Each handicap is like a hurdle in a steeplechase, and when you ride up to it, if you throw your heart over, the horse will go along, too. ~~Lawrence Bixby

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ten Years After

September 10th, 2001. Late afternoon. I am still groggy from the sedative they’ve given me for the colonoscopy, but I grasp the seriousness of what the doctor is telling me. “It’s a mass in your rectum,” he says. “We won’t know for sure until the pathology report comes back, but I’m 99% sure it’s cancer.” As I’m trying to absorb this information, Gwen arrives to drive me home. She can tell by looking at me; we don’t speak on the way to the car. We don’t need to.

I’m tired when I get home. I make a couple of phone calls, but I’m keeping this close to my vest until I have all the information. I pull out the papers I’d started working on a few years before for my will - I don’t really think it’s a death sentence, but I’m taking it seriously. I have a little bite to eat and go to bed.

When I wake I’m surprised that I’ve slept through the night, but I’m in a daze and need some comfort, some normalcy, some reassurance. I check email; my sister Jackie has sent a cryptic message, something about being grateful that no one she knows is flying that day. I’m puzzled, but Jackie is always the first to have the news dialed in, so I turn on the TV. And the newscasters are saying this: “We are under attack.” I watch the images over and over, stunned. In those moments, I can’t make sense of what is happening in the world, and I can’t make sense of what is happening in my body. It is all too much – I collapse in a heap on the couch and weep and weep.

Even though I’d planned to take the day off, I decide to go into work. I can’t bear being alone in those hours – the hours of not knowing if there is an all-out war being waged on the US or if the four planes are it; the hours of not knowing if my diagnosis is terminal; the hours of wondering what is in store in the months to come, for the country, the world, my body.

After the initial shock, I am convinced that this thing will not kill me. I meditate on the tumor and it comes to me as a small, scared animal that is lost. I give it permission to leave and tell it I will help to find its way out.

The pathology confirms the doctor’s opinion; diagnostics stage it at IIIC T3. I am immediately thrust onto the treadmill that is cancer treatment protocols, and I quickly learn more about it than I ever wanted to. It’s a year of non-stop medical appointments, diagnostics, surgeries, chemo, radiation, more chemo, blood work, more diagnostics, injections – plus my own chosen protocol of naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, homeopathics, herbs, guided meditation, counseling, all manner of woo-woo, support groups, nutritional guidance and supplements.

The kindnesses that come to me from family and friends are overwhelming. I am cooked for, transported to and from appointments, sung to, held. My sister Nancy spends two weeks with me post-surgery. A beautiful quilt is made for me by many hands; prayers are said, songs and poems written, healing rituals performed. People at work donate vacation time so I can take the time off I need to recover from surgery. It is a profound time, a time to test my mettle and my faith, to let go and trust, to learn to ask for help when needed and accept it when offered. Above all, I learn how well I am loved.

The long-term effects of the cancer treatments begin to show up almost exactly five years later. Five years – the milestone, the objective. If a cancer survivor makes it five years from diagnosis, she is considered to be out of the woods. She has achieved the goal! She is cancer-free. N.E.D. = No Evidence of Disease. But there are consequences. The trade-off for surviving, apparently for me, is a diminished quality of life – “diminished” being a relative term. There are many things I can still do, but there are many I cannot, and it’s necessary to make major accommodations to our home and our lives. I tell people: This is the price I pay for still being on the planet.

And as I think about today, ten years after, the blessings I’ve received, the richness that is my life, it is a price I gladly pay.


I wrote this song toward the end of chemo treatments when I came to know that blessings and challenges often come from the same place.

Grit and Grace
© 2001 Terri Grayum

I’ve been picked up and tossed around by the winds of my life
Winds that blow strong through the night
When the hurricane blows and there’s no place to go
I just hold on ‘til the morning light
Oh it’s the same wind that brings the first breath of spring
And carries songs that the river sings
And the great eagle soars over wild rocky shores
On the same wind beneath her wings

All the tears I have cried when my faith has been tried
Gather in waters so wide
And the floods that come down tear the roots from the ground
And bring down the mountainside
The same water flows where the ancient trees grow
And quenches the thirst of the earth
And washes me clean in the sacred stream
Of the waters that bring rebirth

A test of our faith wears more than one face
Sometimes it’s grit and sometimes it’s grace

I’ve been burned by the flames of hatred and shame
Sometimes I don’t know how to trust
When the wild fire burns, the forest returns
Her bounty to ash and dust
The fire that ignites on the darkest of nights
Is the love burning bright in my soul
And the flame lights the way to the joyful day
When the Spirit makes us whole

A test of our faith wears more than one face
Sometimes it’s grit and sometimes it’s grace


Tiffin said...

Wasn't it the Beatles who sang 'and in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make'? People were and are there for you because you make a lot of love, dear friend. So glad to be on this journey with you, Warrior Princess.

Nancy said...

Ah, my heart is full of gratitude for your being on the planet! Such a too-full journey that was, in some ways ~ frightful and heavy, yet, as you say, filled with love and caring.

When I heard of the 9/11 attacks, I was too busy being concerned about your attack ~ I could only walk into the woods near home and literally sit beneath a huge and comforting fern for about an hour.

Today, we can literally and figuratively, jump for joy for all that you've achieved and added to so many lives. Keep dancing, m'dear Sister!

DeEtte said...

I like your grit and grace. Did you know that that's the title of Betty Roberts's autobiography? By Grit and by Grace. Great minds think alike. Thanks, Terry, for sharing your ten years perspective. I'm glad you're still on the planet.

Laura said...

This was just beautiful. Thank you for sharing your story.

miriam said...

Your courage and strength, and your love and creativity are a constant source of courage for me. It empowers us, and I thank you.

Linda Koons said...

Beautiful post, beautiful song, beautiful soul. Thanks, Terri.

Anonymous said...

Thanks be for the life you have and share! I am happy to know you, to hear you sing, and be in your circle.

Barbara Ford said...

This brought tears to my eyes, Terri. Thanks so much!

gwenlyn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gwenlyn said...

You were with us on the full moon paddle last night, T. We gathered on the beach to sing river songs, and moon songs and commemorate all the grit and grace sitting around our circle, you were there and we were blessed.

Terri said...

G: I felt it too. xoxoxo

action jXXn said...

Thank you for sharing this.