Heightened Sense of Life

I was thankful to wash dishes today. Consciously thankful. I was aware that I was consciously thankful for something as simple as washing dishes after a delicious meal. I didn’t hurt as I stood at the sink. I studied the water. It felt good on my hands. I was glad to contribute after a tasty meal my wife cooked. I was grateful for something as simple as washing dishes, consciously aware of my gratitude. I was “in the moment” in every sense of meaning.

I felt rather decent today. I was consciously aware that I felt somewhat almost normal today (yesterday, not so much). I felt halfway normal sitting at the table eating Green Chili Enchiladas Montadas. I slept 11 hours last night (with the aid of some tiny tablet) and woke up refreshed. I went for a walk about 1/2 of a mile before the heat and effort hit me.

I’m so aware of life right now. Consciously aware in my mind that I am alive and grateful to be here, doing such minor things as dishes, holding the ladder for my wife, or offering someone encouragement who needs a touch of hope for tomorrow. 

I am alive right now, vibrantly alive, more so than ever before. Amazing how the contrast of death can bring so much life “awareness.”

This is my brain on chemo

This is my brain on chemo. Also known as Green Chili Enchiladas Montadas. Delicious stacked enchiladas.

It is astonishing to me how something so terrible like cancer can change my perception on life. Contrast, my friend, has a way of highlighting differences in anything. My primary hobby is photography. Follow the link in the menu above to see my Flickr site. Contrast is one common useful approach to “bring out” certain aspects of a photo.

Cancer “brings out” certain aspects of life. Cancer is about death, yet I feel I am now more perceptive of life, of the small things in life, and richer meanings behind them. I am pleased with the lack of pain the last few days. I haven’t taken pain meds lately. I am mentally aware of each moment as being precious and life as being fragile and of great value.

Our days are numbered and we all face physical death. While knowing this reality and nodding at it as an easy common knowledge much like a coffee table item to discuss, it is typical to get busy and focused on the next in life. The next appointment. The next day of work. The next stop at Starbucks. The next song I’m going to play. The next whatever I feel is important. Cancer has a way of being a brick wall to my lists of “nexts.”

So many things compete for our attention and mental energies, causing an unawareness of the Great Next that can happen to any of us at any moment. Trust me, when you are faced with the Great Next, be it in your own body or to those you love, life grinds to an amazing slow movement and the volume of life goes insanely high. Faced with our humanity, the conscious reality of the fragility of life goes into high gear when the next diagnosis of a terminal illness (or the horrid bad news of an untimely death in the family) hits like a ton of bricks.

Facing my humanity, the idea I could be gone in just a few months if things don’t go like I want, is a brain scramble and a heart scramble. I’m doing well most days, keeping my chin up, using natural denial defense mechanisms to not really think about the possibility of dying an early death. I would think that a good thing! Punctuated against denial is this deep underlying tension with brief moments of the magma of fear that swells forth and bursts out through my tears and quick convulsions of emotional turmoil. Even these emotional moments of pain are heightened for me, almost like a purging of the soul of the built up tension that stays just below the surface, much like a volcano waiting to erupt.

The good side of this whole mess, if such can truly exist, is the heightened sense of life. Everything is so magnified right now. Food is better, relationships seem better, sharing some cool ranch Doritos with my daughter spontaneously after she gets home from work, seems rather fun. The kindness of friends, family, and strangers is better. It is all so rich in color and amplified in volume. Somehow the flowers look more colorful. I’ve taken notice of our yard this year. I am so thankful for family and friends. A jar of homemade dewberry jelly has brightened many mornings these past two weeks.

Even washing dishes was a moment of joy. Odd thing to me.

My spiritual life is much more heightened at this time. Deep thoughts of why this, how that, what if … God? So many questions. I naturally look at the common mankind question of “why suffering Lord?” Not that I expect an answer, but that is still in my heart. I want to connect even more spiritually with others. I want to now pursue with greater intensity my hearts greatest desire: to love God, others, as self (Mark 12:28-31). How to do that? What does that mean?

Something opposes this experience, though, something I am consciously dreading: I return to the hospital this Thursday the 24th. I can find little connection with being consciously thankful knowing how sick I’m going to be physically for a few weeks. I know I should be thankful as the chemo is the chance I have to live. Yet I find nothing but dread inside my heart as I submit to another round of necessary poisoning for life

Maybe I can work on my thought life a bit and find a reason to be thankful for the ill that comes with chemo. Getting sick is necessary to becoming well. Contrast. Submitting to something outside of my control is required. 

Any ideas on how to find ways to appreciate mentally the chemo regimen and soon to come (I hope) stem cell transplant? Please email me your ideas to walkingthroughthistogether@yahoo.com.

(the photograph at the top was taken this spring at the Japanese Gardens in Fort Worth, TX)

About Robert I Baxter

Greatest Commandment is #1. Follower of Jesus, husband, father, RN, love photography, cancer survivor of Burkitt's twice (2008 & 2014). Stem Cell transplant November 2014. Work in a neonatal ICU.
This entry was posted in burkitts, chemotherapy, hope, lymphoma, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Heightened Sense of Life

  1. Lisa says:

    I can really appreciate the paragraph about nexts and cancer being a brick wall to your list of nexts. It does seem easier to savor the right now, while still being incredibly difficult, since we’re so trained not to do that.

    Oh, and your green chili enchilada montadas look delicious. Can you share a recipe?


  2. Kraftsims says:

    here’s a close adaptation, about as good as I can get. I don’t roast the onions. You can adapt/change anything to make it your own. Basic idea is soften corn tortillas, then stack them. You can add whatever you please between them: red sauce, meat, no meat, guacamole, cheese, sour cream, and so forth. Top with a fried egg with a runny yolk so that it breaks and spills into the stack. Hope this helps. Rather easy to be honest, mostly a New Mexico recipe that uses their roasted green Hach chili’s. Obviously, if you aren’t from around there, you can use whatever you have available. Highly adaptable recipe to your liking.


  3. Lysta says:

    Robert, God has given you a marvelous

    gift of expressiveness. Your enjoyment of
    Washing dishes brought to mind (at an
    appropriate time) my gratitude for being
    able to conquer a sink full of dishes after
    visiting my friend CC. She had waited too
    long for neck surgery and was paralyzed.
    She had to depend on someone else to
    scratch her nose when it itched, or to
    hold the glass for her to get a drink of water, or even to change her position.
    Yet, she was grateful to be alive and watch
    her grand daughter growing up. It’s a
    matter of perspective, isn’t it.


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