Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Eager Anticipation of Christmas

I've finished my teaching for 2012 and I am on holidays.  I can now totally focus on Christmas.  My students always help launch me into the last minute Christmas rush and spirit with their performances of the various Christmas songs and spiritual carols.  This year was no different except in the vast contrast of my thoughts and personal feelings.  Last year I was scared, distracted and wondering if I would ever make the next Christmas season or hear my students play again.  On Thursday, I often had to blink the moisture of joy from my eyes as I listened to the students perform and they filled my heart with warmth.

I am full of thankfulness, love and appreciation of my faith.  God carried me through the last year as in a very quick fashion, I underwent diagnostic tests, received a diagnosis and then immediately started and completed the chemotherapy.  The first six months of 2012 flew by and are a blur as well as hazy with memory.  I have randomly read previous posts of my blog and cannot read it very much as it brings back all the fear, anxiety and ill feelings I experienced.  I mention all this because it helps explain my extra special feelings of joy and love this Christmas season.

As I've rushed to get my Christmas shopping completed throughout the last week, I've felt the joy and happiness at the anticipated giving of the gifts.  I've always had more fun giving and watching my friends' and family's reactions in opening the presents.  Gift giving, for me, is an extension of my love and symbolizes the giving of the gift of Jesus in the manger to humanity.  I love the manger scenes that I've seen in the stores or in front of people's private homes.  As I've mentioned before, I find I am filled with peace and tranquility when I take time to look at and contemplate my own nativity scene in my home.  The stable was made many years ago by a very good friend.  He installed a yellow light bulb in it which bathes the animals, kings, Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus in his manger in a soft light.  It helps me imagine the muted light and darkness that would have been in the original stable in Bethlehem.

As I prepare for Christmas Day in the next few days, I am filled with the HOPE, PEACE, JOY and LOVE of the Advent season.  Today, I hope to bake my great-grandmother's sugar cookies.  Christmas just doesn't feel the same without them.  I've had them every year since I can remember.  My grandmother used to make them, my mother (who didn't bake often) made them every year and I have continued the tradition of making them every year.  My children have always had them available to them throughout Advent and Christmas.  I did get them made last year before I found out there was anything wrong with me.  This year, I'm late making them because of the recognition of having less energy than other years...or maybe just taking care of myself and not pushing myself to the utmost limits.  So baking the sugar cookies is on my list.  I'm also hoping to make batches of peanut brittle which is another tradition in my immediate family for the last number of years.  Then I will be baking my grandmother's cinnamon rolls.  As a child growing up, this was not a staple of Christmas time.  My grandmother made them throughout the year.  But many, many years ago, I made a batch of cinnamon rolls for a family which we lived near and we became good friends.  This is the same friends where the father/husband made my stable for me.  Anyway, the baking of cinnamon rolls became associated with Christmas, although I and my daughter still make them throughout the year.  I will make them again this year for Christmas so that we can have cinnamon rolls as part of our Christmas morning when we wake up.  If I don't get the cinnamon rolls made today, they will be made either tomorrow or Monday.

I do not enjoy the rush of the last minute shopping crowds.  I find that people are too rushed and busy.  They become irritable, impatient and rude.  So I finished my Christmas shopping and grocery shopping yesterday.  I'm ready for Christmas!  I have that excited feeling I used to get as a child.  My favourite Christmas album is  playing in the background as I write this post.  I have listened to Anne Murray's Christmas Wishes album every year multiple times since I was a teenager.  I originally had it as a cassette tape and I wore it out from playing it so much.  A few years ago, my husband found the same album on CD and that was his Christmas present to me that year.  I love the song/carol selections and the harmonies.  I have always played it with the volume up and adding my own harmonies as I sang along.  This year, I'm not singing along with the music but I'm very settled with that.  I love hearing her beautiful rich voice singing the music that I cannot sing this year.

Back to the excited anticipation I'm feeling this year.  It is almost a childlike, magical feeling.  It would be that exact feeling except that I do find my emotions are close to surface and as a result tears are often close to the surface as well.  Something very tender is apparent in me this year.  I daresay it is the renewal of life and love.  The recognition of how fleeting a life can be and how precious these special times are.  This year I have enjoyed seeing the "real" Santa Claus at the local mall.  He is so warm and caring with the children and the adults.  He has the real beard and his eyes twinkle.  He remembers me from when our own children used to come to visit him.  I remember we saw him in the mall one year and he was in ordinary street clothes.  My children recognized him and excitedly told me "There's Santa!!"  He looked at us as he walked by in his jeans, boots, ordinary jacket and ball cap on his head.  He winked at all of us and gave us a full smile along with his twinkling eyes.  Jumping ahead to current days, I was at the mall one night this past week and Santa looked up and waved at my husband and I.  He's the real Santa Claus.  The magical and especially spiritual season of Christmas is in full swing.  So as I finish up my baking, it helps me to focus on past, present and future Christmases.  As I bake the traditional cookies of my family, I feel my great-grandmother and my grandmother standing beside me.  As I prepare for my daughter's birthday on Christmas Day, I hope that I'm able to create wonderful, warm memories for my children to carry in their hearts for many, many years to come.  People often ask me how do we keep my daughter's birthday separate from Christmas when she was born on December 25.  We typically wake up on Christmas morning and have coffee, chocolate milk, cinnamon rolls and a Swedish coffee ring as we sit near the Christmas tree and open up our various Christmas presents.  At lunch, we have a finger food luncheon involving all my daughter's favourite finger foods.  I also make her favourite punch which is then out for the rest of the afternoon.  After lunch which includes my daughter's birthday cake, she opens her birthday cards and presents up in our living room away from the Christmas tree.  We have our Christmas turkey dinner later in the day.

I'm looking forward to the church service tomorrow morning which celebrates the last week of Advent with the lighting of the candle of LOVE.  I'm also looking forward to the quiet, serene and tranquil Christmas Eve late evening communion service where the traditional carols will be sung.  I love the eager anticipation of Christmas just as much as the special events of Christmas Day!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Check Ups and Comparisons

I'm feeling very well and seem to have all my energy back.  The busy activities of the Christmas season is in full swing.  I've been spending the last number of weeks preparing my students for their annual Christmas Recital.  This is not a formal recital but is an opportunity for the students to perform Christmas music in front of their peers and family in a very informal setting.  As I was teaching on Tuesday I realized that it was one year ago that I also taught but with a much different weight and cloud hanging over my head.

This year the weight is the rush of Christmas shopping, baking and planning that I still need to do.  Last year the weight was teaching regular piano lessons just one day after having my surgical biopsy on my throat.  As I remember, I can still feel the remembered pain and strain as I prepared my students for their Christmas recital last year.  I remember I wore turtle necks for the whole week so that no one would see the incision or the tape that covered it.  I remember my voice was so tired and weak as the tumour was wrapped around the larynx nerve.  As I was awake for the surgery with only local anesthetic, I can remember the feeling of a tug as the doctor tried to remove a good sample of the tumour for it to be tested.  At that point, we knew I had lymphoma, we just didn't know what kind and that was the reason for the surgical biopsy.  The lab needed more cells from the tumour in order to discover the kind of lymphoma we were dealing with.  Now I jump to  one year later and I'm teaching with the enjoyment of the Christmas season.  My students have been working hard to prepare for their recital today.  I will be able to speak loud enough with proper projection at the recital as I introduce each student and the Christmas song they will play.  Last year, I needed the principal to do all the introductions as I didn't have much of a voice.  It was very hoarse and weak.

I remember it was December 5, 2011 that I had my last annual physical with my family doctor.  That appointment had been hi-jacked and  it was used to discuss what lymphoma is.  My husband had been told to attend the appointment with me.  So this year, I knew it was time for my annual physical again.  I've had my appointment last week and I was not worried about it because I've been feeling physically great.  I received a call from the receptionist on Monday telling me that the doctor would like to see me to discuss the results from my lab work.  I felt my stomach flip flop and then there was a sinking feeling inside.  I'd like to think that I'm a pretty cool customer and I don't panic and get anxious easily about physical ailments.  However, after the year that I've had, I am a little more sensitive and anxious about test results.  My first thought was that the doctor just wants to talk to me about my cholesterol levels in my blood tests.  But then the anxious thoughts started to invade my head space.  Those terrible "what ifs" that I've battled with all year long!  That figurative closet door in my mind that is labelled "What Ifs" creaked open just a crack but enough for the "What If" thoughts and fears to trickle out.  What if there is a raised level in the creatinine test?  What if the raised protein in my blood that shows the lymphoma has returned is apparent?  What if my pap smear results showed that cancer has made a visit to another part of my body?  As these fears made themselves known to me on Monday and Tuesday, I imagined shoving all of those questions and fears back into the closet in my mind and slamming the door!  I told myself that it most likely was to discuss my cholesterol levels.

I had the appointment yesterday and it was a relief to know that my "what if" fears were just anxious thoughts.  The doctor wanted to discuss my cholesterol levels with me.  We had a short chat and I know exactly why my levels are up.  I decided to treat myself throughout the summer by eating whatever I wanted and not worrying about my cholesterol.  Unfortunately, that celebration with the wrong sorts of food has continued throughout this Fall.  My doctor understood as I admitted to him that I have not been following my healthy lifestyle of eating.  I told him that I had just returned to health from going through the chemo and that I ate anything and everything.  My doctor called this "quality of life".  I've had my party but it is time to return to the healthy low-fat diet that I normally eat.  My doctor did say that I can enjoy the Christmas season but then return to healthy eating as the norm.  I will see him in 3 months to determine if I've managed to get my cholesterol levels back down to the normal range.

Much as I don't like being given the cholesterol "talk", I am happy to know that obviously there wasn't anything more serious to cancel out that discussion.  Cancer and lymphoma have not made an apparent return to my body.  Whoo Hoo!!!  I can celebrate Christmas this year knowing that I'm healthy and able to partake of all the festivities.  I've been late in getting my Christmas shopping done and my Christmas baking finished.  I've spent the last several days and evenings picking up Christmas gifts here and there in my spare time.  Today I'll finish my Christmas shopping and hopefully get my grocery shopping done for our Christmas dinner on Tuesday.  I'll pick the turkey up on Monday.  I hope that I might also get my sugar cookies made tomorrow.  My daughter's birthday is on Christmas Day and I also need to get the groceries bought for her Birthday Luncheon on Tuesday.  Tonight, I hope that I can get all the Christmas presents wrapped and under the tree.  I'll also wrap my daughter's birthday present but it will be hidden away until after we have her birthday lunch and she will open her birthday presents in the afternoon on Tuesday.

In the season of Advent, this is the week to celebrate JOY.  I am definitely feeling JOY at being alive and healthy enough to enjoy the preparations for Christmas this year.  Now on with my day which will include a Christmas Recital, Christmas shopping, grocery shopping, and gift wrapping!

Monday, 17 December 2012


After my last post, I truly did intend to start posting daily again to help promote peace within me.  The time of year as made it difficult to get back into the habit of daily posting.  My time has been stretched to the limit with preparing students for their Christmas recital, baking, cleaning, shopping and preparing for Christmas.  Amongst all the busyness though, I was able to feel some peace within as I've lit my advent candles every day and contemplated HOPE and PEACE.  It is difficult to feel peace all the time when conflict surrounds us.  With the shooting of the children and teacher in Conneticut, it was difficult to find PEACE this past weekend.

Yesterday was the start of the third week of Advent and so I lit the candle which symbolizes JOY.  To tell you the truth, it is difficult to find JOY amongst shootings and dealing with parenting teenagers.  I think I have to remember that JOY does not mean happiness.  JOY is found buried deep within us and can sit there quietly during the chaos, waiting for that moment of warmth that each of us has at some point.  Sometimes I have to really search hard for the kernel of JOY that is still within my soul.  JOY becomes apparent to me when I'm baking and I find myself reminiscing about my grandma who I miss dearly.  JOY is there when I look at my manger scene with the tiny baby surrounded by animals in a smelly stable and I realize that the baby signifies JOY in the freedom from oppression.

I feel the JOY of the Advent season and Christmas festivities when I hear Christmas carols and the songs of the season.  I resonate with that JOY of Christmas when I play the music on the piano.  My JOY is a little dulled when I dwell on not being able to sing the songs or play my flute.  However, when I play the piano it truly is a full outpouring of HOPE, PEACE and JOY of the Advent season.

I must be honest though.  At other times, as the negativity of the world around me becomes stifling, I do think "Oh Joy" and that is not in an uplifting tone.  It is precisely at these times that I need to take time to reflect and contemplate on the true JOY of Christmas.  Although 2012 has been a difficult year and looks like it is going to continue to be difficult, I must remember to cling to the JOY of having supportive friends, caring family from afar and the continued remission of my lymphoma.  To continue to focus on JOY this week, I may need the extra reserves and self-discipline to physically, emotionally and mentally remove myself from the negativity so I may find the strong warmth of JOY that I know resides within my soul.

The trappings and trimmings of Christmas are fleeting but for me, the true JOY of this season is found at the birth of Jesus in the crowded stable.  A stable, where a manger or trough with hay for the animals is used to give a soft place for the new baby that was born.  The warmth of the animals, and the warmth of a mother's arms keeps this baby wrapped and comfortable.  I can just imagine the smell of the straw bedding and the hay in the stable.  The smells of the animals as they rest in the stable.  The sounds of the animals chewing the hay.  The cries of a newborn baby as it lays surrounded by a mother and father who are relegated to spending the night in a stable.  This descriptive scene is what brings HOPE, PEACE and JOY to my heart even while life's storms continues to batter away at me.  I may think "Oh Joy" in that sneering tone and then when I look at my manger scene that thought becomes a firm and happier "OH JOY!!!!  Christmas is coming!!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Peace - Where Is It?

Last night as I lit the second candle of Advent which signifies PEACE, I was struggling with where is there peace.  The world news is full of conflict and certainly not peace.  With journeying through the teenage angst wilderness, PEACE is a rare commodity and difficult to find.  I wish I could say that I can easily find PEACE within my soul and being but even that is elusive at the moment.

Last year at this time, I think I was feeling more at peace within as I was receiving results from the diagnostic tests and we were eliminating the most serious types of cancers.  This year, I am struggling with wanting change to take place within me and my home.  In my experience as we travel through the process of change, it does not include a peaceful time until the changes are in effect and we are settled with them for some time.  It is much like moving into a new house.  There is the chaos of packing all the belongings which includes wrapping all the fragile items in paper, filling the boxes and padding the fragile items with more paper, cleaning out drawers and purging as well as packing.  Then there is the moving which includes loading the truck and other vehicles for the trip to the new house and then the weeks of unpacking.  But there is still not a sense of a home until you've lived in the new house for awhile and are settled.  Not that I'm moving but making changes to oneself is very much like moving.  So PEACE is a little elusive this year.

I'm also struggling to keep the "cancer bug" off my shoulder.  I always have it sitting on my shoulder saying "I'm just waiting and biding my time, then I'm coming for you again."  This does not promote peace within.  I have started a Worry Journal to help with coping with some of my anxieties and worries.  The return of cancer is at the top of the list.  I write my worries in the Worry Journal and it helps to relieve them and remind me to hand them over to God to look after.  My oncologist is still confident that the lymphoma will not return.  You would think that it would help to give me PEACE but so far it is not.  I've also had a sore and achy shoulder since June.  I'm finally going to the doctor about it because it is affecting the nerves down into my right hand.  It is making it difficult to write with a pen, to stir and mix food in a bowl and to clean my house.  Vacuuming is affected and the ability to press and scrub with my right hand.  So far it is not affecting my piano playing.  I worry about is it cancer in the bones?  What is causing this?  These worries are interfering with my ability to be at PEACE within.

This week, I'm trying to continue my journey through Advent by maintaining HOPE and searching inwardly for PEACE.  As I've gone out into the stores to do Christmas shopping, I do find I'm less bothered by the commercialism this year.  I don't notice it as much because I am happy to be alive to enjoy this Christmas.  So that is the starting place for me for my PEACE.  I love the Christmas music.  I still have HOPE for positive change within myself and my family.  Maybe I can use that HOPE to help bring me PEACE.  I know that blogging today has helped me to feel a little more calm.  That is the starting point for feeling PEACE.  How can we wish "Peace on earth" if we do not feel PEACE ourselves?  At church yesterday, we were encouraged to go out into the world and "live a life of joy".  I think this week, my challenge to myself is to go out into the world and attempt to live a life of PEACE.

How will I live a life of peace you ask?  I will try to stop my thoughts in their tracks when I start to think of what I have not done, or what someone else has not done.  I will try to get back into the habit of daily meditation and reading such as I was doing when I was in treatment for the lymphoma.  I don't want to have to do chemo again but that process did force me to STOP, PONDER and RELAX.  I have been forgetting to do these things and as a result there is chaos around me and inside me.  So when I asked myself "Peace -where is it?", I think I may have found the answer for my personal inner PEACE.  The challenge now is to make the time to stop, ponder and relax in a quiet setting as well as to ignore the physical chaos around me.

When I started writing this post this morning, I truly was at a loss for PEACE.  In the process of writing this entry and contemplating PEACE, I have perhaps found one way of  promoting PEACE within.  Perhaps another way of gaining my inner peace would be to return to the habit of posting daily to my blog.  I've been having difficulty posting daily since September.  So off I go now to try to live a day of PEACE.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Hope....In All Things and People

For me this is a very special Sunday.  It is the first Sunday of Advent which leads me through the month of December to Christmas Day.  Every year, the meaning and weekly themes of Advent really help me navigate the increasing materialism that bombards me as Christmas gets closer.  The marketing of the retailers who cash in on the "Christmas Rush" overwhelms me and I know of other people that just want to do away with Christmas and the expensive demands of it.  Advent is my antidote to this crush of commercialism.  So this week is the week of HOPE.

Last year, I was focused on HOPE as the hope for a diagnosis that was not cancer.  I had to readjust my hope to the hope of it being a cancer that was curable and not terminal.  Through the grace of God, my prayers were answered and I continue to be in remission and "cured".  This year my HOPE is that of a mother who traverses the journey of children growing into their own beings and hopes that everyone's identity and relationships remain intact and healthy.  The other day I came across some treasures that my children have given to me over the years.  There was a small hand of a 4 years old imprinted in plaster and painted.  There were various cards of appreciation and humour which were made with guidance of teachers but still carry the whisps of my children's personalities.  There was a hand-crafted wooden lovebird which was coloured with crayons and had feathers of various colours glued to it.  My heart overflowed with tender, loving feelings while tears flowed freely.  These little treasures helped ease my current emotional aches by providing me with good memories and hope of things to come.  The HOPE of advent really is applying to my hope that my children will successfully become well-adjusted teenagers.  Then my hope is that they will become young adults that are ready to step over the threshold of our home and embark on their own exciting journey into careers and their own lives.

This Fall has been a little difficult as I have struggled with grief.  With this week's theme of HOPE, I'm looking forward to the lessening of the grief that I've been feeling.  Grief has been on my doorstep through the loss of friends due to cancer, the sense of not being able to be as supportive as I  would like with friends that are struggling with their own health concerns and the pain of losing a child to the teenage wilderness where they do not need me as much and don't want me around them as much.  A couple of weeks ago, I came across this quote from Mark Nepo "To dwell on our reward while performing a kindness, splits our authenticity."  This message made me realize that I need to fully offer my sincerity and love without any expectations of a return or "reward".  It is helping me navigate these tumultous times where I grieve the loss of my children's need of me.  But.....I truly believe my children will need both my husband and I again.  I just have to look at our own lives from teenagers to young adults to full adulthood.  We both did return to needing the advice and friendship of our parents as we became parents and they became grandparents.  So in this season of Advent, I am embracing HOPE for healthy familial relationships.

Mark Nepo's quote from above also reminded me that we really need to block out the distractions around us as we communicate with teenagers.  I have always believed that when you have a conversaton with someone, you look into their eyes.  A friend of mine always says "The eyes are the mirror to the soul".  I once saw Dr. Phil (on television) perform therapy with couples and he had them form "diads" where the two people sat facing each other and focused on the eyes of the person with whom they were communicating.  They were forced to truly see each other.  They were focused only on each other.  To tie into the quote from Mark Nepo, the two people were so focused that they were not distracted by what they would gain or by what they were going to say next.  My HOPE is that I will continue to learn to stay focused on the end result and not distracted by the current behaviours and "small" things.  HOPE.....what a wonderful gift to have.

I have HOPE for a successful longterm recovery from lymphoma.  I am filled with HOPE when I compare now to where I was a year ago.  I have glimpses of relationships that will return to being healthy and this gives me tremendous HOPE for not just this Advent season but for the next number of years.  I have true HOPE that my grief will ease.  I have HOPE that this Christmas season will revolve around who is gathered around my Christmas dinner table and Christmas tree rather than what is under the Christmas tree.  I have HOPE as the birth of Christ approaches.

I am currently feeling that little flutter of excitement as I do some of my Christmas baking.  Today my husband and I will be putting up the tree.  Our tree is never decorated in a chic way with all the ornaments and ribbons in matching colours.  Our Christmas tree is decorated with ornaments that all have sentimental value.  So as we take each and every ornament out, we reflect on who gave us the ornament and we recall the precious memories associated with each ornament.  Some of the ornaments are hand-crafted by our children when they were young.  As a result, some these ornaments are starting to look a little battered and worn.  But they still hold sentimental value and belong on our Christmas tree.  Some of the ornaments are my grandmother's (who has been gone for a long time) which she passed along to me when I moved into my own apartment.  There are ornaments that my students have given to me over the years as appreciation for teaching them the joy of music.

So today is the first Sunday of Advent and my heart is overflowing with warmth and HOPE.