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

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

Inspire

Breathe in deeply.

Over the last six weeks, what with pneumonia, then bronchitis, and menstrual flow for 22 days (and counting) I’ve been struggling.  Being as small as I am (58 pounds) with a twisted torso from scoliosis and weakened respiratory muscles – oh, and that whole spinal-muscular-atrophy-never-walked-can’t-move-my-arms-anymore thing – everything is just harder.  I thank God for the improvements, truly, deeply, and pray that no more difficulties may come – all the while knowing that there are so many people out there who have it so much worse.

And I’ve been thinking… Through the choking on mucus, pain and bleeding, shortness of breath… Don’t I believe in God’s will?  I have prayed that only God’s Positive, Perfect, Holy, Ordained Will be done.  Not God’s Permissive Will, the things that aren’t part of His ideal plan, but that He will make work out for the best, but God’s Perfect Will, what He ideally wants.  If being sick is exactly what God intends for the perfection of my life-never-ending, then so be it.  God sees the Big Picture, which I cannot, as I’m stuck in the little details of the day – and the Big Picture is an exquisite Masterpiece.

Now, I say, “So be it” or “Thy will be done” – but, do I mean it?

If I mean it, then I should not only thank God for the times of improvement – pneumonia cleared up, the bronchitis gone – but also thank God for the new difficulties: the ongoing cramping, bloating that makes it hard for me to breathe and causes my heart to race, the loss of blood, the anxiety that there may be something terribly wrong in my reproductive system, whatever new cold might pop up.  I should groan and nearly scream in pain, I should struggle for air, and I should say, “Thank You.”  And I’m serious here.  I’ve tried it, and I have to say, it’s much easier said than done.  I believe in the principle, I believe it’s a good thing to do, to be grateful for God’s Perfect Will… But, it’s another struggle.

I am trying to learn everything that I can from this trial and these tribulations.  I really do believe that there is a treasure here for me to discover, that there is richly useful knowledge and experience for me to gain.  As a character said recently on a television program called Nashville, “Pain is valuable.”  That’s true for country music writers, but it’s also true for all writers and artists.  Perhaps, it’s true for every human being.  I know it’s true for me.  All of this will bring me closer to my Creator, into a more deeply and personal and intimate relationship with my Savior.  Thus united and connected with God in my heart, I can then better be inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit to receive God’s love and wisdom and to be creative, to share the reality of Christ and the glory of God with others.

Being grateful for pain is extremely difficult and, being only human, I don’t know if I can really do it.  But, there is another little lesson that I have learned in all of this, a practical one that is slightly easier to do, but no less important…

Even though it’s more difficult to breathe because my body hurts so much, I have to take good care of my lungs and stay healthy.  So I have learned, and I continually remind myself, that, even when in pain, I must breathe in deeply.  And this does feel something like gratitude…

That’s the lesson I’m sharing here in this post today:

Even when in pain,

Breathe in deeply.

© 2017 Christina Chase

God Is Good

My father had open heart surgery this past Monday because of blocked coronary arteries.  He had a septuple bypass – I didn’t even know one could have that many!  We were all very surprised that he needed this and also very grateful that he had never had a heart attack.  He works so hard and with his circulatory system the way it was… I believe that God was definitely watching over him.  The surgeons were very confident that he would get through the surgery well and that it would be successful because he is in good shape, not overweight, doesn’t drink and doesn’t smoke.  Still… It was major surgery and we know that things can happen…

Thankfully, he did get through the surgery well and, so far, he is recovering successfully.  Someone told me that there are so many people praying for a good result for him that God wouldn’t dare to disappoint them.  But, I don’t think it really works that way.  First of all, God is pretty daring.  Second of all, God’s will is God’s will.  We know that God hears all prayers and answers all of the prayers of the faithful.  What that answer is, however, is hidden in the mind of God until it is revealed.  And it isn’t always the answer that had been sought.

God’s answer to our prayers may be “Yes, that is what I will and you shall receive it for it is for your good.”  Or, God’s answer to our prayers may be “No, that is not what is best for you, but I will lovingly give you what is for your good.”  And sometimes that thing that is for our good doesn’t seem very good at first.  Maybe it never does in this life.  But, ultimately, when we see the big picture, when we look through the loving eyes of God with the Beatific Vision, we will understand and see the good.  For God works in mysterious ways, ways that are far above our own ways.

I have faith that God will protect and keep my father safe always.  But, I do not want to pretend to know the mind of God.   No human does.   I am grateful for every day and for every hour of every day and I know that God is good.  I know that, in order to be a true believer, in order to be someone who truly loves God and, so, someone who is who she is created to be, then I must trust God.   When one reads the stories of the Saints and knows that there can be blessings in sufferings,  it is a very scary thing to trust God!  Yet, this is what I am called to do.  For the past week, this is what I have been trying to do.   Only God knows how well or how poorly I have been doing it.   Thankfully, God is merciful!

My family doesn’t deserve any better blessings than any other family on earth.   God loves everybody,  God desires the best, the true good, and the truest joy, for everybody.   My father will receive nothing more and nothing less.   This is what I believe.   It is only up to us to await God’s will, to be ready to receive the answer that God will reveal.   I don’t see how I could ever be truly prepared for tragedy,  for the sudden or early death of one of my loved ones.   But, this kind of thing happens to people all of the time – and they are no less loved by God,  no less blessed.   I think the truest blessing lies in understanding that God is good.   Through the easier and more pleasant times as well as through the rougher and more sorrowful times, God is good.

All the time.

God is good.

God knows my plea, God knows the deepest desire of my heart.   I put my loved ones into his hands, begging for mercy, begging that I will not be put to the test.   And then I thank God for what ever God wills.   For, whatever God wills,  God is good.

This is my faith. I don’t always live it well, not at all.  One thing that  I have learned  so far from this experience is to remember that God loves me  and created me for a very special and specific purpose.   I cannot let myself get sidetracked from that purpose.  My father gives so much of himself to take care of me and I want to make him proud.  And I want to make God, my heavenly Father,  proud.   I am a writer.   Please, God,  help me, in my relationship with my dad, so that, living and loving with him, I may be the best writer that I can be.  And thank you for his health so far –  please continue to watch over him and to bless him with recovery, good health, and strength.

Amen.

© 2015 Christina Chase

Not Fulfilled Yet

I’ve written here that I want to feel sacred – and that I’m disappointed because I thought I would feel sacred by making an act of consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But… what does sacred feel like? Is there such a feeling? What if what I’m experiencing is what sacred feels like: seeking, wanting, trying, not yet satisfied…?

There should be a sense of reverence toward a consecrated place, thing, or person. And, I wonder, shouldn’t there also be a sense of reverence that the consecrated person feels about him or her self? That feeling of being made sacred? To look upon myself no longer as my self, but as belonging entirely to God – that’s a true act of consecration. I should no longer consider my life as my own to do with whatever I wish, but, rather, as belonging to the Sacred Heart – with the inner life of Christ acting, working, through me.

In my desire to feel sacred, I must remember two things: 1.) God is Holy Other. 2.) I am not God. I am what God sanctifies, what God makes holy – at least, I can be what God makes holy if I let God do what God wants to do. Making an act of consecration to God (through any worthy kind of imagery or form, like the Sacred Heart) is making an act of surrender, so to speak. I am to hand over my person and my life to God (hand over my liberty, my intellect, my memory, my will[i]) so that God may make me sacred. So that, henceforth, my choices, my actions, and my words will be for God’s glory, for God’s ultimate plan. I dedicate myself to God’s work for God’s sake – not for my own ambition or comfort or even reward. Therefore, I seek only God’s Perfect Will – living in order that God’s Will may be accomplished through me… oh, let my spirit be willing, Lord, even if my flesh is weak!

Right now, I, human creature that I am of limited flesh and blood upon the earth, do not live purely in the presence of God, in the absence of temptation and sin. Rather, I live in the world, surrounded by distractions and worldliness, living in the weakness of my own flesh, as well as the weakness of others. If I seek only God’s Perfect Will, then I cannot be content with succumbing to temptation and sinning. If I seek only God’s Perfect Will, then I cannot be content with cruelty and injustice. If I seek only God’s Perfect Will, then I will hunger and thirst for righteousness. Christ Jesus tells us that those who do so hunger and thirst will be satisfied. He says that they will be satisfied… not that they are satisfied. For human beings to be truly blessed, to be truly happy, they will mourn and they will be persecuted for believing in Jesus Christ. These who mourn and are persecuted will be consoled and will be rewarded – their happiness, their blessedness, will be fulfilled.[ii] It is not fulfilled right here and right now. It is being accomplished. Not done yet.

And, so, if I am truly dedicated to God’s Will, if I am consecrated to the Sacred Heart and allowing the process of being made holy by God’s grace, then I am laboring, I am trying, I am wanting – and I am not there yet. I am not of the world, but I am still in the world. An Act of Consecration, or the process of being made sacred, while still in the midst of the profane is not the experience of complete peace without hunger, or joy without suffering. I shouldn’t feel satisfied and content. My faith is that I will be so fulfilled, perfectly peaceful and unceasingly joyful… This is Christ’s promise to me and I believe him. I believe in him – for this faith is my act of consecration…. God is consecrating me… here and now for eternity.

Yes, I have to stop thinking about this in terms of my gift to God. This is about God’s gift to me. What do I really have that is truly my own? I can give nothing to God. God gives everything to me. I can do nothing for God. God does everything for me… And through me. I, with the power of the Holy Spirit in me, merely use my God-given soul to acknowledge and surrender to the inevitable truth of who I am.

Even just writing this, I have more of a sense of being sacred. I am seeing with new eyes, hearing with new ears, feeling with new skin. My physical eyes, ears, and skin have not changed – but, perhaps, the attitude of my mind and spirit have changed, or, more accurately, are being changed. Continually being directed less toward self-centeredness and more toward God-centeredness (which is the reality of existence) this is coming home to truth, this is consecration. It is not something extra that I do, for then it could seem as though it were superfluous or unnecessary to life itself. I mean, why make an act of consecration at all? Why not just be like the majority of Christians and basically try to live a good life and then let God’s forgiveness handle all the rest so that I may go to Heaven? But… Consecration is profoundly and simply a recognition of the truth that is always there: I belong to God.

Everything that exists belongs to God. God is the giver. God gives the gift. Not me. With my God-given freewill, imagination and intellect, I can ignore this fact, reject this fact, or neglect this fact – but the fact remains. That which we call “God” is what always was, what always is, and what always will be. And the what is not something that we can ever detect with our tools or formulations. This Absolute, Almighty, Eternal Truth/Being is not a what but a Who. Person is the force and drive behind and within the very creation and existence of matter/energy; Person is the force and drive behind and within our expanding universe; Person is the answer to every why, whether that “why person” be Divine or human – it’s all personal. It’s all a gift.

“Life is a gift” is not something sentimental or trite, something handy but unnecessary, something superfluous to real life. It’s essential truth. God consecrates me through His divine action and I don’t ignore the package at the door waiting for me, I don’t take it away in disgust or disdain, and I don’t neglect to see it, blinded by my own self-centered thoughts or pursuits. I look for the gift and the gift finds me seeking… wanting… trying… and not fulfilled yet. God is sanctifying me…

Christina Chase

 

[i] taken from a prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola

[ii] Matthew 5:3-12

Getting Real

It’s time for the ultimate reality check: ”Remember, Man, you are but dust, and to dust you will return.”  The priest tells me this as he marks my forehead with ashes smeared into the shape of a cross.  Thus, Ash Wednesday begins Lent, 40 days of penitence, but, also, perhaps most importantly, of preparing to be restored to the full depth and breadth of reality.  To begin Lent in ashes is to put my life into perspective.  For what is this body that takes up so much of my time, that I fuss and worry over – what is it but dust?  The little pleasures that might be given up for Lent – chocolate, coffee, computer games, daydreaming, etc. – are really only things that will one day become ashes themselves.  I get possessive about things and cling to them as my own, even though they do not constitute who I am.  I must remember that I am dust – dust animated by a soul… God created me, formed this body for me out of the earth, and gave me a spiritual soul to bring me into human being, so that I might fully live in His Creation.  The truth is that I did not create myself; I am not my own source and I am not my own ultimate end.  In truth – reality check – nothing that I have is my own, not even my existence, my life.

We human beings are dependent, as are all creatures.  We are, from the beginning, dependent upon the Will that created us and we are continually dependent upon sustenance: from the air that we breathe, which is not our own, to the lungs with which we breathe, which were given to us.  We are beggars living upon the largess of God’s Creation – with no hope of repayment.  For, we cannot give to God anything that God has not first given to us.  This is what has been referred to as our “empty-handedness”.  And though we may often not care that we are dependent upon a generous God and, instead, revel and indulge in the abundance, greedily hoarding up goods to live self-centeredly, we cannot escape the truth forever.  There will always come a moment in our lives when we wake up to reality and our eyes are opened to the truth.  A rude awakening it will seem to some, perhaps, but a necessary one for the sake of truth.  For, we humans are not only dependent – we are also transcendent beings.  Within us is the relentless desire and longing for truth, for the source of our beings, and for connection and relationship to this infinite and divine Source – for love.  It is in our nature to give and to love selflessly.  It is in our nature precisely because we are created in God’s own image and likeness.

All that God wants (and that is a huge and profound statement: “all that God wants”) is for us to truly and fully live.  We do that by being dependent – by knowing and accepting that we are dependent in true humility.  And we do that by being transcendent, by longing for God and loving selflessly in our empty-handedness.  In the great gift of life, God has given us something truly amazing: freewill.  Perhaps, we could say that this is what is truly ours – our wills.  When I choose to acknowledge the Source of my life, to humbly live upon the divine largess in true recognition and gratitude, and to hold back nothing for my own selfish intentions, then I am close to the Kingdom – I am close to True Justice, Right Order, the Fullness of Reality.  As a humble beggar with my begging bowl upturned, I give to God the only thing that God has given to me irrevocably: my will.  This is the soul of my existence, the soul of my being, the soul of truth.  Everything else is but dust, ashes, and to dust it shall return.  The only perfect offering that I can give to the Creator and Master of the Universe is myself.  My will, given freely, becomes God’s will and in this I am fulfilled, my deepest longing is satisfied, and so the greatest joy is known, perfected in eternity.

With ashes on my forehead, I remember that every living thing, all of Creation, belongs to God.  We belong to God, irrevocably.  Surrendering our will to this truth is the one and only way to receive the fullness of life.  If we seek to only serve ourselves, in self-centered will, then we serve only ashes.  It is precisely because our hands are empty that we are able to experience true love – God doesn’t love us for anything that we have.  The lowest pauper is as beloved as the highest prince, but only the beggar with empty, upturned bowl, who wills only what God wills, is rich in eternity. As St. Paul told the Philippians and tells us now:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

Christina Chase