Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Sweet Sarah Day

It's Sweet Sarah Day!

Yes,a day for our Blogville friend Sarah, Mona and Prissy's Mom at

 She had a liver biopsy to check out some lesions after her colon cancer was dealt with and with which she wrote about with such grace and strength.

Cancer touches all of us, almost all of us through family, some personally. I've been lucky with only a melanoma in my 20's from too much sun as a teen that left a good sized divot just above my left breast, but it was handled early. It took several stitches to close the wound when it, and the tissue surrounding it were removed, leaving a noticeable scar that looks exactly like a small human bite mark. In the occasional low cut little black dress, it gets some looks. If I find someone staring, I simply say "short Jewish ninja with overbite".
Another precancerous growth years later resulted in my converting from family station wagon to sports model, no chance of another child. But my body parts don't define me and I consider myself extremely blessed to have had only those issues.

But it's touched my family greatly and so many others among you. As my regular readers know, I lost my big brother, a heavy smoker, in 2014 to cancer, still in his 50's. Dad has been dealing with prostate cancer since his late 60's, as he went for less aggressive, non-surgical treatment. My stepmom battled oral cancer followed by Alzheimer's, just when she went into remission.  But with my Mom, it was an ever present part of her life, as I can remember it, her originally being diagnosed with colon cancer when I was four years old.

I thought about Mona and Prissy's Mom and my own, as I took Abby Lab out in the yard this morning. My husband is gone for a couple of days on business, and we're just puttering around together. The wind off of the Great Lake is bringing with it a chill, which I enjoy. People tease me about it, but I don't particularly like summer, but I love a winter landscape.  I will probably be "that weirdo that built the cabin up north instead of going to Florida". I love bundling up on a cold clear day, walking through snow upon snow, the earth standing hard as iron, the waters like stone.
We may have some some sun today but it won't be long before storm clouds ease in upon us, the pale sun imperceptibly in their trail, the cool breeze a lover's kiss of betrayal. Strangely, I always feel safe and secure when it's cloudy and still, especially when the snow or rain is coming down. I savor the slow creep into summer; the chill flurries of March--those deceptive days in April when the breeze is the cool conceit of a lingering winter.
Mom was diagnosed in early Winter in the 1960's. The survival rate for colon cancer back then was only about 1 in 7. She was in her 40's but was also a heavy smoker. It couldn't have come at a worse time for her, because life had just come full circle. She had enjoyed her 18 year career in law enforcement as a Deputy Sheriff but was thrilled to be a mother again, after losing her first child; raising my brother and I, whom they had adopted.  That the cancer showed up uninvited, when she finally had the family she wanted, was as cruel a blow as could be imagined. But cancer, like any tragedy, know no compassion for a life well lived.

I didn't visit her in the hospital as Dad thought it might be too upsetting. But I now have a picture of my older brother there with her. It was Christmas. That small Catholic hospital room had all the ambiance of imprisonment, with stark white walls, no decorations but for tubes and occasionally blood. It was the décor of a jail cell, a bleak asceticism and emptiness that can drive a frightened mind to look inward, too easily seeing only the dark. So Dad brought in a tiny and colorful little Christmas tree, complete with lights, and put it on her side table. I see it in the picture with my brother as she holds up a warm but lacy nightgown from a gift wrapped box.
While she was at the hospital I would take a fuzzy white blanket that smelled of her perfume, Chanel No. 5, and drape it over the card table to make a fort. That was my refuge, my safety zone. Unable at that age to process the fear in my father's eyes or my mom's sudden absence I made a little world for myself, with a small lamp to do puzzles by and a couple beloved toys. For that time, I withdrew into that white ecosphere of make believe warmth. She came home after Christmas, chemo shunt in place, and did everything in her power to make our  childhoods as normal as possible.

There is a brief moment when one has cheated death, be it in a hospital or perhaps an airplane, a fleeting feeling of being utterly alive which occurs in times of danger or great physical intensity. In Zen Buddhism it is reached through meditation and is called kensho, a moment of feeling one with the universe. It's a life altering change, and often one that makes a person wholly appreciative of all the gift's of God.  Mom not only recognized this, she made sure we understood it as well.  I am not sure where she got the courage for that, but she did, telling us each day, we will always be a family, like the words of an evening's prayer, for a child to repeat.
I remember mornings at the breakfast table. We'd look out at the fog shrouded trees behind our house, as the geese foraged for their breakfast on their seasonal stop. The sun acted as if it is preparing to take on a Broadway stage, first peeking from behind the closed curtain of clouds, then coming out to bow upon the new fallen snow to the thunderous applause of the neighborhood snow blowers. We cherished the beginning of another day together. She'd feed us sweet Danish rolls and sugary Bear Claws instead of sensible oatmeal and we'd laugh. Oh how we'd laugh.

We weren't deluding ourselves. My parents had laid things out for us as best they could and we knew that she was very sick. Our breakfast may have been sugar coated, but the truth wasn't. But we learned early on that even after cancer, or other tragedies that life later drops on you, that there is a normal, it's just a NEW normal. So with a smile, Mom would hand us our snow gear and off we'd go, another day of childhood, stuffing our fear into our pocket with a homemade cookie, our Mom waiting for us with treats when we got home, refusing to let us see when she was worried, when she was in pain.
But Mom was also human, and there was one thing for which she let her guard slip.  That was the disfigurement from the surgery. Mom was a tall and strikingly beautiful woman. The cancer surgery left her feeling less than beautiful. At the time I was too young to understand that, but a few short years later, when the colostomy had became an ileostomy, to be followed by a total hysterectomy, I overheard a conversation, her voice tinged with tears as to how she hated to be "cut open" again. I don't recall what Dad said, as I left them in that private moment. But I remember coming home from grade school the next day, and on the fridge was a colorful little note with a poem my Dad had written on it.

"Pieces and Parts
May Have to Depart
But You and Me
Will always be WE"

After that, I never heard her feel sorry for herself, for what she perceived had changed, what HAD changed. She simply gathered to her that which she loved, her family, her faith, her books and the beloved flowers she grew and tended. Those things then became part of her, part of her very physical being, an invisible prosthetic, stronger and more beautiful than what had been the earlier heritage of flesh.

With that, she sat down at the table with the doctors and Dad, to play out her next course of treatment, with the mind of a well equipped general, planning their next field campaign.
Cancer changed how we all looked at life. Before cancer, our list of "should do's was really quite long. And like other families that cope with tragedy or disease, we quit using the work "should" quite so much and enjoyed every day, as if it was our last, because, quite frankly, we were never sure it wasn't. But she lived many more years, years in which she made each and every day precious.

As I look out my window this afternoon, I notice a white quickening far away on the horizon; small clouds scurrying as in first defense of the eventual band of warrior winter white. I can almost see the promise of a quiet quilt of snow to be spread across the landscape during the night sometime soon,

I think back to those small comforts, the safe refuge formed by a old blanket and a card table as I waited for my Mom to come home. The afternoons building forts and futures out in the snow. As an adult now, I look into the grey cocoon of the advancing low overcast and feel, not grief, but comfort as the brisk wind through the trees carries the memory of love to me
Sarah -  I hope this day finds you resting comfortably, surrounded by those you love. I hope that when you look in the mirror, you will not dwell on any physical scars, on the bandages that can't cover fear. I hope you will only see the visage of a fighter, the countenance of strength, the invincible repudiation of failure as you look at this battle like any other in your life. And though it is an intimately personal battle, never forget those around you, who will support you, pray for you and hold you up when needed. For there is great, abiding strength in the power of "WE".

11 comments:

  1. That was lovely. We are also sending Sara all our POTP.
    stella rose

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  2. This was so full of LOVE... and the WE that is Blogville is there for Sarah!

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  3. Thank you for sharing. Your post is beautiful.

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  4. That was such a lovely post. Cancer is a horrible disease.. I had breast cancer so I understand what people have to go through. It is a strength developer. And one must live for each day in their lives.

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  5. Hi new friend. Thank you for visiting my blog. Your post was beautiful and I'm sure it will be an inspiration to Sarah when she sees it. Cancer is an ugly disease, and I'm hoping and praying one day they will find a cure for it.

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  6. Thanks for sharing that touching story. Your mom sure was a warrior. We have our paws crossed for Miss Sarah.

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  7. What a great post! We are sending lots of POTP and support to Miss Sarah!
    Hugs!
    Dory, Jakey, Arty & Bilbo

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  8. Oh, that was just lovely. I knows Miss Sarah is just gonna love it too! Oh, and Ma LOVES the cold too, so she just might join you in that cabin.....
    {{{hugs}}}}
    Kisses,
    Ruby ♥

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  9. Such a wonderful post for Sarah! It will bring her comfort fur sure!

    Keep Calm & Bark On!

    Murphy & Stanley

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Welcome to The Book of Barkley. This blog was created for more memories of Barkley as well as updates on Abby the Senior rescue Lab,who we adopted in 2014.

Stop in and say hello. 100% of book sales are donated to animal rescue organizations across the U.S. and Canada and Search Dog Foundation. If you have a non-profit animal organization and would like autographed copies of the book for fundraisers or a blog post featuring your organization please contact me at cliodna58@gmail.com