Introspective Insights

Introspective - adj: Examining sensory and perceptual experiences. Insight - n: The capacity to discern the true nature of a situation.

Losing Concentration & Anger

In April 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. During those days, I wrote constantly. This post is a continuing series of the book I hope to one day publish. I survived cancer, which is a tremendous gift, but cancer continues to remain a shadow in my mind.

I’ve never thought of myself as an angry person, but really, anger manifested itself several times in my life. There are people in my life whose angry behavior I often observed, but I can’t use that as an excuse because at some point, the anger becomes my own and I can’t fully explain the process.

I remember being in high school, so full of rage one day that I tore apart my whole room. I can’t even remember why. I only did this once and I don’t think I really broke anything – so it must have been a controlled “burn”.

In my late 20’s anger was a daily part of life. I didn’t realize how bad it was until the overwhelming dread of how hard life was had enveloped me. Through deep prayer and consultation with my uncle, a pastor, and his prayer team, I was freed from that anger.

With the advent of cancer, my old enemy came saddling up and I deceptively agreed to his terms. Yet, I didn’t even realize the depths of what I was agreeing to.

It is two weeks after my diagnosis and the day mixed up. I’m trying to help the kids focus on school, yet my fuzzy focus makes simple decisions seem impossible. I forget why I’m doing things, why I went into a certain room. It’s like “mommy brain” but so.much.worse. It’s very difficult to concentrate. People keep asking me how they can help, and I don’t know what to tell them because I can’t seem to have a complete thought about anything.

I want us to finish this homeschooling year strong, but I see that goal quickly fading. Every single day I do something cancer related. A phone call, a test, a conversation with another specialist, planning for the next whatever. I just want a normal day, to clear my head, to not allow the word cancer to enter my brain. But it doesn’t look like any normal days are coming anytime soon.

Today, two years later, I can see that this is where the anger began. This is where that hot rage boiled over into a text message to my sister Rachel, “Let’s give a woman who hates needles, doctors, and anything medical related and let’s give her f&*%ing cancer.” I feel the tears rolling down my cheeks. I want to punch something or break something (there’s a lot of glass in my kitchen…). The devastation of this has only begun. The darkness was moving in like a grey cloud that eventually shifted to black.

The anger began to take over and I didn’t even realize it. That undercurrent of rage / lava built up under the surface, yet I didn’t have time to be angry. All I had time for was surgery, treatment, blood draws, and tests after tests, and doctor’s appointments after doctor’s appointments. All energies were spent on gathering information, analyzing treatment options, ensuring that all tests were covered so that a clear treatment path was obvious. Ain’t no time to be angry when focused on survival.

But despite all that focus on life, survival, forward momentum, anger continued building silently, quietly, forcefully.

The First Breakdown

In April 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. During those days, I wrote constantly. This post is a continuing series of the book I hope to one day publish. I survived cancer, which is a tremendous gift, but cancer continues to remain a shadow in my mind.

After meeting with the plastic surgeon and pondering everything involved with the surgery and aftermath, I break down. I text Rachel and Char and pour out the pain – more invasive surgery than I want, scars inside and out, forced into menopause from medications I will have to take after it is all over. I think that maybe after a while I will be cancer free – praise God, but the scars and effects will be far reaching.

It is Monday and I think about the Women’s Ministry meeting scheduled for tonight. I have the mugs Diana and I bought as a gift for the team. (Ironically, they say, “Today I Will Choose Joy.”)

I am scheduled to lead the devotion tonight. It is mid afternoon, and I cannot shake this off. I collapse on the couch and sob an ugly, terrifying sob. Panic and pain and pure despair wash over me. I was diagnosed just 12 days ago and most of my attempts to continue with normal activities have succeeded, but not tonight. I can’t figure out how I’m going to get off the couch. I cry to Jerry. My thoughts swirl into a black hole. I lie down. The kids kiss me and bring me a blanket. I lay there and stare. I can’t eat.  Abby kisses me and wipes my tears. Kayla flees to her room in anger and tears as we tell the kids we can’t go to Camp Arcadia over Memorial Day weekend.

I text Diana, “I can’t do this tonight, I’m so sorry. Can you pick up the gifts?” She is over two hours later, flowers in hand…I am still on the couch. I try to sit up to greet her; she says no, to stay there. She bear hugs me in my pitiful state right there on my couch. I am overwhelmed with her care and concern.

This is the first breakdown of many. The mental despair that cancer invokes is cruel and relentless. Months later the mental onslaught continues, but the moments of despair differ only in that they are more spaced out. The intensity and horror and fear of recurrence, any little twinge of pain or discomfort or the sensation of strange tissue invites another session.

Throwing Myself Against the Rocks

As many of you know, last year around this time (April 2016) I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went through numerous tests, surgery, and radiation therapy. During those days I wrote constantly. Since then, I’ve started to compile those journal entries into the beginnings of a book. This post is a portion of that book I hope to one day publish. I survived cancer, which is a tremendous gift, but cancer continues to remain a shadow in my mind.

I’m starting near the end of this cancer journey, because while it seems that I am finished, the truth is that this word “survivor” is only beginning to dig its talons into my mind. It’s August, just 10 days after radiation therapy ended. A mere four months since this nightmare began.

I am starting to get a glance at what cancer can do to the survivor. My body is beginning to heal, but my mind is beginning its spiral into the dark. Yet I don’t really understand the storm still coming.

Me at Camp Arcadia

It is evening at Camp Arcadia on the beautiful northern shore of Lake Michigan. I am struggling, feeling awful about myself – all the weight I’ve gained, the aftermath of surgery, and four months of recovery and radiation treatments. Feeling tired and sluggish beyond comprehension. Yet, I’m in this beautiful place – one of my favorite places in the world. The sun is on it’s way down, but it is still fully late summer evening light.

I am sitting on the raised patio six feet above the pounding surf. Beach hazard in effect, surging waves battering the seawall in front of me. At that moment, the despair envelopes me like a black cloak. I envision myself jumping in, imagining the consequences. The current pulling me under the water and the waves pushing me up, slamming me onto the rusty, jagged, metal wall, rocks, shore. My body continually battered, bloody, lifeless, crushed, smashed over and over. Normally the horror of such a thought is immediately rejected, but the heaviness is too great and in that moment the image replays over and over. I hear Jerry and the kids looking for me, yelling my name. Searching, but not finding.

It is a terrible way to die and I know I can’t do it. I press stop on the mental replay and I choose to walk away, the roaring still in my ears, images fresh and horrible in my mind. I cannot tell Jerry what I’ve just witnessed in my mind’s eye. This week has been challenging enough, the last few months heavy with despair, tears, anger, listlessness, fear.

The next night I am on the shore again, waves crashing again realizing that forward movement seems like jumping into those waves only to be battered and carried along where I don’t want to go. And isn’t that what has happened these months? Death and illness – cancer – sweeping over me, pulling me down with the undertow. Going forward doesn’t seem like an option. I am stuck here for now in the mental anguish of this pounding surf.

But these waves, these breakers, the verses come back to me – Psalm 42:7:

“Deep calls to deep

at the roar of your waterfalls;

all your breakers and your waves

have gone over me.”

All the breakers and waves HAVE gone over me. I’m battered and beaten mentally, physically. And YET deep calls out to deep. I’m drowning, but the God of the universe calls out to me in my deepest parts. And these waterfalls cover me and what happens when I emerge from all this? I don’t know as I feel that the emerging is the painful process of right now.