Sunday, November 13, 2011

What a Journey This Life Is!

I am actually feeling much graced tonight.

Ignatian stuff ~ In the "everything is connected" category: I emailed my summer retreat director and asked him how his best friend, who died last summer, had lived fully in the context of all the demands that a serious illness forces upon you.  He responded in part that his friend was a person of deep prayer who focused upon living and serving, and not upon his illness.  He did not seem to think that that approach is beyond me.

Then another Jesuit posted a homily today in which he talks about using all that God gives us. I posted a comment to the effect that one of the messages in my Ignatian retreat of six years ago was  that I should "use yourself up. Make use of everything you've been given until you've exhausted it all." 

My regular life ~ I have said more than once that it is quite some privilege, to have to contend with breast cancer in the context of having just been ordained into ministry.  In part, I really don't have  a lot of time for moping around ~ an activity at which I am sure I could become quite expert, given the chance.   But more importantly, I have a seemingly endless stream of opportunities in which to provide care and hope to other people, who seem to welcome the presence of someone who has needs of her own.  I suppose that there is no possible way, given the circumstances, that I could come across as overly self-confident, which may be a great blessing.

Suicide ~ I have noticed something really interesting over the past two months.  People TALK about breast cancer.  People talk about it freely and openly, ways in which people DON'T talk about suicide. 

The Lovely Daughter was astonished, at first.  "People don't usually even say the word 'breast!' " she exclaimed.  "And yet you keep meeting women who were strangers only moments earlier, and next thing you know, they're pulling up their shirts to show you their reconstructed breasts!"  

But I have noticed quite a difference between conversations about breast cancer, even where older and more reticent women are involved, and conversations about suicide, which tend to stop even the most voluble folks in their tracks.

And so I've been thinking about that quite a bit.  I haven't seen myself as a suicide prevention activist at all.  But now I wonder.  There are thousands ~ millions ~ of people willing to talk openly about breast cancer.  There are very few of us who have been forced to become fearless in our discussions of suicide.  And we all know that it is by bringing evil into the light that you destroy it.

In my personal life, the evil of depression has taken a lot more territory than that of cancer.  Maybe, when this acute phase is over, I am being called to turn some of my attention to that most insidious of killers, clinical depression.

It would be odd, wouldn't it, if having breast cancer turned me into a noisy and irritating voice aimed at the eradication of suicide?


  1. I'm all ears.

    My brother who is now the very diligent keeper of my left kidney has suffered from clinical depression and anxiety since he was in his teens. He is now 65. The reason he was in need of my kidney was because the long-term use of the drug lithium, which is typically used to treat bipolar disorder (he is not bipolar) eventually had nephrotoxic effects. But lithium (among many other drugs) helped keep him in balance so he could hold a job, raise two daughters, be a devoted and wonderful husband, get out of bed, function... He almost died several years ago from an accidental drug overdose. He was in the hospital for weeks after that. He was given electroconvulsive therapy. My father suffered from clinical depression as well. It was never talked about. In those days, no one said anything. Taboo subject.

    Part of my work-up to ensure my status of perfect health in order to give Jim my kidney included a stereotactic biopsy on an area in my right breast that we hoped were calcifications. Afterward, it looked like someone had beaten my breast with a baseball bat. Obviously, since my brother now owns my kidney, they were indeed merely calcifications, but who knows what the future holds.

    If you talk about depression, I will listen. For now, I'm listening about breast cancer. Thank you for your willingness to share it all, Robin.

  2. It wasn't always so about breast cancer.

    My grandmother had her first mastectomy in 1939. Her second while pregnant in 1944. She suffered horrifying radiation scars and sores until her death in 1973.

    No one talked about breast cancer. Except in hushed voices. And my mother and her sister lived in utter fear their whole lives. Still do. In fact, when told she had a pre-cancerous cyst my aunt chose to have a double-mastectomy with reconstruction.

    My mother is now 76, my aunt is 68. They are both pretty healthy. They listen, amazed, as people talk about breast cancer. They still don't say much.

    It takes a lot to talk of the things that have knocked us to the ground. Not everyone can.

    Those who can - like you, Robin - do us all an amazing service.

  3. I, too, have faith that you are a woman of deep prayer, and capable of many things!

  4. Become a voice (which you already are), but noisy and irritating will cost you listeners.

  5. Thank you for your blog,which amazes me too, as the above commenters also shared. Please do become a noisy, irritating voice -- in the sense my mom was back in the days I did not want to get up for school. I can hear her now, calling from downstairs: "Are your feet on the floor? I don't hear any footsteps! C'mon, breakfast will be getting cold....etc" Yes, it is long past time to eradicate this number 3 cause of death of young, promising people.Today I saw this brief article in Forbes about the lack of research on that very subject -- I immediately thought of you, and it brought me here. I hadn't been in a while, so didn't know of the cancer. You will be in my daily prayers. --A Sister.

  6. Oops, forgot the link to the article:
    Thank you again for your witness.--Sr. MA