Ghost Prints on a Cloudy Day

This is not about cancer.

It’s important to me that you understand that.

Because I don’t have cancer. My cancer was dead. And they got it out.

This is not about being sick.

It’s important to me that you understand that.

Because I am not sick. I am recovering. I am stronger everyday, and there are many things I am able to do today that I could not do yesterday.

This is not about chemo.

It is important to me that you understand that.

I do not have chemo in me today, do not know if or when chemo happens next, and I do not give chemo permission to ruin my life, kill me off, or steal my hair.

This is about living intentionally, on purpose, and as awake as anything.

When I awoke today, I felt fear. I had to swallow it down, squeeze my eyes shut until it was gone, and pray it away.

But I did.

Then I got up, and showered, and put on real clothes.

I teased my kids with the teal wig, and hugged them goodbye as Nathan prepared to take them to school. I did my scripture study, and Nathan made me breakfast when he got home.

Then it was time for my first trip back to the doctor. Getting in and out of the car was painful, but otherwise being in the car was fine. I was suddenly grateful in a new way that we did the surgery here instead of going all the way to Tulsa.

I had the same experience as when I was sick already before surgery: my spirit soared, thinking I was driving to work, and then panicked when I turned at the hospital instead of my office.

I would much rather work.

I really do love my job, and love the people I work with, and miss them a lot.

I tried to be brave today, sending the teal wig picture to my colleagues because I know they want to say something but don’t know what to say. That worked, everyone was delighted, and all was normal again. I chatted with a few, but mostly sent the smile out just in form of a picture.

Walking into the hospital, the smell of medical care washed over me and I wondered when I will escape this sterile place. I want to smell the wind, and feel dirt under my fingers, and squash grass under my toes. I want to swim in pools and lakes and oceans and seas. I want to kayak rivers and shoot rapids and sleep under the moon.

Instead, I sit down again in the room where pictures of babies I will never have stare back at me.

Except this time, instead of making me cry, I realize none of them have parents.

The first picture is a baby being held, but you can only see the hands of the parents.

The middle one is a pregnant woman, but you cannot see her head.

The last one is a baby swaddled, but laying alone.

I realize in that moment that these are not pictures of happy mothers with new babies, but pictures of babies without parents.

These babies need me, I think.

Don’t tell Nathan, I think next.

I am not baby crazy and out to collect them, I just mean that finally my head and heart have settled in the same place about adoption. And it is good.

Fostering again? Maybe. Maybe we are done. We will see.

But adoption? Maybe that’s our season. Maybe court will proceed easily and quickly (I know, that made me snort, too), and we will be what’s best for these kids, and maybe I am a real mother after all, even if all I got was 30 kids in a year.

That’s when the nurse calls me back.

I sit in some kind of Victorian world’s fair kind of chair, and it is covered in that doctor office paper you have to sit on, except now there are brightly painted handprints all over it.

That’s just cruel, I think.

And then I think again, that maybe they are handprints of ghosts, maybe they are smiles from my children who did not live, my children I cannot see.

So I lay down, then, and let their hands caress my back the way Five tries to give me back rubs like Nathan does. I pretend they are soothing down hair I do not have, and tickling me the way the toddler does, and it makes me smile.

I close my eyes, and one tear falls.

The doctor comes to look at me, and says I have done well and am healing exactly as I should.

He holds my hand while I try to sit up, and I am grateful. It’s a deep kindness from a man who does not like germs, a bedside manner not necessarily required. He is soft, somehow, and has been kind, and I am grateful.

He pulls his chair across from me and looks at me seriously.

He says to me, like a prophet and like a father, that there is something he wants me to know.

He says, this is not your fault.

He says, you are not to blame.

He says, there is nothing you did to cause this.

He says, gently, there is no way your body could have carried full term. Conceiving was a miracle. There was no way a baby could grow and live in the middle of all that, strangled by all that.

I do not want to think of strangled babies.

He says, you have had to have been in pain for at least fifteen years. This has been growing, slowly, a long time, and then so quickly.

I look away, know what my last fifteen years have been, and wondering how much of my mess has been caused by hormones that were not right, pain I could not escape, and impulses that were not mine.

I don’t mean in an avoiding-responsibility way, just in a finally-understanding way.

I think back to my mother, and when I ran away because things were so hard, and now understanding why those years were so hard, that she was not herself because the monster was ovarian cancer, and how much worse I made it on her by leaving, even if it was the only way I knew how to save me.

I hate cancer.

Then I think of Nathan, who knows all these secrets, who lived these years with me while I was literally being tied in knots, who loved me through all of it, and who is still here when I am almost set free.

I think of my blessing, which said I would learn about the atonement of the Savior in a physical way besides just the spiritual way, and am in awe of the one who could rescue even me, the one who heals me a little more every day, the one who has given me life even when there is to be no life in me.

Suddenly, and unexpectedly, this doctor becomes like a savior on mount Zion to me. Here is a moment, in front of a stranger, where I should be covered up in my naked shame, hiding all of me there is to see. And yet, here I am, all spread out and uncovered, being comforted by one who just wants to heal the wound.

That’s what repentance means to me, and what the Savior has done for me.

There is a way, because of the atonement, to approach my Father-in-Heaven with what I should be ashamed of, and instead present the very wound itself, and be healed.

And he, my Father-in-Heaven, says to me that I am healing well.

I see my father and mother, and I see them smile at me, and I know they would hug me if they could.

I know we are going to be okay, me and my parents.

I may not be finished yet, and there may be more to cleanse me from, and there may be more battles to be had, but I am healing well.

And so I wipe away tears as the doctor begins explaining estrogen choices and how I must take it because of my age and how to know what works for me and how to change options if something doesn’t work.

I beg him not to let me be crazy.

I tell him that the estrogen shot in the surgery, and having all that nastiness out of me, has really been the best thing for me. Despite the tenderness from surgery, my pain is far less than it was before surgery. I feel more myself, mentally and emotionally, than I have in years.

We will find what works for you, he says, and give you only as little as you need.

I think again of Nathan, and am glad he is a Saint already.

I pray to God to help me now, and intervene in my behalf, that I will not do anything stupid or destructive while we play chemistry set with my this-is-me hormones.

The doctor then surprises me again, making me cry one more time, apologizing to me that no one found all these pieces sooner, that I had so many weird medical issues so many times, that I lived in such pain for so long, that we had to endure the heartbreak of trying so hard to have children and living through so much grief each time we lost one or couldn’t.

He says it sincerely, and I believe him, and I thank him.

It feels good for someone to say it out loud.

I leave his office, with instructions not to work four more weeks (and a prayer for the mortgage), a prescription to pick up next week, and an appointment to come back in four more weeks to get all intrusive one more time and get my permission to go back to work. I still can’t lift anything, still can walk but no other exercise, and still will sleep most of the time.

As I leave, I know he is right. I will be tired and sore later today from this – my first big outing – but right now I have less pain than I did before surgery. I am grateful to know there is nothing else we could have done to have kids, relieved to walk away from miscarriages without it being an ethical dilemma, and grateful for the two adorable children in my home. I try to believe him that none of this is my fault, but also know it all makes perfect sense as an experience I needed to teach me.

I drive home thinking of these things, half praying and half pondering. It feels good to be out and about, with an illusion of control.

This isn’t about cancer.

It’s important to me that you understand that.

Because this is about what has been going on with me for the last fifteen years, about what I have done, about what I am now doing about it, about where I am going, about who I am becoming.

This isn’t about fighting a disease.

It’s important to me that you understand that.

Because this is about living bravely, boldly, and intentionally.

This isn’t about trying to stay alive.

It’s important to me that you understand that.

Because this is about knowing those I have grieved still live, about knowing they are closer than we think, and about living as if we are still friends. It’s about being awake, about choosing consciousness, about being alive, right now, today, even with clouds in the sky.

This isn’t about cancer.

This is about me, alive.

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About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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