Tuesday, May 31, 2011

(the hard question-- await the opportunity)
     Although there is no such thing as a “stupid question,” there certainly are such things as scary and difficult questions.  These are the questions that you really don’t want to ask because you’re afraid of the answers. Believe me, I have asked those questions along my journey of being a survivor, not because I wanted to know the truth at the end of those questions, but because I needed to know. I have asked and continue to ask the difficult and scary questions because without the knowledge that the answers bring, I cannot be prepared for the inevitable.  I have found that my anxiety level is greatly reduced even when the answer I receive is not the one I want.
     One of the saddest days of my life came less than a week before my husband, Michael, died.  We were at the oncologist’s office, for a regularly scheduled appointment.  Michael had been fighting long and hard to survive the cancer he had been diagnosed with twenty months earlier.  But it was becoming quickly apparent that the cancer had taken the upper hand.  My husband was sliding downhill at a rapid pace. We sat holding hands before the doctor entered the examination room. 
     I was sick with grief, but I knew that our time was limited, and we needed to tell our children that their father was not going to win the battle. “Do you think another type of treatment would work?” Michael’s desperate plea caught me completely off guard.  He did not want to give up…he didn’t want to leave me and our two little boys. But I knew by looking at my wasted hollow eyed husband that victory over this war was not ours. And I also knew that nothing we did or could do would work.  Our children needed and deserved to know the truth, as did Michael…as did I.
When the doctor entered the room, I could tell by his somber and sad-eyed expression that the results of the latest tests verified what I knew in my heart.  The question loomed large, and I was the one who had to ask it. My voice was shaking with mounting emotion as I asked,”how long does he have?” The answer, “days, maybe a few weeks,” jarred both of us.  I knew we were close, but I thought we had a month maybe more.  
      Michael and I were devastated by the rapid decline of his life…we both knew that the end was imminent, but having the medical verification of the limited time actually gave us the gift of time. Armed with the knowledge that it was “now or never,” we utilized every second to its fullest. I was able to share with Michael my most intimate thoughts and feelings-the ones I always held closest to my heart. I told him how his love transformed me, and made me feel whole even when my body was limited and missing parts. I confessed that I was terrified to parent our children alone, in a newly “disabled” body. And I made promises that my disabilities would not hinder our children’s growth or self-esteem…that I would aspire to be the best parent possible.
      We were able to share total intimacy in complete honesty. There were no boundaries between us; there was simply truth, and it was beautiful, and lovely and amazingly freeing.  Had we not known that his time was so short, we would not have had the opportunity for those incredibly profound moments.
     As you travel along your own journey of being a survivor, you will sometimes come across those times when you need to ask the scary or hard question.  Chances are, you already know the answer, but you need to have the verification of that knowledge. And sometimes the parameters surrounding the answer are a bit different than what you think or anticipate. But the bottom line is this; when you ask the question, and get the answer, you then open yourself up to opportunity--regardless of what that answer holds.
Being a survivor means asking the hard questions, taking the opportunity which arises from the answers, and running with it. And most of the time the scariest and hardest questions of all reap the most incredibly beautiful and life-changing opportunities.  

Saturday, May 14, 2011


I have thought long and hard about this installment in my survivor’s handbook, not because I haven’t been touched by angels--the ethereal as well as the ones walking the earth—but because I understand that intangibles and beliefs are personal and sometimes difficult for people to grasp. But if I don’t talk about angels, and be honest in my recounting of their life saving efforts, on my behalf, I would not be honest to my endeavor here; which is to provide you with the tools you need to be a survivor.

 After a night of grueling pain in my left shoulder, and newly appearing symptoms of nausea and a wicked headache, I thought it was time to make a trip to my local ER.  I was diagnosed with a virus which, I was told, settled in a muscle in my shoulder. I left the ER with a prescription for pain killers, and an assurance that I would get better with some rest. I began taking pain killers about every three hours throughout the day, and night, but the relief from my pain was non-existent.

I was sitting in my recliner in my family room downstairs.  I had been there since the ER visit earlier that morning. As evening approached, I was feeling no better and considered going back to the ER. The thought of trying to get up my stairs to go back seemed impossible, however, given the fact that merely taking a deep breath sent me into spasms of pain. Plus, I truly believed the ER doctor. I thought that if I could get some rest, maybe sleep a little, I would feel better. As evening turned into night, I honestly thought I was beginning to feel a bit better—in actuality, my body was going into shock. The dreaded stairs were still not a consideration, so I asked my husband, Michael, to stay downstairs with me--to sleep in our guest room.  It turned out to be a life saving request
Sometime between Conan O’Brien and the early morning infomercials, I closed my eyes, and was drifting off to sleep when I began to feel pressure on my chest. It felt as if someone was pressing down on me, submerging me under water.  I couldn’t breathe-- I couldn’t open my eyes. I can’t say that I was panicked at that point, because even though it was a strange experience, the raw, raging persistent pain that had been plaguing me for well over 24 hours seemed to be dissipating.  But as my breathing became more labored and shallower, the panic began.  I tried yelling for help, but I honestly believe no sound escaped my lips. So, exhausted by this effort, I once again closed my eyes.  But “someone” heard my desperate plea.
  A male voice, out of nowhere was hollering in my ear, demanding me to take action.  “Cindy! Get out of this chair, or you will die here.”  My eyes flew open; I gasped, and was galvanized by this frantic directive. I did not see the owner of the voice, but I knew I had to move and move fast. I somehow got out of the chair and got Michael.  Less than 12 hours later, my husband was told, “If she survives, it will be nothing less than miraculous.” I am left to believe that something saved my life that night.  I believe the “something” was an angel.
  Angels are not always of the supernatural ilk, such as the one that saved me many years ago. They can be the person ahead of you in line at the grocery store, who lets you go ahead of them because your ice cream is beginning to melt. They can be the person who picks you up on the side of a highway delivering you safely into town after your vehicle has stranded you in the middle of nowhere. They can be your best friend, a relative, a professor. Regardless of their actions or how they present themselves in your life, they are always needed, life saving, and life supporting.
 So, when you find yourself in unbearable pain, or your ice cream begins to melt, or even if  you feel stranded on a highway in the middle of nowhere; look around for a moment and recognize those around you who are ready willing and able to ease your pain, wipe up the drips, or give you a ride into town.  Your angel is always there, and willing to help. All you have to do is be willing to ask.