September 2015

How life can change in a minute or less

Who am I five years on from being diagnosed with a brain tumour, asks Good Samaritan Sister Margaret Keane. I am not the same. And yet, in essence, I am the same.

BY Margaret Keane SGS

“We are what we are, and you are what you are, love us if you can.” It was this line from Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Mangroves”, which prompted a flood of thoughts and feelings within me, including the question: who am I five years on from being diagnosed with a brain tumour?

I am not the same. And yet, in essence, I am the same.

Let me take you back to a Saturday in mid-November 2010 when my life was thrown into chaos.

It was a glorious day in the Blue Mountains town of Lawson where I and many others rejoiced with a young woman as she made her first profession as a Good Samaritan Sister.

After arriving home in Sydney, full of new inspiration for our way of life, a few of my Good Sam Sisters and I enjoyed a bike ride for an hour or so.

Dinner over, we were still conversing about our future as a religious order of women in the Church. If you want to end a conversation don’t do the following!

Without any warning I had a major seizure which left me unconscious. “Don’t worry, we’ve got you. We think you’ve had a stroke,” were the last words I heard.

My life changed in a minute.

The next morning a doctor came by and said simply, “We’ve done scans and you have a brain tumour”. Just like that.

So what changed?

I call them losses.

There was (is) loss of independence, a quality I highly valued.

There was an end to my active ministry at our spirituality centre in Sydney. At the time, I clearly recall asking the doctor if he thought two weeks off ministry was likely. He didn’t reply. Perhaps he wondered about my strange sense of humour!

Bike riding in the dawn and in sunshine at the beautiful wetlands around Olympic Park on the weekends ceased.

Walking the dog became a memory. It had been a time of talking to strangers and sharing snippets of their lives. Precious moments.

My mobility and speech continues to be affected, so I require constant physiotherapy and practice.

My fears continue to challenge me. I have fears of falling, of being unable to participate in conversation, and I’m always wondering about access to buildings. Will there be toilet facilities for people like me with a disability?

I know that God is a loving God. In spite of this, I have moments of doubt.

So what do I retain as the years pass?

I thank God for my memory and very acute hearing. Do not speak about me within a few metres of my presence!

I have a deep empathy for those who are discriminated against on a daily basis.

Friends from school days – both as a child and as a teacher – and friends from the time I entered the convent, have remained faithful, loyal and ever-willing to be of service to me.

As what should be part of the life of any religious community, I have needed and received strong spiritual support. Our common prayer has been, at times, filled with tears as we’ve shared what touched us in Scripture and the Psalms.

Before retiring at night, as a community we ask each other to name three things for which we are grateful from the day. This attitude of gratefulness has been a real gift on which to hold.

I am able to speak to many people on their birthdays – a small ministry.

My large and growing family is a constant. Living in Melbourne allows for visits that were not easy in Sydney. It is an awesome experience to grow closer to family as we all grow older.

I am well cared for by skilled and loving people.

I have retained my sense of humour.

I still get great pleasure from beautiful blossoms, huge ocean waves, night skies and anything of God’s creation.

Belonging to the Good Samaritan Sisters, with our Benedictine spirituality, does not change. Being neighbour to those with whom I live is always a goal, and here where I live, there are many opportunities for hospitality.

Technology has been such an amazing advantage at the same as it is a challenge. I was a reluctant starter, finding that computers have minds of their own. But now I’m an avid learner; I have conquered my fears and befriended my iPad.

Do you know how valuable it is to access daily Scripture readings and books in audio format when your eye sight is limited?

These losses and gains remind me of a story. A grandfather told his young grandson: “We have inside us two wild wolves fighting to be our friend. One wolf fed on envy, greed, anger, injustice and lies; the other on kindness, love, forgiveness and fair play”. The boy asked: “And who wins?” “The one we feed,” replied the grandfather.

And so, let me return to that line from Mary Oliver’s poem and take some poetic license: I am what I am, you are what you are. Love me if you can. Being different is just that; it’s not a barrier to love, but a reminder to love more – to be the second wolf.

“How long, O Lord, how long?”

Margaret Keane

Good Samaritan Sister Margaret Keane worked for many years as an educator in secondary schools in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. Now retired, she lives in Melbourne.

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