven’t experienced stops feeling like a problem. Instead, you get to fully focus on fully enjoying the tiny slice of experiences you actually do have time for- and the freer you are to choose, in each moment, what counts the most.”
I thought about this as I drove from my doctor appointment in the morning and then again as I drove my daughter to her doctor appointment in the afternoon. I thought about the bucket list book writers and wondered if they were doing readers a disservice? What about my own list? What truly matters?
And this popped into my mind again, To glorify God and enjoy him forever…
We stopped at 7- 11 got two slurppees and parked at the beach. I stood on the shore with my girl and my hat cinched tight against the breeze, protecting my pale bald head. Little moments like this matter a great deal.
When we got home Southern Living Magazine was in the mailbox. I flipped through in wonder as I read their “Best of” lists, one after another- Best Beach Towns, Best Scenic Drives, Best Mountain Towns, Best Lake Towns, Best Museums…
We have experienced one or more of these “Best” experiences on their recommended highlight reel, not because we read a book about it or an article… This winding list of beautiful sights just happened in our life because of life and the goodness of God. Our family and friends are spread out across the U.S. and while this has made it hard at times, finding ways and time to be together, it’s also made it beautiful.
Growing up my family took summer road trips to visit family, mostly out of necessity for my brother and his special needs, but those road trips are cherished childhood memories. Mike and I adopted that mode of travel for our little family and it’s brought us to all these beautiful places through twenty two years together.
What an absolute gift!
I think finding moments or seeking them out is good. It’s good to travel and dream of things we’d like to see or experience in life, but not get stuck on those things that haven’t happened yet. And If we stop and look at the moments we’ve been given already, all the life we’ve lived, we all have beautiful “Best Of” lists we’re living right now-
The family and friends we have, our favorite places to eat in our own towns, the roads we drive in December with the beautiful Christmas lights on display, the songs we sing in the car, our church family, the flowers that bloom in our yards… These are our very own Best Of lists.
Thursday | March 24, 2022
Gratitude crashes into sorrow though. And the tears are streaming down my cheeks.
My gratitude over life yesterday was met with crushing sadness for the loss of a precious life today. Oh how we prayed for you Dear Friend! I cherish the texts and prayers we sent each other. I didn’t think you’d see Jesus first.
This is it, isn’t it? Life is precious and short. We should be overwhelmed with gratitude for the days we have together.
“…It isn’t that a diagnosis of terminal illness, or a bereavement, or any other encounter with death is somehow good, or desirable, or “worth it.” But such experiences, however wholly unwelcome, often appear to leave those who undergo them in a new and more honest relationship with time.” –Facing Finitude page 65
He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3
Dear Jesus, be near. Help us to choose in each moment what counts the most.
Friday March 25, 2022
Chemo- Round Nine
“As we follow Christ, we are often called to serve in places we did not want or expect to be. Sometimes our Emmaus Road leads to “songs of decent” rather than the traditional “songs of ascent” that Jewish pilgrims celebrated (recorded in the Psalms) all those centuries ago…
Instead of the songs of ascent as we climb toward Jerusalem, we will carry the tears of Christ and sing songs of descent beyond the sea.”
This chemo room is the descent. The low valley I’m walking through with those I don’t know. But we know this place together and what it holds. I’m praying for my fellow friends climbing towards Jerusalem. Singing songs of descent beyond the sea.
Jesus be near.
Sunday | March 27, 2022
Our message today-
Exodus | Free My People: The Walk to Freedom
God lead the Israelites to freedom, but the journey was a long and winding road through the wilderness.
I wonder about what I’m learning along my own journey here, being lead along my own wilderness as I wait to heal…
“Let God form your heart on the long road.”
-Pastor Doug Sauder
Wednesday | March 30, 2022
It’s amazing how much one day can hold. Or more that it holds within it goodness and hardship all mixed together.
My friend Wendy stopped by unexpectedly this afternoon. She brought a meal and stayed to chat and it was such a gift to talk and laugh and pray together.
Today was also a bloodwork day. My nurse was going over my treatments with me today and I was trying to figure out how many rounds of chemo Friday will be. Am I half way there now? Or just over half way? It’s starting to blur together. I changed questions and started asking about the end of chemo and summer travel dreams. That’s where I want to be… Unfortunately I couldn’t get that locked down. I still need to keep going, day by day, one foot in front of the other.
I’ve got Green Day’s song September Ends in my mind tonight. I know I can’t keep this song on a loop, but for now it feels exactly how I need it to…
Wake me up when September ends.
Thursday March 31, 2022
Learning how to write a resignation letter…
I’m using my boat hook, lifting the lines, and detaching from the mooring ball.
Friday | April 1, 2022
Art & Faith: A Theology of Making
I read almost this entire book (which I love), but somehow forgot in the depths of a beach bag. I found it again and couldn’t believe I had left it with only a few chapters left to go…. And now here I am reading it again, in the chemo room and it’s a gift- these last few chapters. If my forgetful self hadn’t left it all those months ago I wouldn’t have it here in the perfect time and place- Cancer, the chemo room, spring, Easter Sunday approaching…
“The Holy Spirit enters our hearts as a comforter to bring the seal of hope.
The Holy Spirit reminds us that we are not just survivors of the cruel game of life but are heirs to this extravagant hope. These are not paradigms that we come up with on our own; Jesus’s suffering, his “end”, becomes our starting point for the New Creation.”
-Makoto Fujimura Art & Faith: A Theology of Making
I am hopeful for the New Creation…
Sunday | April 3, 2022
In the impossible places we are surrounded by Gods presence.
God makes a way through the impossible place
“Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.””
-Exodus 14:13-14 NIV
I’m certain I heard this prayed different at the end of the sermon… I kept looking for the version in the Bible app that had the words I heard, not the Egyptians you see today you will never see again, but the problem you face today you will never see again…
Lord, may this be true of cancer.
In your name, amen.
Thursday | April 7, 2022
“Choose curiosity over worry whenever you can.” – 4,000 Weeks Oliver Burkeman
I am a constant worrier. I’m trying to learn how to let that part of me go.
I wrote down this quote as I read the last few pages of 4,000 Weeks. It was not really about time management at all, but embracing the finitude of life and realizing how very short it is. How will we use this short time we’ve been given? I want to embrace the present and let go of all the worries! Live with more curiosity and less fear…
I sat in my pale yellow rocking chair on the patio, next to the orchid with the delicate chrysalis of a monarch butterfly protected under the bend of a long green leaf, and finished the book. And then I heard a knock on the door. It was my sunshine- I laughed as I opened the door, but slowly took in the places on his body that were raw and bleeding. Did he come in carrying his helmet? It was hard to process, I know I asked if he was ok. Did he crash? Did someone hit him? He walked outside and then came back in carrying the scraped up side of his red and black motorcycle.
He’s ok. He’s ok.
This worry has been on my mind since he came home with that motorcycle. In his dad’s mind too… I should have known he would own a motorcycle one day. We bonded over watching Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s documentary Long Way Up, “the third series of the epic motorcycle adventure saga.” All of their roads trips around the world on their motorcycles are inspiring. Filled with wonder and curiosity even. But I just didn’t think my Ethan would own his own motorcycle right after high school. I definitely didn’t want him to.
He has road rash. No broken bones. I inspected his helmet. No scratches. Not one.
I held him and prayed a prayer of thanks to Jesus.
Life is finite. It is precious and short, with cancer or without. At 19 or 42… What do I make of this quote tonight- curiosity over worry? I don’t know…
Friday | April 8, 2022
Chemo Round 10
I’ve made it past the shamrocks of March.
I’m now surrounded by the Easter eggs and big white bunny chair covers.
I’ve embraced the changes, given up the notion of my spot… I’m comfortable with the changes and different seats around the Chemo room and new nurses. Each nurse I’ve had is fantastic and I’m thankful for all of them.
I couldn’t go to sleep last night. I kept thinking about curiosity vs. worry and faith and trust.
I think that’s thing, 4,000 Weeks doesn’t address, faith and trust.
When I ask God for more faith, for peace in place of worry, I sleep better. It isn’t a case of nothing will go wrong, but the simple fact things will go wrong… how will I respond?
I know God will be with me.
I want to trust in His goodness despite what circumstances I find myself in. I want to say and live saying, I trust you God, no matter what. It’s the no matter what part which is the hardest part to pray.
But I am not in control.
And I remember this passage on worry-
“Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”
-Luke 12:22-26 NIV
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?
Jesus goes on, telling us not only not to worry, God knows our needs. Seek him first.
So it isn’t just curiosity, this is fun and decidedly a great thing to enjoy instead of worry, but also when we seek God, through church service, worship, prayer, reading, serving -our thoughts will shift focus from worry to trust.
Tuesday | April 12, 2022
I’m letting go to go back…
I’m letting go of all the “I shoulds” and all the good things for better things. I’m going back to what has always made me me. I’m going backwards to move forward, into curiosity and wonder, to pursue art. Not forward in the shy way I’ve always approached it, with the need for permission and approval, but forward in the joyful wonder of creating.
I’ve been feeling this tug to pursue things I’ve held in my heart but haven’t done. Cancer calls out, “if not now, when?”
I opened a package from my mom yesterday and it held pieces of the past, fun mementos kept by mom (as only moms do).
It held a program from a high school photography exhibition I was in at the National Museum of American Art Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.
Pinhole camera negatives and prints.
A group photograph of a summer workshop I attended at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale (where I eventually went to school and met Mike!).
A watercolor painting from a summer class in the Rocky Mountains.
A letter of recommendation from my high school photography teacher, whose words I don’t remember reading or taking to heart all those years ago.
This little packet of mementos carried a whisper of who I am. Who I’ve always been. A little confirmation to keep going this direction… Thank you mom.
Good Friday | April, 15, 2022
Chemo Round 11
“…you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth.
Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”
From my Grandma’s devotional Bible-
“We’re on a pilgrim road. It’s rough and steep, it winds uphill to the very end. We can lift up our eyes and see the unseen: a celestial city, a light, a welcome and ineffable face. We shall behold him. We shall be like him.
And that makes a difference in how we go about aging.”
And I will add- it makes a difference in how we go about suffering too.
Today there’s four of us sitting in the chairs beside the nurses station, we wait like we are waiting for the hostess at a restaurant to call our names and take us to our tables. “I have this chair over by the window, is this ok for you?” The nurses are so kind in asking us our preference. It’s busy today. Despite Good Friday and the holiday weekend, there’s no taking off of from illness.
The woman next to me is upset that she is waiting because she had a reservation at our preferred Friday chemo restaurant…
She explains to her nurse how she expects her appointment should go and her nurse explains they are expecting her, but her medication can’t be ordered and mixed until she arrives and they review her labs. It turns out she is mostly upset she hasn’t been seated right away because she is hosting family this Easter weekend and cooking for 17 people. I try to chat with her to ease her tension, but she is having none of it. I wondered at first why this burden for hosting such a large gathering while going through cancer treatments falls on her, but I suspect she wouldn’t have it any other way. I imagine her weekend will be full, with laughter and good memories made.
I try to settle into my chair by the window. I open my blue bag and take out my book, reading glasses, phone and headphones and set them on the little tray table on my left. I try to place my airplane head pillow in a comfortable position, but I still haven’t figured out how to use it properly. It’s big and awkward around my neck. I try putting it directly behind my head. This seems to work. I want to read, but I know as soon as the medication starts I’ll be too groggy to focus. I decide to put my worship playlist on and settle into it all.
My neighbor is on his phone. I’ve noticed there’s no sugar coated conversations in the chemo room. Just real honest conversation about living and dying and regular life items that carry on in the midst of it all. what author Oliver Burkeman calls, “facing finitude.” It seems we all have it here and are facing it. Yet we’re not. Because we are in here receiving expensive and toxic drugs trying to beat back finitude for another day.
There are the people on phones handling work, the ones on their laptops. I wonder what they’re working on. Can’t it wait for chemo to be over with? But maybe this is preferred distraction from facing a room full of sick peers walking this road together? I watched the gentleman across from me, with the nice leather bag, work on his laptop one morning. He sat at the end of his chair. He did not recline with the warmed white blanket. He reminded me of someone waiting in airport terminal for his plane to board. He had business to do and places to go. Defiant to the usual rhythms of the room. No time for cancer. I hope he’s doing well…
I hear my chemo recliner neighbor today talking, “Until you’re in this situation you can’t understand what it’s like to be sick…”
He finishes up before me and wishes me luck as he heads out. I’m rooting and praying for his recovery too.
Today there is no school and my sweet girl has joined Mike for our Friday ritual. She surprised me with a gift from Sugarboo when they picked me up, a little good luck clay pig. It’s adorable and I instantly think of my chemo neighbor today. I tuck the little pig into my blue chemo bag next to my Bible truth cards, and the polished rocks one of my students made for me.
I’m surrounded by so much love and goodness on this journey and it overwhelms my heart and makes my cry when I stop to think of it all.
One more text, one more offering of love and goodness. One more knock on the door with a basket filled with love, hope, and prayers for this journey. I am not alone.
I lift up my hands and pray for this comfort and love from Jesus to carry everyone facing dark valleys. This is Good Friday after all. Jesus understands the dark valley well.