Rhonda Cagle

Posts Tagged ‘family’

I’m Still Here, Dammit!

In Uncategorized on December 30, 2016 at 5:04 pm

I get it – 2016 sucked for a lot of people, including me. For most of the year, I fought cancer. If anyone has the right to bitch about a bad year, I’m at least toward the front of the line.

But is it worth bitching? And was it really a bad year?

Cancer treatment left me with large gaps in my 2016 memory. The scraps I do have are mostly filled with pain and loss. My family, who acutely remembers all the things I don’t, tells me it’s probably best to leave the gaps unfilled.

But this past year also holds other bits and pieces of remembrances, memories worth noting and keeping. Friends who brought me food and gifts to help make the fight bearable – and winnable. My husband, who put his political and professional life on hold, to help me fight and win my battle. My children, who saw me at my weakest and worst, and loved me in spite of myself.

And then there are the memories of me. Me finding my voice and being an advocate for my own health and life – even when it meant changing doctors and, at times, pissing off the ones I kept. Me choosing to continue working through treatment, even when my doctors told me to take some time away from my professional life. Me staring down the demon of my late husband’s death from cancer and determining that my story, by the grace of God, would be different.

To say that 2016 was a hard year is an understatement. But it offered some hard-learned lessons – ones that are worth mentioning.

Make the pain pay. Inevitably, hard times come. Loss can be overwhelming. Disappointment can be bitter to the point of being disillusioned. Then what? For me, the answer is cry, curse, spit, rant – whatever it takes to get through the deepest and darkest of the pain. But then make the pain pay. Turn back around and use every hard-learned lesson to help someone who doesn’t yet know they, too, will emerge on the other side of darkness.

Work as though your life depends on it. Doctors don’t know everything, but they sure as hell like you to think they do. I frustrated my doctors because I refused to stop working during my treatment. What they didn’t know is that my work was sometimes all there was between utter despair and me. My work is full of purpose. It gives children who are too often marginalized and minimized an educational choice that results in a second – and sometimes an only – chance in life. I worked in order to survive the brutality of my treatment; otherwise I might have given up. Whatever brings purpose and joy to life is something worth doing, regardless of what anyone else says.

Don’t “should” on yourself. Should have, could have, would have serves no good purpose in life. Would my cancer have been caught earlier if I had been more diligent about screenings? Maybe. Then again, my sister was diligent and she ended up being in treatment longer than I for the same kind of cancer. Could my late husband have survived his cancer if the doctors had taken his warning signs more seriously? I don’t know – won’t ever know. The truth is that we all do the best we can with what we have to work with at the time. To “should” on myself only brings negativity and wasted energy into my life. Reflect, revise, and move forward, failing a bit better every step of the way.

Know what sustains you when all else fails. When body parts are cut off and poison begins coursing through your veins, you decide what you truly believe in a hurry. More than ever, my faith holds firm. I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth… The disappointment, pain, and fear of 2016 makes my faith more sure than ever.

I’m thankful to be turning the page and beginning a new year. But I’m strangely thankful for 2016. I’m keenly aware that its hard-learned lessons will be needed more than ever, come January. For all the brightness of a New Year, storm clouds are on the horizon. There are more battles to come.

That’s okay. Thanks to 2016, I’m ready. I’m still here, dammit. Still standing. Still fighting. Still believing.

Ain’t it something?! Cheers.

2017

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Held

In Uncategorized on July 5, 2016 at 6:50 pm

My hands shake a lot these days. Whether from chemo, meds, or sheer fatigue, my hands often betray the intensity of the fight taking place at cellular levels to kill off and overcome cancer.

In many ways, it seems fitting, really, that my hands are the telltale sign of the battle. To win requires choices on a daily – and sometimes moment-by-moment – basis of what I hold onto; what I let go of; and for how long. It is humbling – and sometimes humiliating – to acknowledge that my hands are simply not big or strong enough to hold it all. At least not all at the same time.

More than I care to admit, I find myself grasping and gripping, trying to hold all the bits and pieces of life in my hands without letting anything slip through my fingers. It’s a false illusion of control. As if my hands are ever really big or strong enough to keep a firm hold on all of life all at once. Yet this particular illusion I cling to seems particularly difficult to let go of.

These days, I find myself noticing the hands of so many others who are wrapping their hands around mine. Collectively – together – they are ensuring that I am held. Nothing that slips through my fingers is lost or forgotten. Their hands are there to catch it. Hold it. Hold me. It is the gift of us. An us defined by too many individuals for me to name separately. It’s a stunning and tangible investment into my life too extraordinary to put into words.

Countless friends have come alongside me – and my mom and sister who cook for my family and me on chemo weeks – to help with meals. They show up carrying Tupperware full of minestrone soup, chicken and dumplings, and chicken potpie. Incredulously, these gifts are often coupled with an apology that it’s just simple food. As if there is anything simple about nourishing both body and soul with a tangible expression of love.

On chemo weeks, my mom arrives with three days of casseroles, soup, and other dishes that conjure up simultaneous emotions of childhood comfort and present day gratitude. My sister, who is still fighting her own battle with breast cancer, also lends her hands to feed not only her own family, but mine. Love on a plate, as I describe it.

My friend Anne somehow knew my initial chemo treatments were nothing short of disastrous. When we met for dinner the last time I was in Washington D.C., she brought me a handmade bracelet with an angel charm which sways delicately when I wear it. When I returned to chemo, I instinctively grabbed for her bracelet to wear. It brings comfort and renewed determination as I spend my days at the hospital with her angel swaying to catch my attention, bringing me back to focus on those who are praying, supporting, and lending the strength of their hands to mine. Angels, indeed.

A few weeks later, I opened a package in the mail to discover a note from Anne. She had written it from her family cottage in Chincoteague. She described walking along the Atlantic and the sand she had carefully scooped up and placed in a tiny bottle – another addition for my bracelet. In it, she had tucked two Swarovski crystals. She described how turning the vial would make them play hide and seek. Such a perfect metaphor for life these days. There are always treasures to be found. Sometimes we just have to dig deep to find them. Or look for them as they unexpectedly wash up on life’s shore. I pictured Anne’s hands scooping up the sea and sand from her family home to share this treasure with me and was suddenly, profoundly, grateful.

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My friend and colleague Nancy does not let a week pass without a note of encouragement arriving in my mailbox, or a vase of flowers delivered at my door to brighten my week. Despite a travel and work schedule that is worse than my own, she calls almost daily, usually beginning with something work-related but always ending with personal words of love, encouragement, and the assurance that I will come out on the other side. Her words remind me of truths I cannot see in the heat and weariness of this present battle. Her words bring me comfort in knowing my professional colleagues and personal friends are right there with me to help hold me together, whether with work projects or personal encouragement.

I could fill volumes describing the thoughtful acts that offer practical help and emotional strength. My friend Nicole arranged for a WNBA Mercury 2014 Championship ball cap bearing the signatures of the players to be delivered to me courtside while I attended a recent game. Something to help cover my bald head; something to remind me of her love and prayers.

And it would take pages to describe the countless ways my husband and family lend their hands on a daily – and often minute-by-minute – basis, to hold me together. Large and small pieces of life slip through my hands these days. Lorenzo and my children make sure they are caught and held. Every single one. Even when I am angry or sad. Even when I am too fatigued or ill to notice. Even on my good days when I am aware of and grateful for their hands, which never let go of mine.

I am held. Collectively. Figuratively. Literally. Call it faith. Community. Friendship. Family. I call it the wondrous, miraculous gift of us.

Lessons From My Dad

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2016 at 2:27 pm

Sometime around the age of eight, my family had moved for what seemed like the 78th time in my short life. I found myself living in a little farming town in Washington, 20 minutes south of the Canadian boarder. It was winter and my bright red coat was in sharp contrast to the drizzly gray landscape. I channeled its cheer as a badge of courage as I set off on my bike down a country lane to explore my new surroundings.

It wasn’t long until my bike ride had inadvertently attracted the interest of a neighbor’s big dog. As I rode past his home, he broke into a full run, barreling down his driveway, heading straight for me. Terrified of his barking and growling, I did what any eight-year-old-city-raised-girl would do: I screamed at the top of my lungs as if the dog was already pulling me limb from limb. I pedaled as fast as my feet would go, careening dangerously through the unfamiliar twists and turns of a muddy country lane.

There was only one thought in my mind: If I could just find my way back home, my dad would be in the driveway waiting for me. He would protect me from the snarling teeth and menacing growls of the monstrous dog that was nipping at my heels.

I was right. My dad had heard my screams, as had most of the neighbors on that long country lane, and was already running down the road to meet me. In what seemed like an instant, he had pulled me off of my bike, into his arms, high above the dog’s head where I felt safe. Where I could breathe again. Where I knew I was protected.

Then my dad did something unexpected. Unwelcomed. Instead of chasing off the dog to make me feel better, he began interacting calmly and invitingly with the beast, encouraging the dog to come nearer to him. And me.

In a matter of minutes, my once growling, ferocious enemy had turned into a tail-wagging, wiggling, slobbery friend; wanting nothing more than to roll over onto his back so I could scratch his belly. At my dad’s insistence, I reluctantly obliged.

With my dad’s help, I quickly warmed to the dog and established a physical connection with him. My dad taught me how to read the dog’s signals, adjust my responses, and to trust.

As I think about Father’s Day this year, this memory of my dad has taken on new meaning. The beast snarling and nipping at my heels at this moment in life is breast cancer. Its teeth are real. Painful. Dangerous. Disfiguring. At times, demoralizing.

Unlike the dog of my youth, my dad can’t lift me up and out of this current harm’s way. There are some things that even the best dads can’t do.

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Instead, I am choosing to remember the lessons my dad taught the eight-year-old-me on that long-ago day. I can’t always outrun danger. Sometimes, I have to stop in my tracks, turn around, and look that beast squarely in the eye. I have to channel faith and inner strength to push back my own fear so I can see the situation for what it truly is, not what I imagine it is – or could – be.

I didn’t go in search of cancer; it found me; came chasing after me. But day-by-day and treatment-by-treatment, I am stopping it in its tracks. I am remembering to see beyond fear, accurately read the signals, adjust my responses, and to trust. My dad taught me that.

Thanks, dad, for teaching me how to face down the dog of my youth. It’s prepared me to win not only my battle with cancer, but also the war with my own inner demons. Important lessons that I continue to learn in new and more profound ways. Just one of the many gifts you’ve given me.

Oh, and Happy Father’s Day. I love you.

 

 

 

 

 

Merry Broken Christmas

In Uncategorized on December 10, 2015 at 12:24 pm

For more than 20 years, decking the halls has always begun with assembling the Nativity. Call it a nod to the reason for the season or simply a warm-up to the time-consuming tree trimming; my porcelain Nativity is always the first decoration of the season.

In the past 20 years, my Nativity has seen its fair share of wear and tear. It’s been moved countless times, logging more miles than the Three Wise Men on their quest to find Baby Jesus. The crèche is a bit mangled, with one of the posts that supports the roof warped and scratched. And the gold paint adorning the angel and Wise Men is faded and chipped in places. But it is the Nativity I bought when my own daughter was born and the one from her childhood, so it is the only Nativity for me.

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Baby Jesus has survived more than his fair share of trauma. When my daughter Megan was a toddler, I would frequently find tiny porcelain Jesus removed from his manger and wrapped in pieces of Kleenex or toilet paper. Exasperated, I finally asked Megan why she continued to disobey me and touch breakable Jesus.

Her beautiful green eyes, round with fear at my anger, filled with tears as she explained that Baby Jesus looked cold and she was trying to keep him warm.

Touched by her tiny, tender heart’s compassion for cold, naked Jesus, I brushed the tears from her eyes and mine. I told her we would wrap Baby Jesus up together, and then leave him swaddled for the rest of Christmas.

She happily agreed and busied her little fingers, carefully wrapping Jesus in Kleenex, while my own hands served as spotter and safety net in case she dropped him.

She didn’t. And, for the rest of the season, she left Baby Jesus untouched, nestled warmly in his Kleenex swaddling clothes, lying in the manger.

A few years ago, Baby Jesus suffered major trauma. Knocked from his manger by over zealous dusting, he hit the ground. His arm broke clean off, and several bits of his chipped body scattered in pieces on the floor.

I gasped in horror. What kind of karma does one get for breaking the Son of God during Christmas?!

Thanks to Gorilla Glue and a magnifying glass, I surgically reattached the Savior’s arm and glued most of his body back together. You have to look carefully now to see where Jesus has been broken and chipped.

This year, while placing broken Jesus in his manger, I thought about all of the years I have repeated this ritual. Some years it has been easy and joyful. In other years, the brokenness of my own life has tinged the ritual with sorrow; even anger.

Broken Jesus has become more precious to me because of the years and the miles we have traveled – and survived – together. Gazing down at his naked porcelain body, I realized broken Jesus is exactly the Savior my manger – and my life – needs.

This year, I am surrounded by so much brokenness in life. People I love are fighting cancer and without jobs. Terrorists are blowing up people and countries. The economy remains uncertain. There are big questions in my professional and personal life with no answers in sight.

Each one of these issues is another chip from my individual and our collective wholeness. News headlines splinter and shatter any sense of well-being or safety. With a few words, a doctor’s diagnosis sends shards of life flying in all directions.

All of this brokenness was reflected back to me this year as I placed broken Jesus in his manger. More than ever, I realize how much strength I draw from the story of a Savior who fell to earth and became broken like me. For me. In these moments, when I am keenly aware of life coming apart, I am grateful for His grace; the glue that mends and restores.

Merry broken Christmas. A thrill of hope; a weary world rejoices, indeed.

 

 

 

Tragedies Create Sense of Family

In Uncategorized on April 24, 2013 at 8:33 am

The tragedies in Boston and Texas showed us the worst of humanity. They also showed us the best. These events demonstrated that from Boston to Bellingham, Wash., and Texas to Temecula, Calif., we come together as a family.

Together, we grieve. Together, we remember. And, together, we get up to keep running the race. It’s what families do. It’s what countries do, too.

Martin Richard. Photo: amsdaily.net

Martin Richard. Photo: amsdaily.net

I’m writing about it in my latest column for The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com. http://www.azcentral.com/community/swvalley/articles/20130419cagle-tragedies-remind-us-were-one-family.html?nclick_check=1

The Bountiful Table

In Uncategorized on November 21, 2012 at 2:47 pm

At some point during Thanksgiving dinner, there will come my favorite moment. Gathered around the table, I’ll see the faces of my loved ones glowing with the warmth of candlelight and a sense of belonging. It’s the family table that both brings and keeps us together.

Candles and grapevines form the centerpiece for my Thanksgiving table.

I’m writing about the bounty of the Thanksgiving table, filled with family, food, faith, and friends, in my latest column for the Arizona Republic. You can read it here: http://www.azcentral.com/community/swvalley/articles/20121119cagle-thanksgiving-really-about-people-traditions.html#protected

These Strong Women

In Uncategorized on December 1, 2010 at 8:28 pm

A few weeks ago, Megan had to write a paper about our family heritage. Where does one even begin?! And what is one supposed to say about such things? Do people really need to know that we had members of our family fighting on both sides of the Civil War? Does one really share how great grandfather so-and-so was both a preacher and child abuser? How does one distill the legacy of generations of kinfolk into 1500 words or less?

Megan’s assignment got me thinking of generations of Pentecostal preachers, moon shiners, farmers, and hillbillies. These Native American, Irish, and African-American kinfolk create a rich and colorful family tapestry – sometimes a bit too colorful. To be sure, my life continues to bear imprints of these distant relatives; however, it is the women in my family who leave an indelible impression on me.

The matriarchs of my family are strong women. These were not women of means or privilege. They were daughters and wives of farmers and ranchers. Mostly poor and uneducated, they were self-made women at a time when women were expected to be barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. These strong women were strong because they had to be. They were entrepreneurial and thrifty because they were often the primary breadwinners in the home. Many were married to preachers. And despite their lack of education and society’s limitations, a few were preachers themselves.

My great-great grandmother, Rosie, was a preacher. She lost her first husband, a full-blooded Cherokee, and remarried later in life. By all accounts, her second husband was a scoundrel – a drunk. While he was nursing the bottle, Rosie was nursing her children, her grandchildren, and those within her community. Known for her faith, she was often called to preach at home church gatherings in outlying communities. On these days, she would dress in her distinctive white dress – a trademark of Rosie’s. She would take her children and her Bible with her, and her services always included the urging” Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!” Rosie did “say so.” With her words and her life, and in the lives of her children, she preached and lived the faith that sustained her.

My great-great grandmother, Josephine, is another strong woman who found herself unexpectedly widowed with small children at home. Her husband was killed in a stagecoach robbery, yet Josephine was determined to hang onto the homestead and make a living for her children.

Struggling to make ends meet, she decided to sell her head of cattle and one team of horses. Her neighbor persuaded her that a livestock sale was too rough for a lady and offered to sell the horses and cattle for her. The man left with her cattle and horses – and never returned. Josephine lost the farm and she and her children lived in their wagon, working as field laborers in the surrounding farms to earn enough money for food.

My dad's mother, Beatrice.

I think of my own grandmothers and am amazed at what they endured. I never knew my grandmother Beatrice. She died when my father was just 14 years of age. He left home a week later and never went back. My dad remembers a spunky woman who faced unimaginable poverty while her preacher husband was gone for months at a time going from town to town, holding evangelistic services. He tells stories of Beatrice pulling bread from the oven as he arrived home from school and dancing a jig in the kitchen when her husband was gone. In my grandfather’s world, dancing was a sin, but grandma loved to dance. Her eyes would sparkle and she and the kids would laugh as they coaxed her to dance in the middle of the kitchen floor. I wish I could have known her.

My grandmother, Beatrice, washing clothes.

My "Papa," Austin, my "Granner," Jackie, and my uncle, Jerry.

My “Granner” is another strong woman and the living link to the matriarchs of my family. Now 92 and facing cancer, Granner grew up on an Oklahoma farm. This tiny woman who is not quite five feet tall chopped down trees with her daddy’s axe, hitched up teams of mules and horses to plow the fields, lived through the Great Depression, my grandfather’s diagnosis of tuberculosis, and his sudden decision to become a preacher after God healed him. My grandmother had no desire to be a preacher’s wife – she had married a rancher. But she took this news the same way she took much of life – with grace and fortitude.

Papa, Granner, and my mom, Jan.

I often think of these strong women. Most days I picture them peeking over the clouds of heaven, shaking their heads in disbelief, wondering how they produced a wuss like me. But occasionally, I see in myself glimpses of these women. As I held my husband’s hand while he was dying, I thought of them, remembering that I come from a long line of widows who somehow, someway, found a way to carry on and begin again. In trying to make a living for my daughter and me, I remember that I come from resourceful, entrepreneurial stock and I do my best to live up to their example. I understand my love of wearing white and attempt to live my life in such a way that I am known as a woman of faith. And in hard times, I dance in my own kitchen, hoping my daughter will one day tell her children about a grandmother whose eyes sparkled as she laughed while jigging across the floor.

Me and my daughter, Megan (back), Mom and Granner (center), my sister, Shelly (right), and her girls, Elena and Larisa.

Sometimes timid, often afraid, and always imperfect, I am one of these strong women. So is my sister. Our daughters are, too. Perhaps it’s not the makings of a college essay, but this family heritage is most certainly worth noting in the making of a life.

 

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