Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Lighting a candle

For me, and for too many of my friends and family, the darkness starts with the letter C. Cancer. Even the word itself conjures up helplessness, fear, anger, in the face of this tyrant that consumes everything in its path.

As we all get older, we know more and more people who have it, and the monster gets closer and closer to home. Or it has already touched us. It is a horrible, hateful disease in whatever form it takes. 

There was a time - years ago - when the very word was a death sentence every time. That was when it was detected too late and it had already morphed into another beast: metastatic cancer (cancer cells that were in one place in the body, and traveled to another place, like a horde of evil missionaries, to continue their dastardly mission). Today, with more early detection, cancer need not be a death sentence.  But the oldest ones among us usually think of it that way.

Time is both friend and enemy with this thing. Early detection is our friend; a delay in treatment is not. Waiting - especially with no indication of how fast the cells are growing - is torturous. Add to that any other pressure: financial, family, work, school, or community (whether that means neighborhood or church involvement) and molehills become mountains pretty quickly. 

The darkness does not need to win. All it takes is one candle to push back the darkness. The people most likely to recover (regardless of the type of cancer) seem to be the ones with the most positive, and peaceful, attitudes. One man I know has a rare form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma - aggressive and dangerous - and from the moment he found out he had cancer, his attitude has been nothing short of inspiring. Today he is fighting infection (which happens 70% of the time after the kind of treatment he just had) and is feeling weak - but he is fighting. And he is peaceful, and happy. 

Another lady I know had breast cancer about 5 years ago. She had surgery, chemo, and the recovery process was long ... but she beat it! Throughout it all, her sweet temperament and thankful spirit came through. Still another lady went through this process not long ago - with four surgeries and treatments that made her feel sick and weak, she still never lost her positive attitude, and she made sure that she looked after herself. 

Fear is (of course) inevitable. But it is the enemy. I know the enemy. But it doesn't have to win.

Recently, my family doctor referred me for a biopsy for an abnormal pap smear. While I was at the gynecologist's office, I mentioned some unexplained spotting, since I was in menopause,  The gynecologist said, "That shouldn't be happening." And so when I was under general anesthetic for the cervical biopsy, he also took cells from the lining of my uterus.  It turned out that I have "pre-cancerous" cells in my uterus... and although this type of thing usually takes a long time to develop into cancer in that area, it's like there is this ticking time bomb in my womb - and so he told me that my uterus and my ovaries had to come out. I am waiting for a surgery date and I expect the hospital will call me soon with one.

The same day I found out about this problem, I got a call from a very close friend who informed me that my brother was in the hospital.  Over the course of the next week, through testing and so forth, doctors discovered that he had stage 1 colon cancer.

Photo "Candle" courtesy of phanlop88 at

The monster didn't win.

We both lit a candle in the darkness. 

Fear has far less power in the light. 

Each of us is looking forward to his or her respective surgery, and grateful that the doctors caught the problem early. My brother is thankful for the excruciating abdominal pain that first caused him to seek medical attention, and for the excellent care and attention that he has received since he went to the hospital to get checked out. They saved his life!  In much the same way, I am so grateful for the lady that put me onto my new family doctor's patient list just this past spring, as well as for the people involved in my care - my doctor, plus my gynecologist, and all of the medical staff on his team. They pretty much saved my life.

A few things about lighting a candle in the dark ... yes, you can see to find your way, but ... your attention is more drawn to the candle flame, and to what it illuminates, than it is to the farthest corners where the darkness still hides. You learn to go slowly, because going too fast would damage the flame or put it out. You learn to stay away from people who would bluster and blow more fear into your situation. Their negativity is something that you don't need or want in your life, ever! You learn to see their reaction as "cursing the darkness." You light your candle, you protect it, and you cherish it.  And you look for other candles to light from your own flame.

That's what I'm doing today. You - if you need to and want to - can light your candle from mine.

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