In a Snapshot

Monday was a surreal day for me last week. The reason I say that is because the day was completely normal, but not. It could be regarded by me as nothing unexpected really. These are not “shocking times” but rather expected times for me and therefore the norm. All that being said I’d be a liar if I said that my emotions weren’t simmering just beneath the surface that day, undetectable except by those that really know me. Enter stage left my new friend Jenny. Jenny is a photographer here in Wichita. She had been contacted by CURE Magazine and then hired to take photos of me for one the upcoming issues. I was interviewed last month by CURE for my thoughts on increasing immunotherapy trial availability as a rare cancer survivor. (Oh the irony of it all!) Anyway, weeks ago we had set up this very “surreal, completely normal” Monday for a photo shoot. Since it was going to be evening time and after my dinner there was no sense in rescheduling it. I mean what does one say? Me: “I have a spot. It may be nothing. I am in a full panic, so not now.” How ridiculous does that sound?  Answer: “Seriously? You have stage 4 cancer. This surprises who? You?” I am practically laughing at this imaginary exchange. No, I was going. I was painting on a happy face and going. Why? For two reasons: 1. These scan results change nothing. 2. I am happy. These scan results have nothing to do with that fact. Frankly, Jenny never needed to know any of that to take my picture. Heck, people pretend to be happy all the time for pictures. Since my happiness in not dependent, even a little bit, on cancer activity or inactivity within the biome that is my body then this does not really present a problem. Plus, if I really am trying to keep drama to a minimum then I must simply go about my business. Cancelling photo shoots, vacations or anything in my life does not change whether the new finding is cancer or not, so why suffer? Enjoy life. Go to dinner with friends. Do the photo shoot. Simple.

So I headed over to the Wichita State University campus which was our agreed upon location. I was especially glad she selected that location because of my family ties to the Shockers. I was meeting her at the caterpillar sculpture at the Fairmont entrance (I love that one!). I pulled up a few minutes early taking the extra time to craft a Facebook status for all my supporters. I had written and re-written many things in the little down-time I had that day. I finally just decided that “it is what it is” and just wrote what I knew, which is not much, to be true. The campus was practically free of any activity as this was a Monday and I’m not sure that summer sessions had even started yet. I was the lone vehicle in the entrance parking for about 5 minutes when a saw a car come in and pull around to park several spots in front of me. I watched, not certain if it was my photographer, as a young woman exited the vehicle and then reached into the back seat for a well worn leather bag which she slung on her shoulder as she headed toward the giant caterpillar. She stopped just under the trees and then looked my way. I waved at her, took a deep calming breath and got out of the car. 

She was tall and slender with a smile that put me right at ease. She said she liked to get to know her clients before she takes pictures of them. She asked me about the article and why I had agreed to the interview. Then we talked about my family and then finally my cancer. I told her I was delighted she chose the WSU campus setting and about my ties to the university. (My uncle, Warren Armstrong was a past university president) Me and my family spent a lot of time on campus at my aunt and uncle’s home. They were the first ones in my family to meet my wonderful husband before we married. I have memories of engagement parties, birthdays and my children’s baptism celebrations. The campus is a happy place for me. She suggested we start right in front of the caterpillar. The sculpture itself is surrounded by trees and was shady and comfortable in the heat of the setting sun. She told me the light was perfect and I told her I loved the symbolism of it all and how the butterfly had been my adopted symbol. I told her about my blog, my book and the cover had a butterfly on it. We started with my posing but as she coached me on how to angle my body and chin etc things became more natural. When I burst out laughing after seeing the look on her face when I requested airbrushing she captured that. I thought here I am laughing on a day such as this. As we wandered over to the giant mosaic mural for some pics in front of it and the flowers I showed her my survivors bracelet. It’s the one I had gotten from my souliest of souls sisters, Tammie. She passed away from our shared disease in November. “As a matter of fact” with realization  “Today would have been her 58th birthday.” I tear up and Jenny backs away from me pulling her camera to her eye. She asked me to hold the wrist with the bracelet over my heart and takes some shots. A few tears came and then left. She sensed my melancholy and suggested we take a few shots over by the columns of one the buildings. It felt good to be back in the shade. I internally pulled myself together and she took several more pictures. 

As we prepared to end our time together she was telling me how she thought my story of survival was amazing and how she was sorry I had lost my friend. I stared past her, over her shoulder and said that nothing but a breath separated me from Tammie and that we all just have to just find our purpose, keep that in mind with everything we do and be about the business of living. I looked back at her and said there was not a moment to waste for any of us and from someplace inside me a small voice said “Tell her, it’s what you need to do.” I looked back to her soft brown eyes that were so full of compassion and told her about my CT results. We talked for a long while after that about life, love and “blessing verses grace” (I believe in grace!) and that there is no such thing as a “chance meeting”. We were meant to encounter others at just the right time and given opportunity to help each other on this crazy planet. I told her that, for me, the key has been remaining in this moment. If we are always thinking about the past we lose out on the joy of now. If we all we do is worry about the future we will again miss out on what is before us n this very second. We were both going to drive off this university campus to make our way home. Anything could happen once we got out into traffic but worrying about that would intrude on this very moment. We agreed our meeting was serendipity, no doubt. I told her what a gift her photography was. Taking snippets of time and capturing people’s hearts in photos. We then hugged, said goodbye, got in our cars and drove off (out into traffic). I don’t even know if I will ever see her again. I suppose I will if it is meant to be. 

A few days later, I got an e-mail from Jenny with the link to the pictures she took of me. As I scrolled through them I saw how well she captured emotions I thought I had tucked neatly beneath the surface. I might have been trying to tuck them inside, but wth her gift she had captured what was simmering beneath the surface. My joy, my happiness, my sorrow, my determination, my hope all in that moment of time. In a snapshot.

Thomas threw a punch at your cancer.
Thomas sent you a prayer.
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I cannot put into words how this beautiful writing of your emotions and circumstances affected me. A reminder that we all are guaranteed nothing in this life, and we make our own happiness. Bless you Michele, praying hard that the "spot" is merely an artifact. Those are very common as we know, and yet we are freshly frightened each time something is seen. I wish you peace of mind - always and forever!
Lisa, Michele like this comment
Michele, this is simply beautiful. I felt as is if I right there watching and feeling this unfold. What a touching story, your writing is truly a gift from above. I did not realize you had written a book, I will check it out as I am eager to read more of your writings.

You are the strongest and bravest woman I know. You could have easily called off the photo shoot, yet you chose to carry on; giving inspiration and hope to the rest of us who seek that positive reinforcement often.

I look forward to the Cure magazine article and to see the lovely photos that captured your emotions, she sounds like a great photographer.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing. I'm apprehensive about my trip to MDA on Wednesday, more so this time than the others. I'm prepared to accept that the scans will not be as promising as last time, since we had to cut the Carbo for my last 2 visits, due to low platelets. I'm very apprehensive about the embolizaton of the splenic artery. I have come to terms with the fact that if I am to continue treatment, I have to have the procedure, I know I have a right to decline it, that would be against all that I have been fighting for the past 6 months. Your story reinforced that I need to cross that bridge when I get there, not to waste my time on "what if"

I don't believe in coincidences, I know it's Gods work and he has brought us all together for a reason, for that I am forever grateful.

As always, you remain in my thoughts and prayers. God bless you!
Michele likes this comment
I am so glad my words uplift you! I always think it's odd that my writing frees me yet sustain others. It's a win win that way I suppose.
You have in will remain steady in my thoughts and prayers sweet Ann.
Once again, beautiful!
Michele likes this comment
You certainly know how to capture the essence of your soul through your writing... simply beautiful!
Michele likes this comment
I enjoy your narratives. Thank you for sharing. You have a wisdom and an uncommon consciousness born of an examined life. Of course, you are a writer among many other hats that you juggle. But I appreciate hearing your voice and your inner dialogue. Thank you for putting it all out there. And hugs and strength moment to moment.
Michele likes this comment
You are so wise. I know it takes so much to rise above our circumstances, yet it is there where we really see what is happening and the joy of being alive and the gift that every day gives us.. There is a time to cry and that's needed also, but it's the rising above that moves us to our next destination and where we need to be.. I love you Michele. I am so thankful to God he put you in my life.. Thank you for giving so much of yourself, you inspire me... hugs and love and always prayers Sabina
Michele likes this comment
You write so beautifully, Michele. I look forward to seeing the article!
Michele, Deadmanwalking like this comment
We love you Michele! I love you for all that you do for our cause! (And because you are gorgeous!)
Michele likes this comment
You captured it Michele!! So very beautiful and summed up all the emotions! I feel so calmed by your words. . I can't tell you how much your news devistated me. Praying that it was nothing. You are so strong.
Michele likes this comment
Michelle, you greatly touched another life - Jenny. And you were among angels at WSU. The love surrounding you is made so palpable through the words you type. My prayers are with you for a benign spot.
Michele likes this comment
Michelle, what a story, what a writer! I loved reading this. Live in the Now. Yes. That's all we have. I would love to see the photos even before the article comes out and please alert us when it does.
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Vital Info


October 3, 2011

Click Here

January 31, 1963

Cancer Info

Anal Cancer

Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the anus

February 5, 2010

Stage 4

2.1 - 3.0 cm

Grade 3


As much as possible

Proceeds from my published blog donated monthly

It is a thief

You have to live every day of your life and stay positive :)

Donate $$ to the anal cancer foundation. Raising awareness saves lives!

Is there anything good about poison?

Bone, lung recurrence 9/20/2012

Cancer Center of Kansas, MD Anderson

Bland diet, sitz baths, take your drugs...nobody gets extra credit for suffering.

Talk, talk, talk to somebody. I chose to write.

April 20, 2010

September 20, 2010

Rectal bleeding, itching, sciatic pain. (thought my hemorhoid was acting up)

My blog has been published and proceeds go to The HPV and Anal Cancer Foundation.


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