Cindy Gregorson on faith and life

Archive for November, 2018

I.Have.Cancer

I.Have.Cancer. Those three words keep bouncing around in my head. Yes. They removed the kidney with the tumor. Yes. The tumor was completely contained within the kidney. No evidence of spreading elsewhere in my body. But still, I have cancer. The surgical pathological report confirms it. Renal cell carcinoma, clear cell type, WHO/ISUP grade 2, pT1bNO. All those words and numbers means cancer. Everyone tells me how lucky I am. That we found it at all. That we got it early. That it was contained. That you can live just fine with one kidney. All that is true, and I am so grateful for how quickly we were able to move once the cancer was identified. Two weeks from ultrasound to surgery. But still. I have cancer and my life will never be the same.

So what I am wondering these days is how does one live in a way that cancer does not loom larger than any other part of my life. I may have cancer, but I also have health. I breathe. I walk. I sleep. I read. I laugh. I have life. I have family. I have my mind and spirit. There is much that I have. So what do I let define my life? At the same time, I cannot and do not want to deny that I have cancer. Are there things I can do to help my body be as healthy as possible and for the cancer not to return? I have been reading a lot on that one. Diet is major it seems. Nutrients and herbal supplements. Meditation and exercise. Supportive people in your life. Tending to cancer could be a full time job! My favorite idea I have come across is trusting your intuition. We know what is right for our body and soul. What that means for me right now: sleep. I go to bed when I am tired and wake up when I am ready. I take naps. Walks. There is something about moving your body, and breathing deeply while you do it. It is harder to do it outside in the winter, but in nature is better. I guess I need to buy some snow pants. Eating simply and what tastes good. I am not being rigid yet about the whole no sugar thing, but I am listening to my body and seeking to eat what is says it is hungry for. Fruits and vegetables mostly, and a little of the other stuff. Less and less chemicals. Although club crackers are pretty soothing to the stomach right now! And being patient with myself. I have a lot to process. Three weeks ago, my life did not have the words cancer attached. I was thinking about what retirement might look like and how I wanted to live the last third of my life, but not really pondering mortality.

I had spent the last ten years getting healthy. I lost 60 pounds. I became an active exerciser. I reversed my pre-diabetes. I was doing everything I thought I was supposed to be doing so I could live a long and healthy life. And still I got cancer. I have been a pastor too long and seen too much, not to know bad things happen and there is no rhyme or reason. None of us are exempt. But I am just a bit miffed. I do all the right things, and others eat like there is no tomorrow and never get off the couch, and I am the one with cancer. But I can’t go there. Getting angry, being sorry for myself, feeling like a victim, that is letting cancer take over my life.

What I want more than anything is to learn to trust my body again. That this body that has carried me for the past 59 years, is the same body that will support me into the future. That I don’t obsess over every little, pain or incident wondering if that cancer returning or my body betraying me. And believe me that is easy to do when you have weird things going in your body like tinnitus 24/7 for weeks on end now. But I also need to remember that the person who the week before her diagnosis was on a treadmill and running is the same person I am today. And she is still strong and capable and yes, healthy.

The morning of my surgery, I named the tumor. I called her Bessie. My dad always called our car, Bessie. C’mon Bessie he would say when the car was struggling to climb a hill. I thanked my kidney that worked long and hard for 59 years to keep me healthy. I said I was sorry it was going to have to be sacrificed but Bessie was keeping it from doing what it needed to do. And then I named my remaining kidney. I called it Angel. My mom said I have angels watching over me. It seemed an appropriate name and reminder to me. My Angel kidney needs to do the work for two, and I need to do my best to take care of her so she can do her job. Lots of water. Must drink more water. We are in this together.

I have cancer. And I have life. Both are true. We are in this together.

The Lifesaving Gift of Your Pit Crew People

October 24th, 2018. It will not be a day I ever forget. That was the day I heard that word “cancer” in relation to my life. For the curious minds, it is a 5cm, probable renal cell carcinoma in my left kidney, and I am scheduled to have surgery next week to remove the kidney. So what do you do when you find out you have cancer? Well, if you are me, you start reading and researching. One of the things I came across is the idea that cancer is a gift. What?? This is not a gift I would have ever asked for, and certainly hearing the news that day did not feel like a gift, although it was an answer, and I am grateful that it looks like we caught it early. However, what I have discovered, there are gifts that the cancer has revealed and the biggest one, to quote Anne Lamott, is the lifesaving gift of your pit crew people!

One of my biggest worries being a single person was aging all alone, and what would happen if I got sick? Who would take care of me? Would I be a burden? Would people get tired of me? I have always been a strong, resourceful, independent person. I have never liked asking for help, feeling like I was imposing on people. I have a strong sense of it is all up to me because no one else is going to do it for you. And somewhere, deep in my childhood, I got this totally bent message that people only like you because of what you do for them: because you are good, smart and responsible. I was never pretty, popular, particularly athletic and therefore never felt like I was a “chosen” one. Funny how that skews your view of the world and your sense of your place in it.

In the last two weeks, I have discovered how many people I have in my life who care about me, are rooting for me, and will show up for me. I start with my family. My mom, at 81 years old and going strong, is still being my mom. She has taken me to the ER, to doctors appointments and sat in waiting rooms while I have had tests. She has worried and prayed and listened to me. She has been my rock. I tell her that I am supposed to be taking care of her at this stage of life, but there she is, still taking care of me. Then there are the friends who you know are friends in that you socialize and open up about your life, but in these moments, you discover they are really there for you. The ones who come and take you to lunch so you don’t go crazy in the midst of the waiting. The ones who send you the daily texts with prayers. The ones who bring you chocolate, and text you late at night to make sure you are ok. The ones who say we will be there at the hospital. And we will be there when you come home. You are not going through this alone. I am crying even as I write those words!! It has been amazing to discover, and I think I have not been near enough a good friend in return. But that is the beautiful thing about this. It is not about me earning or deserving their love. They just do it because they love me. Wow!

And the caregivers who have been unfailing kind as I have endured test after test. Let’s talk about being over an hour in a MRI machine, shall we? And then there are the prayers. Social media certainly has its downsides, but Facebook is a gift right now. To be able to post your darkest fears or your best good news, and to see all the people in your friend network who are praying with you and cheering you on. It helps you keep going. The prayers of the faith community, the warmth of a prayer shawl while you are waiting to get the news of your tests from your doctor, the wishes of love, positive thoughts and energy, they all matter. My mom asked me early on if I was comfortable with people knowing I had cancer. I said, “heck, yes!” This is no time to be strong and independent. I will take all the prayers and support I can get. It makes a difference and I want every resource at my disposal to go through this surgery well and be cancer-free on the other side! So here is a nugget worth remembering from the book “Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds”. When we are surrounded by loved ones or even our pets, the feeling of being loved releases a flood of potent hormones into our bloodstreams, which not only makes us feel better emotionally but also strengthens our immune system significantly. Receiving love from others when we are sick actually helps the body heal itself. Wow. That is researched data, not just wishful thinking.

I never asked for or wanted cancer. But I do have to say thank you. Because what it has taught me is that I have an incredible gift of people in my life and they are indeed my lifesaving pit crew. I will be relying on them and God to love me back to full health. And I will never underestimate again the value of sending that card, making that call, or just offering a prayer and a Facebook comment. You are all my cancer posse and I am so grateful!