22 Years Ago
“The days are long, but the years are short.”― Gretchen Rubin
22 years ago today on Wednesday, February 17th, 1999 I went to 7:00 am Ash Wednesday mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul. When I arrived to work, I had a voicemail from my doctor’s office. The Friday prior, I had a biopsy taken of a mole on my right arm, so I was assuming the results were in. On Friday, she said, “don’t worry, it’s probably nothing.” When I called back, the nurse said I made an appointment for you on Friday. “You have melanoma.” Cancer. Hard stop. I blew off the rest of the day – it took a cancer diagnosis to finally take a day off.
She said I was getting an in-office wide excision (cut it off, a few stitches, move on). When I arrived, the doctor said that there would be no in-office procedure but due to the size and speed of growth, he would need to do surgery to go deeper and check if it spread to the lymph nodes. Three weeks more. Super, more waiting. The only time that I cried during the entire experience was when I went out to the waiting room and told my family that I needed surgery and looked into my Dad’s eyes. He aged 10 years in an instant. Both of his parents died of cancer, so I knew where he went.
The day of the surgery, they put dye in my arm and took pictures for an hour to see if any lymph nodes “lit up.” Three buggers did so full surgery on the arm to dig deep in the mole area and underneath the arm to remove three lymph nodes. Happy ending – caught just in time, no spread, no chemo or radiation. Move on, check in annually every year for five years.
Transformative moments of diagnosis, loss, transition, change, detours and sharp turns demand a hard stop to reassess perspective and priorities, inventory how, who and what we spend our time on and if we are living with intent, purpose, from a place of deep gratitude. If we don’t stop, we miss the blessings, steeped in the burdens alone. We can also make hard stops without a diagnosis to ensure we are not straying off the gratitude trail. Pause each day to reflect, take inventory and stay awake to the gifts of ordinary miracles and blessings. When we pump the brakes, the hard stops are less hard.
22 years ago wasn’t the last hard stop, but it did ground me in gratitude and optimism, although I wander off regularly. 2020 wasn’t my “worst” year or will it be our last hard stop. If we allow, hard stops from difficulties can be wake up calls, so no year can ever be completely written off. Woven through burdens and struggles are blessings and light that become apparent with time and distance. Knowing that allows for joy to enter daily, no matter the circumstances.
Life is happening for us, not to us. 22 years ago, at the end of Lent, 40 days in the desert, I was cancer-free. The promise of spring was different that year and spring has come every year since without fail. It will continue to come at the end of each long winter without skipping its turn. Do not forego the time between ashes, cross and resurrection. Each day is holy, sacred time. From Ash Wednesday to Easter, walk the path, experience the depth of the journey, allow a peace that passes all understanding to enter and sit next to you, holding your hand. Never alone, from ashes to resurrection, winter to spring.
“Lent is a time of going very deeply into ourselves… What is it that stands between us and God? Between us and our brothers and sisters? Between us and life, the life of the Spirit? Whatever it is, let us relentlessly tear it out, without a moment’s hesitation.” – Catherine Doherty