Butterfly Sparks Designs

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cancer, Pizza, and Butt Jokes.

You know how after a bad nightmare, sometimes you might wake up relieved that you were only dreaming? On most mornings, I wake up and my first semi-conscious waking emotion is relief, as I think “Oh, thank God, it was just a bad dream.” But then as I reach consciousness (and usually the first thing I do is reach down to touch the biopsy wound on my leg to see if it is still there), I realize it was real. It is real. And then, the sense of relief comes again, when I realize that just as much as it is real, so is He. And He’s bigger than cancer.

Yeah. I have cancer.

Late Stage 2 Melanoma.  The cells have multiplied and have moved from the tumor to the surrounding tissue. 

Words I would have been happy to go for a lifetime never having to write or speak. Suddenly a member of a club that I never asked or wanted to join. So many faces with well-meaning eyes gushing with love and true yearning to comfort me, who utter things like “You’re going to beat this” or “I survived cancer and so will you”.  Or the clich├ęs that I once rolled my eyes at, like “Cancer doesn’t define you” or the perhaps the cheesiest one of all, “Cancer isn’t a death sentence, it’s a ‘new life’ sentence.” It’s all very surreal, listening to these words spoken directly to me. Or seeing things posted by friends and family proclaiming “Melissa has cancer.” “Wait, that’s not me, you've made a mistake”, I want to yell out, but just as the words move to the tip of my tongue, I realize that indeed, this is my current reality.

It’s amazing what one just blurts out when given the diagnosis. When my doctor gave me the news, I just stared blankly and said “Nope, that doesn’t work, because I leave for vacation in 2 days”. I just can’t work cancer surgery, recovery, severe scarring, and chemo and radiation into my plans, Doc. Sorry ‘bout it.

In less than a week, a large section of my left leg (calf) will be removed, and a simultaneous surgery will be done on my abdomen to remove the main (sentinel) lymph node to send off for testing to see if the cancer has spread to my lymph nodes or organs.

When I got the news, I drove immediately to my parents’ home, in spite of the fact that all I wanted to do was to go home and be alone. But as a counselor, I have enough foresight to know clinically that being alone for the next few hours was the worst thing I could do.

Only my family – my loving, faithful, awesome, believing, hilarious family – could weave belly laughs, food, and inappropriate jokes into the darkest day of my life. There were rivers of tears shed (and consistently) by all of us, but mixed with bouts of roaring laughter. My sister and nieces showed up with pizza, which upon later reflection, we found hilarious. My sister Lorri said “I didn’t know what to do, so I just thought we needed pizza. I know it’s ridiculous to have a pizza party when your sister tells you she has cancer, but I didn’t know what else to do.” As we sat around eating, the conversation turned to my instructions to family about certain aspects of what this road may bring, one of which was a lighthearted discussion of how I am to be “styled” during my hospitalization and recovery. This led to a litany of jokes about…well…butts. My late grandma (I'm seriously missing her right now), had a series of inappropriate jokes that she loved to tell about “needing a new butt because mine has a crack in it.” The darkest day of my life was spent belly laughing so hard that it hurt, to my Mama’s old butt jokes. We’re nothing if not classy. (It’s important to note that in between the tears and pizza and inappropriate jokes, we prayed and read Scripture, so I guess that makes it OK.)

So here’s the thing. In the nearly 2 weeks that has passed, God has shown me much about Himself. Much about me and how I experience Him. And now I am about to say something else that I never thought I would say. I’m grateful for the cancer. Don’t get me wrong -- I believe and pray for complete healing. I pray that the cancer hasn't spread and that this surgery is the end of the process.  I hope the journey is short and that the scars on my leg and heart are small. I pray for my joy to remain consistent through every step. But I know…and I mean I KNOW … that my outlook on my life has been forever and radically changed. My experience of Him and surrender to Him has been forever and radically changed. And those are the things I will write about. So please keep checking in here.

And...please keep praying. I remain expectant that God will be glorified through this. That is truly my deepest desire.

He is good, and He is faithful. I believe that He alone is my Healer and my Provider of all things on this and every journey of my life.   And most of all,  regardless of my circumstances, I believe that He is God and He is ALWAYS good. 

If you agree with me, say so.  Would you join me on this journey? 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dad!!!

Me and Dad
I have vivid memories of my childhood summers. Constantly at our neighborhood swimming pool from its opening hour until booted out by the teenage-angst-filled lifeguards at closing time, my olive skin became very dark. I would be stopped regularly by the nosy inquirer who wanted to know if I was Brazilian or from some other far-off exotic place. But no, I was merely a little small town southern girl. As I think about that memory, I find it comical. I was not an exotic foreign heir to fortune or fame. I was a simple girl from a simple town with simple taste. And I was the luckiest girl alive (and still am), because the values instilled in me by my parents were based upon recognizing the extraordinary in the simplest pleasures in life.

God has blessed me with the most incredible earthly father a girl could have. He oooohed and aaaahed when I twirled in my new dresses, he graciously pretended to eat elaborate imaginary platters of food I designed with little plastic “pegs”, and he never once forgot to leave me a beautiful heart full of chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Every Saturday morning, we had breakfast together at Kay’s Drugstore…it was our date every week. And every single day (no exaggeration), I would wake up to a handwritten note from Dad wishing me a good day, affirming me, and telling me that he loved me “very, very, very, very much”.

My most treasured memories with Dad, though, are the ones framed around those Georgia midsummer days that were so humid you could barely breathe. He and I would sit out on our deck in the hot sun, and we would share an ice cold can of fruit cocktail. Two forks. We would sit and talk and laugh with the sweltering sun beating down on us as we took turns reaching into a fifty-cent can of ice cold fruit. At the end, one lone cherry always awaited…and Dad always gave it to me of course. We would stay and talk and talk and talk until the sun came down. Dad worked hard to support our family. But he and a silly can of fruit cocktail always had time for me. From my perspective, there was no finer cuisine. The experience was not framed around an iPhone or iPad or Playstation or designer jeans or fancy trips or cameras or computers. There was just me and my Daddy, and an aluminum can of processed fruit between us. I was content, satisfied, and loved. I can’t tell you what I got for Christmas or my birthday every year, but I can tell you about those times on the deck with my Dad like it was yesterday. That, I remember. And that, I treasure.

If you look in my refrigerator today, you’ll notice a can of fruit cocktail on the top shelf. And if you know me well at all, then you know that there is always a can in my fridge. Always. Because I need to be reminded that there are opportunities every single day to find the extraordinary in the simplest of things.

Thank you, Dad, for your love for me and our family.  Happy Birthday!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Needle and Thread.

I wonder who she was. What she dreamed about. Did she have a husband and children? How old was she? Was she happy? Was she struggling to understand her life’s purpose? What did she think about? Was she tired, drained? I wonder if her hands were blistered or crippled with arthritis. Did her neck and shoulders hurt at the end of her workday?

We know nothing about her; not even her name. Yet she holds a critical place in history. Not one of prominence or notoriety, but instead behind the scenes of a story that has been passed down through the ages and will continue to be for all of eternity.

For the rest, go to (in)courage, where I'm a guest blogger today!