Monday, February 29, 2016

WHAT NOT TO SAY TO A CANCER PATIENT--A MODEST PROPOSAL

If there is one thing the cancer patients I know have in common, it is their dread at being asked, "How are you feeling?"

Well, how the hell do you think I'm feeling. I've got cancer, baby!

You want to say that but instead, one is compelled to be polite, smile graciously, nod, and give a thumbs up, which is the cancer emoji for, Yeah, I'm surviving, but it is not the most honest thing one could say. That's the problem with emojis. They aren't subtle.

So when you meet up with a friend who is undergoing radiation, chemo, or has a cancer surgery scheduled soon, do NOT ask how they are feeling. Here's a modest proposal. Say instead:

Hey, I hear you are going through a hard time right now. I am so sorry. I'm thinking of you and keeping you close in my heart.

This reassures the unfortunate patient and does not require a response which is, in fact, difficult when taxol and carbo drain the vital bodily fluids from one's veins. Being social and polite become doubly difficult when undergoing chemo.

Another thing it would be good to avoid is the enthusiastic and well-meant response--after looking at my Raquel Welch wig and my face (which took me half-an-hour to put on, including drawing eyebrows on 'cause I ain't got hair there, and we won't mention the other areas which have become like a parking lot outside Walmarts), "You look wonderful, really."  Not sick at all, is the subtext. So what happens when I am halfway through the dreaded chemo and look like shit, will you say, "You look like sh...., I mean, a little tired, honey."

Here's another area to be sensitive to--touching and hugging. Our immune systems are the victims of a Putin dictatorship and are pretty much flattened.  We are trying valiantly not to get sick (I thought of wearing a full-body condom), because that will mean missing a weekly infusion, ad we so don't want to do that!  So please--don't touch my hands (even though I would you love to), don't hug me, and don't breathe on me. If you must touch me, put a gentle hand on my back and rub soothingly. "Thinking of you, honey," always goes down well.

Imagine that you are trying to hug a 75 year-old farm wife from Idaho who wears foundation garments, dress shields, and other unmentionables. I have a port, which is often sore, especially when touched or bumped; I wear a bra that would horrify a Victoria Secrets' customer; and it is best to just not come too close to the undergarment structure here.

Oh, before I forget, there is one other statement that makes me bat shit crazy:  When people say to me, "Stay strong!" Are you kidding?  What do you think I'm bloody well doing? I showed up. I have makeup on so I won't frighten the horses. I am not sobbing helplessly under the covers and snorting cocaine.  I AM strong and resilient, thank the Lord, but don't tell me to be strong, because that just reflects your own insecurities about my having cancer. And there will be days when I will so not be strong, and I want to be able to have those too.

So these are a few modest suggestions for showing that you get a little bit what life is like for me now and that you are respectful of my boundaries.

In a vaguely connected segue, let's remember that today's Gospel lesson is about Namman the Syrian being cured of leprosy by dunking 7 times into the Jordan, on the advice of Elisha or was it Elijah (one went up to heaven in a Back to the Future flaming chariot, and the other got fed stale bread by ravens, probably wishing he had some Purell). As so often happens when we encounter the Holy, Namaan is like, "Are you f...ing serious? I came all this way with my retinue of servants, tons of gold, etc., and you want me to bathe in a bloody green RIVER?"  But he does and is cured.

I would like to bathe in the Jordan and be miraculously healed, throwing away my damn wig, my roiling gut, my fatigue and trembling fingers, and the weekly infusions. I thought momentarily about buying lots of green Rit dye and pouring it into the neighboring Mill River to take a 7-times dunking, but something tells me that dye isn't what makes a river holy. (If you don't know this already, the Jordan is a sprightly, toxic green now.)

I also know that I am on the midst of a journey--the slow road to healing. Though Jesus reserves the right to step into my life (Oh, please!) and miraculously heal me, I know that isn't how things usually work.  How it works for me instead is lying in bed in the early morning dark and feeling His blessed presence like a warm shawl wrapped around me.  I know He is here with me, walking with me, reminding me that I am not alone. And if that isn't pretty damn close to a healing, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

TIME FOR AN UPGRADE ON THE OS, GOD!

Having just clicked on the OS upgrade for my iPhone 6 and my iPad, I am suddenly aware how necessary this improved software is if we are to continue with security features and swifter actions over the internet, as well as other bells and whistles.

So it struck me:  How come God doesn't give us an upgrade on our operating system? I seriously think we need one, and I am a bit annoyed with our creator for not for seeing this. Here are some modest suggestions for crucial areas which need tweaking:

1/ Get rid of the appendix.  Maybe in Neanderthal times it served a purpose, but now it just seems to be this wiggly, fleshy thing which gets infected when we are hiking in the Andes, or, in my case, produces a weird little tumor on the end, kind of like a pinky ring.

2/ Sinuses, really, God? What WERE you thinking of? Even doctors confess that these are a bad design--hard to drain, difficult to keep clean, and liable to build up toxic bacteria which cause headaches and infections that
make grown adults cry.

3/ Why give the elephants all those grand cancer-fighting genes, oh, Holy One? What, we weren't good enough for you? Why do pachyderms need them and not us? So please, when you are figuring out the new OS, transfer some of those great genes into our human bodies.  I sure could use some as well as many other people I know!

4/ Also, the joints. Seriously. Hips and knees?  I realize the life-span of humans used to be around 40 years, but now with modern medicine and better diets we are living far into our 70s. I am not suggesting Teflon or some odd metal, but perhaps super-dense hip and knee joints would do well.

These are just a few ideas, Lord, which would make human life on earth a bit easier and more festive. You notice I didn't say anything about replacing human violence and hatred with love and mercy. I think you are already working on that one.

Monday, February 15, 2016

BUN THEOLOGY

I did not invent this fabulous title--my husband did after seeing me reverentially carrying in the first baking of Hot Cross Buns from the local market.  I stepped carefully, knowing I was carrying something holy which I did not want to drop. Can I even express what those square treats with white icing in the shape of a cross on top mean to me?

Childhood--going to Reibach's Bakery with my mom and buying the Lenten buns. By then Mom was pretty far from traditional Christianity, more like a Unitarian in fact, but she had been brought up in the Protestant Church, and her grandfather--L.Clark Seelye--was a minister.  She would have attended services with her family. So, in some way, the food marked by Christ's cross must have meant something to her.

As I begged to eat one before we got home, Mom gave in and handed me a warm treat the like of which I shall probably never again experience this side of heaven. It was Eucharist for me, though I had no knowledge of this Sacrament then, no idea who Jesus was, though I must have asked some pesky questions because I knew the food had religious significance. In our family the only altars my family worshipped at were: nature, birds, Bach, and I.F. Stone's Weekly.

Once I had my own kids I bought the Lenten bread for them, but somehow they didn't appreciate it.  "Ack, I hate raisins!" Ben declared.  "What are those weird green and red bits, Mom?"  Char spat them out.  I adore candied citron as well as raisins, and if one of my kids had wanted to scrape the thick lashings of white frosting off with their milk teeth, I wouldn't have protested. It was all part of the Sacrament, after all.

So how do we get from festive eating to Jesus and the cross? We know that Jesus practiced "table fellowship," that one of his brilliant ideas was inviting broken and marginalized people to sit with him to eat and drink.  How else do we include people on the outside into the kingdom?  I think these buns are an open door to the kingdom, if we only recognized it.

I believe Jesus was also brilliant with symbols.  He knew that turning water into wine would go down very well indeed, and that it would remind all that God saves the best for last; that He is a god of abundance, not scarcity; and that miracles happened then and still do if we only can see them.

If I weren't so worried about ruining a perfectly sweet piece of paradise, I would consider sticking a Hot Cross Bun in my purse. So that when the days are dark and the nights too long; when my body is tired from chemo and I am not feeling particularly brave; I could reach in, lift out the bun, and take a deep bite of heaven.  It would reassure me that God is near--that He cares if I am hungry or afraid--and that He takes joy in my innocent pleasure at a t
reat that reminds me of His suffering at the same time that it reminds me of His joy.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

WHY I AM NOT DOING LENT THIS YEAR

I've been having my own private Lent since the end of October when I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, through two back-to-back cancer surgeries and the ensuing recovery, then learning there was a third cancer--ovarian--which took me to the festive journey of 18 weeks of chemo.

This is not a complaint nor a litany of suffering. I KNOW other people have it far worse than I, and I know my prognosis is good while so many do not have that. I am deeply grateful for the skilled care I've received and look towards a hopeful conclusion
in June.

Nonetheless--cancer means you are stripped down. Utterly. You are brought right to the core of your being, your faith, your marriage, your family, your body, and whatever fantasies you had about health and a long life. It isn't necessarily a bad thing to do this; there is no question that suffering and giving up big sections of your life (and hair) leads to a softer heart, a quicker sympathy for others in difficulties, and a sense of overflowing gratitude just for being upright, dressed, fed, and living with someone you love beyond life itself.

So, I am not giving up anything for Lent this year. No fasting either. Gotta keep my weight up. But I am going to get my ashes with a friend soon, and that will remind me--not that I need reminding--that I am dust and ashes, and some time (praise God let it be later rather than sooner) I will join the earth and my God for the next stage of my life where I will be something other than dust.