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A Dozen Christmas Roses From My Dad

I guess you could say I’m a kid at heart, especially when it comes to Christmas.  I’m the first to put up the decorations, and the last to take them down.  I partly blame my dad for my obsession with Christmas.  He brought magic to the season throughout my youth.  I have fond memories of hanging glittery painted balls on the tree between the bubble lights and handmade ornaments.  I remember the dreadful worry of Santa not making it into our living room because Dad teased he would keep the fire alive in the chimney all night.  Each Christmas morning I woke up to find hard candy in zigzag shapes in my stocking, and always an orange stuffed in the toe.

The best surprises of all awaited me under the tree and I was never disappointed.  Besides presents from Santa, Dad always personally contributed to the bounty.  He carefully handpicked each gift, displaying his sensitivity to my personality.  I always received my fair share of dolls and the typical girlie treasures, but Dad was responsible for the telescope, a red Schwinn bike, and a chemistry set which was the source of many creative concoctions.  When I turned twelve, he gave me a tiny transistor radio which was the rage that year, and the envy of my friends.  I don’t know where he got all his grand ideas, but one thing was certain.  The gift would be straight from his heart and a complete surprise.

The magic of the season flowed through my veins and I kept it alive as I grew, left home, and began a family of my own.  My dad continued to be an integral part of each season’s celebrations.  It was one of the things most endearing about him.  That’s why I’ll never understand why he left us, just ten days before Christmas that year.

I remember the day well.  I was Christmas shopping when I received the call.  My dad, always healthy and vibrant, had just suffered a stroke.  I almost didn’t take it seriously.  He would be alright.  You grow up believing that dads will always be there.  One can imagine my shock when I arrived at the hospital and he wasn’t conscious.  Within hours he quietly passed from this life into the next without even a chance to say good-bye . . . and only ten days before our favorite day of the year.

Anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one knows what the next few days are like.  Everything is a blur. Somehow one gets through the planning, the guests, the necessary meals, the funeral.  Somehow.  It’s the days that follow that are actually the hardest to bear when everyone else goes back to life as they know it.

Christmas still had to happen.  My dad would want it that way, so we pressed on, going through the motions.  If nothing else, I had to have a real Christmas tree.  There had never been a Christmas in my home without the fragrant smell of pine, and this year it was more important than ever.  Being only a few days before the twenty-fifth made this a bit tricky, but my husband humored me and drove literally miles to find one.  Satisfied to have a tree, I couldn’t bring myself to decorate it.  I saved that for a different day.  We would get through this Christmas the best we could without Dad.  Somehow.

The Sunday before Christmas was especially lonely.  I came home early from church and walked into my living room where the tree stood barren, patiently waiting to be adorned.  Like the tree without lights and tinsel, I lacked holiday cheer.  As my mind drifted to happier scenes of Christmases past, my gaze left the tree, slowly focusing on a lone rose bush in the backyard; the rose bush my dad had given me for Mother’s Day several years before.

Squinting, I shifted my angle by the window to reduce the glare.  I blinked several times, not believing what I saw.  The scraggly, unkempt bush was bearing a solitary white rose in full bloom with a blush of pink brushing the edge of each petal.  I rushed outside for a closer look, only to see not just one rose, but eleven other buds in varying stages of development.  I counted twice to be sure, but there were exactly one dozen roses on the bush.  Twelve roses that individually unfolded their tender petals, revealing life and hope throughout the entire Christmas season.  My dad hadn’t forgotten me that Christmas.  He managed to give one last perfect gift, a dozen Christmas roses–an assurance of his love and presence during our favorite time of year.

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A Christmas Miracle or Two

Christmas approached, but not with the usual anticipation and joy typically characteristic of the season.  At least not for Afton.  It was nearly a year since the unexpected death of her husband and the music, smells, and festive decorations only intensified the memories that were still so vivid.  How could she possibly make it through the holidays, not only for herself but for her eight-year-old son who still marveled at the magic of the season?

It was the mid-1950’s when Afton’s beloved Karl was hospitalized, just a few weeks before Christmas.  No one expected a 48-year-old healthy man to never come home.  He passed away from a bleeding ulcer, a condition that could be easily remedied with modern medical knowledge.  It took time for her young son, Randy, to fully understand his dad was not coming home.  What was he supposed to do with the hand tooled leather keychain he made his dad for Christmas?

Afton’s five grown children also suffered from the loss yet rallied to support her.  A close friend taught her how to drive a car, another to find a job.  For someone who had depended solely on her husband, it was a year packed with challenges and personal growth.  She worked hard to fill the role of both Mom and Dad to her young son.

As the world burst forth with bright lights and seasonal music, Afton struggled with “. . . ‘Tis the season to be jolly.”  Randy’s excitement, consistent with an 8-year-old, couldn’t be contained and Afton realized she needed to find a way to fill her own heart with the spirit of Christmas.  The solution came to her mind soon after her resolve to forget herself.

Despite the challenges of learning to live without her husband, Afton busied herself in her Church and community during that first year.  Every Saturday, she drove a carload of children from the same family—nine in all—to a Church activity, organized for the younger members of the congregation.  She became close to this family witnessing the hardships they faced in providing for each child’s needs.  Their home, situated in a poor neighborhood, was well-kept but modest.  As Christmas approached, it was obvious this family would have no visit from Santa.

Afton’s funds were limited, but with what little she had she took Randy to a nearby store to shop for each child.  Randy eagerly helped his mom choose the perfect gift for each individual.  Not only was Afton helping a family celebrate Christmas, she was teaching her son the joy of giving.

Afton and Randy arose early Christmas morning to make their delivery.  Before opening their presents under the tree, they loaded the car and made the familiar trek to the family’s home.  Laden with gifts, they entered the small dwelling, surrounded by shrieks of excitement.  As each present was quickly unwrapped, smiles lit young faces and wide eyes shone brightly at the Christmas miracle.

But that was not the only miracle that took place that Christmas morning.  Afton’s heart healed as she opened it up to serve others who needed her.  Randy, now a father and grandfather, still becomes emotional as he shares his favorite Christmas memory.

Serving when we least feel like it is precisely when we must serve.  When your light is dim, share it with another and see what happens.

Don’t Mess With Tradition

A Tempting Proposal

It all began with good intentions.  Randy knew I worked hard on Thanksgiving day (not to mention the weeks leading up to it) and he wanted me to relax and enjoy the holiday.  I taught school at the time, and the four-day vacation surrounding Thanksgiving was not a break from my hectic schedule.

“Let’s go out to eat this Thanksgiving,” he blurted unexpectedly a few weeks before the big day.  “We can skip the preliminary planning, the shopping, and the full day of cooking.  And we won’t have to figure out how to get the leftovers in the fridge.”  He shouldn’t have mentioned the leftovers.  That’s my favorite part.

Randy was clever with his timing.  His proposal came on a day when I was exhausted and cranky from dealing with second-graders.  His suggestion gradually transitioned from absurd to enticing as the holiday approached.  One week before Thanksgiving, I embraced the offer, grateful I didn’t have to purchase a turkey or a pomegranate, two items I buy only once a year.

No Favorite Pie?

The fourth Thursday of November came without fanfare or stress.  After watching the Macy’s Day parade (for the first time sitting), the family climbed into the car with varying amounts of enthusiasm.  It was uncharacteristically silent as we drove to an all you can eat buffet.  Promising a movie to follow our meal made little difference in the existing mood and I sensed disaster in my hasty decision to change years of tradition.

The Thanksgiving buffet offered many choices but didn’t come close to the savory, homemade delicacies that took hours to prepare.  Feeling physically rested didn’t compensate for the joy I missed serving my family.  Unlike past Thanksgivings, I didn’t rise early to dress the turkey or bake eight different pies to cover everyone’s favorite.  Instead of a morning filled with the laughter of family working together in the kitchen, we all sat in a cold restaurant filling our stomachs, void of conversation or smiles.  I was surprised how much I missed the mounds of dirty dishes and the football game blaring in the background.

More Than a Feast

Why did I feel hungry sitting in the crowded theater watching a newly released Christmas movie?  Pondering the day’s events, I discovered the reason for my emptiness.  Thanksgiving is more than a meal with all the right foods.  Thanksgiving is a day to demonstrate gratitude and loving service.  It is time spent together, cooking, playing, and talking.   It is the season we give thanks for a year of prosperity and blessings, the reasons behind the First Thanksgiving.

As we entered our home late that evening, absent were the smells of sage dressing and pumpkin pie.  Gone was the need to browse through my recipe box of twenty different ways to fix leftover turkey.  Missing were the anticipated meals of turkey sandwiches on day-old rolls.  The fridge was void of fruit salad with brown bananas and gooey marshmallow-topped yams.  We might as well have slept through Thanksgiving, and even though my feet weren’t throbbing, and the kitchen sparkled, I vowed we would never skip it again.

How I Took That First Step on the Chemo Road

The day has arrived; a day I never thought would be part of my life.  A whirlwind of uninvited events has led me to this door—the entrance to the oncology waiting room.  Leaning against the heavy door, I finally gather the strength to walk through.  A victor over the first step, I make my way to the front desk where I’m greeted by a friendly smile that’s hard to return.

I obediently take the clipboard of paperwork, realizing that each action is signaling acceptance to what is about to transpire.  I am allowing permission to have poisons injected into my body.  Poisons that will kill the bad, but not without affecting the good.  What am I doing?

I make my way to an empty seat and glance at the paper positioned on top of the pile.  Re-reading the first question to make sure I read correctly, I experience some comic relief.

“Do you feel like having chemo today?”

Will I ever feel like having chemo?  I ponder the absurdity of the question and respond honestly.

“No, I don’t.”

I hope this answer will disqualify me from today’s dreaded appointment.

Already planning how to spend the newly freed three hours of my day, I hear my name.  Excuse me?  Did they not read my response to their questionnaire?  I try once more to escape the scheduled injection of chemotherapy by looking the nurse in the eye as she walks me into the brightly lit room filled with leather recliners.

“I’m not really feeling up to this today.  Didn’t you read my answer to the first question on your form?”

The nurse smiles and asks me to choose a chair as she takes my blood pressure and temperature.  Why am I allowing this?

“Everything looks great for us to proceed today.  Can I get you a drink while you wait for Diane to start your IV?”

“No thanks.  May I use your restroom?”  It was the only escape I could think of at the moment.

I enter the spacious ladies’ room and quickly lock the door before sitting down on the toilet.  It is the only available seat and I am too shaky to stand.  Stalling for time to re-evaluate what is about to transpire, I attempt to organize my conflicting emotions.

If I proceed, strong medicines will soon be coursing through my body.  It takes a single dose to cause my hair to fall out, and that is only one visible sign of the many possible side effects of chemo, not to mention the havoc it will cause internally.  Instead of the clarity of thought that generally governs my actions, my mind has been scrambled since I learned I had cancer .  The advice of my oncologist has led me to this point and I trust his judgment and recommendations, but have I internalized them?  Once the IV needle is inserted,  permission is granted to move forward with his treatment plan.  Am I ready to accept the consequences of such a decision?  Am I ready to accept the consequences of not making such a decision?

A soft knock on the door interrupts my thoughts.  Either someone else needs to get in, or the staff is concerned about my lengthy restroom visit.  Reluctantly, I go to the sink, wash my hands and exit the only place in the cancer center where I can be alone.

Digging deep to find the strength to proceed, I walk to my chair and submit half-heartedly to the chemo regime.  As the nurse skillfully inserts the IV needle and hooks the bulging bag of medicine to my IV pole, I finally give in to the plan designed to knock out my cancer.  It is a plan devised from years of scientific research and, for now, it is the best they have.

There are many opinions and approaches to fighting cancer and I have learned not to judge any chosen route, accepting the freedom each cancer patient has in deciding what is best.  The first time around, I placed complete trust in my doctor’s recommendations.  What will I do if cancer strikes again?  I will carefully weigh the available information; the odds, the risks, and the quality of life.  And, just as I refuse to judge another’s choice, I expect the same courtesy in return.

I don’t regret allowing the countless bags of medicine drip into my veins.  All my subsequent scans have provided the assurance that the cancer is gone.  The memory of how I felt after each chemo injection has faded, and I’m thankful for the extra days, months, and years they’ve provided.

That first day of chemo was like stepping onto a dark path, filled with unseen pits and boulders that caused me to stumble, even fall, along the way.  I traveled forward with trust until I saw the small ray of hope that grew with every stride I took towards completing my treatments.  Taking that first step was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but now that the path is behind me, I’m grateful for the journey that granted me the gift of life.

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Related articles  https://claudiabretzing.com/2017/01/19/enter-the-cancer-demon/

The Story Behind “The Cancer Effect”

Unexpected Journey

I will always remember the day I learned I needed a biopsy on a suspicious mass discovered in my left breast.  I was completely lost.  The shock of the news sent me spinning and I didn’t have a clue how to proceed.  Each step on this journey brought new twists, turns, bumps, and detours, which I  gradually tackled, one by one.  Upon reaching the end of the long treatment road, I realized I left my emotions at the beginning.  I used all my energy to fight the physical battle and now faced the task of making sense of the complicated feelings that accompany a cancer diagnosis.  I thought the physical journey was difficult.

Why I Wrote

After finishing eight grueling months of chemotherapy, I began writing my story.   It was therapeutic, allowing me to sort through the inner turmoil  I couldn’t shake.  Emotional survival was just as important as the physical and I saw the wisdom in sharing with others what I discovered along this precarious path.  Maybe, just maybe my words could ease the journey for someone else.

My story is also relevant for the family who must watch and care for a loved one diagnosed with cancer.  As they walk with me down the cancer road, they get a glimpse of the thoughts and struggles facing cancer patients.  I show how family and friends play a vital, supportive role in assisting their loved one to conquer the challenges ahead.

The Cancer Effect was written to help us all survive the disarming effects of cancer.  We need to support each other as we move forward after hearing the words no one wants to hear.  To quote my editor, “Wow.  I feel like I just passed through the most incredible journey.  You have brought the reader right into your world.”  I hope The Cancer Effect does the same for you.

The Cancer Effect is available on Amazon.  http://tinyurl.com/zvbj8sk

The Silver Dollar Lesson

Secret Treasure

It was the early sixties, and like many ten-year-olds, I had a collection.  I remember my friends’ collections which included anything from a big foil ball made of chewing gum wrappers to the typical horde of marbles or rocks.  One of my friends collected plastic horses, which didn’t interest me in the least.  I saw little worth in something that posed in one position and collected dust.  On the other hand, I was very proud and protective of my collection.  In my mind, it was truly valuable.  I collected silver dollars.

Due to its extreme worth, I didn’t mention my stash to anyone.  I kept it safe in a small box, the size a person would place a necklace.  Inside the box was a piece of cotton that hugged the base and kept my treasures in place.  I only owned eight silver dollars, but that was a fortune for a girl of ten, especially in those days.

When I was alone in my room, I enjoyed taking the box from the middle drawer of my bookshelf, carefully removing each silver dollar.  I savored the coolness of the coins as I turned them over in my hand.  With explicit care, I arranged them in a line on my bedspread from the earliest minted coin to the latest.  Being especially proud of the older coins, I vowed to keep them forever.

Karen

The day finally came when I decided to share the secret of my collection with a friend.  It was early spring when I invited Karen over to roller skate.  We barely began skating when a sudden cloudburst forced us inside.  As we sat on my bed discussing what to do, I suddenly knew how to save the day.  I would show my prized collection to Karen.  As I removed the small box from the back of my drawer, I stressed the importance of never revealing what I was about to disclose.  I was almost breathless as I proudly removed each silver dollar.  We enjoyed inspecting the coins together, Karen squinting to read aloud the date of the oldest coin,”1921.”  It was fun to finally divulge my grandiose collection to a trusted friend.

The Lost Coin

When it was time for Karen to go home, she carefully helped me put each coin in the box and I replaced the lid.  As I lifted the heavy contents into the drawer, I lost my grip and dropped the box, scattering the entire collection in every direction.  My hardwood bedroom floor was the worst landing spot for silver dollars and I watched in horror as several bounced and rolled out of sight.  Working together, we were able to retrieve seven of the coins, but the eighth coin could not be found.  I was heartbroken.  To add to my dismay, I discovered the missing coin was the one bearing the date, 1921.  How could I have been so clumsy and careless?

After Karen left, I grabbed a flashlight and continued to comb every inch of my bedroom.  I turned over clothes, looked under furniture, and removed everything on my closet floor.  Searching in vain, I began to suspect that Karen may have found my rarest treasure and decided to keep it.  Once the thought entered my mind, it began to fester like an annoying blister.

At school on Monday, Karen asked again about the missing coin.  I told her I hadn’t found it yet and she seemed genuinely concerned.  I decided to let it go and our friendship continued, although I was more distant and we spent less time together.

The Gift

By May I had lost all hope of finding my silver dollar.  Two months had passed and the school year was nearing an end.  The incident was almost forgotten with the coming of summer vacation and my birthday.  I was planning a party and had invited my closest friends, including Karen.  As we sat around opening presents, I smiled as Karen handed me a small, wrapped box.  I could tell she was really excited about her choice of gifts and couldn’t wait to see my reaction.  As I lifted the lid of the tiny box, I saw an aged silver dollar.  Slowly, my eyes focused on the date:  1921.  I choked out a polite “Thank you” as my heart sank.  My suspicions were confirmed.  At least I got my precious silver dollar back.

Karen probably wondered why I stopped inviting her over.  She had lost my trust and I didn’t feel the same about our friendship.  I remained silent about my feelings not knowing how to approach her and talk about it.

A Coin Found, a Friendship Lost

It was the middle of July when I decided to rearrange my bedroom furniture.  I enjoyed reorganizing my room and it was the perfect task for a boring summer day.  Since I didn’t have carpet, it was easy to scoot the bed across the floor and as I did so I heard a familiar clinking sound.

I quickly knelt down and peered beneath the bed skirt.  Among the dust, I saw what looked like a large round coin.  Stretching my arm, I retrieved it and held it up to the light.  I blinked in unbelief at the numbers that boldly shouted their accusation.  1921.  It was my missing silver dollar.  Apparently, on that fateful spring day, it had bounced some crazy way and lodged on one of the bed boards.  Moving my bed was all that was needed to jar the coin from its hiding place and announce its presence.

The joy of finding the lost coin was overshadowed by guilt.  I had unjustly accused Karen of stealing my silver dollar and then giving it back as a gift.  In reality, she had searched and found a replacement, knowing how much the coin meant to me.  She was a genuine, true friend and I had doubted her integrity and discarded our friendship.  In the meantime, she had moved on.

The Lesson

I have never forgotten the grief I felt that day.  Not only did I misjudge someone’s character but I lost the association of a cherished friend.  I didn’t know how to repair things with Karen, but I haven’t forgotten the impact of one silver dollar.

Throughout my life I have repeated this mistake, thinking I have all the facts to make a sound judgment.  When I look beyond the obvious and into the heart, I find in every case my conclusions are wrong.  My mind flashes back to the day I found my missing coin and I renew my resolve to remember the poignant lesson taught by a single silver dollar.

Bears Are a Good Thing

When I was going through my cancer treatments, I received an assortment of beautiful flower arrangements, thoughtful cards, chocolates, and a floppy grey teddy bear.  Each gift brought a smile to my face and warmed my weary heart.  As time passed, the flowers became memories, the chocolates were consumed (mostly by others since I couldn’t tolerate sweets), and the cards were saved in a plastic tub somewhere.  However, the gray teddy bear remained vigilant and stalwart on his post in my room, still wearing a crooked smile, smooshed and bedraggled from lots of hugging.

Who would think a stuffed animal would remain part of a home décor years after its purpose has been fulfilled?  I didn’t understand it myself until I read about Schlepp, a bear who had the same assignment as my gray teddy; to bring comfort to a fifty-something woman going through chemo. With permission, I share Anne’s story.  I would guess we all have Schlepps in our lives.

The first bear, a small tan baby with white angel wings, came wrapped around a bud vase and was delivered by my neighbor, Linda.  “I fell in love with this little guy the minute I saw him in the florist’s case,” Linda explained.  “I knew he was just what you needed.  Bears can be such a comfort to people who are ill.”

I thanked Linda for her thoughtfulness, admired the cute container, and set the vase on a table in the living room where it remained for several days until its rose died.  Then the vase with the bear was moved for storage to a high shelf in a closet and forgotten.

I was surprised when not too many days later Linda arrived at my door with a second bear, this one a larger white version of the first.  “I want you to put this on your nightstand, and when you are feeling sad, it will be there to love you and give you comfort.”

“Right,”  I thought as I again thanked her for her compassion.  I did put the bear on my nightstand and smiled at it when I passed, but I certainly didn’t think of it as solace for the deep depression the news of breast cancer had caused.

Bear number three, a pale gray sans wings, came from a different source, our neighbor Shauna.  She delivered him in a tissue-lined bag with a card suggesting that she hoped her gift would help appease my anxiety.

“What’s with these sentimental women,”  I appealed to my husband Richard after Shauna left.  “You give bears to little kids. They aren’t for fifty-seven-year-old grown-ups!”

His smile seemed to confirm my appraisal, and nothing more was said about bears for several days until we paid a visit to an elderly friend in a nursing home.  In one of the two chairs in her small room sat a sizable teddy, a gift from a family member.

“Just throw him on the floor,”  Helen told Richard as he approached the chair.

“I’ll hold him,”  I volunteered.

At first, I set teddy beside me, my left arm around his shoulder.  As Richard visited with Helen, I enjoyed feeling the closeness of something soft.  Before I knew it, I had teddy’s tummy next to my chest and was embracing him with both arms.

“I’ve got a confession to make,”  I said sheepishly as we got into the car after our visit.  “Hugging that bear really made me feel good.”

“Then we’d better go bear shopping after my office hour on Friday,”  Richard responded.

True to his word, my dear husband drove us to Scottsdale Fashion Mall where we poked into several toy stores without success.  However, when we reached FAO Schwartz, we knew we’d come to the right place.  Bears in abundance lined the window.  Then began the testing process, the act of choosing just the right one.  Much to the amusement of passers-by in the mall, Richard and I unashamedly hugged bear after bear.  Some were too small, others too hard or scratchy.  Some lacked a compassionate look in their eyes that I felt was essential.  After what must have been close to an hour of bear hugging and narrowing the choice down to several, I knew I must have Schlepp, even though sixty plus dollars seemed a mighty lot to pay for a stuffed toy.  Almost three feet from ear to toe with floppy arms and legs, a pot belly, eyes close set that tugged at my heartstrings, and a snout that melted into my shoulder, Schlepp was the bear for me.  I could hardly wait to get to a private spot where I could hold him to my heart’s content.

In the weeks since his purchase, Schlepp has been a godsend.  When nothing else has brought comfort to the deep hole in the pit of my being, holding Schlepp has provided peace to my soul. Bears are a good thing.  (By Anne Clement)

Why I Wrote

One of the most rewarding outcomes of writing and publishing The Cancer Effect is to hear my journey has helped someone.  Today I got to witness this first hand.

I had just finished eating lunch with my friend, Sue.  We were right next to a bookstore that was selling The Cancer Effect.  Anxious to see my own creation displayed on a bookstore shelf for the first time, we walked in.

I have always loved bookstores.  Nothing compares to the smell of fresh print on paper.  Quickly scanning the store, my eyes found the displays that were intended to grab the customers’ attention:  Staff Picks, New Releases, Best Sellers. Eager to locate where my young publication was placed, I asked an employee if she knew where I could find The Cancer Effect.  Smiling shyly, I told her I was the author.

“I know exactly where it is.”  Grinning, she led me to the Health section and pointed to the shelf housing cancer books.  “I personally arranged this section myself this morning and placed your book facing forward for all to see.”

There are no words to describe my feelings as I stared at my masterpiece, poised serenely among the other books.  The soft hues in the cover seemed to proclaim, “Pay attention to me!  My story is grand!”  The hours of laborious, yet glorious moments of writing sat completed before me, satisfied and fulfilled, a part of my soul.  I picked it up reverently and thumbed through the pages, remembering all we had been through together.  Placing it carefully back on the shelf, I turned to leave.

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Wait!  Why not capture this moment on camera?  Sue and I gently posed the book and I crouched down next to it. Completing the photo session, I stood and casually glanced around the corner only to see a young woman also taking pictures of books.  Laughing, I remarked, “It’s interesting that two people are using their phones to photograph books sitting on shelves in a bookstore!”  She hastily explained, “Oh, I’m making a book list of items I want to read this year and it’s easier to take shots of them than write down the titles.  Are you doing the same?”  “No,” I answered, suddenly a little shy of revealing my real reason for photographing a shelf full of books.  “I was taking a picture of the book I wrote and published.”

“Seriously!  Are you an author?  Tell me about your book.”

Excited to share my story with interested ears, I offered a quick summary.  She responded with words I have heard over and over, “My grandmother is a cancer survivor.”  Replace the word “grandmother” with “mother”, “sister”, “friend”, “aunt”, “dad”, to find that almost everyone knows someone who has battled cancer.

“If I buy your book right now, will you sign it for me?”

She didn’t have to ask twice.  Capping off the chance encounter, she led me to her grandmother who was also in the bookstore.  How I love to connect with fellow survivors.  We are family.

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Not only did I get to see my book displayed on the shelf of a bookstore, I was there when the first book purchased was scanned, bagged, and placed in the hands of someone who would benefit from its pages.  I have been asked many times, “Why did you write this book?” I often find myself stumbling to find suitable words to answer that question. Days like today make my purpose clear–sharing my journey, providing hope and encouragement. That is why I wrote.

Always a Mother

Joy.  Pure joy.  That’s the only way I know how to describe the feeling I had when my newborn baby girl was placed in my arms.  I instantly fell in love and have remained in love for forty years and counting. When my second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth newborn babies were placed in my arms, the joy was equally as passionate.  I never knew a heart had room for so much love.

What has forty years of motherhood taught me?  That my need to mother hasn’t changed, but my children’s needs have.

I thought the early years were exhausting.  The tiny humans that entered my life depended on me for everything. Nourishment, baths, ponytails, endless storybooks, answers to questions such as “Why are cheerios round?”, and lots and lots of hugs.

Upon discovering they were individuals, separate from me, they began making their own choices and decisions.  “Are you SURE you want the plain swimsuit with a fish on it instead of this colorful cute one with ruffles?” I ask my three year old.  I learned early that some things weren’t worth debating.  I was good at letting them make simple choices.  Not so much the big ones.

With each birthday, I saw my importance in their lives fade, ever so slightly.  I was rescued from complete retirement by their need to talk.  Always in the middle of the night.  Was I about to complain about my struggle to stay awake, knowing I would need to rise early?  I would never turn down their desire to have my attentive ear, and my opinion.

When my first daughter married and began a family of her own, I was saved by the fact I had five others that still needed me.  It was when the last one left that I had to redefine my role as Mother.  Or did I?

I just hung up from an hour conversation with my first daughter.  She is now a mother of seven and she still calls.  Not just for advice, but because we are friends.  Daughter number four sends me a long text and makes me laugh.  Number three calls for suggestions on how to break a little one’s habit.  Daughter two shares her excitement over a product she thinks I can’t live without. Number five, my only son, calls to see how I’m doing and number six wants to know my recipe for spaghetti.  These are the years where I easily slip from Mother to Friend and back again.  They are the ones who determine which role I assume at the time, and I adjust, as the situation requires.

As I get closer to the winter of my life, I no longer worry about my role as Mother.  I will always be their Mommy, and each one will always be my favorite.  We have composed a graceful melody, with two-part harmony, and I couldn’t be more satisfied with my life-long career as Mother.  Joy.  Pure joy.

 

Debbie’s Story

“My name is Debbie.  I am a lung cancer survivor.  I was diagnosed in 2010 with non-small cell lung cancer.  It doesn’t matter what kind of cancer we are dealing with, we all experience the emotional trauma of the disease.  My story tells of how a small gesture of kindness, a little makeup, a wig, and an evening gown made a difference in my cancer journey.

It was Christmas time.  The company I worked for was having a Christmas party just as I completed my second round of chemo.  Not having bothered with makeup for months, I made an appointment with a local retail store to schedule a makeover.  The lady I saw was so kind.  This angel not only did my face flawlessly but gave me false eyelashes and drew eyebrows to replace what was missing.  When I looked in the mirror I saw a glimpse of the old Debbie.  I hadn’t felt pretty in a very long time and realized how much I needed this night.  I went home and put on my long wig (her name was Audrey) and a midnight blue evening gown.  My husband and I had a wonderful night.

I just finished reading the book “The Cancer Effect”.  I couldn’t put it down.  The story draws you in from the very first page.  Having gone through much of what the author experienced with chemo, I immediately connected with her emotional journey.   This book is for everyone; the patient, loved ones and family members, as well as caregivers. Literally, anyone that has come in contact either directly or indirectly with cancer, which is just about all of us.  I can’t thank Claudia enough for putting her story out there for others.  People really need the comfort of knowing they aren’t alone in their fears and Claudia just nails it!  I can’t recommend it enough!”

Update on Debbie

Debbie graciously shared this story with me about a year ago.  Since that time we have enjoyed lunches together, always Mexican food, and lots of long visits.  At the end of last year, Debbie was diagnosed with another cancer and was scheduled to begin chemotherapy on January 8, 2018.  While shopping in a local bookstore to purchase reading material during her chemo, she was knocked down by a customer, breaking several ribs.  Due to her already weakened condition, she never recovered from this accident and passed away a few weeks later.  Debbie has blessed my life with her enthusiasm, boundless energy, and capacity to love everyone unconditionally.  Thank you, Debbie, for impacting my life, as well as countless others.

cancer-effect-front-cover-1

 

“The Cancer Effect” is available on Amazon http://amzn.to/2y45CP0

 

 

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