after a spring and summer’s start full with breast cancer, it seems strange to find myself staring at august. a normal august. from april to june i was living and breathing and dreaming cancer. it consumed most thoughts, most days, and most of me. everything felt connected to it. everything colored by it. impossible almost, to loosen myself from its fierce fist. from diagnosis to surgery to recovery to results, it was what shaped my days and sharp-needled my nights.
but here i am stepping into august. here we are at the end of my recovery and at the end of our summer and things have calmed. life seems to have quieted. of course i write that and chuckle...quiet jody? really? well...maybe not exactly quiet, but ordinary. i find myself making grocery lists and dinner dates and longterm plans. and it all seems very everyday, very average. which is good. i can tell you, after the past few months, boring sounds wonderful. it is wonderful to worry about scheduling the carpets to be cleaned and the house to be painted. it is wonderful to deliberate over spaghetti or pesto for dinner. it is pure wonderful to fall asleep thinking about school uniform orders and new backpacks for the children. it was only a couple of months ago when i was falling asleep under the sweat-heavy blanket of fear. only weeks ago when i would wake in the morning wild with wondering.
but there is a strangeness when something all consuming is no longer, when it silently slips out the back door and is gone. don’t get me wrong, i am glad it is gone. i am thrilled. tickled. delighted. ecstatic. but it feels a little odd. all of a sudden i am just jody again. i am mother and wife and sister and friend once more. i get up early and pour milk into cereal bowls and spread peanut butter on bagels and apply bandaids and kisses to scrapes. i sort out laundry and sibling arguments and the recycling. i am back to the mother who forgets to get gas and fails to pick up the dry cleaning and who is always low on milk and eggs and bread. and i am back to seeing this same woman - slightly altered - in the mirror and wondering what to do with her now. and this question rattles around inside me, what else? what else can i do? what else can be done?
i mean i take this tiny white pill every morning with my orange juice and they tell me that is it - just one tiny, round pill. nothing else left to do. of course, i can eat all organic and exercise religiously and take expensive vitamins and get my blood drawn every three months...but that’s it? that’s all? somehow it doesn’t seem nearly enough for something so large as a 1.9 cm tumor...for something so big as black cancer. i am thrilled to forego chemo, but there is a part of me still wanting to battle hard. i am a little unsure of this normalcy and nothingness. i don’t quite trust it. honestly, i am, in a strange way, afraid to rest. and so on this ordinary almost august day i am figuring out how to let go of the past few months. i am figuring out how to get it up on the shelf and off of our everyday shoulders.
we are at the beach this week and it is pure, simple summer. i sat at the ocean’s edge yesterday with the littlest one. we dug holes and built castles and drank in the great ocean beauty. pure delight for us both. there was a couple nearby who kept looking our way. i could tell they were watching. and i thought to myself, “they have no idea.” they watched my family of seven play wild in water and sand and couldn’t possibly imagine the horror we felt only months ago. because this is how life works. we pass people every day who are deep in some battle or just steps out of struggle, and we don’t know it. it doesn’t look like it. we don’t look like a family who felt cut off at the knees only in april. at least from outward appearances, life has gone on.
just a couple of weeks ago, i met with my surgeon for one more appointment. before leaving his office, i looked him full in the face and said, “dr. barber, do i have breast cancer anymore?” i know the tumor is gone - the breasts too, for that matter - and so where does that leave me? i couldn’t help but wonder. i told him my name was still in the church bulletin on a prayer list for those in medical crisis. i was thinking perhaps i needed to call someone and tell them to remove me from it. dr. barber suggested i keep my name on the list. he said, “after all, you’re a mother of five, you could probably use some of that extra prayer, regardless.” and he’s right. i can. but still i want to know what to call it. i know when i hit five years cancer free i can call myself in remission - i can call myself a survivor, but what about now? what will i call this strange place of in between?
and so this early, summer morning with the ocean breeze soft and the family all still sleeping hard, i am back to the place i had never really left. the place even before cancer - the listening place. the place of wanting to hear. same words which God whispers to this needy woman always. whether cancer-weary or just plain woman-weary, He whispers. “be still.” whether healthy and whole or broken and bent. be still. life changes always. but He doesn’t ever. be still.
“be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted on the earth.” ~ psalm 46: 10