Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Advent Joy

On Friday, I played piano for my hour from 12 to 1 p.m. at the Cancer Centre.  I was allowed (as I am this coming Friday) to play Christmas music.  I always choose soothing music mixed in with some upbeat music when I play background music at the Centre.  I decided to play some traditional Christmas carols but also some fun and quirky Christmas music such as "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth".  I wanted to impart some fun and joy into the atmosphere of a place where there is often sadness, grief and worry.

On Sunday, it was the week during Advent to focus on Joy.  Joy....how do people manage to feel joy during difficult times of ill health or unhappy family homes full of strife?  As I pondered this, I thought that joy doesn't necessarily mean happy.  Joy can be a very different emotion which is found deep in our core.  I remember worrying and feeling very anxious during the Advent season of 2011 when I knew I had cancer and by the week of "Joy", I knew it was lymphoma.  I just didn't know what kind of lymphoma.  I was still able to feel joy deep within when I was surrounded by my family.  When I received phone calls from extended family who live far away.

As we feel sad, worried or lonely, we can still feel joy from small moments of love and kindness that happen in our day.  Maybe it is a smile from a stranger.  Yesterday, I had a few moments of joy even as I've struggled with some new worries.  My day started with a ring of the doorbell.  There were some friends standing on the doorstep in -20 degree weather holding a poinsettia and a cookie tin full of cookies.  What a surprise and source of joy!  Yesterday I also drove 10 hours round trip to pick my son up and bring him home for Christmas.  It was wonderful to see him!  I was filled with a deep love and joy.  As I drove home and we got caught in traffic on the highway, my son fell asleep and I was still filled with joy as I remembered being pregnant with him almost 20 years ago.  As we stopped for dinner on the way home, we reminisced about his preschool days when he was a very busy, active little boy.  We laughed and I was filled with joy from the memories which at the time were actually very upsetting and worrisome.  Joy is found deep within.  Sometimes we have to look for it and consciously choose to tap into it.  On the other hand, sometimes we just have to be open to the small moments in life that give joy.  When I arrived home last night, there was a small package that had arrived at the house during the day.  It was addressed to me, so I opened it up.  What joy I received!!  Inside the box was a coffee mug with Hershey kisses and a couple of small candy canes.  I lifted the mug out and there was the real surprise and source of major joy!  On the outside of the mug is a picture of me holding a clam with my muddy hands!  My friends in PEI had a picture which was taken of me clam digging and they had it transferred onto the coffee mug!  What a wonderful gift!  An instant smile sprang to my face and I was filled with the warmth of love and joy!

As I said, sometimes we have to really look deep and hard to find a source of joy while we are going through adversities.  I totally understand this.  Not just from my more recent experience, but also in 1990 when my Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer.  He spent Christmas in the hospital that year although they gave him a day pass to come home for a few hours.  We, as a family, were able to feel real joy that day.  My dad was able to feel joy that day too.  My future sister-in-law had been in contact with my sister, my oldest brother, my other brother (her fiancĂ©) and me.  She arranged to bring a tuba (which my oldest brother used to play in high school), some music stands and some Christmas band music.  That particular day that my dad was home from the hospital, we went downstairs where there was more space and set up our instruments.  I played the flute, my sister played the trumpet, my brother (the fiancĂ©) played the clarinet and my oldest brother tried to play the tuba while my future sister-in-law played the alto saxophone.  I remember as we tried to play, my oldest brother couldn't remember the fingerings for the tuba.  No problem.  My future sister-in-law was a music teacher and knew the fingerings so while my brother blew the tuba, she did the fingers on the valves.  We played Christmas carols.  I remember seeing the bright eyes and smile of my dad during a very difficult time.  You see, he knew that his lung cancer was terminal.  He was going to start chemotherapy over the holidays that year knowing that it was only a 30% chance that it might work.  But I can tell you that he felt great joy as we all gathered and played music.  Later that night when he returned to his room at the hospital, my future sister-in-law came in with her guitar and we all sang Christmas carols around his bed.  The nurses on the floor that night came in and listened.  There was pure joy even as we were all grieving and sad.  I remember singing Silent Night and crying as I watched him lying exhausted in bed.  But there was also joy that we were all together.  Sometimes you have to look hard for the joy and then hang onto those moments and memories.

So I hope that you may be touched with God's strong and joyful spirit this holiday season so that laughter, warmth, and delight in small things may fill your heart and soul.  I pray that we can all have joy that runs deeper than our sorrows and worries.  Hope, Peace, Joy.  These are the real gifts of the Christmas season and Advent.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Advent 2013 - Peace and Hope

I was asked this past week to prepare for my church how I, personally, practice HOPE or manage to feel HOPE in situations.  I spoke at my church this morning and now feel it appropriate to share it on the blog.  May it help you have HOPE in this season of Advent but also at other times of the year and in all situations.

 Hope.....what is hope?  I was asked to speak about how I, personally, manage to feel hope in all situations.  Over the years, it has been music and scripture that has provided me with hope in various situations where I felt utterly hopeless.  Singing is a form of worship and prayer even when I am at home by myself.  I always rely on Psalm 31: vs. 3-5, "For You are my rock and my fortress; therefore, for Your name's sake, lead me and guide me.  Pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me, for You are my strength.  Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me O Lord God of truth."  This scripture is a balm to my soul when the going gets rough in life.  I imagine a rock and a strong, thick fortress built from rocks that protects me from all sides; a refuge in times of difficulty.  I practise keeping an open line of communication with my God.  Sometimes I drift away when the going is good but I always find God's glorious presence in unexpected moments in nature and music.  When I finished my last treatment, my husband took me to Lemoine's Point for a very slow walk to the water's edge where I saw sunbeams shining through the clouds and reflecting on the water.  He used to take me to the parking spot across from the airport while I was in treatment and too weak to walk.  We would sit and just soak up the peacefulness of the water whether it was calm or choppy.  This always gave me hope as I looked forward to being strong enough to walk at the water's edge.  2 years ago while I waited for diagnostic tests, I knew I had cancer.  We just didn't know what kind.  My options were thyroid cancer, lymphoma or lung cancer.  Lung cancer......This caused major fear and terror because my dad died in 1991 from lung cancer and was diagnosed at the exact same time of year....Nov. 30, 1990.  Fear is a powerful distractor from our ability to hope.  I couldn't sing or play my flute.  I didn't feel like playing the piano.  However, the birdsongs I heard outside my home were another form of music which was a balm to my soul.  It gave me hope that as the old children's hymn says, "God sees the little sparrow fall, He meets his tender needs".  If God can look after all the tiny sparrows and birds that provided me with such wonderful music, then God would take care of me too.  No matter what.  That's where the hope came from.  God is the source of the hope that all things would be taken care of including me.  But....to connect with God I needed quiet time.  I think this is why nature is such a draw for me because there is nothing like the peaceful quietness of nature to connect with God.  I used to fulfill my responsibilities from the time I arose in the morning straight through to the time I fell exhausted into bed at night.  During my illness and treatments and even now, I build in quiet time in the morning and at night to reflect on my relationship with God.  Sometimes this comes in the form of prayer.  Sometimes it comes in the form of meditation with the aid of "The Book of Awakening" by Mark Nepo.  Sometimes....during the day I have unexpected moments which I call Godcidences where I see God is with me.  These fill me with hope that things will get better.  I had one just on Friday.  I returned a friend's phone call and we chatted.  She mentioned how she would just like to sing for the pure joy of singing (make a joyful noise).  This appealed to me as I've continued to struggle with my voice.  A private get together to sing music without any expectations!  What a gift this would be in my day!  We decided to be spontaneous and meet at the church to sing in Upper Founders' Hall.  I was supposed to do my groceries but instead I quickly ran downstairs and grabbed just a few books and pieces of music without thinking.  When I arrived at the church, I saw my minister in the hall and she discussed with me the possibility of speaking about how I practise my hope.  I agreed and planned to ponder this on Saturday.  I continued to Upper Founders' Hall with my friend and we chose music at random.  The very first song spoke to me very strongly!  I had a Godcidence!!  This music fit the topic of Advent Hope and Peace perfectly.  As I sang it, I had a full warmth fill my body and soul.  God was with me again as I was struggling with a very chaotic personal week.  God provided me with hope as I sang with a friend in a spontaneous rendezvous.  I would have missed this wonderful experience if I had said no to it so I could get my groceries done.  Hope is available to all of us if we allow ourselves to be still, quiet and accept the possibility of God's constant presence with us.  I will now sing a short excerpt from the song that was definitely a Godcidence on Friday.  It's called "From A Distance" which was performed by Bette Midler.

Since I can't sing on the blog, the words that really spoke to me were "It's the voice of hope, it's the voice of peace, it's the voice of every man."

I wish you all an Advent season filled with Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Tests, tests and more tests

It has been a very busy last couple of weeks.  I had a check up at the Cancer Centre which resulted in two weeks of fear and anxiety as I was referred for a CT scan and then awaiting the results of that.  On Wednesday this past week, I had another appointment with my new hematologist (oncologist that specializes in lymphoma).  This was a great appointment as I found out the CT scan was clear!!  However as my doctor pointed out that does not help to explain some of the symptoms that I'm continuing to experience.  I do not need to come back to my hematologist until 6 months from now.  But I was referred to another doctor who specializes in throats as well as ears and noses and I am to have a Barium test of my upper GI.  I saw the ENT doctor on Thursday when he put small camera on the end of a fragile flexible cord up my nose and down into my throat.  The pictures he saw showed that my throat and vocal chords are very healthy.  There was some slight swelling that was unexplainable so I am to go back and see him again in 3 months.  The swelling may be related to my other symptoms to do with my upper GI.  But I have been given the affirmation that I can work on getting my singing voice back into shape.

In the midst of the appointments, I've been starting to think about Christmas.  I've been practising some Christmas music on the piano in preparation for playing it at the Cancer Centre on Fridays during the Christmas season.  This then puts me in the mood to decorate and do some more Christmas baking.  Some of my piano students have been working on Christmas music as they prepare for a small Christmas recital.  This always helps me get into the joyful spirit of Christmas.  I do love Christmas time and the season of Advent.  It also helps because we had our first real snowfall on Wednesday.

With the first snowfall comes the beauty of the snow on the trees.  I was out shovelling our driveway at 6 in the morning so that we could get my daughter to her commitment at 8 a.m.  The snow was very wet and heavy.  It was very difficult to move and throw with the shovel.  As I struggled and put all my weight behind the shovel, it inevitably stopped with a rolled up wave of slushy packed snow at the end of the shovel.  I could have become very discouraged but what I truly saw was the perfect snow for making snowmen.  I didn't have time on Wednesday to build a snowman but I wish I had.  The temperature dropped well below freezing overnight into Thursday and then made the snow crunchy and crumbly which is not conducive to building a snowman.  Oh well, hopefully I will have more opportunities later on.  I really don't like the cold but I do find that if I embrace some of the winter activities that it helps the winter go by more quickly.  But I've digressed.  What I really wanted to describe was the beauty of the heavy snow on the trees.  When I awoke on Wednesday morning, all the branches of the various trees and shrubs looked like they had white fluffy icing on them.  The evergreen trees looked like umbrellas that were closed up due to the weight of the snow on the branches.  It was very beautiful to look at though.  I must confess that as I huffed and puffed my way through the chore of shoveling, I stopped to catch my breath and enjoy looking at the trees up and down the street.  It was a beautiful morning!

While shoveling, I was reminded about how a brief moment can change your life and the lives of those around you in a flash.  I was carrying a heavy load of snow with my shovel to a spot further along the road on my property.  I was walking in the gutter of the road and as I heaved the snow off of my shovel, I heard a couple of short honks of a car horn.  You know the kind I mean.  The little friendly toots of friends driving by.  Since my snow was off the shovel, I turned around to wave and saw an SUV sliding towards me.  It didn't hit me but the woman driving had a terrified look on her face.  She rolled her window down and apologized.  She was sliding on the icy road towards me and she didn't know what to do so she honked her horn.  No harm was done but I do believe that she drove down the street a little slower.

Wednesday's snowfall helped keep me busy until my appointment at the Cancer Centre and it helped keep the full extent of my anxiety and fear at bay.  I must admit that this weekend I can finally feel my body relaxing as the lingering wisps of worry evaporate.  As I see the sunrises and sunsets, they are full of rosy pinks.  The few fluffy clouds at sunset have been edged by a brighter shade of crimson which highlights the beauty of the sky.  I'm back to appreciating the joy of each day.  Worry and fear really do drain your energy and rob you of the simple pleasures in life.  I must admit that I was back to repeating "One breath at a time".  The anxiety was almost debilitating at times in the last couple of weeks.  But onward we go as we head into Advent.

I still have my GI test to have done next week.  Getting older really is not fun.  I'm not sure how much of my discomfort has been due to lingering effects of the chemotherapy or just old age.  I do know that it takes up to 2 years for the body to fully recover from the chemo.  BC (before cancer) I rarely went to the doctor.  I would see my family doctor once a year for a physical.  That was it.  I didn't have multiple appointments with various doctors.  I didn't have any physical ailments or complaints that hung around my neck like a weighted stone.  I saw a plaque recently that said "Getting old is not for the faint of heart".  How true this is!!  I don't like having all these appointments.  They keep you from being able to do the things you really want to do in life.  However, I also know that these appointments are necessary in order to find out what is going on with my body.  But the really great news is that there is no cancer!!!  I'm free!!!!!