Monday, December 15, 2014

Broken Things to Mend -

Sunday's sermon was on a topic dear to me - being broken and healing. Whether we're broken physically, emotionally, spiritually, we all can heal - and a belief in a God of second chances makes this possible. Below is the sermon, with hyper-links to the music I used. Happy week, ya'll -

Broken Things To Mend –
How do I go from broken, to mending, to being an instrument in His hands?

AA's Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We all face personal trials, family struggles, or as one Christian leader said, “tsunami’s of the soul.” Jesus Christ taught, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”  

Broken Things, Sara Reeves

Step 3 is where we must be willing to turn our will over to a power great than ourselves. For most of our lives we are selfish folks. “I do it myself” is often the first sentence from a child’s mouth. And we constantly hear this from those around us – “do it yourself,” “try it for yourself,” and our selfishness is reinforced. USA citizens value autonomy – I will take care of myself, I can do it myself. And we function this way . . . until . . . And we still think we can carry on by ourselves – we are often too down the hole to see that we are not whole, and that what we need can make us whole, and it is not, as the Big Book says, “John Barleycorn,” or his friends to heal us. Only the Healer has that power, and that is where we surrender, arms up, and say, “Here I am, help me heal.” Because while our will is in His hands, we still must follow His direction.

This step can be pretty tough, but surrendering is the beginning of healing. What does someone who is drowning do? They thrash around, moving, bobbing, reaching up, and creating a current that drags the body down. What should that someone do? Relax, let go, and let the buoyancy of the water push us upward, to safety.

We must have a desire to heal, and to believe that we can heal. We don’t necessarily need to have a bucket load of faith in this process, just a kernel, a particle, as we move into the place of surrender and safety. This is the first step out of despair.

So – we turn our will and our lives over to our Higher Power. And we heal – until we think we’re healed enough that “I can do it by myself,” “I’ve got it, God, I’m OK now,” and we try, and we fall, and we get up, and we try again, and we fall, and that is where we learn that turning our will and our lives over to God is not just a one-time, one-need effort, but a life-long action, that takes submitting ourselves to that power greater than ourselves.

Once “submitting” we can see, “this is the way to a faith that works.” The first 2 steps are about reflection, but Step 3 requires action – action to step away from ourselves and step toward that Higher Power. And we have to have faith that His will will heal us, faith that going this alone will not do us any good. In fact we think we can keep God out of our lives, but how about trying, based on the results of those around us, to let go and let God?

And this is where I find beauty – by surrendering and becoming dependent on our Higher Power, we actually become independent. Drink, drugs, sex, have not given us independence, that’s for sure! What? Yes – let’s look at this – objectively – “Every modern house has electric wiring carrying power and light to its interior. We are delighted with this dependence; our main hope is that nothing will ever cut off the supply of this current. And by accepting this, we are dependent on this power source;” but we become more independent and self-sufficient because of it. Power is what is needed here – electricity meets our daily needs and our emergencies as well. Think about the medical world and the role electricity/power plays there.

So why is it any different with our own power supply? As much as we want to have the right to act as we want, we don’t want anyone meddling on our issues, no advice, I want to make my decisions for me. And besides that, who can I trust – I trusted . . . and I gave up more than I ever gained.
Take a look in the mirror and do you see someone who is self-sufficient? If you do now, remember back to when you entered detox or this program. Did you see independence or dependence – someone filled with fear, anger, self-righteousness?

Relying on that Higher Power brings about self-sufficiency, if we become dependent on His will. We’re not talking about becoming emotionally dependent on someone else, too often that keeps us in the hole that we’ve been in. During WW II, man recovering alcoholics went to war – and a concern was if they would be able to “stand up under fire,” and stay sober. Well, the stats came in, and guess what – they did; they had fewer lapses and binges then the AA folks at home. Why? Because they had to depend on their Higher Power, which became a significant source of strength. 

Turning our will over is tough – we have families, financial obligations, jobs, relationships, “friends,” who are all dependent on us. How can we walk away from them, just to become dependent on something else? And then we’re told to find a sponsor, and rely on that sponsor, have faith in the sponsor. And we have pain, and we can’t kill that pain the way we used to. That’s where the rest of the steps come into play – we have to continually work on our sobriety – by becoming dependent on our Higher Power, so we can become independent souls – who do not depend on those things that have brought us to this place.

“It is when we try to make our will conform with God’s that we begin to use it rightly. To all of us, this was a most wonderful revelation. Our whole trouble had been the misuse of willpower. We had tried to bombard our problems with it instead of attempting to bring it into agreement with God’s intention for us. . . . Step 3 opens the door to this possibility.”

In times of insecurity, we have to still simply ask, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Thy will, not mine, be done.”

And we begin to mend – our brokenness begins to heal, to become whole, to fill that void, that hole, with goodness.

What do we do with our brokenness? That’s right – “do.” As we heal, we need to step out of ourselves, out of that selfish, narcissistic self, and give of ourselves, or as I taught my children, you can’t be a selfish, you need to be a sharefish. And finally, finally, our cups are full enough to give – to share. We all know we can’t serve or share what we don’t have.

We don’t need anything more than our love for ourselves and our desire to love others, to share.

I’ve been lost in my own healing, and I had to make a conscious effort, and decision this summer to no longer be “sick” and be ready and able to give. I remember the day when I thought, “OK, Ronda, it’s time to give back, if only in tiny ways.” As Mahatma Gandhi taught, “How can I make a difference so that I may bring peace to the world that I love and cherish so much? A name flickers instantly in my mind.”

Dec. 8 meditation in 24 Hours in a Day states, “’And greater works than this shall ye do.’ We can do greater works when we have more experience of the new way of life. We can have all the power we need from the Unseen God. We can have His grace, His spirit, to make us effective as we go along each day. Opportunities for a better world are all around us. Greater works can we do. But we do not work alone. The power of God is behind all good works.”

CNN Heroes Tribute Narayanan Krishnan

While we may not need to devote our entire lives to “service,” we can serve, quietly, and as heroically as Krishnan. 

And this is the way we heal – by finally, finally, reaching outside of ourselves, reaching toward others – we reach to them when we surrender to win, and we continue to reach as we share, sponsor, connect. No longer is there the disconnect between our brokenness and our goodness – because out of weak things come strength; a broken bone is strong where it mends, and we are just like that. And in our brokenness – strengthened, we help others begin to heal their brokenness – the circle continues.

“Be not afraid, only believe.” May we all know that we can be made whole, we can mend, our brokenness can be our strength.

Amazing Grace, Chris Tomlin

Monday, December 8, 2014

Sunday Sermon - Gratitude

I gave my first Sunday sermon, at the Cirque Lodge, yesterday. I was told to expect 2-4 people, there were 8, which was awesome. I gave this first sermon on Gratitude, breaking it down into 3 points, with a call to action at the end of the sermon. The entire service was about 45 minutes. I need to add more worship/music time next Sunday. I am happy. Below is that sermon.

If you have suggestions for interfaith sermons, topics you would like to see addressed, great readings, experiences, quotes, please, please send them my way:

Dec. 7. 2014 Sermon

People passing through the same events will respond differently.

·         There are many things we cannot control in our lives. This is clear in our own experiences and in scriptures, even with people like Job of the Old Testament —health, wealth, relationships, success are not certain. In many instances we can’t decide what is going to happen to us—all we can decide is how to interpret and react to events. *Share text from Shirlene

·         Every day we make some kind of decision to choose faith or fear, hope or despair, charity or selfishness, love or hate, knowledge or ignorance, pride or humility, and gratitude or ingratitude. Today I want to talk about how we can choose gratitude. (I recognize Thanksgiving has passed, but just because it is over doesn’t mean we should cease to be thankful. The Christmas season can foster greed if we get caught up in all the commercialization.) *We ask children – what are you asking for, what do you want, rather than, what are you giving?

Now I ask, what separates those who interpret life gratefully from those who don’t? In my research I’ve found three things that are hindrances to gratitude.

1. Pride
Pride prevents us from being grateful. I love Christian leader Ezra T. Benson’s talk: Beware of Pride. In it he states:

“Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing.

The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means “hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.” It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.

The proud make every man their adversary by pitting their intellects, opinions, works, wealth, talents, or any other worldly measuring device against others.

In the words of C. S. Lewis: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.”

President Benson goes on to say: “Most of us consider pride to be a sin of those on the top, such as the rich and the learned, looking down at the rest of us. There is, however, a far more common ailment among us—and that is pride from the bottom looking up. It is manifest in so many ways, such as faultfinding, gossiping, backbiting, murmuring, living beyond our means, envying, coveting, withholding gratitude and praise that might lift another, and being unforgiving and jealous.”

* Reading:
“Take full account of the excellencies which you possess, and in gratitude remember how you would hanker after them, if you had them not.” — Marcus Aurelius

* Continue:
We are surrounded by people who are like us but more or less bright or witty or a little taller or shorter, or a bit more or less thin, or somewhat poorer or richer, or more or less charismatic, or more or less accomplished, or whatever.

We are constantly appraising and giving value to who we are and who others are through friends/acquaintances, GPA or years of education, salary, age, number of children, job title, etc. And this is troublesome.

Comparing ourselves to others is incongruent with gratitude because as President Benson states, “pride is hatred, hostility to, or a state of opposition—certainly out of line with gratitude which is a readiness to show appreciation and to return kindness.”

When we are competitively comparing ourselves against others we are less likely to compliment others, find joy in their accomplishments, and be happy with our own journey through life. It’s easy to be disoriented when we are caught up in comparisons because we see the highlight reel from others and see our own behind the scenes production. *I compare my worst to someone else’s best, and therein lies the self-centered sin of comparison – I will never measure up.

People’s worth can’t be quantified—and neither can our individual value. People are not the best or worst things they have done and we can’t see what others have passed through. All we know is that “The worth of souls is great in the sight of God” and every person on the earth has a soul.

So what’s the answer to pride getting in the way of gratitude? President Benson states:

“God will have a humble people. Either we can choose to be humble or we can be compelled to be humble.

“We can choose to humble ourselves by receiving counsel and chastisement, forgiving those who have offended us by rendering selfless service, by confessing and forsaking our sins and being born of God, and by loving God, submitting our will to His, and putting Him first in our lives.”

Humility is a choice, much like gratitude.

2. Getting caught up on “endings” gets in the way of gratitude
German author Dieter Uchtdorf gave a great talk on gratitude, stating:
“Often [those who are ungrateful experience] grief caused by what seems to them as an ending. Some are facing the end of a cherished relationship, such as the death of a loved one or estrangement from a family member. Others feel they are facing the end of hope—the hope of being married or bearing children or overcoming an illness. Others may be facing the end of their faith, as confusing and conflicting voices in the world tempt them to question, even abandon, what they once knew to be true.”

Sooner or later, all of us experience times when the fabric of our world appears to tear at the seams, leaving us alone, frustrated, and adrift. It’s easy to be caught up in the disorientation of daily drudgery and to feel too busy to be happy and grateful. In such times it’s particularly easy to be caught up on endings.

To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives-the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections-that requires hard spiritual work. Still, we are only truly grateful people when we can say thank you to all that has brought us to the present moment. As long as we keep dividing our lives between events and people we would like to remember and those we would rather forget, we cannot claim the fullness of our beings as a gift of God to be grateful for.

Let's not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now and trust that we will soon see in it the guiding hand of a loving God.

There is always something to be grateful for, even when life seems hard. When times are tough, whether we are having a bad day or stuck in what may feel like an endless rut, it can be difficult to take the time to feel grateful. Yet, that is when gratitude can be most important. If we can look at our lives, during periods of challenge, and find something to be grateful for, then we can transform our realities in an instant. There are blessings to be found everywhere. When we are focusing on what is negative, our abundance can be easy to miss. Instead, choosing to find what already exists in our lives that we can appreciate can change what we see in our world. We start to notice one blessing, and then another.

* Examples

When we constantly choose to be grateful, we notice that every breath is a miracle and each smile becomes a gift. We begin to understand that difficulties are also invaluable lessons. The sun is always shining for us when we are grateful, even if it is hidden behind clouds on a rainy day. A simple sandwich becomes a feast, and a trinket is transformed into a treasure. Living in a state of gratitude allows us to spread our abundance because that is the energy that we emanate from our beings. Because the world reflects back to us what we embody, the additional blessings that inevitably flow our way give us even more to be grateful for. The universe wants to shower us with blessings. The more we appreciate life, the more life appreciates and bestows us with more goodness.

God can work with us no matter how discouraged we feel at times.

There seems to be something inside of us that resists endings.

This too shall pass.

So how do we prevent fixating on endings from interfering with feelings of gratitude in our current circumstances? Keeping perspective seems to be the answer. For me, resetting perspective when times are tough comes from contemplation and prayer, talking to family and friends, and choosing to turn attention away from areas of life I can’t control to things I can control.

3. Fixed expectations for the future get in the way of gratitude
The beauty and horror of life is that we don’t know what the future holds, but we should have goals we are working toward. It is easy to get frustrated when life happens and things get hard. Sometimes the hard times bring the biggest blessings.

The Farmer's Judgment—A Sufi Tale
Once upon a time there was a farmer who had some land a ways outside the village. He had a son to help him and one good horse. Indeed, it was a magnificent horse. 

So magnificent, that when the King passed through the village, he heard about the horse and asked to see it. 

The King was so impressed that he offered the farmer a considerable amount of gold for the horse. But the farmer would not part with his horse, and the King went away.

The next day, the horse ran away!

The villagers rushed to the farmer and exclaimed, "Oh, how awful. Your horse is gone and you don't have the gold! What a bad thing has happened to you!"

The Farmer replied, "Well, I don't know that it's a bad thing, but I do know my horse is gone and that I don't have the gold."

A few days later, the Farmer's horse returned. And, not only did the horse come back, he brought six wild and beautiful horses with him. Each would be worth a great sum once they were broken and trained.

When the villagers heard, they rushed out to see the horses and to say to the Farmer, "Oh, you were right! It was not a bad thing that your horse ran away.  Now he has returned and brought you six more fine horses. It is a good thing!"

"I don't know if it's a good thing or not," the Farmer said. "I just
know that my horse has come back and brought me six more horses."

The following day the Farmer's son was trying to break one of the wild horses and he fell off and broke both his legs. Again the Villagers visited the Farmer and they exclaimed, "Oh, you were right! It was a bad thing that your horse came back with six more horses. Now, your son has broken both legs and cannot help you with your crops. Surely you will suffer great losses. Oh, what a bad thing!"

And the Farmer said, "Well, I don't know whether it's a bad thing or not. I only know that my son was thrown from a horse and that both his legs are broken."

The next day the King returned to the village. He was leading his soldiers to the border where the kingdom was engaged in a terrible battle with a neighboring country. The enemy was fierce and most of the young soldiers were marching to their death.

As the King passed through the village he rounded up all the young men to join in the fighting. Of course, the Farmer's son, with his broken legs, did not have to go.

After the King and his men left, the Villagers rushed to the Farmer and exclaimed, "Oh, you were right! It was a good thing that your son fell off the horse and broke his legs. Now he will certainly not die in this war as will so many other young men.

The Farmer replied, "Well, I don't know if it's a good thing, or not. But I know that my son did not have to go with the King to fight this battle.

And so the story goes....

Uncertainty is one of the few certain things in our life and we can’t interpret single threads in the tapestry of our lives independently. We can make ourselves miserable trying to appraise every event in life as good or bad.

I’ve read that a blessing is anything that brings us closer to God—not just things that bring comfort and immediate happiness.

As the farmer in prior story, we don’t know what a turn of events will lead to.

In Psalms we’re told, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Finally Hinckley stated: “Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to just be people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old time rail journey…delays…sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling burst of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”

If there is only one outcome in our lives that we will accept to make us happy, we will almost invariably be unhappy.

Gratitude can be learned. A few ways we can develop gratitude include:
·         Gratitude lists
·         Contemplation
·         Consistent expressions of gratitude – a letter, note, simple “thank you”
·         Pray for it. Gratitude is a gift from God.

* Call to Action:
It’s my hope that we can have the strength and desire to choose to be humble and not live through comparisons that we can value and appreciate one another.

That we don’t fixate on endings in life by having an eye of faith towards the future and a belief that God can and will do miracles in our lives.

Finally it’s my prayer that we can accept the tapestries of our lives as a weaving of events that cannot be clearly categorized as good or bad.

And that we can thank God every day for beautiful moments, encouraging relationships, and tender mercies along our way.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Breathe -

Have you ever been in a space where you didn't know you were holding your breath until you exhaled?

I visited my radiation oncologist, Dr. Clark, today. I have had every 3 months visits with both oncologists (Dr. Rich, chemo) since finishing treatment in April, 2013. Every 3 months I have blood drawn, boobs handled, and stats taken. Between tests and appointments, this is really about a week every 3 months tied up in doctor and lab appointments.

Today, sweet Dr. Clark graduated me to, "See you in a year, with a mammogram next September." With those kind words I sighed, and I looked forward.

Life goes on, thank heavens.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The News -

As I mentioned two posts ago, life begins at the end of your comfort zone, and that's where I've been the past two weeks, and where I see myself being this month.

By the way, in the extended Walker family, the first two words out of our mouth on the first day of the month should be, "Rabbit, rabbit." In this way you will bring good luck to you and yours throughout the month. I usually remember and say "Rabbit, rabbit," but this morning, I forgot. Dang.

About three weeks ago I was hired by Cirque Lodge, a alcohol and drug treatment center, in Orem and Sundance, to be their chaplain. To say I'm giddy with excitement would be downplaying the emotions I'm having.

 A fellow chaplain recommended me for this position, and my interview with the directors was awesome. I really felt like I was in the right place at the right time. The fifteen minute interview turned into an hour long conversation, and I was prepared, naturally, without any feeling of being stumped by the questions, nor cocky with answers. I was me, all me, and they liked me!

I was interviewed for the job of giving a Sunday service and sermon for Cirque clients. However, after our conversation, they asked me to present two spirituality groups a week along with the Sunday service, which begins this next Sunday, Dec. 7. I am their Interfaith Chaplain!

I have conducted three spirituality groups. They have gone quite well, and the staff has been more than helpful and complimentary. The topics for the last three groups have been on joy and happiness, and on gratitude and living in Thanksgiving daily.

In addition to grading forty-three research portfolios this past week, I organized four file drawers, dumping papers, organizing papers, and while doing so, organizing my own process for moving forward with this role. I am a collector of thoughts, articles, poetry, that have made an impact on me. Interestingly, my father has done similarly through the years, and I credit him for me acquiring this habit. So now I have this awesome drawer filled with files of topics I can use for these groups and the Sunday service.

The toughest part of this, so far, is just not thinking about this role. Every where I look I see a sermon or a message that I can deliver. There are metaphors all around me! So I'm taking notes whenever I come up with, or see, or hear, an idea, and I'm racking my brain to find resources that will tie in to these topics - videos, Ted talks, music (I used Lucinda Williams "Joy" for the first presentation).

The clients are recovering addicts, and Cirque uses the AA 12 Step program as their method of rehab. I am grateful that I have had AA in my life; I'm grateful that Scott is a recovering alcoholic, that he has shared his knowledge of the steps with me, and that we both have worked the steps. In fact, the AA 12 Steps was the first bit of our conversation on our very first date.

So here I am, starting new, pushing myself out of that comfort zone into a new place, and I am overwhelmed and exhilarated.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Yes, please.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

A folklorist colleague of mine (he is considered the international expert on tradition and celebration), wrote this for the Washington Post this morning.

I like what he has to say; I hope you do too -

Saturday, November 22, 2014

life begins at the end of your comfort zone

I've been uncomfortable in this post-cancer comfort zone for the past 15 months. A year ago July, right after getting my left arm in a lovely pink wrist to shoulder cast, The still small voice told me, "The life you have been leading no longer suits you." So I've been trying to stay as far away from that life as possible. However, that's where my interests lie, that's where I'm comfortable, and that is where I've been for the past 8 years - teach, write, chaplain, volunteer, church, parent . . . And yet these places are no longer providing me with what I need - a challenge, stability, excitement, comfort. And though these words are oxymoron's, they are what I've been quietly searching for, waiting for - for my life to begin - to be uncomfortable in the search for a different kind of comfort.

I have found portions of this - in a few places, but consolidating these pieces under one umbrella has been tough. One thing I'm trying not to do is lead a disjointed life - where I'm wearing too many hats, doing too many things, while still being able to be independent, work from home, write, teach, care for others. A tall order, particularly because I can no longer multi-task, have a scattered "focus," or carry too many identities - anxiety and disjointedness take over, and I fall and fail at all.

So while I'm waiting, and wondering, and scrambling, and searching, and being, I've put the word out, sent a prayer to the heavens, stayed tuned in to the pulse of my interests and stayed published, presented, certified, active in the various professional communities where my interests lie.

I've also wondered what to do with this blog. I'm ready to move past cancer, but I'm don't want to put this blog and my writing away - I like creating, I like writing, I like this electronic journal!

And pleas were answered this month - November, the month of gratitude, has been the month for me to make some changes, to move forward - in goodness and in gratitude.

More to come - but I'm in my lane, and as anxious as I am for this new opportunity, I need the challenge and the comfort I'm finding here - at the end of my comfort zone -

Macks Inn, Island Park, Oct. 2014

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cancer Culture - Again

On Friday and Saturday I had the opportunity to spend time with some of my favorite people, the folklorists of Utah. Many have been my teachers, my mentors, my co-students, my colleagues, and all are my friends. I spoke with one of my professors and his wife - they have a son who has colorectal cancer, has had for quite some time, and with a weekly or monthly dose of chemo, he is living. He is taking advantage of his long cancer journey to educate the medical world about cancer - and how to answer sensitive questions that may or may not be asked by those going through cancer. Face it - until you have cancer and have been going through treatments, you don't even know what to ask. This man is providing answers for those who will come after him. I like that - although he is not healthy, he can still provide, his expertise, along with his education, will benefit others.

And so I have thought about what I wrote, way last January, 2013, about cancer culture, and I'm reprinting a edited version of 3 posts, below. Enjoy!

Cancer Culture - The ways of the folk are divided into three categories: make (material), say (cultural), do (customary). In every day culture or folk ways, these could be:
  •  Make - Sunday dinner - the same meal every Sunday, which then becomes customary as well.
  • Say - How did you sleep? Don't be late for school? How was your day? Good grief it's cold, Hi, Hey, Howdy, Whassup - these are things we say on a regular basis, words that are expected to come from us.
  • Do - make our bed a particular way, wear a specific clothing item for a specific day/time/event. Pray over the food, don't speak with food in our mouths. Check Facebook first thing when we get to work. And these happen on a regular basis.

When we make, say, do these "all the time" they become customs or habits, and when we involve others in our doing, they become traditions.

This happens also with special events:
  • Make - fruit cake for Christmas, colored eggs for Easter, corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick's Day. Or - Christmas decorations, birthday cakes, reservations at the restaurant we ate at on our first date (which becomes a "do").
  • Say - Happy New Year, Happy Singles Awareness Day, Another Year Older, sing - Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you . . .
  • Do - Go to the restaurant we went to on our first date every year (reflected in the "make"), go to Island Park for our family reunion every other year, give gifts for birthdays, fold our arms in worship service. 
And now to Cancer Culture:
I'm not sure if I can make this into an itemized list, so let me describe what I've experienced -
  • Say - there are words that are only understood by those experiencing cancer and cancer treatments. "I'm a stage 1, grade 3, triple negative." "Oh, that's a cute hat." With the reply, "It's not there just for beauty." And the reply, "I'm a survivor; I . . . " Or, IV therapy, hydration, dex, let me know, terminal, metastasized, every 3 weeks, there goes a nail, no hair - anywhere; radiation tattoo, port, chemo sick.
And words cancer folks don't use - victim, patient, it could be worse, cheer up - which then would define who the insiders are and who the outsiders are - by the words, phrases they use. 
  •  Do - Clothing - v-neck t-shirts, button down the front shirts, stretchy pants, warm socks, layers, hats with liners, ill-fitting wigs. I have clothes I haven't worn this fall/winter because I don't have hats/scarves that match them! I have a pair of Dansko shoes I have not worn, because I haven't gone anyplace fancy enough to wear them! I know which yarn is the best yarn for hats, how to wash hats, how to tie scarves, how cold the back of my neck gets and how to wear a scarf and a hat together, and the beauty of wearing a hat to bed! I dress up for chemo and IV therapy - a lady last week told me, "You are the best dressed of all of Dr. Rich's patients. I know, I've been watching." Ha! What an award to win - something that doesn't matter to the outsider's world, but for insider's, it's "important"! 
    • And blankets - which belong in the make and do categories - the chemo room is cool, chemotherapy itself is not warm, and most chemo patients are cold from their situations. So a blanket - this season it's a "minky," (flannel, fleece) are so important. If you bring your own blanket, it's usually a gift - which is another "do," someone "made" and gifted you with that blanket. I've written about blankets in another post. As you can see from these pictures, there are fleece scarves and knitted or crocheted caps. These are gifts to the chemo unit - things that people make and then give/do.
  • Make - We make traditions! Some of those in the cancer world include:
    • The biggest traditions and initiation rites are that of giving and receiving - cancer patients, survivors, and their loved ones are gracious with tips for making it through this journey. They can give advice, always preceded and ending with a hug. Their advice is a gift. Those without cancer experience - no advice please.The patient moves from beginner to experienced once their first treatment is finished. Now they are part of the community - and are welcomed - with a hug.
    • Graduation is another ritual that only is important in the cancer world. In chemotherapy, once the last chemo treatment is finished, the patient gets to ring a ship's bell and receives a bottle of carbonated apple juice. The patient brings in a treat for everyone - usually donuts, bagels, or a cake. There is applause, pictures, and that's it! Scott and I wore our "Thank you" t-shirts and brought donuts. This ritual is taught by example, nothing is said or shared about it, you just follow what has already been done. 
    • The radiation oncology department does similar. 
    • I forgot to mention making hats - and giving them. I have soooo many, most are awesome, some are cute, and I've received a few that I will donate. I have never worn a hat, seriously never, and it has taken some getting used to. But I have grown dependent on them, and I think I look pretty darn good!   
    • There is also lots of breast cancer jewelry - just like hats, some tacky, some nice. I will wear some of what I've received as gifts until I finish my treatments.
  • Food plays an important role in a cancer patient's life. Food is something we make, say, and do. 
    • What to eat - advice is given, and stories are told, about what to avoid and what to embrace. Every breast cancer patient I spoke with could eat the Dreyer's fruit juice bars and Creamies brand creamcicles. Most folks liked yogurt as well.
    • What not to eat - avoid spicy foods, but eat foods with flavor. Some foods will have a metallic taste because of chemo, some people eat with plastic utensils during chemo, some say that chemo and food are similar to pregnancy and food - you don't know what you want to eat until the moment you're hungry. It's hard to cook while having chemo for this reason. It's also hard to bring in food for chemo patients because of this. (The first 2 months I lost 10 pounds because of my aversion to food. The second 2 months I gained 12 pounds because I was ravenous and on steroids.)
  • Folk Medicine
    • Of course there are things that benefit the cancer patient as much as the prescriptions given. And even oncology and radiation nurses share these tips. 
      • Candied ginger is great for nausea, so are See's Dark Chocolate Peppermint Patties!
      • Tea Tree Oil and Sally Hansen Hard as Nails are good for preserving nails. As is Gold Bond ultra-strength lotion. 
      • Rub tea tree oil on bald head during radiation. 
      • Senna is a natural stool softener - keep it on hand, don't use prescriptions for this. 
      •  Bathe in Celtic Sea Salts to reduce water retention and to leach toxins out of your system. 
  • More Do (unspoken rules): 
    • Naps are expected, and talking about taking naps or naps is expected and encouraged. 2 naps a day are applauded. 
    • Exercise is as important as a nap - 30 minutes a day of walking is said to encourage healing. 
    • Complaining is just fine, whining is not. Complaints about things one cannot control are expected: fingernail and toenail loss, smells, chemo breath, chemo taste, port access, blood drawn, weight loss, weight gain, chemo brain (forgetfulness, names, slow response), tingling in hands and feet, exhaustion, pain. Supporters can complain as well. Aches and pains can be compared, but not trumped. 
    • Manners are important - thank you, please, you're welcome, no smells (no perfume or heavy scents in chemo room). 
    • Sickness is allowed in chemo room, but do not talk about those who are/were sick and their sickness outside of the room. 
    • Chemo room remains quiet and calm. No speaking on phones (text or go into the hall, which is awkward with an IV tower). IPads, Kindles, IPods, books are acceptable forms of entertainment. So is sleep. Not really a place to socialize.  
  • Do Not (unspoken rules): 
    • Outsiders cannot give advice.
      • Sharing tips is great, giving advice is not so readily accepted.   
    • No joking about cancer by outsiders.  
    •  Self-help books, mind over body books, alternative treatments books.
    •  Cancer life is a liminal space - which cannot be judged or compared (I have never worn a hat in my entire life, pre-chemo. Now, I must.). 
    • Don't visit cancer patient during chemo or radiation treatments, unless invited.
Those of us with cancer need support and outside of the amazingly spectacular medical team I see 4 levels of support:

1.     Trusted 2 or 3
1.     These are the folks you sleep with, eat with, who see you naked (physically and emotionally), and are very close in proximity. 
2.     Cancer Mentors
1.     These are people who have had cancer, or have been part of this first group with a loved one. They are the folks who can be subjectively objective about cancer - sharing the tips, listening with empathetic ears, who can understand the aches and pukes, and who can tell you, "You go, girl," when you need that. They are also the ones who can say to a #1, "When my wife . . ." or, "My daughter made me . . ." They answer questions without asking questions. 
2.     I belong to a Breast Cancer online support group where I've been able to do a daily check-in, where I've been able to ask simple questions, and where I've gone to hear others' stories (thank you Colt for finding this for me). 
3.     Cheerleaders
1.     Oh goodness, this category is hard. I now understand why sports' teams have cheerleaders. Their encouragement, shouts from the sidelines are great motivation for working hard. They may have no experience with cancer, but they know their "team," and they have the love and separation to be able to be a strength to the 1's. 
4.      Caregivers
1.     Not that the above don't give care, but these are the silent ones, not necessarily part of that inner-circle, but eager to help however they can. 

So there you have it, cancer culture and cancer community.