The One about Radiation

Before my first round of radiation therapy, I lay on a treatment table for a computerized tomography (CT) scan and simulation to help my doctor and team plan my treatment. They made me a custom foam mold, shaping it to my torso, with my left arm extended above head. With a purple Sharpie, someone drew a cross on the left side of my left breast, another cross on my chest, one on the outside of my right arm, another on the inside of my left arm. Then came vertical lines, one on the upper abdomen right of center and two more flanking my torso toward the back of my ribcage. Then came the hypoallergenic tape over the markings, which would help preserve the lines to quickly align my body during the upcoming treatments. I left the simulation with a gift of the purple Sharpie, for touch ups if needed. Radiation would begin eight days later.  

Radiation therapy targets tissues where cancer cells remain with high-energy rays. While normal cells repair themselves between treatments, the cancer cells die. During appointments, I check in, go straight to the dressing room, and change into two gowns, the first opens to the back, the other to the front. My other clothes go into a disposable plastic bag. In the waiting room, I give a weak masked smile to three other ladies and listen. They’ve all had chemo and lost their hair, one had lost her job and health insurance, and I don’t quite fit in this conversation. Part of me feels guilty for an easier cancer. Then, like clockwork, Caroline appears and says, “Mrs. Byers?”

I stand and follow.

“What do you want to listen to today?”

“90’s rap,” I say.

She shoots me a look of surprise. “Did you say rap or rock?” I had requested indie music on Days One and Two. This was Day Three.

Still masked up, I say, “Rap.” Our eyes meet and twinkle.

She asks me my name and birthday and double checks my wristband. She waves a wand around my body checking for prohibited devices and lets me snap a few photos before we head to the treatment room.

I remove my outer gown, spectacles, and mask, lay them on a side table, and scoot onto the treatment table, my body cradled in foam. Caroline hands me earplugs—the machine acoustics are noisy—then headphones. She aligns lasers to my markings. Once positioned, I slide into the tubular machine, try to relax, breathe easy, not move a muscle. I can’t feel the treatment. It’s like having an x-ray, except the dose of radiation is higher and given over a longer period. From the other side of the wall, the team monitors via closed-circuit television, and I can call them from the tube and talk if needed. When I start to feel claustrophobic, I talk to God instead. When the sounds of the machine ramp up to an electro-magnetically induced triplicate of Dee Dee Doos layered with a Wee Woo, I can no longer hear Snoop Dogg through my headphones, but I know my thirty minutes or so in the tube is drawing to an end.

My radiation oncologist told me I may feel more tired than usual but that I won’t be radioactive. I laughed at the joke, but when she said it more than once, I realized she wasn’t joking. I suppose some people have that fear. Becoming radioactive never crossed my mind.

My fatigue has been fierce, and I puked my guts out one night. Just one. Nausea isn’t listed as a side effect, and I never get sick, well, except for the cancer, but back at home, I’m physically ill. I’m not hungry. I have no desire to move. I miss my mother. But nothing lasts forever.

Yesterday, I finished the fifth of five treatments. Five of five while others get a month, plus surgery, plus chemotherapy. Let’s say a prayer for them. I’ll be okay.

Cheers to Year 53

Photo by lil artsy on Pexels.com

I count my years by December 30ths. Cheers to Year 53, and Happy Birthday to Me!

In the last days of December, I like to reflect and adjust. Or try to adjust. Why not enter the New Year with my mind right? Except in recent days, the more I turned the events of ’22 over in my brain, the more I heard nothing but crickets. I drew no real conclusions. Wasn’t it Socrates who said something like “The more I learn, the less I know”?

My thoughts from a year ago:  

“In fact, there’s no better time than a new year or a birthday to let bygones be bygones and let it go. A gift to myself. Peace. I Believe our struggles strengthen us. I suppose that’s my 2021 takeaway. Strength. Perseverance. I made it. You did, too. As for 2022, I choose Hope. Maybe we’ll all be surprised.”

Crystal Byers

Perspective from my barely-younger former self, the girl who feels all the feels, but reaches for the bold.

As for 2023, I’ll stuff my pockets with the necessary ammo and wish you all the same:

Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope

Belief, Strength, Perseverance, Honesty, Courage, Progress, and Grace…

Happy New Year to You and Yours!

On GRACE

On January 2, I wrote, “I suppose, if I have one goal or one word for myself this year, I’m leaning toward GRACE. GRACE when I want to beat myself up. GRACE when I want to beat someone else up.”

The words “I suppose” sound half-hearted.

“If.” Noncommittal.

“I’m leaning…” Not quite there.

Perhaps, I needed a plan. Perhaps, more prayer.

Sure enough, by October, my word of the year had escaped my otherwise-preoccupied mind. I searched the blog and discovered these few lines toward the bottom of my first post of 2022.

“I’m leaning toward GRACE. GRACE when I want to beat myself up. GRACE when I want to beat someone else up.”

And what have I been doing to myself these last few days?

Beating myself up.

On housekeeping, on Christmas shopping, on my inability to move from the couch after work, on my not checking in on friends and family.

Then there are the fantasies of throwing throat punches. On the road, in the grocery store, even at school.

Then the anger melts to tears.

And suddenly, finally, I hear GRACE in the back of my head. In a velvety smooth voice, she says, “Honey Child, what would Jesus do? ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another’ (John 13:34).”

And that’s GRACE—

Feeling the love and paying it forward, understanding we’re human and flawed, extending ourselves GRACE and love and time for honesty and patience for what we cannot control, knowing God will get us through if we just lean in.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and LOVE and GRACE and PEACE to you!

When God Speaks

It’s not like I hear a booming voice in the sky saying, “Crystal? Hello!” But God has a way of showing up. Like, over and over.

Once when I was fifteen or sixteen, I happened to have a severe earache while at church, my little non-denominational church in my little Oklahoma hometown. Pastor Charlie stopped mid-sermon and said, “God has laid it on my heart that there is someone here in pain. Someone with an earache. I’m going to stop and pray.” And so he prayed from the pulpit and returned to his message while I sat in the congregation awestruck. Believe me or not, my pain subsided 100%.

Then when I was twenty-one, I packed my bags with my mother’s help and loaded Drew into his car seat. I drove out of Colorado and left my young husband and the Rocky Mountains in my rearview mirror. I prayed along the way. “God, I don’t know what to do. Please. Send me a sign,” I said. It wasn’t long before Kody drove to Oklahoma to see me and Drew. Time apart had served us well. We had a happy family reunion for three. A month later when I missed my period, I took the positive pregnancy test as my sign. Thirty-one years later on a Friday night, we sit on adjacent couches. Our toes connect on the ottoman, and we smile at each other while the Astros play on TV.

God and I have been tight through the years—and sometimes not. Sort of like me and Kody. My mother once told me, “There’s a fine line between love and hate.” I’m stubborn when it comes to conforming. I tend to hold grudges when life doesn’t go my way. At times, I stick to the mantra—I can choose hope (through God) or despair, and who would choose despair? Then suddenly, I find myself despairing.

This past week, one of my students asked if she could use my room on Thursday at lunch for a meeting. Their regular meeting spot, or maybe their sponsor, wasn’t available this week. “No problem,” I said. I’m not sure I even asked what kind of meeting.

When Thursday lunch arrived, I grabbed my sad little sandwich from the refrigerator in the teacher’s lounge and returned to my classroom where a small group of some of my favorite students sat in a circle of desks. One of them read Philippians 4:6-7. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

I sat at my desk on the opposite side of the room. I might have had some tears in my eyes. This scripture was one of my mother’s favorites. I wonder how many letters she wrote me that included this verse. Was my mother speaking? Or God? I believe they’re in cahoots.

The students took turns discussing the meaning of the words.

One said, “Whatever you’re going through, His peace is greater than your anxiety.”

Another one said, “I just know that we’re all struggling with grades and college applications, and God’s going to get us through it.” There was a pause. “We’re not going to do this on our own. God’s going to get us through it.”

And with these words, I felt convicted. How often do I try to rely on my own devices? That’s a rhetorical question.

Confession time. I struggle with alcohol. I like wine. I like bourbon, vodka, and tequila. I like the relaxation that comes from a drink or two and the comedy that ensues after three or four. According to my oncologist, daily drinking is alcohol abuse. She had the nerve to write that in my charts. Alcohol abuse. The American Cancer Society says, “It’s best not to drink alcohol” and recommends that women “who choose to drink should limit their intake to 1 drink a day.” One?! I swear, I’ve Googled this more than once hoping I’ll find a different answer. Anyway, I’m trying to make healthier choices. From the end of August to the end of September, I did great. I was practically alcohol free, but I was pretty bitter about it, and I mean, downright angry. Notice all the I’s. I. I. I. I. I. I…twelve. Then came October, and I fell off the proverbial wagon. I can’t do this on my own. The mouths of babes confirm it.

So—Thursday after school, I drove home and slipped into some leggings and a long t-shirt and my tennis shoes and went for a walk instead of pouring myself a drink. It was a gorgeous fall evening, and my steps fell to the beat of my music. YouTube picked a song for me. I swear, I think it was God again.

Anything Is Possible

In a lovely little chapel on the campus of Houston Baptist, I received kind words, a pen, and a pin. This was the last Friday night in May. I had taken the classes, put in the work, and completed requirements for my MFA.

Now, I hear Frank McCourt in my head, and he says, “Stock your mind. It is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it.” I notice his two polysyllabic words and the strength of his monosyllables. Now, I will work with my tools, read books, study language, and hone my craft. I will put my bloody manuscript in a drawer and let it rest. Same for me, sans drawer, just rest. I’ve learned that good art takes time.

Even though my angel mother grew up in the Baptist church, the “B” in HBU filled me with trepidation. I leaped with faith anyway. God played a role in my story, and I wanted to do Him justice. Still, I never imagined I would find my tribe of like minds at HBU. Now, I see God’s plan. I’ll be forever grateful for these people—my cohort and professors. They became my friends and family, encouraging and inspiring me with their ideas and insight, persistence and growth, love and prayers. All of this without judgement. Even their criticism was kind.

At HBU, I’ve learned to make time and space for my writing and for me. And I’ve realized we all feel like imposters sometimes. I’ve learned to be scared and do it anyway. And I’ve realized the power of continued progress. Anything is possible with belief and persistence. I’m still learning trust and patience in God. At the same time, I believe He is using my story in a way I never could’ve imagined.

Walk!

Just Take the Step

All it takes is a step,
then another and another,
until momentum takes over
and propels you forward.

The steps we don’t take
are the ones we regret.
Just take the step.  
Don’t worry or fret.

Our paths, like our steps,
always lead to the next.
Billions of us on journeys
with paths that intersect

Plan all you want.
At some point you’ll see
what happens in life
might be destiny.    

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” (Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III, L. 140-141).

Cassius in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III, L. 140-141

On Life and Writing

This past week, I googled Dr. Wayne Dyer quotes. If you ever need inspiration, he is an amazing go-to. Anyway, while scrolling, this one spoke to me:

We tend to pity ourselves when we perceive that fate is against us. I know a person whose son battles a severe brain illness, and her house flooded from a hurricane a few years ago. Recently her mom died, and just a month later her dog died. I understand how she might say, “Poor me.” A person can dwell on those thoughts or reframe them. “We are alive. My home has been rebuilt. My memories bring comfort and joy, and I am blessed to have them.”

Both Dr. Wayne Dyer and William Wordsworth proclaim the ability to create our own realities—through thoughts and intentions. How encouraging is that idea when it comes to our writing?

We can create our thoughts: “I am a writer. I am good. I am improving.”

Our thoughts can create our intentions: “I’m going to read at least three books a month with the goal of improving my writing, and each weekday I’m going to practice writing and check in with my writing group.” Our intentions create our reality. Little by little, in the same way that Wordsworth set out one summer with the intention of crossing the Alps. He didn’t even realize he accomplished his goal. He just had the thought and showed up and put one foot in front of the other. In the words of my friend Narayan Kaudinya—

Self-pity will inevitably sneak up, self-kindness is a practice, and I know what Dr. Wayne would say—

#ChooseToChallenge

Did you know that today, March 8, is International Women’s Day? A friend of mine recently inspired me with how she will be celebratingby giving thanks to the amazing women in her life and by celebrating herself. How appropriate and what a great idea! Despite your gender, if you celebrate women internationally, THANK YOU!  

My friend asked the question, “If you could tell your younger self anything, what would you say?” And so here goes:

Dear Little Crystal,

Be true to yourself and live your God-given purpose. Be honest and courageous, proud, confident, and unapologetic. Keep your body, mind, and spirit strong. Love wholly and forgive fully. Don’t let anyone shut you up or down. Maintain boundaries for bullshit and remember you can do hard things.

Much love,

Your Bigger, Wiser Self

And as a follow-up, “If you could encourage yourself in any way today, what would you say?”

Dear Me,

Be kind to yourself, progress is progress, and don’t ever forget your own best advice. I love you!

Love Me!

P. S. Today I’m celebrating women’s achievement, raising awareness against bias, and taking action for equality. For more information go to InternationalWomensDay.org.


A Kick in the Pants

The day was February 1st, and I needed a kick in the pants. I decided I was the one to do it. Inspired by my friend Dwight’s Less Is Now Challenge, I figured the first of the month was a good day to start. My own guidelines go like this: SELL, DONATE, RECYCLE, TRASH. I just don’t have the energy to sell. Two questions guide my decisions: Do I love it? Do I use it?

Day 1 — get rid of one thing

Day 2 — get rid of two things   

Day 3 — get rid of three things

And so on for thirty days. If my math is correct, week one’s removal adds up to 28, and the entire purge ends up eliminating 453 items.

In my entry way closet, I had a small box started with 8 items to donate. In January, I helped my daughter Lauren move and ended up with some of her laundry, which equaled 11 things. In my car, I still had 3 trash bags of her clothes to donate (I didn’t count what was inside, but I counted the bags) and 2 patio chairs that I didn’t care to keep. From my own closet, I pulled 3 dresses, 2 pairs of shoes, and 1 pair of jeans. In the pantry, I found 23 dog items I no longer needed. In the garage, I found a box of flooded books, numbering 13, and recycled. And on Monday, I made a trip to the Goodwill donation site closest to home and left everything except what will go back to Lauren. From there I drove to the post office and mailed four envelopes and counted that, too. I started my gathering last Sunday, and on Monday 70 items vacated my house. That felt awesome, and I’m ahead of schedule.

And on February 1st, I went for a walk, two miles or so. As I did on February 2nd and the 3rd and the 4th and today is young. Also I started February 1st with a devotional from a book I haven’t finished. This year I thought I would try. I’ve kept it going all week. How is that for a kick in the pants?

Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling. Now I think I’ll go for that walk.

Word

Word of 2018. HOPE. When I began this self-imposed writing gig while living in a La Quinta and rebuilding our house that had been flooded by a hurricane named Harvey, I named my blog Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope. My dad gave me a silver bracelet engraved with HOPE for my December 30th 2017 birthday, and I wore it almost every day for the following year as a reminder that HOPE, in all caps, is a choice. Dad taught me years ago that I could choose my attitude. Even amid crisis, I have a choice. HOPE or DESPAIR? I choose HOPE. Even though I’ve retired the word as my focus, I want to say I’m eternally hopeful. I credit Mama, too, for the faith she passed along.

Word of 2019. BELIEVE. Yes, I realize HOPE and BELIEVE are practically synonyms. In my mind Belief removes all doubt and fuels the Hope. Belief reminds me to trust God in the process. In 2019, I was back home and typing my posts on the comfort of my new couch. Then and now, I BELIEVE in a better, healthier future for everyone in my family. I BELIEVE in the progress of medicine and stem cells and cures for paranoid schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s and addiction. I BELIEVE that together we are stronger, and our relationships are important. I BELIEVE my writing is evolving and helping others evolve. I BELIEVE one day I will publish my first book, the first of many more. All through the grace of God. In 2019, my best friend Denise sent me a new bracelet. This one said BELIEVE.

Word of 2020. I broke the rules to the whole one-word idea. I picked two: HONESTY and COURAGE. In 2020 I returned to school to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. Through this program, I’m finishing my memoir that focuses on my son Drew, the effects of his paranoid schizophrenia on our family, and our search for help. This story cannot be told without HONESTY and COURAGE. It begins in 2010 and spans the course of six years. Our journey begins with the realization that something is wrong. Post-diagnosis, we come to terms with needing help and learn that help is a perfect formula of medicine and counseling, family and community support. I understand now that help is not possible without Drew’s full investment, and the story I’m writing is about me. My reality and my hope. It’s about sharing to help others know they are not alone. At the end of 2020, I felt like I fell short of complete HONESTY and true COURAGE. I considered a 2021 repeat. A second chance.

Word of 2021. PROGRESS. Truth be told, I’m lacking inspiration at the moment. I might even be feeling sorry for myself. I suppose pulling myself out of my slump will be PROGRESS. I suppose giving myself some extra compassion when I struggle with feelings of inadequacy, grief, and anger will be PROGRESS. I will graduate with my MFA in May, and I’ve learned so much in a year. We don’t know what we don’t know, and I know I have more to learn. That’s PROGRESS. I can say I have written a book. More PROGRESS. Now to PROGRESS with revisions—word choice and phrasing, metaphor and humor, insight and transitions. To PROGRESS with courage and honesty. To PROGRESS with living my best life despite circumstances. I wish you PROGRESS, too.

For anyone struggling with “Meh” at the moment, I recently stumbled across Ashley Peterson’s “Action for Happiness” post, a compilation of information from actionforhappiness.org and the eight pillars of joy from The Book of Joy by the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Ashley includes visuals that I continue to contemplate in this year’s PROGRESS. I learned something new and wanted to share.