Lessons from Cancer - Geskalima

 I’m getting used to seeing myself bald and actually think that there’s beauty in it. Last month this time, it was hard to look in the mirror and I wouldn’t dream of being without my turbant. Not looking at my barren head was how I coped. But now I’m much more comfortable without that acessory. And looking in the mirror is no longer painful. Instead, I see my features more clearly. No longer softened by hair, the hardness of my skull and the shape of my face are strong and defined. And in their strength and definition, I see my courage, determination and bravery. Each time I look in the mirror now, instead of shuddering, I take pride in my image for it represents how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown. And if anyone questions why I’m not embarrassed to be seen like this, it’s because I’m still standing tall and strong, considering all I’ve endured. And if anyone questions why I feel the need to make that statement, it’s because I’ve earned it. I don’t have to hide now. I can let my hard little head shine as a beacon, to light the way for myself, to see what I’m really made of. So, cheers to being bald and proud. If you also have lost your hair to chemo and don’t yet feel this way, I pray that as you study your new image, you’ll see the possibilities within your eyes and your soul. It may take awhile – it took me a couple of months. I ‘m going to ask Our Lord in prayer if there is something else I need to know.  I’ve learned to trust the Source and have always been given wisdom that is far wiser than I. Beauty is within the shell of your body. So too is strength and hope. The fact that you see the shell of your head as an example of those qualities is symbolic because it is an outward reflection of an inner truth. It is there to be seen and recognized and if taking off your wigs and scarves, even if only in the privacy of your homes, allows one to see inside themselves, then it is worth doing. Each person will come to terms with this in their own way. Some may never, but each is free to choose their route to coping. There is only perspective and you are sharing yours. What works for one may also work for another or it may not. Each is an individual with their own truths, but sharing is good, for it allows another interpretation to be looked at. If it fits; good and if not, it is good too. I’m glad that I have a lot of people praying for me because I’m always shown another perspective and it broadens my outlook. And that is the most awesome part of this journey because it is getting me through this ovarian cancer without much fear. My hope is that in sharing what helps me, you might be helped also, for we are all in this life experience together – cancer free or not.

Swimming against the stream

Spiritually speaking, the hair carries the records of our lives, the burdens and stresses we have carried in recent months and years. Losing my hair can be symbolic of new beginnings—losing the old self and putting on the new.

At this point I feel like a salmon. After spending 2-4 years in the salt water they are mature and ready for the final and most difficult journey of their lives. This return requires them to travel upstream reversing the swim they made years earlier to reach the sea. In the course of this journey they eat nothing, using energy stored while they were in the ocean. Finally, those who survive reach the river where they were born years earlier and lay their eggs to give birth to a new cicle of life.

The salmon and human journey requires dedication, perseverance, reliance on an internal radar system and a deep hunger to do what they were born to do at whatever cost, even death. 

It reminds me of the path that we as humans take to return home. This journey back home can be lonely, scary, disorienting and full of ‘obstacles’. Yet, doing so can feel like swimming upstream, jumping waterfalls and lying exhausted on the edge of the bank.

I consider getting through chemotherapy my biggest challenge, and in a way, my biggest achievement. Overall, I think I did well. I fought hard and did the very best that I could. I tried to create the most favorable environment for myself to get through it.

There are a few people who appear to sail through chemotherapy with very little trouble, but they are definitely the minority. Most people experience serious effects and encounter significant challenges, and a few have serious complications. For me it was a frightening sensation to feel those chemicals going into my body, knowing the potential side effects. I almost felt that I had to be alert and vigilant so that the good cells would not be harmed.

But as I continue to swim upstream I am learning to  identify  the obstacles as they arise. Prayer often sustained me when I was feeling the effects of the medication, yet at those times it felt as if my faith were being tested, because the medication made it hard to feel the effects of the prayers.

These are the unspoken tests that come with cancer. It is not just a physical trial—as inconvenient and painful as this might be—but a spiritual one, too. It was for me a “dark night” when everything seemed bleak and lonely. I would often feel numb and somewhat cut off from the light and the presence of God. It was hard to connect to those who could not relate to what I was going through.

But here is the lesson: Salmon don’t exist. They live. They have a purpose, and they let nothing stop them from pursing their purpose. They don’t know how to settle for less than their purpose.

If a simple fish like the salmon  lives in such a way, a way of perseverance and triumph, shouldn’t we as humans strive to live for our purpose as well? Shouldn’t we fight against all odds to create, to engage, to live? If a salmon doesn’t settle for existence, should we settle? No. We should strive to live much like the salmon. We shouldn’t settle for less than our given purpose: to create and to live.

Staying Alive

The gift of life is fragile and few may realize just how precious it can be. On November 2th of 1998, my life changed forever as it was the day that I gave birth to my precious daughter Stella.

I remember back 18 years ago to the day she was born and smile as I recall my first words upon her arrival. “She’s beautiful! She is gorgeous!” From that moment on, my life evolved around her. There was nothing I wouldn’t do to keep her safe. That moment of her birth was the day I realized I wasn’t alone in the universe. I had a daughter.

When I look at her, I see my own eyes looking back at me. They are thoughtful, ambitious, spontaneous and quick to find the good in others. I can only hope she can learn to find the good in herself.

Now she is almost an adult and I thank God she is in no hurry to grow up.

Yes, she is almost officially an adult, but that definition goes far beyond just being a number. Being an adult means being responsible with all aspects of your life. There is plenty of time to move out and live on her own. Her only job for the next few years should be discovering who she is as a person, going to school, and learning from the mistakes of the adults around her.

There are many of us who came before her that have made plenty of mistakes, me included. Now I find amazing that on the same day of her birthday, november 2th,  I am having a surgery to remove the same organs that gave her life and sheltered her for 9 months.

It is impressive to know that sooner I will be having cancer surgery. I pray and hope that the operation would go well, with a good surgical outcome, a smooth recovery, and healing without any problems, because my best birthday gift for my daughter  is staying alive.

“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Our Lord experienced a suffering so great, that three times He petitioned His Father to let it pass from Him. So intense was the distress and agony caused by this trial, that, for a time, our Lord’s human will seemed  in conflict with His Divine Will. This cross was so great, and the pain and sorrow so intense, that it caused Him to sweat blood, yet the petition He made to His Father was not granted.

What was this chalice that our Lord was experiencing? Was it the foreknowledge of the suffering and death He was about to undergo for the Redemption of man? Is this the chalice He asked His Father to take away?

So I guess  it’s also normal for our human nature to grieve over the changes that cancer brings to a person’s life. The future, which may have seemed so sure before, now becomes uncertain. Some dreams and plans may be lost forever.

Cancer changes people’s lives. The emotional stress it causes can be overwhelming, but no one has to manage it alone. If so, it would indicate that Our Lord’s natural fear of suffering was, at least momentarily, greater than His supernatural love for those for whom He came to redeem.

So let us dedicate ourselves to praying for one another and for the suffering of our Christian brothers and sisters who suffer at this time with cancer and other diseases. May we carry the crosses of daily life with patience and joy. For those crosses which we have that are bearing us down, may we be granted the grace to bear it.

God bless you all and let us pray for one another.

"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." (Aldous Huxley)

I was deeply honored by the gracious invitation to attend this year’s Benefit Concert for Our Lady of Mount Carmel Academy Music Program.

At the event, I was truly impressed by the level of enthusiasm and dedication to excellence shown by the highly trained artists Steve Tan, Julianne Hartman and Elizabeth Weiner.

I believe music play an important, but often overlooked, role in helping patients like me cope with the effects of illness, pain, loneliness and fearful apprehension about the future of our health.

So this last Sunday was very special, for whenever I listen to good music I undergo a transformation which lifts me, soothes me, satisfies me, makes me forget my troubles, and gives me reason to be positive. For this I am very grateful.

Preparing for surgery

The three primary conventional treatments for cancer are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. The specific treatments recommended for a particular patient will vary depending on the type of cancer, how advanced it is at the time of discovery, and a number of other factors.

Tomorrow, november 2th is my big day of surgery and I have been asking to all of my friends to pray for me while I am under the anesthetic. And pray specifically for the best possible outcome. Under anesthesia you are not in control of your body, so it is nice to know that someone is specifically praying for you, or “holding the balance.”

I know that I will be in God’s hands and that my husband and sister will be in the waiting room, praying for me. I also prayed for myself and commended myself to the protection of Archangel Michael and all the angels of healing under the direction of Archangel Raphael and Mother Mary. I prayed for all in the operating room to be guided and overshadowed by the Holy Ghost. I asked for Our Lord to guide the hands of the surgeon and the anesthesiologist.

So basically what I expect is “less pain, fewer complications and recover sooner."