Joy of Heaven

When I was going through my cancer scare, a friend of mine asked me to pray for her friend who had just been told that his leukemia was terminal.  And I didn’t know what to pray.  The thought of my own dying was, I think, still to close to the matter.  If I were, indeed, terminal, I thought, for what would I pray?  For what would I want others to pray?

After heading out of church one Sunday with a sudden, bright knowledge that I was healed, I began to understand what was important about last rites and what was needed in all of our prayers for the dying.  It isn’t enough to tidy things up before one dies and then leave everything to God’s mercy.  The part about leaving everything in God’s merciful hands is certainly sufficient, but the beautiful healing in that is not only the rightness of it and the sense of peace that it can bring – but also the joy.

Sky, clouds, Revelation

Joyful Hope

What will it be like to be dead?  Does this question seem dark and morbid to you, raising up fear?  It does a little to me, but, perhaps that is instinctive, since it goes against nature to want to experience being dead.  However, as people of faith, it is not a scary question to ask.  For, we do not believe that death is the end of our lives.  Our bodies will no longer be able to hold onto life, will die and decay back into the earth – but the life that is let go continues.  Our souls, which had animated our bodies, are of spirit and therefore they are immortal and cannot die.  So… what happens after our lungs stop breathing, our hearts stop beating, and our brains stop firing signals?  What will life be like then? Continue reading

The Cancer Question and Being Wary of Hope

August 9th is nearing.  And that’s when I’m supposed to find out whether or not I have cancer.

flowers, forests, rotting log, rhododendron

Decay and Flowers, Such Is Life

Statistically, I probably don’t, since the kind of cancer that we’re talking about is rare.  Of women that have uterine fibroids (leiomyomas) only about 1 in 1000 become cancerous (lieomyosarcoma).  Even so, I am rather a rare individual, already living with a debilitating motor neuron disease that only affects about 1 in 6000.  That and ultrasound imaging that shows rapid growth of the outer fibroids but not the inner one leave me with no feeling of assurance.

On my optimistic days (which far outnumber the pessimistic ones) I have confidence in the mercy of God and the reality of miracles.  Whether it started as cancer or not, I believe that God can cure it.  On those days when I feel like I probably do have cancer, it’s simply an acknowledgment that we all have to die of something… God works in mysterious ways and enables all suffering to work for the good in His Masterpiece, the big picture.

I am too small to see the big picture.  Right now, God knows what is happening inside of my body and what is best for me and the people I love.  I don’t.

Having said all of that, I can see something inside of me, a truth about my particular personality, that is making this waiting period a little more difficult. Continue reading

The Unknown

ice, Frost, winter, mystery

How are you with the unknown?  Me… Not so good.  I mean, I love wonder and awe, and am willing to sublimely surrender to the unknowable, to Mystery… But, when it comes to the knowable – I want to know.

This, as promised, is an update on my current medical issue.  My last post asked the question, “What is it?”  Are the uterine fibroids now rapidly growing in my body cancerous?  I went to a GYN oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital two days ago and he said that there is no way to tell for sure.  So, I still don’t know.

Scans, MRIs, biopsies – none are definitive in diagnosis and, in his opinion, none are worth the effort for me.  As he explained, this particular kind of cancer would be very rare, so it is unlikely that the fibroids are malignant.  Because I have been taking a shot called Lupron for the last two months, there was an upsurge in estrogen levels in my body and, so, this could have caused the fibroids to grow more rapidly.  By continuing with the Lupron shots (I received my third one in that doctor’s office, as my gynecologist told me to bring it with me) the reasonable hope is that the fibroids will stop growing and maybe even shrink by about 25 percent.

That’s good news.  But… Continue reading

It Is What It Is… But What Is It?

Facing a forbidding possibility in my life…

Mountains, snow, daunting

I hear people say something a lot, which, I admit, rather bugs me: “It is what it is,” they will say when something difficult or unwanted arises.  “Well, yeah,” I think to myself, “That’s a perfectly obvious grammatical non-statement.  What is is?  Wow.”

I might be a bit of a word snob.

Many years after first hearing this saying, I do appreciate what is meant to be conveyed.  There are some things in life that we just can’t change.  But, really, did we need a trendy saying in order to know that?  Haven’t I known that my entire life?  Are the “enlightened” people of today just finally catching up?

Anyhow, I certainly did not mean for this reflection to be so rant sounding.  Although I have seriously disliked the saying, it has wormed itself into my brain and I now find myself using it – but not out loud or on paper.  Just to kind of shut my overactive mind up.

I have cause to do that at present… And this brings me to what my reflection is about.  Currently, my physical situation is far less than desired.  Never mind the motorneuron disease stuff, the not being able to walk or move my arms or take care of myself, blah, blah, blah.  And forget the last six months that started with pneumonia, then bronchitis, then menstrual flow for three weeks, then mild Crohn’s disease flareup.  That’s old news and behind me.  There’s something more pointed and palpably serious going on now.

I have had uterine fibroids for, well, probably over a decade.  Not a big deal.  I think about 50% of women have them, although most of them don’t even know it.  Those that do have symptoms usually find them, at best, a nuisance and, at worst, a cause of severe anemia or an impediment to fertility.  I have been able to keep the anemia under control with effort and I don’t have to worry about fertility, but… I’m little.  And these fibroids aren’t.  One of them is now the size of a tennis ball.

I’m beginning to realize that part of my being a bit short of breath while sitting during the last six months have been caused by the fibroids on the outer wall of my uterus.  They have been growing faster, probably over the last year or year and a half.  But, now, my gynecologist tells me, they picked up their pace of growth even more.  A bit too much.  Too much for comfort, certainly, and, maybe… Well, just too much.  When there is rapid growth of these things, one starts to think of that very scary subject: cancer.

At my appointment with my gynecologist last week, I did not shy away from that word.  It’s just a word.  Words have power – but over people, not things like fibroids.  (Saying it out loud will make it come true is a silly superstition.)  And that particular word doesn’t have quite the same power over me as it might have over some people – but only because I have been facing my own mortality, in one way or another, since I was a child.

Never have I thought or believed that I would live to a ripe old age.  (Though, perhaps, still a ripe age, for maybe we humans ripen at different times.)  Dying young is part of never getting married, never having children, never living on my own….  My life is different.  And this body is not made for the long haul.  SMA, or complications directly related to SMA, like pneumonia, are always going to be the likely cause of my body’s demise.  In fact, when I was younger, I thought that it was the guaranteed cause.  And then, a boy with whom I was acquainted, who had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

That was an eye-opener.

I realized then that I could die from anything – just like anybody else.  And even though I well surpassed my original prognosis of a 13 year lifespan, I still know that time is precious, that any year could be my last.

And, now, there’s this word.  This possibility of cancer in my own body.

“Is this it?” I wonder.

I am not alone in this wonder.  Thousands of people – hundreds of thousands, I don’t know, millions of people – every day face this question.  In the past, I have wondered what it would be like to know that you have cancer.  I wrote about my aunt’s experience and called it Perspective.  Does your whole perspective on life change?  Right now, just wondering if I have cancer or not is a bit life altering.  At least, it certainly feels like it should be.

At first, given specific things going on within me, I thought that the outer fibroids most probably are malignant.  And I thought that perhaps this is the best way to go.  Perhaps this is God’s plan to help me leave, to leave this earthly body, this beautiful earthly life.  The lack of fear was rather amazing.  But, then…

I’m still not afraid, but I am anxious.  Sometimes very.  Whether benign or malignant, I know the fibroids must be reduced in size, at the very least, because they are simply too large for me.  And, I really, really hope that they are benign.  I don’t want cancer.  Who in their right mind wants cancer?  The way things look, I believe that, if they are benign, then it’s truly a miracle.

I have been told not to dwell on the cancer question until I know for sure.  That’s sound advice.  Yes, okay, “It is what it is.”  But… the not knowing, as anyone who’s gone through this knows, is very difficult.  However, I’m quite sure that it would be extremely more difficult to know that it is cancer.  For all of you out there who are suffering with cancer, my heart goes out to you.  And for all of us who are wondering… let’s take this moment of our lives and dig up something deep and powerful and beautiful from it.

Hopefully, the moment will pass with a huge sigh of relief.  Before that happens, God willing (please God, may that moment of relief happen) let us discover the roots that connect us most deeply to our family members and friends, perhaps, even becoming surprised through whom the blossoms of love and goodness bloom most easily and freely; let us nurture our better angels, allowing forgiveness, gentleness, and kindliness to take hold and grow within us at a rapid pace; let us surrender to the unknown and the uncontrollable, letting go of the petty and trivial things that have usually plagued us and letting in the love that often manifests in suffering and sacrifice, but which is nonetheless profoundly beautiful, remembering that this earthly life in this earthly body was never meant to last forever – but the soul of who we are, in goodness and truth, will.

Then, no matter what will happen, we will have peace in knowing that we live well.  Even if we don’t feel well.

I’m still not particularly fond of “It is what it is.”  There is a nonpersonal non-purposeful nothingness to it back use the thing itself, the “it”, a kind of power that it doesn’t possess.  I say, “It is what God wills it to be in the unfathomable Mystery of the Divine that is too far too vast for my little mind in this bright little speck of the Masterpiece.”  And I pray the well-known prayer,

“God, grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage

to change the things I can,

and the wisdom

to know the difference.”

Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, in whose Sacred Heart I pray.  Amen.

I see a specialist at Mass General in the coming week.  Don’t worry, I’m staying positive.  I’ll keep you updated.  Until then, you may see some random posts from this strange moment of life.  Pax Christi

© 2017 Christina Chase


photo credit:  Jesse Orrico, used for free with no restrictions through Unsplash.com

Cancer and Perspective

For my aunt’s cancer, angiosarcoma, to be removed from her body, her nose had to be removed.  After a year and a half of surgeries, nearly torturous radiation sessions, and more surgeries, her “new” nose is left permanently disfigured and dysfunctional.  At least, however, she had the knowledge that the cancer was gone and her life was safe.

But, the cancer has returned.

What looked like a bruise near her jaw is actually cancer.  And it, too, must be removed.  I imagine that more radiations… and uncertainty… will follow.

My poor aunt!  I feel awful for her and can’t even imagine what she must be feeling and thinking.  How will she get through this?  Where will she find the strength, the wisdom, the grace?  I find myself asking the same questions that I had when she first told me of her cancer on Christmas Day, 2014.  And my prayer for her now is the same as it was then.  Here is what I originally wrote – about my aunt the artist and about having divine perspective, even in the face of cancer:

Perspective   (click to read)

© 2016 Christina Chase

Respect Life – What Does That Mean?

You may or may not know this, but – October is Respect Life Month. This is certainly not as “mainstream” as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which has even caused football players to wear pink, and which has become somewhat glamorous with all of the media attention. But, those pink ribbons could just as easily be worn for Respect Life Month. No, I wasn’t thinking of them as a representation of the estimated 1,500 little girls who are killed every day in the United States by abortion – every day…. I was thinking that breast cancer is frightening and something that we want to see cured, because we love and respect life.

Respect Life Month is not about one subject – unless that one subject is humankind.

Some of you may have rolled your eyes and felt indignant when you read the abortion statistic above, shutting your mind to another “pro-life” post. Some of you may have even stopped reading. For those of you who consider yourself to be “pro-choice” and are still reading this, I thank you and congratulate you. You have an open mind. Together, along with people who devote their lives to helping unexpectedly pregnant women to choose life for their unborn babies, let us really consider what it means to Respect Life.

What does it mean to respect life?

For those of you who may not really like to talk about God and such, just consider the throwaway society that we are becoming. Things are undervalued, rendered cheap, replaceable, disposable. But, knowing the importance and vulnerability of our common planet, we know that we cannot be wasteful, greedy, and selfish. There are consequences to our actions and life is too precious for us to be reckless in our living of it. Thus, the environmental message and warning is being sounded in many places: “Respect the Earth!” Rightly so.

We want to protect the environment, keeping the ecosystems of our air, food, and water healthy and vibrant because we love and respect life.

As a believing Christian of the universal Church (Catholic) I see that there is simple, profound, and beautiful consistency here. And it begins with the First Cause and Final End of all things…

Begin at the Beginning

Respecting life starts with this – God created everything. And God looked upon what he created and saw that it was good. God’s creation is beautiful. Matter matters to God and he loves everything that he has created. And God created human beings in his own divine image and likeness – that means that we have a uniquely intimate relationship with God among all of the living. God loves each and every human being intimately and infinitely. God gives each and every human being special gifts and purpose – whether we can see them or not. We are important to God. Every human being is sacred.

This truth is good for us to remember, especially when we’re down on ourselves. When you have setbacks or failures, difficulties and heartbreaks, know that you are intimately and infinitely loved by God. You are important to God. You are sacred.

Authentic Love of Self

This is true love of self – for we don’t learn to love ourselves because of our worldly accomplishments, good looks, or athletic abilities. I certainly don’t love myself because of these things! True love of self comes from knowing that God loves us. In fact, we can only love because God first loved us. With this love in mind, we reflect upon Christ’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves. For every human being is sacred, intimately and infinitely loved by God.

Do we look upon our fellow human beings and try to see them as God sees them?

If we did, then surely we would respect life. We would understand that every life is worth living because every human life is important to God, every human being is created for loving relationship. We are most truly and fully ourselves when we are in loving relationship with God – and with others, with our fellow human beings.

Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” And he did not tell us to love the good-looking, the accomplished, the athletically gifted, or the super intelligent. Jesus did not tell us to love the strong or the independently wealthy. He simply told us to love one another. And he simply showed us that those who we may think are unlovable are our true neighbors in need of love. Jesus bravely and affectionately loved the lepers, the little children, the mentally ill, the possessed, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the outsiders, and the poor. Jesus told us that whatever we do to the “least” we do to him. God identifies himself with the littlest and most vulnerable among us.

The elderly man who is lonely and in pain; the 40-year-old woman who is dying of cancer; the homeless man on the corner with a drug addiction and no shoes; the pregnant 19-year-old who is scared, confused, and desperate; the boy with Down syndrome whose mother doesn’t think he should live outside her womb; the twentysomething man who is about to be killed by the State; the young woman who is being physically abused by her boyfriend; the 16-year-old smuggled to the US in a shipping container, slaving at a sweatshop; the severely disabled veteran, overcome with depression, who wants to commit suicide… God is in each of these human beings. Do we see them as God sees them?

Each one of these people is sacred, loved by God infinitely and intimately. We are to love them as we love ourselves – we are to love ourselves as God loves us: unconditionally.

To respect life is not to meet people’s problems with death as the answer. It is to love. True love does not merely find expedient ends, but gives loving care, attention, and appreciation, to every human being.

We can’t live in a throwaway world.

© 2015 Christina Chase

Deformity and Disfigurement

I’m a hunchback. Really. As a two-year-old, I was already showing a hint of the deformity, which has gotten much worse over the years.

Christina in the sun

But, I didn’t always think of the severe curve in my upper spine as an abnormality – I don’t think I ever really thought of it as an “it” at all. In my mind, in my consciousness of who I am, there has never been a separation between me and my disease. My body is my body and I am I.In Québec city

I remember when I first became pointedly aware of my hump. I was 19 and was getting an x-ray to make sure that my chest congestion wasn’t pneumonia. Two technicians were positioning me on the table and one said to the other, indicating my back, “Watch out for the deformity.” On hearing this, I was puzzled as to what she was referring to – “I have a deformity?” I remember thinking. And then, of course, I knew exactly what she was talking about, and everything clicked into a new self-image – yes, of course, my spine is curved and crooked. It’s deformed. I have a deformity. I am deformed.

You may think that this made me feel bad about myself. But, it didn’t. Whatever one chooses to call my scoliosis doesn’t change the fact of my scoliosis or its severity. Actually, with the new, concrete realization that I am deformed, I began a new, more confident sense of self – but not right away. Although I didn’t think less of myself value wise, I did become very self-conscious about my crooked back.

When the Disney film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, was released in theaters, my sister, mother, great aunt, and I planned on going, because we went to every new animated movie at that time, as a treat for my great-aunt Gini. But, I had serious reservations about going to the movie theater for this one. I really, really didn’t want little kids to look at me and point, seeing me as a live version of Quasimodo. “Look mom, a real hunchback!”

You know, I don’t clearly remember whether we even decided to go or not. If we didn’t go, it wasn’t because of my overly self-conscious dread. Although… Although I could have simply said that I didn’t physically feel up to going. No questions would have been asked.

Almost 20 years later, I’m truly not bothered if people stare at me (it’s usually a kind of morbid curiosity) or if little kids point at me and say things that embarrass their parents. And there is so much more than my hunchback to look at. There’s the wheelchair, of course; my squat torso and frail thinness; and let’s not forget my head permanently flopped over onto my left shoulder. My head pretty much rests on my hump, actually. I can feel the vertebrae pressing into the back of my skull right now. In a way, this covers up the fact that I have a hunchback. Instead, I am just obviously crippled and crumpled. Deformed. Most people stop seeing this so blatantly, every time they look at me, once they have known me for a while. I’m told that my personality takes over and what people see when they look at me are my smile and my expressive eyes. Even if my eyes are continually tilted at a 35° angle off of the horizon and I can’t move my head.

So, what is the new confidence that I started to gain when I identified myself as deformed? It’s a kind of, “Here I am. All of me. Vulnerable and unashamed.” Life isn’t always pretty. Life is so very far from perfect. And whatever limitations, deformities, disfigurements, poverties, or setbacks that you out there may have, through no fault of your own, you are supposed to be here. You are loved into being and celebrated on high. You are a human being – and that is always beautiful, no matter how wounded, twisted, weak, or scarred you may be in body. Physical ugliness doesn’t have to make an ugly heart or an ugly mind. The most wonderful gifts can come in the crudest or most battered packages.

People may point and stare. People may not be able to hide their shock or even their repulsion. I’ve seen it in people’s eyes when they look at me. The nose wrinkles slightly and they want to look away, but can’t. But, I’m not going to hide. Yes, I understand it might be a little gross to sit near me in a restaurant and watch my father feed me when he is less than successful at getting the whole forkful into my mouth. But, look, keep looking. I roll my eyes at him and then give him a closed-mouth smile. And, after I swallow, I continue to engage in lively conversation with my table mates. And, though, at first, you may look at me with an instinct of disdain or with morbid curiosity, you will soon see me as a blessed person, who is loved and gratefully cared for by her family, who is able to accept who she is, disability, hunchback, and all, and who lives life with the sense of gratitude and joy with which it is meant to be lived. And you will smile at me. And you will open doors for me. And you will be so happy to exchange a few words with me. And, sometimes, you will share the fact that I have inspired you.

None of this will make my body less deformed or my debilitating disease less painful to live with. You won’t change me. But, I might change you. For I’ve already learned what you’re being taught, now, through me.

(Keep the faith, my dear aunt! The beauty is not on the surface of the canvas – it is in the heart of the artist and the beholder. And you are always beautiful!)

© 2015 Christina Chase