Tag Archives: brain cancer


Getting my attention

When my friend Jim had brain cancer, many people sent him cards and notes. I thought I had gone through all of them, and then I found one more box. In it, I found this:

The Brick

 A young and successful executive was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new Jaguar. He was watching for kids darting out from between parked cars and slowed down when he thought he saw something.

As his car passed, no children appeared. Instead, a brick smashed into the Jag’s side door! He slammed on the brakes and backed the Jag back to the spot where the brick had been thrown.

The angry driver then jumped out of the car, grabbed the nearest kid and pushed him up against a parked car shouting, “What was that all about and who are you? Just what the heck are you doing? That’s a new car and that brick you threw is going to cost a lot of money. Why did you do it?”

The young boy was apologetic. “Please, mister, please. I’m sorry but I did not know what else to do,” he pleaded. “I threw the brick because no one else would stop.”

With tears dripping down his face and off his chin, the youth pointed to a spot just around a parked car. “It’s my brother,” he said. “He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair and I can’t lift him up.”

Now sobbing, the boy asked the stunned executive, “Would you please help me get him back into the wheelchair? He’s hurt and he’s too heavy for me.”

Moved beyond words, the driver tried to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat. He hurriedly lifted the handicapped boy back into the wheelchair, then took out a linen handkerchief and dabbed at the fresh scrapes and cuts.  A quick look told him everything was going to be okay.

“Thank you, and may God bless you,” the grateful child told the stranger.

Too shocked for words, the man simply watched the boy push the wheelchair down the sidewalk toward their home.

It was a long, slow walk back to the Jaguar. The damage was very noticeable, but the driver never bothered to repair the dented side door. He kept the dent there to remind him of this message: “Don’t go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention!” God whispers in our souls and speaks to our hearts. Sometimes when we don’t have time to listen, He has to throw a brick at us. It’s our choice to listen or not.

A sticky note was attached: “I know you don’t need this, but someone you know might.”

In the ways that brain cancer got our attention, slowed us down and shifted our focus, I think it was a brick.

This Advent, I am praying to be aware of the ways God is trying to get my attention.






Why words matter

The last thing you say to someone might be the last thing you say to him. These words came to me as a memory from the day my friend Jim had a seizure which left him unconscious. That day ended with a diagnosis of a very, very aggressive, non-curable brain cancer.

In the midst of being told that Jim may never regain consciousness, I wondered, “What was the last thing I said to him?”

Fortunately, I had spoken to him shortly before the seizure and my words were positive.

I know, though, that I don’t end every conversation, every interaction on a positive note. Sometimes I speak out of frustration or anger. Other times, I am distracted or tired or…God-cancer-hopeThat question, though, from the day Jim had a seizure has stayed with me and is a reminder to try to end every conversation on a positive note. That is particularly significant because I work at a cancer support center.

One of the women who came to the center for a couple of years had not been around for a while. Phone calls and messages went unanswered. We knew she had stopped treatment and began to wonder if she was still alive.

Sometimes families don’t notify us for weeks or even months, so we often live in a kind of limbo. But, we learned of this woman’s death within a few days after she had died.

Remembering this particular woman, I wondered what had been my last words to her. I hope they were something that let her know that I was glad to see her and that I cared about her. I hope she felt accepted, consoled and even uplifted.

She had been very realistic about the path she had chosen. She knew that without treatment, the cancer would end her life. But, I don’t think she knew that the last time she came to our center would be the last time. I did not know that the last words I said to her were the last words I would ever say to her.

Some days, I am overwhelmed by the sadness of my work. People learning they have cancer, enduring treatment, anxious for results from scans, some of them dying—it can be so sad.

Other days, though, I am overjoyed by the good news of my work. People learning that the cancer is in remission or that they are cancer-free, optimistic that life holds promise, hopeful for a future they once feared would never come.

Balancing these emotions, this ups and downs of cancer and its many ripple effects, can be difficult for me. God invites me to hold both the joys and sorrows.

I am reminded of St. Paul’s words: 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….I can do all things through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)

Strengthen me, Lord.

No Anxiety

“Have no anxiety…” (Philippians 4:6)

I started a new job this week so I am in a period of transition. For me, anxiety comes with the territory, along with uncertainty and second-guessing. Did I make the right decision? How will things work out? Will I be able to…? and on and on.

One morning, in the week before I started my new job, St. Paul’s words came to me, “Have no anxiety….” I love St. Paul for his directives. I love his certainty and confidence.

Have no anxiety. Trust. Let go.

My new job is at a support and resource center for people who have been touched by cancer, so perspective on my anxiety came fairly quickly. Talking with someone who is facing cancer helped me remember what really matters and what is worth my time and energy.

When Jim was sick and someone was worried or complaining about something that seemed trivial to me, I would ask, “Is it brain cancer?”

That was my standard—brain cancer. Anything less than that seemed utterly manageable. Perhaps it was not a fair standard to apply, maybe even a bit harsh, but it was my frame of reference at the time.

Now I am surrounded by people who have been touched by cancer. Some are in treatment, some are survivors, some are walking beside family or friends who have cancer, and some are grieving.

All week, memories from my experience with Jim and his cancer have been stirred up. I remember the difficulties of that time, and I also remember how Jim and I laughed every day and were grateful every day. I have been thinking of all the people who helped us and supported us. I remember how generous people were to us. I am deeply aware of how blessed we were and I am.

It was an awful time and also a graced time, a reminder that every curse has a blessing.

Anxiety? All I needed was a different frame of reference. I needed to look through a different lens. My anxiety has been replaced by gratitude and a hope that my experience with Jim and others I have known who have been touched by cancer will help me to be compassionate to those who come to The Lake House seeking comfort and support.

I thank St. Paul for his advice: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.”

Instead of anxiety, gratitude, trust and hope.

Say “Yes” to Life

Here it comes again—July 8.

It was a Friday in 2011, which started out as a typical day. My friend Jim dropped me off at the airport that morning; I was going to Michigan for my niece’s high-school graduation party.

Jim was supposed to pick up the dog at noon and take her to his house for the weekend; he always called to let me know when they had arrived.

I landed in Detroit around 1:15 p.m., and there was no message from Jim. I called all of his phones; no answer anywhere. I knew something was wrong.

It took me a few hours to find him. He had had a seizure in his office and had fallen to the floor, unconscious.

When he arrived at the hospital, a scan checking for a concussion revealed brain cancer. Brain cancer? Unimaginable. Jim was the epitome of health. He exercised regularly and ate a healthy diet.

Now he had brain cancer, and a very, very aggressive, non-curable brain cancer.

I caught the next flight back to Philadelphia and went straight to the hospital.

I remember feeling as though I was trudging through thick mud, or maybe quicksand those first few days. Moving forward slowly, and sinking at the same time. “Nothing will ever be the same,” I remember repeating to myself. Nothing has been.

Those days were a blur of meetings with the surgeon, watching Jim being monitored, making decisions, calling Jim’s friends to tell them what had happened.

Soon, though, I was able to hear God’s voice reminding me that Jim was in God’s hands, as was I. That reminder made a huge difference. I started to shift from fear to trust and even gratitude.

I was grateful that Jim had not had the seizure while he was driving and that I found him while he was still alive and that my sisters had dropped what they were doing to be with me during those hours I waited for a return flight and that the hospital was nearby and that the on-duty neurosurgeon was excellent and on and on. As my fears receded, my gratitude grew.

Lots of little things made a big difference. I started to let go of what got in the way of my gratitude; I focused on Jim and his care.

Others who have experienced the death of someone close to them have told me the death date is significant for them, a day they never forget. I remember the date of Jim’s death, April 3, 2012, but the other “D Day,” the diagnosis day, is much more difficult for me to get through.

July 8 is the day I learned just how fragile life really is and how quickly things can change. Here it comes again, July 8, reminding me to say “yes” to life.