"I got to thinking one day about all those women on the Titanic who passed up dessert at dinner that fateful night in an effort to 'cut back.' From then on, I've tried to be a little more flexible."
(Erma Bombeck)

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'The truth is, you don't control squat'

Above: A photo of me during the chemo phase of my treatment. My husband (the photographer) just said something to make me laugh.

Note: I wrote this blog entry months ago, but couldn't bring myself to post it. I kept thinking I would come back to it and revise it. I just re-read it today and realized that I really did write what I wanted to say. I'm not sure why I didn't post this earlier--maybe I was afraid of stepping on someone's toes or bringing down the wrath of people who like to feel empowered. Hey, I like to feel as empowered as the next person. But, for some reason, today is the day to post this.

I'm not out to burst anyone's bubble with this blog entry. Rather, I'm writing from a place that I've been struggling in for a long time. If you take the time to read the entry, please click the video link at the bottom as well. It is intended to be the capstone.

The title of my blog entry is taken from a quote by Ed Dobson, who was a “celebrity pastor with a large congregation and broad influence.” In 2001, Ed was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), a fatal illness that changed his life and ended his church leadership role. Doctors told Ed that he had two to five years to live. Despairing, Ed prepared to die.

Although I was not given the devastating news of an ALS diagnosis, I do know what it's like to be told that I have a terminal disease (although one could argue that we are all terminal, aren't we?). Although many people beat breast cancer, there are plenty who don't. The truth is that I am constantly aware that cancer could rear its ugly head again—and that I should enjoy every day I have been given as a reprieve.

I have pondered the idea of “control” a lot since my cancer diagnosis. I'm continually torn between the idea that I have some kind of control over my health with my lifestyle habits (eating, exercising, keeping stress levels down, etc.), and the gut-level feeling that I'm deluding myself and that any kind of control I have is all an illusion. In other words, it makes me feel better to think I'm in control, but that's about all it does.

See, I do believe that taking good care of myself helps me feel better. And I do believe that working hard in life pays dividends--usually. I believe all of that—and in apple pie, baseball, Chevrolet, and motherhood.

But I'm talking about real control. This was brought home to me in a very personal way in the last few months and, truthfully, is one of the reasons I've been struggling with depression. Someone quite close to me (a good friend from church), was diagnosed with cancer a year ago and she's gone now. If ever there was a person who believed in living a healthy lifestyle, it was her. She was one of the most energetic and hardest working people I've ever known. She was full of vim and vigor. And today, she's gone.

I have found that many people (including myself, in a former life), are prone to at least subconsciously “blame the victim,” chalking a cancer diagnosis up to some kind of unhealthy living or habit. I suppose the obvious reason we do this is to distance ourselves from the terrifying thought that something awful could happen to us as well. Yet, the truth is, many people have not done anything but eat well, exercise, breathe the same air as the rest of us, and they still get cancer—or some other terminal disease, anyway.

After my friend's cancer diagnosis, she doubled up her efforts to eat right and take good care of herself. When the doctors told her that the chemo wasn't doing its job, she visited an alternative cancer clinic where she was given herbal remedies and pursued a rigorous “healthy” regimen, being told that many people had been restored to health using the same treatment. But it was not to be.

I spoke to my friend two weeks before she died and I'll never forget what she said--probably because I identified so closely with her--“I never expected to die this young.”

Add this to another woman I know from the cancer support group I've attended. She was like the poster woman for cancer survivors. She beat breast cancer over 12 years ago and is fit, a healthy eater, upbeat, tan, optimistic—a veritable role model for all women who want to move past cancer. I happened to see her at a luncheon last summer and learned that her cancer had returned and that she had just undergone a double mastectomy. I tried not to let her experience get to me—after all, she's still a survivor—but I wondered, “Is that me in a few years?”

So, I've struggled with whether any of my efforts make any difference at all. And the truth is, I don't think so. I can't jog enough, pop enough vitamins, eat enough veggies, or donate enough money to deserve this life. Each day is given to me, not because I've done anything to earn it, but because of God's graciousness. The very beat of my heart is a gift from God.

I'm sorry to admit this, but when I see people so pleased with themselves for having their 401Ks buttoned up, their scale reflecting their desired weight, their pantries lined with all the right health foods and vitamins, their tanks filled with gas, and their clothes, hair, and make-up “just so,” it makes me want to scream.

I still have well-meaning people recommending books and emailing links to me—tips on how to extend my life. Apparently, getting a mammogram was my first mistake. Maybe it was; I'll never know.

But it makes me want to say, “Really? Really! You have it all figured out . . . you've happened upon just the right regimen that's guaranteed to allow you to live to what? 90? 100? Well, GOOD LUCK WITH THAT.” 'Cuz . . . you don't control squat. YOU'RE STILL TERMINAL.

The truth is, I'm envious of people who are all snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug with their illusion of control. I'd like to go back to being deluded myself. It was much more comfortable to believe that life is secure with all my ducks in a row. Feeling in control feels good.

The first time I remember having my notion of control and stability challenged was when I went through a divorce that I didn't want. I thought that I had done things the way they were supposed to be done. What I didn't count on was another person's choice impacting my life in ways I didn't desire. I didn't want to be a divorcee, but it didn't matter—I became one whether I liked it or not.

The second time my illusion of security was challenged was when my husband and I lost our house through a failed business. I thought that God wouldn't let us lose our house (why I thought that is a whole other discussion, but suffice it to say that I no longer think this way). Despite our best efforts to work out a deal and keep our house, we lost it.

The third time my illusions were challenged was when we found out that we couldn't have any more children. I believed that God could do anything and that He could reverse the infertility diagnosis. But it didn't happen.

The fourth time I experienced cognitive dissonance over my security was September 11, 2001. I remember going to bed that night with the chilling thought that evil really did exist and that I was no different than any of those people who went to work that morning, expecting to have a routine day. If it could happen to them, it could happen to me. I remember laying in bed that night, gripping the covers around me, pondering the reality that evil lurked just outside my door. I did not want to think about it.

The idea of having any real control over my life keeps getting chiseled away. In 2008, after having a mammogram, I heard the words, “We found a solid mass.” I was told it needed to be biopsied. I remember saying to a friend, “I don't have time for this! I've got a lot on my plate right now.” And when my doctor told me, “You've got a year of extreme fatigue ahead of you,” I wanted to slit my wrists. Talk about having no control.

Now, before the hate mail starts pouring in, let me clarify something: I'm a big believer in free will. I believe that God gave us free will to make our own choices and, of course, control over our lives, control over things that—to me, anyway—are short-term. Like getting an education, creating a business, shaping the kinds of relationships you want to have, and whether or not you're an obese slob or a healthy, fit person. Yes, of course, I believe we have control over those things.

What I'm saying, however, is that those things only give us an illusion of control in the end.

Back to Ed Dobson, who is amazingly still alive after 10 years with ALS. Ed's story is being told through a video made by his son. The video tells of Ed's realization that “it ain't over 'til it's over.”

You may think that Ed's video would be depressing, but, it is just the opposite. Ed has found the secret to appreciating life in learning how to really appreciate living. If only we could all learn from his experience without having to live through it ourselves. Jesus said it best (paraphrasing), “He who loses his life will gain it.”

Ed Dobson points the way for the rest of us and, for me anyway, inspires me to learn from his experience. Ed Dobson tells it like it is: the truth is, you don't control squat.

ED'S STORY Series Trailer from Flannel Staff on Vimeo.



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Reader Comments (1)

Hi Dana,
I commented on this post yesterday. But, I think I attached it to another of your posts. Anyway I'm sure you can tell it was meant for this post.

April 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBecky

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