Tag Archives: breast cancer

Of Little Faith

20140105-193324.jpgFirst, let me know state that I am not here to preach, but I wish to write about my relationship (or lack there of) with god (whoever he/she may be).

As a child, my parents raised me as a Lutheran, which to this day -albeit perhaps hypocritically- I still claim to be. I was never the child who took to blind faith as my mother had raised me to ask questions. I remember the stunned face of my Sunday School teacher when I asked after a lesson in which she explained that everyone who knew and accepted God (that is the Judeo-Christian God) would be allowed into heaven, “What about the ancient Greeks and Romans and Asian people?” She blinked, not understanding my questions. “That’s not fair. The did not God or Jesus. No one told them or they had different beliefs, so why wouldn’t they get into heaven too?” She never gave me an answer, and I believe she had “a talk” with my mom.

As a teen, I was active in the church, participated in youth groups, attended Christian band concerts, and even when to a national youth gathering and Bible camp. I will even admit to feeling “the spirit” move me during a few of these experiences. By this, as I reflect back as an adult, I mean that I feel a deep sense of human connection which filled me -if only briefly- with a sense of my insignificance in the scheme of the history of the world and willing vulnerability in sharing this acknowledgement with relative strangers.

During my freshman year in college, I was exposed for perhaps the first time different religions and beliefs through Humanities, Religions of World, and African Studies. Briefly religion in general fascinated me as it was clearly a tool used as societal control and a catch all to explaining that which we could not. I deemed organized religion a nuisance and outdated and though little more about it.

In 2005, my husband and I had our first child. While I wasn’t keen on religion, I knew that I wanted my child to have a solid foundation in the societal norms of love, generosity and hope. Since my husband had also been raised Lutheran, and was much more faithful than I, he suggested we start going to church with our daughter. I obliged as I didn’t truly have anything against it though I wasn’t sure I felt I believed it either.

Shortly after, in June 2006, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carsinoma- breast cancer. During my treatment, battle, personal hell, I raged at the concept of god. How dare he/she inflict such suffering in the world? Not only was I a new mother and a mere 24, there where others just a innocently being struck down by strategy. How could a loving, benevolent god harm those he/she proclaimed to love? I stopped going to church- though our church literally kept of fed during this time- and I snubbed any kind of sentiments that “God only gives us what we can handle” or that “God has a plan.”

Four years later, we decided to have another baby. The doctors thought I was nuts for rising the hormone levels since my cancer had grown a spread during my previous pregnancy, and my mom was beside herself thinking about the possiblity. However, I was overjoyed to be having another child despite my anxiety about reoccurance, especially since we weren’t even sure I would physically be able to have another due to the chemo and radiation I had undergone.

Lately, however, as we attend church, one that I truly enjoy being at as our pastor explains the Scripture in a historical manner, I have felt hypicritical. As my daughters ask questions about the Bible and God, while I know the “correct answers”, the same that were taught to me in Sunday School, I find myself hesitating. Do I give an answer that I don’t particularly believe? I don’t want them to grown up and find out that more often than not I disbelieve the stories of the Bible. I do know that I believe in a higher power. I do believe that there is something bigger than this life. But whether that belief coexists with the Christian faith, I’m not sure.

I do know that I will continue to grow my understanding of the world through the teachings of the Christian church as I seek to reconcile what I do believe with what the church teaches. I don’t think it is wrong to give my daughters a foundation in faith that they can grow in and question as they grow, I just find that I am not yet proficient in talking to them about it, especially when I struggle to understand my faith as well. An while I don’t know that I believe God as He exists within the church, I found this verse today- “I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born, says The Lord.” (Isaiah 66.9) -and for whatever reason, possibly my struggle with cancer as a new mother and the blessing of a second child, it struck a cord, and perhaps opened my heart and soul a bit more for the mysteries of faith and god.

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January 5, 2014 · 7:37 pm

A Mirror in Motion

Oil on Canvas

mirror by *miklosfoldi

“Use a mirror in difficult times. You will see both cause and resolution.”

~ Deng Ming-Dao

Tomorrow, in 11 hours and 45 minutes to be exact, I will once again be under the knife.  In my last post, I noted that I would be having a prophylactic mastectomy tomorrow, almost seven years to the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  As I prepare myself for tomorrow, I continue to think about that year of treatment and the following year of reconstruction.  It was terrifying, a new mother of 24, told she had breast cancer.  I, unfortunately, am not alone in that terror as millions of others before and after me will be told the same.  But as I reflect back, I am able to see how much I’ve grown.  While the fear is there, it is held at bay with each passing year I am cancer free.  But during that time, I was in a wholly darker place.  Below is a poem I wrote about a year and a half after my diagnosis as I continued to deal with the fear of the unknown.

Panic
 
I clutch my throat as I lie
exhausted—
a feeling that seems to
press down on me
more and more
in the last few years.
The air I am able to suck
into my lungs
seems stale and wholly
suffocating.
In the pit of my gut,
I feel heavy—bloated.
It turns in nauseated whirls,
and my heart leaps
against my chest cavity.
My head pounds against
the inside of my skull
directly above my left eye.
 
Seized by Worry, Fear, and Guilt—
identifiable entities that all
take on their own qualities
and when gathered together,
seem to relish in
their increased capability
to conjure in to being,
Panic.
 
Unable to sleep,
conquered by my own thoughts,
I thrash against the sheets.
The darkness,
the silence,
the solitude
are my foe.
When my body is idle,
my mind finds itself
incapable of standing still.
In the light of day,
the happenings of life keep
my thoughts occupied,
but when the world around me
sleeps,
the realities of life haunt my thinking.
 
I kick out of the bed
and trudge to the kitchen.
Looking out at the pale moon,
the water tastes
gritty and metallic.
Returning to bed, I once again
entangle myself
and wait.
Shadows slip over our bodies
in the darkness.
Soon—though not soon enough—
the drugs pull me down
and force my body into sleep—
and hopefully,
oblivion.
                             ©Stephanie Nugent 2007

Today, I find myself in an all together different state of mind.  My husband of 11 years still stands by my side and thinks I’m beautiful.  I have two healthy and gorgeous daughters.  And so I go tomorrow knowing that this surgery is a conscious choice unlike the first time.   Tonight, I sleep knowing tomorrow brings peace of mind.  And so the image reflected back at me in the mirror will change once again, but is this not the way of life?

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The Journey Continues, But Not Alone

Pink In Honor Of Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Pink In Honor Of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.” -Angelina Jolie

For those unaware, I will have a mastectomy in June. This June will be the 7 year anniversary of my diagnosis of breast cancer and the beginning of treatment. Today, I am almost 7 years cancer free, but the constant anxiety is no longer something I wish myself or my family to live with, and so I have, with the support of my husband, choose to remove the worry!

I attached the link from Angelina Jolie’s story as I consider her a role model and an advocate for women’s world wide. And while her choice was not what encouraged me – we’d already begun the process when her story came out – I hope that it will be the encouragement other women in this situation need to take control of their health in a way that is best for themselves and their families.

Angelina Jolie’s Story

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Scars

A Question by Robert Frost

A voice said, Look me in the stars
And tell me truly, men of earth,
If all the soul-and-body scars
Were not too much to pay for birth.

As I sat willingly to endure the pain of tattooing for the fifth time, I ponder this poem by Frost.  I have had this poem posted in my classroom and in the signature of my email for over 7 years now, and I think I would begin to answer it.

Let me start with defining the word scar. According to the “all knowing’ Wikipedia, a scar can be defined as below:

Scars are areas of fibrous tissue (fibrosis) that replace normal skin after injury. A scar results from the biological process of wound repair in the skin and other tissues of the body. Thus, scarring is a natural part of the healing process.

When reflecting on this definition, I am drawn the sentence which states that “scarring is a natural part of the healing process.” It seems likely that each of us has at the very least one such instance evidencing the body’s healing of itself whether from a childhood bike accident, a playground mishap, or a –hopefully– minor procedure.  I myself have several scars indicating that my body has healed itself at one time or another, but I think scars go beyond the body’s physiological working.  I believe that scars, both those from instances like above and those we choose to give ourselves, like tattoos, help to heal more than our bodies; they heal our souls as well.

Let me explain my thoughts by cataloging for you, reader, some of my scars.  I have the typical scars of childhood illness and acne.  I have a scar barely visible above my right eye, one on my left elbow, and one on my left knee, all due to foolish child’s play.  All of these scars serve as reminders of simpler times and once close family members now distant due to time and circumstance.  But the scars have the ability to make me smile, even if in a sad way, and help to reconcile what I may once had with what I still have, happy memories.

Scars received in adulthood become a bit more difficult to talk about sometimes, but their presence is all the more important serving as reminders of survival, physically, emotionally, and mentally.  I have a small scar on the top of my right breast from a biopsy; a two inch scar on the right side of my chest were my chemo port was placed; a T scar where surgeons cut out my left breast tissue and removed the nipple; a three inch scar under my left armpit where they removed 23 lymph nodes; three small tattooed dots which doctors used to line up my chest for radiation; and a deep divot in my right arm inside the elbow indicating scar tissue from the many IVs pushing poison in to my body.   This multitude of scars came about after the diagnosis of breast cancer at age 24.  Each scar has served as a conduit to healing.  Obviously, each was part of the process of healing my body, and each is a visual reminder that I survived.  These constant reminders have helped to heal me beyond the physiology; they have helped ease the hurt emotionally as I have found a strength within myself that I before did not know I possessed.  But what about the soul you ask?

At the one year mark after having finished treatment, I decided I wanted to get a tattoo that would act as a visible reminder of the scars on my body due to my battle with cancer. I chose a Celtic knot design of the Tree of Life.  It had two distinct sides which I took to represent as life before cancer and life after cancer.  I had the tattoo placed on my wrist, a easily seen area visible to the world which allowed me to frequently talk about my ordeal and thus helping to heal my soul as I shared my story.

Just yesterday, I added another scar with the addition of a new tattoo.  This tattoo is an enlargement of daughters’ thumb prints inside a heart with the last two lines of e.e. cumming’s poem, “i carry your heart”.  My children are two of the most beautiful creations I have ever helped to make.

The oldest, my angel, is the reason I found the breast cancer in the first place.  It was during the pregnancy because of the hormones that the tumor grew so rapidly that I was able to feel what had been growing in my body for, most likely, several years.  My youngest daughter is my miracle.  After the chemo, doctors were unsure I would ever be able to get pregnant again.  Additionally, the anxiety I developed led me to constantly fear re-occurrence, and I was paralyzed when it came to making decisions like going to graduate school or having another child.  And while my pregnancy was wrought with these fears, I would not have changed the decision that gave me her.

So scars, those won in battles, forged in play, or self-imposed  in the form of meaningful tattoos can often serve as conduits in the healing of body, mind and soul. In other words, Robert Frost, no,  “… all the soul-and-body scars/Were not too much to pay for birth” as they remind us we are alive, they teach us to be thankful and they help us to  be stronger than we ever knew we could.  And every scar I have, I would willingly seek out again if without them it would mean I did not have wonderful, happy childhood memories, a dear and loving husband who has never turned from a single scar, or the two most beautiful daughters in the word who will grow up with a mother who loves them fiercely.

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