It’s the last week of summer in my town! I still live on an academic calendar- 22 years of my own education and several years teaching have instilled in me that the new year begins with the first week of school. I, of course, honor this with new art supplies and a few wardrobe purchases. But -it is a reflective time for me. It’s been 35 years since my ninth summer. The picture above was taken in Maui right after I had fallen out of remission, and right before my second go-round with chemo and radiation.
The summer of 1980. The first time I went through cancer treatment, it was hard. I mean, it was really hard and all that. But I did it. I counted down, I did the hospital stays, I went to school (right?), I got encouraging notes from my classmates, and I just did it because I was a kid. The second time… I knew what was coming, and I was defeated. My mom could not find a doctor in the US who had successfully treated a child who had relapsed with Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma. My family was scared. I was tired.
Right when I relapsed the docs noticed a spot on my lung, and that was a Very Bad sign. I won a thoracotomy. Right before the lung surgery, my whole family came- to say goodbye. I told my mom if I died I wanted to be buried in the dress I wore to her wedding (she had remarried in 1978) or I wanted her to feed my body to the piranhas where it might have some use. (Did I mention my mom is up for sainthood in my book?) Just a few months later in the fall of 1980, the first suicide bomber in Iran hit the news, and I remember the hospital staff being abuzz with story. And I remember thinking that at least that kid died with a purpose. I was 9, feeling worthless, on drugs, and miserable. It wasn’t about politics. To say that this was a dark place in the Life and Times of Lisa Riggs would be an understatement.
My family took a trip the summer of 1980. A long trip to Hawaii. I got to take my best friend. My aunt and uncle came along. I think it was a good-bye trip- during the good-bye summer. I wasn’t expected to make it. I’m not sure I wanted to make it.
The other picture above is me on my wedding day, 23 years later. I don’t know what other people see when those pictures are side by side, but I see Hope. I see the same face in my 9 year old self as I do on my bride-to be face, and it stuns me every time.
To know how little I wanted to live, how badly I wanted to “go to heaven,” how little I felt my life mattered, how little I cared about anything— and then to see that look on my face. That is the suffering that teaches, that is the grace of God that brings wisdom.
“He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”- Aeschylus
- The power of Hope, Faith and Love cannot be underestimated
- Children are given special gifts of resilience
- Children think differently than adults
- Physical pain and emotional pain can be related but do not have to be the same
- Even when one has given up, Love and Hope remain
- Life is precious- both strong and fragile
- Take care of your spirit and your soul, the best way you can