The Pain in the Cracks of the Surface

I’ve delayed writing, waiting until I had something interesting to write about. These days I pretty much have resulted to lists, and even the thoughts I want to share in my writing have gotten reduced down to a list. But, today was the day I was waiting for…………my “list” is complete………

I met Kari Barba today. I mentioned her before. She’s a world famous tattoo artist. It was really a privilege. And I got to show her the handiwork of my surgeon. So after that, I’m not certain which of us was more privileged than the other one? I guess like any other celebrity, she’s just a human being like all the rest of us. But, how cool is that? We spent a short while (an oxymoron kind of a day I guess) going over the scattered ideas I had jotted down in my ‘cancer notebook’. If someone happened to stumble across this notebook I keep with me at all times, they might mistake it for some sort of spell book, full of all sorts of bizarre notes and concoctions. Actually, it is where I record everything related to my cancer- weight, blood pressure, treatments, tests, my INR “scores”, my medications, and yes, even my tattoo ideas. So we went over some of my ideas- specific images and themes that have had significant meaning to me throughout my cancer journey. I really just have ideas. I was hoping to find an artist who could translate them into a viable tattoo. I suspect Kari was a bit confused by my odd conglomeration of ideas- she had a difficult time putting them together in a way that made sense. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that she couldn’t make sense of it all in the few minutes we spent together. Those images burned in my mind represent a year and a half of my life. How can anyone understand it from the outside in when given only a few minutes to figure it out? One thing Kari did confirm was that my ideas will require a lot of detail. And I was rather disappointed to also have confirmed that Kari cannot do what I need her to do- she has tendonitis, and no longer does detail work. It is no surprise that she referred me to another artist who works in one of her shops, Tiffany Garcia. We will see what the future holds……….

The best part of the day was my conversation with Al on the drive home from Anaheim. We talked about all the images I had in my mind, and the spiritual and emotional significance behind them. Kari had suggested that I have my tiger completely covered up. Interesting notion, but I cannot do it. That was a part of me long before my cancer, and proved itself to me again through my cancer. Nope. Can’t do it. Through our discussion, Al and I came up with a real viable and exciting design idea. The best part is that the clarity came to me through a discussion with my husband, and not as I had expected, imposed by an artist who knows her medium, but hasn’t a clue about me. That’s still ahead of me though. One foot in front of the other- I’m not quite out of the running gate yet.

I have CT scans next week. They have to do them on separate days because the machine is not fast enough to pick up the contrast in all the places they are looking. That contrast has a very short window of effectiveness, and they don’t want to inject me with it twice. So I go in on Tuesday morning for a CT of the pelvis and abdomen, and Thursday for my CT of the chest. I’m not worried about it, but coming out with clean scans is like feeling yourself nearing the finish line when you’re winning the race. So I’m anticipating that confirmation, and I think I’m finally learning to celebrate it a little more than I have been able to allow myself. Al has business in New Orleans later this month, and I just found out that I can travel with him. I’ve never been there, so it will make the trip that much sweeter knowing I am living and not dying. I also see Dr. Patel later this month. I had donated a copy of Art.Rage.Us to be placed in the treatment room, but he decided that some of the images within it might disturb the patients. So, I plan on getting that back from him so I can put it into the hands of someone who needs it. I hear it’s sitting in his large office/library there at the cancer center. Well, if he wants one, he can go buy one.

So I’ve been doing my weekly Herceptin treatments. I’m there at the cancer center every Monday from 4:00pm until about 5:30pm. It’s relatively painless- a clear liquid that drips out of a small bag and into my port. But it’s the nuisance of the whole thing. Every Monday I wake to not only a new week at work, but chemo day. And my client’s are going crazy, making work that much more strenuous right now. Besides that, I have been contending with lymphedema again. I’ve cried a few times over that, not just because of the physical pain it causes, but coming to terms with the reality that this has really disabled me for life. When my arm is filled with lymph fluids it becomes utterly useless to me. And I’m right handed. There’s just too many things I want, need, and have to do, and lymphedema seems to be getting in the way. I guess I should be grateful to even have arms. Another recent nuisance has been the various itches, and pains I’ve been experiencing on my chest. The NP tells me that the radiation damages nerves, and that even though my intercostobrachial nerve (in the armpit) was severed during my surgery, I am young enough that it may attempt to repair itself. The increase in all the little painful twinges and burning sensations I feel may be evidence of that. Wouldn’t that be something? I’ve also had to contend with “life” again. You know, going to Social Security to apply for new cards now that the kids have been adopted by Al (who knew it took an act of Congress to obtain a new Social Security card?), picking up a DMV handbook for Justin to begin studying to get his driver learner’s permit, and fending off rabid collection agencies because my insurance company failed to pay the pathologist some money for their services. And it seems no matter where you go, people could care less if you have/had cancer. With my hair still anxiously absent from my head, there’s no hiding it. You’d think they’d be a little nicer. But nobody gets slack in this world anymore. I keep trying to impress that upon Justin and Amanda, but I suppose like all of us, they will have to learn for themselves in their own time.

Which, by the way, seems to be slipping out of my grasp. Justin’s already a sophomore. He’s playing junior varsity football this year and seems much more dedicated than in years past. Surprisingly, he’s still “going out” with Brittany too. That’s 8 months now. Over the summer he thought he was going to break off the relationship for a few weeks “just to get a break”. He said it was getting boring and they had run out of things to talk about. That’s both a relief and a red flag at the same time. Parenting sure demands a lot of attention to those kind of small details. Amanda started 7th grade. She’s enrolled in the AVID program this year, which is a college prep program that targets young people who have a good chance of succeeding in college if given direction. She’s excited about the various field trips she will be taking to art museums, and university campuses in southern California. She’s also working on earning money for an 8th grade trip to Italy with her classmates. Yes, Italy. Ten days of Rome, Venice, Florence, Sorrento, and Capri. They sure didn’t have field trips like that when I was in 8th grade! And Jared, well Jared started 4th grade. This may be our final opportunity to build a mission for the 4th grade missions project. I did Carmel, or San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, when I was in 4th grade, as did Justin and Amanda. We can’t break tradition. The missions project is one of the blessings of living in California. Indeed, as we remodel our home we are inspired by the California missions. We had the opportunity to visit the Carmel Mission a few years back, and it is very endearing. So here we are, on the verge of the start of another school year, relieved that summer’s over, but at the same time disappointed that it slipped by so fast. Al’s still attending classes too. He transferred in with so many units that he’s nearly ready to begin his upper division coursework. One foot in front of the other. Balancing a wife (with cancer), kids, pets, home ownership, a demanding full-time job, and college is either an act of God or a display of insanity.

But these are all surface things- these things that I have written about. They speak to our lives, the details of our lives, and maybe except for cancer, the details aren’t that much different than the details of the lives other people are living. The epiphany comes from my conversations with God about all these things. And that happens during those few quiet moments throughout my day. Like cracks. They’re like little cracks in the surface. But they’re more than surface cracks. They’re deep. Tiny little fissures that run deep, all the way to my heart. I met with my confidant last week. It always seems I go in there with something in mind, but because she allows me the room to steer wide, I inevitably end up free-floating until I set my course on a certain path. And that path is never the path I intended to be at. But in her heart a woman plan’s her course, it is the Lord who determines her steps. So last week we ended up talking about a lot of different things. I rattled on. God was listening. But He quietly observed the cracks. He watched me slide right over them, not wanting to get hung up on one of them. And then He spoke. I was talking about “my” ministry, and the obligation I was feeling to begin picking the pieces back up now that the bulk of this cancer experience is behind me. It’s not a heavy feeling of obligation, but an excited and anticipatory obligation. This past year and a half I have felt so useless to God- like a dead weight floating around in a vast ocean, barely able to keep myself afloat. But God stuck His finger right there, and like a surgeon who must open up a tear in order to repair it correctly, He said, “Aimee, I see your heart, and I molded it to want to serve me, but right now your greatest ministry calling is to humble yourself to allow Me to heal you. Like a Master Potter I will gently apply my water- soaked sponge to your surface, as you slowly turn in circles on this wheel here. I will fill the cracks of your surface with love and tenderness, but you must sit still and be patient. You must be willing to allow me a year, or two, or maybe even three.” Later that day I rushed off to an appointment with a woman to talk about family mentoring and also to share what “my” ministry is about. Again, I briefly shared the details of our ministry, what I do, the book I wrote, where my heart has been, but also about the cancer that has deterred me this past year and a half. This woman understood. And again, God spoke, putting His finger right on the painful crack. He said, “Aimee, two years. Did you hear Me? Two years. If you try to fill a leaky vessel, what will happen to it? Yes. Do you see? I have to fill the cracks. That ministry was never yours. It has always been mine. I have poured you out, and I have taken it away from you. I may give it back. And I may not. I may just shape you into an entirely new vessel, for an entirely new purpose. But for the next couple of years I want you to just sit on this wheel. As my healing water pours off of you it will touch those around you. It will serve a purpose. But just sit still. Focus on this process. Stop questioning, and just trust Me.” I cried all the way home. “You want me to sit still and spend the next two years focusing on myself?” For a moment I mocked the irony. I thought about telling my Christian brothers and sisters that God had told me to spend the next 2 years of my life focusing on ME, and how utterly ridiculous that sounded. It even defies all Christian understanding, which has always been true to God’s Word in embracing the idea that one is to die to one’s self and serve God. How can focusing on myself serve God? But that’s what He said. And there’s pain there. I realized that “my” ministry had become a cord that bound me, and not an expression of my true humility and servitude to Him. In my reluctance to let go of it, I see so much more of “me” than Him in it. When stripped down to nakedness, I am never surprised, but I am always amazed at my total humanity.

So what have I been doing to heed this call of God? Well, I’ve been fairly faithful in exercising three days a week. I’m not a morning person, so getting up at 5:30am to go exercise is a big deal. I’m still focusing on my diet. I think I’ve lost some weight. I recently had my picture taken for the October breast cancer awareness ad that comes out every year in the local newspaper. I plan on contacting the local paper to talk to them about IBC, about my story. And I can tell you what I’ve not been doing- I haven’t been going to physical therapy for my lymphedema. I have convinced myself I don’t have an hour (two by the time I get there and back) three times a week to take off work. I haven’t been taking much “me” time either. I am looking forward to taking this trip with Al to New Orleans because while he’s in meetings for a couple of days I plan on just laying around. I have some reading I’d like to do. I’m trying to find some time for fasting too, because that’s been tugging at my heart again, and I don’t like to fast when I can’t sit still for a while. That, like everything else, gets so cluttered. Perhaps that’s why Jesus was led by the Spirit to the barren place to fast? Well………I’m off to balance the check book and pay some bills………oh, those money pressures!


In Jesus-


‘It is not thou that shapest God; it is God that shapest thee.

If then thou art the work of God, await the hand of the Artist who does all things in due season.

Offer him thy heart soft and tractable and keep the form in which the artist has fashioned thee.

Let thy clay be moist, lest thou grow hard and lose the imprint of his fingers.’

St. Irenaeus









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