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Holidays, Cancer and Hope

Sunday, December 26, 2010

©Brenda Coffee. All rights reserved.

Over the years I’ve had my fair share of difficult holidays, like my first Christmas as a young married, expectantly waiting for family and friends to crowd around my dining room table which, in another life, had been a cable spool. You know, those huge wooden spools wrapped with reams and reams of thick, heavy telephone cables? My new mother-in-law, who couldn’t be there, wanted me to photograph my table setting before anyone sat down to dinner. Mind you, I was already behind the socially acceptable table setting curve because it’s nearly impossible to make room for 10 people around a wooden spool with a hole in the middle, especially when no one knows there’s a hole in the middle because the table is covered with a sheet. Forgive me… I digress… The disaster wasn’t with the dining table but the copious amount of laundry detergent I’d placed in the dishwasher. Who knew laundry detergent would behave so differently from dishwashing powder? Who knew I’d just triggered a laundry detergent tsunami that threatened to envelop the entire apartment building?<PREVIEWEND>

Five minutes before our efficiency apartment filled with holiday guests, the dishwasher began to belch bubbles. At first just a few bubbles spilled gently over the top, like a glass, overflowing with champagne. In a matter of seconds, however, it had morphed into something that seemingly had an endless life of its own, burying me and my tiny kitchen in bubbles. Bubbles spewed vociferously through the kitchen, past the dining table, toward the sliding glass door. An I Love Lucy calamity with no signs of stopping. “Ding, Dong!”

On the other end of the spectrum, the holidays sometimes remind me of my late husband’s three-day chemo marathons. For the duration of each chemo, he was hospitalized while doctors literally kept him unconscious in order to make chemotherapy easier on him. While Philip “slept,” I kept track of chemos, meds and the times he was supposed to receive them. We usually had a private room—the other bed was for me—although I rarely got more than an hour, here or there, of sleep. I remember standing in the dark, by the head of his hospital bed, the television on low, as Dick Clark counted down the remaining seconds to a shiny New Year with the promise of all things possible. As the ball dropped in Times Square, the crowd cheered, couples kissed, and Philip’s chemo pump announced it was time for a new bag of Cisplatin. “Be-deep, Be-deep” competed with the words to Auld Lang Syne as I stood silently, isolated and disconnected from the rest of the world, wondering what the New Year would bring. Over twenty years later, that memory is still with me.

The holidays are hard for people who are looking for hope,
wondering if the New Year will bring answers to their prayers, if they’ll even be here next year, or if they’ll reconcile with estranged family and friends. Holidays, birthdays and anniversaries can be difficult, even for healthy people, especially if a particular date reminds us of the loss of a family member or perhaps the end of a marriage.

Perhaps we need to make a New Year’s resolution: Regardless of our circumstance, whenever fear invades our thoughts—notice I’m saying “our” because I need this suggestion as well—we must stop ourselves from going there. If you’re wearing a yellow LIVESTRONG bracelet, or a pink breast cancer bracelet, snap it against your wrist as a reminder to stop those negative thoughts. Negativity feeds on itself and before we know it, we’re mired in hopelessness instead of hopefulness.

Hope is not just a four-letter word. Hope is a very real and powerful thing. It begins like the bubbles from my dishwasher but eventually, can take over our dreams and our hearts. Hope is the belief that nothing is for certain. Hope puts ideas into motion, educates children and frees people from the shackles of illness and poverty. Hope enables us to visualize new things on the horizon and miracles yet to be created. What would we be without hope? Every time we surrender our hope, we stop living and believing in life, and as soon as we stop believing, we lose more than our hope. We lose a part of who we can become.

Hope is intangible but at the same time, you can almost reach out and touch it! I pray you wrap yourselves in blankets of hope this holiday season. Here’s a toast to hope and survivorship:Grab life with both hands and don’t let go! Do it intentionally and thoughtfully for it will never come this way again. Here’s wishing all of us a healthy New Year.

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Previous Comments
Anonymous commented on 28-Dec-2010 09:41 AM
Brenda, Thanks for sharing these two stories that are so different from one another. The laundry detergent one does sound like an episode right out of I Love Lucy! How did the meal turn out? The New Years Eve account in the hospital is quite touching. You must have felt totally disconnected to the outside world at that time, such a lonely feeling. I bet you felt like an observer in somebody else's life at times during that ordeal, the reality was so daunting. Finally, I agree hope is essential. My husband often jokingly says he is lighting candles of hope for me when he lights them in the evening, but there really is truth in the statement too. Great post.
Anonymous commented on 28-Dec-2010 12:22 PM
This is the most extraordinary post you've ever written. Given what has happened, its meaning is all the more poignant. Hopefully, I will be more articulate but right now I am truly at a loss for words.

WE -- and it is a community of friends and survivors I'm speaking for -- are all behind you. You are in our thoughts and prayers.

With love,
Anonymous commented on 28-Dec-2010 07:31 PM
Ditto what Jody said. You are an amazing woman. My heart goes out to you. Thanks for inspiring hope and being an example of strength for all of us. What you do is making a difference. May God and your loved ones comfort and cradle you in love during this time.
Anonymous commented on 28-Dec-2010 09:56 PM
Brenda my sweet I had previously written a lovely long comment only to have it disappear. No puff of smoke though.
I was smiling at the thought of the cable spool as we used them in Singapore to hold pot plants outdoors. Then, of course, the tale of the new wife let loose with the laundry powder.
On Sunday night we watched repeats of the best of 60 minutes. The story that reminded me to NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP HOPE was the story of an Australian born 27 years ago with no arms or legs. Just one, duck like, foot off the trunk of his body. After contemplating suicide during his childhood he has gone on to achieve great heights. He travels the world as a minister, preaching the Word of God. It is hard not to be inspired by him. You remind me of him in the way you reach out and touch other's lives. Through adversity, you have found your calling dearest friend as you inspire us and instil HOPE into our very beings.
Thank you for coming into my life lovely lady xo
Anonymous commented on 29-Dec-2010 08:52 AM
Brenda, I, too, feel completely inadequate and unable to articulate my feelings. The wisdom and hope you wrote about in this post, are what you must somehow draw upon for yourself. As Jody said above, your friends are here for you. I count myself as one of them. Wrap yourself in faith, love and hope. You are not alone. My love, thoughts and prayers are with you, Brenda.
Anonymous commented on 31-Dec-2010 04:09 PM
I read all of your holiday blog. The content could not have been more poignant, remarkable in its timing and a message meant more for you than anyone.

Anonymous commented on 31-Dec-2010 04:25 PM
Hope you had a wonderful Christmas, Brenda!!! Mine was EXTRAORDINARY!!!
I am so thankful to see my mom. she is so tinny and week, but still here and I thank God for her!
I was blessed to participate in my sister Faith and her husband Roger's Christmas meal with their 20 little children- I will tell you more about it later.
I enjoyed your blog on Hope. My friend Monica is doing better, thank you for your prayers..
Keep up the great work and yes, HEALTHY2011!
Love & Blessings
Anonymous commented on 31-Dec-2010 04:55 PM
My darling husband, James, died Sunday while walking on or ranch. I am devastated. His memorial service is today at 3pm. Please sweet friend, lift me up in your prayers. I'm feeling so lost right now.

So glad you're with your family.

Anonymous commented on 31-Dec-2010 04:56 PM
Dear Brenda,

I don't know if you remember me, but I worked with Brandon Smith to help build your website.

I just heard the terrible news and my wife and I just wanted to reach out and extend our deepest and most sincere sympathies to you and your family.

We're so sad to hear about your loss and we are keeping you in our thoughts and prayers.

Our Best,
Jeremy and Melissa Blanchard
Anonymous commented on 31-Dec-2010 04:56 PM
Jeremy & Melissa,
Of course I remember you! I've never had the opportunity to tell you how grateful I am for everything you've done on the website.

Thank you for your note. I'm touched that you've written. This is still so surreal. I'm a little afraid to let go and grieve for fear I won't find my way back, but I know it will come when I'm able to deal with it. I thank you and Melissa for thinking of me and would be so grateful if you'd keep me in your prayers.

I hope you both are well. Cherish one another, sweet man.

Anonymous commented on 31-Dec-2010 04:57 PM
Dear Brenda,

I recently became aware of the news of the sudden loss of your beloved husband, via our online community. Although I've never met you in person, you have become a valued member of my online world and I wanted to extend my deepest sympathy and condolences to you. My thoughts and prayers are with you during this extraordinarily difficult time.

Best regards,

Anna Rachnel
The Cancer Culture Chronicles
Anonymous commented on 31-Dec-2010 04:59 PM
My beautiful friend I have just come from Nancy’s blog and read of the passing of your beautiful soul mate James. Brenda, please tell me it is not true? Have I got it wrong?

I have just gone back to re-read it and I am in shock. The tears are pouring down my cheeks as I have only just finished leaving a comment on your blog. My previous one ‘went missing’

I want so much to be with you at this time my dearest friend. As that is physically impossible I will find a quiet place, preferably in the garden, and pray for the repose of James’ soul and for you to find some way to cope as you make plans. Brenda, these words seem to be totally inadequate and I am so sorry for that. I am shocked.

If there is anything I can do, please ask.

Much love Cheryl xo
Anonymous commented on 31-Dec-2010 04:59 PM
Dearest Cheryl,
If anyone knows about loss and the death of a soul mate, it is you. You know how I'm feeling. So lost and devastated. Oh, Cheryl.... It wasn't supposed to be this way. I can't begin to understand why--when there are such low lifes in the the world--why someone like James Coffee would be taken from our midst. He was so loved and respected by people of every station in life.

This afternoon is his memorial service. Because he served in the military, the Armed Forces color guard will be at the church, marching in, folding the flag, wearing white gloves, presenting it to me and marching out. and that's only the beginning of his service. Several people want to speak. He was so loved. The church says their phone has been ringing nonstop since Monday.

Please continue to pray for me, dear one. I need God's strength to get thru this. I'm trying to stay in control because I'm afraid if I let go, I won't be able to stop. I wish I were near you. We could lean on one another.

Anonymous commented on 31-Dec-2010 05:01 PM
Hello Brenda,

I haven't worked with you much directly, but I just wanted to send a note that all of us at the Brandon Store have you in our thoughts.
We are deeply sorry for your loss.

Best wishes,
Ryan Tainter
The Brandon Store
Anonymous commented on 31-Dec-2010 05:04 PM
Thank you, sweet man, for reaching out like this. I'm so very grateful that you would take the time to think of me. Every word someone sends me makes me feel less alone.

Stay well,
Anonymous commented on 31-Dec-2010 05:06 PM
What a beautiful and poignant message. It brought me to tears to think this was written before James’ tragic passing. Hope is what you bring the thousands that follow your blog and Hope is what you need to hold onto during this difficult time. We are so sorry for the anguish you and Kirk are certainly struggling with, but Hope tells us James is in a better place. James was a wonderful man who will be missed by many. You and Kirk and your family are in our thoughts and prayers. If there is anything Donna or I can do, please let me know.

God Bless-

Jason and Donna Khattar
Anonymous commented on 31-Dec-2010 05:08 PM
Thanks're just what the doctor ordered! I loved your Holiday piece. I keep thinking of the thousands of folks who have made it possible for me to have a nausea free chemo due to their participation in cancer studies. Keep up the good work!

Ellen Crimmins
Anonymous commented on 31-Dec-2010 05:12 PM
Thank you, sweet lady, for writing me. I, too, had a nausea free chemo. We owe so much to those we'll never know, who volunteer for clinical trials.

Since my husband unexpectedly died this week, I especially am grateful to have your encouraging words about my blog.

I wish you health and wellness this New Year.

Anonymous commented on 31-Dec-2010 05:17 PM
My dearest Brenda!!!! I am so sorry, I am lost for words. I have just seen this EMAIL because I do not have internet access daily while in Kigali. I just want you to know that YOU ARE in my prayers! Please cling on those precious memories and the love that you will always have in your heart. What we see and feel is not really what is permanent. It is what we believe and know to be true that lives for ever. James and You were made in God's image and and as believers through His Precious Son, will continue to be connected!
Be comforted, hard as it may seem, God is with you and will never leave you. He will see you through this one too!!!!
I am thinking about you and will keep you in my prayers!!
Anonymous commented on 31-Dec-2010 05:22 PM
Dear Philippa,
Your note means so much to me. Loss is all around us and yet, we're not prepared when it strikes so close. I'm numb. Literally numb. I've broken down a couple of times, but always reign it in. I've been constantly on the go since it happened, Sunday night. I plan to sign off now and spend some time talking with God.

Continue to stay safe and be with your family. I'm grateful you have this special time together.

Love you,
Anonymous commented on 01-Jan-2011 10:32 AM
Dearest Brenda,
Your strength is inspiring. I could hear your voice raising praises to our Father and was glad that you are so strong. I wish I could have spent more time with you while Ron and I were in SA, maybe later. I am thinking of you and our prays are are for your peace.
Ron and Patti Fox
Anonymous commented on 01-Jan-2011 12:07 PM
Brenda, Can't stop thinking about you. I feel so bad for you. Would you be offended if I posted about my reaction? Sending my continuing love, thoughts and prayers your way.

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