Farther Along: New Song for the New Metastatic Me

I recommend you view and listen to the following on YouTube.  I know I’m milking the ‘New Metastatic Me’ theme. But NMM allows me so many liberties I never had before………..

Farther Along, sung by Josh Garrels. (YouTube)

You know what I’m talking about. A song seizes you with an intimate knowledge of yourself. It comes out of nowhere. You weren’t looking for it and even if you were you wouldn’t have found it. It’s not your preferred genre of music and you were not familiar with the artist. It would never be recommended on your Pandora stations.  You listen to other songs on the album and you are disappointed. You want the emotional high to go higher, but it is not to be. Its locked up in just one song: a mystical combination of lyrics, voice, instruments, video images (YouTube version), timing in your life, and whatever else can’t be explained about music and its effect on the soul. So, this new song is comforting the “new metastatic me.”

we humans are sharers

There is always the risk in sharing something deeply personal that it will not be received with the same awe. I know better. I have had people recommend songs, books, articles, art work, movies, etc. that have been meaningful and soul-grabbing for them but I have not been completely on board with their enthusiasm.  But I get it. They can’t help promoting it and nor can I with this song. We humans are “sharers” at our core. We desperately need and cherish connection and never so much as when we are in the storms of life. This is not so surprising as I consider that we are the only created beings made in His image. The Maker of Heaven and Earth who is Love and the ultimate Sharer of love has instilled that aspect of his nature into us. His longing, if such an emotion can be ascribed to the “all-sufficient God within himself,” is for us to be sharers of love with him and extend it to others.

So, no apologies for sending this on to you and you likewise keep sending out your soul’s longings captured in whatever form they come to you. God may very well have something for one of his children to share with another of his children. He’s the ultimate sharing Being after all.

“For God so loved the world that He gave (shared) His One and Only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through Him.” 

– John 3:16-17

So, thanks Jessica for sharing and sending Josh Garrels’ ‘Farther Along’ to me. I am feeling its love.

The Man ‘With Nobody’ but Cancer

“At least you have somebody,” said the man leaving the cancer consultation room.

waitingWe were waiting our turn. This was one of several high anxiety medical appointments. We would be told the extent of the metastasis. Our daughter had offered to come with us and we gratefully accepted. To tap down the tension she was telling us the most recent knucklehead antic of one of our grandsons. We were laughing.

Shamefully, I didn’t notice the gentleman until those arresting words broke through the self-absorption and family comradery. I was speechless, literally. I said nothing to him. He walked by without receiving any personal acknowledgement. My husband and daughter felt it too; guilt for not offering some encouragement. David later told me that he thought of chasing the man down and saying something. But what was there to say?

“Sorry, man, that you don’t have a family or friend to be with you in a time like this?”

It was all so awkward, but my guilt was slightly assuaged by the justification that I was caught by surprise. But why surprised? Perhaps it was the surprise of a man’s spontaneous vulnerability to complete strangers. Or maybe it was the surprise of being shaken out of my consuming suffering to realize that I was part of a suffering humanity – no more or less special than anyone else; certainly not in the eyes of God.

Suffering is suffering for several reasons but one of its most devastating attributes is loneliness. “My God, my God why have you forsaken me;” the memorialized words of our Savior God who too experienced the human condition of loneliness as he hung on the cross suffering an agonized death of pain, shame and abandonment.

loneliness-quote-by-mother-teresaHardly shocking are the numerous studies showing loneliness as adverse to physical health. More than depression or anxiety, loneliness predicts a lower mortality rate. People live longer who don’t report chronic feelings of loneliness. Consider the Roseto Effect; a 50-year study of the residents of Roseto, Pennsylvania, a community of Italian immigrants who lived sedentary lifestyles, were overweight, had high alcohol consumption, smoked stogies (whatever those are) and were exposed to toxic particles through their work at the quarries. Bottom line: they lived way longer than the average person in the US during the 1950’s. Being a descendent of Italian immigrants I was happily prepared to read that it was genetics that brought their good fortune of longevity. However, family members of the Roseto residents who lived in neighboring towns were not beneficiaries of the same great health. So, what was it? As it turned out no one in Roseto owned a TV and nightly group dinners were a common occurrence. Researchers, after controlling for about everything, concluded that these folks were dodging the bullets of loneliness’s bad health effects because they did use technology to entertain themselves in isolation. They just had each other and consequently lived longer for it.

Loneliness is awful on many levels. And just to be clear I’m talking about a distressful emotional condition; people that feel lonely, not people who live alone. Background: I was the only child of a career military father and a working mom. Loneliness was the constant background noise of my existence, but I compensated by developing people skills. Actually, I perfected very sophisticated kid skills. “Hey, you want to play with me at my house? My mom has candy in big dishes all through the house. (She really did. I didn’t care about candy, but I knew greedy, candy-starved children did.)

I told myself that I would never marry anyone in the military service, thus putting my kids through the never-establishing-roots-anywhere-lonely-existence that I had. But falling in love breaks a lot of promises made to one’s self.

I’m grateful for family and close friends. And I’m grateful for each of my adopted church families. Over the decades as an adult I have lived in ten communities spread over 11 time zones. In each I have enjoyed and loved the commitment each little band of Jesus followers had for me and me to them before I had to geographically move on.

“Family” is one of the most used metaphors in the New Testament for describing the church; a perk that has never been missed on this only child as she traipsed around the world. As David, my daughter and I sat waiting to learn the extent of my metastasis my adopted family sat in the wings, praying for us, bringing food, visiting, comforting, and laughing with us as appropriate.

I hope, I pray that the gentleman ‘with nobody’ but cancer will find his family. I pray that an adopted family, a church, will find him. It is our scared responsibility, as the church, to love our neighbor as we want to be loved. This challenges me, within my own little church, to make sure when someone is facing a health crisis to ask,

“Who is going with you to your appointment? How about me?”

“At least you will have somebody.”

I like the new me – the metastatic me

In Flannery O’Connor’s controversial, dark short story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” a petty, conniving, vain, selfish grandmother is accosted by escaped convicts while on a road trip with her son, daughter-in-law and 3 grandchildren. She and her family (spoiler alert) are shot and killed by the cons. Near the very end, the grandmother shows elements of humility and compassion as she reasons with and even tries to comfort the lead killer, named ‘The Misfit.’ It doesn’t work. But after he shoots her, the Misfit claims, in a moment of perverse remorse, that the grandmother “would have been a good woman, if there had been someone there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

I read it and immediately felt like I had been shot through (no pun) with a moment of painful clarity into human nature, or at least mine. I was just given a gift of insight and self-awareness. After all, Isn’t that what separates literary geniuses from the rest of the gifted writers. These geniuses give us images that expose us, enlighten us, humble us and, if we are lucky, transform us

Commentators believe O’Connor, a devout Catholic, makes two main points in this brutal short story.

One, the grandma and the Misfit are two sides of the same coin; deeply flawed sinners in need of the saving grace of Christ. O’Conner, a uniquely Southern writer, captures the essence of the ‘White Southern sinner’ of her time – full of pretense, false hospitality and graciousness that mask a deep suspiciousness and dislike of “the other,” and the willingness to use Jesus when convenient. The Misfit, more base in nature, lacks the pretense of the grandma. Neither measure up. All have sinned and fallen short.

Second, one traumatic event will not change your life necessarily for the better or forever.

I endured a great trial when I suffered through treatment in 2014 – mastectomy, chemotherapy, near-death infection, radiation. I was a better person through all that, or so I thought. I was gentler, less anxious and petty. I trusted God more and consequently enjoyed His presence more. In 2015, after treatment, I began to revert to my old self as i gained a false confidence that I was going to live mythically forever (to be explained). I don’t want to overstate this to make a point. I didn’t shoot a family along the roadside. I didn’t start manipulating and guilting my family, like the Grandma, to get my way. I hope I didn’t. But I did notice a subtle taking advantage of the grace of God and feeling a pressure to have my own way seeping its way back into my personality.

It is now 2019. I have Stage 4 cancer, which is not curable. In a sense I do have a gun to my head every minute of my life. And as a result, the petty vain things of this world are sloughing off faster than I can say Amazon Prime and faster than I can think up an endless list of what my husband should be doing for me  or faster than I can complete a critical or judgmental thought of how someone has disappointed me. I like the new me, the metastatic me. Don’t get me wrong I’m not a masochist. I don’t want this disease. I don’t want this. I will say it again so I’m clear, I don’t want this! Nor would I have chosen it in order to get to the new improved version of me. And I am not sure that I will continue to like this new me. It could get ugly and so could my mood. But now, I am kind of feeling good about myself-my gentler personality . When I am not in pain that is. Methadone helps with that.

Here is what I’m learning

…you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it.
Flannery O’Connor

Much of life is not cherished when we live in the “mythical state of immortality.” I am seeing how much of life is lived carelessly, vainly, judgmentally, critically, trivially, selfishly and proudful. ‘Mythical immortality’ (my term) is the belief that other people die, I don’t. The myth that I live forever, physically; a myth we can’t help but believe if our strongest desire is to live for ourselves and for our own happiness or at the least for the happiness of our own little tribe. When I live in this state, I find that my opinions and sentiments are imbedded deeply in the soil of self-righteous indignation. Everything matters; from the inanest to the most profound. There’s little wiggle room to separate out the important opinions from the trite. It’s all emotionally equal and meaningful because it originates with me and I am the master gardener of this creation – my life. Along the way of this mythical immortal self becomes the thin skinned, gossipy, greedy, worried, envious behaviors that are so common that I hardly notice them as being anything, but the way life is lived by all.

‘Mythical immortality’ is the belief that other people die, I don’t.

But then – Kapow! – the gun is at the head and the myth evaporates: a nice doctor gives me not very nice news. I am sick, really sick and not going to be allowed to live within the mythical boundaries of forever future plans. Within minutes of the news, however, I am given an invisible blank memory stick and I begin to upload two files. First file: a list of all that I am going to be “cheated” out of.  Second file: what there is to be grateful for. It is easy to download what I might be cheated out of.  Its not so easy to do the other bit.

worshipBut here is the catch, what is there to be grateful for if I don’t have someone to say, ‘thank you’ to? Thank you to my husband for the endless times as he serves me selflessly and generously. Thank you to medical scientists and doctors who show compassion within their expertise. Thank you to my daughters and their spouses for their support and love. Thank you to my many friends who show me extraordinary kindness and love. But unless there is a cosmic creator whose thumbprint is behind all the small and great wonders of existence then the thankfulness loses its mystery, awe and lifegiving power. I feel more alive when I am thanking God. God is eternal and somehow my thankfulness is linked to eternity and therefore takes on a more powerful life-giving meaning:

In everything give thanks; for this God’s will for you.
– 1 Thessalonians 5:18

1. Giving ‘thanks in everything’ is not the same as ‘there is a reason for everything.’ I should blog about this sometime.
2. There is a better way to be better without having a gun held to your head every minute of your life or to have metastatic cancer. I should blog about this sometime.

The Clarity of Ink


I’m on an unruly horse on a journey; an earthly journey that only God knows where we are headed. Only God knows and my blog posts will be my attempt to be ok with that.

penI have not written a blog post since the summer of 2015. Apparently, the absence of cancer in the following years anesthetized deep thinking. That was fine by me. I like to write but what I really like to do is talk and anybody who has met me can attest within 5 minutes that I like to talk and I can do so in a variety of formats: teaching, storytelling (my favorite), presenting sermons, sale pitches, chitchatting , joking, and just generally yucking it up. I’m an extrovert, obviously, so talking is not just fun; it’s a blood transfusion that keeps me feeling alive, energetic and vibrant.

However, it is discipline I need when a curve ball of life is thrown at me (is that the right sports metaphor? I don’t play basketball.) I need boot camp training to keep me focused on my values, to my higher nature, and to the best of what makes me a thoughtful human. Talking is necessary as the means of vital human connection but talking is not a discipline; not for me anyway. Writing is the spiritual discipline that keeps me grounded. And it has good science to back its claims to stress reduction and trauma healing. Several theories attempt to explain this. I prefer the one that describes the process of writing as forcibly imposing boundaries on thinking – boundaries of grammar, syntax and sentence construction. Grammar, and not even necessarily correct grammar,writing forcibly imposes boundaries on thinking reins in free-floating anxious thoughts that tend to run off into numberless rabbit trails causing untold feelings of misery, fear and confusion.

I’ve been counseled by family and friends to pick up the computer again to begin a phase 2 of this cancer journey (Stage 4, metastasis). For several reasons, I have been reluctant to write. Laziness stands out as the most obvious. It takes time and mental work to write even if it turns out to be therapeutic. Replacing tissues with word documents feels a bit cold and a betrayal to the tragedy and intimacy of suffering. Going public with written reflections can also feel egocentric or worse, a kind of romantic display of “look at me, a suffering cancer victim with big poignant thoughts.” Another reason to avoid the blog world is the fear that I will write something now in the early stage of metastatic cancer that will seem sentimental or naïve considering the later stages of this disease. But despite self-doubt and laziness I’m doing it. I hope some of you who read my blog posts a few years ago will join me as I try to make sense of the ‘new normal’ of living with metastatic cancer. By the way, some of my blog posts will be reworkings of earlier ones as they seem upon re-reading them to have held on to their relevancy. (See ‘Fear of Dying from March 15, 2014.) Also, I will invite guests to submit an article from time to time.

So, here am I on this unruly horse going on our journey; an earthly journey that only God knows where we are headed. And when I say, “only God knows,” I mean it literally and respectfully. Only God knows and this blog will be my attempt to be ok with that.

The Horse is Out of the Barn

Shucks, the horse just got out of the barn…..

On March 15, 2014horse-leaving-barn, I posted a blog titled, “Fear of Dying.” It described my anxiety while undergoing a CT scan to determine whether my breast cancer had metastasized. It had not. My worst fear was not realized. The “horse was still in the barn,” to use my surgeon’s phrase.


That was then, this is now. Shortly before Christmas 2018 we discovered that the breast cancer of 2014 had metastasized to bone and liver. This begins a new journey. The horse is out of the barn, cannot be returned (it is not curable), but can be chased around the pasture (it is treatable). I have been started on a promising new drug that was not available in 2014. My doctors are encouraging me, I’m feeling God’s peace. That does not mean I don’t have a fear of death or more accurately a fear of dying. But I’m learned that my worst fear, then or now, is not metastatic cancer. I’m learning what I only got a glimpse of in March 2014, that my worst fear – to be abandoned by God – can never be realized.

Here is an insert from that post almost 5 years ago; a time when the horse was still in the barn. It holds true today with that darn horse out of the barn.

“I can’t say with confidence that the fear of dying will never find its way back to me again or that the way out of it will be to always quote scripture but there is a scripture verse I am taking to the bank of heaven. It’s a verse that doesn’t depend on me to muster up a no-fear-of-dying feeling in order for it to be operative.”

In Romans 8 verses 37-39 of the New Testament the Apostle Paul writes,

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”