Happiness Held. Happiness Shared.


Sustain Me: Notes on Cancer, encouragement for cancer patients, stage four cancer, stage three cancer

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.” Ecclesiastes 3:11-13 (NIV)

Sometime you may be asked to drive to the capital of a foreign city. If you are lucky, you will be invited to stay in a lovely chateau in that city so you can walk along streets lined with tulips for the annual festival. You will want to drink strong coffee in a mahogany-paneled restaurant filled with quiet French conversation on a sunny weekend morning. Two mornings if your schedule allows. After an invigorating swim in the chateau pool at the start of day.

“Do you want to go to the tulip festival in Ottawa?” my neighbor had asked a few weeks earlier. Ottawa was the city where she married her husband decades before I was born.

The question came as she wryly observed my clumsy weeding around asparagus and red currant bushes between her house and mine. Almost ninety, her clippers touched deftly on one plant and moved methodically on to the next. Pruning to promote healthy growth. I stealth-watched her movements. I needed to try and figure out, for the fourth year in a row, how she knew exactly what to clip and what to leave alone. Sixty-some years earlier she and her now-deceased husband had planted the beloved and still-bountiful bushes.

I was the novice who, with my husband and family, had purchased the fruit bushes and beds of flowers. A house was thrown in, too. The property became a home that nurtured us through the challenges of my cancer. Along the way we’ve appreciated the beauty and cycles of tulips and daffodils and irises and rhododendrons and Japanese lilies and elderberries and lemon balm and wildflowers and foxglove and peonies and rosebushes and garlic chives and blueberries and blackberries and garlic and rhubarb and regular chives and hundreds of other wild things, the names of which I’m still learning. The fact I can list off more than two of these – and identify them regularly around the yard – is miraculous.

“Sure! I like an adventure.” God? Thank you. For new adventures and strength to enjoy them.

I continued to watch her deliberate movements amongst the plants. She and her husband had shown us many kindnesses. On Sunday afternoons we had been treated to conversation, tea and her famous apple cake. The first time I had cancer we went for some of those visits with my fanny pack of chemo and chest port in tow. The second time cancer came, she knew I was considering other options to heal my body. She handed me a book about the Gerson therapy and the Gerson Institute Clinic in Mexico. “If you were my daughter, this is where I would tell you to go!” I trusted her wisdom. I followed a similar protocol for raw foods that I could do at home. But the book on Gerson guided my decision about whether to accept a more targeted radiation treatment for the mass that was threatening my life. And how to navigate to health afterwards.

Just then I spied some of the first asparagus spears of spring. I was happy. Like a room-without-a-roof happy. Who would have thunk it. A year ago I had juiced and ate as much of our asparagus as possible before the four-month MRI. It was the first milestone after the second round of radiation and chemo treatment ended and I had returned to juicing and raw foods. That was the “Your mass has shrunk 90% – remarkable” MRI. Seeing the spiky green asparagus stalks was comforting. They knew what to do from year to year. My stewardship had not disrupted their well-being. Yet. Their “being” had helped restore my health from cancer and treatment.

organic asparagus currants red currant berries red currant bushesWe chatted some more about our upcoming trip over the asparagus and currant bushes. That set in motion three weeks of gymnastics with the helpful local DMV. I needed an enhanced driver’s license. Did you know that if you take your birth certificate, and it is the lovely inscribed version from the hospital that you’ve dutifully preserved for over forty years, it’s no good? The government requires a special, plain birth certificate. I paid extra to have the certificate sent quickly. It worked. The border guard waved us through with a bemused smile after we gave the tulip festival as our destination.

If you’re asked to go see flowers in a foreign capital?

1. Thank God.

2. Say yes.

3. Enjoy pools.

4. Find flowers.

5. Drink coffee.

6. Cherish friends.

7. Be. Happy.

tulip festival canada happiness quotes about happiness






cancer patient happiness 2014 stage four colon cancer survivor“Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”

Alfred Tennyson

My mother, she of the infinite energy and positive everything, gave my sister and me two beautiful Willow figurines this past weekend. Mine, pictured to the left, is called “Happiness”. A carefree girl smiles towards the sky and birds hang out on her sleeves. My mom’s kind wish and loving concern for me, her cancer-survivor-kid-in-hoping, came through loud and clear. I’m to embrace life and live it with abandon. Get reacquainted with the carefree girl. Arms open. Happy.

Life, even when you have much to be grateful for, can be just too messy and heavy and hard and exhausting and… there is a bird on my sleeve. Singing loudly. And she’s asking me to add words to her warbly sweet insistent melody.

Ok. Here is my list of words about carefree happy things heading into 2014. What are yours?

1. Lights on the Christmas tree.

2. Poinsettias that survive the Christmas purge. Sometime I’ll tell you about our first Christmas clean up.

3. A song played and sung with joy that makes you think maybe, just maybe, the courts of heaven open up and we’re all worshiping together with loved ones near and far, seen and unseen, when music is sung from the heart to the Creator. Can you imagine?

4. Snow shoes. I strapped on a pair that my family got me for Christmas and schlepped around the yard grinning like a fool. Happy fool.

5. Laughing or coughing so hard that you almost bust a gut. This is when your intestines twist painfully (the bad part) and then untwist (the happy part) because of radiation treatment. No, you shouldn’t try this. But you should laugh. Very hard.

6. Gift cards to Wegmans for produce. Love. Dear Wegmans marketing department. If you read this, I have room on my local Survivor’s Guide business directory for you. Will trade space for organic carrots and apples.

7. Tom making coffee in the morning. And getting the paper. And starting my car on cold days. And surprising me with a (gently used and in beautiful condition) elliptical.

7. A boss and co-workers that rock.

8. Christmas greetings from friends. I (hangs head in shame) sent not more than one. And my friends still love me. Thank you.

9. A daughter that does the dishes without being asked and uses her gift card to share Christmas with friends.

10. A hot-dog that barks and attacks the dust mop.

11. Family that prays. And calls and texts to say so.

12. A neighbor who shares apple and nut bread.

13. A quiet fire in the fireplace.

14. A God who promises to be here. Yesterday, today and tomorrow. And keeps giving a song.

Your turn. Arms wide. Eyes closed. Heart open. Deep breath. Face to the sky.

May you find happiness – or get closely reacquainted – in 2014.


Here is a link to an interview with Don Giovanni for Clear Channel’s Community Focus program in December. I appreciate Don inviting me to share about the cancer journey with his listeners: