Everything speaks to me of springtime and resurrection! I put out two hummingbird feeders just before Easter in hopes that they would be returning soon. It was still early but I thought just maybe I could coax them back again. Last week I heard the first arrivals, and now all five feeders are active.
I remember last October when I was just beginning chemo and I regretfully took them down for the season. I love to watch the tiny creatures return again and again to the source of their tremendous energy. What will transpire in their absence? I wondered. What will fuel my flight through the dark months ahead?
Nowadays, in this Easter season, I can sing, "The strife is o'er, the battle done!" My hair is growing back again. But my voice is croaky from the maintenance chemo, and it reminds me that I am still being restored to health. I live within the tension of trying to do too much too fast and hesitating to re-engage the projects that were slowed or stopped by my illness. This can be a significant challenge. What can I do? What should I do? What do I want to do? I have permission to be excused but am I over-exercising it? These are the questions that complicate this stage of the journey. They are also the key to finding the new balance in my life, the transition from treatment to surveillance mode again.
Taking a lesson from the hummingbirds, I need to rediscover when I can fly and when I must perch.
My Sisters and friends help me sort this out. From little invitations to resume household chores to major exclamations of disapproval and declarations of "Thou shalt not!" they relieve the pressure I put on myself to get back in the game again. Responsibility weighs heavily for those accustomed to keeping all the balls in the air. It is a tremendous grace to have others who will gently disengage your hands from what distracts you from the work of restoration.
One of the greatest gifts restored to me at this phase of inter-mission is that I am flying again. Being "grounded" was necessary during chemotherapy, as air travel was neither prudent nor possible. Once the PET scan indicated that no further cycles of treatment were necessary and my immune system had time to bounce back to near normal range, I was off the no-fly list. I was able to attend the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress at the end of February, always an enormous infusion of faith and food for the soul. I returned to the motherhouse to reconnect with the sisters and associates who power-prayed me through treatment. This time around I have not felt so hesitant even to plan some summer international travel. The lingering specter of recurrence is as dim as it will be, and so there is a sense of urgency to check off a few of those "bucket list" items. Like the hummingbirds, I'm back in the friendly skies again.
My biggest question at this stage in recovery is, "For what have you healed me, O God?" There is a temptation to strain the eyes and ears of my heart to find a response. But the work of restoration requires that I "learn to love the questions" and allow the unknowing. The spikey desert plants that take weeks to open their blossoms are a reminder to me that something is happening, but just not ready yet to be revealed. I pray for a deep inner availability for whatever God has for me, whether it is something new or a continuation of my previous ministries. In either case, I am essentially in a different "place" than I was last September. The deconstruction of my life in the cocoon of cancer treatment and the healing power of God has allowed me to emerge in a new reality. I am still getting my bearings.
While I am in this time of relief and rejoicing, I am aware that many others are entering into the process through which I have just passed. Pattie just received a diagnosis and is waiting for treatment options. Other friends are in the midst of treatment, counting the cycles and wondering if anything is happening besides the tearing up of their bodies and their lives. I saw the concern on Marie's face last weekend when the calendars came out to schedule a meeting for next autumn. Her dis-ease resonated with my own. What commitments can I reasonably make? Dolores is hospitalized with new symptoms and a possible recurrence and Gloria is entering hospice care. Lisa who was in a support group that I facilitated after my first diagnosis eight years ago was buried last week. With each notification I am reminded that the paschal mystery continues and we each engage in our personal liturgical year. Sometimes, as it has been for me, it is perfectly in sync with the church calendar.
Alleluia is on my lips and in my heart!
[Janet Gildea, SC, has been a contributor to Global Sisters Report, writing on immigration and other topics from the U.S.-Mexico border. Janet began chemotherapy for recurrent ovarian cancer on October 6, 2015, an experience that she will be sharing in GSR over the next several months. Readers are also welcome to visit her blog, "Each Day Counts" at janetsc.wordpress.com. Access her Inter-Mission columns on GSR here.]