Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chemo Brain

Some of you have asked about my sister Tracey, who was diagnosed with breast cancer while I was going through treatment. She finished up her treatment before me, and is doing really well. She caught her cancer earlier than I did and hers was slightly different than mine, so she had much less treatment. Praise the Lord!!!

I got to talk to her on the phone this past weekend and we laughed as we compared notes. One thing I haven't mentioned before is "chemo brain." Or perhaps I have mentioned it before and just can't remember. It is like "mommy brain" on steroids. We can laugh about it now and make fun of ourselves, since we've mostly recovered. But it did make life quite frustrating.

These things were constant, unlike the occasional memory loss and distraction that people commonly experience. It was really embarrassing and caused me to avoid people and conversations. It was like this:

  • I would concentrate as hard as I could when people were speaking to me and STILL forget mid-sentence what they were talking about. Then I'd look like I wasn't listening when I asked questions to find out things they had just told me.
  • I'd see someone I had known for years and completely forget their name. 
  • I couldn't remember details of people's lives...obvious ones, like, "Are they married? Do they have kids? Do they work? They just shared their life story with me yesterday!"
  • I'd see people and know that I was supposed to know them but had no idea who they were. "Do I know that person? Should I introduce myself or pretend I know them and hopefully I'll be able to figure it out by our conversation?" Then I'd be reminded by my husband that they had come to our house and brought us dinner the night before.
  • I would forget details of my own life. I couldn't remember what I had said, what I had done, or what I was about to do. I would strain to remember, with no success.
  • I couldn't remember words. Nothing sounded right when I spoke. I would mix things up. I couldn't keep a thought in my head long enough to communicate anything to anyone. At times I would go completely blank and stumble foolishly over my words.
  • I became really, really stupid. I got many strange looks because of my obvious lack of intelligence and odd behavior.
  • I was unable to focus, was constantly distracted, and probably shouldn't have even been driving. Fortunately I wasn't cooking or I might have burnt the house down.
  • I know it caused conflict in my family, I just can't quite remember how (see what I mean!). I'm pretty sure it was frustrating for them when I constantly failed to follow through on things I said I would do, then completely forget.

It was pretty funny at first. Damie would tease me, until it got so bad and I became so insecure about it that it just wasn't funny anymore. If I told him something repeatedly, instead of pointing it out to me, I asked him to just pretend it was the first time I said it. The fact that I had already told him something and didn't remember just made me want to cry.

I wanted to scream to the world, "YES, YOU ARE VERY IMPORTANT TO ME, EVEN IF I CAN'T REMEMBER YOUR NAME OR WHAT YOU JUST SAID TO ME OR THAT YOU SENT ME THAT FABULOUS BOUQUET OF FLOWERS LAST WEEK!" Instead I stared blankly and smiled awkwardly. I wonder how many peoples' feelings I hurt.

It doesn't go away over night. It's more of a process. My brain becomes clearer everyday. I still use the dictionary constantly, making sure that I'm using the right word and that it means what I think it means (not just the hard words, but often times the simple, obvious ones). I can remember past events of my life, but the details are gone. I feel like I have to relearn everything I once learned. When I read books I have read in the past, it is almost like reading them for the first time.
It's actually nice to get a fresh new look at life, and to be able to learn things without some of the bias generated by my past perceptions and experiences. Things become a bit clearer.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hymns

A blogger at Wordwise Hymns ran across my blog the other day. So I decided to check his out. What an amazing site! He blogs about old hymns, including the history of the hymns and their creators. The stories behind the hymns are as amazing as the hymns themselves.

I love old hymns. I listen to them often. What encouragement and comfort they bring! There have been so many nights that listening to these words brought calm to my storm...

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is sad to me how many churches have turned solely to modern choruses and have completely neglected old hymns. I suppose it is an attempt to be relevant to a younger generation. But in the process, an older generation, along with all of their gifting and wisdom, has been devalued and alienated. And we miss out on the richness and depth of worship that comes from these songs.

Robert at Wordwise Hymns recently blogged about the hymn Day By Day. Of course, that hymn is close to my heart. It is the title of this blog. The words are listed in my sidebar. And this lesson of trusting the Lord, one day at a time, knowing that He will give me everything I need to make it through each day, is one that I was required to learn very quickly.
Robert's post is worth reading, especially if you struggle with worry or fear. He quoted John Newton, and I just loved this illustration and had to steal the quote and post it below. But please, check out the entire post HERE. If you have time, click on the link to the hymn's author Lina Sandell.

“Sometimes I compare the troubles which we have to undergo in the course of the year to a great bundle of fagots [sticks gathered for firewood], far too large for us to lift. But God does not require us to carry the whole at once; He mercifully unties the bundle, and gives us first one stick, which we are to carry today, and then another which we are to carry tomorrow, and so on. This we might easily manage, if we would only take the burden appointed for us each day; but we chose to increase our troubles by carrying yesterday’s stick over again today, and adding tomorrow’s burden to our load, before we are required to bear it” (from Out of the Depths, Newton’s autobiography, p. 159).

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Secret

I have a secret! And I'm about to share it with you.

When I first started this blog, I committed to myself to be completely honest. I didn't want to paint an unrealistic picture. I like how my friend expressed this idea to me in an email (when I was feeling bad for being whiney):

"Making things that are really rotten look like roses doesn't do you or anyone else any favors. Sometimes, life is hard. Really really hard."

I also committed to myself years ago, to be transparent. I committed to be open and honest about my sins and my struggles. I fervently avoid the temptation to make myself look better than I am (although who can completely remove self-bias??).
In my attempts at being transparent, I often err on the side of being too open, and too blunt, as my close friends can attest.

Because of these commitments, you have seen my struggles. You have seen the hard times and the joyous times. You have seen me stumble, and you have seen me overcome.

[Of course, transparent honesty must be balanced with obedience and faith, especially regarding my words. The Bible has much to say about the fruit of our lips...but that's not what this post is about.]

Now back to my secret. I'm going to tell you my secret for getting back up when I fall down. Prayer and encouragement from friends is a huge help which should not be underrated. But friends don't (and shouldn't be required to) sustain me.
So, do you want to know how I go from the depths of depression to the heights of joy? It has very little to do with my circumstances, or emotions, or hormones, or side-effects of drugs. It is very simple.

I praise the Lord.

I praise Him with all of my heart, with all of my strength, with all that is within me.
It is very different from being thankful. There are times when it is difficult to find things to be thankful for. And even thankfulness entails a self-focus.
When I praise the Lord, I focus on who He is.
On His character.
On how amazing and awesome and powerful and loving and kind and good and merciful and beautiful He is.
On how much I love and adore Him.
I focus on the beauty of His presence. I focus on His countenance.

It doesn't matter how I feel, and it's not a particular method. There is no formula for praising the Lord. It can be in the quiet of my sickness, when all of my strength entails just a tiny whisper. It can be when I feel strong, and worship with dancing and shouts of praise.
Regardless, when I reach the point where I have given all my strength and have nothing left, when I have worshipped God with all of my heart, then I break through. It is in that moment that I overcome, that all the worries and pains and depression and frustrations cease. Then comes that unspeakable joy!

Something supernatural happens when I turn my focus off of myself and my circumstances, and on to God, who is always worthy of my praise. It reminds me of the famous song...

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Complaining


I hesitate to complain, but I've been depressed lately. I want this whole cancer thing to end, but it doesn't. It just goes on and on and on.

I'm still really fatigued, and it frustrates me. I'm so tired, I just want to stay home in bed and watch tv all day. Of course, with three little kids, that's not an option.
My feet hurt like crazy. From what I can tell, it feels a lot like arthritis. I thought is was an injury. But the doctors have concluded that it is a side effect of tamoxifen (the oral meds I have to take for another four years). Although I have avoided the menopause-type side effects, I'm experiencing the common bone and joint pain associated with that drug.
I also recently experienced lymphedema. It has been over a year since my surgery and I thought I was out of the woods. The Saturday after Thanksgiving I woke up with a swollen hand, and sausage fingers. Once again, I hoped it was an injury. But the doctors said it is indeed lymphedema: swelling due to the removal of lymph nodes. It's ugly and uncomfortable.
I try not to let these setbacks get to me, but they do.
I want to feel healthy and be able to function at a normal level. I'm tired of being exhausted and feeling 30 years older than I am.

I find myself giving in to discouragement. With that, my faith is weakened. I feed my flesh with the food of self-pity. And that opens the door to all kinds of evil thoughts and unbelief. My heart grows cold.

[Therefore beware] brethren, take care, lest there be in any one of you a wicked, unbelieving heart [which refuses to cleave to, trust in, and rely on Him], leading you to turn away and desert or stand aloof from the living God...
~Hebrews 3:12 (AMP)

These are the moments when it is important to have friends, to be a part of the beautiful body of Christ.
And it is important to be honest with those friends.
Friends who will come alongside you,
who will encourage and uplift,
who will warn and rebuke,
who will help align your thoughts with the word of God,
and who will "wrestle in prayer for you." (Colossians 4:12)

But instead warn (admonish, urge, and encourage) one another every day, as long as it is called Today, that none of you may be hardened [into settled rebellion] by the deceitfulness of sin [by the fraudulence, the stratagem, the trickery which the delusive glamor of his sin may play on him].  
~Hebrews 3:13 (AMP)

Thankfully, I am blessed with many of those types of friends, who remind me where to put my hope and where to find my strength and joy.
The picture posted above is the most cheerful bouquet of flowers I have ever seen. They arrived at my house today, from a dear friend who knew I was feeling down.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Geared Up


I have never run a marathon. I have never wanted to run a marathon. But when I was first diagnosed with cancer, I foolishly told my running buddy that if I survived, I would run a marathon. My goal is the Portland Marathon in October of 2012. I'm starting to think it may be unrealistic. The times I have tried to exercise, it has been intensely difficult. I am still extremely fatigued. I am prone to injury. At times I feel like an 80-year-old woman, weak and feeble. Regardless, I'm going to give it my best shot. It very possibly may not be this year, or even the next. But I have resolved to do my best to keep my promise.
I'm prepared. And if having all the proper gear indicates success, then I will be successful! I have new shoes, a new Garmin (complete with heart rate monitor) and my ever-so-faithful iPod.
A few days ago, I put on all my running attire and hit the road. I completed my old two-mile neighborhood loop. It was painful! I walked most of it, and came home with sore, arthritic-feeling feet. It was more difficult than I expected, but it's a start!
I invite you to join me. If anyone out there has ever wanted to train for a race, now is the time!! If I can do it, so can you. We all have obstacles to overcome. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. We will face failure. But we will get back up and press on!!
Ready. Set. GO!