Saturday, August 27, 2016

My sister has cancer

Apparently, my sister has incredibly lumpy breasts.

It's not something we've talked about much over the years. She is six years my younger. She was 12 when I went to college, 16 when I got married, in college when I became a mom. My 6th kid was 6 months old when she had her first nicu baby (3 of her 4 daughters spent significant time in the hospital). I remember sitting behind a curtain in the hospital with her, pumping together, she - so her tiny girl could have mama milk in spite of her cleft lip and palate, so important as she recovered from major surgery on her miniature heart; me - so my normal, healthy, fat chunk boy could still have my milk when I flew home.

Even then, I'm pretty sure we didn't discuss her fibrous boobs.

But here we are, a dozen years later, and one pesky lump out of her extensive lump collection is turning our worlds upside down.

For me it has been a week or so of being pretty sure it was cancer but not completely sure, and now we are sure that it is but don't know much else. How big? How many? How fast? How aggressive? Spreading? Lymph nodes? What does it mean? Surgery yes, but how much? Genetic? Hormonal? Will she lose her boobs? Will I lose my sister?

These are the questions that have been hogging most of my conscious thought. Answers will come as tests are completed and results are read. Today I will tell my middle kids. I will tell them not to be afraid. There may be a time for weeping. And I will weep now for her grief, for the agony of the process, for the surgery, the chemo, the suspense, the loss of the illusion that all is well (true story, she lost that illusion long ago).

But I am not going to grieve things I fear. I'm not going to borrow tomorrow's trouble. Today has trouble of its own.

That's all my brain talking. At the same time, my heart has an ache that doesn't go away. Suspense isn't something I handle well. There is a big something I don't know. And that is its own kind of hard.

So if you pray, please pray. And if you know me and I behave strangely, forget things, start blubbing in a conversation about laundry detergent, text furiously during a class about improving your students' essay writing, please forgive me, handle with care. Know that some portion of my already distracted heart is very, very busy, loving my sister.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The value of life

There has been much discussion of late about which lives matter, black lives, blue lives, unborn lives... This is not that conversation. (Although this truth very much applies to it.)
There is a fallacy in the way we esteem the value of a life. For example, to a couple who has struggled to conceive, the thousands of dollars it costs to adopt or to conceive with medical help are absolutely worth every penny. For those who conceive with little effort, or even in spite of efforts NOT to conceive, there is such a thing as a "pregnancy scare". One couple will spend all they have and more to get what another couple dreads and fears. 
I haven't watched the movie, but my understanding of the plot of Saving Private Ryan, which involves a group of men risking/giving their lives to save the last of a mother's sons, is somewhat true to life. The last son's life was made more valuable because the other sons had died. 
A woman may abort her baby at different stages of pregnancy in different parts of the world. Yet, if the same parent would sustain the pregnancy, give birth to the baby, raise it for a year or three, and in a relatively brief moment of failure leave it in a hot or cold car, or allow it to get away from her, she or he would be crucified on social media for it. We fiercely defend the right to deliberately end the life of an unwanted (preborn) child but cruelly withhold grace from the woman/man who desperately wanted to keep her/his (slightly older) child but failed to do so.  
Why such a disparity? Is it just supply and demand? Does it lie in our ability to empathize? 
We are mistaken. The life of a human (or other creature I suppose) is not truly valued by what it is worth to its parents or peers or medical staff or the friendly neighborhood Facebook troll. 
In my house there are many creative people. They create a lot. The person who gets to say if a creation is 'important' or not, where it goes, how long it stays in our house, is the one who made it. 
I am 45 years old. My oldest is 20, my youngest is just learning to sit on her own. There are 13 more between them. I happen to think they are all exquisite. 
I am asked fairly often if my littlest is the last. The truth is, I don't know. People do get pregnant as old as I am sometimes. 
Do I want to be pregnant again? Not necessarily.  Do I want to labor again? Not especially. Do I hope to breastfeed and hold a tiny baby again? Yeah, I suppose. I love all of those things. And, I can take or leave all those things. I have done my share of being excited, taken more than my share of pregnancy tests, experienced the anticipating, swelling feet and abdomen, laboring, delivering, nursing. God knows I've changed my share of diapers. 
It isn't the experience of having a baby that makes me want to have more babies. It is the life. If God chooses not to give me any more humans, or gives them but then takes them away, I will trust Him. He is good. But if He were to trust me with more lives, I will always call that good. Because he put the price tag of 'worth-the-life-of-my-only-son' on each one, and also 'bearer-of-the-image-of-God', and because he calls them very good and a blessing and a heritage and a reward, I will continue to agree with the Creator's assessment of His creation. 
Am I done having children? I don't know. Maybe. But I am not done saying yes. I am pleased to say yes. 
There is more risk for an older mom, they say. More risk than a mom who goes through years of in vitro fertilization? More risk than a mom with previous miscarriages? More risk than a mom with an incompetent cervix? No. Just more risk than someone else thinks is worth it. But I think each baby, each human, each life is worth all the risk in the world and all the money in the world and all the stars in the heaven. 
They are valuable, precious in His sight, no matter what anyone else ever says or thinks. No matter what they achieve. If everyone knows their name. If no one knows their name. Each of my sons and daughters. Each of your sons and daughters. You. Me. We are the Joy set before Him that caused Jesus to endure the cross. Before we were formed in the womb, we were known and loved by Him. That is the value of life.