I’ve been re-tracing my tree trunk scars. Those scars that someone else outside of you etched into tree trunks that you see at public parks, etching in the memories, the names into the tree’s core.
I am that tree trunk, and instead of lovers’ names and initials carved into me, it is Love’s names that have been carved into my soul: perseverance, character, hope.
I’ve been walking down those trails called Remembrance, re-looking at the tree trunks and touching the scars, the etchings, and I’ve been taking friends with me. In fact, they were the ones who brought me back to these paths, who longed to go down the trails again with me.
The trail begins here.
A few weeks ago, the psycho-social team at Nationwide Children’s Hospital hosted a day-retreat for teen girls and young adult women cancer patients and survivors filled with yoga, interactive cooking, art therapy, make-up and conversation. It was definitely a blast!, and I am so grateful to have a staff at NCH that hosts events like these for the adolescent/young adult (AYA) cancer population.
Here, at the day retreat, even though I am the oldest survivor at 24 years old, my scoreboard next to the other teen survivors is the same. This girl here at 16 has relapsed 3 times in her life. This other teenager, 4 relapses. I want to immediately get up and run, or throw something or cry or do all of the above. I can’t just lay here on this yoga mat after hearing just brief synopses of their cancer stories because all of us, as we all are sitting here on our yoga mats, resting, listening to each other, know that there is so much more, so much more behind the scenes that could be said. What could be said: how is it that I am 24 with 3 relapses, and you at 16 with 3 relapses as well? What is happening to us? Why is this happening to you? The age difference is re-tracing and creating deeper scars into my tree-trunk soul. I can handle these relapses at my age, but you? How? Why? Oh, it is so hard to not just sit there and compare and ache and trace, ache and trace.
Even though there is immense sorrow in my heart, I still make a new friend. There is still joy in this 16 year old girl’s life. She is funny, sassy at times, creative, talkative. And its incredible to think: I would not be here right now, meeting you and talking to you, if it weren’t for our cancers. It is truly incredible to think just how much cancer does connect you with people-who-were-strangers-but-now-aren’t because of your own body, of something you couldn’t ever control. These are the brief moments that cancer-connection can give you joy.
Later in the day, Karen from the NCH staff asks if I would still be willing to share and read for her one of my written pieces. Ugh, how I almost forgot and hoped she would have forgotten too, ha! And oh, how it has been so long that I have even read this piece to myself that she’s chosen. I wrote this when I was only 15. 15!? Oh, the same age as some of these girls around the room now. And I’m stumbling on my own words as I read this aloud, words from a distant-familiar, and realizing how similar and yet different I now sound in writing. It’s even shocking to read and re-live those moments indeed.
After I’m finished reading, my new friend comes and hugs me. This is what I have always wanted and prayed for: to be able to help other teen cancer patients and survivors, prayer journals filled since 16, asking God how can I do this and when but mostly how? I am slowly beginning to see those answers, the buds on the trees of my scarred-soul.
I’ve retraced scars with another friend recently as well, leading me back down the nature trails and paths that have these scarred trees of mine alongside, aligning them. She asks deep questions that guide the pocket knife in my hand to the tree-trunk carving and places pressure.
“Do you ever blame being born?”
Both of us are reeling, young adults trying to deal with chronic diseases and ailments. I am listening to her thoughts, resonating with all of hers. Who cares if we die young?
Oh yes, I can feel the hopelessness in her voice, in our collective voice. Yes, even though I believe in God and trust him and follow him, it is not like I don’t have those moments and thoughts of fear, concern, worry, angst. I can get so easily trapped within my own self and indeed have been as my recent pain comes in shock waves, present one day and seemingly silent the next.
And even though I don’t always feel it unlike the pain so real, I know there is hope living underneath my tree-trunk soul. This is where the sap of Life is, where the Hope is surging and moving from underneath these scars. Its this hope that transforms into life, hope-giving sap moving and flowing, providing life to outward displays of life in its hope-buds. They are coming, don’t you see? They are there, maybe small at times. Follow the trunk-scars’ trail as its ends in budding Hope life that is even more beautiful against ingrained lines.
2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.