The Tears

Kids don’t hide their emotions: if they are sad, they cry. Somewhere along the path into adulthood, we are taught to restrain those feelings. We tell children to hold back the tears, to be strong and brave, sending them a message that somehow it is not acceptable to express sadness. And eventually, we simply lose the ability to show how we feel, rarely allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. We worry so much about what others think of us, and if we will be perceived as weak. And so, we hold it in, smile and perform, until that becomes habit. Sooner or later, all that we have contained fills us, much like a balloon about to burst. And for some, it does.

An overfilled balloon: that's a pretty good way to describe this week for me as I was unable to hold back the dam of emotions, the pain of grief so palpable that the only way to find relief was to sob uncontrollably. I was inconsolable, overcome by feelings I was unable to process. Yes, we refer to that as the “ugly cry." Sometimes, it can be quite cathartic. And necessary.

There is so much sorrow in this world, so much cruelty against our fellow man. Even if I stay away from the news, it is hard to ignore the humanitarian crisis abroad. The possibility of an even larger conflict looms large. And there are domestic threats. Our country is divided, the social and economic challenges growing daily, the unity we once enjoyed, threatened. To complicate matters, we are still in the middle of a global pandemic. The future implications of it all are enormous and so is the concern for our very existence on this fragile planet.

I weep for our inability to find peaceful solutions to conflict, the lost optimism, and for the corruption that power often brings with it.

Hurricane Ida made landfall seven days ago, with record-breaking rain and winds. The path of the storm put it on a collision course with my hometown in Louisiana bringing life-threatening conditions to people and unimaginable damage to property. The images of the devastation are heartbreaking. It will be weeks before power is restored and even longer before the rebuilding can begin. Sadly, the place where I grew up has been altered forever as the scars of such an experience remain.

I weep for those who have lost their homes, their sense of security, those who are having to dig deep for the sheer determination to begin again.

I’ve spent the past week meeting with doctors and trial nurses, compiling the research statistics and necessary tumor markers of this partially experimental treatment. I’ve listened to tales of hope, tempered with warnings of possible life-altering, long-term side effects. I have evaluated the logistics, pros and cons to each decision, and in the end, I deferred to my gyno oncologist, who has saved my life over and over again. I trust his judgment.

So no, I will not be entering the trial. I will be back in treatment, a different kind of chemo this time, in the hopes that it will successfully stop the rapidly multiplying cells. Remission seems like an impossible and improbable dream. I am now fighting to control progression.

We tend to think of the word “options” in a positive way, its connotation implying a wealth of choices. We say, “What shall I wear today? I have options.” Or “What shall I have for dinner tonight? So many options.” It is one of the blessings of living in a land where limitless bounty is commonplace. But for a cancer patient, an option refers to a course of treatment, a prescribed means of attacking the disease. And there are a finite number of these. With each failed attempt, that particular medication is removed from the list and another is moved into its place. Eventually, you run out of options. And I am going through mine rather quickly.

Most people don’t have to sit in the presence of their own mortality for an extended period of time. They can happily live in denial, ignoring the fact that the grim reaper eventually comes knocking for all of us. But the awareness of the impermanence of my existence is always with me, tapping me on the shoulder, a constant reminder that this illness will eventually win. That part is difficult and lonely. I am held together by faith, tightly bound by prayer.

I weep for myself, for the unrealized dreams, for the physical and emotional pain that accompanies the fight, for the realization that tomorrow isn’t promised.

Sadly, we live in a culture that doesn’t know how to grieve very well. But trouble will come, and we need to know how to acknowledge the accompanying heartache. We must learn to cry. And we must learn to honor those tears, to see them as a sacred cleansing. When we recognize and feel those emotions, we can somehow wash away the pain. And then, we must dry our eyes and face tomorrow. That’s the God-given power of the human spirit.

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