Sunday, June 7, 2015

"Like A Marine"

Blogging Friends.... Question. What happens when you're an artist and for the past five months or so someone who you love dearly has been diagnosed with cancer three times? Another question. What happens when--as resulted--your thoughts/feelings/emotions strum you like an electric guitar and crank up the amplifier real loud? Answer to both questions? When you're me, you create "music" and write a "song" out of the circumstances!! I love being an artist!! Whenever I feel emotionally/mentally weak? I write it out. Whenever I feel way too much about this issue or that situation? I write it out!! As resulted? I feel a little stronger. As resulted? I feel like I have some control--if not just a little--over my Life. Because when it seems like I am drowning? I write it out. And then I feel like I have a lifeline to grab onto!! You know what? This is actually my second attempt at creating "music" and writing a "song" from this loved one's cancer journey. But.... I never "released" it here!! {Remember February's "far too personal" story?} Certain facts set aside? This story is one hundred percent fictional. Love you later.


Cancer is not only hell. It often spreads like a wildfire through one's body. I expressed several months ago that someone who I love dearly has been diagnosed with "three" different cancers. Correction. It has only been two different cancers, one of which--unfortunately--spread. Whoops. Cancer is confusing.... 

"Like A Marine"

Cancer sucks. So they say. But to thirty-one year old Nathalie? It more than sucks. For this incurable disease--no matter where the cancer's growing within your body--is hell. There's the radiation treatment. Seemingly endless hours-long, tedious doctor's appointments. There is chemotherapy. Dreaded nausea. There is weight loss. Fatigue. There is unflattering hair loss. The chances of relapse. And last but never least? There's the inevitable possibility of death. Because no matter how you slice it {Based on Nathalie's deeply personal experience} this incurable disease is hell. For like an explosive ambush, it always comes unexpectedly. Cancer. And in order to win this war--like a Marine--you have to fight some very, very, very intense battles.

Six months ago? Nathalie was diagnosed by a dermatologist named Dr. Pratt with an unusual and rare form of skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma on her forehead. Which, he successfully removed!! That battle was an easy fight. Far too easy, it turned out!! Because just twain short months later? Nathalie was diagnosed by her primary care physician, Dr. Garrett, with stage three esophagus cancer. Unlike the battle before, this would be anything but an easy fight. Because she could not swallow solid foods or liquids, and where her cancer was located, Dr. Garrett had a feeding tube surgically placed into Nathalie's abdomen. There were several weeks of radiation treatment. Plus two hour-long chemotherapy appointments. But Nathalie fought and battled hard!! For eventually, she was declared esophagus cancer-free!! But, unfortunately, this incurable disease did not stop there. Because just when Nathalie was anxiously anticipating an upcoming operation which will potentially add at least ten more years, {Although nobody but God truly knows that for certain!!} Dr. Garrett made yet another devastating diagnosis. Nathalie has bone cancer. And Dr. Garrett gave her only eighteen months left to live. Therefore, the upcoming operation was cancelled.

Wait. What?! Nathalie immediately thought, I have.... Bone cancer?! And only.... Eighteen months....? To live?!

Nathalie has battled self-pity before throughout her journey with this incurable disease. But bone cancer? Her third diagnosis of "the Big C" within six months' time?! It threw Nathalie emotionally.

"Damn you, cancer...." she thought aloud after returning home, wet hot tears streaming down her cheeks, "Damn you.... Damn you.... Damn you.... Damn you.... Damn you!! First it was skin cancer.... But you lost that battle!! Then it was esophagus cancer.... But I won that hard-earned battle!! And now I have bone cancer?! Really?! Will you not give an innocent woman a break....?! Oh, wait.... You will not give an innocent woman a break.... Why? Because you are evil.... I forgot for a minute what it is I'm dealing with here.... Cancer.... You feel like a jerk ex-boyfriend who I have tried so hard to break up with.... But.... You keep coming back....!! Now.... We have all asked you to leave. Doctors. My loved ones. Me. Cancer.... You are trying our patience.... You're not welcome here!! Cancer.... My body ain't big enough for the two of us!! Oh, why me....?"

Defeated by complex negative emotions, Nathalie collapsed onto her bed. She then sobbed uncontrollably. That is how Nathalie's roommate, best friend and "sister", Mary, found her after returning home from work as a therapist.

"What is wrong?" she asked in a soft, soothing, comforting, maternal voice.

Nathalie--face down on her bed--did not even look up at Mary. Wet hot tears stained the pillow.

"Nath...." Mary gently pressed, "What happened?"

"I.... Have.... Bone cancer," Nathalie said at last, tears streaming down her face, "And only.... Eighteen months.... Left to live.... Oh, Mary.... I feel so defeated right now.... Bruised and battered as though I have been repeatedly beaten up...."

"Oh, Nath...." consoled Mary, "I am so sorry."

Mary then embraced Nathalie in a warm hug. Momentarily, there were no words between the two. Mary simply let Nathalie's tears soak through her shirt. Finally, she spoke up.

"Nath...." Mary said, "I know you feel defeated right now. I probably would too, if I were in your situation!! That is a completely natural and normal feeling. But in order to be truly resilient, you have to fall first. That is what I believe, anyway!! Nath.... You are like a soldier in the Marine Corps!! Without even having endured any boot camp or training!! Nath.... You are a fighter!! And with some beautiful, impressive battle scars as living proof!! Because, Nath.... You are a survivor.... In every single sense of the word!! You will fight--and win!!--this war!! How can I be so certain? Because you are Nathalie!! You'll kick cancer's butt--right where it hurts--once and for all!! You are going to get through this!!"

Then Mary's little, inspirational, motivational speech was finished. Just like that.

"Thanks, Mary.... You're such a good best friend and 'sister'!!" said Nathalie, "What would I ever do without you?!"

Mary smiled confidently.

"You couldn't," she said, "Now. Will battling bone cancer be a joyride? Absolutely not. Because--like war--cancer is hell!!"

"I must have done something real horrible--or criminal, even--in a previous Life to have deserved all of these cancers," Nathalie continued, "But what....? I just do not understand...."

"You have done something horrible or criminal in a previous Life to deserve all of these cancers?!" said Mary sounding shocked, "You?! Well, I respectfully disagree!! You're an incredibly faithful friend and 'sister' to me!! I am being there for you right now, lending support. But Nath.... You would do the exact same thing for me if I needed it!! You're a successful, bestselling author of {Not one!!} but twenty popular, well-written fictional books!! You are a generous, charitable, philanthropist who contributes her own hard-earned money toward several good causes!! Nath.... You are a hands-on Auntie to your nieces and nephews!! Horrible?! Criminal?! No. You are a good person who has lead an incredibly wonderful Life!! So far."

Nathalie sat down on her bed. She was speechless. Her tears had dried up. Nathalie was listening intently to Mary's every single word.

"Cancer is complicated," continued Mary, "Not to mention? Cancer is evil. This disease picks and chooses at will whose body it wants to attack, like an explosive ambush. Young, old or in between? It makes absolute zero difference to cancer. You know what? I have somehow always had a huge heart for cancer patients. Because they are brave. They're courageous. They are such an inspiration to me!! Survivors? I have somehow always wholeheartedly admired them!! Because they are brave, as well. They're courageous. They are such an inspiration to me, as well!! Nath.... Defeat this bone cancer, and you will be my heroine!! Three times over!!"

Suddenly, Nathalie felt emotionally touched by her roommate, best friend and "sister".

"Wow...." was all she could say, "Thank-you...."

Mary left Nathalie alone with her thoughts for a few minutes. Because it was dinnertime. So Mary walked toward the kitchen, and heated up some chicken-flavored Top Ramen soup. Which Nathalie slowly ate orally!! Later, Mary made some rich and creamy chocolate milkshakes for dessert.

"Here you go, Nath," said Mary, smiling, "Because some days just call for chocolate!!"

"I agree!!" said Nathalie.

She smiled back and slowly ate her chocolate milkshake orally.

That night {While lying wide-awake in bed} Mary contemplated her best friend and "sister's" bone cancer diagnosis.

Nathalie has defeated cancer twice already, she thought, And now she only has eighteen months left to live. Oh.... What if cancer wins the war this time around and Nathalie.... Dies....? Death is a natural part of living.... Whether you are thirty-one years old or eighty.... And even death itself cannot destroy a loved one's memory.... Or the legacy that she leaves behind.... This I understand.... And I know that we cannot avoid the inevitable.... But, oh.... I want to avoid the inevitable so badly right now!! Because.... I am not ready to lose my best friend and 'sister'!! I cannot do it.... She still has so much more on this Earth to live for.... Nathalie is only thirty-one years old!!

Suddenly wet hot tears filled Mary's eyes and she lie there {Alone in the dark} silently weeping.

One day while sitting in the waiting room alongside Mary before an appointment with her oncologist, Dr. Hiddleston, Nathalie met a young boy--named Dylan--and his mother, Bristol. To evade any unwanted germs? Dylan's face was covered the entire time with a baby blue-colored surgical mask. Because of his cancer treatment? Dylan's head was completely bald. Feeling an enormous wave of Kindred Spirit connection rush over her for this precious cancer patient, Nathalie boldly started a conversation with Dylan and Bristol.

"Hi there!!" she said, "My name is Nathalie."

She looked directly into Dylan's beautiful chocolate diamond eyes.

"How are you?" Nathalie politely asked, "What is your name?"

"Dylan," he answered, "And this is my Mom, Bristol. I am okay."

His voice sounded muffled beneath the surgical mask.

"Dylan has seen better days...." Bristol said in a weak, emotionally-wrought voice.

"I am fighting leukemia," Dylan bravely announced, "But everything is going to be alright."

Both Nathalie and Mary appreciated Dylan's optimism. His childlike faith in the future was nothing short of awe-inspiring!!

"I am currently battling bone cancer," said Nathalie, "This is my third encounter with 'the Big C' in six months. How old are you, Dylan?"

"Five," he answered.

"You have been diagnosed with cancer three times in six months?!" said Bristol, "I could not imagine...."

"Yes, I have," replied Nathalie, "But at least I am not five years old...."

Suddenly, Dylan's name was called. He and Bristol waved goodbye to Nathalie before disappearing down the long halls.

"Take care," said Dylan.

Both Nathalie and Mary smiled at his "old soul" politeness.

"Be good to yourself, kid," she said.

On the drive home--as soon as Nathalie's doctor's appointment was over--an emotional tidal wave of empathy and compassion toward little Dylan rushed over her.

"Oh, Mary...." she said, "Dylan is only five years old.... Yet I know that he and Bristol have so many Life and death thoughts to worry about.... It's just not right.... The only thing that Dylan should be concerned about is making friends, scraping his knees outside and starting Kindergarten this September...."

Wet hot tears streamed down Nathalie's face.

"And then I think about poor Bristol...." she continued, "As an Auntie, I couldn't imagine the continuous roller coaster ride of thoughts, feelings, and emotions that are coming from a loving Mother who wants nothing more than to watch her son grow up...."

"I know...." said Mary, "Dylan's--and Bristol's--circumstances kind of puts yours into perspective, don't they?"

"Yes...." said Nathalie, "It does.... I hope we see Dylan and Bristol again...."

And see them again they did!! Appointment after appointment after appointment!! As resulted, Nathalie formed a close, intimate friendship with Dylan and Bristol!! Together, they exchanged e-mail addresses. Cell phone numbers. Even home addresses. Meanwhile, Nathalie lent her support to Dylan and Bristol!! In more ways than one!! She anonymously helped Bristol pay for sky-high medical bills. Nathalie cheered Dylan on during hard battles won. She visited him in a hospital when his leukemia took a turn for the worst. And Bristol lent her support to Nathalie, as well!! In more ways than one!! She sent Nathalie several hand-written cards of encouragement. Bristol cheered her on during hard battles won. And Dylan sent Nathalie hand-drawn pictures. For the relationship between those twain cancer patients was undeniable!!

This incurable disease is hell. For like an explosive ambush, it always comes unexpectedly. Cancer. And in order to win this war--like a Marine--you have to fight some very, very, very intense battles. But, tragically, there are casualties. And, unfortunately, they happen far too often. On September 23rd, Dylan lost the war against leukemia. Nathalie and Mary were each sent personal invitations to attend his memorial service. Which--with broken hearts--they did.

"Life is a book that The Author {God} has written. And He, Himself, holds its ending in His Hands," began Pastor Ardon during Dylan's memorial service, "Friends.... In all the forty years that I have served God as a minister, I've spoken at countless memorial services. And funerals. And wakes. In all the forty years that I have served God as a minister, I've helped Him usher elderly people toward Heaven. Those who have lead an amazingly good, long, happy, successful Life. In all the forty years that I have served God as a minister, I've helped Him usher middle-aged people toward Heaven. Those whose Lives were seemingly cut too short. Either way, it is always a combination of grief and celebration!! Certainly, we miss our dearly departed loved ones here on Earth. Terribly. We grieve their deaths. Yet our dearly departed loved ones are rejoicing at Jesus' feet in Heaven!! So it is bittersweet. But in all these forty years that I have served God as a minister, what makes me feel the saddest? Helping Him usher His youngest children toward Heaven. Like five-year old Dylan. And when I help usher God's youngest children toward Heaven, I'm keenly reminded that Life is a book that The Author {God} has written. And He, Himself, holds its ending in His Hands. Dearly beloved.... Even though we may feel as though Dylan's Life is like a novel with the end ripped out, this was already {Beyond our own comprehension} part of God's sovereign plan."

There was not a dry eye in the sanctuary. For Pastor Ardon's words were emotionally-stirring. Nathalie and Mary sat in wooden church pews as unstoppable, wet, hot tears freely flowed down both their cheeks. Once Pastor Ardon finished, it was time for the eulogy. Which Dylan's Dad, Rollin, bravely delivered. He blinked back tears the entire time.

Do not cry.... Do not cry.... Do not cry.... Do not cry.... Do not cry.... Rollin mentally chanted to himself.

"Thank-you, Pastor Ardon...." he slowly began, "Dylan.... Was a special boy the very moment I watched his tiny, slimy, blood-covered body emerge from Bristol's.... Even though we did not know it yet.... He was a fighter.... As brave as any Marine.... He was courageous.... For Dylan battled leukemia long and hard.... Although he was a special boy.... For leukemia gave Dylan unique needs.... He was also just like any other five-year old.... Dylan had loves, phases, dreams, hopes, and desires just like everybody else.... He was obsessed with Disney/Pixar's animated film, Cars.... Dylan watched that movie so many times.... Bristol and I have every single scene, every single line, every single character, every single song memorized completely by heart.... Dylan.... Was a special boy the very moment I watched his tiny, slimy, blood-covered body emerge from Bristol's.... Even though we did not know it yet.... Because he was far more than my son.... Dylan is {And forevermore will be} my own personal hero.... Our guardian angel.... Goodbye, son...."

Finally, any wet hot tears that Rollin had been holding back burst forth like an ebony rain cloud.

To close Dylan's emotionally-moving memorial service, the country/pop band, Rascal Flatts, suddenly emerged from backstage and performed these twain songs. Stand. And Life is a Highway.

"These songs are for Dylan!!" bandleader Gary LeVox called out.

And then--just like that--Rascal Flatts performed!! This felt so unreal to Nathalie, as though she were suddenly transported into a daydream!!

"How did they get Rascal Flatts--a huge, famous, very, very, very busy band--to perform at Dylan's memorial service?!" she mouthed toward Mary.

"I have no idea!!" whispered Mary.

There was not a dry eye in the sanctuary when Rascal Flatts sang this verse. For everybody could feel its powerful words.

Life's like a novel with the end ripped out
The edge of a canyon with only one way down
Take what you're given before it's gone
And start holdin' on, keep holdin' on
'Cause when push comes to shove
You taste what you're made of
You might bend till you break
'Cause it's all you can take
On your knees, you look up
Decide you've had enough
You get mad, you get strong
Wipe your hands, shake it off
Then you stand, yeah, then you stand

That night after Dylan's memorial service, Nathalie walked into her home office {She was emotional. And hungry. She was feeling inspired.} and begin writing a biography about Dylan's short-lived--yet huge--Life. This was Nathalie's very first attempt at not authoring anything fictional. She had asked Rollin's and Bristol's permission to get their son's resilience captured in a published book. They said yes!! Like a reporter, Nathalie interviewed Rollin and Bristol. She spoke with close friends. Like a reporter, Nathalie interviewed extended family members. She feverishly scribbled notes about Dylan's remarkable little Life. And once Nathalie published it? Dylan's Life Story swiftly became a New York Times bestseller!! And, because she possesses an incredible generous charitable nature? Nathalie had the proceeds from Dylan's Life Story go toward cancer research. Every single penny.

It's not the time in your life, it's the life in your time. --Bruce Springsteen

Three-times over cancer survivor and feeding tube-free Nathalie smiled at a homemade sign that hung on her ebony-painted magnetic bedroom closet door which {In bold black letters} declared those wise words. For--a diehard Bruce Springsteen fanatic who owns all of his albums and has attended several shows--she understands full well this quotation's profound meaning!! Because cancer has gradually taught Nathalie that you need to live Life to the fullest!! Every single God-given day!! And that whether you are twenty-five or sixty-four years old makes absolutely no difference none whatsoever. Those are words to definitely live by....