Brief update for those who want one: Round 1 chemo - done. A dear friend told me, chemo isn’t for sissies. No it is not. Three more to go before surgery. Last lymph node biopsy was negative. Felt like the first positive turn I’ve had on this road. Thank you, Jesus.
One of the things I became keenly aware of early on in this journey, is how the manner in which people approach me is largely based on their own experience with cancer. It is fascinating. As people have shared their own stories with me, I have been struck by the wide range of experiences and emotions felt as cancer has left its mark. Some can barely speak about it without falling apart as they remember a loved one’s ravaged body. Others joyfully cheer me on to victory, certain I’ll have the same quick, virtually painless battle their friend fought, as they conquered the enemy. Many simply say, “I’ve been there, too. Hang in there.”
My family tends to face difficult circumstances with a certain level of humor, dark humor at times. I would blog about some of these conversations, which I find hilarious, but I’m afraid one of you would have all of us committed. However, I knew when I returned to work, the students I work with didn’t need me cracking jokes. Some of them had lost parents, grandparents, or friends to cancer. Those are likely the ones who came up to me after class with tears in their eyes, saying, “I’m so sorry.” Others, however, have parents in the medical field and seem to take a more clinical perspective. Those students come to me after class, hands squarely on their hips, and say matter-of-factly, “I heard about your diagnosis. What’s the plan?” Either way, I clearly see their hearts, and I love it. I love them.
When I had the opportunity to address a couple classes about what things would look like in the days ahead, I let them know my door was always open to have any conversations they might want to have. I wanted them to know I wasn’t afraid of any questions or comments, and to come to me if they needed a safe place to talk about their own experiences with cancer. They have been awesome. But what they haven’t offered is advice. Bless them.
There has been no shortage of very well intentioned people offering their insight into my current situation. Now, before you think I’m about to unleash on those who’ve thrown unsolicited advice my way, trust me, I’m not. And here’s why. Over the past few years, I have found myself learning one consistent lesson which has led to this conclusion: most people truly are doing the best they can with the best of intentions. I really do believe that. I have to. And wow, is it helpful on this journey.
As my blogs sometimes do, this one now leads me to write about one of my favorite subjects - food.
I’m a huge Food Network fan. Especially those shows where contestants are basically competing for a prize that might lead to their own show. Over and over again, they are asked to present food to the judges that incorporates the one thing that makes them unique - their POV. Point of view. A lot of people can make amazing food. But to cook up something amazing that comes with a personal slant or story - well, that’s what sets the network superstar apart from the great cooks. If you consider those chefs who’ve made the jump from contestant to TV star, you’ll see how they have simply communicated their vision to the world and the world likes what they see, so, we go along for the ride, looking at food from the host’s point of view. The value of what they have to offer isn’t simply in the food they make; it’s in the way they view food that draws us in. And as we tag along on their adventure, we find enjoyment and answers and comfort and beauty in seeing things from their perspective.
I have to believe in the power and value of a person’s point of view. It is one of the reasons why I write songs. There are millions of songs about love or hope or struggle so it isn't as if the world needs another song. But someone in the world might need a song about one of those subjects from my perspective, because they're in a similar circumstance but can't quite put their thoughts about their own experience together. It’s the same reason I blog. Okay, there are multiple reasons why, but one of the main reasons is because I believe with my whole heart that if one person is at a place in their life where they need someone to put voice to their thoughts, then my ramblings might be worth something.
The problem comes when we are confronted with someone’s point of view and we take offense, for whatever reason. We might feel attacked. We might feel insulted. We might feel manipulated or just plain annoyed. And when I say “we”, I mean “we”, because I’ve felt all those things at one time or another. But that little life lesson I’ve been learning the past few years? The one about people doing the best they can and with the best of intentions? Yeah, THAT has made all the difference for me.
Trust me, I’m a work in progress on all this. Some days, I respond well in these situations. Other days, like if you casually tell me my situation is exactly like your Great Aunt Nelly’s little lumpectomy-didn’t need chemo-she’s 104 now-you’ll be fine too, I will likely squint my eyes, cock my head to the right, smile, nod, then walk away thinking, ”Nope, not the same. Idiot.” and then repeatedly say to myself, “Breathe in Jesus, breathe out love.” As I said, I’m a work in progress.
There’s a word that gets thrown around a lot but doesn’t always stick - grace. Seems like grace would be a game-changer in trying to not take offense. I'm trying harder to assume the best of people and have a whole lot of grace on hand for the moments they disappoint me. It isn't easy. The moments I've learned the most about grace are when it has been extended to me from others, and when I’ve needed it most and haven’t received it. Both experiences have been humbling, teachable moments.
Obviously, I don’t mind letting you know how it feels in this valley. I also don’t mind hearing what your view of my valley looks like. From where you stand, you might know the best way for me to get out of here. You might not. Either way, there's no harm in hearing your point of view. I might take your advice. I might not. I’ll try to not be offended by your advice if you try to not be offended by my choice to take it or not. Seems fair to me. If we can do that, even when life's roads take us through the darkest of valleys, I think we can help each other find enjoyment and comfort and answers and beauty. And maybe we can all learn to appreciate each other’s view from wherever we happen to be standing.