Not Down Or Out

It could be worse. I might not be laughing.

Month: April, 2013

It Will Be a Sunny Day

Last Photo of Arlene

Last Photo of Arlene

We soon will gather to say goodbye to Arlene and Dan. She died on April 7 in Richmond, Virginia and he died on December 4 in Cape Coral, Florida. Both were cremated. Their children are bringing them home to the Cremation Garden in the neighborhood in which they lived for most of their marriage.

I visited the place yesterday because my mom, Arlene’s only sibling, does not want to be late and wanted me to scope out the route and time it.

Later that afternoon my mom asked me to pause in my relentless clicking of the TV’s remote to let her check the weather forecast for the coming week. The meteorologist predicted it will be a sunny day. I wondered aloud whether the weather could affect the experience of a memorial service. My mom thought so. “No one wants to get wet,” she said.

I said, “I will cry anyway.”

My mom looked at me and nodded, but there was no question but that she wishes for her sister a sunny day.

I woke this morning thinking about sisters. Sometimes we live all of our lives in each other’s company. Sometimes we live so far apart that there can be miles between us when we are in the same room. We’re a little like socks in a drawer.

I’m always finding that one sock stays where I put it while the other slips down my ankle and disappears into my shoe. How is that I can have a pair of socks and one is clean while the other always seems in need of a pre-soak? There are even socks that have lost their mates. Did one fall along the way? Did one go down the drain of the washing machine? How does a sock go into the dryer and never emerge? I never seem to discard the remaining sock. Instead I either keep the remaining sock in the hope the pair will reunite or I pair it with another sock and the new pair continues to see the world.

I started hunting through old photos for pictures of sisters. Here are a couple that I found.

Hattie Fitzgerald w Margaret and Doris U

In this photo, my great grandmother Hattie sits alone in a chair. Beside her, sharing a single chair, are sisters Margaret and Doris. Hattie made no effort to edge closer to the two women sitting beside her. There is no reason why she would. All three women are my relatives, but Hattie was not related to anyone else in the photograph.

Sisters Doris and Margaret started their lives thirteen years apart, had sixty-six years together, but ended up spending many years apart, too. Doris died twenty-three years after her sister did. They were nothing alike and yet very close. Margaret went to school and became a school teacher. Doris rode her pony to town when she started high school and then rode home and never went back. While Margaret “saw the world,” Doris lived on the family farm nearly all of her life. In fact, Doris died within weeks of auctioning the farm, almost as if she knew that, without it, she was no longer tethered to this world. Moreover, Doris had a twin sister named Dora that died moments after birth. They never got to spend a day together after being so close during gestation that they shared a womb.

Hattie also was born an identical twin. She lived to be ninety-nine years old. She outlived her husband and one of her two sons. She also outlived her sister Susie. Susie died at the age of twenty-six of rectal cancer. Hattie never had a day’s serious illness in her entire life. As I looked at the photograph, I tried to imagine what it would have been like if Susie had been alive, too. Would Hattie and Susie have shared a single chair, as Doris and Margaret did, or would Hattie and Susie have insisted on having their own chairs? There is room for two in that chair. Is it possible that Susie’s spirit followed Hattie throughout Hattie’s life? I guess not. It does not sound like much of an existence, even for a spirit.

I have a photograph of Hattie and Susie in my home. My dad never would let my mom hang it in their home during his lifetime. He thought the photo was awful. The heads are touching, which might lead one to wonder whether the sisters were conjoined. They were not. I kind of like the picture. Susie’s side shows some more damage than Hattie’s side does and her expression seems distant and less happy, as if she might have known her time here was short.

Hattie and Susie Sullivan

Hattie and Susie Sullivan

I have other photographs of Susie that show her out with a beau or standing at the garden gate. In those photos she is serious but not at all remote or reflective.

My mom and her sister were not close. They lived under the same roof for seventeen years, and were only about three years apart in age, but they never told tales of shared misadventures or secrets whispered between beds set a couple of feet apart in a shared bedroom. My aunt told me several times before she died how my mom brought me (then a baby) to Arlene’s graduation from St. Anne’s Hospital Nursing School. They stood up for each other when they married. We spent holidays together and many family celebrations. The sisters did not often pick up the phone and chat, but there were no fights. When Arlene and Dan retired in Las Vegas, the sisters sent each other cards and notes every birthday, holiday, and anniversary.

Arlene and Dan came to Chicago for a visit a few years ago and my mom and I went to dinner with them and Dan’s sister Ann. We had a nice evening and caught up on family events. When word came that Arlene was accepting hospice care, my mom flew out to D.C. to visit with my sister. Kathy and Kathy’s husband Jeff drove my mom down to Richmond to see Arlene. It was during one of their visits that Jeff photographed the sisters together for the last time. My sister, Arlene’s son, and Arlene’s daughter-in-law stand behind Arlene’s wheelchair.

In the photograph, my mom is the one who appears distant, but she was the one who made the visit happen. She returned to Richmond again during her visit with my sister. When it was time for my mom to go, Arlene was asleep in her bed and my mom did not wake her because she wanted to leave open the possibility that they would see each other again and spare both of them the exchange of “goodbyes.” Arlene died several days later.

The limitation inherent in every photograph is that it captures one moment in time and never really captures history beyond that instant. Like the socks in a drawer, sometimes sisters are rolled together so tightly that you cannot tell them apart. At other times they are so far apart that it feels like they will never be reunited. No matter how far apart these sisters may have walked in the seventy-four years they lived as family, what I know for sure is that my mom is hoping that, for her sister, tomorrow will be a sunny day.

Open Wide

All Are Welcome

All Are Welcome

Years ago one of my students told me that she had described me to her mother as the smiling-faced alien who emerged after her spaceship had landed and said to the denizens of this planet, “All are welcome. All are welcome.”

I remember blinking a few times as I tried to figure out whether this was a compliment or a criticism. It certainly was a mixed metaphor. I like the notion that I welcome folks and put them at ease, but the alien spaceship has several possible interpretations. There is, of course, the image of a trusting Richard Dreyfuss taking the hand of a stranger and walking into the spaceship at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There the aliens are benign creatures who have, if memory serves, collected and then returned countless folks who traversed a sort of Bermuda Triangle one century without aging. I like the image of the alien in Cocoon. Brian Dennehy was the right blend of affable and inscrutable as he welcomed our aging citizens on a voyage that would rejuvenate and repurpose them.

Then there is the image of the merciless alien attack in response to our musical overtures in Independence Day. That feel good film about whoopin’ “E.T.’s ass” always makes me think of my bird house in which the open wide front door is represented as the maw of a cat (pictured above).

If you have ever seen a cat play with its food then you know that canned cat food must be the equivalent of what rolls on the grill at the convenience store at about 2 a.m. The cat has so much more fun with living prey. You watch the “menu” disappear inside the cat’s mouth and then emerge dazed and damp. The cat will bat it around and pounce upon it a time or two. This part always makes me think about how we blindfold and spin around children at birthday parties right before we set them upon an unsuspecting picture of a donkey or a piñata. What looks like fun can be disorienting for someone enlisted into play by “friends” who enjoy another’s vulnerability.

Why is it impolite to play with one’s food? Is that rudeness perceived by the cook or the meal? I digress. I do not think my former student would compare me with such a violent image.

My student’s description of me certainly was a mixed metaphor. The line “All are welcome. All are welcome.” actually comes from a movie about spirits from another plain rather than aliens from a spaceship. In the movie Poltergeist the medium Tangina Barrons separates the spirits who have died but not “passed over” from the Beast by urging them to walk into the Light. She says:

Cross over children. All are welcome. All welcome. Go into the Light. There is peace and serenity in the Light.

We got word this week that our family is about to lose another member. My Grandma Babe’s dear cousin Marge (called Gick by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren) has this week moved from her home to hospital and now to hospice. It is not cancer that will take her. Gick has lived well into her nineties and will die naturally. And she is ready. This is what her son wrote to us:

Mom wants the end to come right now, so we tried to explain that God has a different plan, so we just have to “let nature take its course” as the Hospice social worker says.    Mom asked the lady if she was going to live.   The lady said “Yes”.   Mom said “Damn it!”   …..   I think she is ready.

After spending April following stories of terrorism, police pelted with pipe bombs, shoot-outs, ricin-laced envelopes sent through innocent hands of innocent postal workers to our political leaders, explosions at fertilizer plants, violent weather, and deaths by cancer (like the death of my Aunt Arlene and the impending death of Handsome Husband in the blog happilyhomeless2@wordpress.com), I was prepared to take this news about Gick hard, but I am greatly comforted by the thought of a long life ending peacefully in a room surrounded by people who love her through her death into a new life in the Light.

When Gick’s sister Mary died, Mary was in the doctor’s office for a check-up. She simply looked up in the corner of the room and raised her hand. She said, “God, take me,” and was gone. I like that image.

In 1996 my friend Ivanka gave me a book by Henri J.M. Nouwen, Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring (HarperSanFrancisco 1985). At the time I was caring for Grandma Babe, Mary and Gick’s cousin. Ivanka wrote inside the book that she selected it with the assistance of a nun who said that Cardinal Bernadin was using the book to prepare for his own death. I read passages from that book whenever I am troubled by the concept of death. In the chapter on caring for the dying the author speaks with Rodleigh, one of the Flying Rodleighs, a circus troupe’s trapeze artist act from Freiburg, Germany. Rodleigh told the author of his experience as a flyer and his great trust in Joe, his catcher. The author of the book sees the moment of the catch as a metaphor for crossing over. Today I read this for comfort:

Dying is trusting in the catcher. To care for the dying is to say, “Don’t be afraid. Remember that you are the beloved child of God. He will be there when you make your long jump. Don’t try to grab him; he will grab you. Just stretch out your arms and trust, trust, trust.”

I like that image, too.

I don’t have any albums by the rock group Creed, but I once saw Chicago resident Marty Casey perform the song With Arms Wide Open on Rockstar INXS www.youtube.com/watch?v=GycLCjVXSSE. The lyrics suggest it might be about a couple starting a family, but it could just as easily be about the reuniting of family in the Light.

“With Arms Wide Open”

Well I just heard the news today
It seems my life is going to change
I close my eyes, begin to pray
Then tears of joy stream down my face

With arms wide open
Under the sunlight
Welcome to this place
I’ll show you everything
With arms wide open
With arms wide open

Well I don’t know if I’m ready
To be the man I have to be
I’ll take a breath, I’ll take her by my side
We stand in awe, we’ve created life

With arms wide open
Under the sunlight
Welcome to this place
I’ll show you everything
With arms wide open
Now everything has changed
I’ll show you love
I’ll show you everything

With arms wide open
With arms wide open
I’ll show you everything …oh yeah
With arms wide open..wide open

[Guitar Break]

If I had just one wish
Only one demand
I hope he’s not like me
I hope he understands
That he can take this life
And hold it by the hand
And he can greet the world
With arms wide open…

With arms wide open
Under the sunlight
Welcome to this place
I’ll show you everything
With arms wide open
Now everything has changed
I’ll show you love
I’ll show you everything
With arms wide open
With arms wide open

I’ll show you everything..oh yeah
With arms wide open….wide open

Anytime we undertake a strange journey with arms wide open and meet a welcome that speaks of homecoming there will be happy tears in addition to the sad ones.  I pray that, when the time comes, I can extend toward the catcher my hand open wide and trust, trust, trust.

There’s Someone at the Door

Barricaded back door.

Barricaded back door.

I used to enjoy watching the TV show American Gothic. It began with disturbing images of a Southern town with Sheriff Lucas Buck who had piercing eyes and the devil’s own smile. At the end of the opening sequence a child in a rocking chair would repeat the haunting phrase, “There’s someone at the door.” The child pronounced that last word, “doah.” I would shiver in anticipation of the sheriff’s arrival.

Tonight I realized that I used to think the worst thing that could happen was that evil would come to the door. It would want to come in and I would need to stand fast against its entry. I know now that the movie When a Stranger Calls is infinitely more frightening. In it, the police call the babysitter and tell her that the terrifying calls she has received all evening are coming from inside the home. That has to be worse, right? Once evil has invaded, there is no place to run and no place to hide.

There is nothing on TV tonight other than the resolution of the Boston Marathon bombing incident. In less than a week we have watched innocent citizens celebrating a civic exercise that marries the finest elements of parade, fitness, and pride get shredded by makeshift bombs assembled in pressure cookers, packed in ubiquitous backpacks. In an instant, mundane household items became sinister. Soon they will be emblems of terror like the trench coats worn at Columbine. We will find ourselves studying with swiftly dispelled suspicion the appendages we strap onto the backs of children before sending them off to school and the utensils we employ to put dinner on the table when they come home safely.

Tonight we “know” the two brothers who plotted to disrupt the event. They killed four people, including a young police officer gunned down last night. They maimed more than 150 others. They wounded countless bystanders, first responders, healers, and witnesses who are deeply troubled by the prospect of domestic terrorism. Some of this week’s victims lost family or friends, limbs, good health, freedom of movement, peace of mind, and more. Those two brothers were their parents’ “angels” and our neighbors until they became our nightmares.

As our nation cheers a bipartisan bill that could help us resolve our nation’s immigration issues, we learn that the evil came from inside our borders. Two brothers who we sheltered when they left the battle-torn nation of Chechnya attacked us. It took locking our doors and sheltering inside to finally uncover the last of the brothers. He sought shelter in someone else’s stored boat and was finally located and captured. Capture helps, but it does not heal us.

As soon as we drew a deep breath of relief the newscasters threw us back into every dreadful memory so that none could be suppressed and each could be explored again. New images of families facing funerals and painful “recoveries” are carrying us through to the late news hour. Grieving families are interviewed in front of cameras so that we can “share” their losses and “appreciate” them more fully.

The local news tonight was all about April floods in Chicago. People shored up their homes with sandbags. They operated sump pumps. They dragged treasures to higher ground. In some cases they lost their battle with the elements and fled the safety of their own homes to save their lives. The water invaded everything in its path. Many flood victims have lost things they valued greatly or just took for granted, including peace of mind.

At one point this evening I turned the volume of my TV way down and fired up the computer so that I could catch up with the Freshly Pressed blogs at WordPress.com. I read the chemotherapy and cancer blog postings of the day and checked out the blogs of people who visited my blog and left a posting. It was the same message. People wrote of the fear that cancer had come to their doors. They wrote of their reactions to the news that it had invaded in stages. They had excised some or “all” of it–in some cases before its presence could even be verified. They wrote of surgeries, poisonings, and radiations.

They also spoke of their terror and grief. They worried about their families. They measured the collateral damage of a cancer diagnosis on lives from the epicenter of the disease to its furthest societal victims.

In the midst and in the wake of these treatments the authors of many of my favorite blogs spoke of the fear that lingers even after a declaration of NED (no evidence of disease) or remission. I share their concern. A number of the postings I read tonight discuss the fact that everyone has cancer cells inside but most of us have too few of those cells to measure or worry over.

Some of us are like the town folk in that Southern TV town. We can barricade the doors. Some of us are like the flood victims. We can shore up the walls. We can stand guard with mops and pumps. Some of us are like the babysitter. The thing we fear most invades and we fear it will come for us again. Some of us will react to cancer the way others will react to the news that our domestic terrorists were once welcomed immigrants. We will give up the things that once comforted us: sugar, dairy, fat, meat, tap water, leisure, even air. Once you know the chinks in your fortress and the terror of having found what frightens you most has crawled inside, you get a little crazy about rooting it out. The sad thing is that once you have found what scares you most has burrowed inside you know that you can never be safe.

The message of hope in the movies, the national tragedies, and the personal challenges is that we do go on. We may study strangers’ faces on the street in search of strangeness. We may even go out and buy a gun (even though domestic terrorists were located and captured in four days without a single citizen’s resort to a handgun). We may startle when someone is at the door. We may look over our own shoulders at the creak of a floor board. We may study our river views with jaded gazes. We may regard a former comfort food with suspicion. But we will grow tired of our super-vigilance.

At the end of the day we will slide between sheets and rest our cheeks on cool pillowcases. Whether we toss and turn, shed tears, or open our mouths wide in soundless horror, we will eventually drift off to sleep. Dreams may offer no relief. Sleep may ease no pains. But we open our eyes at last to a new day. And, in time, all of us hope that the someone at the door brings us help, reassurance, answers, company, or a tuna casserole. It is this resilience that sustains us in times of tragedy. It is this resilience that makes us get up and open the door.

The Process of Healing

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After twenty-five sessions of external radiation aimed at my hips during November and December of 2011, I hoped there were no traces of uterine cancer remaining in the vicinity. I had a number of burns in addition to those pictured above. Some of them were on sensitive flesh that I did not photograph. All of the burns have healed.

At the time, I was under the impression that any burns from radiation would be more like a bad sunburn. I expected to have a band of red skin that hurt but did not weep or bleed. I did not imagine that some of these burns would come in regular contact with fiercely acidic post-chemotherapy diarrhea multiple times per hour.

Suffice it to say that informed consent may be obtained without critical information when your radiotherapist professionals use hand signals to describe what will happen to you instead of words.

I am not complaining about my health professionals today. My point is that cancer treatment can be as ugly and painful as some cancers. I got through it. I am healing on the outside and on the inside. I hope that this process will continue and that I can go on without a return of the cancer that has turned my life upside down since October of 2011.

Life has been turned upside down. I have been through surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, infection, termination from one of my jobs, two hospitalizations, months of incurring medical bills for which I did not have medical insurance, applications for charity, chronic pain from side-effects of treatment, many challenges, blah, blah, blah. I am always aware of the fact that my experience with cancer was mild compared with the experiences of many of the people I met along the way. I feel very lucky because I am healing.

This week I asked the DePaul investigator looking into the circumstances of my termination in October 2011 for a progress report. She told me (as a preliminary announcement of her conclusions) that she has concluded that portion of her work and found no violation of university policies. This is the email that I received October 11, 2011, after I said I was already able to return to work:

Dear Cheryl,

I was so alarmed to hear from Martha that you had to have surgery last week, but so pleased to hear from her that you are already on the road to convalescence! Please take care of yourself and don’t overdo it in an effort to achieve normalcy too quickly. You have been through a lot—both physically and emotionally—and you can’t expect to bounce back with no set-backs.

I understand that you are eager to return to your class this semester, and I know that your students would be delighted to finish out the semester with you; many of them have expressed concern about your health and enthusiastic appreciation for your instruction. I need to let you know, though, that after fully consulting with the Dean of Faculty, I felt compelled to make the decision to reassign your students to other LARC III sections. I sincerely hope that you recover from the surgery immediately, but it has been my experience that people in this situation always have slower come-backs than they anticipate. I had no way to hedge against the risk that you might return to teaching this week and then right away, or a few weeks later, find yourself simply unable to continue. My first responsibility is to the students’ learning and the smooth functioning of the LARC department, so I made the decision that increases the chances of maximizing both. I am sorry if my decision disappoints you, and I hope that you are able to understand the situation from my perspective.

We have every hope and expectation that you will be fully healed and able to teach in the Spring semester, and we will welcome you back in January with pleasure. If we can do anything for you in between now and then, please let me or Martha know. You have my every wish for your quick return to health and the fullness of life.

Susan

After receiving this email, I was told by the author of the email and the dean of the law school that I would be paid the remainder of my contract fee. I was paid that amount in August of 2012 after I made repeated calls to people.

I am surprised by this preliminary conclusion from the university’s investigator. Apparently, disability law, like cancer treatment, means different things to different people. It is not enough to read the papers and listen carefully to what is said.

I will be interested to hear the results of the investigation of my claim that I have also been subjected to retaliation for my complaint about the foregoing. No preliminary conclusions were shared about that aspect of my case.

This weekend I was flipping channels on the TV and came across the sermon of TV evangelist Joel Osteen. He was saying, with due respect, “Get over it.” He directed his message to people who were bitter about wrongs done to them. His message was directed to persons who hold grudges against a parent who did not give nurturing to a child. He spoke to people who have been wronged by a spouse, another family member, a neighbor, a stranger, or a friend.

I listened for a little while and I now believe that there was a message for me in what I heard. I did not want to accept that on Sunday. I ended up turning the TV off.

Today I am thinking that life is not easy and situations sometimes are not fair. But, if I can handle everything else that has happened in the last nineteen months, then I can handle the disappointment of learning that one of my employers thinks it is okay for its managers to act this way.

I will admit that this is painful. Right now I have pain radiating from my chest to my fingertips. My throat is tight and sore from holding inside my disappointment. It cannot be as terrible as cancer or cancer treatment. The wounds will heal. The burns on my skin healed. The burns inside my bowel and bladder appear to have healed. I will heal from this injury, too. Sometimes life hands us a bitter pill. That does not have to make us bitter, too.

Arlene Will Live a Long Life

I am thinking today that Joyce is 100% cancer free, has normal lymph nodes and no more lymphedema. Peggy has no expiration date. Arlene lived a long life. My family and friends are my “secret” power. Prayer is the best medicine. Cheryl is winning her war against cancer. All of us find strength in knowledge and faith.

It is a sad day for my family. My Aunt Arlene, whose name I have kept in my thoughts all of the time for a long time, died today. Her husband Dan died in December. Her sister-in-law Ann died last month. Her children now face a third very painful loss within four months. Arlene was my mom’s only sibling and the younger sister. This is a blow to everyone who loved her.

I am, of course, very sad at the news. Arlene had metastatic breast cancer for many years. She also had an inoperable, benign brain tumor. I do not know for a fact which proved to be the cause of her death, but I believe with all of my heart that it was the pressure of the tumor on her brain that took her life rather than the cancer. I will remember her as having beat the cancer. I think that there are many of us who will beat cancer in our lives and still end up dying. I am calling out victories wherever I find them.

My mom returned to Chicago Wednesday, after traveling to D.C. to stay with my sister Kathy. Kathy and her family drove my mom down to Richmond so that the sisters could see each other before Arlene’s death. They visited together three times. They looked at photo albums. They posed for new photographs. My mom brought her sister some orange pop and a book of stamps so that she could continue to correspond. They did not say goodbye. My mom left while her sister was napping and did not tell her that she would not be back. I think this worked for them. Farewell was going to be too painful for either sister to bear.

My aunt was at times confused during those visits. She would relay stories from TV programs and tell the family that she had been part of the events. She would talk to a stuffed toy as if it were her dog or a person. She mistook Kathy and my mom for her own beloved daughter Jill. But there were times when she had clarity and recognized her sister. She was so happy to see her. I did not have a chance to make a trip out to see Arlene, but we had many long phone calls in the last year. I felt very good about my relationship with her and felt at peace with the decision to end chemotherapy treatment this year.

Easy for me to say.

My aunt did not fight her doctor’s decision to end treatment, but she was not fully reconciled to it when we last spoke. I think she was persuaded in the end to go along with the plan because my uncle was no longer there to share the battle. What an awesome thing marriage can be for some. I cannot imagine what it is like to share someone else’s joys and sorrows for decades and then lose the person who has shared so much of life. Uncle Dan was Arlene’s rock. I think Arlene also did not want to be a burden on her children (though they did not seem at all burdened, only committed to taking care of her). Her son Eric visited her nearly every day these last four months. She was tired. And the recent growth of the brain tumor made the cancer battle seem futile. She accepted hospice treatment. She suffered several small strokes. She took to her bed and slept more. She withdrew from activities. Fatigue and sleep were welcome anesthesia. Mental confusion meant she did not have to make many goodbyes.

Her children were here in Chicago burying their paternal aunt when it happened. I think sometimes this is best. When my dad’s physicians called for a “crash cart,” they told me to summon my mom and sister. Mom and Kathy had just left the room to head home for a nap. I said, “Goodbye, Dad,” and headed off leaving my brother Danny at the bedside. I think my dad would have chosen to have it happen when the three of us women were gone and my brother was standing at the ready. A mantle was passing. My brother was there to receive it and he has become a wonderful man. I’m sure my dad is proud. My aunt had already seen that mantle pass when her husband died. There is no question but that she was proud of her children and grandchildren. And they treated her with patience, dignity, and abiding love that she had to appreciate.

I think it was Winston Churchill who once said that the most important work of the world is done by people who don’t feel all that well. My aunt was not working or doing charity or raising her kids in these last years. She was retired from working as a nurse. She was no longer able to volunteer in her community. Her family was grown. But she read books. She listened to talk radio. She watched TV. She talked to people she met and spoke her mind. She bore up under terrible stress with humor and humility. She prayed for strength. She suffered with grace. This ordinary life conducted under extraordinary conditions was important work.

Spoilers

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I love that my lamp is “missing” a hand. When I saw it at Tuesday Morning I figured the lamp was there because it had been broken, but I now am convinced that the hand is not “missing” at all. Sometimes an object is perfect because of what is not there.

I have been so happy these past few days because my bladder does not hurt. I cannot help myself. I wake up in the morning and the thought of walking down the hall to the bathroom is just something I should do. It is not the beginning of a nightmare.

I come out of the bathroom and I can remember where I was going or what I was doing before I entered the bathroom. For so long it seemed that visiting the bathroom was like ellipses. Life started. It paused. It resumed. Something in the middle was missing. Unless you had a video camera or a Dictaphone to catch the interim you might not know what it was like. It was ugly. Now it is just gone–not missed at all.

Of course, some will look at the lamp and think that the figure at its base is deformed. They will note the lack of symmetry. They will wonder what it is like when the left hand cannot possibly know what the right hand is doing. Some will realize that the figure cannot lend a hand to others without somehow hurting himself. A few may worry that the figure will need help they have no time to provide. One or two will not be able to help themselves. They will wonder what the figure did to deserve this condition (because blessed people, positive people, or health-conscious people avoid calamities, don’t they?). Some will just think, better he than me. Some will think, I have suffered worse.

I am not missing the spoilers either. Neither am I listening to them. The lamp feels whole just as it is. I am just going to be happy today. I hope your day is happy, too!

After I posted this, I received an email from someone who wanted to know whether, by announcing I am no longer in daily pain, I was sacrificing my opportunity to remain “special”–someone marked indelibly by my experience with cancer. I had never thought of my pain as an advantage that was giving me some status that drew attention to me. I still do not think of my experience that way. I am grateful for the insights this experience has given me. I appreciate others’ experiences so much more keenly having seen what some aspects of a cancer diagnosis are like. I ache for people whose circumstances, resources, or outcomes have made the situation so trying.

But recovering from radiation cystitis isn’t going to change that aspect of this experience. Moreover, now that I am feeling better, I hope to be in the position of helping some others as they continue to go through their experiences. Moreover, my “specialness” has caused me to be the target of employment discrimination, and I believe I continue to be the target of some retaliation in the workplace. I don’t think others’ attention or sympathy was ever a salve for those wounds. Moreover, I have yet to meet a cancer survivor (although I recently read something about one) in which the message was that the person would choose to have cancer because it made him or her feel special. Even that person was not focused on the specialness. Her focus appears to have been on the fact that the fire of her trials in some way transformed her nature to draw her closer to her God.

If you have ever considered cancer this way, I’d be interested in hearing more about that. But here’s a spoiler alert: I would tell you what I told the person who sent me the email query, I feel confident that what makes you special is something about your character or personality or behavior other than the fact that you may have a potentially deadly health condition. But I’m open to hearing others’ views!

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