October marks a unique anniversary for us, our remission anniversary. One whole year of being cancer free. As I talked with Wes that morning, he told me that this day felt more important than his birthday. Kind of a rebirth and something to measure the coming years of procedures and tests. My heart was full much of that anniversary day. Full of aching memories of that painful time in our lives and the six months of chemotherapy, and full of memories of how sacred that time has become for me.
Powerful lessons were learned, and we were nearer to God than at any other time I can remember. I can already feel time dulling the pain, healing the wounds, and threatening to sweep away the precious gems of knowledge that this experience gave us. Wes might talk of different lessons learned than the ones I learned. One night during those months of chemotherapy I was on my knees praying, and the thought entered my mine to tell God I was grateful for cancer and this trial. I immediately pushed the thought onto the back shelf of my mind. How could I be grateful for something that had brought so much burden and pain upon our family? But that thought kept weaseling it's way to the front of my consciousness. "Just say it, say you are grateful." I decided to listen and timidly thanked God for these trials. Immediately I felt myself filled with light and a remembrance of answers to prayers, faith blossoming, and lessons learned. I knew in that moment that the knowledge and faith I had gained could come no other way. My eyes have been opened to the beauty and power of lessons learned and knowledge gained in the fire of affliction. I am becoming certain that enduring trials and heartbreak can teach us so much about ourselves and the people God wants us to become. And yes that means I am grateful for hard things. One of the most effective ways to learn is enduring through the storm and the miracle is that through it all we are not alone. I am changed and my perspective on things I thought to be ordinary parts of life has changed.
Thank them for the Little Things
As the wife of an auditor for one of the big accounting companies, I am no stranger to doing most things and caring for our children by myself. Each year from January to about April, the auditors have busy season. Wes works long, long hours. The girls rarely see him, and I usually see him just before I close my eyes for the night and for a few minutes in the morning. I was pretty sure that during those times I was keeping the house running and caring for the kids alone. After Wes's surgeries and when he was sick during the six months of chemotherapy, I was confident it wouldn't be a big adjustment for me, because I already had experienced doing every thing each year during busy season.
I was wrong. I had no idea just how many times he took out the trash, or rolled the cans to the curb, or quickly changed a diaper, or gave our children baths, or did yard work, or played with the girls for a few minutes so I could make dinner, or helped with bed time. I learned that I really hate to empty the dirt from the vacuum cleaner. I had never done it before, he always did it. Little things he did to keep our house running and make my life easier that were suddenly my job were much more obvious. Even though I thought had been super mom all along, I hadn't noticed just how much help he had given me until he was physically unable to do any of it.
These days little tasks around the house that he silently performs without even realizing what he is doing make me smile. I tell him thank you more often, especially for emptying the vacuum. I try hard to keep those things from going unnoticed. When he throws a load of laundry in the wash from the piles of dirty clothes and doesn't check the tags for how to wash them, I don't even care. I see the love and the partnership in the little things he is doing. What a beautiful thing it is to be in a relationship and to know we are in this together and that he picks up the slack where he can. I think it is something I have known all along, but until all of that was taken from me, I had no idea just how much those working dads do.
"It's Just Us"
There would come a point at the end of a lot of days where both Wes and I would feel overwhelmed with trying to get him to work, with caring for our children and house, managing his pain, with the enormity of chemotherapy, and another surgery on the horizon. When all the people who helped with meals or babysitting were gone, we would sit together and talk about how hard it was to take care of our family and then one of us would whisper to the other, "it's just us." It was our little way of saying, "You can rely on me, I am the one who will always be there at the end of the day."
We in no way want to diminish what anyone did for us during that time. Certainly we needed help with meals and babysitting and cleaning. I am forever grateful for all of those angels who swooped in or even sent me a text to just let me know they were thinking about me. But there always came a point where those people left and we were left with each other. And the wonderful thing was, that was enough. We leaned on each other so much during that time, each of us taking turns being the strong one, the shoulder to cry on. I thought our marriage was really wonderful before cancer, but it is sweeter now. To know that all I need is him and all he needs is me, and all we need together is our relationship with Heavenly Father is incredible. That triangle they draw in seminary about relationships is how it should be. Heavenly Father is at the top and the husband and wife make up the other two corners. There is no one else inside or around that triangle, no friend or family member can be found there and it really is just us. There is power in that.
We have a big red mixing bowl that I absolutely hate. I have seen my husband vomit into it on numerous occasions and have cleaned it out so many times. I refuse to cook with it ever again. It stayed by his bedside for almost a year, just in case. Our Lily was almost a year old when Wes was diagnosed with cancer. We have a video of her baby self taking that big red bowl, sticking her head in it, making vomiting noises, and laughing. It was a game she loved to play with Wes each time she came into the room. They would both pretend to throw up in it and laugh.
He has this incredible gift to turn a really crummy situation into something to laugh about. His laughter and ability to joke about hard things did wonders for my soul. I can't imagine enduring much without it. Each time we sat in the hospital watching poison drip into his veins he was the one making me laugh. He became obsessed with playing monopoly and we would laugh through every game. He would wake up from terrible six hour long surgeries smiling and joking. We have walked the halls of the hospital that felt like a prison pushing his IV tower around and laughing at inside jokes. I have always loved his sense of humor. It has always been one of my favorite things about him. I never realized just how precious his sense of humor would be for us in times of trouble. So many things that I thought were horrible he could turn into a joke. It did not mean there weren't dark days, but many days that could have been dark were made light with a smile or a joke. His seemingly endless positivity kept me afloat many days.
Joseph B. Wirthlin offered this advice when looking for help in times of trouble, "There is an antidote for times such as these: learn to laugh. The next time you’re tempted to groan, you might try to laugh instead. It will extend your life and make the lives of all those around you more enjoyable.
Joy in the Everyday
When the thought that your days on this earth may be numbered can legitimately cross your mind, your whole way of thinking changes. You stop thinking so much of "one day I will..." and begin to live day to day. It is wonderful to look forward to future happy days. I certainly couldn't wait for chemotherapy to be over, it was a day I dreamed about a lot. But in the meantime, there is joy in every day. You begin to notice just how adorable your baby's lips and cheeks are when they sleep or how amazing a cheap date for frozen yogurt is or what a blessing it is to be able to care for a sick child or the security of going to work every day. Things that you wouldn't think twice about before can bring immeasurable joy.
One day during chemo Wes got up determined to take us all to the zoo and out to dinner. A family outing that would seem fairly normal. That trip we took to the zoo is sacred to me and something I won't forget. It wasn't easy for him and the pictures remind me of just how ill he was. But he smiled and played with our girls and we had a wonderful day.
We had so many wonderful days full of joy and doing every day things that I can't recall something specific we did, because it was enough just to be together as a family. We didn't need an expensive trip or elaborate plans to make memories, each day is an opportunity to make joyful memories and all it takes is living in the now and looking for the joy that is just waiting to be found.
In primary we teach young children how to pray. We make sure they know to kneel, close their eyes, begin the prayer, be thankful, ask for things they need, and close the prayer properly. It is almost like a little formula they can follow and I think a lot of us for a good chunk of our lives stick to that formula, which is wonderful. Sometimes we forget we are talking to someone who desperately wants to hear our hopes, dreams, and challenges and we end up going through the motions. I have been guilty of this on many a late night.
I have learned over the past year that prayer can look different and always that our prayers are heard. Prayer is how I have let heaven into my home and my life. When I make that effort, heaven cannot be kept from me. I have felt the darkness threaten to engulf me and have desperately uttered simple two word prayer, "help me." I have fallen asleep praying and talking to Heavenly Father about all the jumbled thoughts in my head, it makes me feel like I'm not so alone. I have knelt at my husband's bedside and called upon the powers of heaven to help him. I have hung up the phone after receiving good news and immediately bowed my head in a joyful prayer of gratitude with the biggest smile on my face. Each prayer was very different, but each time I know that there was someone listening.
When we stop to really talk to God, tell him what we are worried about, what made us happy that day and move away from repetition and speak as though we are talking to a friend, it can be a source of strength and a way to calm the storm. It may not make the storm go away, but for me it has been a way to fortify against the waves that threaten to sink us. The prayer of gratitude can lift spirits. As you look for blessings that you can thank Heavenly Father for you will see the hand of God in your life. The blessings are everywhere waiting to be found and as you recognize them and are grateful for them, things seem brighter.
Each Sunday morning during chemotherapy there was a reverent spirit in our house. I would watch Wes slowly get ready to attend church. I would see his hair that had fallen out around the sink as he had combed it and watch how hard it was to button his shirt and tie his shoes because the chemotherapy had numbed his fingers. I could see his pale face and tired eyes screaming at him to stay home. He very easily could have stayed home, I feel like he had every right to. I would watch him sit in the back scared of catching germs and choke down the bread from the sacrament (bread was one of the things that tasted the worst during chemo). Usually he would head home after that and we would watch him walk out.
He knew where he needed to be to find peace. He knew that peace was not going to be a lasting part of his life if he made no effort to find peace. Surely, peace can come effortlessly, but we have found if you want it, it usually takes effort. Wes was showing Heavenly Father that he was willing to do his part to have the spirit of peace and comfort in his life. Going to church and taking the sacrament put him in that place. Did that mean that every Sunday was a spiritual experience? No, but it did mean that he would be found in the right place to receive blessings.
After Wes was diagnosed I remember having a conversation with my brother on the phone. He told me, "The blessings will come. Make sure you are worthy of them." At the time I was a little thrown off by that and didn't really know what that could mean. But we have seen as we do the little things we are asked to do that the blessings do come, peace can be found. Reading scriptures, praying, going to church, paying tithing are all ways we make sure we are worthy of the blessings.
I treasure the scriptures. I have received so many answers to prayer through them and received so much comfort. What if I never opened my scriptures and spent time in them? Those blessings and answers I received would probably not have come about. It didn't mean that every time I read my scriptures I was filled with light, but I consistently showed my willingness to obey and be worthy of those answers to prayer. In order to have peace we must make the effort to receive it through the channels Heavenly Father works through.
It is said that in a hurricane the eye of the storm is the calmest part. As I have sought peace through this trial I have felt as though Jesus Christ with his power has pulled me into the eye of the storm and stood with me in the calmest part. I have felt my world swirling about me in chaos and felt peace despite the trouble. I have felt so profoundly that we never stand alone. He doesn't make the storm go away, it is still swirling about, but He stands with us and truly offers to be the Prince of Peace.
To celebrate Wes's remission anniversary we took our girls to temple square.
What a wonderful reminder it was to see where the ultimate source of peace comes from no matter what is happening in our lives. Whether we have made our own poor choices, suffer from others poor choices, or seemingly suffer for no reason at all, there is a source for peace and hope, for answers, and an opportunity to grow to be more like our savior. It can only be found in Jesus Christ. It can not come from anywhere else.
Here's to another cancer free year!