The Time I Almost Got Cancer

Disclaimer: this story has a happy ending, so don’t worry. It’ll be okay.

Once upon a time (actually the time was a few days before Thanksgiving break), I was chatting with a friend in my room. For some unfathomable reason, I decided to touch my back. “Huh, this feels like blood.”  Sure enough, it is blood. My mole is bleeding. So I get a paper towel and stop the bleeding and continue chatting. But I decide to google bleeding mole, because you always want to find out if you’re dying even when one tiny thing is wrong with you. And the google homepage is covered in “melanoma.” Okay. That puts a damper on things. It’s not like, “Oh you have a headache, and that could just be a headache or twenty million other things, including some rare disease that no one’s heard of.” We’ve all fallen prey to WebMD scare. But this was different. It seemed like this cancer could actually be real.

So I get home for break and call the dermatologist to get my mole looked at. Because I’m only home from college for a week, I don’t have time to see her that break. My appointment is scheduled for the 20th of December. That day rolls around, and I get a call that the dermatologist has a personal emergency or something, so I have to reschedule to the 13th of January. The day before I take a train ride back to Williamsburg. That day rolls around, and they see me, and the mole is just slightly concerning, so they take a biopsy (luckily I could get it that day). And then I go back to school, knowing that I don’t definitely know that I don’t have cancer (sorry for those of you who hate double negatives; this was just the most accurate way to say this) and that I should hear back in a week.

A week rolls around, and I call them. They haven’t gotten my results. I’m anxious and distracted, so I try to distract myself as much as possible, and that sort of works.

And then the snow comes. And in Northern Virginia, there was a ton of snow. So naturally, their office is closed that Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

Now it’s Tuesday, and I call them. They have my results, but they need to be processed. Tuesday was my worst day. Tuesday was the day that I realized that I didn’t really know how to deal with this, that I needed to actually tell people that “cancer” could become a familiar word on my lips. I hadn’t told people because I didn’t want to make it a problem, but by doing so, I made it even more of a problem. Tuesday was rough.

And then it’s Wednesday, and I call and leave a message. I’ve memorized my story by this point. It’s also officially been two weeks since I had my biopsy, and I’m more annoyed than anxious (though I’m still anxious) at this point. I just want to know.

Thursday rolls around, and I call them. They have my results, but apparently the person I’m talking to can’t view them, so I should get a call by the end of the day or first thing the next day.

It’s Friday. I do not get a call first thing in the morning. I call around 10:30. Again, the person I’m talking to can’t read my results. But she puts me on hold and gets them. It’s a normal mole. Everything is fine. I hang up, and the tears come. I wasn’t expecting to cry at finding out I don’t have cancer, but that’s what happened.

Yay! Happy endings! Yay for finally knowing what’s happening with my body after two months of having a question mark hanging over my head! It was a wild, anxiety-ridden ride. And as awful as it was, I did get some good things out of it.

Well, mostly just one good thing. This experience was a twisted mirror that really showed me how I don’t handle painful things well, how not telling people things hurts me. And even the people I did tell I didn’t allow to see me when I was actually anxious, either because talking to people made me think of it less or because I was repressing emotions that much. So I need to work on the sharing department. And I feel like a hypocrite because I’ve definitely written about being vulnerable with people, but I’m so bad at it. I think I’ve gotten better at being vulnerable, both with my friends and on this blog. I really learned that I need to be okay with showing people that I’m weak and allowing myself to actually feel things instead of pretending my own feelings don’t exist.

So let me tell you (while I tell myself this): it’s okay to feel things. They may feel ugly, but

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I’m done with walking on eggshells. Photo credit: Tara Meeks.

your feelings are valid, regardless of what you’re going through. You may say, “But hey, I’m just stressed about my grades. I don’t have a life-changing disease. I shouldn’t feel this bad!” And you know, it is important to have perspective, especially if you’re just putting yourself in a bad mood and throwing yourself a constant pity party. Sometimes you do just need to get over yourself (trust me, I’ve been there). But it’s okay to feel sad or angry or hopeless or confused, even when you know other people have it worse. Your experience, your feelings are legitimate. And it really is good to be vulnerable with people. Every time I am, I’m so glad I did, even though I fight against it tremendously. Vulnerability breaks down the barriers we put between us and other people. It leads the way to let us be our genuine selves.

I’ve been thinking about what I’m trying to accomplish with this blog. And maybe the only thing I can do on this blog is bring up difficult subjects so that we can all talk about them more, or maybe it’ll just be talking to the air. But I will be that person. So this is the story of when I was afraid I had cancer.

Epylle Spydre

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Being Brave in the Middle Ground

I was talking to a friend recently, trying to figure out what appeared to be a contradiction in my behavior. But then I hit upon an interesting idea.  “I think I just hate the middle ground, you know? The uncertainty, the ‘this might happen, but I don’t really know.’ It just makes me uncomfortable.” And as I’ve thought about it more, I realize how true that is for me.

I know people who are getting “You should hear good things from us soon” messages from colleges, and I think, I would rather wait a week or two to hear a solid Yes or No than get that weird half-commitment. What if they change their mind? Why don’t they want to tell me they’ve accepted me now?  College, I don’t understand! For those of you in that boat, don’t listen to my irrational thoughts about that. They don’t make sense. Just be excited about college. So I recognize I have a problem with this, the middle ground.

But you know, the basic fear is not completely irrational. The middle ground is a scary place to be. There’s potential for all of your hopes to come true (whether that’s for getting something wonderful or avoiding something terrible), and there’s also potential for so much disappointment.

I might get into my dream school, I might not pass this class, that person might feel the same way about me, I might get the part, I might have this disease, I might get the job…

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Sometimes life feels like this…

When you’re in the middle ground, you are vulnerable. That’s just what it means to be there.

Especially when you tell people. I think that’s one of the things I hate the most. I can deal with my own disappointment, but I don’t want other people to be disappointed for me. Or maybe I just don’t want people to see me fail (because apparently being disappointed means failing in my mind…).

And oftentimes it is much easier to see how everything could go wrong. I know I do that. It’s easier to just prepare yourself for the worst so that it’s not more painful later.

And that works sometimes; it’s even healthy. Life is disappointing. Not all of your dreams come true. And it’s good to know that. But it’s also good to take risks. And I feel very hypocritical saying that, because too often, I just stay in my comfort zone. I say Nope! Life is scary and painful, and this right here is comfortable, and comfortable is good. 

I take risks, but I don’t take every risk. I’ll take a risk if I feel like it’s necessary for me to be a decent person. Because even if I cannot be brave, I will always try to be good (that’s why I’m pretty sure I’m a Hufflepuff and definitely not a Gryffindor). I’ll take a risk, venturing out into the middle ground, and then I’ll run back to my comfort zone. And I’m not proud of that by any means.

But I’m working on it. And that’s okay. I don’t know if there’s much more to do than keep trying. So I guess that’s my step towards the middle ground. By saying that I struggle with it. I might get better at being brave. I might not. We’ll see.

Help my Unbelief

So I talk a lot about the fact that I am a Christian on my blog, but I haven’t talked much about my experience as a Christian or about God. And I think it’s time to change that. And for me, at least right now, that goes hand in hand with a story about my semester.

So, it’s September of this year, right? (Not right now, I’m using this as a way to tell my story.) And I’m at school, I’m an RA, I’m taking cool classes, I’m a small group leader. Everything’s going great. And I go to this worship thing that was part of a prayer event on campus. I didn’t stay long, and I don’t remember most of what happened that evening. But I do remember this: I was praying, and something inspired me to say, “God, break me. Break everything that I trust in, so that I can trust in you instead.” And then, you know, I left soon after that. And I don’t remember when I started noticing the consequences of that prayer, but boy, did they come.

One of the smaller issues was waking up in the morning. I’ve always been very good about hearing my alarm and getting out of bed in a decent amount of time. I started sleeping through my alarms, even after I made them as loud as possible. And this wasn’t a big deal, but it did raise some questions about my health and whatnot. I think I’m just sleep deprived. Even this morning, I woke up 15 minutes before my alarm was supposed to go off and then fell back into a deep enough sleep that I didn’t even hear my alarms go off. So that’s an interesting issue, and we’ll see what happens next.

My freshman dorm.

My freshman dorm. 

A bigger issue was loneliness. I went from having the great freshman dorm experience, with all of my best friends living just down the hall to living in a single for the first time in my life really, with my friends scattered across campus and even off campus. And that didn’t bother me for a while, but then it started becoming a problem. I felt so isolated in the room I have to myself. I don’t usually mind eating alone, but I felt like it was becoming a habit, a habit that I didn’t enjoy. One night was so bad that I just flung myself on the floor and cried. Soon after that, I went to the campus Counseling Center because I wanted to figure out if I have a form of social anxiety or not. And the counselor I talked to said to me, “Well it sounds like belonging is your real issue here.” And I know belonging is an issue for me. I’ve written about it. But to hear it from someone else’s words… It was an emotional time.

But I’m okay now, and I still don’t know exactly what has changed. I think it’s probably a lot of small things, like talking to people more and being more intentional with my faith. I think a good part of it is that I’m going more out of my way to help my friends. And maybe they have more problems, maybe it just feels more out of the way, or maybe I’ve just taken this role on. But I love it. I love being able to serve them and love them. And I’m not saying that to make myself look good. I’m just in a position to care for people right now. One day, I’ll need them to care for me. And that’s okay. And I tell them to let me know if they’re not doing well, which makes me reflect on my own actions this semester. Because in the depths of my loneliness, I wanted people to just know I was having problems and come help me, but that’s ridiculous. So I’m trying to get better about telling people when I have problems the way I ask them to tell me.

More recently, I’ve had issues with academics. Organic Chemistry II is really hard, guys. I thought I was going to do well because I’m good at memorizing. But everything looks the same, and I did not do well keeping on track of things at the beginning of the semester. And now my grades are starting to show. Just the other week, I got a midterm back. It was embarrassing how terribly I did. Really. And I don’t want to write that on this blog that so many of my friends and a good number of strangers will see. But I want to be honest, and that’s the honest truth. I’m ashamed, really. And when I got my grade back, I felt like a failure. I questioned my career goals and my abilities as a student and so much in my life.

So I got that grade back two Fridays ago, right? And I was still feeling pretty down about it at the beginning of last week. And then came Wednesday. I have small group on Wednesday, the small group that I lead. And that has also been an interesting story because for several weeks at the beginning of the year, I didn’t have anyone coming to my weekly Bible studies. And that was discouraging, and it made me question whether I should have been doing it in the first place and whatnot. And then people started coming. Last week, I had four people. And we had an awesome discussion. Really, it was so good. And I was grinning afterwards, because it made me that happy. Two of the girls actually texted me and told me that it was great. And it’s not because of me. They’re all just really comfortable with each other, so conversation comes easily, and they’re not afraid to share about their lives.

And now I’m finally bringing this story back to God. Because it was God that did this good work. It was God who was with me when I picked out the passage, where a father says to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” It was God who brought each of those girls that night and inspired conversation. It was God who was faithful. God took this thing that wasn’t working and showed me that20150626_195502 He can make something beautiful out of it. When my life is going well, it’s because God made it that way. And when my life isn’t going well, I can still point to His faithfulness throughout my life. I can say, “Well, Orgo isn’t going well, and I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen with it. But God was faithful with small group and in so many other parts of my life, so He will be faithful with Orgo. He will put me where I need to be.” And there will be days when I doubt. There will be days when faith isn’t easy. There will be days when I try to find security in my abilities instead of in the God who provides. There will be days when I say, “God, I don’t understand what you’re doing.” But He is good, and He will bring me through.

Epylle Spydre

Dreaming of a more Honest World

I’ve been thinking about writing this post since I had a dream a couple weeks ago. In the dream, one of my good friends openly said I was poor in some conversation. It wasn’t to shame me, and I didn’t feel embarrassed with people knowing that. I just said, “Yeah, that’s about right,” and continued with the conversation. And upon waking I was struck by how different that is than reality. Friends wouldn’t usually just offer up that information so nonchalantly because they would worry about how it would make other people perceive me. Unless I was with a small group of very close friends, this would be an awkward moment, not a routine one.

But why? Why is there shame associated with being poor? So often, it’s not the fault of the person who is poor. Just because you’re poor doesn’t mean you’re uneducated, lazy, or irresponsible. People may discriminate against you because of your gender, sexuality, race, appearance, or anything else, even when you’re completely qualified for the job. And the cycle of unemployment is vicious. So often, you’re expected to have experience before you can get a good job. But where on earth are you supposed to get that experience if everyone is looking for people with experience? Or maybe you’re poor because one of your family members has a chronic illness, and all of your extra money goes to their treatments instead of to luxuries that other people find so commonplace.

To be completely fair, I’m poor but not super poor. I’ve never worried about where I was going to live or how I was going to eat. But I’m poorer than most of my friends. I live in a townhouse instead of a big home. My family can barely keep two cars for longer than a year, so I haven’t thought about getting my own car. I never went to New York with the choir and drama departments in high school, and I have never seen a show on Broadway. I borrowed my friend’s dress for senior prom. I’m so used to looking at costs when I go out to eat that I almost always opt for a less expensive option even when someone else is paying for me. I even like to brag about how little I spend on clothing. And the only thing that kept me from needing to do work study this past year at college was the fact that I earned a $7000 scholarship.

And you know what? I’m happy about that. I didn’t write those things so that you would pity me. Sure, it would be nice to be able to care a little less about money, but it’s also good to care (then again, that’s coming from my lips; I’m sure my parents would like to care less). But this has been my life so far, and I’m okay with that. It’s made me who I am today, and I wouldn’t trade the past for anything.

So there, I’m not ashamed of being poor, though I don’t even know if the label truly applies to me. There are people much poor than me, and people much richer than me. Don’t be so quick to judge (judging quickly is a whole other problem we have in society, and it pervades literally EVERYTHING). There isn’t inherent shame in how much money you have, only in how you spend the money you have. And in the end, money doesn’t really matter. It’s not what gives life its true worth.

I'm really good at acting like I'm rich....

I’m really good at acting like I’m rich….

Epylle Spydre

p.s. I tried hard to make sure that it doesn’t come across that I don’t like rich people, but if it does, I’M SORRY. I love you all, regardless of how much money you have.

Be a Butterfly. Or a Cup, Whichever Makes You Happier…

ImageThis teacup reminds me of people. Yup. People. Because when I saw this cup, I said, “Oh goodness, that could break in a heartbeat.” It’s fragile and fleeting. Just like us. But instead of talking about how fragile life is the way I’ve done before, I want to talk about how fragile the heart is. 

Isn’t it crazy what we do? We entrust ourselves to other people, showing them the deepest secrets of our hearts. We give them a piece of our soul, trusting that they won’t dash it to pieces. And some get away with this maneuver without any scratches, but the vast, vast majority of people get chipped.

Even if that person doesn’t break your heart, they will still disappoint you. It’s a fact of life. We fail. All the time. So if you think of your heart as the little cup I have above, as you go through life, it accumulates scratches, little imperfections that affect who you are and who you become. 

So you could try to hide yourself in your closet and escape all the hurt that you know you will face if you venture into the world. You could promise yourself that you would never trust another human soul again. But I think that sounds really boring. And just plain sad. We are loving creatures. We were made to be in communion with other people, as painful as that can sometimes be. 

And besides all that, without pain, we can never experience the most beautiful joys either. It’s a risk that we have to take, but the fact that we risk something makes the reward all the more fulfilling. 

The other analogy I have here is that of a butterfly. How many of us have heard that we’re never supposed to touch a butterfly’s wings because if we hurt one of the scales, it will kill the butterfly? Now, I have no idea of the scientific accuracy of that statement, but the fact still remains that butterflies are fragile. But they are beautiful. Trusting people puts you in that vulnerable place. And yes, they could hurt you, and many do. But it’s still beautiful. 

Epylle Spydre

 

p.s. Photo credits to my sister, who has a blog too! http://thelifeofpictures.wordpress.com/

Flesh and Blood

At some point in our lives, we will be naked. No, I’m not talking about being physically naked. Rather, we will be emotionally naked. We will be brought to a place of utter vulnerability, with nothing to cover our fears, our lies, our pain. 

And most of the world will see that nakedness, and they will turn away. They will see you for everything you are and turn away. They will be embarrassed or ashamed of your exposure, saying, “It’s not my place to see you in that way.” 

But the one who sees your nakedness and instead of turning away, opens their arms to embrace you, that is the one who truly loves you. Because, whether you opened yourself willingly or had the brutal truth wrenched from your soul, your deepest desire is for someone to help you. Your deepest desire is for someone, anyone, to look beyond the grimy interior that is now your exterior, and see you as you. And when someone sees the utter depths of your soul and chooses to see you as a person, just like them, you know that you are loved. 

It is because of our own fallen nature that we have to clothe ourselves (both literally and figuratively). In reality, we were created to be in that constant position of openness, where we don’t have to hide who we are or what we’ve done, because it’s all beautiful. And now, we know we are not perfect, but we just want somebody to see the beauty amidst all the ugliness. It takes a special kind of love to see that. But it is out there, the true picture of love in this world, the closest that humanity can come to God’s perfect love. 

Epylle Spydre

p.s. A great thank you to David Latiff for writing a wonderful poem that was the catalyst that inspired this post. 

 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: …when you see the naked to clothe him and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”-Isaiah 58:7