We have an annual family tradition in which we make our way back to the sea, stick our toes in the ocean and release the accumulated stress from the past year. I don’t know that it is a conscious releasing but if you listen closely, the exhale is audible and the accompanying smile radiant.
My children grew up going to the beach every summer. The waves that we jump are not waves but rather, “Whoa Nellie’s” as oldest girl first named them many years ago. I vividly remember standing on the beach, some two decades ago, watching my love playing with our girls in the sand and having this overwhelming understanding and feeling of contentment. That this, these connections, this love, this life was enough. I still believe that. Further, I believe that love growing from that place grounded in a greater Love can change the world but that is another topic. For this I want to focus on the sea and time.
Last year’s beach trip, the beach trip 2017 was bittersweet. I was told the day before we left that cancer had returned. A cancer that I had fought twice was back. I was told that I would have to return home midweek to meet with my gynecological oncologist to determine next steps.
We, my husband, two girls, their significant others, grand kids and my mom, left for the beach that Saturday morning with all of this in mind. We packed, we planned (or rather my love planned as is his way), we anticipated and we headed east.
I don’t remember cancer being given any special consideration on the trip – we didn’t alter plans (other than the doctor’s appointment) or make special accommodations to allow for her on the trip (not sure why cancer is female – something else to explore), but she was there. We still had dance parties with two year old grand on the deck in the evenings. We played in the sand, read books and jumped “whoa Nellies” as was our norm. But for me anyway, the realization of cancer’s return was there.
One afternoon after a long hot day at the ocean I remember returning to our rental house to take a shower. As I stood in there, using my finger I wrote on the shower door, “I was here” – past tense. And then I sobbed. Sat down on the shower floor, head in hands, gut-wrenching sobbed! I hadn’t really allowed myself to go to the possible finality of what a recurrence of primary peritoneal cancer could mean, but I worried that this time could be different.
I was initially diagnosed in October 2014 with triple negative breast cancer. As a result of genetic testing it was discovered that I am positive for the BRCA 1 mutation making me at great risk for future breast cancers as well as ovarian cancer. What followed my first cycle of chemotherapy was preventative surgeries: double mastectomy and hysterectomy. It was through these surgeries that it was discovered I also had primary peritoneal cancer. It is my belief that breast cancer saved my life! I healed from surgery and began a new round of chemotherapy. In July 2017, two years after treatment, primary peritoneal cancer had returned.
While the writings I offer in this space will not all be about cancer – it is a place to start. I have learned and grown a great deal as I have faced telling family and friends, endured treatments, watched priorities shift and ultimately faced my mortality.
“I was here”, caused me to pause, to remain soul still and ask myself, “yeah – what of it?” What had my life meant? What had I stood for either outwardly or by default? Was anyone or anything better because of my being here? Don’t go all “It’s A Wonderful Life” on me. That is not my intent here. My intent is that I understood in that moment the power of living or trying to live a called life. It isn’t enough to breathe in and out. It isn’t enough to take up space on the planet we are called to more.
I’m pleased to share that beach trip 2018 was fabulous! I finished third cycle of chemotherapy in December 2017 and have a little wild hair on my head. A new drug has been introduced to try to help prevent future recurrence. While it is just a pill, it is in many ways, kicking my fanny!
The sitting on the beach was once again healing and cathartic, a swim in the ocean baptismal. We sang silly songs with grands, played in the sand, went for long walks through a maritime forest and talked wedding plans for our oldest child’s winter wedding!
This year I wrote in the steam on the shower door, “I AM HERE!” With much study, reflection, reading, prayer, contemplation, waiting in silence, walking through woods, digging in dirt, etc.,; a year later I know that being here means I am asked to lend my voice, my back, my wallet and my life for the things that God loves.
For the rest of my days, while I am still here, I hope to spend it asking God about loving and caring for all that God holds dear.