Lemonade

I love lemonade. My favorite is the diet lemonade at Chick-fil-a. Several years ago I got hooked on it and since then it has been a special delight. The only problem is that the lines at Chick-fil-a are so long that I usually just skip going there altogether. So…I’ve learned that other lemonades are a close second, especially Crystal Light, and I can make that at home and carry it with me to work, thus eliminating the waiting in line at Chick-fil-a. Sometimes you just have to make the best of a situation, even if it’s not exactly what you want.

For the past five months, there have been a lot of lemons in my life. To begin with, my mother died in December from leukemia. She fought a good fight for eight long months; at one point, we thought she had achieved remission but it was only a temporary stay of five short weeks. When her leukemia came back, it came back with a vengeance as most cancers do when they recur, and none of the chemotherapeutic agents would touch it. I miss her. Grieving over the death of a loved one comes in waves, especially over the course of the first year. Some of the big waves you expect and you survive them; others come when you least expect them. Some of the waves knock you down; others gently wash over you, but all are filled with memories and a sense of loss. I am in my “year of firsts” as I experience all of life’s milestones for the first time without my mother. My birthday was especially hard as it was the first time in my life that I didn’t get a card from mom. And Mother’s Day is right around the corner. I am already bracing myself for this big wave.

Before I could even find time to grieve for mom, I found the lump in my breast – in mid-January to be exact.  More lemons.  It felt like being hit over and over with a hard ball as I’ve endured one test after the other, two surgeries, and the suffocating news of the final diagnosis. For once, I am glad that my mother isn’t here because my illness would have worried her too much.

Last week, my father was placed in Hospice care. Right now, he’s still at home with multiple caregivers. I’ve known this was coming for some time as dad has been slowly “melting away,” much like a snowman does as the temperature rises above freezing. First the carrot nose falls off, followed by the rocks that have been carefully placed to form eyes, mouth, and, of course, the buttons. Then the perfectly round shapes that form the body become uneven as the temperature continues to rise.  Bit by bit, dad’s functioning and cognitive abilities are leaving. I’ve not been able to spend much time with him recently due to my surgeries; then he caught a cold and developed an infection both necessitating that I stay away. Now, he doesn’t know me any longer. More lemons.

Last week I passed two little girls with a lemonade stand in their front yard. It was spring break and they were excited to get an early start on their summer project. Of course I stopped and purchased a cup. They used the good stuff – Crystal Light. Drinking my lemonade, I was reminded of whose I am. I belong to God. Cancer does not define who I am. I am a beloved child of The Almighty!

Cancer wants all of your time. It demands your attention with the doctor visits, the chemo treatments, the entire pharmacy of medications that you have to take to keep the side effects at bay. Every time I look in the mirror I am reminded that I have cancer. More lemons. If you let it, cancer will consume you. So what do we do when life gives us lemons?  Make lemonade, of course!

Pastor Debra's Journey through Breast Cancer

When I was six years old, our family moved into a new house. It was absolutely the most exhilarating thing that had happened in my six short years! For weeks prior to the move, I was giddy with excitement, imagining the wonders of my new pink bedroom decked out with new furniture. No one else in the family was getting new furniture – just me – so you can understand the complete ecstasy that had overtaken my childlike senses! My new room was at the end of the hall, a graduation of sorts, as I was now old enough to be away from the constant watchful eye of my parents. There was just one small glitch in the plan: my twelve year old brother’s room was beside mine and I could, on occasion, hear what he was up to in his room. “Boy noises” I liked to call them. Nonetheless, my new room proved to be everything I had imagined until one night I heard a bump… followed by another bump. Not just a little bump but a GREAT BIG BUMP; the kind of noise that makes a six year old certain that someone or something is creeping down the hall with nefarious intentions. For weeks, every time I went to bed, I heard the bumps until finally, I could no longer contain my fright and I began screaming for help. Of course, as soon as my mother started down the hall to see what on earth the matter was, the bumps ceased. This was repeated over and over. Pretty soon, Debra was in a heap of trouble, that is, until my mother, in her wisdom, figured out that my brother was responsible for the mysterious “bumps in the night!” For years to come, every time I heard any sort of bump in the night, my heart would begin to race as my mind took me back to the terror of my sixth year.

Earlier this year, the bump in the night returned; but this time, it appeared as two small dimples and a lump in the side of my breast. Once again, my heart began to race and I was immediately transported back to my childhood memories of a threat slowly but methodically making its way toward me. This time, however, it wasn’t a brotherly joke. This time it was a cruel twist of fate.  I had done everything a woman should do to prevent breast cancer. In my mind I rehearsed all the ways I had taken proper care of myself: regular checkups, weight under control,  exercise,  breast feeding my babies.  After a host of testing, surgery to remove the tumor and a lymph node biopsy, my husband and I are sitting in the oncologist office hearing that I have stage III metastatic breast cancer.  My heart raced. I wanted to throw up. I had to tell myself to breathe. Numbness set in. This was bigger than any bump in the night.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Cancer makes you vulnerable both physically and emotionally. Your body has been invaded. Your life is turned upside down and inside out. Suddenly you are weaker than you ever thought possible. But in the midst of weakness and vulnerability, in the terror of bumps in the night, I have found peace. It is the grace that Christ gives. I am surrounded by people who are supporting me and praying daily for my healing. Beloved friends in Christ have shaved their heads in solidarity. Whatever my needs are for the day, Christ has exceeded them. In my vulnerability, Christ’s power has been made visibly plain for others to see. “Therefore I am content with weakness; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” Glory to God!

 

    From goulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties
    And things that go bump in the night
    Good Lord, deliver us!

This was recorded in The Cornish and West Country Litany, 1926