High Dive in the Deep End           by Susan Braden,   August 30, 2019

This is the last week of summer, Labor Day weekend, and I’m reminiscing about my younger days at the pool. Top 40 hits buzzing from the loudspeakers with “Marco…Polo…” shouted over noisy laughter.  All this noise would soften to a blur as I would hold my nose and try to sit on the bottom of the pool before I had to pop up to the surface to breathe. Not able to wear my contacts or glasses, my pool time was a visual blur, as well. The shallow end was comfortable for me, knowing if I stood up, I could breathe and have control. I was a terrible swimmer – still am.

During that awkward summer between 5th and 6th grade, 1975, my friends convinced me to go to the Deep End and jump off the low diving board. I managed to complete a few successful hops off the low board and dog-paddled quickly to the steps out. I then run-walked back over to the warmer, shallow side of the pool.  It was scary, but do-able.

I remember a few times I found the courage to try the High Dive. I stood in the impatient, long line. When it was my turn, I walked the gang-plank to the end, toes gripping the end of the board. I couldn’t see the bottom of the pool. I knew if I jumped in I’d be deeply submerged in the cold, dark blue water. I turned around, climbed back down the stairs saying, “Sorry, my stomach hurts”, and walked quickly to the girls’ locker room to hide out for a while.

One day, that same summer when there wasn’t a long line at the High Dive, I gathered all the courage I could, climbed up the ladder, and walked to the end of the bouncy plank. I paused a second to clamp my nose with my right hand, extend my left arm toward heaven, and I took a big step off the High Dive!

SUCCESS – with a capital SUCK!

Thank goodness I was still holding my nose as I surfaced. My favorite swimsuit (a bright “Pepto Bismol” pink 2-piece suit) ended up in places it should have never been – the bottom as a thong and the top as a necklace!

Picture a flailing, drowning flamingo… frightened; no control; engulfed in a helpless, muffled, fuzzy new world. Even the safety of modesty was ripped away. 

Ahhh, The Summer of 1975. 

Fast-forward 40 years to the Spring of 2015.

“We’re going to do a biopsy now.  It IS Cancer.”    

You take a big breath, reach up to Heaven and step off the High Dive. The last clear word you hear is Cancer.    

“We’re admitting you to a room overnight for observation.”    

Pushed in a wheelchair, the fuzzy word on the wall ahead of you becomes larger and clearer as you see the name of your new world on a sign – “ONCOLOGY”    

After you return home, your Family Doctor calls. “How do you spell that?”, you ask. There’s a long pause at the end of the High Dive, as if he’s seeing and spelling this word for the first time in his life.

                “C – H – O – L – A – N – G – I – O – C – A – R – C – I – N – O – M – A”

At this point, we all realize we’re in the Deep End together. We’re going to dog-paddle our way over to the ladder, pull ourselves up and re-emerge.

Changed.        Clumsily victorious.      Ready to take the next plunge.

One big, bright spot in this new Deep End?

I look marginally better in a hospital gown than I did as a flailing, drowning flamingo! 

Enjoy not only this upcoming Labor Day weekend, but EVERY day you have!

(And be careful in those 2-piece swimsuits!)

Susan Braden                                            

The Cancerbet – or What Cancer Does and Does NOT do – from A to Z

By Susan Braden

A          Cancer AGES us but isn’t aging what we long for?!

B          It BLINDS us to far away, future concerns. It brings us to a “near- sighted” living where we don’t miss the present.

C          Cancer gives us CAUSE – a reason to try treatments and trials for new therapies; not only for our own survival, but for those who follow us along this path.

D          It DEVELOPS our strength. Each day is a victory, no matter the difficulties and pain.

E          It EDUCATES us about our physical selves. From our largest organs to our smallest mutated strand of DNA, our body is a wonderful, complex system that is a vast frontier for exploration and discovery.

F          While cancer may frighten us, it teaches us to FOCUS on our present day’s often overlooked opportunities.

G          It GIVES us the opportunity to grow; to learn, fight, communicate and meet new friends and fellow cancer warriors and survivors.

H          Cancer HURRIES us to reconnect with displaced friends and distant family; to do NOW what we’d dreamed of doing in the future. It hurries us to set things straight – to forgive.

I           It INTERRUPTS the boredom of life without a purpose.

J           It JUSTIFIES decisions made to put family and faith in higher esteem than the job of working, saving and planning for our “long-term”.

K          Cancer kicks us when we least expect it. It can knock us down, but it KEEPS us near to those who really care.

L          It lets us LAUGH in the face of fear, if we allow ourselves to LIVE and LOVE more fully – in the moment, every moment we have been given to live.

M         Cancer METASTACIZES – it spreads. It appears in hidden places and reappears at times we don’t expect. Once it is with you, you know it. And, for those of us who believe and trust in God, in THIS way, that ‘metastasis’ MIRRORS the characteristics of God’s Spirit within us.

N          If we allow it, cancer can NURTURE our spirit, our love and our purpose for living and loving. It does not dehumanize us, categorize us or define us.

O         Cancer OPENS us up to others’ well-wishes, advice and, on many occasions, a sharing of cancer stories about their own friends and family. Sometimes, this can be good and helpful. Other times, it can be unwanted, and even hurtful. Nevertheless, a line of communication was opened. At that point, the door is opened for us to share our story, our opinions; and as we thank them for their concern and support, we educate them about our own cancer journey.  (Oh my! Sorry, that was quite an opus)!

P          It PUSHES and PULLS us constantly, simultaneously in many directions; not only past our physical parameters, but also within the emotion, mental, spiritual and relational realms of our psyche.

Q         Cancer QUIZZES us daily during our treatment about our “Quality versus Quantity” of life.  If every person, regardless of their cancer status could learn to question their daily decisions, choosing “Quality over Quantity”, think how all lives would improve – in work, school, talents, diet, relationships – the list goes on and on.

R          Cancer “RAINS on our parade” – sometimes in a burst of a thunderstorm, sometimes in a steady, soaking rain.  Were you “saving for a Rainy Day”? Today is that day! Put on your knee-high rain boots and make a splash in the puddles!

S          Cancer SOFTENS us, but a “softer” me appreciates and relies more on the strength of those who surround and support me.  In my life, that’s God, family, friends, prayer partners and my medical teams.

T          TREATMENT for your cancer can be tricky.  What works for someone with your same diagnosis may not work for you.  Or, it might work a while, then the tricky tumors transition and become resistant. Sometimes, your treatment works – even one type – and you’re done.  Now, that’s a terrific treat!

U          Cancer USES all our resources – not just financial resources, but mental, physical, emotional and spiritual, as well. After your own resources are all used up, you begin to understand the battle’s difficulties on all who are supporting you.

V          It VALIDATES our need for community and the value of teamwork. We do not take this voyage on our own. It takes volumes of people: medical teams, research teams, pharmaceutical teams, and communities of family and friends who support, pray, care and love us.

W         It WALKS with us every day. It waits in hiding until we are aware of it. We do what we can to whittle it away and we know, in the “long run” eternally, it cannot win.

X          Cancer may X-OUT your pre-planned, pre-conceived plans, but it does NOT have to X-OUT your goals and dreams.

Y          Cancer YANKS at our heart, yells in our head as it yearns to consume us. And while treatment, surgeries, procedures and trials attempt to stop it immediately, it must yield in time.

Z          It “ZESTS” us, like a lemon is zested with a grater – scraping the outer, physical layer of our being to reveal the zesty, bright flavor of our lives. When a little bit of our zest is added to someone else’s dish, it brightens and enhances their flavor.

There is SO MUCH from A to Z that we will experience on our journey with cancer, let us not ignore even one single letter as we “write” and share the story of our lives.

by Susan Randolph Braden, written and shared with YOU, July 29th, 2019.

Bruising Makes it Sweeter?

Yesterday for breakfast I ate two organically grown, fresh-from-a-local-Hanover-County-farm peaches. I know they were both from the same farm, even the same tree, yet one was much sweeter and juicier than the other.  Guess which one….

Even in naturally grown produce, we try to pick the picture-perfect peach.  We simply want the best.  When we pick and choose from the bushel basket, we pick up a fruit, hold it up to look at it with our own informed scrutiny and check for ripeness as it yields to gently pressure.  Based on what we see on the outside, we make a choice. A choice to keep it or leave it for a less-informed consumer. Somehow, I ended up with a fruit drawer of pretty peaches, but at least one was bruised and scarred by the trip home. (If I’ve ever driven you somewhere, you might understand how that could happen). Based on my breakfast choice yesterday, I discovered the blemished, bruised peach was much sweeter than the one that looked like it had just rolled off a still-life masterpiece oil painting.

What causes the blemishes and bruises? Hurt. Hits. Pressure. External and maybe even internal “pests”.

I have many acquaintances, good friends, even family who I know are “bruised fruit”. Some are recognizable as misshapen and blemished, visibly bruised, while many of the hurt, bruised ones don’t outwardly appear to be that way.  I have to think that the way I have tried to hold some up to my (mis)informed scrutiny and forced them to yield to my gentle, or sometimes not-so-gentle pressure, I have caused some bruising of those I am close to.  I think if we all look inside, we’ll find we’ve all been bruised. To those I have bruised, I am sorry.

Lately, I find I’m decorated in bruises and blood blemishes.  Chemo and steroids have thinned my blood, and my medical teams regularly monitor my platelets, red and white blood cells, plasma, all the parts of my blood that provide healing, nourishment and protection.  These days, a little bump into a wall or chair, or even carrying a bag of peaches over my arm causes these bruises and spots.  The largest bruise I’m wearing right now was from doing laundry, so I’m seriously thinking laundry may be hazardous to my health!

I realize my outward, bruised appearance isn’t worth one second of my time.  I tend to see these bruises and procedure scars as battle scars and badges of honor. And as difficult as it may be for some to believe this, my bruising has made me sweeter, more empathetic to those around me and strangers I interact with every day.

One of my favorite Bible passages is 2nd Corinthians 4:8-18. Let me share one of the “juiciest parts” of this letter to the Corinthian church: (NLT) “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.”

Imagine wine like this – grapes never squeezed, floating around in a glass of water. Or banana bread baked with a whole, unripe perfect banana – unpeeled.

My hope and prayer for all of us is this – the hurts, hits, pressure and external and internal “pests” that cause us to bruise will make us sweeter on the ‘inside’ and sweeter on the outside to all those around us.  And in our daily lives, as we meet and choose friends, groups to be a part of, health providers, life partners, even farmers who provide produce for us to pick through and purchase; may we ALL not pick over and leave behind the better, the sweeter ones, the “bruised fruit”.

And remember to choose to laugh, love and LIVE today – Because You Can, Sir!

March 2019 has come roaring in like a lion, and like a Mama lioness, I have been aggressively battling my cancer predator this month.  My last blog post [Flying High -February 2019] was written pre-surgery, so I’m going to catch you all up with where we are in the Cancer Jungle.

When my January 27th scans continued to show some rapid growth of my right prevascular thoracic and internal mammary and anterior pericardial nodes, my oncologist, Dr. Kemeny, who all the other doctors and nurses refer to as a “Rock Star”, immediately sent us to MSKCC’s Chief Thoracic surgeon, Dr. Bernard Park (https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/doctors/bernard-park). He’s a pioneer in robotic surgery and VATS procedures, and definitely the right surgeon for what I needed. I had surgery on Feb. 11th, and he was able to remove the smaller, but metastasized right mammary nodes and a pericardial “fat pad”. (Who knew I was padded with ‘fat pads’?! I told the staff I’d like to be a ‘fat pad donor’ if the need ever arose! 😉) Well, it turned out the largest thoracic node was too risky to surgically remove. It had ‘invaded’ or attached to a main artery, and getting to it would involve removing a part of the artery, rebuilding it, possibly destroying a nerve to the larynx and diaphragm and cracking open my breast bone to get to it.  Dr. Park said if this were my ‘last chance’ to get rid of it, we’d do it, but right now wasn’t the right time.  The very next day in the hospital, Dr. Kemeny comes to tell us we will do radiation therapy on it ASAP. That very afternoon, another visitor came by my room. Enter Dr. Christopher Crane – Chief Radiation Oncologist. Guess what? Dr. Crane was raised and educated in Virginia. https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/doctors/christopher-crane  I am SO BLESSED to be able to be in, what is for ME, the best place with the best hands, hearts and minds for this rare cancer.  Also, on March 8th, I officially made it 4 YEARS past my Stage 4 “get your affairs in order”, terminal diagnosis.  By the way, I’ve never had an ‘affair’, so I can’t put them “in order”.  HA!

We returned to NYC 11 days post-surgery to begin 15 Intensity Modulated Radiation Treatments, which meant 3 weeks for me in NYC. Not necessarily a bad thing as far as I’m concerned!  IMRT uses multiple arc-ed angles and mini CT scans with each treatment. The arc outlines the actual entire tumor. My time on the ‘table’ was very quick each day. https://www.varian.com/oncology/treatment-techniques/external-beam-radiation/imrt So cool! (Really, it never felt ‘hot’)

Bill says the radiation was the LEAST expensive part of the 3 ½ weeks in the City. 😊

This Thursday will be 2 weeks post final treatment, and we head back Sunday for full CT and MRI scans. We’ll see Dr. Kemeny on Monday for results – and may possibly add Keytruda (immunotherapy) and/or more chemo.  I’ll keep you all posted. Remember to Choose to Laugh, Choose to Love and Choose to Live TODAY, “Because You Can, Sir!”

We are so grateful to Kathy Conry, and Isabella, Mary Lou, the Michaels, Bryan, and Metro Baptist for praying, visiting and eating with us, and keeping us entertained, and safe and warm in the 3 weeks of nasty NY cold weather and some snow. I know we are ALL looking forward to a little seasonal warmth.

I hope to have a post-radiation GLOWING report to share soon, but today, I want to share a little “BURNING” exercise for you all to do at home.  I think we could ALL use a little healing ‘burn’ of the bad feelings, doubt and fear in our lives, so let’s do this exercise together right now. Consider it an emotional/spiritual radiation burn of the “bad’ that sneaks up and grows inside of us.  You’ll need a sheet of paper, pen or pencil, a bowl and a lighter or match.  HERE WE GO….

ETBT – Emotion Targeted Burn Treatment 

This is an affirming exercise that will help you ‘burn’ your fear and see the light in the challenge(s) you are currently facing.

1. On your sheet of paper, write the word(s) of the challenge you are facing – ONE LETTER PER LINE, VERTICALLY, in the MIDDLE of the page.

2. On the LEFT of the letters, make a column labeled GOOD.

3. On the RIGHT of the letters, make a column labeled BAD.

4. In BOTH columns write a word or phrase about your challenge word that BEGINS with that LETTER. Write a positive word or phrase on the GOOD side, and a negative word or phrase on the BAD side..

5. When you have finished BOTH sides and you have read your “results”, tear away (or cut) the right-hand side (BAD), tear in pieces, place in a bowl and light those remains on fire. [you should only do this in a safe place – away from smoke detectors and small children.]

As you watch the bad/negative become consumed in the fire, give the negative away to God. Watch and feel it disappear in the smoke and charred remains.  Wash the bowl clean so no negative thoughts remain. Now, go back to the page and read what is left on the GOOD side of the list.

Here is my example (one of 3 I wrote today).  Remember, yours doesn’t have to be ‘cancer-related’.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

GOOD

BAD

Trials and new Treatment

Understanding

Making memories

Opportunities to Open up and help/encourage Others

Realizing Rest and Relaxation is Required.
T

U

M

O


R

Time shortened

Unsure, feeling Useless

Metastatic growths (fear of )

Old goals and dreams may not be reachable

Reacting to every twinge or
pain

                                                     Cut off the BAD side, burn, and let it go!

 Think and be thankful for the GOOD side. Keep and let it GLOW!

Love you ALL,

Susan

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I’ve done a lot of flying this past year – quick travels to and from shows (“Because I Can, Sir!”), family visits, NY trips, family reunions, a wedding, and Christmas in Louisiana.  I just returned last week from a solo trip to Salt Lake City for nearly a week with the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation. This is not a blog post about the incredible research and upcoming trials, or the amazing power that comes from the interactive convergence of CC patients, their caregivers, AND Doctors and Researchers, but that was a true blessing to be a part of that whole.

I’m writing today about FLIGHT.  Flying.  Above the ground.  Above the clouds and stormy weather.

I remember my first flight as a child.  Meeting the pilot, getting my own set of wings (a metal pin), but most of all, looking out of the small window as we were flying through the clouds, and wanting to open the window, collect a part of the cloud in a Mason jar and bring it home to show my friends.  I’ve flown many, many times since then, and the wonderment is still there.  I enjoy flying above the clouds.  It’s a good thing that I don’t have to understand everything with physics and engineering that makes air travel possible.  I have faith in the airline – the plane, the pilot, that they will transport me where promised.  I have tried and tested this faith each time I step from the jet bridge to the plane.

Whenever I’m seated on the plane, I always look out of the window to see the ground get farther away.  I think of my Mammaw (grandmother) and my Granny (Great Grandmother), who I’m sure never flew on a plane. What would they feel, say or do if they were around today?  Would they be comfortable ‘jet-setters’? I think of my Granny, being one of the first in her Arkansas county to ride in an automobile.  I know that must have been as exhilarating for her as flying is for me.

Like flying, I’m sure I’m uneducated and naïve about the process of dying, but lately, and with my own cancer diagnosis, I’m aware of it every day.  I tend to see flying as a soul-transport.  There are many I’ve known and loved whose flights have already departed and arrived at their “final destination”.  There some friends and family who are now boarding the “next flight” and I find myself lost in that airport, looking at the arrival/departure list.  I can’t find my flight number today, but I’ve made it past “security” holding a ticket to ride! I look around and see all my friends and family in that same airport, hopefully ready to go when their flight is called.  Trust.  Don’t fear.  Get on board and buckle up.

Where is your Final Destination? “Pre-boarding those who need extra assistance… Loading priority zone now.  We’re going to have to ‘pink tag’ your carry-on baggage, [your worn-out body of a soul-holder] at the jet bridge.  Now find your seat and buckle up. Welcome aboard”!

How many souls aboard this flight? Are YOU ready for Take-off?

Somewhat related to this… here’s my latest medical update. (Don’t let this scare you!)

Bill and I are FLYING to NYC today for a pre-surgical consult with MSKCC’s Dr. Park.  I have a lymph node that is growing quickly, and we hope Dr. Park can surgically take it out on Monday.  I have a fantastic team at Sloan Kettering, and if the surgery is unsuccessful, I know they have plans B, C, etc. (other “connecting flights”) on “Standby” for me.  I’m flying high and ready for this; but please pray for us this week. Pray AND sing 70’s songs loudly (with the top down if you drive a convertible).  Hug a friend. Talk to a stranger. Vice versa those two. Try to capture a cloud in a jar. Choose to Laugh.  Choose to Love.  Choose to Live TODAY, Because you Can, Sir!

Don’t worry for me.  Although I’m already in the “Terminal”, I’m going to find the Sky Club and hang out for a LONG lay-over! (BTW, they have great snacks in the Sky Club!)

Have you ever imagined that the ancient Prophet Isaiah had some inkling of future air travel? Read the Bible passage below -one of my favorites – and let me know…..

Isaiah 40:26, 28-31

Lift your eyes and look to the heavens.  Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls them each by name.  Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.  Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the Everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Fly high, my friends.

Susan

This year, the most requested Christmas gift items from my son and husband were socks. Crazy, colorful socks. And boy, did they make a sock haul this year! Here are 2 of their multiplicitous sock gifts.

 

I was even gifted 2 pair of crazy,
fancy metallic gold socks. (FANCY!)

 

This year, evidently in my family, this is the year of the Sock.

As I found and bought so many pair of socks in December,  I was reminded of a time in Elementary school, when I also was gifted a pair of socks.

When I was in 3rd(or maybe it was 4th)grade, we had a Christmas party for our class.  I remember drawing names, or at least it was “boy or girl” gift designated, with a money limit of $5.00, I think.  Of course, that was WAY back in the early 70’s, so $5 meant a pretty nice gift.  I DO remember, as a 3rd/4th grade girl, all I wanted was Lip Smackers Dr. Pepper or Candy Cane lip balm, and to really get me excited, a small bottle of Love’s Baby Soft, or Jean Nate’ would be the greatest thing ever.  Imagine the disappointment of receiving these at our class Christmas party:

sock blog 5

As I remember, the pair of socks I was given was darker green. Plain crew socks. Clean, but no tags or packaging, so it was assumed that they were ‘used’.  It took many years for me to realize how badly my fellow classmate must have felt, knowing I didn’t love or appreciate her gift.  I remember other students laughing at the socks and laughing at me for receiving the ‘old socks’.  I was too young and self-absorbed to think about how horrible my classmate must have felt in my reaction or that of our classmates.  I do remember she was one of the few students of color in that classroom who was bussed in to our school.  This was in Arkansas, at a time when we didn’t understand (or dare I say, TRY to understand) others who were of a different background, social status, and especially color. If this now grown woman is still out there, I hope you’ll accept my terribly delayed apology.  And not just for the poor reaction to your gift…Had I actually walked in your socks, I might have understood more, discovered more about our internal same-ness and not felt that the right thing to do was to focus on our external differences.

I was gifted with another pair of socks this past week, the “oh, so stylish grey grippy socks” given by my Cancer Hospital (MSKCC) in NY.  These are the great Unifying Socks.  The socks that no matter our genetic background, social strata, or beliefs, when we are given these socks, we are face-to-face with the medical trial immediately in front of us.

sock blog 6

The grey color reminds me that nothing in Cancer World is black and white.  There is no absolute right or wrong. There is not one cure, and I don’t believe there will ever be the magic ‘one cure/one treatment’. On the Cancer journey, there is no segregation, only a UNITY of treatments, trials, medicines, procedures, attitude and faith.

Likewise, in our relationships with others, there should be no distinct absolutes, no extreme divides. No black. No white. No rich. No poor. The color Grey is an injection of light into darkness. The middle shade of grey. Know that we will all face trials – and with at least 40% of us, those trials will include a cancer adventure.  I am blessed to have received these Not-So-Stylish socks in the hospital last week to have an amazing “fix” for my suddenly blocked bile ducts.  I am grateful for my husband, my family, my friends and prayer warriors who pray for me and send good thoughts daily.  I am also especially thankful for the fantastic doctors, researchers, nurses, care partners, environmental services hospital workers, and those who give out the “grey grippy socks”, the great equalizer socks, that keep us up and going, and steady on our feet as we navigate the physical journey ahead.

A not so Irish Blessing of the Socks: (by Susan O’Bradain)

“May your socks keep you warm.

May you not slip and fall.

May God keep you from harm

As you answer the call.

To face all your fears,

Stand firm like a rock.

Stay cozy and warm

In this ‘year of the sock”

With love and prayers for all YOUR journeys in 2019,

Susan

Mary, Did You Itch?

Blog post 12/10/2018

I’m allergic to Christmas.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s my favorite Holiday, but I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to it.  I’ve been itching a lot lately (which has to do with the cancer and step-down of the steroids), but there are always allergies for me to deal with – especially around Christmas time.  Evergreen trees are more like “ever-sneeze”, and a Living Nativity always sends me over the allergy edge.

My first pony ride, as a toddler, sent me to the hospital with asthma and allergies.  I can’t be around horses, donkeys, camels or sheep without breathing issues and hives and itching – to this very day. And if I had to sit in or around hay? Severe reactions.  Sometimes, just looking at a “realistic” creche’ can make me sneeze and start itching.  I’ve dealt with allergies all through my life, and I’ve learned the more you are around the allergen, if you build up the exposure to it, or gradually increase the dose with shots, your body should develop a tolerance to the allergy.  For example, I’ve been a “dog mom” for many years, so I’m comfortable around most breeds. Cats, however, trigger bad allergic reactions for me.  This must be the reason BOTH of my adult children have cats – hmm……

My latest adventure in cholangiocarcinoma involves a head-to-toe, non-stop itch.  Pruritis. My liver and bile ducts are doing the best they can right now, but bile salts and other issues have taken the forefront with this non-stop itch.  The last time I had an intensive itch (and rash, which I don’t have now) was during my last 3 weeks of pregnancy with my first-born, Ashley. That itch has a name –  PUPPPs – or Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy.  It immediately ceases when the baby is born. I remember, it felt like a miracle when it disappeared.  Now, with this latest “plague”, I wake several times in the night, scratching.

Last night, I had the STRANGEST dream I’ve had in a while.  I dreamed I was trapped in a stable in Bethlehem, surrounded by donkeys, horses, cows, sheep and stinky shepherds. I was itching and scratching. One shepherd told me I’d have to wait.  The wise men were bringing cream of frankincense and myrrh, but they got lost not using Waze.  I woke up thinking if I could just give birth, the itch would go away.  It’s eight hours later, as I’m writing this.  I’m still itching, but the GOOD NEWS is I didn’t end up with a baby to diaper and swaddle this morning! The dream was that real.

Since I’m already itching (and you probably are, too, just reading this…), let’s look at a manger scene, a typical nativity creche’ in it’s glorified, white-washed plasticity.  We see sheep, a shepherd or two, some cows, the tired donkey, Joseph standing in the back, Mary kneeling beside the baby Jesus lying in the center-stage manger with camels and wise men/kings off to one side.  There is usually a lit star on the peak of the barn roof, and maybe an angel or two hovering above.  This is how we glorify and simplify the reality of God’s human entry to Earth.

So, let’s get real.  There was most definitely a stench, and maybe allergic reactions in that real nativity scene. It could NOT have been a Silent Night.  Animal noises and poop smells were certainly in the air.  Mary, exhausted from a late-term pregnancy, long distance donkey ride AND “natural” childbirth, tries to sleep and is awakened by shepherds and sheep, like night-shift nurses in the hospital who wake you during the night. Angel noises might sound like the din of the visiting family behind the curtain in your semi-private hospital room.  You drift back to sleep and the baby wakes and cries to be fed. Or changed. Or held.  Do you Hear what I Hear? That music therapist Drummer Boy is next door and you know you’re next… and could someone, ANYONE, please turn off the light from that blasted Star?!

”Mary, Did You Know that your baby boy has come to make you new? This child that you delivered, will soon deliver you”?*  Mary, did you know? Mary, did you hurt? Mary, did you worry? Mary, did you cry and scream? Mary, did you ITCH?!

I think some of us have an allergic reaction to Christmas because we expect perfection. Perfection in the buying and wrapping of gifts and the decorations of our homes.  We expect perfection in the behavior of imperfect extended or retracted family togetherness. We expect perfection in the busy-ness of parties, musical events and church services.  We expect perfection in the planning and execution of our over-scheduled, end-of-year calendars.  I bet Mary had to deal with a lot of this, as well.

Maybe this year we should embrace the Christmas REALITY – the labor pains of Hope, the endurance of Pain, the discomfort of Grief, the smell of Humanity, the itch of a promised Salvation.

It’s ok to scratch that itch – maybe the Wise Men will finally get here with the cream.

 

 

 

*”Mary, Did You Know”? lyrics ©Warner/Chappell Music Inc., Capitol Christian Music Group.  Songwriters, Buddy Greene and Mark Lowry

“You have NO idea”……I was in my Richmond Oncology waiting room this morning (Virginia Cancer Institute – Reynolds Crossing, for those of you keeping score), and a man sitting across from me SCARED me with these words.  I was deeply engrossed on my phone – checking Facebook, etc., when I looked up and he was smiling at me.  He said, “You’re Susan, right”?  I hesitantly said, “yes…” then he told me he had been to my show a week ago at Firehouse Theatre.  I said “thank you so much for coming”, and then he paused and said the scary words, “You have NO idea, do you”?.. Of course my southern-“i-dot” response was “’bout whut?” He laughed and said, “you have no idea how many lives you’ve touched and what your message and your joy means to us – to all of us”.  The man sitting next to him told me he was there, too. He had fought and beat lung cancer years ago, and the day after my show was newly diagnosed with prostate cancer and was there to meet his new doctor this morning. He told me they both had been thinking of the things I said and songs I sang and that was keeping them encouraged.

Yesterday, in the Dallas airport there were 3 women, about my age, I’d guess, who were talking about some other women in the Bible study group they went to. I couldn’t help that my ears picked up their conversation because they started sounding – and acting like cats. The tone of voice, and the conversation was rather ‘catty’.  Even the way one lady was using her left hand when she talked, looked as if she was ‘clawing’ the air.  Of course, my brain goes into overdrive and starts sketching out a new musical – “Cats – the Church Ladies”…  They had NO idea that their cattiness was ‘turning people off’ to the idea of Bible study, or even church, for that matter.  I’m sure they “have NO idea” of the musical idea in my warped brain because of their not-so-private conversation at DFW this past Sunday morning…..

I think “You have NO idea…” is a very scary thought.  I have no idea what my blood labs will show today – recent developments for me include Steroid Induced Diabetic Mellitus, AND a lymph node that is growing fast and suspiciously like a metastasis.  Depending on the labs today, I may start a new treatment Wednesday of Xeloda (chemo pills – 8 a day) on top of my systemic every 2 week chemo.  The side effects of Xeloda are a little scary – mostly hand and foot burning blisters – but the truth about treatment is this, “You have NO idea….” Again, a little scary, especially since I’m traveling this weekend to do the show in Texarkana, Texas.

Thinking back to this morning, I’m sure I met those two men following the show, but didn’t remember or recognize them this morning. But when someone says “you have NO idea…” it’s a scary thing because it’s true.  We have no idea how a simple smile or a kind word can be that one light in the darkness that might keep someone going that day.

Instead of being ‘scared’ of what I ‘have NO idea’ about, I’m going to also remember lyrics to one of my songs to get me through this week…. [from “Heal Me”]….   ” …when the waves of doubt wash over me, just hold me to Your heart so close that there is NO ROOM for any FEAR. As long as You are near, You Heal Me.”

Say something positive to someone.  Build up, don’t tear down.  There’s NO time for Negativity.  Don’t be pre-cast in my upcoming headmusical, “Cats – the Church Ladies” 😉

“You have NO idea…”what great things can happen because you choose to share joy and love with those around you – even, and especially to those you don’t know.

I was incredibly blessed the weekend of Sept. 7 – 8 with three opportunities to meet and sing for old friends and new ones, too.  Saturday night, at Our Lady of Nazareth Catholic Church, I was overwhelmed to see and minister to SO many friends from ALL corners of my 13 years living in Roanoke. That was the icing on the cake of the weekend.  And I LOVE icing!!!!

Friday was one of the most emotional days I’ve had in a long time.  I want to tell you about Friday.

Friday, at 4 pm, I shared a small portion of my show for the Rally at the Rescue Mission of Roanoke with the men and women who are in their residential Recovery program.  I worked several years at the Rescue Mission as their Director of Industry, running the thrift store and retail operations, and also taught a class for the Recovery program when we lived in Roanoke. I was so thrilled to see and hear how the recovery program is running stronger than ever and still changing lives, one day and one person at a time.

That evening at 6:30, I was honored to lead the Chapel service they offer every evening to the men and women who come off the streets for a dinner, shower and a cozy place to sleep.  Chapel is a mandatory part of the evening, and even with the many years I worked there, I never participated in the evening services.  I know now that I truly missed a lifetime of blessing by missing those services.  I encourage ALL of you in Roanoke or nearby to attend or lead at least one of these services.  I “preached” on Paul and his “secret” to being content.  Philippians 4:12 -13. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned THE SECRET of BEING CONTENT in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength”  That’s powerful stuff right there! That’s also a tough room to preach that truth in.  [any who want the copy of the mini-sermon or notes on this, let me know, I’ll send it to you]  Basically, I wrap up with stating that “to be content is to choose to rest in the TRUTH, to choose to see the JOY in whatever situation, with the strength and vision God gives.  Like Paul, I was blind, but now I see.  I have made my choice to be content like Paul.  To choose to laugh, love and live.” Then the song…. “I Choose to Live”… It was a well-received message and many came forward for prayer and I was able to take with me a handful of their written requests to pray over.  It was an amazing time to be in a room full of God’s children and know God was really there, too.

After that service (we ended at 7:15 pm) it was still daylight.  I felt a strong urge to go to our old neighborhood, and see if Rick and Margie, our neighbors were sitting out on their front porch drinking a can or glass with the other neighbors, just like the days when we lived there.  Bill and I drove out there, saw their car in the driveway, but no one on the porch.  Lights on, so we knocked on the door.  Margie came out and broke the news that Rick had died – just 3 hours earlier.  Massive coronary.  Had just started mowing the front yard. Ambulance took him to the hospital, but he didn’t make it. And, in a remarkable Roanoke way, One of the EMT’s came back and finished mowing their yard.

That afternoon, I knew I needed to see and hug Margie.  I didn’t know why.  I look back at how I was sharing my story of looking death straight in the eye and not allowing fear to interfere – of being content in every situation, every condition. Later, realizing how sudden death can be so shocking, I had to pull myself together emotionally to share my “funny show about living (and dying) with cancer” with a sanctuary full of friends and people who came to receive a word of hope because they or someone they love is walking on this scary cancer path with me.

I gave and received so many powerful hugs that weekend, but the 2 most powerful ones were given to me by Margie and God.  I can only hope and pray that God is hugging Margie now.

Hi, Star City friends!  I’ll be back in Roanoke NEXT weekend (not Labor Day weekend), September 8th to do the show, “Because I Can, Sir!” at Our Lady of Nazareth Catholic Church.  7:30 p.m.  I’m also scheduled for 2 shorter spots at the Rescue Mission on Friday at 4 for Rally, and 6:30 for the Chapel service that evening.  I hope to see many of you while Bill and I are in town. The big show is free Saturday night, no tickets issued.  There will be a love offering taken, half of which will be donated to the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation.  Here’s the poster.  Share this, and bring your friends.  We are all touched by cancer in some way.  Please come. I’m eager to share my journey with you all.

BICSjpeggreenposterRKE2018

 

Tomorrow’s show at St. James’s Episcopal in Richmond is in final prep stages.  I’m printing programs as I write this. I’m also “fluffing” the tablecloths I use for the wig song in the dryer – which is handily located in my tiny office.  🙂

I have been blessed in the last couple of months to be able to ‘book’ my show in several locations, so I thought I’d compile a list.  If you see one in a location near you, please know I’d love for you to come.  If you DON’T see one in a location near you, AND you’d like to….. please contact me for info on how to book this show.  I’m really cheap…. but never in the ‘easy’ sense. HA! 🙂

Here’s the schedule:

July 25th – Richmond, Virginia   St. James’s Episcopal Church. 7:00pm

September 7th – Roanoke, Virginia – the Rescue Mission of Roanoke 4:00 and 6:30 and Sept. 8th, Our Lady of Nazareth 7:30 pm

((POSTPONED TO SPRING ’19))  October 14th – Washington, DC – the Peoples Congregational Church

October 21 and 22 – Richmond, Virginia – Firehouse Theatre (Sunday 21, 4 pm, Monday 22, 7:30 pm) Tickets at http://www.firehousetheatre.org  through brown paper tickets.  $15 in advance, $20 at door.

November 4th – (near) Texarkana, TX – First Baptist, Wake Village, Texas

January 23rd, 2019 – Richmond, Virginia – The Woman’s Club (Bolling-Haxall House)

 

We change the ‘show’ a little each time we do it.  Sometimes, it’s 45 minutes in length, other times, it’s up to 90 minutes long.  Some of these will include “talk-backs” afterward.  Some will have more comedy and even improv included.  All include audience participation with sing-along opportunities.

Well, the tablecloths are done.  Why not iron them, you ask?  It’s a health hazard – having nothing to do with cancer.  I’m just dangerously clutzy with HOT things.  And SHARP things.  [[insert your own joke about my husband here….]]  Love you, Babe! 🙂

Guess I better go practice now….   Hope to see many of you tomorrow night at 7 in Richmond.


Sinking Sand
 
To live in the “uncertain”
       Is certainly unkind.
 
The “what-ifs” and the “why nows”
       Are the cancer of your mind.
 
Don’t dwell in shadows of the past
       When life was sure and grand.
 
The ground beneath, once stable
       Liquefies
                     to
                          Sinking
                                      Sand.
 
So, lift your heads, your heart and hands
       To God above and pray –
 
Life is not about tomorrow,
       It’s how you love and live – TODAY            
                                                             

                   by Susan R Braden on 4/20/19  (which was NOT today...)