Thursday, July 13, 2017

Facing into the dark

This post was originally published on my other blog, www.sharonnemethmurch.com, where I have moved entries about things not directly for Michaela. But I think this is an important subject, and tied so deeply in with my loss of my daughter, that I wanted to cross post it here as well.

In nine days I will have finished chemotherapy. It has not been nearly what I'd feared it would be. The side effects were subtle. The nausea was fairly easily controlled with medication. I got one mouth sore, and my fingertips cracked and peeled. I have a tiny bit of nerve damage in three fingertips on one hand. I had a lot of weariness, and a huge amount of paranoia, but I was okay. Soon I will get a vacation, and then radiation for five weeks, and then reconstruction.

I know a number of people with cancer, however, and for many of them, treatment for the disease has itself been a trip through hell. I know people who have been on the same drugs I have been on who were unable to continue them because the side effects were so severe: muscle aches, fevers, inability to even get out of bed, bleeding. A friend's nephew experienced severe mouth sores and numerous apparent brain bleeds (small strokes they think) that had him living in another world, and had those who loved him thinking he might be preparing to leave this one. I have known of people whose bones were so brittle from the treatments that sitting on them caused them to fracture. From the treatment, and from the cancer itself, there has been unremitting pain.

You call me brave? You call me a warrior? I have not been in those trenches. If I am in the war against cancer, I am one of the people sitting in the air conditioned office. I am not on those front lines.

Beyond that, however, is the deepest darkness of cancer, and that is death. This is something I have not even really considered for myself. I know I am not going to die at this time, at least not from cancer. I know that at this moment I am cancer free and I am undergoing aggressive treatment in order to try to prevent its return. I know it can return. There is a 20 to 40 percent chance of that, and if it does, it returns as metastatic breast cancer, Stage 4, considered incurable. Treatable, but incurable. I'm not sure exactly what that means, to tell you the truth. But I have a friend who had Stage 3A breast cancer, went through treatment and was in remission. Her doctors told her she would not die of breast cancer, that she would likely die of something else. But then the cancer returned, metastasized to her liver this time. She was fighting it, was receiving treatment with Taxol, the drug I am currently on. We had many conversations about breast cancer, but then I didn't hear from her for awhile. People always seem to want to encourage me. Nobody ever wants to tell me that they are not doing well. I just read yesterday from her sister that she had been admitted to the hospital. Her sister asked for prayers for my friend's adult children, for her husband, for her siblings. But she did not ask for prayers for my friend, which told me that she had probably gone to the hospital to die.

Another woman I know, a delightful human being, who hired me for my first job back in the work force after having been a stay at home mom for a number of years, recently lost her battle against cancer as well. She'd fought a particularly aggressive form of thyroid cancer for a couple of years, and had well outlived her original prognosis. She encouraged me in my own battle, gave me helpful hints for dealing with some side effects of treatment. She was always positive, and when asked never really said she was not doing well. Recently she'd been diagnosed with breast cancer as well and underwent a lumpectomy. That doesn't sound like someone who was facing a terminal diagnosis for another condition, does it? Then I heard she had gone to the hospital, and then released to home. Her mother came, her sister was there, and they stayed with her all day and all night. Perhaps it could be assumed, but nobody said she was dying, and I didn't believe it, until the message came that she was gone.

It is so difficult to grasp how people can be so alive one day, and gone so soon after. It is so difficult for the body to be here without the animating spirit, never to speak again, never to hold the ones they love again.

It also brings home to me the fact that this disease I am fighting is not a trivial matter. It is deadly. I remember feeling so blasé about it all when I was asked to return for a second mammogram and ultrasound. Oh, it's nothing, I thought. I remember walking from my car into the clinic, through the shaded tunnel, along the sidewalk with the squiggly path paved into it, and thinking, "Oh, wait, this might be an important moment," and being both shocked by that thought and unable to really internalize it. I think I have carried that with me through this whole thing. Deny it and it will be okay.
I finally picked up a book I'd had on my shelf since before my diagnosis: When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. This is the memoir of a doctor who died of lung cancer. I hadn't been able to read it before, because I was not willing to look into that darkness. Then for some reason I decided it was time. The darkness had touched me, in friends who had been fellow warriors in this battle dying on the field. I began to feel a need to look into that place, to assess whether I would have the courage to face it if that time came.

Kalanithi was a neurologist, who had a fascination with the juxtaposition of the physical and the spiritual. He wanted in particular to understand death. He had obtained a masters degree in English literature from Stanford University. For his thesis he wrote about Walt Whitman's quest to understand "the physiological-spiritual man." He found no answers there, however, and decided to go to medical school. "It would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the questions of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay." To this end, he chose the field of neurology. He witnessed much, but if he came up with "the" answers, I didn't grasp them from this book. He knows now, of course. But he can no longer tell us.

What he did convey was how we might live life in the face of our dying. "Grand illnesses are supposed to be life-clarifying," he wrote. "Instead, I knew I was going to die -- but I'd known that before. My state of knowledge was the same, but my ability to make lunch plans had been shot to hell." What do we do from day to day when we know there are not an inexhaustible number of them left? "Maybe," he concluded, "in the absence of any certainty, we should just assume that we're going to live a long time. Maybe that's the only way forward."

The book also teaches us a lot about the real essence of life and death, and that is love. Those we love, and those who love us. It's the theme I return to over and over again in the face of my own loss of my nine-year old daughter to a kidnapping that remains unsolved almost 29 years later. Once we understand the actual fact of loss, we understand what an act of outrageous courage it is to love. But at the same time we can see the beauty of love in a way we couldn't before. During the course of his illness, Kalanithi and his wife decided to have a child together. The last words he penned here were for his daughter:


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Oh, what an ache in those words. His daughter will not know what she is missing, but here she will find it. But they capture the essence of love, and the essence of loss. I have though many times that I am not afraid to die. I know I cannot say that until I face death myself. But if there is a fear, if there is a reluctance, it is here. His joy is sated? Does not hunger for more? But how can that be? How can your heart not grasp at that joy, at that love, desire an ever-deepening infilling? How can you not be unwilling to stop, to ever let go?

The last part of the book was written by Kalanithi's wife, Lucy, after his death. In many ways, this is my favorite part of the book. She wrote of Kalanithi's purpose in writing this book: "He wanted to help people understand death and face their mortality.... 'That's what I'm aiming for, I think,'" she quotes him as saying, "'Not the sensationalism of dying, and not exhortations to gather rosebuds, but: Here's what lies up ahead on the road.'" Did he fulfill that purpose? Well, yes and no. I don't think any of us can be prepared for this journey until we are on it ourselves. But it helps to know that others have gone through it before us, and have found courage along the way.

His wife spoke of their love. The marriage had been a bit rocky before the diagnosis. They were both medical interns with very stressful schedules. But they pulled together. She wrote, "At home in bed a few weeks before he died, I asked him, 'Can you breathe okay with my head on your chest like this?' His answer was, 'It's the only way I know how to breathe.'"

And she wrote of the impact of living with life and death.

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This is a special gift, honestly. For those of us who are living who have been touched by death, life assumes a different color and texture. We see it through the stained glass prism of having experienced loss and death. If there is a gift, an understanding, that I could pass on to my children, this would be it. I have two daughters who tell me I have to live forever, but regardless of when or where or how, I know I won't. When I do leave, I want them to be strong. I don't want to leave until they have all that they need in life to survive, and having that, I want them to be able to see through the best colors in the stained glass story of our love. It is possible to cave in the face of death and loss. It is possible to turn that prism into something dark, comprised of fear, anger, hurt. But in the natural course of events, that prism actually brings a new beauty to life. You know if a sunset lasted forever, you would not be drawn to it as you are. It is because you know it will be gone quickly that your desire is to soak it in, make it a part of yourself. In that way, its fleeting beauty will become eternal within your heart.
Lucy Kalanithi also spoke of her husband's courage:

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This is where I think I fail. I do not cry. I did not cry when I was diagnosed. My youngest daughter was with me, and her eyes filled with tears, but mine didn't. Somehow I think perhaps I am not fully alive, as Kalanithi was. Many years ago I told my therapist, "I feel dead inside." "Well, how did you feel when you were feeling?" she asked. "Like hell," I replied. "That's what the problem is," she told me. "When we feel bad enough for long enough, we shut down our feelings."

It's self defense. It's helpful. When I had my mastectomy, a number of nerves were severed in the surgery. I still have numbness, and it bothers me just a little bit. Funny enough, places that are numb can itch, but then can't feel the scratch. For the most part, however, I have been really grateful for it. My post operative pain was far less than I'd thought it would be, and I am sure this is why. "Can you please sever the nerves?" will be my standing request whenever facing surgery, and I will only be half joking. I don't like pain. People are always telling me how brave I am, but it's not true. If I was brave, I would be able to embrace the pain. I wouldn't spend my life running from it. Before the day comes when I do die, my desire is to make that journey into the storm of love and grief in the center of my heart, and set it free. I want to do this for myself. I want to do this to fulfill my purposes here on earth. I want to do this for my children. I want to do this to teach my children the most important lessons in life:
How to live.
How to love.
How to let go.
How to die. 

Life is horrendously fearful. Life is gloriously beautiful. It is not to be wasted. It is not to be squandered. It is not to be hidden under a rock. We need to let our spirits do what they want to do, and that is to shine. That way we will have a light when we wander through the dark places, for ourselves, and for others we may help guide. I am not pretending to be there. I am not pretending to have the answers. But what little I have, I will share.

On the inside cover of When Breath Becomes Air, I scribbled a couple of lines. Whether they came from the pages of this book or elsewhere I don't remember. But for my friend, for each and every one of us, on one near or far day, I speak these words:

In peace may you leave the shore.
In love may you find the next.

Blessings to you all, my friends.

p.s. Just as I was publishing this blog, I received news that my friend had passed on. God bless you, Carla. I will miss you.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Another seashell for you, Michaela

Well, Michaela, in ten days I will have finished chemotherapy, 20 long weeks of it. The second round of chemo has not been as bad as the first, and I am already starting to feel more human, and I am doing happy dances inside at the thought of being a regular person again! I still have five weeks of radiation therapy to do, and I will admit that I don't yet know a lot about it, but aside from the fact that I have to show up for it every single day, I think it will be a lot easier.

Then I just have to focus on taking care of myself, because there are still things I need to do here, and there are still people (and even dogs) who need me. Perhaps even you, Michaela. I asked the doctor recently about my prognosis, mostly because Libby was asking. I am actually cancer free right now, although that is technically characterized as being in remission rather than being cured. Because of the aggressive nature of the cancer and its advanced stage, there is a 40 percent chance of it reoccurring. The chemo and radiation cut that chance in half. I can't remember the exact statistics, but the good news is that the odds are in my favor for surviving another five or ten years. I plan to help those statistics along by following a vegan diet (yes, even my doctor said that there is some evidence that a diet free of animal products helps prevent breast cancer), and living a healthy lifestyle. So if you are out there somewhere, I will continue to be here for you.

In other news, Michaela, Libby is getting married next month. I drove to Oregon a few weeks ago to help her pick out a wedding dress. It was so much fun, and I really wanted to post at least a picture of the dress she didn't pick, but she said no, not until the wedding. I did, however, get some other photos of her, including this one, next to the yellow ribbon she keeps tied outside her house, for you. You remember that little girl who used to be so annoying, wanting to follow you around everywhere? She still loves you, Michaela. She still keeps you in her heart, and waits for you to come home.

And a final piece of news, Robbie and his wife are expecting a baby in December. We are so excited to have a new baby in the family, and so excited for Robbie and Alexa to be able to hold their baby in their arms. It's a magical thing, holding your first baby. I was thinking the other day about when Theo was born, about being in the labor and delivery suite, and seeing the baby table there ready to take care of him, and it made real the fact that we were soon going to meet this mysterious little person, who at a year and a half is growing into this exceptional little boy who brings so much joy to our lives! I think about you, my own firstborn. In that moment when you were born, you transformed me, transformed my life. Nothing was ever the same.

And I have to wonder about you again, if you are out there somewhere, and if you have children, and once again, if your children might be the reason that you cannot come home. If that is true, Michaela, believe me I understand. I would not ever in a million years put my need to know what happened to you, not even my need to see you and hold you again, above your need to care for your own children. I just don't want you, or them, to be suffering abuse or to be in danger, and if that is the case, I just hope and pray for a way for you all to break free. I have told you before, if you can do that, contact the nearest U.S. embassy, and I have a page in this blog that I created for you about how to get help, with detailed instructions regarding the country where I have heard several times you might be located.

I will post pictures from Libby's wedding for you. I will do this because I want to include you in our family activities and milestones. It has been so long, perhaps you feel you don't know who we are anymore. Would you recognize us if we walked down the street next to you? Whether you are with us, or whether you are far away, I want you to feel safe and loved in your family, to know that you belong here whether you are physically present or not. These are all just seashells laid out to guide you home, in your heart if not in your body.

I love you forever, baby girl, and remember: You are strong. You are brave. You are good, and nothing can ever change that fact. You are loved.

mom

Monday, July 10, 2017

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Laying out seashells

I am just here to write a brief entry. I have a longer one that I have been working on for a few weeks now, but I am having technology problems. I have switched from using a computer to using an ipad, and I find that once a blog on blogger reaches a certain length, the page starts dancing around, making it impossible to type on it any longer! Blogger also doesn't seem to be able to access my photos after 2014! I have another blog on Wordpress which doesn't have these problems, and I wish I could move this whole thing over there, but I don't know that is a good idea. I will have to track down my computer and see if I can figure these things out.

Meanwhile, I just wanted to say hello. My grandson Theo, (your nephew, Michaela) is in love with the movie Finding Dory. I think I have watched it dozens of times in the last month! The story is about a fish who has "short term remembory loss," who at a very young age gets caught in an undertow and is separated from her family. She can't find her way home because she can't remember where that is, or even who her parents are. She just knows that she misses them. Through her childhood and into adulthood she searches for her family, finally finding them when she gets enough of a glimmer in her memory to pinpoint a location.

What touches me in this movie is that when Dory was a baby fish, her family came up with the idea of laying out a row of shells she could use to find her home, since she couldn't remember the way. When she found her parents, they appeared with fins full of shells, because even all those years later they were laying out rows of shells in every direction to help her find her way home. They had never given up on her, as she had never given up on them.

These blog entries, Michaela, are my shells, and I need to never stop laying them in the sand, not until I know you are home, whether here in this life or beyond it. And perhaps you need to remember, like Dory did. Perhaps seeing these shells will trigger a memory for you, as it did for her. Regardless of technology, cancer, or all the many things that go on in the world, I need to remember to keep putting these shells down for you, Michaela. However many I have laid in the past, I never know when I might put down the right one that will get your attention.

I love you forever, baby girl. ❤️
mom


Saturday, April 1, 2017

All stories begin and end with you


As you have probably noticed, I have had a hard time posting here for awhile. I guess I have been kind of wrapped up in my immediate problems dealing with breast cancer. But I find it has become more and more difficult, Michaela, to write about you. I am working on a couple of books, one nonfiction and one fiction. You are actually central to both of them, but I have found when I sit down to work on them that it has just become so hard. There are a million words to say, and I have said them all a million times. Each one of them carries the weight of the world. Does anyone need to be told? With all the words I have said, has not everyone heard the story? Like all I should have to do is say, "Michaela," and they will say, "Ah." And all the sorrow and grief, the unknown terror, will be there, because they know. How could they not know?

And yet they don't.

So one of the things I must do is gather the strength to simply keep you alive by telling your story over and over again, and million trillion times if need be. And the other thing I need to do is keep telling your story so that you can hear it, in case you have forgotten it as well.

I won't give up, Michaela. I promise. I will never give up.

Love you forever, baby girl.
mom

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Lots of feels

I am deleting one of my other blogs, and copying some of it into my current blogs. I apologize for the format. Blogger is difficult this way, and the only way I know how to fix it is to retype it, which I don't want to have to do. This entry was from July 6, 2015.


Lots of feels

It is 6:30 in the morning on my day off work, and I am here, awake. I have a lot of feelings inside me and I am sitting here with tears in my throat and in my eyes, longing just to be able to write my feelings down and push them off into the world. Like the words from the Anna Nalick song, "2 a.m. and I'm still awake, writing a song. If I get it all down on paper it's no longer inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to." But maybe I just really don't have the courage. One day I swear I am going to write my novel so I can say all the things I cannot say, turn loose all the feelings inside of me.

Half of the feelings I feel are vapors in the wind anyway. As I sat here at my desk, I watched a cloud outside my window. For a moment it was the stunningly clear face of a pitbull terrier. But in seconds it morphed, first into a kitty, and then on to several indistinct stages on its way to becoming the blank cloudbank that it is at this moment. And that happens so often with problems. You have a dagger in the heart, but then it dissolves and is gone, unless you happened to put it into writing or other communication where it becomes immortalized, or kind of. For me, writing and getting things out is cathartic, but the problem is that when you get things outside yourself sometimes they take up residence in others, and become things totally other, and totally beyond your control at all. Things that are minor can come to define you.

The other thing about writing is that often it helps me to figure out just exactly what it is that is hurting. Like right now. The immediate cause of my distress is that my daughter, who is 18 weeks pregnant, was experiencing anxiety this morning at 4-something. I woke up. Presumably she has gone to sleep and I am still awake. This anxiety, this problem, will probably dissolve when the winds shift. But in me it stirs something far deeper. Whether large or small, my child is suffering, and I am powerless to alleviate the suffering. I can, and do, talk my head off in an attempt to fix things, but honestly sometimes I know that just makes it worse. That's the other dangerous thing about words. For some reason the same words can mean completely different things to other people. She is anxious, so in an attempt to alleviate the anxiety, I employ the analytical mode, trying to explain why the problem is not quite as bad as it feels, and/or how to avoid problems in the future. This works well for me, but my daughter is in emotional mode, and she absorbs those words completely differently, internalizes them as criticism, which they are not intended to be.

Emotions. Sometimes you just have to get control of them. I remember in the second year after Michaela was kidnapped, I just felt angry, and it finally dawned on me that my anger was nothing more than sorrow that I had turned inside out and thrown outside myself because that was easier than feeling the sorrow. That was a big thing. But the same thing happens with the little things. We feel pierced by that dagger, which would probably dissolve in a minute, an hour, a day, unless we let that sorrow become anger and let it out into the world where it will inevitably cause more hurt. I personally have counted the cost and decided it is not worth it. That means I end up with a lot of feelings that get bottled up inside. Perhaps I need to find another means to transform and express them, through something more positive than getting angry. There are a lot of things that never ever get resolved, because I don't speak of them. In the end I guess I don't trust that they would get resolved if I did.

This child, the one whose anxiety woke me in the early hours today, was born five years after Michaela was kidnapped. One of my strong memories is from when she was a little baby, and she was crying. I picked her up and held her and said, "It's okay. Mommy is here. Mommy will take care of you." I was reassuring her from my heart with every intention of making everything right, of keeping her safe and protected and not letting anything hurt her. But in that moment I was flooded with the knowledge of the truth, that this was a lie. It was a promise I could not make. I had said the same sort of thing to Michaela, but in the end I had not been able to protect her. She suffered the most brutal fear, grief and pain, and there was not a single goddamned frickin thing I was able to do to prevent that, or to save her from it once she was in its clutches. I completely and totally failed her.

And I have completely and totally failed all my children. It hasn't been as dramatic as it has been with Michaela. The daggers that have pierced them have been the kind that mostly dissolve in time. But they have all suffered grief and sorrow, and there is not anything I can do about it. I have made midnight trips to the grocery store for chocolate, taken them for manicures, sat and listened, hugged and cried. But the only way I could actually have prevented my children from being hurt was if I had taught them not to love. Jobs, money, those things all can cause stress, but only love can pierce the heart, and it can pierce deep and hard and leave shards that don't ever completely go away. I know, because I have them myself.

My daughter and her husband, they are happy and excited about the baby they are having. But they have feelings inside them that perhaps they don't even understand. Do they understand the huge vulnerability they are being drawn into? They are both smart kids, and they are both very self-aware, smart, imaginative and creative, so maybe they do. Or maybe it is just a vague sense of unease. I know that as they have thought about their child, they have been drawn to look back on their own childhoods. In doing so, they have encountered the things that hurt them. They think, they hope, that these things will be different for their child, that their son won't encounter the cruelty of other kids, for example. But somewhere deep inside, as they consider their own hurts, they may be coming to realize that those things are going to hurt even more if they happen to their child than they did when they happened to them. I looked it up this morning, that quote that I just kind of know. I discovered it has a source, author Elizabeth Stone. It is, "Making the decision to have a child -- it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body."

Well, I guess I am kind of placing my own thing into other people's minds here. I think it is valid to a point. But really it's my own point. For me, it is magnified, because it triggers that deep sorrow of not being able to save Michaela from suffering. But the fact is, I can't save any of my children. I can't make any of them happy. I can't protect any of them from hurt. I can just hope that they have the emotional wisdom to live well.

To you, Michaela, I just want to say that am so sorry that I was not able to protect you from harm, that I was not able to save you. Wherever you have been, whatever you have been through, I just hope that you have been able to feel always that love that is beyond life and death, there in your heart, forever.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Sometimes it's hard to see the road

Well, to follow up on my last blog, as you can see we have saved this domain name. Actually, my beautiful and talented daughter, Libby, saved it. Not to say she doesn't have IT smarts, but she also displayed a real intuitive gift in coming up with the unknown administrative account name. So presumably the Dear Michaela domain will be safe forevermore. 

I apologize that I have not been here to write for awhile. I am overwhelmed by life. I believe that I have posted here that I have been diagnosed with breast cancer. My mother had breast cancer and she made it look like a walk in the park -- lumpectomy, a few weeks radiation, all gone. So I didn't take this seriously at first, at all.The first time I saw my surgeon she guessed me at Stage I, and thought we could go the same route my mother did. But I have lobular carcinoma, which is a kind of a stealth cancer. It grows in rows, which grow into sheets, rather than lumps, so it is harder to detect either by touch, or mammogram, or ultrasound. So I had an MRI, which discovered that the cancer had spread within my breast quite a bit more than they thought, and I was upgraded to Stage II and scheduled for a mastectomy.

Things took a turn for the nasty after the mammogram. They removed eleven lymph nodes, some of which looked suspicious and some of which the surgeon thought would be okay. All eleven of them turned out to have cancer in them. So the cancer was upgraded to Stage IIIC. This is the worst stage you can get and still have it considered curable.

I then had to have a PET scan to see if the cancer had spread elsewhere in my body. If they found any other cancer, it would be Stage IV, which they say is incurable. Why that is I don't know. I mean, if they can kill the cancer in the breast, why can't they kill it if it shows up somewhere else? I am sure there are things I don't understand here, and thankfully I was spared having to figure them out, as the PET scan turned out to be clear.

I am right now waiting to start chemotherapy. It has been delayed and delayed for various reasons, mostly the lengthy recovery from the mastectomy. But I think I will get the all clear on my next visit and will probably be starting it within the next week. It is a 20 week course, eight weeks of two chemo drugs, followed by 12 weeks of another. I will lose my hair, that I have been told. After being afraid to get a pixie haircut all my life, I finally did, and I actually really love it. The bald look, as practiced with scarves and hats, doesn't really suit me. But I just hope that is the worst I experience in chemo. I have to be honest, I am a little afraid. I am honestly most afraid of the suppression of the immune system. I live in a busy household, which includes two busy and social 20-somethings, a toddler, and four small dogs. My house is a germ festival. While I was waiting to start chemo, a late season cold that was making the rounds hit our house. I fought it off for a long time, ten days, but ended up getting it. The version I got was far lighter than what hit my daughter and her family. Under normal circumstances, my immune system is pretty good! I hope I can carry at least a bit of that into chemo with me, although the whole purpose of chemo is to kill kill kill, and that includes the good with the bad. Antioxidants during chemo are a no no. Why? Because their purpose is to help shield the cells from damage, and when you are on chemo, the whole purpose is to damage the cancer cells.

Meanwhile, I am a germophobe at the best of times. Chemo has really triggered that fear. Even pre-chemo, trying to stay healthy enough to start the darn thing, I find myself uncertain about going out. I have to wonder why in church they have to have that part where everybody goes around shaking hands and hugging each other.

Prognosis? I haven't asked. I am assuming I will beat the cancer, in this round at least. Then I will somehow have to pick up the pieces of my life and put them back together again. I'm worried about being able to earn enough money to help support my family. I have spent most of my life caring for my family rather than earning money to help support them, stay at home mom. I remember when Michaela and I watched the movie Baby Boom, in which Diana Keaton is a high powered executive who inherits a baby and ends up quitting her job and moving to the country to be a full-time mom, Michaela cried and said, "When I grow up, I want to be just like you mom." (Oh, Michaela. There are so many places for my heart to go here.) I keep thinking if I had my life to live over again, maybe I'd do it differently. But I probably wouldn't. Even in my current life, over and over again it is family, it is the people, the children and the love and care and nurturing, that wins in my heart.

In the early days after my diagnosis a lot of people flocked to give me advice. At that point they all seem to have been diagnosed at Stage I breast cancer. I have since moved where they can't advise me. Recently I have come into contact with a few people with Stage IV, metastatic breast cancer. They have moved beyond me, and sometimes I can feel the fear.

I think sometimes about dying. I don't think I am afraid of it. In fact, I kind of feel as though it will be an adventure. Of course, I'm not facing it. I might feel differently if I was. But again, it is leaving my family that bothers me, rather than where I'm going. Who will be there for my children when they are hurting or lonely?  And there are other things, of course. I have already experienced what it is like to be a burden on my family, just in the things I could not do myself after the mastectomy and the long, drawn-out recovery, and in the restrictions placed on their lives by my chemo, because they need to avoid getting sick also. I cannot imagine the burden of an actual terminal illness.

I am afraid of other things as well. I know, I have known for a very, very long time, probably since before Michaela was kidnapped but certainly since then, of the fragility of life. You cannot take anything for granted. Nothing. Nothing. Everything can change in a day. You can be going on, living your life, and not even know that there are evil things creeping up threatening your well-being. You can be washing the dishes, singing while you do it, while a few blocks away someone is kidnapping your little girl. You can be walking around thinking you are fine, but there is a cancer living inside you.

This has entered into my dreams lately, just the idea that there is a threat, someone or something who is stalking me, meaning me harm. I am hiding, layer upon layer, from this threat. I dream all the time about journeys. Perhaps the most telling dream I have had was of needing to travel home, and the road was submerged under several feet of water. I looked out at a vast plain I had to cross, with hills on the other side. I had a boat (or a car that would float), that wasn't the problem. The problem was that without being able to see the road, I did not know where to go. How could I end up in the right place in those hills, where I could pick up the road again? I could feel myself in the middle of that vast body of water, lost. But I never actually set out across the water. The dream shifted, changed. Probably I was saved by a trip to the bathroom.

As for Michaela's case, I guess you know that has shifted and changed as well. Our detective who was like part of our family has retired. I understand the new detective is one of the best detectives we could ask for. But he is not part of the family. He doesn't call and say, let's meet for lunch and talk, which is okay, really. He doesn't tell me anything. I kind of suspect that is because there is nothing to tell. I have heard talk about HPD establishing a cold case unit in order to solve Michaela's case, but I have heard a lot of talk over the years. Always there is "going to be" time, money, resources to solve this case that is 15, 20, 25, 28 years old.

I am convinced that this case is only going to be solved if someone with direct knowledge comes to us with that information. And if there is someone out there who knows where Michaela is right now, please tell me as well as the police. I don't mean if you saw someone you think looks like Michaela. I mean if you know this person is Michaela Garecht, who was kidnapped at the age of nine. If you know Michaela is not alive, and know where she is buried, please tell us. There was someone who called HPD years ago and gave some information, but the investigators needed it to be narrowed down a bit, and if you are that person, please call back. 1-800-222-3999, and the detective is Robert Purnell.

Michaela, I just want you to know that I plan on being here for awhile yet, but if you are out there and alive it would be a good time to let me know. I had a dream once that I was dying, and I was saying goodbye to my husband and my kids. I told them I'd seem them in 30 years, but that I was going to see Michaela now. In the dream I started to get sucked up into the corner of the room, and that was dying. I knew I would come down on the other side of the wall. But suddenly I thought, what if Michaela is not there? And I woke up.

Confused, I'm juse confused. I have my head stuck deeply in the sand. I know I need to pull it out. Life is not over, and I need to keep moving, doing something, traveling down the road even if I have to swim sometimes. Your prayers are appreciated.

And Michaela, I love you, baby girl. Sometimes I don't write. Sometimes I just don't have anything to say that I think anybody wants to hear. But you are always in my heart. I always love you.

mom