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"Top Ten Blessings of Cancer"

Posted: Sun, Dec 5, 2010 10:19 PM
By Sally Scott, Decorah

I won't lie to you and say that the last 18 months haven't been hard and that cancer doesn't stink...but I don't want to complain.  Believe me, even I don't want to hear that.  Instead, I want to talk about the BLESSINGS that cancer has brought to my life..blessings that wouldn't be in my life if I hadn't gotten cancer.

So here are my TOP 10 CANCER BLESSINGS:

10.  Time
Ecclesiastes 3:1  There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.
 
Since October, I have been on leave from my job at Decorah Bank.   I will admit that I am a workaholic and a perfectionist.   That combination ensured that I spent a LOT of time at my job.  Don't get me wrong.  I really enjoyed my job and the people who worked with me at the bank.  But I think I used my work as an excuse to not live a life outside of work.  As my husband has repeated told me, I needed to work on achieving balance in my life.   I was afraid I would be bored when I stopped working, but that hasn't been the case.  I've done projects that have been on my to-do list for a long time, I've spent time with new and old friends, I've had extra time to spend with my best friend who recently died of brain cancer.  I like to think of  this time away from work as my 'sabbatical,' where I am having a chance to do develop other areas of my life. 

9.  Fellowship
Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10  Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:  If one falls down, his friend can help him up.  But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!

By nature, I am a loner.  I can happily entertain myself.  I like to work on projects by myself so that I can control everything about the project.  But now I find that I WANT to be with other people, I NEED to be with other people.  

I'm not going to take credit that I came upon this new attitude on my own.  Instead, I found myself so surrounded by people who shared their love and concern and prayers and support with me that I realized how empowering and important this human connection is.   And it made me want to seek it out.

8.  Perspective--Knowing what's important
Job 34:4 - Let us choose what is right; let us determine among ourselves what is good.

I used to be afraid of flying.  I used to be afraid of approaching people for fear of rejection.  I used to be afraid to do things for fear of a bad outcome.  Why was I afraid of these things?  The possibility that something bad would actually happen was minuscule compared to the possibility that something good would come from it. 

Cancer has put my life in better perspective.  Why should I worry about dying in a plane crash when I have cancer staring me in the face?  Which is the bigger risk?  Why should I worry about someone ignoring or snubbing me when I have had so many people who have loved and cared for me.  There are some very real and very large things in my life that I'm trying to learn not to worry about.  So why should I worry about the small stuff.  As the saying goes, "#1  Don't sweat the small stuff.  #2 it's all small stuff.

7.  Opportunity
Isaiah 6:8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"  And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

A result of using my newly discovered perspective, is that I'm learning to say YES.  I'd like to tell you about the power of YES, by reading a section of the commencement address that comedian Stephen Colbert delivered at Knox College a few years ago:

When I was starting out in Chicago, doing improvisational theatre with Second City and other places, there was really only one rule I was taught about improv. That was, "yes-and." In this case, "yes-and" is a verb. To "yes-and." I yes-and, you yes-and, he, she or it yes-ands. And yes-anding means that when you go onstage to improvise a scene with no script, you have no idea what's going to happen, maybe with someone you've never met before. To build a scene, you have to accept. To build anything onstage, you have to accept what the other improviser initiates on stage. They say you're doctors—you're doctors. And then, you add to that: We're doctors and we're trapped in an ice cave. That's the "-and." And then hopefully they "yes-and" you back. You have to keep your eyes open when you do this. You have to be aware of what the other performer is offering you, so that you can agree and add to it. And through these agreements, you can improvise a scene or a one-act play. And because, by following each other's lead, neither of you are really in control. It's more of a mutual discovery than a solo adventure. What happens in a scene is often as much a surprise to you as it is to the audience.

Now will saying "yes" get you in trouble at times? Will saying "yes" lead you to doing some foolish things? Yes it will. But don't be afraid to be a fool. [Those] who pretend to be wise ... are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don't learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying "yes" begins things. Saying "yes" is how things grow. Saying "yes" leads to knowledge. ... So for as long as you have the strength to, say "yes."


Colbert touches on the two important aspects of opportunity.  First you need to be open so you can recognize opportunity when it smacks you across the face.   Second, you have to be willing to embrace what is given to you. 

When I told a friend about my cancer recurrence, she asked me whether I had ever had Reiki.  I had not, but that suggestion eventually led me to  a new friend and a new tool to enhance my health.  And that connection, in turn, led me to QiGong, another tool that enhances my life and health.   When Cheryl Pellett invited me to go to a Bazaar Boosters workday I could have thought "ooh, those women are really close,  I won't fit in, I won't know what I'm doing."  But I said yes and had a great time,  I enjoyed crafts that I hadn't done in years and enjoyed being with some fun great women, and OK, I enjoyed the good food.  But honestly, it's not just the food that keeps me coming back.   Recently I enjoyed a vacation in Florida.  I was able to escape the cold weather, spend time with a friend and new acquaintances because when the friend invited me on her trip to visit her parents I said YES.

I have found instance after instance where something happens that seems to be serendipity, or maybe good luck or maybe just a coincidence.  But that lucky instance  turns out to be just what I need.  Cancer has given me the openness and courage to say YES when those instances of opportunity present themselves.

When you stay aware and say  YES, you receive many new opportunities.  Your life widens and becomes richer. 

6.  Shedding what holds you back
John 15:2: Every branch in me not bearing fruit, He doth take it away, and every one bearing fruit, He doth cleanse by pruning it, that it may bear more fruit

I have been seeing Patsy Martinson for sessions of "Healing Energy" and conversation since the cancer recurred.   (Finding Patsy was another instance of serendipity, recognizing opportunity and saying YES.)    When we were talking about my coming to her for a Healing Energy treatment, Patsy told me that I should be prepared to share with her my "intentions for healing" when we met at the first session.  Wow, what were my intentions for healing?  What did that even mean?  Complete healing from cancer??    That seemed to be asking for a lot more than Healing Energy  could  accomplish. 

But I thought about it and I realized that I could develop intentions about my life.    I realized that I wanted to rid myself of some things that were holding me back from living my life to its best.  Specifically, I wanted to make my life "lighter".  I wanted to make my physical life lighter by getting rid of all the material possessions that I didn't need that were crammed into my closets.  I wanted to make my life lighter by casting off obligations that were weighing me down.  I wanted to make my life lighter by leaving behind worries and thoughts that consumed me.  I wanted to be lighter physically, mentally and spiritually. 

After that session with Patsy, I donated many bags of clothing and household items to the Depot.  I took the fat spiral notepad that I had purchased to write down things I wanted to do before I died and tore out most of the pages.  That book was just too heavy.  I cleaned out my purse and downsized to a smaller lighter one.   I continue to looks for ways to make my life lighter.  And I continue to look for new intentions.  Each time I visit with Patsy, she asks me what my intentions are.  Just because my intentions were one thing last week doesn't mean that they are what I'm intending this week.  New circumstances arise, new challenges present themselves, new goals become known.  But each visit gives me an opportunity to try to figure out what is holding me back and how I to intend to overcome it. 

5.  Living in the Moment
Matthew 6 : 34   So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries.

Live like you will live forever
Live like you will die tomorrow

4.  Gratitude and Appreciation
Colossians 3:16   Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.

The mirror above my dresser has become a collection of inspirational sayings and expressions of support.   I have ribbons tied onto the mirror, a yellow bracelet, religious pins, excerpts from magazine articles, words of wisdom and prayer cards.  Front and center in all this display are the words "What are you grateful for today?" 

When times are hard, it's easy to lose sight of what's good in your life.  Cancer has given me a reason to identify all the good things in my life, every day.  When I lay down for sleep at the end of the day, my conversation with God starts with thanking him for every good thing I can identify in that day.  Once you make a practice at noticing the good things, you notice the bad things less and less.    

3.  Faith versus Control
Matthew 6:25, 27    Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

My sister-in-law gave me a necklace shaped like a heart that has the word COURAGE printed on one side and the word WISDOM printed on the other.  A card with the familiar prayer accompanied the necklace and is now taped to the mirror. 
    God grant me the courage to change what can be changed,
    the serenity to accept what cannot be changed,
    and the wisdom to know the difference.
Those are words that I have tried to take to heart.  I've talked earlier about some of the changes that have happened in my life.  Now it's time to consider the opposite of that, acceptance of what can't be changed. 

As I mentioned earlier, I am a perfectionist.  I am a control-freak.  My family members would be saying "Amen, sister" if they heard me say this.  They know just how much I have tried to control not only my own life, but also theirs.  "Paul, why did you turn there, don't you know that it's 1 block shorter if you go this direction."  "That was great, son, but next time why don't you try doing it this way."   "I think the turkey needs to cook some more."   WHEW!  It's a real burden when you have to be personally responsible to make sure everything gets done right.  So why couldn't I just stop trying to be in control, lay that burden down and make my life easier and better and the lives of those around me more enjoyable?  

I think that the opposite of CONTROL is FAITH.  And while I had plenty of control in my life, I didn't have enough faith in my life.  I didn't have enough faith that my husband could pick the best driving route.  I didn't have enough faith that David would figure out how to build a bathroom in our house.  I didn't have enough faith that someone other than me could make the Thanksgiving dinner.  But of course, they all could do those things.  I just had to allow them to do it.

Cancer has given me the opportunity to work on developing faith.  I'll be the first to admit that this is still a work in progress, but I do have to say that I'm enjoying not having to be in control, not needing to make all the decision, the preparation, and do all the work.  And really, I never needed to do that.  I was the only one telling myself that, not anyone else.  I hadn't learned that I don't need to control everything that happens to me and those I love.  Of course, it's IMPOSSIBLE to control all of that.  And I was just making myself and those around me miserable by trying.  

When I first visited my oncologist, we discussed my type of cancer and it's stage.  He told me that there was a 50% chance that I'd stay cancer-free.   But despite surgery and chemotherapy, there was also an even chance I'd be fighting it again.  WOW.  How could I control that?   The answer is that I really can't control it.  The way I've been able to deal with that realization is to work on strengthening my faith.  I have faith that whatever happens God will be with me.  I have faith that my family and friends will surround with me love and care,  I have faith that my doctor will use his utmost skill to help me.  I have faith that whatever happens I will get through it. 

Without faith, I would lie awake in bed terrified of the future.  With faith, I lie in bed, talk to God and then go to sleep knowing that I don't need to worry about anything. 

2.  Spirituality
1 Corinthians 14 : 26   When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.

I am ashamed to admit to you that I have not been good at praying.  There have been times when I felt so far from God that I felt like a phony saying I was a Christian.  Cancer has given me the opportunity to explore new expressions of spirituality and to find new ways to communicate with God.  

For example, I have discovered that when I'm invited to fold my hands and bow my head and pray, I might as well start eating a baloney sandwich.  I can't talk with God when I put myself in the adult equivalent of the fetal position.  It turns out, I can pray best when I lift my head, raise my arms and open myself to God.  I feel like I'm inviting him in rather than defending myself from him.  

I have also found ways to communicate with God entirely outside Christianity.  I don't think it would be wrong to characterize QiGong as a way of praying to God and receive his blessing.   The same for goes for Reiki.  They both talk about receiving energy from your Master.  And my Master is God.  

In one of my meditations, I visualize all the people who love and care for me sending me that love.  While I was doing this mediation, I realized that this is the perfect explanation of prayer.  I know that many, many people have prayed for me.  But now I was able to visualize what seemed intangible..people praying to God on my behalf, and that visualization strengthened me in a new way.  That was a very powerful moment for me.  And it made me believe even more in the power of prayer and the power of God.  

So I thank cancer for letting me find new ways to get closer to God.

1.  Grace
Acts 15:11  No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.

One of the things that has amazed and humbled me has been the outpouring of love that people have showered upon me.   Many many of my friends from work brought meals after I had surgery.  Many people included me in their prayers.  Many people sent me cards or flowers.  Many people offered me words of encouragement or shared with me their own stories.  The mother of a friend of my son's even sent me colorful socks!   What had I done to deserve this love?  The real answer is NOTHING. 

As I contemplated how blessed I was to have all these people support me, I started to think that these acts mirror the grace that God offers us.  As Christians, we believe that we are not saved through our own actions but because God offers us his grace.  I think I can understand that now in a way I could not understand a few years ago.
 
A number of years ago, Paul and I were at the bedside of Paul's uncle Lee.  He was in the hospital and he was dying.  Uncle Lee was very agitated, saying that he had done many sinful and wrong things in his life.  Of course, those around him tried to soothe him by denying that he had made mistakes and sinned.   But that really didn't give him peace of mind.

Now, years later, I think a better response would have been, "Yes.  You did sin and you did do things you shouldn't have and didn't do things you should have.  But God loves you anyway and he offers your his grace.  All you have to do is accept it.  It's not too late." 

Once we really understand that no matter how good we try to be, no matter how much we try not to sin, no matter how good a Christian we are, we still can't EARN our way into heaven, we can begin to appreciate God's grace and be open to receiving it.

AMEN.

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