Monday, December 19, 2011

It Is What It Is

Rats! I really don't like that phrase! Nobody ever looks at a scrumptious piece of cheesecake with a steaming black cup of coffee beside it and utters, "It is what it is." Nobody gets excited over being told, "It is what it is." I get tired of hearing it. But, alas and alack, it fits. Rats and garden peas.

"It is what it is" despite its triteness, overuse, and all-around obviousness, has a way of actually proving useful when a person needs to face that "it" is what "it" is.

Sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip. That started when I was diagnosed with RSD (reflex sympathetic dystrophy) following a car crash, in 1999,  that resulted in a double fracture of my left thumb. I'd never even heard of RSD and had to go look it up. It affects every type of tissue in the traumatized area, can spread beyond that area and can even go full-body over time, and is what it is.

It affects bone by ushering in osteoporosis; it affects skin, pores, hair follicles and hair, blood vessels (heat and cold especially), muscle, nails, everything.  The osteoporosis takes on a life all its own and is what osteoporosis is. My orthopedic surgeon, in 1999, informed me I would get rheumatoid arthritis within 10-15 years and it would take on a life all its own and and be what R. A. is. Whatever R. A. began around that left thumb would mirror itself in my right hand and spread from there. Strangely, he never uttered "it is what it is."

I didn't hear that phrase, and hear it redundantly, until melanoma entered my life via my a mole in my upper left arm. Yes, the same arm affected nine years earlier by RSD (which was in blessed remission!). Following two surgeries to remove all the lymph nodes under my left arm, I developed lymphedema and had really bad stiffness in my arm and ridiculous pain in my neck and upper back.

Side-note and newsflash rolled into one: When doctors operate on a person, they move that person around any way they need to in order to do what they need to do. They must have really moved me in some horribly awkward ways to get at those nodes! Good thing I was knocked out!

I digress. The trauma of those surgeries brought my RSD out of remission. Rats! I didn't realize it though until I began physical therapy for all my post-op problems along with the lymphedema. I had a fantastic PT who was trained for lymphedema who took care of everything. She had to juggle my RSD into her therapy plans for me because that changed my treatment picture. "No pain, no gain" is not the phrase for a RSD patient. She probably learned a lot from me. I should have charged her tuition. Many of my physical complaints were met with, "That's not the lymphedema. Lymphedema doesn't act like that. That's your RSD."

It is what it is. This is what lymphedema does: it is what it is. This is the best you'll get your arm movement: it is what it is. This is the best you'll get your back, shoulders, and neck. It is what it is. It was her mantra! I saw her twice a week for twelve weeks and I heard that phrase at least a dozen times or more during each hourly visit. Seriously. I loved her and wanted to throttle her at the same time. But, with that annoying phrase, she taught me I had to face what it is and learn what it is.

And it is melanoma. It is what it is. This was when I started to read and understand the Psalms in a whole new way and really face the fact that facts had to be faced and not avoided or run from. Heads must emerge from sand. The various psalmists write of "enemies" and for them their enemies were, by and large, human. Mine was melanoma. As I would read the Psalms through the eyes of a person living with this disease, I learned the tactics of all enemies. They're sneaky, they learn the person they come against and know their weakness...however, enemies also have Achilles Heels all their own. I needed to learn about my enemy, learn how melanoma behaves and understand that it doesn't behave! It is not polite at all! It doesn't care how young or old a person is, what race or gender. It only wants to create pain, cause death, bring total ruin to families. It will not settle for anything less.

Enemies hate their victim and, again to reiterate, want nothing less than death. Until death, though, they work to make lives as miserable as possible. They are vicious, deceitful, full of lies. They don't want to be caught. They are mean but also cowards. Enemies want to bring death, not taste it. Enemies delight in causing as much trouble, pain, and heartbreak as possible. Enemies want you to run in fear and not turn and fight. They want you to die and breathe fear and dread. They don't know what to do with weak-kneed bravery and courageous confrontation. They don't like it when you fight back but if you do fight back, expect enemies to call in allies and turn up the heat.

(Enemies thrive on lies and cannot stand honesty. Honesty, coupled with prayer, is a combination that turns the heat up under melanoma).

The Psalmists taught me, in ways I'll never fully understand, that I have a far stronger Ally that I can call on. I have a faithful God Who is my strength and shield. I learned to substitute "melanoma" and "cancer" for "enemies" and that little exercise grew my faith and hope. I also learned that God always wins against His enemies, therefore I'll eventually win against mine.

Right now I'm thumbing my nose at the beast, but I'm doing it aware that I have to keep a constant look over my shoulder because it's a sneaky, creepy, liar that pounces out of nowhere. One day I may leave this earth because of it, I don't know. I do know, however, that I'll win over it because it won't follow me into eternity.

This life is what it is. And it is good.

Melanoma is what it is. And it is limited and already defeated.

I am who I am. And I am a friend of God.

God is Who He is.

And I am forever grateful.