Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!


My piano is covered with Christmas cards, mostly photos. I gaze upon the smiling faces of so many friends and family and my heart overflows with thankfulness. I have the most wonderful family and friends. How could I have survived this past year without them?
The thing that amazes me most is their faithfulness. It has been a long journey. I must confess that I thought they would grow weary, or that they would get busy with their own lives and forget. But they didn't. They stood by me. They have helped and encouraged me, in so many ways.

Thank you friends, family, and church family...

For seven months of delicious, healthy meals for my family.
For the most beautiful and thoughtful Christmas Eve food extravaganza!
For cleaning and organizing my house, mowing the lawn, and pulling weeds.
For watching my kids...and for loving them.
For taking me to doctor's appointments and treatments.
For so many gifts, flowers and cards.
For handmade hats, made-with-love, especially for me.
For generous financial help.
For handling the medical billing and insurance company.
For visiting me, when I felt so out of touch.
For extra-long hugs.
For kind words. You have no idea how much the constant stream of encouragement has kept me...encouraged! Every call, every note, every email, every facebook post, every blog comment, and every sweet word spoken in passing.
For being available.
For godly counsel.
For prayers. So many prayers.

You've given me strength and health...by providing food, enabling me to rest, relieving so many of my responsibilities and making all of the details of battling cancer relatively stress-free. I can't think of anything more you could have done to make this as easy as possible for me and my family.
You have been God's hands and feet. You have demonstrated His faithfulness and provision in my life.
What an amazing gift you are to me...each one of you. Old friends and new friends, near and far. Each one of you lifting my burdens.

May God bless you abundantly! May He reward you for your faithfulness and generosity, far beyond anything I could ever do to repay. May the love He demonstrated that first Christmas become even more real to you this coming year.

Merry Christmas, my faithful friends!

Radiation

I met with my Radiation Oncologist for the first time two weeks ago. She was very optimistic about my case and very pleased with the results so far. She also said radiation will seem like a cake walk compared to what I've already been through.
Radiation treatments will be five days a week for six weeks. Each treatment will only take a few minutes. I will not be radioactive! There will be minimal side effects. The most common being a slight burn, like a sun burn.
I went in for pre-radiation imaging last week. They gave me three pen-mark sized tattoos. One on my breast bone, and one on each side, under my arms.
On Monday, I get to attend a Radiation Ed class. The following Monday I'll start treatments.

Over the last few months, I have been encouraged by many friends to seek out alternative/natural treatments. Up until now, I have been resistant for a number of reasons (that I won't go into now). Next week I will meet with a naturopathic doctor to discuss ways to get my body healthy and strong once again.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bonking

I'm a runner. At least I was before cancer. I've run many races and a few half-marathons. At the beginning of a long race, you feel great. You are trained and ready and full of adrenaline. You run hard. You run well. The adrenaline and training carry you through many miles. Then, at about mile 10 in a half-marathon, mile 20 in a full marathon, you hit a wall. You bonk. Your body protests. It screams, "No more!" Your muscles go numb, you get chills, your brain completely shuts down. You switch to auto-pilot. One foot in front of the other. Step after step. Just trying to make it to the finish line. It hurts. You want to stop. But you press on, despite the pain, despite the fogginess. Dazed, confused, but determined. Step. Step. Step.

I've bonked. I've hit the wall.
The chemotherapy drugs make my brain fuzzy. I can't think straight. I can't remember things.
The chemo drugs mess with my emotions. They make me depressed. They make me despondent.
The chemo drugs wear me down physically.
I'm on auto-pilot. Pressing through. Headed for the finish line. Determined.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Uncomfortable Agony

I had my last chemo treatment last Wednesday. I dreaded it. I cried and cried the night before. I broke down again that morning, in the few minutes I found myself alone. Then I prayed that I would get in a wreck on the way to the hospital. Anything to avoid that last treatment. It has been horrible. Agonizingly horrible.
It was just 8 weeks. How hard can that be?
It is hard to explain why it was so horrible. The nausea wasn't any harder than morning sickness. But there was pain. Weird pain. My body did not feel right. My organs didn't feel right.
My body became weak.
Mentally and emotionally, I became weak.
And pathetic.
I was broken.
My will was broken. Like a wild horse being tamed. The spark in my eye went out. Something in me died, and I'm not the same person I was before.

I am beginning to see the pieces of the puzzle coming together. I've quoted this verse before. It came to me last June, and I knew it was a significant verse for me in this season, but I didn't understand. It has come to mind again and again. It gives me great hope.

"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." ~John 12:24-25

Saturday, December 18, 2010

First Birthday

Today is my baby girl's first birthday. It is bittersweet. We did nothing to celebrate. I spent the day in bed. I did sing happy birthday to her many times. Maybe in a couple of weeks I will feel well enough to throw her a little party.
Eva has brought me so much joy and hope this past year. And yet, I wonder how I will look back on this year. I want to put cancer behind me. I want to forget. How will I remember 2010?
Cancer, sickness, loss?
All of my precious little girl's firsts: first smile, first giggle, first steps?
Can I separate the two?
The weeks I've gone without holding her have caused much heartache.
And after all the discomfort, and all the treatments, I still think the hardest thing for me was having to wean Eva prematurely.
She did fine. God has taken good care of her. She is happy, healthy, and full of personality. All of her needs are met. I'm so thankful for that!
She won't remember any of this.
But I will. Bittersweet.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Trials of Faith

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" ~Philippians 4:4

I've experienced God's ability to deliver me from a trial.
And I've experienced God's grace to endure a trial.

Before my diagnosis, when I heard about someone with cancer, I felt sad, and horrified. Cancer was one of my greatest fears.
This was the wrong response.

There should be compassion.
Definitely compassion.

But for the christian who believes God's word, there should be joy. We are commanded to rejoice through trials.
This is partly a decision. But it is also the realization that it is through our weakness that God is made strong in us. It is the realization that we experience God most in our trials and that we are refined by the fire of affliction. Through trials, God's miraculous power and glory are revealed in and through us. Now that is something to get excited about!

Our greatest fear should be the lukewarm life of comfort and complacency.
A life without God. A life wasted.

I had to repent.
I haven't been rejoicing.
I haven't been trusting.
I've been focusing on myself and not the source of my hope.
So I'm holding on to God, with all the strength I have left.
I can endure. I will rejoice, because I have been redeemed!

"Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun." ~Psalm 37:4-6

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” ~John 16:33

"You will keep in perfect peace
him whose mind is steadfast,
because he trusts in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal." ~Isaiah 26:3-4

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Forgotten

Remember me, Lord?
your servant
the one you saved from darkness
the one you rescued from wandering the lifeless desert

Remember me?
your servant
who once found your favor
who knew your mercy and grace
who walked in your truth and your peace

Remember me?
your servant
who set her heart to praise you
who gave you glory
and never took for granted the beauty of your presence

Remember me, Lord?
Remember me?

do not forsake me now
I cannot bear it
Where are you, Lord?
do not hide your face from me
you are the Breath of Life
just one breath, Lord
and I will live

do not withhold your favor
When will you intervene?
When will you come and wipe away my tears?
please come to my rescue
deliver me from the depths
let me know once more the goodness of the Lord

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bitterness

I'm depressed. The length of this trial is taking it's toll. The physical suffering is wearing me down. Thanksgiving was difficult. For the first time in my life I didn't feel thankful. For the last couple of weeks, as people shared what they were thankful for, and how God has blessed them, my heart filled with bitterness. I kept thinking, God must really hate me.
And even though I can look at my life and see I have been blessed with so much, thankfulness doesn't come.
I've lost everything that is important to me. The odd thing is that it is all still there, right in front of me. I get to see it, to watch it, but not partake. Every now and then I get a tiny little taste. It's some kind of slow, sick torture.
I've yielded all. No more love of this life, or love of this world. I no longer fear death. In fact, I would welcome it were it not for my three little kids. And even them I've had to detach myself from, more than any mother should.
Just four more weeks of chemo. Then radiation. It seems like eternity. I can't see past where I am right now. This moment. Frozen forever. Tears sting my eyes. My throat constricts. Will I make it through? And if so, what then? Can God heal my bitter heart? What about my doubt and hopelessness? Have I failed at trusting God? Is he still there? Or has he forgotten me?

Psalm 13
How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
my enemy will say, "I have overcome him,"
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD ,
for he has been good to me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Second AC Chemo

I had my second AC chemo treatment yesterday (AC is an abbreviation for the names of the drugs they are giving me this time). It was supposed to be on Tuesday but my appointment got mixed up, so it ended up being on Wednesday instead.
I was not excited to be there. I expressed my lack of enthusiasm to my oncologist. I told him I needed some reassurance that this treatment is necessary. I told him I thought the chemo was doing more damage than good.
We had a good discussion. He is very honest about what they know and what they don't. We discussed some other cases I had heard about, and the doctor explained many things about cancer and treatment. He answered questions that I was too afraid to ask in the beginning.
I don't want to go into too much detail, so I'll tell you the thing I most wanted to hear. After discussing some other cases, he said with serious enthusiasm, "but in YOUR case, you responded so well to the first round of chemo, if you stick with the remaining treatment, we can practically cure you."
Now "cure" is rarely a word you hear in the same sentence as "cancer." Usually it is "remission" or "a cancer-free state."
I got pretty excited about that. Praise the Lord!
The doctor lowered my dose by 20%, and assured me this treatment would be much better than the last one. And so far, it has been. I don't feel great, but I feel a million times better than last time. This I can handle.

A Call to Pray

To my dear prayer warrior friends,
To those who have prayed fervently for me,
To those who have the ministry of intercession,
To those I don't even know, who have been so faithful to pray,

Thank you! May God reward you greatly. As we have seen, He hears your prayers and answers them!

I'm constantly hearing new stories of people battling cancer. It disturbs me. It breaks my heart. I like to think I'm the only person in the world battling this disease. If only that were so!
I try not to burden you with every story. It's overwhelming.
But today I found out that another dear friend has cancer. That is four of my close friends who have battled cancer this year. All of us in our thirties. All healthy. All with small children. All in the same circle of friends. Different kinds of cancer. How can this be?

Please pray!
1. That the medical community would find the cause and a cure for this terrible disease.
2. For my friend Andrea. We still don't know all of the details, but the prognosis is very good. Pray for healing. Pray for God's grace, and peace, and comfort as she goes through treatment. Pray for her husband and four-year-old son. And pray that God would provide for all of their needs.
3. For Marla, my distant cousin who is fighting for her life against esophagus cancer. She went through a ton of treatment and despite that the cancer has spread. The doctors haven't given her any hope. She needs a miracle! And you know that our God can do miracles! Pray for her family, and extended family. They are very discouraged. Pray that God would reveal himself to all of them; that he would show them His great love. And that they would find their comfort and hope in Him. Also pray that God would send people their way to encourage them and minister to them.

Once again, thank you! The Body of Christ coming together, from all over the world, to pray, in unity....it's a beautiful thing! What a privilege to be a part of it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Not in Despair

I must tell you, I'm not in despair. The title of my last post was in reference to the torture chamber in The Princess Bride (movie version) not my state of mind. Physically however, it was the worst five days of my life. It was the first time the "why" question attempted to enter my mind.
"Why God?"
It didn't linger. It doesn't matter. My faith isn't dictated by my circumstances. God is still on His throne. He is still in control. He knows why. I don't need to. I trust Him.

I met with my doctor today. I complained. He said he would lower the dose next time around, and talk to my pharmacist about things they can do to help with the side effects. He reassured me that it would be better next time. Otherwise, I'm not sure I could have made myself walk through those doors next Tuesday.
All of my blood counts were low, but not as low as he expected. I suppose that's good news.
I never experienced any bone pain.

I am starting to feel better. Not great, but better.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
~ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Pit of Despair

Five days. I spent five days in bed. I can't begin to describe how miserable I felt, and still feel, but this story does a pretty good job...

"Are you really as brave as you sound, or are you a little frightened? The truth, please. This is for posterity, remember."
"I'm a little frightened," Westley replied.
The Count jotted that down, along with the time. Then he got down to the fine work, and soon there were tiny tiny soft rimmed cups on the inside of Westley's nostrils, against his eardrums, under his eyelids, above and below his tongue, and before the Count arose, Westley was covered inside and out with the things. "Now all I do," the Count said very loudly, hoping Westley could hear, "is get the wheel going to it's fastest spin so that I have more than enough power to operate. And the dial can be set from one to twenty and, this being the first time, I will set it at the lowest setting, which is one. And then all I need do is push the lever forward, and we should, if I haven't gummed it up, be in full operation."
But Westley, as the lever moved, took his brain away, and when the Machine began, Westley was stroking her autumn-colored hair and touching her skin of wintry cream and--and--and then his world exploded--because the cups, the cups were everywhere, and before, they had punished his body but left his brain, only not the Machine; the Machine reached everywhere--his eyes were not his to control and his ears could not hear her gentle loving whisper and his brain slid away, slid far from love into the deep fault of despair, hit hard, fell again, down through the house of agony into the county of pain. Inside and out, Westley's world was ripping apart and he could do nothing but crack along with it.
The Count turned off the Machine then, and as he picked up his notebooks he said, "As you no doubt know, the concept of the suction pump is centuries old--well, basically, that's all this is, except instead of water, I'm sucking life; I've just sucked away one year of your life. Later I'll set the dial higher, certainly to two or three, perhaps even to five. Theoretically, five should be five times more severe than what you've just endured, so please be specific in your answers. Tell me now, honestly: how do you feel?"
In humiliation, and suffering, and frustration, and anger, and anguish so great it was dizzying, Westley cried like a baby.
"Interesting," said the Count, and carefully noted it down.


~From William Goldman's The Princess Bride (pg. 206-207)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Praise the Lord!

A couple of months ago, I asked you to join me in praying for my dear friends Cyrus and Jonie. Cyrus was diagnosed with Brain Cancer within a week of my cancer diagnosis. We have walked this bittersweet journey together. Cyrus finished up his treatment about a month ago. Yesterday he received the amazing news that he is cancer free! The tumor is gone! Thank you friends for laboring with me in prayer! All glory and honor and praise to the great and mighty God we serve! Despite my weak body, my heart is dancing with joy!

Check out their testimony at:
http://cyrusmccrory.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Nausea

How many different anti-nausea drugs does it take to keep my nausea at bay? Five, so far, and I still feel pretty horrible. If my memory serves me correctly, it is a bit more intense than my morning sickness.  
I had to go back in for a shot today. This one kicks my bone marrow into overdrive, in an attempt to raise my white blood cell count. The shot can potentially cause severe bone pain, which can hopefully be controlled by taking Tylenol and Zyrtec. I can't help but wonder how many drugs can simultaneously be in my body.
If I can't keep more food and water down, I'll have to go back to the doctor for some IV assistance.
So please continue to pray for me. I need strength. I need God's comfort, the kind only He can give. And I need freedom from these side effects!

My kids can see I'm not feeling well. They've been acting out...like crazy. They need some extra grace right now.

The refiners fire - the fire of affliction - is feeling hot tonight!

"But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.
If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work."  ~ 2 Timothy 2:20-21

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Starting Up Again

I finally got the last drain tube out last Tuesday. What a miserable experience! I'm glad to be done with it. I still don't have complete range-of-motion in my arms. I start physical therapy tomorrow. I'm very excited about it. Nothing frustrates me as much as physical limitations and not being functional.

My surgeon was so optimistic at my last visit. It encouraged me. I never ask about the prognosis. I just assume I'm going to survive. But it is encouraging when my doctors are optimistic. I get pretty emotional whenever someone talks about my future.

Chemo starts back up on Tuesday. I'll have four treatments, one every other week. As I reviewed all the possible side effects, I was reminded how few side effects I had from the first chemo drugs. I'm so very thankful, and hopeful that I'll have few side effects on these new drugs.

Please continue to pray for me...
1. Minimal side-effects
2. Blood counts stay normal
3. That I don't get sick (cold/flu/infections).
4. For those helping me, that they don't grow weary (particularly my mom and my husband).
5. Endurance, for me.

A Generous Heart

I've received so many gifts and help from people. I've been wanting to blog about it for a while. It's an overwhelming task, because I have been blessed by so many people, in so many ways. I tried to write it all down once, but after almost two hours, my husband gently reminded me that I have a family to tend to. I will figure out a way to tell you, because it's worth writing about. I pray that God will bless you all abundantly, as you have blessed me!

So today, the sweetest thing happened and I couldn't wait to write about it.
Some dear friends came over after church. They have the sweetest little girl. She's six, and has been close to my heart since I met her about two years ago. During our visit, she came up to me and handed me some money.
Confused, I asked her, "What is this for?"
She said, "To help pay for your medicine."
I was touched.
Knowing her parents don't just give her money, I asked, "Is this money you earned?"
"Yes." she replied. "I earned five dollars and I gave you two."
I was speechless, but knew I had to say something.
I gave her a big hug, then told her, "This will be a huge help! Thank you so much. You have a very generous heart, and God loves a generous heart." Then I gave her another hug.
She smiled at me.
I looked up at her mom, with tears in my eyes, and saw that she had tears in hers too.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Letting Go

I held my baby girl last night. She nestled in, which is unusual for her. I think she's missed me as much as I have missed her. I cried silently in the stillness of the moment. I haven't been able to hold her for four weeks.
The last few weeks have been difficult. Heart wrenching.
I have in my mind the image of the kind of parent I want to be. It's above and beyond anything I could ever attain, even on my best day. I've had to surrender all of those expectations of myself.
But there is this other part of being a parent that is different from ideals or even good intentions. It is that desire I have for my children. The longing in my heart to care for them, to provide for and nurture. The part of me that can pick their voice out of a crowd of noisy children. The part of me that wants to comfort them when they are hurt, to run to them. It's that desire to impart my values, to teach them, to keep them safe, to be close to them.
This is what I've been forced to surrender. And I do so unwillingly. Although I do trust that God will work this out for good, my heart aches. A deeper ache than I've ever experienced. It's my inability to take care of my children.
My children.
My children.
Maybe that's the problem.
They aren't mine.
They don't belong to me.
Surrender.
Surrender the things that are closest to my heart?
What does it mean to really surrender?
To really lay it all down. All of my desires. My will.
When I think I've given all, when I think I've completely yielded, I realize I've only scratched the surface.
There is still so much "mine" and "I want" in my heart.
I cannot imagine the amount of selflessness it took for Jesus to willingly suffer torture and crucifixion. He had to yield his will, every day, every minute, leading up to that moment when he gave all.
He resisted every desire, every good thing life has to offer.
So that we could be free.
Free from sin. Free from bondage. Free from death.
So that we could choose.
God's will or my will.
I'm learning to choose God's will. And to trust Him with the things that are closest to my heart. Things that are the hardest to let go.

"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor." ~John 12:24-26

Friday, October 15, 2010

Numb

i look down and there is nothing there its so flat, board flat
and i can see my post-baby belly and it looks so much bigger than before
breasts gone and there is nothing there; no more nurturing
pale smooth skin and two lines, scars where my breasts used to be
it doesn't look that bad, not as deformed as i expected, just so flat so bony
i stand before my husband and i ask if he is sad, it is his loss too
he looks at me sadly and says no
he is sad because i don't feel sexy anymore and he is right, i don't
sometimes i feel pretty but never sexy, he still thinks i am
but i don't understand, how can i be
i'm numb, my entire chest, so many nerves damaged, no feeling
and that is how i feel sexually numb paralyzed damaged

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Breast Cancer Awareness

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Since this is a blog about breast cancer, I feel like I should say something. I greatly appreciate all of the fund raising endeavors. It is amazing how many resources are available for people struggling with breast cancer. However, I get a bit irritated by the vast number of products with pink labels that fail to eliminate the known cancer-causing ingredients in their products. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, google "pinkwashing."
Putting that aside, the news is filled with breast cancer awareness articles. I've been reading many of them. The ones that draw my interest are regarding prevention and risk factors. I'm trying to find anything that puts me in an "at risk" category. I'd like to discover if there is anything more I could have done to prevent this disease. So far, I've found very few things.

Prevention...
  • Regular physical activity: Other than during my pregnancies, I've always been active. I love to exercise!
  • Maintain healthy weight: Yep.
  • Moderate to no alcohol consumption: I've never been a big drinker. And I don't drink alcohol at all these days.
  • Eat a healthy diet filled with fruits and veggies: I read cancer-prevention books and implemented cancer-preventing eating habits long before I got breast cancer.
  • Avoid refined sugar: I love sweets! This is my weakness. Although I've tried to eliminate them, I often indulge, probably more than I should.

Risk Factors...
  • Female: Yes, I am a woman. That's one risk factor.
  • Old: No, I'm only 36.
  • No pregnancies: I've had four (one miscarriage).
  • First pregnancy at an older age: Hmmm, is 30 considered an older age? This is a possible risk factor.
  • Not breastfeeding: One study indicated that those who breastfed more than 24 months were 60% less likely to develop breast cancer. I spent many, many months breastfeeding.
  • Recent use of oral contraceptives: No.
  • Menstrual cycle started before age 12: No.
  • Abortions: None. Did you know having an abortion increases your risk of getting breast cancer by 242%?
  • Smoking: Never. Risk increases by 196%
  • Genetic factors: None. No family history. Genetic test came back negative.

My point is that no one is exempt. I don't bring this up to evoke fear. If God is on your side, breast cancer is not something to be feared. Neither is death for that matter. But cancer treatment is unpleasant, and by catching it early, one can prevent much of the unpleasantness. The most important thing is to know your body and to do regular self-exams. If you notice anything irregular, call your doctor!
Prostate cancer is to men as breast cancer is to women. 1 in 6 men will be affected by prostate cancer with almost 30,000 dying each year. Not nearly as much money and publicity goes into prostate cancer research and awareness. So for you men out there, get regular check-ups and PSA tests.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The results are in...

This week has been uncomfortable. I haven't had much pain, just discomfort. I discovered that I am prone to discouragement when I lose control of my life. I am so very thankful for all the help I have received. But I get frustrated when I can't do things myself, my way. I've given up control of EVERYTHING. I've had to yield my rights and my way. I've had to joyfully receive help from others, their way. It's hard. And I don't like needing people the way that I do, and having to depend on others for everything. It's humbling, bordering on humiliating.

I wasn't prepared emotionally for my follow-up doctor's appointment today. I like to face doctor's visits when I feel strong and when I'm not overly emotional - especially when I'm facing possible pain and test results. I was an emotional wreck as Damie and I arrived for the appointment. It was actually more of a discouraged temper-tantrum over not getting my way for the last week. Despite that, God continually gives me peace and comfort, and He's never given me more than I can handle.

My surgeon is very even-tempered. He's sweet, calm and comforting. He examined my scars and said with uncharacteristic enthusiasm that I look fantastic! He was very pleased with how well I'm healing. The nurse removed three of my four drain tubes. It was painful. It felt like I was being stabbed in the side with a knife. I've never been stabbed in the side with a knife, but I imagine what I felt today is very similar. My eyes were closed the entire time, but Damie, who has no problem watching all these horrible procedures, said that he could definitely see why it hurt so badly. I silenced him before he could give me any more details.

While I was getting the drain tubes extracted, the doctor explained the pathology report. It was a "favorable pathology report" that "couldn't get much better." As expected, there was no cancer in the tissue taken from the left side. The tissue removed from the right side still had small traces of cancer but the "sampling of the tumor sites shows >95% tumor kill." And there was no cancer found in the lymph nodes (where there had been cancer originally).
So, I wasn't entirely cancer free, but pretty darn close. And hopefully now that they've removed all the breast tissue, I am cancer free!!

Despite the positive results, I am still facing more chemo and radiation. I will meet with the oncologist soon to get started on my remaining treatment. It is comforting to know that I am responding well to the treatment and that there really will be an end to all this.

I am confident that I'm responding so well and having minimal complications because of all your prayers. Thank you all!!!!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Broken

Warning: this post may be uncomfortably descriptive for some

Before leaving the hospital, the doctor requested that I change my bandages and take a shower. Knowing how difficult it would be, both physically and emotionally, I put it off until the last possible moment. And when that moment finally came, and I could put it off no longer, I mustered up all my courage and got up, allowing Damie and the nurses to unwrap the bandages. I stood there, with my eyes closed, not daring to look, my emotions coming to the surface.
Damie gently led me to the shower. I collapsed onto the seat as my blood pressure unexpectedly dropped. My eyes blurred and everything sounded muffled. I sat there in the shower, naked, hairless, scarred, with drain tubes dangling from my sides. I must have looked pathetic sitting there, my body marred, still covered in iodine and the markings from the surgeon.
Damie was at my side. He was praying fervently for me. Then he was calling for the nurses and directing them to help. There was worry and compassion in his voice. They covered me and got me back into bed, closely monitoring me until my blood pressure was back to normal.
This isn't quite what I pictured when we vowed, "...in sickness and in health, till death do us part." This isn't how I want to present myself to my husband.
And yet, he sees past all the brokenness and weakness in my body, still seeing me whole, still seeing me how I looked when we first met. And more importantly, loving me for who I am today, and for who we have become together.
And in the midst of all the activity, while I was barely conscious in the shower stall, Damie reached for my hat. He tenderly covered my head, somehow knowing that would comfort me.

Picturing myself lying broken in the shower, and experiencing the unconditional love of my husband...I'm struck by the resemblance to how each of us comes to Christ. Torn apart by the hardness of life. Bruised and broken by sin. Overtaken by depression, anxiety, fear, failure. Wounded, broken-hearted, hurt.
Finally, in our weakness and desperation, we realize how much we need a savior. We stop trying to cover our brokenness. We stop trying to excuse our sin. We surrender. We cry out to God, and He comes and exchanges our filthy rags for robes of righteousness. With compassion and mercy, He picks us up, broken and scarred, and wraps us in His garments of salvation. He heals our wounds. He forgives our sins. He takes away all the fear, all the guilt, all the shame. He makes us new. He makes us whole. He makes us presentable, beautiful, spotless and pure. His bride. His beloved.

Isaiah 61:10
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
My soul shall be joyful in my God;
For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Surgery Update and Thanks

My amazing husband sent out some update emails from the hospital yesterday. He didn't have everyone's email addresses readily available, so I am posting them here for you to read...

9/27- 3:35pm

To everyone who has blessed our family with meals and prayer. I want to thank you all for the blessing it has been to receive your kindness and prayers. I am sitting in the waiting room now. They took Stephanie in to surgery about 1:00 pm today. The surgery is scheduled for about 5 hours. They will be doing a biopsy on the non-cancer side while in surgery. Please pray for a good report on this test. Stephanie was so very peaceful (thank God for His grace). She showed so much courage and faith going into this surgery. While we were talking before they took her she was saying how lucky she feels to have such a wonderful support group of family and friends. I wanted to let you all know that all your help and prayers have made this trial so much more bearable for our family.

When I look back over the last year, it is God's grace and mercy that He has done such a work in our family, marriage and our hearts. His timing is so merciful and I am so thankful that he has shown us His favor and equipped us with strength and support to handle this trial. It is true that faith is a gift and His strength is sufficient to get us through everything. I am sure that God will continue to give us strength and faith to keep looking to Him for our healing, provision and strength.

I again want to thank you all for so much that you all have done for us, I will try to keep you all updated on Stephanie’s status.

Thanks again
Damie



Update 9:52pm

Well, Stephanie is doing well. We have gotten her into her room after surgery. It was a 4 ½ hour surgery but there were no complications. Everything went well. Stephanie had a bit of a hard time with the anesthetic when she first woke up, but she came through ok. Her spirits are up and she is doing wonderfully. She was very chatty after coming out of recovery. She was very interested in finding out all about the people that were helping her, she was asking all types of questions, and saying how kind and compassionate they all were.

Well in short, God has removed her fear and she is so peaceful and joyful. It is wonderful to see her so peaceful.

Thanks again for all your prayers.
Damie



And here is a comment from my dad, in case you missed it on my last post:

To all who have been offering so much love and support: It means so much to all of us in the family and is a great source of comfort and optimism to us as well as to Stephanie and Damie. There is no adequate way to express our gratitude, but thank you so much.

Stephanie's Dad, Alan.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Details

I check into the downtown Boise St. Lukes at 11:15 on Monday (9/27).
I will have a sentinel node biopsy first. Once that procedure is complete, the doctor will start surgery.
Surgery will take approximately five hours.
I'll spend the night and come home Tuesday.
Damie will be with me at the hospital, and then he'll be home with me the rest of the week.

Overwhelmed

Here it is, the night before surgery. I think deep down I didn't believe this day would really come. Yet, here it is and I'm feeling overwhelmed.
Not by fear.
I'm at peace, and content.
Rather, I'm overwhelmed by the love and encouragement I have received from friends over the past few days. Tears run down my cheeks as I think of all the extra-long hugs, prayers, words of encouragement, notes, emails, phone calls, and comments on this blog.
I am overwhelmed with thankfulness. I'm overwhelmed by the love people have shown me.
Thank you dear friends, for your encouragement.
Thank you friends who are fasting and praying for me tomorrow. I'm so humbled that you would make that sacrifice and petition God on my behalf.
Thank you friends for your generosity and open-ended offers of help.
Thank you friends for your love and concern, and for being sensitive to the difficulties I'm facing.
I'm filled. I'm overflowing. There is no room left in me for fear. For sadness. For loss. I've been forever touched by your loving kindness.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

No Scar?

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land;
I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star.
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers; spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned.
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierc├Ęd are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole; can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?

~Amy Carmichael

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Surgery

I met with the surgeon today. I've chosen to have a bilateral mastectomy (modified radical on the cancer side, simple on the other).
Surgery is scheduled for Monday, September 27th.
I don't have much to say about it. I'm feeling very emotional, but haven't yet processed it all. Mostly, I'm sad.

Things to pray for...
1. No complications
2. Speedy recovery
3. My surgeon, Dr. Wolf - that God would expertly guide his hands.
4. Minimal nerve damage
5. Cancer free results!!
6. God's peace and comfort
7. My family

Thank you friends!

Friday, September 17, 2010

First Round of Chemo Complete!

I had my last treatment today! I made it through the first phase of chemotherapy with minimal side effects. Praise the Lord!! Today was the first day though that my blood work wasn't perfect. My white blood cell count was down, which means my immune system is weak. It's on its way back up, but I would appreciate prayers - that I won't get sick.

My pre-op appointment with the surgeon is Tuesday (9/21). Surgery will probably be the following week. They will give me approximately four weeks to recover before they start chemo again.

I've been asked if I still have my eyebrows, or if they were painted on in the pictures. I do still have eyebrows and eyelashes, although they have gotten very thin. I'm pretty sure they won't last much longer.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Surrendered

I tried on post-op clothing today. I was forced to face the reality of my upcoming surgery. I must confess that as I ponder it, my heart grows heavy. It is bothersome in so many ways.
Will it be painful?
How long will it take to recover?
How deformed will I be?
Will I be disgusted and repulsed when I look at my body?
How will I handle the loss?
Will they find even more cancer?
So many unknowns.

As I was agonizing over this, I felt a deep reassurance that God would be with me. My body relaxed as the stress and heaviness lifted. Tears pooled in my eyes as I felt the sweet comfort. For I know that if God is with me, I can face anything!
Then my mind went to Jesus, on the cross. "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?" He cried.
Did God really forsake him? Did Jesus have to face death alone? Did God really abandon him in his darkest hour - or did Jesus, in his agony, just feel that way? Or was it my sin that made God have to turn away, as Jesus took it upon himself?
It makes my heart sad.
I feel so selfish. My relationship with God is selfish to the core. I wish it wasn't so, but I can't help it. I need God. Every part of me longs for Him, and for what He gives me. As if God was made for me, to give me pleasure, rather than the other way around.
Oh, how I long to be an empty vessel! To be rid of selfishness. To be completely yielded to God. To live knowing I've been created for His pleasure. I'm made for His glory, not my own.
Yet, I don't even know what that looks like. What would my life be like, entirely, unselfishly devoted to God? Every ounce of selfishness removed?

Oh selfish heart! Go away! Let my life be one that serves God wholly. Let my life proclaim the glory of my Maker.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Exposed: Part 2

I'm sure everyone is wondering what I look like bald.
Very few have gotten to see.
I almost always wear a wig when I leave the house.
At home, I wear a scarf. I've been gifted the most beautiful scarves!
Even at night, I sleep with a warm hat.
Very rarely do I leave my head uncovered.

So, my dear readers, I want to give you the opportunity to see me, exposed!

My friend, Jonie, is the most amazing photographer! I knew if anyone could make my bald head look beautiful, it would be her. We spent a morning together, sharing our trials, and taking pictures. It was a windy day.
I've never had a photo shoot of just me. It felt weird. Especially under these circumstances, and without my own hair. It was an exercise in both vanity and humility.

In the pictures you will see...
  • Two wigs. I bought one (with help from my dad). The other is from my friend, Kristie - a breast-cancer survivor!
  • Two of my favorite scarves, ones I wear all the time at home.
  • The red scarf: from Ann Jones, a local artist who expertly hand-dyes silk.
  • The blue scarf: made by my cousin, Chicky (not her real name, but that's what we call her).
  • Just me, with a little make-up (my apologies).





Friday, September 10, 2010

Exposed: Part 1

There is something very strange about seeing your face with no hair. And even stranger is seeing it with no hair or cosmetics. Sometimes I'll stop at the mirror and stare at myself.
I see me. Just me. Every facial feature, no longer masked.
What beauty remains when the external adornment is gone?
What beauty is really there, all by itself?
I ask the same about my character.
What inner beauty remains when the masks are removed?
When I no longer put my "good face" forward?
When I'm just me?

We do all these things to change how we really look.
Fancy hair. Fancy clothes. Fancy make-up.
All attempts to look better.
How often do we do the same regarding our character?
We cover our nakedness, our sin, the scars, the ugly things inside.
Trying to look better than we really are.

Will people love me less without hair?
Will people love me less if they see my sin, my struggles?
Certainly not!

I lay myself bare. Every scar. Every blemish. Exposed.
No more cover-up.
Just me.
Knowing that whatever beauty remains is authentic.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Confident Dependence

My mom shared a bible verse with me the other day. This particular translation struck me.

"So now, come back to your God. Act on the priciples of love and justice, and always live in confident dependence on your God!" ~Hosea 12:6

This sums up the lesson I've been learning through this trial.
I used to think that pleasing God meant to serve Him, to live a holy life, to pray, to read my Bible, to love others, etc. All of those things are good. But ultimately what pleases God is my faith, my confident dependence on Him.
I've heard this so often, but only now am beginning to understand.
Only now am I able to walk in it; to truly let go of all my striving and performance.
Now I find freedom in depending on a God who is much more capable than I and who loves me beyond measure.

I know now...
When I sin, I run to Him
and He forgives and restores.
When I'm weak, I run to Him
and He gives me strength.
When I'm afraid, I run to Him
and He comes alongside me and gives me courage.
When I'm confused and I've lost my way, I run to Him
and He counsels me with His word and directs my path.

It's all about depending on God, confidently
Trusting Him
Despite my weaknesses and my failures
Despite my circumstances
Confidently depending on Him
Only then can He be glorified in my life
For He is all that I need

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My Comforter

The last few days have been pretty miserable. My mom asked me if I struggle more with fear when I experience pain. It is just the opposite. In my hardest moments, I have the most peace. I repeatedly say, and continually find it true...God gives me just what I need to get through each day.

Sunday evening I laid in bed, pain in every ounce of my body. It was a strange tingling-nerve-ache type of pain. It is difficult to describe.
I sat there, longing for the pain to pass. Trying to be patient, knowing in a couple of days the pain will subside and only fatigue will remain.
Then I felt comforted. The pain was still there, but it was overshadowed by the presence of the Comforter.

"And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;" ~John 14:16

I rested there, enjoying the peace and comfort found in the presence of God. I didn't want to leave. In spite of my pain, I wanted to remain there, forever. In the silence of my bedroom, God was there.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

No Reaction!

I didn't have a reaction yesterday. Woohoo! I had some minor reaction symptoms early on (tight chest, back pain), when the dose was low. But since the symptoms weren't serious, the nurse continued to administer the lower dose. After the symptoms cleared up and they fed me a yummy lunch, they switched to the regular dose and finished the treatment. What a relief! I'm so very thankful for all those who prayed for me!
My friend Jami, who was with me yesterday, was also very relieved. I think it is harder and scarier for friends and family to watch the reaction, than it is for me to experience it.
Yesterday was my last treatment of that drug. I'm relieved that I don't have to worry about another reaction, and happy to put something behind me. But part of me is a bit sad to be finished with a drug that is so effective in treating my cancer. What strange feelings!

Just a few more weeks until surgery. I asked the oncologist if they do pathology work on the breast tissue after they remove it. They do, of course! He said that there is a 20% chance that it will come back with no trace of cancer. Please pray with me that the cancer will be gone. If it is, they still continue with the remaining treatment (chemo, radiation, hormone blockers). But, it would still be fantastic news, and very encouraging, to get a cancer-free result!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Plan of action

I go in today for another difficult treatment. It will take all day, and they will once again give me the drug that has previously resulted in negative reactions (can't breathe, skyrocketing pulse and blood pressure). They gave me oral steroids yesterday and I felt fantastic! It was nice to have a day of feeling normal and having energy. Steroids can be really wonderful, if not taken in excess. Hopefully they will prevent another reaction. But please pray that everything goes well today.

Many have been asking about my treatment plan...
  • I've been taking a wonder-drug called Herceptin weekly. It has very few side-effects. There is a really great movie about it called Living Proof. I haven't actually watched it because I was told it would be hard for me. But it is supposed to be VERY good.
  • Every third week, I take Taxol (the one that causes the reaction). Also a wonder drug for my specific flavor of cancer, and it has caused most of my side-effects. The Herceptin/Taxol combo is a twelve-week regimen. Today is week 10.
  • At the end of September, I'll have surgery...a mastectomy. The plan is for a single, but I will be discussing with my doctors the possibility of a double mastectomy - for peace of mind, and prevention. My oncologist doesn't think it's necessary. Please pray that God would help me with that decision! And I welcome words of advice if anyone has experience or opinions in these matters.
  • About four weeks after surgery, I will start chemo again. Two different drugs than the ones I'm on now, for 8 weeks. I've been told they are more difficult than the chemo I'm on now. More side-effects, more fatigue.
  • That will be followed by radiation (not sure how many weeks). I will also go back on the Herceptin (for 9-10 months) and an oral hormone-blocker (for 5+ years).

Fear is a Liar!

My dear friend lost her baby girl 18 months ago. At the time I was amazed by her faith as she walked through the horrible nightmare of losing a child.
When I first found out I had cancer, she visited me. She told me, "Fear is a liar!" She explained that when you come face-to-face with the thing you fear the most, God's grace comes in a way you've never experienced. Fear melts away and the thing you feared is not as bad as what you anticipated.
Now, I understand! It is the most amazing thing. I've repeatedly been bathed in the goodness of God. He's given me, and my home, a peace and joy like nothing I've ever experienced.
People are always telling me they are amazed by my faith. But the truth is that it has absolutely nothing to do with me - there is nothing particularly amazing about me.
It is the outpouring of God's grace, God's goodness, God's faithfulness in my life. It is indescribable. Miraculous. Supernatural.
There are times - I can tell - when people don't believe me about my lack of fear, my joy, my peace. I'm not wearing a mask, hiding my true feelings. I'm not mustering it up in myself by having a positive attitude. It's not in my nature to do either of those things. And it isn't my faith that is getting me through this. It is the source of my faith. The living God.
I'm not saying this isn't hard. It is. My life has changed. There has been much sacrifice, and fatigue, and difficult decisions.
But my God proves Himself faithful everyday - as He continues to give me all that I need for each part of this trial.
So come glorify His name with me. He is all-powerful. He is just. He is full of compassion and mercy and love. There is no one like Him. Great is His faithfulness!!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sacrifice

My family went to the Fair yesterday. It was the first year the boys were big enough to go on the rides. They had SO MUCH FUN! I wasn't strong enough to join them. I missed seeing their delighted expressions over each ride, animal and activity. And their memory of family day at the fair is lacking a mom.
It is these daily experiences that make my heart ache. Almost everyday there is something that I have to sacrifice. It gives me a new understanding of the christian expression, "dying to self." I realize how selfish I am. I'm painfully aware of how much time I spend enjoying the day-to-day pleasures of this world, instead of being committed to the purposes of God, instead of loving people with the passion that Jesus does.

One person keeps coming to mind.

John the Baptist
He lived in the desert.
He wore clothes made of camel's hair and a leather belt.
He ate locusts and honey.
John didn't enjoy the pleasures of his day. No wife or kids are mentioned. Certainly not a nice house or an afternoon playing golf with friends. And after his brief ministry that paved the way for Jesus, he was thrown in jail. He was eventually executed and his head was offered on a platter to Herod's daughter.
But John's preaching drew multitudes.
"Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins." ~Matt 3:5-6

John's unique dress was foreshadowed by another great prophet. In 2 Kings, Elijah is described as also wearing a camel's hair garment and a leather belt. I can't help but ask why these prophets dressed the way they did? The study notes in my Bible articulate what was already in my heart:
"Elijah's course garments demonstrated the UNVARNISHED TOUGHNESS of his GODLY CHARACTER. His way of dress was an ethical statement - a stark contrast to the self-indulgent luxury enjoyed by the evil kings of his time."

These two men lived a life devoted to God and marked by self-sacrifice. They didn't indulge in the typical lifestyle of their culture. It was because God had called them to do something EXTRAORDINARY. But the road to doing the extraordinary is paved in sacrifice.

Does my obedience and self-sacrifice stand out as unusual?
Is my godly character (evidenced by my thoughts, actions, attitudes, words, decisions, the way I spend my time and resources) a stark contrast to the self-indulgence of our culture?

God has been asking me to give some things up. Things that no one would fault me if I didn't. In fact, some may even think it's crazy radical. But maybe God is calling me to live a life that is extraordinary.
I want my convictions to be echoed in my decisions.
I want my principles demonstrated through my actions.
Even if it means I have to do something radical.

Am I really willing to give it all?
To dress only in camel's hair,
To live in the desert,
To eat locusts and honey,
If that's what God asked me to do?

I am.
And I say it with a deep breath and a big gulp.
Because I know at times it will be hard and at times it will be painful.
And people might think I'm weird.
But it will be worth it.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Reaction

I had another reaction to the chemo yesterday. They still think it is an "infusion" reaction rather than an allergic reaction, and that I have a sensitivity to the base of the medicine. Only one of these treatments remain (in three weeks), and the oncologist and pharmacist are still deciding on the best way to prevent another reaction. This drug is the best for my kind of cancer, so they are doing everything they can to make sure I can still use it.

I also suspect that the difficulty I've had breathing and the pain in my chest are a lingering reaction to this drug. It feels very similar to the reaction I had at the hospital, just not nearly as intense.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Here we go again...

Tomorrow is another long, difficult treatment. I'm a bit nervous. They will be giving me the same meds that caused the reaction three weeks ago. Also, the side-effects were much worse than the first time I received that drug. Please pray that I won't have a reaction this time, and that I won't be so sick after. It usually hits me Sunday, mid-morning and lasts a few days.

I had an echo (heart ultrasound) last week. My heart is still strong! The tightening in my chest and difficulty breathing has subsided. The cause is unknown.

Thank you friends. Your prayers and encouragement mean more than you know...

Victory

The Bible...
To some it's just a story, a myth, a history book.
I've seen it induce strong emotion, even in those who have never read it.
Fear, guilt, even anger.
And great misunderstanding.
But to me - it is the bread of life. My sustenance.
It gives me courage.
It feeds my weary soul.
It strengthens my bones.
It gives me power to overcome - even the most difficult obstacles.
For it is God's word to me.
It is where God reveals his wonderful character, his great love, his amazing compassion.
In its pages I find hope. I find the answers to my problems.
It works.
I choose to believe what the Bible says
not my feelings
not my discouragement
not my fears
not even my pain.
There I find victory, and freedom.
And the discouragement from this past week lifts.
My frustrations cease.
My broken heart is healed.
The fog clears.

"This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness." ~Lamentations 3:21-23

"Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you..." ~Psalm 42:5-6

"Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." ~Isaiah 41:10

"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed." ~2 Corinthians 4:8

"You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light." ~Psalm 18:28

"O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.
You hem me in—behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,"
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand..." ~Psalm 139:1-18

Monday, August 9, 2010

Remember

I'm discouraged. I can't seem to shake it. My view of the finish line has grown faint. I look around and see that I have lost my way.
I've lost my kids. I take care of them, but I no longer parent them. Their little hearts are slipping away. I called for my oldest today. He said, "Mom, are you gonna yell at us?"
Have I been yelling? I lack the strength.
But I have been harsh. And as I put myself in their shoes, it becomes clear that most of what they hear from me is correction. I don't play with them anymore. I only occasionally read to them. I'm not consistent. I've lost control.
As a wife, I'm no better. There is no order in my home. My champion husband comes home each night, after a long day at work, to even more work. He has to discipline the kids, help get dinner ready, play with the kids, bathe the kids, put them to bed, clean the house, put away laundry, and take care of his sick, tired wife. He lovingly expects nothing in return.
I'm overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and failure. And I am helpless to change.
These feelings are familiar to me. I had them not too long ago. The feelings are the same, the circumstances are different. And it is good to remember, because that situation seemed hopeless too.
It was my marriage. Twelve years of bad habits. Twelve years of damage. Twelve years of injuring one another. It seemed irreparable. We tried everything. Every book. Every marriage conference. Each attempt increasing hopelessness. I cried out to God, repeatedly, for years, "Help me! I can't do this!"
And in God's perfect timing, it all changed. In just one moment. God changed our hearts. God repaired years of damage. God healed and restored. Miraculously. In a moment.
That was five months ago. Before cancer.
Have I already forgotten?
Am I like the Israelites of the Old Testament who continually forgot the miraculous deliverance of their God and turned away to idols?
The trial of a difficult marriage didn't teach me how to be the perfect wife. I'm still far from that. What I learned is that my God is faithful. I can trust Him, even when I can't see the finish line. He can deliver me. He can work out all the details of my life, despite my weaknesses and failures.
I'm reminded of my own lack of faith during that trial and I refuse to go back there. Nothing is Impossible with God!

Sweet Prayers of Faith

During dinner, the boys asked if they could pray for me. They climbed out of their chairs, came over to me and laid their little hands on me.

Victor (age 3) prayed with conviction and sincerity, "Please heal mommy's body...mumble, mumble, mumble." (He often mumbles when he prays and I can't quite make out what he says.)

Kedrick (age 5) prayed, "Dear Jesus, please heal mommy. Make the bumps get smaller so she doesn't have to be sick for a long time. Dear Jesus, make mommy happy so she can give me hugs. Amen."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Endurance

It's been almost five weeks since my first chemo treatment. Just five weeks.
This is supposed to take a year. And I haven't even gotten to the hard part yet.
I'm tired. Already.
I'm tired of depending on others to do those things I can usually do myself.
I'm tired of doctor's appointments and health concerns.
I'm tired of discomfort, pain, fatigue.
I'm tired of staying home,
sitting on the couch,
watching others take care of my kids.
Most of all, I'm tired of relationships being one-sided. Where I receive, and have nothing to give.
I'm discouraged. And I pray that God would send someone to encourage me.

Yet there comes a time in life where one must learn to encourage oneself.
To not give in to the thoughts and feelings of discouragement, disappointment, doubt, weariness.
For me, that time is now.

"...David strengthened himself in the LORD his God." ~1 Samuel 30:6

I must be like David! I must wait on the Lord. Patiently. Cheerfully.
I choose to be strengthened by His word, to believe what He promises me.
About trials, about hardship, about suffering, and about glory.

"My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken." ~Psalm 62:1-2

I lift up my tired eyes. I lift up my tired hands. I turn my gaze to my Creator.
I turn my thoughts away from myself, from my circumstances, from the things that pull me down.
I think on those things which are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy.
And I am strengthened! I'm encouraged! Already!

"Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the LORD,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the LORD
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint." ~Isaiah 40:28-31

Friday, July 30, 2010

Prayer Please

Dearest prayer warriors, I'm so extremely thankful for all of you who are praying for me all over the world. It means so much to me. My prayer is that God would bless each one of you abundantly!
Please don't grow weary! This past week has been my worst so far, physically. I've been very tired and often quite uncomfortable. Chemotherapy doesn't only attack the cancer cells, but many of the good cells as well. Below I've listed my specific physical needs.
  • Please pray that the damage to my body would be minimal, but that the damage to the cancer would be complete.
  • I've experienced some tightness in my chest. It could be nothing. But one of the drugs I'm on, the one I'm supposed to take for an entire year, can also damage my heart. Pray that my heart would stay strong.
  • Pray for minimal side effects. Spending my days on the couch is not a lifestyle that I can embrace. I expect this to be hard and I know I won't be 100%, but there are things I need to do, particularly as a wife and a mom.
  • Pray for complete healing and long life!!
  • Also, if you would be so gracious, add my dear friend Cyrus to your prayer list. Right around the time I found out I had cancer, he discovered he had a brain tumor. He has a beautiful wife and three sweet young children. They are an amazing, faith-filled family. Cyrus needs to be healed! And I'm expecting and believing that God will hear our cry.
"Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." ~James 5:16

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Thoughts on Joy

I'm studying JOY in the Bible. I have a long way to go. The Bible has a lot to say about joy.
I've experienced a deep, unexplainable joy ever since I found out I had cancer. Even during the scary and painful times. And I don't understand why. It doesn't make any sense.
Joy is a perplexing thing to me. Is it a feeling? Is it a decision?
Here is what comes to mind when I think of joy...

Joy is that feeling you get when your favorite sports team wins. You can't help but leap to your feet with a shout!
Joy is when you find out your dear friend - who has been unable to get pregnant - is finally pregnant.
Joy is when you get that job you wanted so badly, but didn't think you had a chance.
Joy is what you feel when the man of your dreams bends down on his knee to ask the question you've been longing to hear.

Joy comes from getting what you hope for. The more hopeless the situation, the greater the joy when you receive what you've longed for.
Having joy in a trial comes from looking at the end, the finish line, the goal - knowing the outcome is worth the pain of the race.

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." ~Hebrews 12:2

Jesus endured the cross. He endured torture and pain beyond anything I can imagine. And unlike me, he had a choice. He could have stopped it at any moment.
What was the joy set before him? What could he have hoped for that would be worth that amount of pain?
The answer is simple:
You.
Me.
God wanted a relationship with me.

And when the work on the cross was complete,
when the veil had been torn,
when the power of sin was broken and it could no longer separate me from God,
God leapt for joy. His joy is in me.

If God healed me today, I would leap for joy. I wouldn't be able to contain myself.
But the deepest cry of my heart isn't for healing.
It is for Jesus. To know him. To be close to him. To be in his presence. To sit at his feet.
That's what I hope for. It's available to me every day. And that's where I find my joy.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Yesterday

Yesterday was eventful. I went to MSTI for my long treatment. My dad went with me. It was a special time. Even though we talked about regular things all day, there is something sweet and intimate about sharing the trials of life with those you love. I've felt a unique bond with each dear friend or family member who has gone with me.

I'll start with the bad news...
I had a reaction to one of the medications. It was strange because I didn't have a reaction to it the first time I had the drug three weeks ago. They did everything the same and my body revolted.
My chest was tight. I couldn't breathe. I could see little stars shooting at me. Pain shot through my lower back. My face turned bright red and my blood pressure and pulse skyrocketed.
They immediately stopped the treatment, gave me oxygen, then Benadryl and Steroids. I recovered and was able to finish the treatment without problems. It was a bit scary.
Of course, these are the complications that I fear. Every time something scary happens and I'm forced to face my fear, I get through it with peace and courage. It sets me free. I overcome! God is so faithful to walk with me and give me peace and comfort through the storm.

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me." ~Psalm 23:4

Now on to the good news...
Before the treatment, I met with the oncologist. He asked if the tumors had been shrinking. I hadn't really checked, not thinking it could happen that quickly. The doctor did a thorough exam and was happy to report that they had shrunk significantly! So much so that when he first started checking, he jokingly said, "Are you sure the cancer is in the right breast?"
Praise the Lord!! This is an answer to prayer. I am rejoicing! Thank you friends for laboring with me in prayer!
I keep coming across verses in the Bible about God setting a boundary for the sea, and I pray that God would set a boundary that the cancer cannot cross.

"Should you not fear me?" declares the LORD.
"Should you not tremble in my presence?
I made the sand a boundary for the sea,
an everlasting barrier it cannot cross.
The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail;
they may roar, but they cannot cross it." ~Jeremiah 5:22

Hair

My hair started falling out this week. First it was a little bit. Then it was a lot.
I didn't think it would be a big deal. I'm not particularly vain.
But when it started coming out in handfuls, it was a bit disturbing.
It became apparent to me how much of my identity I get from my hair.
Wednesday night it was time, It needed to be cut.
My dear friend brought me dinner and I asked her to stay and help me cut my hair. It was very emotional for me. But her presence brought me comfort.

I went to a wig store to try on wigs, wig after wig, style after style. They were all very cute.
But with each one I'd look at myself and say, "No, that's just not me."
Glamourous. Professional. Spunky. Sophisticated...which one was me?
Then I looked at myself without the wig and thought "cancer patient."
The worst look of all. The one I don't want.
Will that look elicit horror, pity, fear? What expression will I see on the faces of those who see me?
And as hard as it is to look in the mirror and see cancer patient, I know that is not who I am.
My hair does not define who I am.
This image that I present to the world is only an image, it's not the real thing.
My identity comes from God. I was created in his image.
My beauty comes from within. From a gentle and quiet spirit, one that God has been gently, and sometimes painfully, working in me for years.

Once my hair falls out completely, I'll be wearing one of those beautiful wigs.
And it will be fun, to have a new look. Which one will I choose?
And maybe at times, I'll go without. Perhaps I'll learn to be content. Hopefully people will see past the cancer patient look, and see the person inside.





Friday, July 16, 2010

Being Normal

This week I felt good, physically. I did normal things. Fun things.
Yet, at the end of each day, I felt down, and discouraged.
I can't quite put my finger on it.
I try to forget. To pretend things are normal.
In the midst of having fun, it is as if I'm out in the cold. In the dark. In the snow.
I'm standing outside of the house, looking in. Seeing the warmth, the light, the friends. All having fun. Enjoying life. With no worries. Without the burdens that weigh me down.
And I long to be in the house. To be warm. To be care free.
Then I snap out of it. I get caught in the moment. I forget my worries. I enjoy life, like I've never enjoyed life.
But something always pulls me back. Always a reminder. A pain. A fear. And I'm back outside, looking in.
I know I'm not alone. As I look around and see the world, seemingly care free, seemingly normal, I realize that most people have a burden that they carry. Often going through the motions of having fun and being normal, but weighed down by worries, failures, brokenness.
My heart aches. My heart longs for a place without sin. Without pain. Without worry.
And I know this is not how God intended it.
My hope is in a God who heals. A God who comforts. A God who restores.
I lay my burdens at His feet. Knowing my joy, my peace, my freedom come from him. Anything else is just an illusion.

"So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most." ~Hebrews 4:16

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Second Chemo Treatment

My second chemo treatment wasn't too bad. I was at MSTI for about two hours. I only received one drug this week, the easier of the two. I was exhausted immediately after the treatment, but I feel pretty normal today. My blood counts were all good.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Port

Today I looked in the mirror. I haven't been able to look at myself since this all began. I'm not sure why. I think I feel like my body let me down, or something like that. My glances have been brief, to do only what is necessary, like brush my teeth. Today I was able to look. Really look. I stared into my eyes. I looked at my hair. My glance lowered to my collar bone and the bandage covering the port. I took off the bandage and looked at that too. I've kept it covered, mostly from myself. It lays under the skin, with a scar next to the bump. Some people have imagined a plug-in type device resting on top of the skin. It actually sits under the skin, invisible except for the gnarly, protruding bump.
I'm thankful my two oldest children are boys. They find it all very cool and fascinating. I've uncovered the port countless times for them. They are very excited to see the "machine" that I get "plugged into" while the medicine is being administered. They are also excited for me to lose my hair, so I can be bald like daddy. I learn a lot from them...like how to find joy and humor in the details.