No Man is an Island

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee. 
John Donne

"Your mother has cancer."  This is news that no one ever wants to hear about anyone they love, but these days it seems most everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer.  I became one of those "everyones" when I got this phone call over six years ago from my dad on a warm August day.  Fortunately, in my mom's case they had caught the cancer early and with a lumpectomy and chemo/radiation they would be able to easily extricate the cancer.  Unfortunately for me, my battle with her cancer would not be as short. 

My battle began when, after consulting my husband, I decided to take FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) from my job to go to St. Louis every 2 1/2 weeks so that I could take my mom to her chemotherapy treatments.  Living in Louisville, the drive took 4 1/2 hours and as you can imagine, after so many trips it began to take it's toll on me, not only emotionally but physically.  To make a very long story short I began having symptoms of a UTI (Urinary Tract Infection).  I went to the urgent care multiple times and they determined that I didn't really have a bladder infection.  I couldn't sleep not only because of the pain I was feeling, but also because of the emptiness that was creeping in on me.  In October my grandma also passed away (my mom's mom) and in my mind, it was like my mother herself had died.  I felt as if I was in a deep pit. 

My Beautiful Mom and Dad (During Chemo Treatments).


My Grandma On Her Wedding Day
My Grandma and Grandpa-This Is How I Will Remember Them
 After my mom's treatments were complete I went to a urologist and it was determine through multiple tests and one outpatient surgery that I had a medical condition called interstitial cystitis (IC), also known as Painful Bladder Syndrome (You can find out what a day in my life looks like here.).  I found out this condition was chronic, meaning it would never go away and I would live the rest of my life with it.  I also learned that I had to drastically change my diet and take multiple medications just to keep the pain at a tolerable level (tolerable meaning a 2 or 3 for me, which might feel like a 9 or 10 to anyone else).  The average IC patient gets diagnosed in her 40s, post menopause.  Stress and the multiple car trips (approximately 9 between August and December of that year) brought the condition on in full force at the ripe age of 25.

At first I didn't really deal with my feelings around this diagnosis.  I closed everyone off and got angry.  I really didn't realize how angry I was until after I began to finally deal with my emotions almost three years later.  I had always been close to my family, but when all of this happened I shut them out.  I also shut God out.  Those years were some of the darkest years of my life.  I wondered if that was how Job felt after his entire family, wealth and health had been taken from him or Joseph when his own brothers threw him into a well and then sold him into slavery. 

I am not sure when things began to turn around for me.  In God's grace, he gave me a handful of friends who were there for me when I was at my lowest point.  Friends that I could be honest with and share how I was truly feeling.  There was no "church girl" facade that I had to put on for them.  I gradually found myself clawing back up the hill.  I began missing everything I had tossed aside a great deal.  It wasn't until I went on a woman's retreat and listened to one of the ladies on staff speak about her anger towards God in the midst of a family situation that I realized that I had been angry at God and that it was okay to tell him that.  And I did.  It was then I began to see that even though I had left God in the dark and abandoned him, he was still right there, clinging to me with everything he had, saying, "I am not going to let you go." 

My Best Friend, Amanda, Who Helped Me So Much During Those Dark Days
 I tried to make sense of my condition.  But I realized that wrapping my mind around something like that was pointless.  So, I began to try and figure out the "what".  What should I do as a result of it? 

When I was in junior high and high school I always thought it was important to have a "life" Bible verse.  For those of you who aren't familiar with churchy stuff, it basically is a verse from the Bible that you felt described your life calling.  Some people have quotes from famous authors or historical people, but I always had a Bible verse.  I would always write where you could find the verse in the Bible after I signed my name anywhere.  If you look at any high school year books of my friends, you will probably see John 15:16 written there. 

Somewhere along the way I ran across a verse written by Paul (who was a pretty cool guy who knew a bit about suffering himself) in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. 

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."

When I heard this it was as if an alarm went off in my head.  I didn't understand why my mom had breast cancer or why as a result, I was diagnosed with a chronic medical condition, but I did know what I was called to do.  God had comforted me and he sent friends to comfort me so I could use my life experiences to help comfort, grieve with and encourage others as they go through suffering.  This was something I could do and hold on to.  In my mind suffering never makes sense.  I will never understand why children are murdered, why the elderly are neglected and left in decay, or why people all over the world die of hunger daily, but THIS I could make sense of.  God has comforted me.  So I can comfort others. 

Looking back, I realize I was already doing this.  I had started to built a network of friends on MySpace (kids, that is an old, lame social media network that they had before Facebook existed) and then on Facebook.  Originally, my networking only started with people who had IC, but as it has grown I have friends who have been diagnosed with multiple other medical conditions: Crohns, IBS, fibromyalgia, Ehler Danlos Syndrome, ovarian cancer, lupus, IBS, and the list goes on.  These are people who I pray for when they are having a rough day and they do the same for me.  These are people that I know I can text when I am feeling my worst and they will comfort me and make me laugh.  My network has grown beyond those with medical conditions.  I have made friends with people who just love me and I can talk to about anything.  They are relatively healthy people, but they don't try to talk away my pain, they just listen. It's funny to me that I went out on a mission to help other people in their time of need and it turns out that I have learned the most from them and am blessed by them in more ways than I could have imagined.  No one should have to feel that they are alone.  
One of My Closest IC Sisters, Jamie, That Lives Hundreds of Miles Away


My Dear Friend, Sharron, Who is Battling Ovarian Cancer
Part of My Church "Support" Group
Yes, We Usually Are This Crazy


Love These Girls
This is one reason why I signed up for a triathlon relay that is on July 21st.   I wanted to prove to myself, in spite of my IC, that I could do something extremely challenging.  I also wanted to encourage those like me that they too do not need to be limited by their medical conditions or life circumstances to follow their dreams. 

Our pastor preached on 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 at church today.  I don't think it is coincidence that today, just three weeks before my race, was the day that he preached on these verses.  Verses that I have poured over for the past several years and have shared with others as my life's calling.  He talked about life as an adventure and part of that adventure is trials and suffering.  Sometimes when we are in trials we lose focus of the blessings.  The provision of friends to encourage us on our way and the peace that trials can give to us.  He said, "The blessing isn't just about you, it's about someone else."  These things happen so that we can be an encouragement to other people. 

If you are like me, when bad things happen, when suffering comes, you tend to wallow in self pity.  Don't get me wrong, there is definitely time for grieving.  Grieving of what you've lost, things you have to give up, life style changes that you have to make.  One of my greatest complaints about the church in general is that a lot of times you feel like you have to put on a happy face when you walk through the doors even though your life is falling apart.  However, there is a time to get over your grief (even though it will always be a part of your life to remind you where you have been) and use your grief to help others in their time of need.  
Thurman Hutchkins Park
 This afternoon I went on a bike ride down by the river.  The ride was a total of 18 plus miles along various roads.  I always feel extremely encouraged when drivers of cars let me have the right of way or actually slow down when they drive around me instead of taking off at racing speeds.  I figure they probably ride themselves or have a child who does (it's pretty common in Louisville).  If you have ever biked on anything that is more than a flat surface for more than a few miles you have an appreciation for the sport and automatically you are one of the gang.  There aren't any secret passwords to get it, you just need a bike.  At one point during the ride I was going up a rather large hill and right smack dab in the middle of it was a stop sign.  Typically if there wasn't a car coming I would just go straight through it (it is really hard to stop and start again going up a hill), but there was a car coming so I stopped.  The car motioned me on, so I gratefully began to pedal.  The driver rolled the window down and hollered, "I've been up that hill before."  I laughed, "Thank you." and went on huffing and puffing up the hill.  It wasn't until I was going down it that the power of his words hit me and tears began to fall down my cheeks.  

John Donne said that no man is an island.  What happens to one, happens to another.  We are all interconnected in more ways that we will ever know.  We are all hurting in our own ways and we are all in need of a friend to come next to us and tell us, "Man, that sucks",  "I understand completely what you are going through", "I have been up that hill before" and encourage us to carry on.  No one in this life wants to feel like they are alone.  And you never know, you may be the person to let them know they are not.  

*I dedicate this blog to all of the people who are lost, suffering and are at their wits end.  Know you are not alone.  You are a survivor.  And to all of the people who have gotten off of their island to pull me off of mine.  All of the wisdom, laughter and love that you have shared with me is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.  (The pictures above are just a few of those people.  I wish I had enough room to post every single one of you).  I love you all.*

Comments

  1. You write beautifully. Thank you for sharing your journey.

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  2. You will do great in the triathlon and I'm sure move on to the next physical challenge and beat that! You have a great attitude and that will take you far! <3

    ReplyDelete

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