countdown to chemo


I just got the call that my blood counts are good for chemo tomorrow. The last few days I’ve spent wondering (and worrying) about whether I would get the green light. Over the weekend I wasn’t feeling as good as usual and last night I started with a cough. Everyone at home, except Romina and me, has had colds during the past two weeks so this did not come as a surprise. Even with a cold I am happy to be staying on track because the post-chemo symptoms should be gone by Thanksgiving. I would hate to have the good smells and tastes of the holiday be wasted on me. This was part of my anxiety.

We are also in the midst of a November windstorm. It is blowing down leaves and pecans for Thanksgiving pie. It is also uprooting tumbleweeds and propelling them across fields and highways. All of this tells me to “let go”.

What am I letting go of today? I hope I can let go of premonitions about how this round of chemo will be. Anxiety does not help the cause. I am also letting go of whatever I didn’t get done these past two weeks of feeling better. I have done what I could and it is enough. Finally, I am letting go of making this more complicated than it needs to be. I will try to simplify, to accept what comes, to use the various helps I have on hand and to be grateful for the many, many helpers near and far who support me with their love and prayers.

Tonight we will enjoy supper at a favorite Mexican restaurant. We are celebrating all of us being home together after many comings and goings. But we will come home for dessert because we have a freezer full of Graeters ice cream which is the best ending for a spicy supper.

My final countdown for chemo will be morning prayer. It is a time of quiet when together as a community we come into God’s presence. Those peaceful moments steady my heart, no matter how the wind blows, and prepare me to receive what comes to heal me by God’s grace.

falling leaves1

out of the mist

all saints scRound two chemo is now at work in me. I was surprised to get the green light (my Monday blood counts were adequate) to report to the infusion center last Tuesday morning. I remember that the last time around the nurses said that nobody looked forward to chemo like I did.  It’s because I want to keep on schedule, especially with the holidays approaching, and to finish as soon as possible.  I felt confident, even strong, as I walked into the infusion center with my bag of snacks, reading materials, fully-charged smartphone and my few carefully chosen devotional items. The nurse welcomed me and invited me to choose my chair.

There were already six others receiving their infusions and a movie was in progress on the large flat screen tv. I barely settled into my recliner in the corner when my nurse came to access the port-o-cath. “We have almost all women today so it’s ‘chick-flicks'” Luci explained. That was good news to me since the line up during my previous treatment included the violent thriller, “Man in Flames”, not exactly conducive to tranquility and healing! She reviewed the plan for the day, pre-medications and actual chemo drugs, and I realized that I would be there until late afternoon. After expertly accessing my port Luci hung the first pre-medication and offered me a pillow and blanket. Soon I would be drifting off to dreamland except that the movie was a Julia Roberts film I hadn’t seen!

Aside from the non-stop movies, this infusion center has a very quiet feel. The nurses anticipate the termination of each medication and are always ready with the next so there are very few alarms sounding. Most of us doze through the day, waking to make our regular trips to the bathroom down the hall, i.v. poles in tow, noting how the recliners have filled and emptied. In this temporary location there are no extra chairs for visitors or companions and there is little conversation. Yet I feel a kind of communion that reminds me of the connection that develops on a silent retreat. We are all on a pilgrimage of healing, each with our own special intention.

It helps me to consider that I leave the infusion center carrying others’ intentions along with my own. It also helps if I can recall the healing gift I have received through the little port in my chest. As the next days unfold it is not always easy to remember those two things: the intentions of others and profound gratitude for treatment. The days-after-chemo, despite all the best efforts (and drugs), are just plain miserable. Body aches, fatigue, nausea, the metallic taste…are something just to be endured. Sleep is the best remedy but I also have a comforting awareness that every now and then someone is peeking in to see if I need anything.whitney morning

Between sleeping and nothing tasting right I have a hard time keeping up with my fluids. When I saw the oncologist on Friday I was feeling pretty puny. She didn’t have to ask twice if I was willing to get some intravenous hydration. Like a wilted plant, the fluids perked me up and I asked Whitney to stop for a cheeseburger and fries on the way home. But then it was back to bed.

Friday night from my bedroom I could hear all the preparations for Saturday’s Halloween party at Santo Niño. http://www.proyectosantonino.org It was a rainy, misty morning and by 8:15 everyone headed to Mexico with costumes, candy, apples for bobbing, face-paints and other games. I felt guilty-for a few minutes-at not being able to help with what I knew would be a crazy day. But then I realized that I had other work to do, that other work was being done in me. This is what God asks of me right now. This is what I will accept.

I managed to get up and around by the afternoon and to make a pot of chili, looking forward to the Notre Dame football game at suppertime. I was not disappointed: the chili tasted almost “right” and the Fighting Irish came through. It felt like the post-chemo fog was beginning to lift.

This morning, the Feast of All Saints, I had my own communion service in our little chapel while the others went to mass at the parish. I remembered to bring the intentions of all my co-journeyers from the infusion center. I felt a deep communion with all who are supporting me in prayer during this time of healing. I felt the near presence of that “great cloud of witnesses” who have been through the trials of life and who even now are keeping vigil with me. All of this brings an overwhelming gratitude for the gifts of community, of medicine, of faith.

Tonight our homemade pizza tasted so good and there is Graeter’s ice cream in the freezer (thanks Bev and Rick Schieltz!) for the seventh inning stretch of the World Series game. The discomforts will continue to lessen and I know that I am coming out of the mist.  Each day will bring more energy until the next chemo-countdown.

P.S. I am also sharing my reflections on this experience in a column for Global Sisters Report. The first was posted last Thursday as I was descending “into the mist”. Here is the link: Inter-Mission: Life between cancer remissions



falling leaves

I knew that my hair would fall out sometime just before my second chemotherapy treatment. For the past week I’ve felt some scalp tenderness and then I began to see the extra hair in my brush. Right on schedule. So last night after supper and evening prayer Peggy and Carol went to work with the scissors, trimming what was left short so that when it falls out it won’t be so annoying. hair

I sat outside today, a beautiful autumn afternoon with a gentle breeze. As I ran my hand over my scalp I saw all the silver hair that fluttered to the ground and thought, “Look at that! My own falling leaves! Is this what trees go through each autumn?” Just like the trees that let go each fall, I can trust in the new growth that will come next spring.

It’s not easy but when I can see it as part of a necessary process then it makes sense. It is a sign that I am entering into a time of change, of renewal, of healing. What else, besides my hair, am I invited or required to let go?

I think of the caterpillar going into its cocoon. They say that it totally dissolves inside but that in the primordial “goo” there exist some imaginal discs that hold the possibility of the butterfly. This image works for me. Of necessity I have to let go of some of the things I am accustomed to do- in ministry, around the house, travel- during this time of treatment. If I can surrender those things, perhaps there is some essential work of be-ing that requires my attention and energy.

I’m glad to have the seasons of fall and winter to accompany me through this treatment time. Letting go, entering into some darker and shorter days, hibernating while the work of healing runs its course. This is way the Creator is unfolding for me.metamorphosis


The past six days I’ve spent a lot of hours looking for signs. Mostly I’ve been reading the signs of my body: need for liquids, need for rest, need for medicines to ease the side effects of chemo.  I’ve also been looking for signs that the worst of it is over. So when today’s Gospel has Jesus scolding the gathering crowds that “no sign shall be given except the sign of Jonah”, I have been wondering what that could mean for me?

beesI usually enjoy watching my hummingbird feeders and have been happy to see that there are still a few loyal followers now in October. But in the past few days the feeders have been covered with bees. The spectacle is not nearly so entertaining. At best I figure I am helping ward off “colony collapse”. Today the sight of those bees swarming over the ports reminded me of the crowds coming to Jesus in hopes of signs and wonders. Maybe a healing, the driving out of a demon or two, or the multiplication of loaves and fishes… But Jesus says they are an evil generation and the only sign they will get is the sign of my old friend Jonah. That reluctant prophet had a message of conversion for the people of Nineveh and no one was more surprised (or disappointed) than he was when they took that message to heart.

What message of conversion am I reluctant to hear today? Am I just drawn to the sweetness of the Gospel or am I willing to hear a challenging word and let it turn my heart to God? I thought about an article I read this morning from yesterday’s New York Times called The Refugees at our Door. The tragic and complicated crisis of women and children fleeing the Northern Triangle of Central America has been an issue I have followed for some years. I have met these families and heard their stories. Today, still feeling pretty sick and tired, I found the article almost too much to take. And yet, I wondered, is this the sign of Jonah for me? The bottom line of the story is that we have forced Mexico to stem the tide of refugees in order to keep them from reaching our southern border- so we don’t have to see the misery, hear the stories, or offer assistance.

Pope Francis challenged Congress to not be put off by the numbers of immigrants seeking refuge but to see them as human beings in need. I post the link to the article here and invite you to read in this story the sign of Jonah I saw today:


Beginning again

Yesterday was day one of chemotherapy. I will receive three drugs, all on one day, every three weeks for six cycles. The infusion center I am using for the treatment is located in my oncologist’s office. When Peggy and I arrived we followed the signs to its temporary location in the basement while the regular center is being remodeled. There is something about descending to the lower levels, to a windowless room lined with recliners and iv poles, that reminds me of the belly of the whale where Jonah spent three days. That story happens to have been the reading for Mass on Monday, October 5. He ended up there because he fled from his prophetic calling. How many of us are equally reluctant to accept what we know God is asking us to do?


Jonah is a good companion for this new beginning of therapy for recurrent ovarian cancer. I have had many moments of reluctance to accept what God is asking of me. But in the end I am wanting to do what Mother Theresa recommends: “Give what God asks and receive what God gives, with a smile.” And I am not alone, neither in the belly of the whale nor when spewed up on the shore.

When I woke from my many little naps during the six hours I was receiving treatment, I saw that the other eleven recliners were filled and vacated by a steady stream of co-journeyers. Almost everyone but me was familiar to the nurses and the routine. From frail to robust, each one of us was seeking a return to wholeness in this small basement room.

Gratitude is the best medicine of all. It was what flowed into me as I drifted off to sleep with the pre-medication before receiving the chemotherapy. How grateful I am to be able to receive this treatment! How grateful for the loving community, family and friends who have been praying with and for me during the waiting time and who continue to this moment, lifting me up to God!

The second time around is less anxious. I know what to expect and how to be ready for it. I am taking it easy, letting the medicine do what it needs to do and allowing for the consequences that aren’t so pleasant. I have a lovely place to let this be a healing time for me. casa de caridad

I will be sharing this journey with those who would like to keep me company this way. I look forward to your comments and reflections. I learned the last time that people benefited not just from what I wrote but from what was shared by others. And so let us begin again!



Those who have experienced cancer (or really any chronic illness) have a particular experience of waiting. Appointments and test results never come as quickly as one hopes. Last July 13 I had a regularly scheduled PET/CT scan. It was a routine follow-up from March when I had a clear result, my first since finishing radiation therapy in November for a recurrence of ovarian cancer in the center of my chest. I didn’t have to wait long for the results in July because I was scheduled to see my gynecologic oncologist in San Antonio the next day. Twice a year I travel to check in with Dr. Santillan who was only in El Paso for a few years, providentially when I was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer in February 2008.

On July 14 as I waited in the exam room for a little longer than usual, I typed a little note to myself on my cell phone. “These moments waiting alone in the exam room…test results pending…I wait, pray, wonder, hope, try to surrender to whatever comes next. Will everything change in the next half hour? My plans, my work, my energy, all possibly redirected? I wait and pray.”  I must have had a premonition. At first Dr. Santillan said that there was nothing “really new” with the scan but reading over his shoulder (knowing exactly what the previous study had said) I pointed out two items of concern. The next days and months have been an exercise in wait-and-see.

All of my physicians have been extraordinary in their willingness and availability to communicate with me. But offices, insurance companies, hospitals and laboratories also have their own version of time. So decisions about options for diagnosis and treatment inevitably demand that we learn to wait. I knew that waking up from surgery, if the biopsy was successfully obtained I would know if the cancer had recurred. It has. Now I wait to see what the best chemotherapeutic treatment options are and how soon I can begin. More waiting will be in store with each scheduled chemo. Are the blood counts good enough to proceed?

I am not a patient person but will have to learn to find the gift in waiting. Thank you all for accompanying me on the journey.


gift of faith

missionary thomasJuly 3 is the feast day of St. Thomas the apostle, famous forever for those stubborn words, “Unless I see…I will not believe!” We don’t remember as readily his confession of faith: “My Lord and my God!” or that this “doubter” is believed to have carried the Gospel as far as southern India before his martyrdom. This is also the day I made my lifetime commitment as a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati. So today I’ve been thinking about the times I’ve stubbornly doubted and the times I’ve trustingly believed. It is such a wonder that God works with whatever we bring on a given day- our doubts or our mustard seed of faith- and can use it for the good. I am grateful for my 33 years as a Sister of Charity and for all those who have loved me on days I doubted and on days when my faith was strong.

This song came to mind at community prayer this morning, shared by Meg McCormick in a talk she prepared for a young adults retreat when I was working in that ministry for the diocese of El Paso.

Have a listen and celebrate with Thomas and me today.