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

Perspective

My aunt is an artist and she has cancer. It’s a rare and aggressive kind. I know neither the specific details of her treatment nor what will happen. But it’s cancer. And cancer is always scary. I was thinking about something that I didn’t want to do this week, something that I was dreading, and then I thought – but it’s nothing, nothing compared to what my aunt is going through. Everything else seems easy from the standpoint of cancer.

What is it like when you have cancer? Does your whole world go flat? What happens when you lose that “it could be worse” perspective that used to bring life into relief? Does everything in your life seem like it’s not where it’s supposed to be – what is distant is too immediately close, while what is truly near to you seems too far away?

I learned about the cancer straight from my aunt when I saw her on Christmas Day. I didn’t know what to say. She seemed her usual self, even though she had only just found out. Later, she began talking about a book that she had read, called Being Mortal, and about how we are so afraid of dying that we do the whole thing wrong. And I was impressed that she could talk about such serious things calmly and deeply while facing, perhaps, her own impending death. I saw the truth in her eyes as she said to me that she believed that God was giving her grace and that she was at peace.

So many questions have I… Would I be so peaceful if I had cancer? Although I am curious about what it’s like to have cancer, this is one subject about which I never want to satisfy my curiosity. But… Will I be so peaceful when my end nears from whatever cause? For, of course, we all will die, some time, of some thing, some how. Is anyone ever really ready to accept death – or… even worse, I think, sometimes… to face the process of dying?

Like most of my father’s family, my aunt is Christian, but not Catholic. A couple of days before Christmas, she had asked my father on the telephone why I call myself a Catholic Writer and not a Christian Writer. If she had asked me, I would’ve said that Christian and Catholic are the same, but that, because I understand the importance of words, I did debate between the two. I might have told her that the main reason I chose “Catholic Writer” was in order to give a heads up to those Christians who don’t like Catholicism, so that they would know to expect writings about the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Assumption of Mary, the Eucharist, the Catechism, and so on in my work. When I saw her at Christmas, however, my aunt didn’t ask me that question. What she did say to me was that she has been reading my blog and that she believes in the same things that I have written about. I wasn’t surprised, although my guess is that she didn’t get to the part about the Assumption of Mary – but maybe she did. We are all Christian, after all, believing in the Mystery and power of God – believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and striving to live our lives in imitation of him.

I know that it is with a Christian perspective that my aunt will face her cancer, whatever may come. When she suffers, I pray that she stands at the foot of the Cross and sees the proximity of her suffering and Christ’s. And when she fears, I pray that she sees and feels the infinite nearness of God’s love, trusting the whole layout of His plan. With this Christian perspective, she will not become deflated or flattened, she will not lose herself out of proportion. The light of Christ is what brings her life into high relief, making all of her days and nights round and full, giving clear relationship to everything around her, based on who she is.

Many of my favorite pieces in this blog are the ones that I write about being human, about our true identities as human beings. We are made for the divine. We are not made merely for the fulfillment of our own self-centered and finite desires. We are not made for comfort or convenience. We are made for love, true love, the fullness of love – and the fullness of true love is the receiving and giving of God’s love. We are not alone, we are never alone, for God loves us into being, intimately and infinitely, and gives us the ability to love in return… forever. It is this relationship that puts everything else into the right place. And nothing can cause us to become unloved – nothing. And nothing can force us to become unloving, to lose ourselves, to lose our reason for being, to lose our joy – nothing. Not even cancer.

And if you are reading this, my dear artistic aunt, my prayer to God is that He will set you in the right place and help you to never lose divine perspective.

This is also my prayer for all of you, dear readers, for this new year, 2015!

© 2015 Christina Chase

The Climbing Way

My friend’s husband died in the very early hours of this morning, while it was still dark.  He had prostate cancer that spread to his bones and to his liver.  He was a good man, lived a good life, as we say, loving his family, serving his community, sharing the Good News as a deacon, and ministering to those in prison.  A man of great faith, he had lived fully and well and was ready for what comes next.  As often happens, his body seemed less ready than his soul, as bodily death did not come suddenly but, rather, by suffering, slowly breaking down, groaning in the pains that is the dying process.  But peace was in his heart and his loved ones by his side.  When I heard of his passing, these words of It Came upon a Midnight Clear came to my mind:

“And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,

whose forms are bending low,

who toil along the climbing way

with painful steps and slow,

Look, now, for glad and golden hours

come swiftly on the wing!

O rest beside the weary road

and hear the angels sing.”