As those of you who read this blog know, I am not a religious person. I am not Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, or really anything. The closest thing to organized religion that I’ve experienced is the small Presbyterian church that my grandmother and uncle attend in Houston. However, since I have been out on my own for the past fifteen years, it has been a rare occasion that I have stepped foot into a religious building, unless it has been for tourism purposes.
Last week, Jon had the week off for Chile’s Dieciocho festivities, so we traveled to Salta, Argentina in the northwest corner of the country to explore and see some beautiful landscapes. I was in awe of the twenty-foot cacti and beautiful canyons and red rocks carved by wind and rain into interesting shapes. What we didn’t realize, however, is that on September 15, Salta has a huge religious holiday called Fiesta del Milagro in which people celebrate the Virgin of the Miracle. We arrived just in time for the pre-holiday activities. Of course, we were unaware of what a big deal this day was until we arrived in the main plaza and found hundreds of people lining up outside the impressive pink cathedral to hear the service and, later, confess with the priests. Thousands of pilgrims came from near and far on foot, bikes, buses, etc. and paraded around the streets of Salta with offerings for the Virgin. Basically, there was a mass going on for three straight days with huge loudspeakers so everyone in the plaza could hear. There was lots of chanting and praying. I was completely fascinated because it looked to me that God had not made any of the pilgrims’ lives easy. They looked like they had hard lives and did not seem to have been personally blessed by God. The more I watched people arrive to join the festivities the more I was fascinated. But I guess that’s the true meaning of faith- one’s belief that things will get better, whether it be on earth, or in heaven, or in some stage of reincarnation. It is a comfort to believe in miracles, even when rationally, we know that most people will never have a true miracle happen to them.
Yesterday, Santiago held its annual Avon Corrida Contra el Cancer de Mama. Around sixty or so members of the Nido community came out in support, which was completely amazing. We all wore pink “Team Eli” T-shirts that Jon designed prior to the event, reminiscent of the ones my friends in the states made and wore a few years ago. It was a great event and, because no one in Chile really makes team Tshirts, (and probably because we were mostly gringos) I was even interviewed by three different Chilean news stations about my reasons for participating. Luckily I know all my Spanish breast cancer words after three years of medical tests and trips to Clinica Alemana. Afterwards my friend Bonnie graciously offered to have all the participants come up to the rooftop of her apartment for drinks, cupcakes, and bagels. It was a great day. Having all those supporters who came to the race and those who couldn’t make it, really made me realize the positive effects of community. And I know there are many more out there that are thinking good thoughts and praying for my health on a regular basis.
As you may or may not know, this upcoming week is a big week for me. Monday morning at 8 AM I finally have an MRI to find out how well the whole brain radiation treatment worked to rid my brain of the many lesions that worked their way into my cerebellum and caused me such pain and swelling. We find out the results on the afternoon of October 1st. My doctor has indicated that he thinks these exams will turn out well; he even went so far as to remark, “Do you really need an MRI to prove you are doing better?” “Well, I do feel better, I haven’t really had any headaches, and my energy level is returning- but YES I do need the proof!!” When we heard this a few weeks ago, Jon said he let out one of the many breaths he’s been holding since I was re-diagnosed in June. I relaxed a little as well, but mainly because I really do feel better, which has in turn, made me feel a little like my old self again. Dr. Majlis also said I could visit my family, and make plans for Christmas, which was helpful, because I am a planner, and I hate not having future goals to work towards or events to look forward to.
I try not to think about what this upcoming week means for me and my future. I can’t even begin to imagine what Jon has been thinking about since his plans have basically been shot to hell also. I’ve kind of just gone numb emotionally because I know that whatever the result, I’ll just have to deal with it. And that is where faith comes in. I have faith that no matter what happens and what the doctors say the next steps are, I will have the strength to face it. For the last three months, cancer is the first thing that comes to my mind when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I think about when I go to bed at night. During the day I try not to think about my disease, but my baldness is a constant reminder of it. I’ll be standing in the shower, or putting on my makeup in the mirror, and cancer will completely invade my thoughts again. I would like to have some more time to not always obsess over cancer, because I can’t let it be more powerful than all the wonderful things in my life.
Since I don’t have a lot of personal experience with faith, myself, it is you all, the “Team Eli” members around the globe, who have given me my strength and optimism. I am so thankful for all the people who take the time out to order origami earrings from Barcelona, or simply email me, or send me prayers. I truly believe that all of your positive thoughts and good wishes helped me to recover as much as I have. So please give it all you got this week, and I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks, again, for all your support.