Trial by Fire

I’m taking a brief pause from INSIGHT_2011 (our summer journey of meditative guideposts) to share a lovely guest post by my friend, Cynthia Ogren.

Cynthia loves words.  And she loves Riley, her adorable schnauzer.  She recently moved to San Antonio, Texas, and also loves music.  I first met Cynthia when I noticed that she sometimes posts her favorite words on Facebook.  As a writer, I immediately tuned in to this.

What’s not to love about a cool word?  An unusual word?  An overlooked word?  Like finding a diamond in the rough (if you’ll pardon the cliche).

Then I noticed her posts (pictures & videos) about an astute-looking dog named Riley.  And I thought, hmm, this is someone I’d like to know better; maybe, just maybe, she’d share a few words here in this sunny space.  A kindred spirit, no doubt.

As many of you know we also have a schnauzer.

So here they are — Riley and Noah (in that order).  Yes, they both have that “schnauzerly look” (hmm, where are my treats anyway?), but …

  • They would steal your heart in a minute!

Long story short, Cynthia is my honored guest today (thank you!), and I know you will love getting to know her.  Her life is blooming, but only after a certain trail by fire.  Sound familiar?

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.  What I want and what I fear.
— Joan Didion, journalist, author, The Year of Magical Thinking

A Writer, Born
by Cynthia Ogren

I believe one is born to his art. Unequivocally.

I smile as I type this, because it took many angst-filled years and small miracles to root this conviction in my psyche. Looking back, it’s so clear to me now that writing was my earliest calling. Yet my logical mind and pragmatic father convinced me that I must choose a profession in which I actually could make a living. So I dabbled at writing while never feeling fulfilled in other career fields. But sometimes, if one is openly seeking guidance, as I was, the Universe gives signs along one’s path—or in my case, huge flashing billboards. I’d like to recount one of these “wake-up” signs, which began as a tragedy, then morphed into a miracle on my long way ‘round to finding my art.

  • But I must not get ahead of myself. Let me set the stage.

I was a regular at the neighborhood library from a young age, devouring as many books as the librarian would allow me to check out. I adored reading stories as well as spending lazy summer days writing my own. Poetry, short stories, art, and music consumed my early years. Words became my joy. How many people do you know who actually loved diagramming sentences in English class and, to this day, keep a dictionary on their nightstand—just in case an odd word pops into their head in the middle of the night?

  • Well, guilty as charged!

Throughout high school and college I was encouraged by teachers to pursue writing, accruing many class honors and citations for my efforts. Yet I majored in Psychology and worked in fashion merchandising to placate my rational mind. I wasn’t listening to my soul. I still didn’t get it.

Cynthia Ogren

My first wake-up sign came in the form of a deadly disease. I was in my mid twenties when cancer, the big “C,” came calling my name. And it came with a fury.

I was a young married woman who was trying to get pregnant. What I got, instead, was choriocarcinoma, a virulent, rapidly spreading cancer. By the time I was diagnosed, the cancer had widely metastasized. I was hit with massive doses of two different types of chemotherapy to stem its progression. But besides the awful nausea, physical pain, and disfigurement of this treatment, the experience had surprising gifts to impart: a near death experience, miraculous healing, and the blossoming of my metaphysical journey. Not to mention, material for a yet to be published book. As odd as it sounds, my bout with cancer was the best thing that has ever happened to me.

  • But this is not the only miracle I wish to impart to you.

The cancer episode was only my first miracle. I must be a slow learner, because Fate gave me a second nudge three years later.

After my nothing-short-of-remarkable recovery from the cancer, my oncologist suggested I wait two years to conceive a child. During this time, I went back to college, started living a healthy lifestyle, and began my metaphysical studies. Joseph Campbell, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, Lao Tzu, Buddha, and a plethora of others became mentors as I struggled to understand my near death experience. Through their guidance, I began opening up to the Universal Mind, a common thread that seemed to link all religions and great philosophers. I left behind formal “religion” and stepped onto my spiritual path, becoming a seeker.

  • The very tight bud of a rose that I was began to relax and bloom.

Almost three years later I gave birth to my first son—six weeks prematurely by cesarean section. He was healthy, but I was informed that a second child, if desired, should be conceived fairly soon due to damage from the cancer. My second son was conceived a year after the birth of his brother. And he is another miracle I wish to share with you.

I was a bit of an anomaly in the obstetrics clinic in that not many women survive a gynecological cancer, then conceive children. So my high-risk obstetrician flew blind and, as it turned out, handcuffed, through the course of the second pregnancy. It was a nightmarish experience with cramping and bleeding throughout.

Again, I went into labor six weeks early, this time leaking amniotic fluid.

Tyler was born prematurely and septic. Within hours of his birth, he had a major bleed in the brain, which effectively cut off blood flow to the brain and severely compressed it. An EEG showed gross seizure activity; a CT scan showed decimated frontal lobes and horrendous damage. I’ll never forget the grim, pragmatic look on the pediatric neurosurgeon’s face when he came into my hospital room to tell my husband and me that Tyler would be a “vegetable” and that we should plan to put him in an institution—that is, if he survived. We were devastated.

I sat with my tiny son as he struggled through those first days. His injury was so grievous that the neurosurgeon strongly suggested we make him a “no-code” baby, meaning, no extraordinary measures would be taken to keep him alive or revive him, should he die. But a caring pediatrician informed us one day that Tyler was found to be severely anemic due to the large quantity of blood spilled into his brain.

  • Yet, because he was a no code baby, we had to give consent for a blood transfusion, which we eagerly did.

This was the beginning of the miracle. Immediately, my lethargic little boy perked up and started moving around, although his prognosis remained grave. After talking with my husband, I made the only decision my conscience would allow—to take Tyler home and love him.

And living on hope, that’s exactly what we did.

Cross-eyed and floppy because of cerebral palsy, Ty was also hydrocephalic (enlarged cranium due to build up of spinal fluid). In other words, he was an extremely damaged baby. A shunt was placed six weeks after his birth to remove the spinal fluid from his brain, and the muscle in Ty’s eye was repaired. But one thing soon became surprisingly clear: with his quick, watchful eyes and breathtaking smile, Tyler was not as damaged as all the doctors thought!

  • There was something indomitable about the spirit of this tiny four-pound package of love.

With newfound determination, I took Ty through the grueling process of physical therapy. He had to be shown how to roll over, crawl, stand, walk, and eat. Along this tedious road, none of the doctors gave us much encouragement. They all just shook their heads and said, “We’ll just have to wait and see how he does.” I remember worrying about Ty’s future and thinking that maybe, if we were lucky, he could get a job someday at one of the grocery stores that hire people with disabilities to pack groceries.

Ty didn’t walk until he was two-years-old, nor did he babble as most toddlers do. But then the miracle became evident.

  • His walk turned into a run!

His first words were a sentence. He had the smile and disposition of an angel—the will of a lion. This indomitable child did everything before his older brother from that time on. He swam first, rode a two wheel bike first, and bravely led the pack of neighborhood boys. Ty had many more obstacles and shunt revisions ahead of him, but he faced them with good humor and courage.

Fast forward twenty plus years. Today my son is a college graduate and young executive with UPS. He has far surpassed any dream I ever had for him. And best of all, Tyler has turned into a compassionate, loving man with a quick smile, engaging sense of humor, and an uncanny aptitude for numbers. He is nothing short of a walking, talking miracle—with a normal CT scan! Yes, his brain has somehow regenerated itself. Another miracle.

So, what did Tyler’s example have to do with my decision to write?

With a couple of miracles under my belt, the very wise influence of my many inspirational mentors, and a good measure of trial by fire, I finally came to terms with my own life. Now the proverbial writing was on the wall in huge bold, flashing letters that not even I could miss (pun intended). If I could survive cancer . . . if Tyler could triumph over horrific challenges and prosper . . . I could be a writer. I may never sell a copy of a book, but I’m a writer, nonetheless.

Finally, I get it! I claim it!

I’m obviously a late bloomer, having taken the long way ‘round, but I’ve finally blossomed—full of hope, positive, and confident. I am a writer, born.


Thank you so much, Cynthia, for sharing this story of warmth,
passion, and inspiration here in SunnyRoomStudio.

Please be sure to look for Cynthia on facebook.

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