It Is Well With My Soul
I started a new oil painting just over a week ago. Whenever I start a new painting I always try to challenge myself. On this one I want to paint a cyclonic super cell with a tornado, and capture the soft marshmallow look of the wind bands of a super cell without losing the harsh menace of a tornado. It’s a goal.
I have painted a lot of paintings of storm clouds, but I have never actually painted a tornado and I am finding it a challenge. The more is less and less is more art principle certainly applies to this project.
I have seen many tornadoes. The first one I ever saw was when I was a very small little girl. My family and I were on a trip from our farm to the Twin Cities and a tornado dropped of the sky right in front of our car. It crossed the road and ripped a very large metal factory to shreds. Large pieces of sheet metal delicately floated through the air like wispy spider web threads caught in a breeze. The contrast of the tornado’s awesome destructive power and its gentle beauty was not lost on me…not even as a small child.
Soon, after that experience I began having a repeating nightmare of being chased by tornadoes. I didn’t have these dreams every night, but I did have them often. I had them as a child. I had them as a teenager. I had them as a mother and I have had them as a grandmother. They are always heart pounders.
In the dream the blackness of the storm is crushing. It is evil. It shows no mercy. It is deadly. It chases me everywhere I hide. I can save others, and do, but the tornado always continues to stalk me. When all hope is gone, I always turn and face the storm. I want to see the thing that was going to get me.
Just before it destroys me, I always wake up.
As horrible as those tornado nightmares are to my subconscious, my conscious loves watching storms. I always have, even as a child. As a teenager, I raced storms across our farm fields on my horse. The F3 tornado that hit Hugo several years ago, came down just three houses from mine. I watch storm chasers on television and the real thing whenever I get a chance, which in Minnesota is this time of year. I love watching the ways clouds move. Never the same twice. If I am outside, you can bet that I am watching the sky.
Several years ago a fellow artist saw my work and thought that maybe I like looking at clouds so much, because I like looking up at heaven and that is where God lives. That could be part of my fascination with storms. However, there is a part of me that thinks that if I watch enough storms during the day, the tornadoes that visit me in the night will go away.
Obviously the tornado of my dreams is symbolic of fear. Over the years I have given this issue a lot of thought trying to figure out just what fear the tornado represents.
Throughout my life I have found myself in more than my share of fearful situations. Fear was often my constant companion. Especially after the doctor told me at age ten that I was so sick with asthma that I would not live to see my twentieth birthday. I can remember being just a little tiny thing going into the back of my closet and hiding in a toy box under a blanket to feel safe.
When Grandma Esther found out about my hiding from fear. She told me that if I didn’t admire cowards I should choose not to be one. After the delivery of that excellent advice, I became quite good at confronting fear and letting it go. My approach to life became…what doesn’t kill me, will only make me stronger.
Stronger I became, but nothing ever got rid of those tornado nightmares.
My cancer diagnosis for Multiple Myeloma.
A person doesn’t often think of good coming from a cancer diagnosis and treatment, but getting rid of those nightmares was a good thing. Then, too, when faced with your own mortality, you feel more alive that you have before. Cancer teaches you that each day is a gift and to live it fully. Relationships become so much more precious and nothing gets taken for granted. And, if you ask, you will find that God will give you the peace that passes all understanding and that there is no challenge this side of heaven where he will not walk right beside you. Yes, good can come from a cancer diagnosis.
So was the tornado in my dreams the Multiple Myeloma? I don’t think so, because I had thyroid cancer when I was only 30 years old and I still had the those nightmares. It is probably more likely that the tornado was the severe asthma, that enlarged my heart and gave me the lung capacity of one lung, that was cured by the stem cell transplant. Or, that after surviving 18 months in a body cast, all of the vertebrae in my back having compression fractures, over two years stuck in a hospital bed in my living room looking out a window at a tree, then going through six months of chemo and a stem cell transplant, I really just do not have much to fear anymore at all.
What doesn’t kill me, only makes me stronger!
Or, maybe I finally learned that no matter what tornadoes may come, I am never alone and have no reason to be afraid for God, my heavenly father, will never leave me or forsake me.
23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Regardless of why, I am so very grateful that both the nightmares and the cancer are gone.
I wish everyone’s nightmares and cancer were gone.
May God be with all of my fellow cancer soldiers and their families who did not choose, but were drafted into the war against cancer.
Numbers 6: 24-26
24 The Lord bless thee, and keep thee:
25 The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
6 The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
Now, back to painting tornadoes!
I have always believed that a promise given is a promise kept. Yesterday was all about memories and keeping a promise to myself.
When I was incapacitated from the fractures in every thoracic and lumbar vertebra in my spine caused by the cancer Multiple Myeloma, I found it heartbreaking that in only six short months I had gone from Assistant Communication Director/Press Secretary/Blue Book maker for Secretary Mark Ritchie to lying in a hospital bed in the Capitolview rehab center at Region’ hospital looking at our beautiful Capitol out of a window. At that time, I was very convinced that I was never going to get to go in it again, let alone climb any of the beautiful marble steps that I had raced up and down for so many years.
One day the social worker came to visit me. She picked up a notebook that I had been using as a journal. My body at that time was broken and there was nothing that I could do to make it heal, so I focused on preventing my mind from slipping into depression. After losing a baby, years before, I experienced a severe postpartum suicidal depression. During the weeks that I had be hospitalized at Sister Kenny Institute’s Young Adult Depression Unit, I had been taught coping skills. Boy, did that training pay off!
In my journal the therapist found I had written, “I will have better days!.” Over and over again. She commented how amazed she was to find an affirmative statement under the circumstances. Right then and there, I promised myself that some day I was going to again climb the stairs to the Minnesota Senate Chambers at our State Capitol. It may have taken almost four years, but yesterday, was the day!
The day began with a trip to see my oncologist. I had already seen my labs so I knew it was going to be a good appointment. He said that I should remain healthy indefinitely. That’s just what I wanted to hear from that guy! Then, we chatted about how far my physical recovery has come. He recalled the first time we met in the emergency room at Regions and how very fragile I was. My young Irish doctor noted that I was basically a conscious vegetable, completely incapacitated. When we had finished our reminisce, I gave him the cookies that I had baked for him and his staff. They all had worked so very hard to save my life and help me regain good health and mobility. I felt they deserved a treat.
My next stop was the infusion room. If you have never been in a cancer clinic’s infusion room, it can be quite overwhelming. These rooms are lined with many, many reclining chairs filled with people of all ages, genders and ethnicity just like you getting chemo. Cancer does not discriminate.
Sitting next to each patient’s chair is their IV stand hung with a multitude of bags filled with blood products, liquids and drugs. Some of us are bald and some of us are not. I have been both. Scattered about the room are baskets filled with donated stocking hats of every color imaginable free for the taking. Chatting the patients up are the worried and tired looking family members and friends that accompanied them.
World War II Buddy El Ewert and I enjoying our bald heads
My infusion was just for a bone hardening drug. For some reason, yesterday my oncology nurses all came by to remind me of the “fragile state”I was in the first time they met me. Maybe I got their attention when I asked one of my favorite nurses where her bright green hair was today. During St. Patrick Day’s past her green wig was a big hit.
The nurse got a hold of physical therapy. The therapist came to assess my movement and help with some trouble spots in my neck and back. I still cannot completely lift either arm and have lost considerable motion in my neck . Whenever I move my head from side to side or tip it back, I get pain in my spine, right between the shoulder blades. Not being able to turn my head is what prevents me from driving and was going to prevent me from seeing the top of the rotunda at the Capitol.
She knew exactly what the problem was and went to work. I had a muscle that was looped and a lot fascia that was being very stubborn. Then,she exclaimed, “Pat, you have adhesions sticking your muscles to your skull!” Which explained my incredibly unpleasant under the chin Charlie horses. She went to work. Finally she said, “There it goes!” At that moment, for the first time in years I could turn my head from shoulder to shoulder and backwards. Bully!
With my doctor appointment, infusion and physical therapy behind me, my husband dropped me off at the side door of the State Office Building. Fondly known to those of us who have called it home…the SOB. That door is the one I used for many years when I worked in that building.
As I stood in front of that door I noticed two things. Time had just been rolled back and it had been refinished. Loaded down with a bag filled with my friends’ favorite cookies, I headed for the Secretary of State’s Office. I barely got through the door when I was greeted by one of the two Brads. I asked for Bert.
Bert came and he took me on a complete tour of the office. It was wonderful to see all of the changes and meet new staff. So many of my friends were still there and they all looked so good.
Then, Bert and I had a good visit in his office, just like we used too. Bert used to keep me out of mischief when we worked together. It was a necessary role and he hasn’t changed at bit. He felt that it was alright for me to climb the Senate stairs, but all other stairs were strictly off limits and elevators to be used. When we worked together, he knew that I could rarely be found in an elevator if I could get some exercise taking the stairs. I promised him, I would follow his advice, and that if I got too tired I would be back to sit with him in his office until my husband could pick me up.
My next cookie stop was House Supply. I don’t think I will ever forget the look on Bill’s face when he saw me standing there. I didn’t get to see Jess, but found Steve later. I was introduced to Danny’s son, he looks like his dad, and was assured that one of the over a dozen gingersnaps I had made for Danny would be saved for him. I bet he does only get one.
Next, I headed out for the Capitol and those senate stairs. Bill was concerned that the incline to the Capitol would be too steep for me, but it wasn’t at all. Heeding Bert’s advice, I took the elevator up to those stairs.
Stepping back into the Capitol after an absence of almost five years affected me a bit. Then, I headed for the Senate stairs.
I took this picture myself from the top of the stairs.
Stairs never looked so beautiful. There they were, just as I remembered them. I had thought of them so very many times. They were before me when I sat in a chair with a therapist helping me to lift one leg then the other. They stood tall when I tried and tried to go up those four little steps in the physical therapy room. I dreamed of those stairs when day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year were spent in a body cast trapped in a hospital bed in my living room. Those stairs taunted me when I wanted to give up. Those stairs helped me conquer my cancer and it was finally time for me to conquer them.
As I stood before my nemesis, I took a deep breath, said a prayer of thanksgiving to a merciful God, held on to the railing and up I went. It wasn’t even hard! When I got to the top, I took a picture. Then, I found one of those big old oak Capitol benches and just sat for a bit to savor the moment.
It will surprise no one that, that did not last long. Soon, I was back on the trail to find my senate friends. Many of whom had no idea where I had disappeared too so long ago.
After a great visit with John in the information office. I went into both the House and Senate chambers. I had worked in both. It was then time to just take in all of the Capitol renovations, especially the artwork. I walked into the rotunda, tipped my head way back and took in the whole dome. Magnificent! The colors of the murals in the Supreme Court chambers were particularly glorious. I did not go into the governor’s office, on purpose, because it leaves me a reason to return.
Next, I decided that I needed to explore the new Senate Office Building and see where Senator Mary Kiffmeyer had hung my painting of U.S. Grant. That building is so light and roomy and marvelous. I was impressed! As I headed out to find friends, they just seemed to find me. David found me in the hall, then Ward showed up and Troy. We had a good chat.
As I turned to continue on there was Glen. He showed me where to find the other Sergeants at Arms. Those guys have always been some of my favorite people. Not all of them were there, but I got to see Herb and Bob. Bob and I were always good friends, and he escorted me up to see my painting. When I was standing next to it, as he took my picture, I noticed that I had painted it in 1997. It was twenty years old!
Bob and I continued our tour ending up in the Senate offices. I saw Steve, Sven, Marilyn and of course Nick Thompson. Since, they did not know what had happened to me, they were surprised to learn of my challenges. We shared memories and laughs. Then, Nick gave me one of the best compliments ever.
After working in both the Senate and House for Republicans, I think many people were surprised when I went to work for Secretary of State Mark Ritchie a Democrat. Nick said that it had surprised him. However, after he thought about it a while he came to the conclusion that the decision to hire me was probably one of the best decisions Secretary of Ritchie ever made. I, sure, hope the Secretary felt the same way.
By this time I must have looked tired. The infusion I had received that morning always causes fatigue and I had been wandering around the Capitol for hours by this time. I told the folks that I was going to head back towards Bert. Nick asked me several times if I needed help. I am sure that he would have had the wheelchair out in a shot if he thought for one second that I did.
On the way back to the SOB, I needed to find the new press pool. I had been in the old one many times and wanted to see if those hardworking folks had finally gotten better digs. I could not find it! Just then, I spotted Bill Werner, a reporter. He pointed me in the right direction.
Several of the reporters that I used to work with were there. It was so nice to see them again. One of them, sadly told me that she’d had just lost another friend to cancer the day before. We agreed that cancer sucks. I did miss seeing my friend John from KARE 11, down there, but he was on vacation.
When I got back to the SOB. I headed upstairs to see my House friends. Rebecca and I had a great chat. Seeing as how I am no longer an employee of that place, I feel there is no need for me to be politically correct. Making Rebecca laugh has always been one of my favorite pursuits. Success was mine! I stopped by to see Mark’s office and where Alayne and I used to work.
Then, I went downstairs to get something to drink and ran into one of my favorite people Sean. Sean, Michelle and Valerie have worked at the SOB cleaning up after all of us since my Senate days. Sean looked great. His little girl, that I used to help tutor, is now 17 years old and will graduate next year. He has two more children. He caught me up on the news of Michelle and Valerie.
By the time I got back to the Secretary of State’s Office, I was locked out. It was almost five p.m. and I had been walking and chatting for over four hours. So, I sat down on a bench to wait for my husband.
Who should show up? Travis Reese. Travis had worked with me in the Secretary of State’s Office doing outreach. He reminded me of all the fun, he, I and Sara had working together at the State Fair. He then reminded me about my being Minnesota State Fair Reserve Grand Champion in Animal Calling in the Ag Olympics two years in a row. Both years I was beaten by a team of folks from the Department of Ag doing musical animal theater.
My state fair ribbons for animal calling.
You might think that I lost because I was out numbered, but I cannot ever remember being outnumbered. Far be it from me to cast stones, but scripted group animal calling was clearly a violation of Ag Olympic rules.
Interestingly enough, one of the years I competed, one of the other contestants was a former preschool student of mine who was then Princess Kay of the Milky. I had both her and her sister as students and they both became Princess Kay’s. Yes, she recognized, “Mrs. Detergent.”
Then, too, only I would work for Mark Ritchie at the state fair, and be on Republican Lt. Governor Carol Molnau’s team for the Ag Olympics at the same time. I had forgotten that I used to practice my cow mooing and chicken crowing in front of Sara and Travis. Travis hadn’t forgotten at all!
Bert came out into the hall right about then. He told me Becky was back and we went back into the Secretary of State’s Office to say hello.
Bert gave me a hug and then Doug was there.
My magical day didn’t end there though. When I got home, I went to the mail box and there was a letter from my cousin Chris. Uncle Myrwin’s daughter. In that envelope was the most perfect picture of my dad and Uncle Myrwin. The two brothers are sitting side by side. I will get a frame for it.
Travis’s comments reminded of my State Fair Ribbons. I went to look for them, so that I could put a picture of them in this blog. When I pulled open the drawer, there he was, right on top….my lucky Duck.
When I worked for the Minnesota Department of Veteran’s Affairs it was my honor and privilege to be the project manager for our state’s World War II Memorial Dedication. It was a neat day and we had over 25,000 people attend. One of the events that day was a flyover by World War II bombers and fighter planes.
About a week after the event, I received a package in the mail. The package was from one of my pilots. In it was a stuffed toy duck with a note telling me this was a lucky duck, because he got to fly in the cockpit of a World War II bomber on the day of our dedication.
As long as I am sharing memories maybe this is the time to report that the morning of the World War II Dedication Memorial I was informed that one of the pilots flying over our large crowd of men, women and children would be a World War II pilot flying his own plane. I paused. Asked if he had passed his flight physical, then informed the lads that he could fly as long as he did not fly over the crowd. That is why one plane was slightly out of formation.
You know, I think I am probably still the only Capitol employee that ever had to get gun permits from the City of St. Paul for a tank, muskets and machine guns. Or who, had Civil War cannon placed in the Rotunda. We never scratched that beautiful historic floor even a bit!
Yes, there definitely are lucky ducks, I own one and am one.
Moral of story: The view is definitely best after the hardest climb.
My cancer battle against multiple myeloma was a very long and painful one. It began in earnest during the Christmas holiday’s in 2012 when I first broke my spine taking the turkey out of the refrigerator. Over the next four years, I would have many new unpleasant experiences. Such as being in a body cast for 18 months, confined to a hospital bed in my living room for years, months of chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, baldness, drug withdrawal and other physical, emotional and mental challenges.
Having cancer is just plain tough. I have now done it twice. Thyroid and multiple myeloma. No matter what your age, a cancer diagnoses is terrifying.
Cancer patients suffer. They become quick friends with much of the worst that life has to offer. Their new companions include the fear of death and dying; pain; nausea; anxiety; depression; isolation; loneliness; and job and financial loss.
Cancer patients lose. They lose body parts, hair, appetite, mobility and independence. While most of those things can often be compensated for or regained, there are permanent losses. Relationships change. Friends and relatives drift away, because they are either too busy to be bothered, your situation is bringing them down or they just cannot stand to watch the suffering. Some of those relationships will never be made whole again.
In addition to physical, mental, emotional and financial loss, cancer patients often miss out on everyday things that most people take for granted. Like being there for the special children in your life as they grow up. Then, too, due to circumstances beyond control special events cannot always be attended. When I was in chemo and still in a body cast due to my broken spine, I missed my only daughter’s wedding.
Cancer patients surmount. This morning when my latest round of cancer tests indicated that I am still cancer-free, I told my husband that it is time for me to experience the things that for so many years were beyond reach and only dreams.
Stairs to the Senate Chamber at Minnesota State Capitol
When I was hospitalized for weeks for physical rehab to relearn standing, walking and stair climbing. I vowed to myself that not only was I going to conquer those five steps in the rehab room, but that someday I would, again, climb the steps to the Senate Chamber at our state Capitol. After four years, God willing, next Friday, March 17, after my oncology appointment and infusion at Regions, I am going to return to the Capitol. I am going to visit friends, deliver some cookies and check out all of the changes. And, I am, again, going to climb all of those beautiful marble steps.
Later this spring, I will need to complete a short test run of a trip. So, my husband plans to take me to see where my daughter was married two years ago. Then, I am going to return to the land of Lincoln to visit my daughter and her husband and finally see their apartment.
Our last trip to Illinois before my cancer struck.
If my back can survive a car trip to Illinois, then, later this summer I am going to Montana. I am going to visit my dear Aunt Margaret in Great Falls, Montana, who spent so many hours in prayer on my behalf. When I was totally bed bound, with not much light at the end of my tunnel, Aunt Margie called me every week, for months on end, to lead me in bible study. I need to give her a hug.
Great Falls, Montana
Then, I am going Glacier Park. I am, again, going to stand outside of the cafe at Swift Current, look up at those God made granite cathedrals and hear the Lord whisper in the winds that race around those cliffs.
Glacier Park, Swift Current Lake.
After, I get my fill of the view, I am going to take on a few trails with just as much determination as I did my cancer while trying my best to avoid a bear.
Although, after all I have been through, the bears would be wise to watch out for me.
I just returned from a walk with the dogs, Doug and my appointment at the University of Minnesota Bone Marrow Transplant Unit to get the results of my latest round of bone biopsies and cancer seeking lab tests.
It will be four years this November when my spine first broke lifting a holiday turkey out of my fridge. Today, I am totally cancer free! They cannot find Multiple Myeloma or cancer, anywhere and they were looking!
Six months ago I still had a couple of iffy test results, but all of those items are now gone. I do not have to have anymore routine bone marrow biopsies. I do not go back to the University of Minnesota unless my regular oncologist finds something and as my oncologist at the university said this morning, “Patricia, this is as good as it gets…go enjoy your life.”
It was very nice of God, him, his staff, Dr. McCormick and the Regions Cancer Center staff to give me back a life. As the nurses, one on each side of me, were giving me six vaccinations, one of the nurses, that has been there a long time said, “Pat, if I met you on the street I would never guess how much you have been through.” I cannot think of a higher compliment.
Thank you everyone for your prayers. God has very, very greatly blessed me and believe me, I count those blessings every day. I am humbled by his grace and love.
Now, I am going to go lay down to prevent autism from all of those vaccinations. Soon, I will again be immune to chicken pox, measles and mumps and be able to go to church and events where potentially un-vaccinated children may be present. I will hug them all!