Many artists tried. The King looked at all the pictures, but there were only two he really liked and he had to choose between them.
One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror, for peaceful towering mountains were all around it. Over head was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought it was a perfect picture of peace.
The other picture had mountains, too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky from which rain fell, and in which lightening played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall.
This did not look peaceful at all.
But when the King looked, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush, a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on her nest.
The King chose the second picture as the winner. “Because,” explained the King, “Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the true meaning of peace.”
Inner peace is a gift we give ourselves when we learn to live in the present moment regardless of what is going on in our world. It takes dedication and commitment to stay centered and grounded. Yet, the rewards are priceless.
I was at work, waiting for the call from my GP on the results of the CT scan. I thought some arthritis would be found in my sternum, but my mind did not worry about anything else. Still, I took her call in the private dining room.
"Katie, it looks like you have lymphoma."
"Shit!" I replied as I rested my forehead on the crook of my elbow. "My dad died of that 27 years ago," I said in a whisper. Even so, I'd never been paranoid about it hitting me, never. Cancer has always been the furthest worry from my mind.
Then I had an even worse thought: my kids. How the hell am I supposed to share this with them?
I don't recall the rest of the conversation, but I do remember asking my boss for a moment of her time after I hung up the phone. In the quiet of her office, I calmly told her about my call, then took in a deep breath. Again, I thought of my kids, and this time I broke down in tears.
"I can't let my kids know, not yet," I cried. "My daughter graduates college in a few weeks and this may crush her."
Mind you, my kids are no longer kids. In fact, they are 23, 25 and 27--old enough to handle a devastating interruption to their lives, but I was not prepared to be the reason. Nothing else mattered but shielding them from this terrible news. I am their young, high-spirited, healthy Mom. Not a dying one.
My boss nodded with understanding, then she leaned forward in her chair, pointed her finger at me, and through tears she said: "Do not do this alone!"
Best advice ever.
But I still couldn't bear to tell them, which meant I wasn't going to tell anyone, not yet. I couldn't risk the possibility of word leaking out to them in the community before I told them first.
After disclosing to my boss, I left work early and went home to write. Writing is my cathartic space, and my journal is my healing place. I immediately wrote a list of cancer survivors whom I know personally, which amounted to about 20 people. That was stunning, in itself, since my net doesn't cast that far. But TWENTY just in my small circle? I shuddered. I then added celebrities to the list, and friends and family of people I know, and the list kept growing.
Yes, I will be okay, the list seemed to convey.
It's interesting to come faced-to-face with my mortality. I thought about my funeral often in those early days, and have even jotted down a few songs I would want played. It didn't feel morbid, but necessary. I divvied up my small possessions in my mind, then jotted down which kid or friend would receive them; these were all quickly jotted down on sticky notes, clicked together by a paper clip. I can't imagine that will hold up in court. Holding a ketchup bottle one day, I suddenly wondered it I will outlive its expiration date.
But then I realized that I was moving way beyond myself, my diagnosis, and my future. After all, I hadn't even gotten a biopsy yet. I just wanted to be semi-prepared, if there is such a thing. But I decided there wasn't, and I didn't want to waste my time wondering who would profit from my life should this cancer be my demise.
But still, for the next two weeks, I told no one. Then I carefully shared my news on the phone with my sister because I finally had to tell someone before I burst, and I shared the news again with one of my BFF's on my mother's 94th birthday. I swore them both to secrecy.
My daughter had just a few weeks left before she graduated from college. She has had a long, challenging, and oftentimes difficult road toward receiving her diploma. I was afraid that receiving news like this in her most vulnerable remaining few weeks, would cause her to cave. I couldn't jeopardize all the hard work she had accomplished.
But I also had to ask myself: where was I not trusting my daughter? Do I not believe she has the capacity to hear difficult news? Do I not trust that she is an adult who is capable to feeling her own feelings and I don't have to protect her from that?
I just couldn't bear to watch my kids' faces transform as they contemplate possibly losing their young, vibrant, and healthy 54-year-old mother.
They wouldn't know yet, at my first admission, that there are things operating in my favor. That will come second as I try to ease the pain of the moment.
But I knew this: my blood markers for lymphoma (LDH) are only "mildly increased" according to my oncologist; I have no symptoms of lymphoma; I was diagnosed as probable Stage II which is highly treatable; and lymphoma is one of the few cancers that responds very well to treatment.
When I finally shared the news with each of them, individually, three days before my biopsy, through tears and stuttering, I felt a burden lifted. And all three of them took the news like champs.
If my kids survived the news, and they were still okay, then I was okay, too. They, like their mother, have the capacity to hear difficult news and weather it with grace.
It freed me up to share my news with everyone else, too. So one-by-one I started calling on my troop of survivors who led the trail before me. Their support and love and encouragement have been immeasurable.
I am not afraid to die. I am afraid to leave my kids. I am not done watching their lives unfold. I want to see them marry the loves of their lives; I want to know their spouses and their children; I want to watch them blossom and thrive in their futures, the ones that were set up with me.
Perhaps it's egotistical to believe that they still need me; they don't. They all have full lives with little input needed from their mother. But after 20 years as a single-parent, I deserve the right to see how their lives play out. I must've done a good enough job because they are all self-sufficient, kind, generous, hard-working members of the world. And dammit, I deserve to reap the rewards of what I created while they were living solely under my wing.
Yes, I believe it will build character to watch their mother go through a devastating diagnosis with style. But they do not have to lose me to teach character.
I am not done with them yet.
I have cried every day since May 8th, but the reason is not what you may think. I am so newly attuned to the beauty in the world and in my life that I cannot hold it in. I remember feeling this raw after my life caved twenty years ago. My grief was so near the surface that I could actually feeeel how beautiful the world was whenever I had enough air to breathe it in. Life felt richer, crisper, newer.
This time, I don't feel the grief.
I feel immense amounts of gratitude: for my life, for my diagnosis (hopefully before it was too late), for everything I've been able to experience thus far. My life has been a beautiful testament to the way I've wanted to live, and I am proud. I'm proud of my decisions; I am proud of my children; I am proud of myself, especially in light of so many difficult life events, and the hard choices I've had to make in the wake of those events. I have had to take some hard stands, oftentimes standing alone, but I have no regrets.
This time, I won't have to do this alone. It has already been evident in the scores of people, both near and far, coming to my rescue.
It's strange to realize that I have live cancer cells damaging my inerds. Before the biopsy, I could feel a cluster pressing against my esophagus, making swallowing hot coffee or large pieces of chicken challenging. It didn't hurt; it just felt uncomfortable, like a large pill getting stuck.
Since surgery two weeks ago, it hasn't happened again. I'm assuming that something got shifted while doctors were inside my chest trying to cinch off a portion of the tumor to use as a biopsy. At least that's what I've decided happened. I'm just grateful I no longer need to worry about scarfing down food for fear of something getting stuck.
As a nurse for almost 30 years, It still surprises me that I am not entirely tuned into the fact that this disease can kill me. I only realize it when I read the scared and supportive emails, or Facebook posts by others. Then I think, “Holy shit! This is serious!”
But I also firmly believe that no matter how dire a disease, healing can still happen. I expect to be one of the survivors, because I know how much grit I have to weather this. I am strong, courageous, and a tough young chick who seems to thrive in adversity (though I'm not sure this is an appropriate bragging point).
I also know that this will shake up my life in a profound and necessary way. And I'm okay with that. Hell, I've done it a few times before so I know the path, at least the beginning parts. The rest will be revealed in time.
The symptoms that took me to the doctor 6 weeks ago have been shape-shifting over the past month, which is a constant reminder that there is a foreign invasion going on. They are unpredictable and appear quickly, and for a woman who never experiences pain and rarely takes medications, this has been beyond annoying.
What first started out as chest pain quickly morphed into something more. It began to occasionally feel like a match was being lit under my skin. This was the cancer oozing its way into/over nerves, which sets off a blazing tingle that lasted for up to 2 hours, usually in the middle of the night. I've also had "referred pain" in both of my scapulas, which feels like someone has punched me repeatedly...with a ring on. Then there's the numbness in my left arm, headaches, and a hacking cough that is either wet and wheezy, or dry and tickly. Sometimes I get winded just walking. I was prescribed an inhaler for the wheezy or constricted moments, which have been intermittent. But when I need to breathe better (and stop the hacking that sounds like I have emphysema), the inhaler has come in handy.
Since the diagnosis, I have continued life as normal. Nobody has known the difference. In fact, when I shared the news with my colleagues a day before my biopsy, most were stunned that I had been working, as usual, the previous 28 days, with nary a change in my behavior or work. But being at work, doing my job, normalized me. It gave me little time to worry about the cancer invading my body, even though it was constantly on my mind.
It has also helped that the rest of my life has remained status quo. I still meet friends for coffee, I still exercise and shop, and get my hair and toes prettified. My daily routine has not shifted much. I have been sleeping well, for the most part, even though some nights are tiresome. Most days I feel great, which is deceiving because there is a battle going on behind my breastbone, deep within the cavity where my heart lays quietly and triumphantly beating.
Still, I feel at peace amidst the chaos.
And for that, I am grateful. <3