One Last Word

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem) / Someone I loved once gave me / a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand / that this, too, was a gift.

Mary Oliver

In the darkness, there is always the possibility of light. Even when too sick or weary to seek it on our own, it can find its way to us anyway. It is not bound by physical constraints. It is free to go where it will and when. In the beautiful economy of life, the most important things make their way through the dark and fearsome things that would hold them back.

Often, the light appears most clearly when we least expect it, and it is always gift. I have been finding that all over again in these past few weeks when I have not been writing.

On May 12th, I found out that my present cancer treatment, which began in mid-January, has not made any difference in the size or activity of the mass which had signaled the return of the non-Hodgkin lymphoma that had been in remission for nearly a year. The cancer was unfazed, and the first treatment, which had put me in remission, could not be used again.

With great hope, I began a new kind of treatment with monoclonal antibody infusions and a very expensive chemotherapy pill (for which I qualified for free). I discovered a resilience and strength that I hadn’t realized I’d gained through my first treatment. They were a surprise and they have been a mysterious kind of light along this new journey, growing and stretching me even more. They have grown my sense of gratitude for the life I have had and still hope to grow into. I have grown a surprising calm that keeps me level in the midst of sudden changes.

At this point, any other available treatment is no more likely to succeed, but there happens to be a new drug trial at Mayo for which I am a perfect fit. This happened just in time in 2020, and that drug may well have been part of leading me into the remission that I had so enjoyed.

I chose, on the spot, to enter the drug trial. It is in Phase 2, which means that they know it works against large B-cell lymphomas that have recurred, and dosages have been established.

This week and next week, I go through testing to make sure I can qualify (it looks promising at this point), and then I will begin taking a new chemo pill once a day for 28 days for up to 7 cycles. That’s all. No infusions. Just the pill. Not bad.

There will be side effects (fatigue is always one, which I hate) to live with and uncertainties will abound. Every other cycle, I will have a PET scan to measure the size of the tumor. As long as it is smaller, I will continue with the treatment. If it is not, that will be the end of my participation and I’ll find out what else is out there – or not.

“I’m awakening to how much of fear, stress and anxiety comes from the pressure I feel to accomplish. To feel that whatever I’m doing is productive and in service to someone.”

“Because the honest truth is what my husband once said to me as we once stood in the kitchen, me spinning in circles of questions and doubt – “you don’t have to do a single thing more in your life to have already done enough,” he said.

And I would say the same to you.

“You don’t need to get more done (whatever the more is). God is celebrating beautiful you right now. Your calling is in who you are becoming, not what you are doing.”

Arianne Braithwaite Lehn

When I read these words last week, I saw light. And permission to let go of something that I have so loved doing since November of 2018. Writing this blog.

I began writing it because in particular, I wanted my elder companions to know that these later years are not something to be dreaded, but so often, celebrated. To keep our eyes open to the continuing wonders of love and friendship and wisdom and – becoming. Along the way, many who are much younger also found some meaning, and perhaps a bit less fear of their own aging.

I wanted – and needed to “be in service to someone.” I hope that I have done that in some way.

But I find now that I need to let go and turn all of my energy to recognizing and embracing the lights that will be in the inevitable darknesses that go along with most cancer treatments.

White Hair Grace is, therefore, being retired. I’ve loved every minute of doing it, and I close it with some regret, but also with the gratitude that I got to do it at all.

My calling, which I have especially embraced over the year and a half of living with cancer, is even more in “who I am becoming.” I am still finding myself calm in the midst of diminishing possibilities for a “long life.” I am confident that I do not walk alone and that God’s grace continues to provide me with what I need most as I travel the unknown road.

I am so very grateful for those of you who have followed me and encouraged me over these three and a half years. So many of you have become cherished friends, and you have strengthened me as you have shared your own stories. I carry you with me into the uncertain future. You make me braver than I might have been on my own.

Thank you, dear ones. It has all been grace…

And I’m very okay with that.

With love and admiration,