To all you gloriously wonderful people who are walking this walk with me:
First, the ‘hum drum’ part: The first phase of treatment is behind me and I couldn’t be happier! I can’t even describe what a relief it is to be freed from the relentless administration of radiation and chemotherapy that’s been assaulting my body since August. Like a boxer in the corner of the ring, renewing his determination while he gasps for breath between rounds of abuse, I’m thrilled for a little break even as I consider the battle that still lies ahead of me. My doctors warned me that I’d need more than a few days off before I felt anything close to normal and they’ve proven good to their word. Nausea continues to be a chronic affliction and fatigue is as bad as it’s ever been; but, hey, I’m in a fight for my life — did any of you expect this would be easy?
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way we can get down to the main business of this post which — let me warn you — is a little more raw than the cheery, upbeat posts you’ve all gotten used to. So, if you want to bail, now’s the time to do it….
When I first was diagnosed, I said to Paul, “This isn’t some random event. God has a plan.” I didn’t know, at the time, exactly what that plan was but I had the strong sense that this horrible tumor was bringing with it a lesson I’ve long needed to learn. Finally, I’m starting to piece it together.
As you know, we only discovered the existence of this tumor because the doctors sent me for an MRI. The resulting image showed the doctors that there was something terribly worrisome going on in my body. When Paul and I got the news we were shocked beyond belief — it truly did come from ‘out of the blue’. The thing is, though, that if it had been possible for them to take an MRI of my soul, the image they would have gotten would have shown something even more worrisome — but I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised to learn there was trouble. I’ve long, long understood that there’s been a cancer in a part of me that medical technology can’t investigate.
I need to begin by explaining that, when I was born, my mother was already forty-eight years old, had already had seven children and was at a point in her life where she could be described as a very tired, ‘worn out’ woman. She’d given out all she had and had very little left to give. Please understand that I’m not looking to make this some kind of ‘Mommy Dearest’ post. My mother, as all my siblings know, was a truly amazing woman who’d managed to keep our family going through the some unbelievably difficult circumstances. For me to put the knock on my mother would only upset my siblings; and, more importantly, it wouldn’t be fair to Ma’s memory. As I said, she was an absolute gem but, of course, no one is perfect and certainly no one gets an inexhaustible supply of physical and emotional resources. We all have our limits and, by the time I came along, my mother had been stretched past the breaking point.
It’s nobody’s fault, but I was born into difficult circumstances and, if it weren’t for the tremendous support and dedication of my sisters and brothers (many of whom were old enough to be a parent to me instead of a sibling) I would not be here. This isn’t hyperbole. If it weren’t for them you wouldn’t be reading this post. Thank you Virginia, Frank (who’s listening to my gratitude from his place in Paradise), Fannie, Ann, Jimmy, Julie and David! You’re all the proof anyone needs to realize that our God is a loving God.
My mother, I suppose, must have felt that after enduring the ‘encumbrance’ of seven children she deserved to get a little time for herself. Her husband, my father, worked eighty hours a week and, truthfully, wasn’t much of a help to her in taking care of the family. Ma had many other demands on her time as well. Late-in-life parenthood was a “blessing” she really didn’t need.
It’s taken me thirty years of therapy to work this out for myself, but there really is a reason that, for most of my life, I have felt uncared for and unloved. Rumor has it that I was an ‘easy baby’. My mother took advantage of this fact to leave me alone for hours at a time. You won’t be surprised to hear me tell you that leaving a small child alone is only going to cause the child to grow up believing that there’s something wrong with her — and forever wondering why she’s so unloveable.
Even the most dedicated, most enthusiastic mother feels a desire to have time alone. If this is the way it is for other mothers, you can only imagine how much my mother needed her ‘down time’. I’ve been told that I ‘potty trained’ myself at the age of six months and learned of necessity to be as I am to this very day — fiercely independent.
What made my situation bearable was the presence of my wonderful siblings. You know, as a young child I would hear people say that “Disneyland is the happiest place on earth.” but I knew better. My sister Virginia’s house was the happiest place on earth! Every time I got to see her and her family in Connecticut I was in heaven. For starters, I’d get to play in her pool. You know, I didn’t realize until five years ago that her pool had steps. We kids (me and my nieces and nephews) knew only one way to get in — by getting thrown in! It’s still a family pastime — I know, because a few years ago, while I was driving my nephew’s kids to Connecticut I asked my grand-nephew Chris what he liked best about visiting Auntie Virgina. He said, “Getting thrown in the pool by Mark.”
In the days of my own childhood, a trip to Connecticut meant I’d have playmates my own age. I’d be awash with the youthful energy and vitality that was virtually absent in my own home. I’d be surrounded with lots and lots of fabulous food. God showed me how much He loved me by giving me a loving, supportive, generous oldest sister who knew how to make everyone feel special. She certainly knew how to make me feel special!
That wasn’t God’s only blessing to me though. To my great benefit, my beautiful sister Ann had a baby two months before I came along and then my beautiful sister Fanny had her baby eleven months after. So, I always had a ‘back up’ when my own mother couldn’t be there for me. My sisters kept my mother mindful of what a child my age needed. I also had the good fortune to have an unmarried older sister and brother who were came around enough to ‘be there’ for me. Dear Julie, who is fifteen years older than me, stepped up to the plate and took on a really nurturing and loving role in my life — and even though she was away at school for months at a time, whenever she was around I was the focus of her concern. In fact, in many ways she continues to make me the focus of her concern even now, with both of us in ‘mature’ adulthood.
Even my sisters-in-law, Ruth and Theresa gave me heaping doses of the ‘mother love’ I craved.
This post shows that, at fifty-seven, I finally ‘get it’. All this time I’ve been feeling shortchanged, feeling rejected and isolated, but recently it has come to my attention that God has always been showing me He loves me — I just wasn’t seeing it. Then comes cancer and with it all the love that all of you have been pouring into my life. God isn’t whispering to me, He’s coming through loud and clear and I finally believe it. I think that these lessons — the lesson that I actually am lovable, and the lesson that there really isn’t something terribly wrong with me are the lessons I’ve always needed to learn. Of course, when you consider the resistance I’d put up to keep from understanding, it’s obvious why God had to ‘make a statement’ in order to get my attention.
It’s as if God said to me, “This experience will finally make you realize how much people care — because if it doesn’t you’re hopeless.”
God has always been blessing me, and now He’s blessed me with the eyes to see His blessings.
I hope you won’t decide I’ve written a “Poor Pam” post. My intention is simply to show that even in the hideousness of cancer there’s a silver lining. My silver lining is that I’ve learned to be grateful for all that’s wonderful in my life. I’ve learned to “change my filter” and look at life without the fog of dissatisfaction.
I wrote this extremely revealing post because I decided I simply have to free myself, and even though I might be showing off a lot more ‘warts’ than people usually do in a blog post I want you to understand that this is who I really am.
Last July God kicked me in the ass and said, “OK, this is your lesson. Now, go figure it out!”
I’ve figured out that my mother loved me the very best that she could and, when there was something lacking in what she had to give me, God made up for it a hundred times over.