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Knitting and knattering

I made it to the Knit and Knatter group today.

12 women knitting, one man crocheting and me looking for inspiration.

One woman called herself a born-again knitter – there were a few of us rekindling dormant skills.

But it was the man who inspired me. He has been crocheting for 30 years and was making a replacement for the astonishingly complex jumper he was wearing. I have never seen crochet like his before.

I crocheted blankets for both of our children when they were babies. But my favourite creations were my wooly hats.

And look what I found online – a man crocheting hats. What a great idea.

I sense a project coming together.

Hats are achievable, portable, colourful – and I now know a man who can help me if I get stuck.

I can’t wait to have a go!

Helping those who hurt

If those of us who are suffering loss in some form find it difficult to make sense of our own emotions, how much harder is it for those who try to help?

We have all been there – hurting for our loved ones, desperate to help, frightened of saying the wrong thing and yet not knowing what the right thing might be.

The simplest guidance I can give from my own experience and from listening to others is:

Talk less and listen more.

We worry about saying the RIGHT thing – and yet until you have listened very carefully and taken time to understand what has happened, how the person feels about it, and how much they want to tell you, whatever you say is unlikely to be helpful.

Grief is a long journey through a tangled maze of emotions. So don’t expect too much from yourself or from the person who is grieving. The journey can take a long time.

Ball of Grief - a tangled ball filled with emotions that a person in grief experiences

This diagram comes from a book by Norman Wright, a certified trauma specialist and counsellor . He has written over 70 books covering topics like bereavement, crisis management, divorce and relationships. He offers compassionate and practical ways to give comfort and support.

When my friend’s mother in law died she and her husband found themselves struggling with their relationship with their newly bereaved father.  This book gave them the understanding they needed and helped them to help him. It contains chapters about ‘How to be a miserable helper’, ‘If you want to help, listen’, ‘Understanding a friend in crisis’, ‘Helping a friend in crisis’. And, if you prefer to write a note (which is always a good idea), it gives sample letters of what to say and how to say it.

For an interesting read today, click here to read an article on What not to say to someone with cancer, reproduced on the Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer blog.

Go ahead, make my day!

And, as a little aside, the internet is full of wails from women who are losing their hair from chemotherapy. They wail almost as much about the endless comments on their appearance, as about losing their hair. So, although the most obvious thing to comment on is how we look (and it is very, very difficult not to comment) have a go at trying very, very hard not to say anything. 🙂

Breast cancer – who me?

I didn’t think I struggled with denial – but I was wrong.

The truth is I am still not sure I have come to terms with having breast cancer. Writing about the stages of grief has helped me recognise some of my own struggles.

The astute among you might have recognised my reluctance to put breast cancer anywhere in the headings of this blog.

I didn’t want to become a woman who has breast cancer.

I didn’t want you all to look at me and see breast cancer instead of seeing ME.

I didn’t want to cause my family any anxiety.

I didn’t want to put a black mark on our family history for my daughter and my grand-daughters.

I didn’t want my life to change.

And so the easiest thing to do was to hide from the layers of loss.

But one by one the layers peel away and a new reality settles.

And I can bear the truth.

There is another truth; I didn’t think I struggled with anger – but I was wrong.

Last week a friend sent me her newsletter full of information about all of her activities and achievements. My mind wandered to explore what a tragedy it would be if she was diagnosed with breast cancer . . . and then it hit me.

TRAGEDY! . . . of course!

And the layers of loss washed over me all together –  that breast cancer has entered my world. My family is anxious for me, and my life has changed.

Anger rumbled inside me.

Today, 9 months since starting the blog, with 150 posts already published, I changed the heading of the blog and added breast cancer right at the top.

Making an obstacle an opportunity – Abigail’s breast cancer blog.

Breast cancer is the underlying driver for the blog. It is an obstacle in my path. Making it an opportunity is my challenge.

I have watched the words in the tag box in the margin grow and change over the months. They reflect what I am blogging about. I kept hoping that the words breast cancer would get smaller and smaller – but instead they grew bigger week by week.

And yet the encouraging thing is that other words like prayer, knowing God, happiness, soul-training and transformation grow to match them – and that is what keeps me going.

10 days of prayer and repentance. Would you dare to even start?

Straight away you might tell yourself this is not for you. Like me looking at a masterpiece of hand knitting, your mind will tell you ‘You cannot do that” and “You would never finish it

. . until now?

Meet Kelly Needham – a young christian woman who finds herself at home alone for 10 days. She has a choice of being resentful or of accepting this as a chance to do something special.

10 days of prayer and repentance – turning an obstacle into an opportunity.

She set herself the challenge to use the time to reflect on Psalm 139.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139: 23-24

As I cross the bridge toward my life beyond breast cancer I join Kelly on her journey.

Meditating on these two short verses will be part of a good ending for me.

How about joining us and praying for Kelly?

That’s right – keep me scared.

Use aggressive language that makes my heart stop. Remind me that I am in trouble. Dig up the fear that I have faced over the past year since I was told I had the killer – breast cancer.

Provoke the anger that some of those who grieve struggle to manage.

After all we are meant to LIVE, not die. And more life is always better.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. As I waited for the result of my biopsy last year I saw PINK everywhere I looked – and I hated it. It seemed so frivolous to have tee shirts and bags decked with comments about breast cancer when I was confronting the reality of what it might mean for me. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was wear anything that was PINK.

In this morning’s Telegraph the leader article in the HEALTH section shouts:

Breast Cancer: How to fight off a killer.

Cherrill Hicks reviews the research to give a list of evidence based advice on what you can do to reduce your risk of breast cancer. You can read her article here – she tells you to:

  • Stop smoking
  • Limit your use of the Pill
  • Weigh up the risks and benefits of HRT
  • Breastfeed
  • Have babies early (before age 35)
  • Cut down on alcohol
  • Take regular exercise
  • Keep to a healthy weight
  • Eat less fat
  • Be ‘breast aware’

Her final point is . . . And don’t worry about  . . . coffee, stress, food additives, pesticides, antiperspirants, underwired bras, abortion, or trauma to your breast. There is no evidence that any of these increase the risk.

Well, Cherrill, your reassurance means nothing to me. I merit a gold star in all your categories. Clearly I am very low risk for breast cancer.

In my own lifetime I have seen ‘no evidence’ turn to ‘clear evidence’ about the links between smoking and lung cancer, the HPV virus and cancer of the cervix to mention just two areas of research.

No evidence means simply that – no evidence.

Buried in her first paragraph is the most important comment of her whole article: “A woman’s individual risk is largely down to factors beyond her control, such as genes, family history and, to some extent, chance”.

Last week I overheard someone speak of the trauma of ill-health in their 40’s, commenting “It’s not fair”. And I remember my struggles with ‘How long have I got‘. There is some research that shows EVERYONE agrees that 500 years is too long to live.

One of the most useful pieces of advice I found on my own journey through breast cancer was that first of all you need to give up any thought of having a right to a certain length of life.

How simple, pragmatic and helpful.

Killers are everywhere – and I am more aware of the risks to my body when I am driving on the M40 than when I am drinking a cup of coffee.

But there is one enormous benefit of having confronted a killer disease with my body. I accept the evidence that I have 100% certainty that I will die one day. This clarity brings with it an awareness that the highest stakes I face are in the battle for my soul. There are questions I must ask and issues I must address  . .

. . . because none of us knows how long we have got.

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Knit and knatter . .

Is there anything that you really enjoy doing but never seem to find time to do it?

I find myself wandering through the knitting wool section of John Lewis again – always looking and never buying.

And there on the table is a masterpiece in production – still on bamboo needles. I pick it up, scanning the colours, enjoying the softness of the yarn, inspecting every detail. How are the ends joined . . how are the colours carried through . . what is the tension like?

This is a long-sleeved Fair Isle jumper dress in the softest of 4 ply.

You could never do that” says the voice in my head. “You would never finish it.”

“Maybe I will finish it by Christmas.” Her gentle voice lets me know that I am holding her work. She not only knows she can do it, but she believes she can finish it.

She is petite, beautifully dressed in another hand knit garment and wearing her official Rowan badge.

We have the most delightful conversation. Me speaking about what I used to be able to do and my doubts and fears about starting again. She speaking about opportunities and possibilities.

My sisters and I wore Fair Isle berets, gloves and jumpers when we were young, knitted by my grandmother. She won championship prizes for her work.

My hands caress the soft masterpiece they are holding and my grandmother’s genes stir inside me. I hear the accusing voice changing to “Yes you can!

“Maybe you would like to come along to the monthly group I have started – we meet next Thursday”

‘Knit and Knatter ‘– now that sounds like a great idea.

Life can take its toll on us.

My bible reading plan is taking me through Mark – and last week I met again the woman who touched the edge of Jesus’ cloak.

What Jesus said to her moves me deeply.

She had a tough life. She was suffering physically and emotionally. Despite spending all of her money on trying to find a cure for her twelve years of pain, she was getting worse rather than better.

She heard about this man, Jesus. She knew he cared about others who suffered: he noticed them and he touched them.

And his touch could heal.

He was radical and powerful.

She was resourceful and believing.

She pushed through the crowd and stretched out her hand to touch the man she believed could heal her. With every grain of her being she engaged in changing her future.

Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

Jesus said to her . .

“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Click here to read some more about the Afghan woman in the picture above. Life has taken a heavy toll on her.

We can engage in changing. And we can pray for healing, peace, and freedom from suffering for ourselves and for others.

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