Unwelcome Thoughts

In the interests of full disclosure, I am NOT always upbeat, positive and perky.  There are times…usually in the middle of the night…when I find myself thinking about this cancer and why it happened.  It’s not a “Why me?” in the sense of “God, why are you picking on me?” thing…I don’t believe God had a thing to do with my getting cancer.  It’s more a “What did I do or not do that caused this?”

I remember talking to a friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer once.  She was really beating herself up about it.  “I should have eaten better.  I should have exercised more. I should have been more careful not to allow myself to get all stressed about things, to get enough rest, etc. etc. etc.”

And I (wisely) said, “It’s not your fault.  It just happened.  Or if there were things that contributed to it, that was then, and this is now.  Forget it.  What you do from here on is all that matters.”

And I do believe that.  EXCEPT when I wonder…Two rounds of cancer.  Cheat me once, shame on you.  Cheat me twice, shame on me.  Is this because I smoked when I was younger?  Is it because I don’t eat healthy enough?  Is it because I allowed myself to go through some very stressful years at Cranberry?  Is it because I didn’t exercise enough?  Is it because when I first had a bit of trouble with acid reflux I didn’t get it checked out?

Judith Viorst in Necessary Losses says “we’d rather feel guilty than powerless”…Interesting.  Would I rather feel guilty?  Frankly, I’d rather feel powerless…Hey, it’s not my fault.  There is nothing I could have done to prevent this.  There is nothing I can do to change the outcome.

It’s a fine line I walk between “You screwed up, Mary and you need to fix this” and “There is nothing I did or can do”…Because I do believe the truth is somewhere in the middle.  Whether or not I could have prevented this with healthier living through the years isn’t relevant (except to any young people reading this who might want to think about it)  As I read once, “Don’t look back.  You aren’t going that way.”   Whether or not my visualization, prayer, positive attitude, exercise, meditation, healthy eating (apple crisp for breakfast?) etc. will determine the outcome… That remains to be seen.

I think what I really believe is that EVERYTHING counts…What we do, what we don’t do, what we think, what we believe…Everything is a piece of the pie.  (You know the saying…If you think you can’t, you’re right.  If you think your can, you’re right)And if I get well, I will have had a part in that healing (you will too with your prayers and energy and good thoughts) and if I don’t get well, I will have had a part in that too.  But just a part.  Because so much is beyond our understanding…

Enough said…I told you it’s not all fun and games.  But it really is fun and games most of the time.  I laugh a lot.  I don’t “go there” much …wondering how I screwed up I mean…and when I’m there, I try to move on as soon as possible.  It isn’t a good place for me to be.

Serious thoughts for a Saturday morning.  Better move on..finish the laundry, get ready to go out.  Gorgeous sunny day again..Lucky us!IMG_0394


23 thoughts on “Unwelcome Thoughts

  1. Your thoughts reflect the seriousness of your situation and are bound to dominate your mind at times.
    Letting go of disappointment- difficult, but necessary to move on.

  2. Whew. I have those moments too…always in the middle of the night. I get through the day fine but then go to bed and am plagued with anxiety and sometimes sheer panic. Especially now at 10 years out…I feel I am waiting for the next round. I hope it gets better for both of us!

  3. I never go there. At least not intentionally. It’s too heavy on many levels and in general I know I’ve never done anything grossly Ill- advised. If I’ve eaten too much junk it’s because it made me happy at the time. If I slept in instead of hitting the gym, it’s because I wanted my cozy bed more at that moment. The bigger stuff like “why did I get all those back X-rays as a kid”, “why did I worship the sun as a teen”. Well the answer is because at that time I just didn’t know better. Or I was young enough and un-jaded enough to think only of the “present me” and not the “future me” and I could really have asked more of my young self than that. And well the rest if it (genetics, just dumb bad luck), well that is, was and always will be beyond my control. I just try not to “live stupid” now, I listen to my docs and I do what I can. If there is more health crap coming my way in the future, well I’ll just have to cross that bridge when I come to it.

    So I guess what I’m saying is don’t spend too much time fretting over what ifs. What if you did everything right and then got struck by lightning?! Just do what you can and don’t best yourself up about the rest. As far as I am concerned you’ve got it 90% licked with your kick- ass attitude (even if you can’t keep it up 24/7). And that other 10%, that’s for the docs to figure out.

  4. I appreciate your messages today, Mary – light-hearted, serious, and truly helpful! Love, Barb G. PS I loved the picture yesterday with you and your brother – – what a big boost to have him visit you (plus apple crisp!).

  5. Jackie’s philosophy sounds “on the money” but I, too, find the middle of the night is the toughest time to ward off unwanted, worrisome thoughts.I can only “stand up” to those “what ifs” during the daytime. (I know what your friend Tennley means: 9 years out for me and any “waiting for the other shoe to drop” thoughts only surface at night.) I wonder if most nightmares occur in the middle of the night when your defenses are lowest…good question for someone who has participated in some dream studies.

    I remember saying to my mother when she was suffering through one of her depressions, “There is no correlation between worry and outcome.” It’s a good theory but it tends to be elusive in the middle of the night. Perhaps it’s afraid of the dark?!

    Wishing you peaceful thoughts and light,

  6. Mary, your thoughts are so deep…and so valid. The crappy part about it is there is no “right” answer. We always seem to want to line our ducks up and expect them to follow some path that makes sense…have yet to recognize that if it’s ever happened. You’re on the roller coaster (as we all are….mine, at the moment, is not as much of a challenge as yours). I view your email as you, on the roller coaster, screaming…perfectly allowed. We all meet our “screaming spots” and then move on, knowing we’ll meet more. Yell your head off and keep going! Thanks for taking us with you.

    I’d tell you it’s crappy to have a cold on a beautiful sunny, cool day but that’s more of a whimper than a yell!

    Sent from my iPad


  7. In my eyes, you have been redeemed, actually human. How could you not be filled with angst? None of us knows what lies ahead so we cautiously move forward in the hopes that we’re moving in right direction. I’ve always been one who believes that we make the wisest decisions we can when we can. You have made the wisest decisions you can.
    To me, I am grateful for the remarkable inroads that science has made. With each new day, more is being accomplished; more and better treatments are becoming available. You are taking advantage of these…thankfully.
    you have every reason to have mid-night angst but while the anxiety is striking, think about those thousands of scientists who are hard at work.

  8. Mary,
    I remember saying something to someone once about that and she reminded me that that would mean that people who die from an illness are to blame and that we are not that powerful or important, that there is! And I use her quote here, “a God in His Heaven”. We cannot forget that there is the master plan that is beyond our understanding and that it may have nothing to do with you or what you have done or not done. Who was it that said, “Use me, Lord “? Right now, this very minute, you have been chosen (May not have been your choice), and your job may be to inspire, turn someone else to God, meet someone in the waiting room at Anderson who needs to know you. All that is expected of us is to do our best. None of knew the consequences of smoking or stress. Why do some people live completely unhealthy, insane lives and never get sick or suffer? Divine plan again. I think you are doing very well. I do not do well with the unknown or with things I have to wait for or can’t control, so pat yourself on the back for being able to laugh and get out of your head for a while. Be gentle with yourself and know that you are where you should be and it is not to be understood. It seems to me that people with true faith have these things happen to them, or does the faith come with the happening? Thinking of you often. You can do this!!!!
    Mary H.

  9. Gary & Suzanne White

    Mary, thank you!

  10. Do you know the song….”Isn’t it ironic”? I have no idea who sings it because I’m not good at knowing that stuff, but it’s about when something good happens and then something bad happens and wipes it out. Well, maybe we can reverse that for you…..something bad happened so now you are doing what you can to wipe out the bad with something good…..health!
    Be well and think well, friend.
    And I’ll see you in February! We will be in Venice from Sunday 2/16 midday to Wednesday 2/19 till late in the day. Can’t wait! Until then, take care~

  11. Deirdre Christman

    I’m with Jackie when it comes to health. I hate the “blame the victim” mentality so many writers and TV doctors espouse. What’s done is done – and maybe it didn’t even matter, unless you smoked for 40 years and get lung cancer. Other than that, what counts is now – and, Mary, you’re doing everything right. By that I mean embracing your treatment and thinking positively as much as possible. I don’t think it matters what you eat right now, as long as you eat. Kale if you want it, Ben and Jerry’s also a good choice. And when you’re feeling miserable, feel miserable. It’s not going to impede your progress. Now go enjoy the weekend and whichever movie you and Jerry decide to see. That’s uplifting, bound to be good for you.

  12. I am writing this response many hours after I read the recent blog. Needed to reflect on it and figure out how to reply. Well, I went to 4:00 o’clock church and was surprised to hear Fr. Reilly speak to your message. The message was instead of thinking, “Why me?” to turn it around and ponder, “Why not me?” When we are born God gives us His light, so we can do what we need to do, let His light make us strong, and shine that light for others to see. It all made sense to me…. His light has been shining through you, keeping you strong, and allowing you to be an inspiration to many. Keep shining and sharing! We all need to remember, “Why not me?”

  13. Moriarty Geraldine

    Loved Jackie’s comment!!

  14. Such wisdom in the comments on this page. Mary, these friends of yours are amazing. Wishing you soothing and peaceful dreams. Love, Mary

  15. I LOVE your friends. Mary!!! And thank you for these intimate reflections. At 9 years out, my anxieties start creeping in the two months before my mammogram, day or night. I’m pretty good up until then. I eat fairly well, as a 46 year vegetarian and, boy, do I love my Ben and Jerry’s. But there are also environmental factors that we all have so little control over. I think our best weapon is our attitude, “kick-ass”, as your friend aptly calls yours. And my nurse/cousin would also remind me… “Your cells are listening.” Tell them you feel just fine!

  16. I wondered about that too during my treatment for thyroid cancer when, in the middle of the night, all fears, questions and sorrow surfaced. I thought about all the xrays I was exposed to from infancy on, and then I add the environmental factors that we are all exposed to and know there are many pieces that make up the whole.

    The young person we were is part of who we are today and we made decisions without much forethought because that was how our brains were wired; it’s biology. I’m not angry (maybe embarrassed) with my younger self for the mistakes I’ve made. What I try to focus on is what I do right more than my mistakes.

    When I recall all of where you have been and the choices you have made over our 40 years of friendship, I couldn’t think of another person who has lived a more conscious life along with yoga and walking on the beach at sunset, joining multiple book clubs, taking in cultural events, enjoying your grandkids, family and friends, writing and even adding stresses like teaching at Cranberry.

    The wisdom,talent and friendships you have nurtured in life are other parts that make up you. When it comes down to it, we really want to be around to enjoy this gift called life. And in our quest, we are constantly looking for clues to answer our questions.

  17. Maria del Rocío Costa Colón

    Mary, after reading your post today, I remembered this article I read a couple of weeks ago. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/05/sunday-review/why-everyone-seems-to-have-cancer.html?smid=fb-nytimes&WT.z_sma=OP_WES_20140105&_r=0

  18. The Middle-of-the-Night- blame/shame-Thoughts! I know them well. Sometimes I think this is just an opportunity, defenses down, to give permission for the clods of fear to surface so we can visit in private when we are not being brave for others or mustering strength for the laundry. It’s so human. You are surrounded by such wonderful love.

  19. Many words of wisdom and thoughts to ponder upon. Yesterday the priest at St. Mary’s started his sermon by asking the congregation, “do you ever say “what IF……”?. Then I came home and read your blog. It was so incredibly coincidental…. I understand what you are feeling and had talked to my doctor about it. He said this is so normal and like your friends say, we just have to do our best and move on. You are such an amazing strong person who embraces life with dignity, full force and amazing grace. You are on the right track and you will get through despite those bumpy days. As you know all of us who have been blessed by having you in our lives are sending all our love, prayers and positive vibes. Hang in there and thanks for sharing your thoughts, your family your wise reflections and your amazing journey with us. Kick ass, and Go PAtriots!!

  20. Alisha has been forwarding your posts to me. I guess I need to figure out how to receive them myself lol! Anyway, I’ve been reading over the last few weeks and just wanted to let you know what an inspiration you are! From the day I met you, you have been someone I looked up to. Your dedication to your students’ education (even when it all seemed impossible), the way you engaged with your students, knowing and caring about them on a personal level, always offering to help others, you are amazing! An amazing mom, grandma, teacher, wife, friend! Thank you for being you! You are in my prayers. Please let me know if there is ever ANYTHING i can do for you! Love you! Xoxo

  21. Wise and thoughtful statement. I remember when I was diagnosed with cancer and one of my colleagues said, “But Sonia, you do everything right! How could this be happening to you?” She meant that I always eat well, I exercise regularly, and I try in general to take care of myself. You see, we just don’t know why things happen, even if we “do everything right” or even if we “do everything wrong.” Hang in Mary; you’re doing as much right as anybody can do, and if the amount of love so many people have for you is any indication, you’re in good shape.

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