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This is not the “dark night of the soul” for me that John of the Cross speaks of.  

I think I have been through such a dark night earlier in life, where I felt like Job on his dung heap, railing against the unfairness of the Universe and muttering against the things we humans must bear during the course of our lifetimes.  

This experience is not that for me.

This feels more like heading into the belly of the whale.

It hit me yesterday, after a very long – over four hour – series of meetings at the hospital, where I found out the many details of what I will be experiencing during my surgery tomorrow.  We talked with the neurosurgeon.  They took blood (no fainting this time, but currently still on my “least favorite thing” list), and we met with the anesthesiology  folks.  It took a long time.  I was nervous when we began, but we had to wait so long I got too tired to be nervous anymore, so the waiting wound up working in my favor.

When we got in the car to go home, I cried for pretty much the first time since my diagnosis.  I didn’t want to be touched or comforted – comfort, right then, was not possible, although I was glad for Marshall to be there with me.  I just had to let it wash over me without interruption or interpretation – sorrow to my center of my being; the realization that no one, no matter how much they love me, can do this thing that is now set before me.   The task is mine alone.  The path is set.  If there is to be a Hero in this story (always the writer…), that Hero is going to have to be me.

It is a terrifying path.  There is no way around it; there is no way to avoid it.  The only way is through.  I am heading into the belly of the beast.  Tomorrow I leave the ordinary world on a journey to the underworld, where I must face my greatest trial.  Those of you who have read Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces will immediately recognize the pattern of the mono myth narrative embodied in these words.  Others of you may, on this Ash Wednesday which seems to be no coincidence of timing, recognize my path as the Paschal Mystery of Christ. Either way, descend I must, and descend I will.

The potential, the promise, that is included in that descent is what awaits on the other side of the trial – the possibility of utter transformation; the hope of resurrection; the chance to find the “boon” that comes as a result of  the “time of undergoing;” and the possibility of bringing back this boon when I emerge the other side – not just for myself, but for a world I will likely see very differently as a result of my journey.

It is a stunning narrative that rings true to my foundation – in both my spirit and my literary sensibilities.  But it is utterly, utterly terrifying tonight as I stare towards dawn, into the long throat of Leviathan.  It is a place of total solitude, standing alone in the Garden.  Waiting.  And praying for the strength to undergo this test.

For this Irish Catholic girl, it’s hard for me not to make comparisons to Jesus on this Ash Wednesday night.  The Paschal Mystery of Jesus’s death and resurrection isn’t something that just happened once to Jesus.  The Paschal Mystery is the pattern of life itself.  We live out this pattern whenever we take up – and allow ourselves to be transformed by – our own, very personal crosses.  Suffering is the crucible where the substance of our characters can be changed.

Unlike Jesus, I do not ask for this cup to pass me by.  This is not because I don’t want to avoid it – I do, very much so.  But tonight the vantage point is pretty clear.  The cup hovers at my lips.  There is nothing to done now but drink and pray for strength.

Tomorrow I will be awake for about an hour during my surgery, as my surgeons operate.  This is so I can respond to questions that will help my surgeons further map my brain – so they can make sure only to take out my tumor, and not essential parts of “me.”

They can give me no anti-anxiety medications or sedation while I am awake because they need me to be totally alert – my brain needs to be functioning as normally as possible so they can get the best information to make the best possible decisions on my behalf.  I cannot pretend to you that this isn’t terrifying to me – as I’ve mentioned, I have a tendency to faint merely from having an IV put in.

On the other hand, it seems like it has the potential to be a crazy exciting experience.  I mean, who gets to do something like this in “the ordinary world?”  And from an intellectual curiosity standpoint, being awake at your own brain surgery certainly sounds … interesting.  So that’s what I’m going to try to focus on.  

My neurosurgeon has given me permission to try to blog from my own surgery.  This means that while I am awake during my surgery (which will be about five hours, during which I will be awake for 45 minutes or an hour), I can send a message or two out to Marshall in the waiting room.  He will then text my message to Nick Stone with Charlottesville SEO Web Development, who has been extremely kind in helping me set up my blog, and to whom I am very grateful.  Nick will post what I say on my blog – allowing me to blog live from my own brain surgery.

This may seem a little weird.  But I know I am going to be very scared while I am awake in surgery.  There will come points when I won’t be able to respond normally.  This will give them the information they need, and I will need to accept it as normal and not be frustrated.  It doesn’t sound like the process will be very comfortable for me – the potential for anxiety is pretty high.

It will be very important for me and my brain to stay calm and relaxed, even though the situation will be difficult to say the least.  My plan is to use mindfulness and centering prayer and mantras and meditation to help me stay calm, open, positive, and consenting to all that is happening.  Blogging during my surgery will hopefully also help me stay intellectually engaged and able to participate as fully as they need me to.  So it is a tool for my own empowerment.  What the heck, it will hopefully give me something fun to do.

I ask for your prayers.  I go into the hospital at 5:30 a.m.  The surgery will likely begin about 7:30 a.m.

Please pray for me to remain calm and relaxed and totally accepting of each moment of my surgery.  Pray for me to enjoy it, even, and not to allow fear to control me.  Pray for me to feel the grace and web of prayer and support that surrounds and enfolds me.  Pray for me to undergo the test and allow myself to be transformed.  Pray for me to let go and give myself over completely and in total trust.

I have a good feeling about this.  I will see you on the other side of Thursday.


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50 Comments on "The Belly of the Whale"

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Rosanne Parry
Guest
Dear Fran, I lit a candle on my work desk for you today and I will every day for as long as this struggle is yours. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the hardest darkest ordeals are solitary, ours alone in a way so few things are. And yet you are ringed around with such love expressed by friends here, and by prayer you will never know of and by angels mighty and resolute, invisible though they may be. I am choosing hope this lent for many reasons, your healing among them. Also hope is counter cultural so… Read more »
Alex Gulotta
Guest

Positive vibes from California for you and yours!

Elaine and Emma
Guest

Been thinking and praying fur you all day. Just heard that you are out of surgery and everything went well. Rest and recover. We love you!

Suzanne Morrone
Guest

I, too, am just seeing this, and I assume your surgery is done. But the love that surrounds you is palpable and real. I ams seeing you all my best healing thoughts.

Suzanne Williams
Guest

Just seeing this but praying for you and your family. God is good. I look forward to hearing of your recovery and many good talks in the future. Sending prayers, hugs, and love my friend. Suzy

Linda McConnell
Guest

Fran,
I am praying for you and Marshall as you go through this difficult time. Using prayer is the way to go. I listened to “the belly of the whale” by the Newsboys today and thought of you and your ordeal. You are very brave and I know you’ll come out of the whale intact. Rest well. We are praying.
Linda McConnell

Kami Kinard
Guest

Fran, my thoughts and prayers are with you. This is very beautifully said. Kami (Friend of AM and KE. We hung out for a bit when you spoke at a SCBWI Carolina’s event.)

Chris Grady
Guest

Went to mass for you on my way to work this AM.

Loretta Ellsworth
Guest

Fran, I think that only a writer would contemplate blogging during surgery 🙂 I’m in awe of what you’re going through, and I will pray for you and for complete success and recovery.

Nancy B
Guest

Fran, our collective love is pouring out to cover, enfold, and hold you today. Love you.

Sarah Sullivan
Guest

Sending prayers for healing and strength.

Patti Clifford
Guest

Be not afraid, I go before you always. Come follow me and I will give you rest….
I am thinking of this beautiful song and praying it for you this very moment. You are in surgery right now. Jesus is holding you. Breathe in peace, breathe out fear. All will be well and all manner of things will be well.
❤ Patti

Chrissy Donahue Gibbs
Guest
Chrissy Donahue Gibbs

Just reading your post now and thinking that thankfully prayers are retroactive in God’s eyes. You’ve been awake for the hard stuff. I hope God reduced your anxiety. I know I am sick just thinking @what you had to endure. Praying all day for you and the surgeons. Sending lots of love your way Fran!

Nancy Viau
Guest

Thinking of you. Praying & praying.

Jo Knowles
Guest

Sending prayers and hope. Know that we are all thinking of you and keeping you in hearts.

Susan singer
Guest

Fran, my thoughts and prayers are with you right this moment as your surgery is beginning. I will keep you in mind all day, holding you and your surgeons and family and all involved in the light. Thank you for sharing your experience.

Monica
Guest

Praying for you Fran, now and throughout the day.

Laura Prince Armstrong
Guest
Laura Prince Armstrong

It is almost 8am and I am praying that God gives you strength, courage, and healing. I pray also for the doctors to let His healing work through them.

As a small dose of humor helps any situation, i will also pray that Alan Alda makes a visit post-surgery to make you smile. You have a beautiful smile and I cherish memories of your love for all things *MASH*. ❤️ Stay strong! You are loved and thought of much — today and always.
Laura

Connie Porter
Guest

Reading your blog at 7:30 am today. Will be sending out waves of loving thoughts to you and your surgical team throughout the morning. Bill just let me know he was reading your blog at the same time. So we will both be joining the circle of light and love that surrounds you today.
Love you,
Connie

Susan Hitchcock
Guest

wow. it’s right now. holding you in my thoughts

Madelyn
Guest

Thoughts and prayers, Fran. (Also complete awe of your words as you go through this and take us with you.)

The Spicec Diva
Guest

Good luck to you, Fran. I had gamma knife brain surgery three weeks ago. Those folks are amazing. Sending you good energy!

Amy King
Guest

Praying hard and thinking of you. You’ve got this!

Herb Ely
Guest

Read this at 4:34 this morning, We will be with you throughout the day.

Patti Gauch
Guest
My dear Franny, it is 5:51 the day of your surgery, and I have just finished reading your blog. So glad that Joseph Campbell is traveling with you. Did we discover him together, or did you read him long before I was your editor? I have always thought his Belly of the Whale remarkable. As y ou know, it is not merely moving into the dark valley of some existence, it is moving into a kind of embryonic place, a place where the hero – heroine – can muster his or her talents, and face herself. What a remarkable position… Read more »
Linda
Guest

Fran, I am reading this as you are probably getting called to the OR. Praying for you. I hear there is a chorus of angels waiting for you in there!

Mona
Guest

Praying for you right now..

Ann
Guest

Praying for you, Fran, and sending you lots of love!

Mary & Bill Balsam
Guest

we’re awake and praying for YOU. Sending peace & love, Mary & Bill

Herb Ely
Guest

It is 4:34 AM. I’m grateful to be awake and reading your blog this morning. I’ll be with you through the day.

Michele
Guest

I will pray, Fran. May the Lord give you peace and may you know His presence right there with you. May He guide your surgeons’ hands and given them wisdom and discernment. May the Lord give your family strength in the waiting and may He be glorified through you.

Cindy Switzer
Guest

Fran…Prayers are being said for you now and during surgery tomorrow. God will definitely be with you and this experience will definitely make you stronger.

Julie
Guest

Sending prayers from Canada. You’ve got this. Thank you for being so brave and sharing this journey with us.

Tippie Koenig
Guest
Dearest Fran, I read all of this from KY and am joining in prayer from afar. Funny thing is, tomorrow, the day of your surgery, is my birthday. Birthdays are so full of hope and life so I am holding on to this as a good thing. I understand what you mean when you said the only way to get through this is to go right through the middle of it and also that you alone have to face this. None of us can take this cross from you except to help you carry it by prayer and love and… Read more »
Elizabeth Broderick
Guest

Praying for you. All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.
Love
Beth

Kathleen Adams
Guest

Though we are not the prayer-ing sorts, for you, Fran, we will be praying…and sending much healing energy. Are thoughts and love are with you.

Lisa Taylor
Guest

We are thinking about you Fran! ❤️

Phil and Mary
Guest

Praying and praying some more. Love you Fran.

Liz Jones
Guest

Sending lots. Courage.

Jean
Guest

Holding you in my prayers and in my heart, knowing that the healing energy of God surrounds you and fills you. I’m with you, Fran, and I love you.

Ted Hollifield
Guest

So if you need someone to completely freak out during the surgery so you can stay calm and relaxed, just let me know. It’s a thing. That I do. And any scary thoughts – got your covered. Otherwise, so many prayers for you, for healing, for the future. Almost there.

Debbie Rondeau
Guest

Praying unceasingly! Way cool…awake, alert, and part of this procedure to help yourself! God is indeed holding you in the palm of His hand, and will guide the surgeons and attendants as they help you become whole and healthy. God bless you my dear and I love you lots! 🙂

jenny gardiner
Guest

I am so glad you have the tools of mindfulness at your disposal while you undergo this. If all else escapes your memory at the moment, just remember to breath, and don’t project forward or backwards, just be in the moment. You have a wonderful outlook about this and I too feel like this is going to work out well.
Many folks praying for you!

j
Guest

“arise my love’ has new meaning : ) be well

Les Berlin
Guest

Cynthia and I will be praying for you.

Linda Childs
Guest

You are a very brave and steady soul, Fran. What an unimaginable “adventure”! Julian of Norwich comes to mind: “all shall be well…and all manner of things shall be well.” God with you,
Linda

Ann Michel
Guest

Praying praying praying…I will rise at 5:30am and be in prayerful solidarity with you. God Bless.

Ed M.
Guest

Hang in there, Fran. You are in good hands!

RoyAnn Murray
Guest

You’re amazing, Fran, strong, positive, full of hope, surrounded by love and prayers. Sharing your experience in such vivid detail is very inspiring. Your focus and mental toughness convince me that you will emerge from the surgery (1) without fainting and (2) with some great blog updates. You’re charting new territory. Love to you and your family, and you will be in my prayers all through the day tomorrow for a successful surgery and quick and complete recovery. RoyAnn

Kathy Erskine
Guest

We’ll be there with you, Fran, thinking of you and surrounding you. Love you!

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