Journal filled with blessings

Louise, who prefers her last name not be mentioned, was born in Iowa but has lived in Northern California since 1954. Growing up, she started reading Aesops Fables and Tarzan, her hero, at age 4.

About 40 years ago, she says, she stopped looking at things in a negative way. Instead, she became aware of the world around her and took note of the blessings in her life. “I never run out of things to be grateful for,” she said.

About a year and a half ago, Louise was diagnosed with melanoma. She started going to the “Telling Our Stories” writing group and putting down whatever was going on in her head. “Being me has helped me through it,” she said. “I’m a survivor.”

What she’s not, she says, is a writer—though anyone who reads her journal will surely disagree.

The family disease?

[When I was] almost twenty years older than my mother was when she died of bladder cancer, my glance showed that a pet birthmark—an elegant, tan-to-brown cloverleaf shape on my calf—was changing. “Melanoma!”

How did I know?

My doctor agreed, as did the dermatologist, biopsy, and plastic surgeon who removed it. During most of this, I remained calm. Things happen. I spotted it early. I was beating the odds: a longer life, a much quicker diagnosis. Far more vital, I’ve learned many techniques to change my once-dysfunctional thought patterns, emotional responses, behaviors and self.

But one morning the week before surgery, panic hit. “I’ll die, too … But wait … Not now! Not here!” I snatched my favorite dishwashing solitaire, those haphazard blessings I’ve discovered how to find. A spoon—I eat in a hungry world; a cup of clean water—many thousands are thirsty; this big pot—I’ve seen pictures of refugees clutching one tiny, filthy bowl. What might ever end their hunger? On, on, on, I count my “have to wash the dishes now” blessings like a rosary: cozy bed piled with blankets; a roof leaking in only one wee spot during autumn’s first bad storm, then dry until springtime blooms; brick walls and locking doors—how many people even here in town pray for catch-as-catch-can, safe naps throughout any night’s near-freeze?

The alarm clock’s tick nibbles away eternity. “I will not die. Not yet. Not for a long time. I’ve far better things to do, needs to fill, hurts to ease, sorrows to lighten, laughter to bring—and I’ve learned how and have the willingness to do it!”

Some day I will die. We all do, from wearing out if nothing else. I may meet death with gratitude then. But I intend it to be no time soon. I’m not done being useful.

I doubt that my mother allowed herself a single contented hour in a lifetime, but I continue working hard to become the opposite of all I grew up to be, and to make increasingly healthy choices.

“If this finishes me,” I promised myself on that no-longer jittery morning, “it will be all right. Even if it doesn’t turn out my way, it will be all right …”

Melanoma is indiscriminate, invasive, insidious, but eighteen months of checkups show no recurrence yet.

And I’m all right with that, too.