Thursday, March 5, 2015

We all need a faithful companion

I was awakened on a recent morning by this terrible pain in my stomach. That, in itself, was disappointing because we've been working on adjusting my medications and we seemed to have been making some progress in the past few days. I slept longer than I normally do, though, and I think that had an impact on the effectiveness of my medicine.

On top of that, when I wake up at a different time than usual, I can feel frazzled, and that's an invitation to the unnamed, but deep, fear I sometimes experience to come and join the party. It's almost paralyzing, made the more upsetting because I have no idea what causes it or what it is about. I think I'll be going to a “special” (wink, wink, nudge nudge) doctor to talk about that.

Once upon a time, it happened rarely and was easily ignored. Now, it's becoming more and more common and it can't be ignored. I also can't really do anything about it because... Hello. Unnamed. Unknowable.

Those are hard to get out of bed days, you bet. I'm afraid to get up because... Hello. Unnamed. Unknowable. So, I lay there and feel an almost physical presence keeping me in place. I'm only aware of how tense I've been when I finally shift position and find my knees aching, my hands cramping and a big knot at the back of my neck because I've been locked and loaded the whole time.

And this, brothers and sisters, is where you come in. When I say I couldn't fight this cancer the way I have without you, these are the times when it is truer than true. As I lay there, with fear marching to “Night at Bald Mountain” - as seen in the fabulously popular movie, “The Wizard of Oz- with none of the fun and all of the menace of the original piece of music, I, frankly, don't have the power to reach out: not to my wife, who is generally nearby; not to my children, who are only a phone call away and the cell phone is right there; not to all the supportive friends I see on a regular basis.

I have to go with what I've got on hand, which is mostly a head full of fearful nonsense I've managed to convince myself actually means something. But, I've also got things you have told me, done for me, given me and they are right there with me as well.

I used to be big on drama. BIG on DRAMA. If there wasn't any in my life, I would work hard to create some. With drama, comes exaggeration and the need to make things seem “more” than they are/were. It's something I now constantly guard against. So, when I say my fight against this fear begins with the knowledge that thousands of prayers have been said on my behalf, you need to know I am not selfishly inflating that number. There have been that many and it has made a huge difference.

This leads me to one of the women's circles at the Oxford United Methodist Church, Oxford, PA, where my son-in-law Mark is the pastor and my daughter Jennifer helps keep the women in a circle (he he). They not only prayed for me, they knit me a prayer shawl, the weight and warmth of which brings me great comfort.

A co-worker and her family gave me a wonderfully heavy blanket with a great texture. Comfort comes from the weight and the texture and, this winter especially, the heat it provides.

You have given me countless talismen/talismans? to carry with me offering messages of comfort, hope, faith. Truth is, if I carried them all at once, I would list to one side. I do keep them all in the same drawer, though, so that I see them every morning as I get ready to leave the house.

In the same drawer, I also keep a rosary. I am not now, nor have I ever been, Catholic, and readily admit that my knowledge of the rosary comes from movies, television and books where people seem to use it to help them with their prayers, usually, popular culture tells us, when the person saying the rosary is in some sort of trouble. I have no doubt it provides comfort. But consider this: the guy I know gave me, not only a rosary, but his mother's rosary, and told me to carry it with me all the time. I tried to refuse. It was his mother's rosary, after all, and I can't begin to imagine how important that would have been to him.

Still, he wanted me to have it, so I took it. I carry it with me every day, receiving calm from the feel of it in my pocket.

I have received cards, letters, emails, phone calls, encouragement from people I don't know, but who have been reading what I've been writing; been picking up what I've been laying down, if you will. Thanks.

My younger daughter Alison and a group of her friends get together for breakfast on Friday mornings during the school year. They are all moms with children in the same elementary school. Unbeknownst to Alison, they got a card that represented a string of balloons, and each of them wrote a message of hope and encouragement to me on a separate balloon. They didn't want Alison to know because they wanted me to see it was their idea, generated by how they felt about my situation, and not just because Alison was my daughter.

They sent it to me while I was in the hospital for my stem cell transplant. Now, there are rules about what you can put on hospital room walls and how you can put it on there (no tape, for example). The nurse in charge when the card arrived (note- she was neither of the ones I dropped my pants in front of) was not such a big rules follower. I don't think she broke any, but there were some curved rules by the time she was done. I didn't used to be a “cheer him up with balloons” kind of guy, but the joy that card gave me made me a balloon believer and a homecoming queen (trivia fans?).

Then this week I got a call from a reader who wanted to send me something to show how much she appreciated my writing. She had been a cancer survivor for eight years and, since her initial treatment had been radiation and not chemo, she sent me this hat that, on the front, said “Chemo Sabe.” OMG. As a fan of truth and goodness as unashamedly brought to the (mostly) black and white television screen by the Lone Ranger and his faithful Indian (?) Native American (?) companion Tonto, it struck a chord somewhere deep. She'd had it for eight years and knew the right person would come along to share it with and, after all that time, she felt the right person was me.

Man, I got a great life!

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere.”