A witnessed life

For the last 20 years David and I test each other on remembering what we did to celebrate each and every one of our anniversaries.  We run into confusion and memory loss for about 15 of them as we are not a couple that has intentionally made anniversaries much more than a short excursion or a dinner out.

Yesterday we celebrated our 35th and unless we both end up with dementia we won’t forget it.  No special excursion unless a day at the cancer institute counts and no special jewelry to commemorate our 35th unless a med port ring surgically placed in the chest wall counts.  David will remember our 35th because of the added bonus of suffering through a cracked rib from a fall a several days before in Florida (one day into a 5-day trip meant to give us a break before chemo therapy started).

The traditional wedding symbol for the 35th anniversary is coral.   According to Wikipedia, “This is because coral organisms grow close together just like a good marriage, built and developed over many years.”

Is it simply the passing of time that builds a good marriage – ticking off years until you reach 25, 30, or 35 then “voila”, there you have it, a good marriage?  Or, is it something else that can’t be measured in years?

David and I have a good marriage so far.  I don’t think you can rest on your yearly laurels. “For better or worse and in sickness and in health,” a promise we made 35 years ago is currently being played out by a serious disease.  How it all ends – not just this sickness part but other parts as well – are still to be tested. We have had other sicknesses and a few heart aches and disappointments thrown to connect us to the rest of the married world.  The union of two becoming one certainly doesn’t negate the two unique personalities brought to the union each with there weaknesses and strengths. Marriage uncovers personality traits neither partner were aware of prior to the promised commitment to faithfulness, cheerleading, and fun.   For example, and I will mention only my foibles, I did not know that I could be critical, defensive, or even irritable until I was married for a while.  Now, it’s not all bad as certain character strengths have had a chance to express themselves to my surprise as well.    All in all, marriage has provided many blessings – but especially a journey into humility (having children is the other road to humility).

I am married to my best friend as it turns out and the following lines from the 2004 movie, “Shall We Dance” spoken by Susan Sarandon, the wife character, expresses this sentiment:

“We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does anyone’s life really mean?[1]  But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.”

Timothy Keller writes in his book, The Meaning of Marriage, “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God.  It is what we need more than anything.  It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

So, about two weeks from now I will ask the person I trust the most to do me the honor of shaving my head.  It was my hair that David says that initially attracted him to me over 35 years ago and it will be shaving that hair off that will make the decision I made 35 years ago to marry him the best one of my life.

Footnote 1: The quote by the character played by Susan Sarandon, “what does anyone’s life really mean?” is a rhetorical question that compels me to comment. Each individual life, married or not, means a lot to the One who is the ultimate witness to our lives.  He witnesses and marvels at every aspect of our short mundane lives with all its suffering and joys. I know that everyone does not share this belief and certainly not a secular world that sees Christianity as a crutch for “the infantile” (Richard Dawkins). Yes, a crutch indeed.  A crutch that someday will be thrown away at the restoration of all things.

Quirky Advice

Some of you dear readers are now at risk of being offended. You will recognize yourself in this post. But remember “teasing can be a sign of affection.”  I heard this somewhere years ago and found it comforting as I am married to someone who teases his wife as a life calling. There have been times he has regretted that calling.

Since my cancer diagnosis I have received encouragement from all of you.  How do I know it is ALL of you? Simple…you are reading my blog at this moment and you have gotten this far without clicking away.

There are some however, who are incapable of reading my blog but have greatly encouraged me.  I am a grandmother. (“Uh-Oh”, you are thinking.)

If you tire of “granny gush” skip this part.  I am afraid if you don’t then I will be accused of the following:

boring cat

Ok, where was I? Oh yes, grandchildren:  there is 4 year old Marlon who when he  first time he saw me after the mastectomy asked straight away, “Are Your lymph nodes recovered yet, Nonna?” rather prophetic if you ask me as it had not been yet explained to me that the real discomfort was not going to be the mastectomy, per se, but the lymph node removal surgical part. How did he know that?  Gifted? Of course!

And then there is 10 month old Desmond who said to me just yesterday, and I quote, “Nonna, I love you so much and I am hoping that you will not only have a full recovery from this battle with cancer but that you will come out of it a stronger and better person!” 10 months old! Amazing, right?  No, just gifted.

Ok, I’m done with grandma references.

Now for some of the quirkiest encouragements I have gotten so far:

Let’s start with Nick, David’s Sicilian barber for the last several years. I don’t know what was funnier, David setting up the scene with the accent in tow or the actual “sort of” encouraging advice.  Apparently Nick was so moved by what he was hearing about me (his wife had cancer several years ago, as well) that he put the clippers down so he could put his hands on David’s shoulders.  Looking at David through the mirror he said passionately (try to imagine a Don Corleone accent).

“You-uh tell-uh Dona like I-uh told-uh my wife. You-uh stay-uh alive, You-uh stay-uh healthy, You-uh stay-uh upbeatNot-uh just-uh for yourself, not-uh just-uh for the people who-uh love-uh you, but for the people who-uh hate-uh you. When they-uh see you walking-uh down the side-uh-walk-uh, they-uh say, ‘That-uh woman still around’?!! And when they-uh see you lookin-uh good it will give-uh them-uh a clinch-uh in the gut.”

David, having grown up in the South where niceties are spoken of everyone, sincere or not, was speechless.  Being 100 percent Italian and 50 percent of that being Sicilian I have the right to poke fun and reassure David that as strange as that advice was, it was meant to encourage him and me. This encouragement was validated as very good advice by one of my mother’s Italian friends.

I have received numerous cards, gifts, flowers, emails, texts, books and phone calls to reassure and encourage.  I even had a friend that I had not seen in 10 years from North Carolina that flew in and stayed with me a few days this week (David had to go back to Alaska for a week of work). Nothing but loveliness and sweetness with all the above encouragements. But….

barbee sauceThere have been some quirky gifts.  After confronting my friends with “what in the world were you thinking?” They were appalled at the suggestion that they were poking fun at my future chemo haute coiffure but rather remembered how much I loved this particular barbecue sauce at one of the restaurants they recommended in one of their favorite cities in Oregon.  Uh…Huh… Sure.

Another couple sent me some viewing material that I am sure they found in the Wall Mart 1-dollar bin or else quickly became a re-gifted item. What were they thinking?

sonny and cher

Then there is the couple that had food therapy suggestions for David to do for me, starting with David learning to prepare cheese cauliflower and hosing me down with an olive oil mist hooked up to the shower nozzle. Again what were they thinking?!?

olive oil shower

What is my point?  Encouragements are appreciated in whatever manner they come because they reflect the uniqueness of friends and family empathizing within the universal experience of suffering.  Somehow it makes the suffering less and the gratefulness more. God’s love shines ever more brightly because of all of you.


Blogging-what’s the point?


Why should I blog?  I have said that I blog because it is therapeutic- True.  I have said that I blog because it is a distraction; a way to get outside of myself and reflect from a more detached perspective- Also true. But I think the main reason I blog is to hold myself accountable to the reflections and perspectives that I have written down and made public.  Rereading my posts I realize that I occasionally have a need to preach to the choir – a one person choir.  I can see what begins to happen when expectations are not fulfilled. “Shouldn’t I be having less pain and more energy three weeks post-surgery?  What’s going on? No one told me that I would feel this lousy. After all I’m only two weeks from starting chemo which is more and longer-lousy according to general opinion.”

Neurobiology helps me understand what’s going on. Serotonin, one of our brains “feel-good neurotransmitters” is working overtime to contribute to the healing of an injured body; but that means less serotonin to help out with positive mood regulation.

There is also the difficulty of separating out emotional responses from spiritual truths. There have been signs along the way to assure me that God is with me (coincidences?) but how quickly those begin to feel less meaningful when the pain continues and is accompanied by lack of energy or sleep. Seeing myself cranky with husband, “David extraordinaire”, is disquieting and unfair to him.  At least it gives me practice saying two spiritually important words in life: “I’m sorry.”

There is also the matter of feeling grateful for the instances of good news along the way and the overabundance of loving encouragement from so many. I love the gratefulness that comes in emotional waves of misty eyed undeserved appreciation.

But there are those times of feeling grateful and remembering God’s comforting presence that are experienced  more like a tight grip on a lifesaving ring.

Oh, what fickle creatures we are (I am)!  But I’m not going to beat up myself too much. Here’s an interesting verse to help me through these less-than-perfect behaved and felt times:   “If we are faithless He remains faithful for He cannot deny himself.”  2 Timothy 2:13

post script: next blog to be more upbeat and coming soon- I am a- feelin’ it!



The Bad News Ends Today

It was the day after receiving the bad news from the surgeon that the stage of cancer diagnosed was more extensive than originally believed from the biopsies.  David, Maria and I met with the medical oncologist for the first time to discuss what was ahead for the next 4 months.   The experienced straight-shooting physician explained the nature of the cancer and the absolute necessity for chemotherapy.  After 30 minutes of technical descriptions of chemicals and possible side effects the oncologist paused and offered the equivalent of a drink of cold water on a parched dry throat.

“I read your report and I know that for the last 30 days you have received one piece of bad news after another.  Listen to me, the bad news ends today.  The tumors have been removed.  There is no sign of cancer elsewhere in your body. This day on we focus on treatment . The bad news ends today.”

What is it that makes good news so good?

Is it not that there is the possibility or the reality of bad news, I mean, really bad news that must come before it?  Would the physician’s pronouncement been wonderfully felt and appreciated if there had not been a period of taking in some really bad news? I doubt it. For example, what if the scenario had previously gone like this:

The first time I am diagnosed with cancer all the cancer specialists say something to the effect, “Oh, it’s not that bad. The good news is that by having a mastectomy on one breast, followed by 4 months of astringent chemotherapy, followed by 6 weeks of radiation you will be slightly better   Actually you will be ok without treatment except for a few episodes of burping throughout your life and a little twinge of discomfort from time to time.”

Now, does that sound like Good News?  I don’t think so!  It sounds more like a pronouncement meant to irritate.  The fact is that really good news comes after and when juxtaposed to really bad news.

The spiritual application………….

The comfortable time:

I was 21 years old before I thought much of the expression, ‘the good news of Christ.’  It meant little to me. I could not comprehend or even bother to comprehend what was so good-newsy about Jesus. I was given a pocket New Testament by a college coed that apparently thought I needed it.  Till that time I had never read through the Gospels or any other part of the New Testament.  I was not completely ignorant of Christianity, just not reflective enough to consider its implications.  I was annoyed that this college coed gave me a New Testament.  Who was she to imply my life needed redirection? My attitude was anything but grateful for what she called a vehicle to good news about my life.

The very uncomfortable time:

One evening alone in my university dorm room I read the New Testament; not in its entirety but enough to know that the bad news was worse than I thought. You are probably thinking at this moment that I made a mistake and meant to say that the good news was better than I thought.  But actually I wasn’t hearing good news – not then.  In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis describes the  time when the apostles would not have needed to explain to their listeners – whatever their religion, philosophy or ethnicity – of their dire position before the Divine.  Lewis writes,

“It was against this background that the Gospel appeared as good news.  It brought good news of possible healing to men (and women) who knew that they were mortally ill.  But all this has changed.  Christianity now has to preach the diagnosis -in itself very bad news – before it can win a hearing for the cure.”

I am grateful for that time at university when I became painfully aware of the need for a big cure for a life mutated off course.  As I write, Lent begins its “assent” to the sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world, followed by the vindication of that sacrifice with the Resurrected Christ.  Good news follows Bad News.  The Bad News ended that first Easter.