Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn

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“Don’t wake me up!”

This is real. This is hard. I guess this is my “woe is me” day. And instead of waiting until it passes and posting something super postive after-the-fact, I’m sharing this today. I was reading another survivor’s blog about her cancer experience and it was totally depressing for me. (not any of you on in this group, don’t worry.) I won’t go into details, but it made me feel like I wasn’t doing enough to take control of some things in my situation. And that I “should” be doing better. And I’ve already been so bummed out with this never-ending cycle of side effects. I realized the other day that I’ve had all but one of the potential side effects from chemo (I do still have my fingernails). And there’s a snowball effect from one to the next and soon you’re lost in a cloud of “ick” and you don’t know where to start to feel better. And sometimes you can do everything under the sun for symptom relief but you just need this chemo out of your system.

So I thought I’d take a relaxing bath and maybe it would help to do some meditating. Well, I guess it prompted a cathartic cry with some deep pondering of faith issues and frustrations. And as my cousin, Toya Groves encouraged me- “keep writing”. So I’m writing it for you all and for myself, because I don’t want to sugarcoat this experience.
I’m ok. I’ll probably be fine again as soon as my silly girls come running in the house after school. But I miss my old self. I miss feeling well. I miss eating and an appetite. I miss hands and feet without neuropathy that can bend without pain. I miss energy. I miss laughing that used to come so frequently and easily. I miss life before January. And as I laid in the bath listening to Jets to Brazil, the song “Cat Heaven” came on. It was on point for the moment.
“So captain please consider me
Let the boats deliver me
When I close my eyes…drive, captain, drive!
It’s time.
For everything to be perfect
For everything to stop hurting
Don’t wake me up!”

And I thought to myself that if I laid still enough- not trying to bend my fingers, my tongue super still to not feel the sores in my mouth, deep breaths and eyes closed, I could create my own daydream. I could go back to last summer in Michigan on a perfect day at the beach where I swam with my kids and relaxed and smiled and laughed for hours. How I’d give anything for one hour of that right now. But it was just a few moments- The song ended. I opened my eyes and saw my bald reflection in the shower spout. I licked my dry lips and felt the ulcers in my mouth again. And as I sat up I felt my swollen fingers desperate to bend again. And, just as everything has perfect timing, a friend texted the perfect response in that moment: “You are stronger than this storm… even at your weakest, you got this.” Thank you, Hannah Springer for the encouragement at that moment.
So I’m here writing about it. Knowing I’ll be ok- because there will be a time when this is over and I can look back on it while I’m laughing with my kids at a beach somewhere. Ahh- now THAT gives me hope.

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The Unmaking

“This is the unmaking.
Beauty in the breaking.
Had to lose myself to find out who You are.
Before each beginning,
there must be an ending.
Sitting in the rubble
I can see the stars…

…Only when we’re broken are we whole…

…I’ll gather the same stones where
Everything came crashing down.
I’ll build you an altar there
on the same ground.”

This song played through my head the entire morning of my first treatment. And I’ve listened to it every day since then… several times. I feel like “unmaking” is a perfect description of how I feel. For the first time in my life, I have very little control of my physical health. I have to follow protocol to have poison injected into me for 5 months. I have to feel fatigued and nauseous. I have to lose my hair and feel less like myself than ever before. And it’s all for healing. Every negative symptom shows me that the chemo is working and every healthy cell that is killed (“unmade”) in the process is beautiful in that it will eventually be replaced by only healthy cells. I’m feeling physically broken, but hopefully this is a temporary dark night before a beautiful new beginning. That my body will be “normal” again in the future, and can be re-made as a healthier altar where the Holy Spirit dwells to use me for wonderful things.

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It Is Well

You all know I have a strong faith that has helped me through difficult times in the past- especially losing a close cousin and also a dear friend to cancer. I know I will get through this, but it is still scary to be standing in shoes similar to theirs at the beginning of their experience. My friend, Allison Armstrong chose to have the song “It is Well” played at her funeral and it forever changed the way I heard and understood the power of those words. Now, in the middle of my own experience, I can’t help but feel an even deeper, soul-reaching sense of peace when I listen to the lyrics. For anyone who does not have a relationship with Christ, I hope you can see His presence in my experience. He didn’t cause this, but He will carry me through it. Enjoy this beautiful version… “This mountain that’s in front of me will be thrown into the midst of the sea.”