On Wednesday, Feb 13, at 7pm at Broadside Books in Northampton MA, members of the Spirit of the Written Word writing workshop that I lead at Cancer Connection will read from our new book, Words to Live By.
It will be a poignant time, as some of the people who are published in our book are no longer with us. A daughter will read for her father, a husband will read in memory of his deceased wife and two friends will read for members of our group who have passed. And of course, those of us still alive and kicking will read too!
We hope our book may offer some small solace and hope for those who find cancer in their lives. Proceeds from the book support Cancer Connection’s free support services for people living with a cancer diagnosis and their loved ones. It is for sale at Cancer Connection, Broadside Books, Northampton, Food for Thought, Amherst and World Eye Bookshop, Greenfield.
Here is one of the pieces that I have contributed to the book.
Thereâ€™s nothing like breast cancer to get you praying.
It can happen even before the diagnosis. Prayer can strike in the mammography suite. There you are in your flimsy pale blue wrap, sitting on the straight-backed chair, leafing through a worn copy of Good Housekeeping magazine when the technician bustles back in.
â€œWe need a couple more close-ups,â€ she says in that no-nonsense tone that fails to mask the terrible truth. So, as you stand to deliver your breasts to their cold fate, you are praying with the fervor of a televangelist: â€œOh God donâ€™t let me have cancer, Please donâ€™t let me have cancer.â€
As you hold your breath while the x-ray whirrs through your squooshed breasts you believe that your prayers deserve to be answered even though you have not prayed with any regularity for decades and you are not even sure who you are praying to. Or whom.
But you know that your God, whoever he/ she is, is kind and forgiving and willing to overlook those long lapses of yours.
You need a biopsy.
After the biopsy the prayers intensify and diversify. They are now accompanied by bargaining.
â€œPlease God, if you just let me not have breast cancer I will be so good!â€ And you list all the ways you will be good, a list that lengthens and becomes more sophisticated as the days creep by.
â€œI will lead a more healthy lifestyle!â€ you declare to this god who is surely listening. â€œI will not drink alcohol or caffeine- no more sugar and Iâ€™ll exercise regularly.â€ You drink your last glass of wine. You visit a nutritionist and start on a cleansing diet and a regimen of supplements just to prove your sincerity.
â€œOh please god, if you keep me from having cancer Iâ€™ll be nicer to my husband and Iâ€™ll give more money to the homeless. I promise I wonâ€™t complain anymore! Iâ€™ll work for world peace! Iâ€™ll be grateful for every day of my life.â€
The biopsy results are positive, the only time that positive has the exact opposite meaning, and so you have to have more surgery. And more prayers to accompany that: â€œPlease let me have early stage. Please let it not be in my lymph nodes. Please let me be node negative, node negative, node negative.â€
And so you get the sorry results of the surgery. Now you add all number of prayers to your repertoire.
You need prayers for guidance in making treatment decisions.
You need prayers for getting through chemotherapy without throwing up when you smell the hand soap in the hospital bathroom.
There are prayers for help getting out of bed in the morning.
There are prayers for acceptance and psychological and spiritual healing. Prayers for physical healing.
Mostly there are prayers for survival.
You sit on the beds of your sleeping children and pray that you will be able to raise them.
You blow out 45 candles on your birthday cake and pray that one day you will be blowing out 50.
You have long and intimate conversations with this god concept of which you still are not certain.
One morning you wake up and find that five years have passed. You are still alive. You are raising your children. You are praying more frequently and less selfishly.
You do not affiliate with any particular religion, but you find that your heart and consciousness have opened to all spiritual possibilities. You attend a School of Healing. You learn to offer a prayer on an out breath that asks and listens, that reaches out and circles around and returns receptively, like the sign for infinity, You become familiar with your higher self and comfortable with thinking about a higher power. You wrestle with the concept of surrender.
You really do change your life. Some of the behaviors that originated as bargaining chips are now part of your ordinary make-up. You find that you are on a spiritual journey that includes, maybe even depends on, self -acceptance and love.
Ten years pass. Then twelve. Your younger child turns 18. You learn the Buddhist prayer, â€May all beings be happy.â€ You learn that we are all connected. You feel that breathing is praying and so is loving.
You still tender late night pleas to guardian angels for your teenaged daughterâ€™s safe return during a blinding snowstorm. But mostly, your prayers become less desperate. You know that you want help and guidance but you accept that your prayers may be answered in ways that you canâ€™t anticipate or desire. You are grateful even when things in your life suck. Your heart is full of prayers of thanksgiving.
You find that you feel less scared of dying.
And occasionally you are less scared of living.
Â© Pam Roberts