Where are the gifts?
My most popular painted rocks.
Tell us about the gifts.
“I don’t think that cancer is a gift. I don’t think God gives gifts like cancer”. My friend looked both quizzical and concerned after I had spoken about aspects of my journey during a Breast Cancer Foundation fund-raising event recently in Palmerston North. I told him that my next blog would explain that The Gift isn’t my aggressive triple negative breast cancer; it is all the life-changing things that are happening as a consequence of this diagnosis.
Exactly 1 year ago, on the 6th July 2021, I received a phone call from Breast Screening Aotearoa requesting that I come in for a magnified breast screen. A very small spec had been seen on my mammogram. What a journey it has been since that fateful day 12 months ago. I want to use this blog to identify how these gifts are enriching my life and why I am so deeply grateful.
Exactly one year since that fateful mammogram, I had my follow-up one today.
Click on “The Gift” below to read about the gifts Marie has identified…
Physical health gifts
Having a potentially shorter lifespan has given me a sense of urgency to get on with lots of things that I would not have otherwise prioritised so soon after retiring: updating our wills, sorting out enduring powers of attorney and financial affairs; clearing out of unwanted treasures and clutter, addressing lifestyle risk factors for both my breast cancer and Jim’s Alzheimers. Being physically active, eating healthy foods, sleeping well and remaining mentally and socially stimulated are all keys that Jim and I are mindfully implementing. Lockdown has been good for Jim & I in this regard because we have had lots of unstructured time to exercise and to rest. Having the motorhome has allowed us to travel and indulge our passions for walking, eBiking, kayaking, providing our own entertainment and mental stimulation. We are trying to make the most of whatever time we have left. What a great gift … the incentive to live our best lives. And a bonus gift … having none or very little hair during the hot summer months was lovely and cool, eliminated bad-hair days and made for quick and easy flannel washes in the motorhome!
I have been avoiding going to “the murder house” for several years but had to go this week because I need a dental review and dentist’s approval before receiving regular intravenous Zoledronic acid infusions to help strengthen and prevent cancer from invading my bones. My dentist Sarah was a bit taken back when I said “I don’t need perfect teeth at my funeral … please just do whatever is structurally necessary ”. She was empathetic and extremely caring. You can see from the photo in the dentist chair that I seem to have been gifted a free chemotherapy perm as well … totally unresponsive light little curls all over. The gift that keeps on giving.
With my very caring dentist Sarah. My dental work is completed and I will receive my first intravenous dose of Zolidronic acid today.
Mental health gifts
September, October and November 2021 were momentous months. I was knocked off my eBike and hospitalized with a nasty leg injury on September 11th , just before my first breast surgery for invasive ductal carcinoma. My best friend Lorry’s husband rang the next morning to say that she had died peacefully and pain-free in the hospice. During those Covid-times I stood outside her window every day & cherished what were to be my last precious moments with her. Jim’s Alzheimers and Lewy Body dementia diagnoses came 2 days before I underwent radical right mastectomy for a very aggressive triple negative breast cancer that was found in my lymph nodes during the first surgery. My cardiac arrhythmias bore their nasty teeth again during this time as well, requiring electrical cardioversion 2-weeks after the mastectomy. I felt like I could not cope with one more thing. At the time it seemed never-ending and overwhelming.
But you know what? I did cope with lots of one-more-things and have come out the other side realizing how much my family, friends, colleagues, health care professionals and ex-students love and really care about me. Love in epic proportions; beautiful hot meals provided every night for more than 2 weeks after surgery, vacuuming done every week for months, windows cleaned, encouraging books loaned, letters and cards sent, big boxes of fruit and veggies dropped off, and home-visits galore. I needed and appreciated them all. Instead of being the busy, capable one cooking for and caring for others, I was now the vulnerable and needy one…a gift of insight into how this feels to be in this position. I am now supporting 2 other friends with new cancer diagnoses & I feel much better prepared and able to help, mindful of my own cancer journey. This is a blessing.
Good friend Moyra and others have given us a huge amount of support. We feel very loved.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about the purpose of my life during these last 12 months. I loved my 48- year nursing career and retiring from my nurse-lecturer job at UCOL was a massive life change. I left knowing that I had done my absolute best throughout my nursing career. Jim and I had planned a long and leisurely exploration of the South Island in our motor home as a retirement treat. But that could not happen because of my 2 operations, chemotherapy, weeks of radiotherapy and follow-up care. At the moment Jim’s cognitive state is noticeably declining and we are yet to see how he will manage in the motor home over longer periods. We were so disappointed to have to cancel that South Island adventure, but we have re-focused & gotten over it. The ability to love, let go and enjoy being a whole lot more flexible is enriching our lives in a different way now … such a gift.
Stressing and worrying just makes things worse. My biggest mental-health take-away from this journey is that it really matters what you think about and say with your mouth. We both have significant incentives to find joy and meaning in life every single day that we have left. I have chosen to be aware of what is happening in my own inner space and consciously focus on and speak positive, helpful, hopeful and meaningful things. People say, “Oh you are such a strong person Marie”. I wouldn’t say that I am strong … but I am undoubtedly experiencing the power of being positive and grateful no matter what our circumstances are.
Emotional and spiritual health gifts
Winter in Wellington. I am embracing a new dimension of love, joy & peace in my life and am not afraid of what the future holds.
Initially what seemed like an avalanche of serious diagnoses and difficult things facing Jim and I left me feeling overwhelmed and anxious. I didn’t know how I would manage my aggressive breast cancer, my ongoing cardiac arrhythmias, Jim’s declining mental function and diagnosis of Alzheimers and Lewi Body dementia, the painful leg injury, and loss of my closest girlfriend of 40 years. Right from the start, though, God clearly spoke to me that these circumstances were going to be a gift. I couldn’t see how all these hard things could possibly be a gift. But yes, as it has turned out, this journey has been an extraordinary gift … with lots of amazing blessings and insights gained. This Gift is powerful; despite these difficult circumstances I am feeling peaceful, relaxed and am not afraid of the future.
Facing such serious life challenges has made me desperate to hear from God; to understand my life purpose; to pursue wisdom and understanding in these circumstances. I have said repeatedly in my previous blogs that in my vulnerability I have found strength. And I have to say there has been a lot of vulnerability yet I feel stronger every day. I am excited every time I read the scriptures because I know that life-changing truths will leap off the pages at me and confirm how much God loves me; that He already knew who He wanted me to be before I was born; in fact he meticulously created and crafted me to be me … just me … the only me there will ever be. Psalm 139 is just so fabulous! The phrase “do not be afraid” is written in the Bible 365 times. That’s enough for me. I’m not going to be afraid when God repeatedly says not to be. Right there in the Bible are so many great strategies to live a fabulous life and to experience His love, joy and peace. Interestingly, I have taken up painting stones lately and the ones most requested by friends have been a little set of 3 reminding us of the love, joy and peace that is available to us all.
This set of my painted rocks has been the most popular
I know it seems impossible to some people that God would use these challenging circumstances to bring hope and certainty and strength to my life … enabling me to see them as gifts. But He does and I’m enjoying that. Jim & I are living grateful lives every day and know that we are secure in His love.