The dreaded “c” word

Two months before our 20th anniversary, we learned that Brian had a testicular tumor and that he needed to undergo a radical orchiectomy. Two days later, I spent the day in the surgery waiting area once again reminded of how quickly life can twist and turn, leap and dive, but this time I wasn’t the one on the table. Seven days after that, testicular cancer was confirmed and we drove home to process our next steps with our four girls.

“If you have to get cancer, it’s the best type to get.” We chuckled together on the ride home. What an odd thing to say, we both thought. Despite our capacity to laugh at the irony and awkward social interaction with Brian’s physician, and despite learning all about the phenomenal cure rate of this particular type of cancer, the air between us and within us during that car ride home still felt thick with uncertainty and undeniable heartache. Here we were, facing the reality of mortality again. Death was in our midst. One could argue that death is always in our midst. It’s one of the most reliable aspects of being human – we are all inching closer to death with every breath we take. But there are times in life when death presses through our psychological defenses and sometimes taunts us, or nudges us, or simply reminds us that it’s here with us, whether we want it to be or not.

Photo by: Talitha Bullock Photography

Death was there with us in the car that day. And more than anything, it left us both feeling tired and asking all the hard yet appropriate existential questions. What is it all for and how do we know and does it matter? We were anticipating heading out of town for a long weekend the next day and thought we might save those easy conversation starting questions for a later time. At that moment, we simply needed to get home, share what we knew with the girls, pack up and get the heck out of town.

Only when we pulled into our garage, at least two blond-haired and bright-eyed girls threw open the door and squealed with pure delight, “WE HAVE PUPPIES!” Brian and I made our way to the backyard and discovered that four fluffy and ridiculously cute pups had dug under two sets of fences and crawled their way right into all of our tender hearts. We all soaked up the puppy therapy for a couple of hours as we sorted out and located the owners and reluctantly returned them to their concerned mama pooch but not without first inquiring if any of them were still looking for forever homes. And as luck (or something more perhaps) would have it, there were several puppies in need of a home. I can’t make this stuff up. On the very day we were conversing with death again, life literally dug it’s way back to us, as one friend text us that afternoon. And since there is only so much life (and dog poo) one family can handle, we made room for two additions. Meet Flynnigan Rider and Chandler Bing.

The likelihood of this particular type of cancer leading to actual death is thankfully minuscule. All the more reason for us to learn how to dance better with death now. The steps may be easier to learn when we’re not traumatized by the terror of it all. To deny that death is with us, within us and all around us is to deny one of our greatest teachers. On the other hand, to be so consumed by the presence (or fear) of death that we can no longer see the surge of life pumping through us and digging its way toward us is where utter despair reigns supreme. These pups are the daily reminder to our family of a life energy and force as we continue to navigate the reality of having bodies that are vulnerable to illness, bodies that will one day wear out entirely. But until that day – puppy therapy – it’s fur real folks. Yep. I just did that.

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Seeking and feeling. Feeling and seeking.

It’s been nearly a month since electionpocalypse. I am still searching for understanding, for words, for dialogue and for insight in this post-election season. The search feels like a massive and daunting expedition. But this is what I do. It’s what I’ve always done. I lurch toward meaning and understanding wherever I can as a means to anchor myself loosely enough to survive in a chaotic world that is always in flux.

So I am still searching for new understanding. I am unpacking the theories related to the rust belt region of this country. I am attempting to move through my anger at the 81% of the evangelical vote, the white male vote, and the white female vote so that I can try to understand the why and how this came to be. Attempting is the operative word at the moment.  I am weighing the insights offered by psychologists, historians, political analysts, sociologists and others. I am trying to gain understanding from 35,000 feet while also sitting with the impact on the ground in the stories I read and hear from friends and colleagues and friends of friends. I am committed to this work not simply because I’m desperate for some anchoring in this new political reality, but because I feel more compelled than ever before to be a part of a movement and force of love in this deeply fragmented world.

These are the big thoughts. The lofty hopes of eventual understanding and being a part of a movement. And these big thoughts matter- they orient, they organize and at their best, they can inform and inspire action. These thoughts and insights matter. But there is still a significant chasm between my lofty hopes and my current emotional experience. So I am allowing space for both the searching and the feelings. Because if my experience in therapy (both on the couch and in the chair) has taught me anything it’s that feelings must be felt. There’s no other way through them.

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