Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I’ve awakened in the middle of the night, consistently for the past nine weeks. My body has gotten into that habit. In the past two nights, I’ve gone from waking up anxious to waking up grateful. I am finally able to absorb all the gifts I'm being given. Not to be overwhelmed by them—but to wake up saying thank you.

What has changed? What has shifted, which has freed me so? Perspective. I still don’t know whether the treatment is working. I don’t know what I’ll be in for the next time I go south. I don’t know whether I will survive on this earth.

But I rejoice in all these many gifts:

Someone I treasure, but see too rarely, told me what I mean to her. I mean really told me. She wrote me a note that I’ll never forget. She’s always been on my back-pocket list; “these are good people.” Our paths don’t cross often. I had no idea that she loves me as much as she does, or that she pays such close attention. People, do this for each other. You don’t know the gift you’re giving, until you receive it.

I got a visit from a high school friend, about a week ago. We’re in touch on Facebook, but hadn’t seen each other since 1988. We’re both going through big things: mine medical, hers other. We were able to really be there for each other, and to laugh a lot too.

I had this conversation with my priest on Sunday, so gloriously normal:

“Goodness gracious! You don’t look like everything you’re going through.”
“Thanks, right now I don’t feel like it either.”
“We’re meeting with the bishop on Thursday, right?”
“Yes. At 2?”
[punches Blackberry] “Yes. Let me show you the tattoo I want.”

There is a fundraiser happening for me on the 21st, put on by Safe Ground, hosted by Trinity. As it happens, I can’t go because I’ll be in Riverside. I’ve been out of the scene for two months, and I’ve hardly ever been at church since I started chemo. But Safe Ground values me enough to have proposed this. Trinity’s happy to host it.

Said fundraiser was announced on Sunday. I got up at thanksgivings time and said, “These flyers are about me. Thank you for doing this.” A was with me, so she could drive me to my PET scan afterward. A visitor came up to us as we were getting ready to leave. I’d never seen him. He told us his best friend’s story with cancer (note that I was sitting with mine). He encouraged me that his friend successfully fought it, and I could too. Then he handed me $100.

A Facebook acquaintance messaged me this morning, to thank me for the way I go about this. She has her own health problems, and the way I’m public about my struggle and my faith helps her. Again, it is so good to be truly seen. And to know that what I’m doing, as much as I feel like I’m muddling most of the time, helps another.

A sister survivor gave me a gift: well, two really. One was a surprise hospital visit; I was expecting her later. We talked, and she gave me a bracelet. It’s a circle of saints, given to her by women who had been through harder challenges than chemotherapy. They inspire her, and apparently so do I.

I put it on immediately and wore it all week, but I couldn’t wear it at home. I tried, and freaked out. It reminded me too much of the hospital. A week and a half later, about two nights ago, I realized exactly what she had given me. I understood that this path is all about living a fully human, sacramental life—with and even through my wounds. I can be a priest to homeless people; I can even do it in the hospital. People are walking through hell with me right now. In turn, I will do that for others—knowing literally in my cancer-ridden bones, that the story ends in resurrection. Death has no power. I am safe, even with an IV dripping into me 400 miles from home. There is life after cancer, even if we coax it into dormancy and it stays there forever.  All of us have gifts to share.  All of us are safe, loved, and free to be our truest selves.

Fear—including anxiety about going back to chemotherapy—evaporated for me in that moment. I felt myself shift from hoping for life, to being invested in it. I’d forgotten how natural and good it feels to live.

I’m going back to Riverside in about a week, accompanied by one of my angels whom I haven’t seen in over a year. She appears when I need her. We’ve been reconnecting through e-mail. It’s so life-giving. She sees with her heart, and that’s where she speaks from. She’s teaching me more than I could have imagined about grace, love, and what ministry is.

I have a community in Riverside that has embraced me. They bring food, blankets, and themselves to keep me company. They mostly only see me when I’m loopy and sick. They call it a privilege.

Cancer is not an interruption in my life. It is my teacher, and right now this is my life. These gifts have come to me because of my illness. I am able to soak them in, now, and to be healed by them more than the drugs ever could. I wake up not scared, but grateful. I know that I can truly live.

The gift in the illness is simple, really:  it is waking up to love.

If you recognize yourself in this, or if you're doing any of these things for others, thank you.


Two Auntees said...

Thank you for sharing this. Your words are a ministry. You are fully alive. You are a blessing. Prayers continue for you. Sending you much love.

Ann said...

Thank Kirstin --

Kat said...

I could say, "You're welcome," but it feels more right to say thank you. : )

It was so good to see you. I am marveling at how our time together was like picking up a conversation that started long, long ago -- so far back I don't even remember how it started or how much we said then. I'm glad I'm closer, but wish I were closer yet.

I love your words. Thank you for sharing all of this.

Rose said...

Thanks be to God. Your words are inspiring, and evidence of faith: the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Each of us are both blessed and blessing. How wonderful for you to recognize that, both in others and in your own self and life. L' Chiam.

Kirstin said...

Love to all.

Kat, it was wonderful. Thank you/you're welcome. :-)

Rose, l'chaim!

teresa said...

Wow! Regardless of your health status, you just keep getting better! Rising to meet the occasion, and then some. You are indeed inspirational, wherever you are. Thank you so much for sharing your journey...
One of your fans,

RetiredPastorNancy said...

What you teach us makes such a difference.

Kirstin said...

Thank you.