Tuesday, December 27, 2011

5am Thoughts

It's 5am, and I finally give up on sleep and come downstairs to write.

I don't know why you need to know that.  I guess I want to clarify that these are 5am thoughts. The writers and worriers and dreamers and poets and nursing mothers and insomniacs and perfectionists out there know what I mean when I say: these are 5am thoughts.

I woke up thinking about my Dad.  About how profoundly I felt his physical absence this Christmas.  I watched my brother's strong, capable shoulders as he carved the roast, and I thought: Dad.  I counted the number of place mats and chairs we would need, and I thought: Dad.   I sat in church and sang along to "O Holy Night" with tears streaming down my face and thought: Dad.

Christmas was beautiful this year. I didn't know what to expect - how could I picture Christmas without Dad?  His spirit was everywhere, though.  As we sat around the table, chatting and even laughing, as we opened presents, as I watched his grand kids play. I felt joy and sadness in equal measure; I didn't realize those two emotions could cohabitate so effortlessly together.

After everyone went to bed Christmas Day Eve, I sat and sipped my tea, took in the colorful lights of the tree and the presents piled everywhere, and thought:  this is good.  We are lucky.

I woke up thinking about my Dad for another reason:  today I start chemotherapy.  I didn't talk about it much on this blog - it wasn't mine to talk about - but my Dad was a cancer survivor.  He had Lymphoma.  It was confined to his spleen, so after his diagnosis the recommendation was to 'wait and watch'.  When his spleen became too enlarged, it was removed, along with all his cancer. 

As his daughter, I never felt truly scared for him, not really.  I know now that he must have worked at not showing too much fear to his kids. It's possible, too, that maybe he didn't feel a lot of fear.  I sit here waiting for my first day of chemotherapy and I'm kind of wondering when the fear will show up.

Maybe what he felt was gratitude, an appreciation for the small things, for what really matters. Maybe he had strong faith in his doctors, and in his God, and that kept him strong.  Maybe he knew that pounding his chest and wailing about the unfairness of is all is a complete waste of time and energy.

My Dad never experienced radiation or chemotherapy, because the surgery extracted all the cancer.  What he did experience - and I'm learning that it's the toughest part of the whole thing - was the waiting.  The periodic scans he had to take - even after the surgery - at 3 months, then 6 months, then every year.  

Ultimately, he died in a roundabout way from cancer; without a spleen he couldn't fight back an infection in his blood. I'm glad for him that he didn't know that day was coming, that he didn't have to endure months of a slow decline.  He proudly wore his "Live Strong" bracelet, and I will always think of him as a cancer survivor.

He knew what it felt like, though, to be cruising along in life, only to glance at the appointment book, see scribbled at 2pm the next day "PET Scan", and think - oh yeah, cancer.

It changes you.  It has to. I realize now that there is a Cancer Me.  I never knew her before - how could I?  If anyone even mentioned the word cancer to me before, my heart rate elevated and I broke out in a cold sweat.   I could never, ever, have envisioned that Cancer Me is calm, determined and grateful.  Cancer Me is also apprehensive - mostly because I don't know what chemotherapy will be like, how sick I'll be.  It's new, and new things are scary.  But Cancer Me doesn't spend a lot of time wondering about the future, if the treatment will work, if I'll beat this thing forever.  Cancer Me doesn't lose herself to fear.

In this respect, Cancer Me is a lot like Recovery Me.  Fear is toxic to me - even more so than the chemicals that will be coursing through my body later today.  Fear makes me want to hide from myself, from my family.  Fear is a dangerous trigger for me, and I have to treat it with respect.  I have to acknowledge that it's there - of course it's there - but the only thing that is actually in my control is how I respond to it. 

I'm totally powerless over the cancer in my body.  I'm totally powerless over alcohol.  The two things aren't that different, really.

So I look fear in the face, pay my respects, and move on.  In hindsight, I can see how much fear governed my life before I got cancer:  fear, ironically, of doctors, of getting sick, of getting freaking cancer.

I'm free of that now that I actually have cancer.

Recovery is similar to that, too.  I spent so much time in fear of what life would be like sober - how would I live? How would I get through the witching hour?  A party? - and once I was in recovery living smack dab in the middle of the thing that scared me most, I realized:  I'm strong, I can do this, and I'm free.

I let Cancer Me and Recovery Me hang out together as much as possible.  They have a lot in common.

I'm just along for the ride.


  1. Thinking about you. hope allgoes well

  2. Good luck today. You will be in my prayers.

  3. You are incredibly strong. You will get through this. Thank you for sharing your story.

  4. Your 5 am thoughts...simply as beautiful as all the others. I love climbing around in your thoughts and I thank you for allowing us to be there. Your words touch me and connect me to you like others I have known for years can't. May angels surround you as you continue on this ride.

  5. Know that we are all out here thinking of you, hoping for you, praying for you. - Cara

  6. Perfect! Sorry you have to hang out with the Cancer people for a while, we are all around, really, it's a pretty big club. You will be amazed at the support you will find from total and complete strangers. March on Ellie, you never know how strong you are untill you have to! Hugs-Brandy

  7. Thinking about you. Much love to you, sweet Ellie.

    (Also, Cancer You {and Recovery You} are totally and completely kick ass. cancer won't even know what hit it.)


  8. 5 a.m. is a precious time of day - when the unconscious mind that's been allowed to work in our dreams has a chance, if we let it, to inform the conscious mind. Glad you put these thoughts down, Ellie!

    These are such beautiful, healing insights, truths that can help anyone struggling with any fear. Thank you for trusting and sharing. Do please carry on!

  9. Damn...your words (at any time of the day) fill me with sadness, gratitude, worry, then a comforting peace and acceptance all at the same time. Thinking of you and praying for you always. Sending you hugs but let me dry my tears first :)

  10. While you felt your Dad's physical absence it seems to me that you also have felt his mental presence as you move into your first day. I believe he will be with you as you start your new journey and will provide you with more than enough strength to keep fear away from you during the coming days, weeks and months.

  11. I hope that your dad and my dad are getting to know each other - the former, a cancer survivor, the latter, one who lost his battle but won the crown. I know that both of them are watching, cheering you on. They're not alone. We all are. :)

  12. You're in my prayers especially today.

  13. Thinking of you and hoping you continue to feel all that strength and peace with all of us pulling for you today.

  14. That was the most beautiful post I have ever read. You have become my online hero, Ellie. I will be praying for you throughout your journey.

  15. Praying for you....

  16. Praying for you and hoping today went well...chemo makes for a long, long day, but you are really strong. Wrestling with fear throughout this process is such a big task; it's about as big as getting through the treatment itself. Be courageous and gentle with yourself. Cancer sucks, but this will make you discover more courage than you ever imagined you had.

    Thank you for sharing your journey in such an honest way. I'm amazed.

  17. Praying your day went well, and thank you for sharing your ups and downs!! Makes me apprieciate life a little more than i did yesterday!!! (((HUGS)))

  18. Thank you for this very compelling post. You are handling your situation with such grace. I pray that the chemo treatment was no too hard on you and that you are feeling alright this everning. And I hope you get a better night's sleep.

    Big Hugs,


  19. I am thinking of you and wishing you well. Joanne

  20. Hello,
    I have a question about your blog. Please email me!

  21. Love you. Tears are close to the surface for me this week and so are you.

    That sounded like the crappiest valentine ever.

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