Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Valentine's Day Like No Other!

It's been just over a month since my last blog, and the turns my life have taken in that time ..... well, it's hard to believe. Stuff like this couldn't be dreamed up by the wildest Hollywood writers, but it is in the heart of God! Wow.

As I write this, it is Valentine's Day, and while folks everywhere will be gushing with the traditional celebrations of romantic love -- chocolates, flowers, expensive dinners, flashy marriage proposals, and lots of Hallmark cards -- I can think of no one who has more to celebrate today than me and my husband John.

Since Christmas I have been so sick, due to fluid build-up around my heart. Not only has the tumor against my aorta affected it, but there was also damage from radiation I'd had to that area. My impaired heart has impacted every other part of my body and I was weakening more and more. Doctors recommended that I have surgery to put a "window" in the membrane around my heart to relieve the fluid build-up, although they couldn't guarantee success -- it would be my best chance, so we decided to do it.

In the midst of all this, God seemed to be very quiet. I'm sure this was mostly MY fault, though, for just not LISTENING.  I was feeling so overwhelmed that I didn't event know how to pray and my communication with Him was almost none, except for frequent pleas for HELP!  For some reason, the word I clung to the most was MERCY, and I begged Him for mercy over and over -- in whatever way He saw best.

So February (National Heart Awareness Month) began with my heart surgery. It went well, although its ultimate success will still be evaluated as I recover. I was in the hospital for a week, most of that in ICU. My faithful husband John was at my side every possible moment, even though he was exhausted himself.  John hadn't felt well for at least several months and was increasingly fatigued and complaining of chest pain and symptoms similar to my own. He would come to my hospital room, stretch on on the recliner next to my bed and sleep for hours. He had seen the doctor himself repeatedly and was undergoing a series of tests. They had not pinpointed the cause, but he'd had pneumonia and we knew he'd been "burning the candle at both ends" caring for me.

Finally, John saw his doctor with test results just a couple days before I was to come home from the hospital myself. The doctor wanted him admitted immediately and he became my neighbor right down the hall in the cardiac section. Yes, when I got the full news about John's condition as I lay in my own hospital bed, I fairly freaked out. I was WAY past the point of asking how much more we could take, and it seemed like it just kept on coming. But as more details unfolded about him, I realized what a miracle it was that God had safely brought us both through.

We learned that John had 4 blocked arteries: 2 blocked 99% and 2 blocked 100%.  I still don't understand how he had survived and managed to function at all like this. Two days after coming home from heart surgery myself, I returned to the surgery waiting room as John underwent a quadruple bypass (we even had the same awesome surgeon!). Although he has been through much pain and now faces a tough recovery, his surgery was a success and he is already much improved!

John is a walking miracle and I have no doubt that this was exactly the MERCY that God led me to pray for -- although we had no idea at the time! How wonderful that God understands our "groanings" when we don't even know what to pray for! God saved his life by allowing this problem to be discovered and treated just in the nick of time!
" In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."  Romans 8:26-27

The timing of all these events was crazy -- I don't think even Lifetime movie writers could have come up with this!  As we celebrate Valentine's day, John & I both know we have so much more to be thankful for than just a little romance and paper hearts! The very heart of the one I love has been saved by the mercy of God -- it's impossible to measure that!
“For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name.
And His mercy is upon generation after generation Toward those who fear Him."    Luke 1:49-50

Saturday, January 12, 2013

In Sickness and in Health

My dear John has been the best husband in both good times and bad. Funny when you say that in your wedding vows you never expect the "bad" part may actually be put to the test one day. How very blessed I have been to have him for my husband. The following is a blog entry written by him to share his perspective as a caregiver:
I've been wanting to share my perspective on the life of a caregiver. The ups and downs are like a wild ride at Disneyland. Many friends and relatives have commented to me about how surprised they were at what a good job I've done and how brave I have been with the day to day challenges that occur. I tell them, "Really? I'm not the brave one here."

The brave one is the one fighting this disease day in and day out while still functioning in their everyday responsibilities and family trials and tribulations. Who knew 5 years ago that this would be an ongoing process or that life would never be the same for us? I feel no kudos are earned and it is an honor to do whatever I can to make my wife comfortable on a day-to-day basis.

I'll start with friends and family. I must admit I was really hurt by some close friends and family that stayed clear of us and had very little or no contact. Rather than dwell on this, I chose to praise and thank God for the many friends and relatives that have stepped up to the plate and bless us every day with the things they do. Erin has mentioned in her blogs of the Friday "chemo day" delivery of flowers from our "flower fairy," dear Lynn, longtime friend and neighbor. I don't know how to ever begin to thank her for her faithfulness, love and support.

The times when I am alone and driving to work seem to be when I have my emotional breakdowns.  I'll think of the time ahead without my Erin.  It seems like a bad dream or a Lifetime movie that is NOT happening to us. Well, it IS!  I feel the minor things I do for Erin is just that -- minor. I am surprised to hear how little many husbands support their wives at the chemo lounge, and how many women drive themselves to and from their treatments. Really?

I'm sure there is a support group for us caregivers, but I've never sought one. I have been fortunate enough to have a dear friend, therapist, and cancer survivor to meet with and air my thoughts. I leave her wiser, stronger, and ready to take on our next challenge.

I feel when Erin is feeling good, I fall back mentally to the days of past where we could just freely shop, dine, and travel. You always hear people saying to cherish those days and do not take them for granted. I would think nothing more of those days, but it being the "norm" rather than a special moment.

We both laugh a lot through the difficult paths that our life has taken us, such as the time we went to the memorial park to pick out our final resting places. It was like watching a "Roseanne" episode! Erin and I were put in a room to choose plot locations, the granite for our markers, and even what font type they would use.

We would giggle like children until the "funeral lady" would reappear. We rode in a golf cart to the plot locations and we were the first in the new neighborhood to pick out the land in which we will be put to rest. Our sons didn't share our excitement or humor when I told them we had bought "real estate" in the O.C. and would be moving!

To see your wife, lover, and best friend in any pain is indescribable. I only wish it was me going through the treatments. I could never imagine I would outlive my wife since her mother is still alive at 96 and going strong! Anxiety sets in when I think of life in the future without Erin. Such a deep pain and sadness that I immediately put it out of my mind.

Erin has prepared many boxes of things for our sons and future grandchildren that will give them a glimpse of their grandmother. She has bought books that she has read to our sons and recorded her voice as she will now be able to read those same stories to our grandchildren. Time.... how lucky are we that she has had this time to prepare things like this.

I remember every day that I'm not alone. So many friends are there waiting to comfort me and help out in any way. When I'm alone, I feel it. I do not feel like any hero or great husband. This is just what one does for someone you love: you care for them. For all you caregivers, I'd like to be your friend, rock, and support. I feel I have a lot to share (good and bad) and I could be a help to you and all the things you are going through. You can contact me at

I have put off writing this blog for fear of expressing myself in a way that would sound too sappy. The words come to mind from one of my favorite movies, "Terms of Endearment:" "IT'S OKAY TO TALK ABOUT THE CANCER!"  I plan to write another entry in the future to share more of my experiences. Please let me know any specific topics you'd like to hear about.

Knowing that all the prayers, love, and support we caregivers get from family and friends, we can also get from each other. I'm here for Erin...... I'm here for you! God bless!

Cancer Doesn't "Win"

In the past few weeks my health has taken a sudden downward turn and although I think we knew it would eventually, things are happening faster than anticipated. Before Christmas I was enjoying lunch with girlfriends, short shopping trips, time revisiting favorite family traditions. A bout with the flu started late Christmas day and was soon compounded with other symptoms that has sent me to my oncologist numerous times as well as a few ER visits.

Before we'd been able to follow up on a possible spread to my spine, it seems the nasty tumor abutting my aorta is causing more trouble. I am so weak and seem to have nosedived so quickly. While a panel of experts reviews my case to recommend next steps, we had "the talk" today with my oncologist and I am working on updating my Advance Healthcare Directive so all my end-of-life wishes are in writing. By the way, I recommend everyone do this, whether healthy or ill, young or old, and discuss it and give copies to your doctors and family members.

I can't help thinking of my friend who has stopped chemo, is receiving palliative care, and joyfully looking forward to meeting her Lord. That sounds pretty good, especially the end of the journey. Some of the potential treatments and procedures I might face sound pretty awful and I have told doctors and family that I don't want to endure torture for only a small hope in buying a few short and miserable weeks or months in this life.

Friends put on their brave faces, pat my hand, and tell me to not give up the fight -- I'm going to be okay. I smile. Yes, I'm going to be just GREAT, but probably not in the way they meant. My physical body will only be able to fight off the cancer for just so long, and then I will joyfully leave this battered shell behind and head for the new home Jesus has been preparing for me.

But when that time comes, I don't want anyone saying that I have "lost my battle with cancer" or that "cancer beat me." CANCER DOES NOT GET THE VICTORY! I am tired of viewing this as a battle, fight, or a curse and I don't think of myself as a warrior or hero. I just did what I had to do while holding firmly to my Savior's Hand.

But cancer doesn't win!

I recently was given a great little booklet by John Piper titled "Don't Waste Your Cancer." What a lot of wonderful little nuggets of wisdom it contains. One article describes the sufferings of disease in this life as "labor pains" of a new creation and that something wonderful is coming!
"For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body." Romans 8:22-23
"Beating cancer" doesn't equate with extending my life in this world. Satan would like me to think so, but the truth is I will be the victor either way, and the greatest victor when I join my Lord: "We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord." 2 Corinthians 5:8

To God be the glory! Cancer doesn't win!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Subtle Blessings

I started out today with a Lifetime movie and a box of kleenex.Yeah, I know, I know. I usually avoid Lifetime movies like the plague, knowing what tear-jerkers they always are, but this one was a special favorite of mine.

"Five." Five separate stories of women who fought breast cancer, each in different ways. I love this movie because it's a reminder that breast cancer can come at us from many different directions and it is no respecter of persons. It might impact you through the loss of a loved one, co-worker, or the lady that greets you at your local Walmart. Old or young, stripper or high-powered attorney. No respecter of status, race, education, nothing. 1 in 8 get it, but nearly all of us are impacted by it in some way.

So I pulled up my kleenex box and enjoyed this favorite movie of mine. Each time I watch it I come away with something different from it. Just like an old book you read over and over, or a favorite Bible passage. You see something you missed the first (or second or 30th) time around. That's the beauty of reading God's Word over and over -- He brings you a new little nugget each time.

At the end of the movie (and I can tell you this without spoiling the ending) the main character's father gives her a gift -- a box of soap. It seemed a little odd and somewhat inappropriate for the occasion and she almost brushed it off, but then he explained that it had been her mother's favorite. She had previously commented on how much she missed the smell of her mother. Her father seemed like a crusty old guy, a man of few words who didn't relate well to others. But in that moment he communicated so much love and compassion to his daughter, and she had come so close to missing it altogether.

It was this touching father-daughter moment that brought out the kleenex for me this time around. It made me think of my own father, often crusty, and wonder how many subtle blessings from him I may have missed over the years. Wish I had paid closer attention.

I wonder how many subtle blessings cross our paths every day that are missed in the hustle and bustle. How many unspoken kindnesses from others -- loved ones or strangers, miracles and blessings from our Heavenly Father, that we don't even notice?

Father, help me to see the subtle blessings You sprinkle in my life today, to appreciate them, and help me to extend those blessings to others.

Keep your eyes open for that bar of soap.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Who's in the Driver's Seat

Reluctantly, I got into the car and sat down on the passenger side. The insurance agent got in on the driver’s side, ready to take my statement. I just couldn’t stop thinking how odd it was that he wanted to take my statement in his car in the parking lot rather than in the office.  Before closing my door, I took in the details of my surroundings. Something was just not right. Then I noticed that he had the engine running.  That told me right away that he was not what he seemed and I needed to get out of there fast, or I may not get another chance.

I bolted from the car and ran off into the parking lot, fake insurance guy right on my heels. I frantically looked around for my car, but couldn’t find it. I think it was at this point I realized that I was dreaming, and if it was just a dream, then I could control what happens next. So since my Honda Pilot was nowhere in sight, I decided that my key would magically work just fine on the sharp little yellow Corvette right in front of me! I jumped in and drove off.  Think I may have even run over fake insurance guy on the way out of the lot.

I wish real life worked like this, but it doesn’t.  Lately it feels like the bad guy (aka: cancer, aka: fake insurance guy) is closing in.

Went to get some test results earlier this week and we got fairly blindsided.  We were expecting either A or B, but instead got XYZ – an outcome we didn’t even know was possible. A long disease name we’ve never heard of – I swear they must be making this stuff up just for me.  A little googling told me that it is a rare condition that affects less than 1% of cancer patients. Wish I was this “lucky” when buying lottery tickets! And I wish that like in my dream I was in control of things so I could ensure a happy ending. I can hear the footsteps of the enemy getting closer. Lord, please send that yellow Corvette!

I learned that the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments are all pretty horrible. I could potentially face loss of mobility, vision, hearing, memory, speech …. what’s left?  I’ve been through a lot in the past 5 years, but this one really took the cake. Medical websites described it as an “ominous” diagnosis. Geez. I thought with tumors in my lung making it gradually more difficult to breathe and another up against my heart, that I really didn’t need to waste time worrying about the cancer making trouble elsewhere in my body. It was getting increasingly hard to smile and be brave. No, I was not at the wheel, and although I still trusted the One in the driver’s seat, I was not at all happy about the way this road was now leading. I turned to my friends and church family who’ve been praying for me and I told them I was done asking for strength, because that always seemed to translate into more challenges for me to face. Enough already. I just need a break. Please pray for God’s mercy.

I prayed, too, for some kind of ending to this blog. Couldn’t just end it here without any conclusion. I could say something nice about trusting the Lord, and although I still did, He just seemed far away and silent at the moment. Father, please help me, or teach me. Show me what the point is. I clicked “save,” prayed, and waited.

Four days later, He answered me. He always does if I listen and am patient. It started in the morning when I picked up my devotional book which I hadn’t read in a while (“Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young). As it often does, it seemed to speak directly to my present need: “Sometimes the road you are traveling seems blocked .... [but] My plan for your life is unfolding before you…. Do not fear your weakness, for it is the stage on which My Power and Glory perform most brilliantly. As you persevere along the path I have prepared for you, depending on My strength to sustain you, expect to see miracles – and you will.”  The verse was 2 Corinthians 5:7:

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

I didn’t have to wait long for the miracles. The phone rang that afternoon and it was an intern working on my case. She told me that my case had been reviewed by their team of experts and they disagreed with the other doctor! They felt that the information did not necessarily indicate disease. Although I was not for sure in the clear, things were sounding WAY more hopeful!

I’ll continue to trust the One in the driver’s seat of my little yellow Corvette!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Morticia's Roses

Having stage 4 cancer puts you in a whole different state of mind. I know, I've said that before. It's been 2 years now since we discovered that my cancer had spread to my lung and brain. It seems that we are working our way down the list of various treatments and chemo medicines, and they are less and less effective. We now seem to be just holding back the monster, rather than wiping him out. I follow the news closely to listen for any hopeful new development. I recently started taking a chemo pill that previously was used for treating kidney cancer and has now been found to also work for my type of breast cancer. It seems to be helping and I am cautiously optimistic, but won't know for sure until my next scan. I do find it discouraging that such a small percentage (5%, I'm told) of research funds for breast cancer go toward developing treatments for metasticized cancer.

Because of all this, I seem to approach a lot of things in my life with a certain amount of melancholy. I remember when I first heard of Prince William & Kate's engagement -- I wasn't sure I'd be around to watch the wedding -- I was. When I planted asparagus a few years ago, I knew it would be 2 or 3 years before it could be harvested, and I wondered if I'd get to enjoy it -- I did. I put away my summer clothes and wonder if I'll wear them again -- I have. When I pack up the Christmas decorations, I wonder if I'll unpack them next year -- here I am! I have a long list of books I want to read, but wonder how many I'll have time to finish.-- we'll see, I'm a slow reader. I don't mean to sound morbid -- I am at peace and do look forward to my home in heaven some day, but I am still melancholy about the things I would miss or leave unfinished in this life.

In front of our house, we have a long row of white rose bushes. I have seen the same kind of roses many places and they are loaded with beautiful white blooms. Ours, however, not so much. My husband is determined to "train" them to bloom at a lower height, so they don't get too tall and wild, and he regularly chops them down. I have repeatedly reasoned with him, explaining that his training attempts are futile and it is just natural for the plant to bloom at a certain height. Okay, okay, he promises not to cut them any more, then does it again a month later. I know he sneaks in a few snips here and there, thinking I won't notice. However, I really thought I'd finally convinced him to stop when we got a new gardener who promised to lovingly and expertly care for them for us.

Early one morning last month,, I walked to the front window and pulled open the drapes, only to discover him red-handed, scissors in hand and about a third of the way across my row of finally-blooming roses. Like Morticia Addams (Addams Family), who chopped the heads off all her roses and left nothing but stems in her vases. I yelled and cried and retreated to another room.

A little while later, John & I talked about it and I told him exactly why I was so upset. I really loved those roses (you know me & my garden!) and looked forward to seeing them loaded with blooms, like so many others I've seen. But every time they started to blossom, John would chop them off. Then I would wait what seemed like months for them to bloom again. As soon as they did, he would chop them again. I cried and confessed to him that I was always afraid I wouldn't live to see them bloom again. There, I said it. That was the underlying reason for so fiercely protecting my roses. My sweet John would never do anything to deliberately hurt me -- he just hadn't understood my perspective. I was only now starting to understand it myself.

I recently had the privilege of talking with a wonderful and courageous woman who is a little further down the path than I am. Her cancer has widely spread and her doctors have stopped her chemo. She is home, enjoying the love and support of precious friends and family. She is thrilled to be done with chemo and the awful side effects. She has gotten her affairs in order and is joyfully looking forward to meeting her Savior. She is not looking back, but looking ahead! She told me that she's never been so happy. She really is an inspiration to me! I so admire her for her faith, strength, and courage. I haven't quite reached that level of peace, peace that surpasses understanding, but hope I will when the time comes!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Breast Cancer Awareness - Knowing It Exists is Not Enough!

It's that time of year again when we see pink ribbons everywhere and there is much talk about "breast cancer awareness." Retailers are pushing all kinds of pink products -- everything from t-shirts and bracelets to vacuum cleaners. There are lots of fundraiser events going on: walks, shows, banquets, and sales. Even professional sports teams get in the spirit by wearing pink.

Is it just me, or has breast cancer awareness become more prevalent recently? I'd like to think it has. 5 years ago when I was first diagnosed, it was "Breast Cancer Awareness Month" just a few weeks later, and it seemed like the whole world was suddenly cheering me on in my fight. Every year since then when October rolls around it does boost my spirits just to see those pink ribbons and know that I'm not alone in this battle.

But what is it exactly that we are hoping to make people aware of? At the end of the day, what should we take away from all this? I can only share with you my perspective as a breast cancer warrior.

I would like people to be aware of the statistics, but not just numbers -- the real life facts. 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. This fact starts to hit home when you begin hearing of all the folks you know being diagnosed -- your mother, your sister, your friend, your co-worker, your hairdresser, your neighbor, and on and on. It happens way too often. Over 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the U.S., and over 40,000 die from it each year. Aside from skin cancer, it is the most common cancer among women and aside from lung cancer it is the most common cause of cancer death among women.

I would like women to be aware of the importance of early detection. A woman's prognosis is much better when the cancer is discovered before it has grown large or spread to other areas. Most doctors feel that thousands of lives are saved each year due to early detection tests. The American Cancer Society states that women may want to perform regular self-exams beginning in their 20's, recommends periodic clinical exams (about every 3 years) beginning in their 20's and 30's, and annual mammograms beginning in their 40's. Women with a higher lifetime risk (20% or higher) should have an annual MRI and mammogram.

I would like women to be aware of what their own personal risk factors are and how those risks impact them. Risk factors include age, race, breast density, family history, birth control, hormone therapy, etc. The American Cancer Society has a very informative article on early detection, risk factors, and symptoms which you can read about here: American Cancer Society 

Another organization with a great website is National Breast Cancer Foundation which has lots of information, including an app for a personalized early detection plan and an informative section called "Beyond the Shock" with questions, answers, and real stories.

One huge misconception many women have is that they are "safe" if they have no family history of breast cancer. While it is true that a woman's risk factor increases if an immediate family member had breast cancer, 85% of women who are diagnosed had NO family history!

I would like women to be aware of various testing -- what is available and what are the pros and cons of each. Be aware that mammograms are not perfect -- they have limitations. Even though they do miss some cancers, they are still an important and valuable tool in detecting cancer. While some women have expressed concern about the amount of radiation a woman is exposed to in a mammogram, the American Cancer Society states that it is roughly equal to the amount of radiation one is exposed to on a commercial jet flying from New York to California and that it does not significantly increase the risk for breast cancer.

I would also like everyone to be aware of the importance of the development and availability of new and better treatment. The "race for the cure" before another life is lost. Every time I hear a news broadcast about a hopeful new discovery, I follow the story to the footnote that details how many months or years it will be going through various trials followed by the red tape of FDA approvals, and I am discouraged to think that it probably won't be in time to help me, but I do hope it will eventually save others' lives. My doctor has often told me that the most hopeful new drug for me is T-DM1 and has been tied up by political red tape in Washington, D.C. for several years now. It certainly is disheartening when I consider all the lives that are being lost in the meantime.

I would like women to take breast cancer seriously, because I didn't. It's not just your breasts you may lose, it could be your life, so be aware and be vigilant in regular and thorough exams and tests.

And I would like people to be aware that after this month passes, all the pink sales displays disappear, and all the hoopla dies down, we breast cancer warriors will still be silently fighting on. Please don't support us for only one month out of the year.

A few days ago I ran into a teenage girl at the store who had a pink breast cancer ribbon painted on her cheek. I wondered if it had special significance to her and I asked her about it. As it turned out, her aunt was a survivor. I pray this disease is wiped out long before this young girl has to face it herself one day.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Not in Kansas Anymore!

Recently I got a gift card to Nordstrom’s for my birthday and I went shopping intending to get something practical like maybe a couple new sweaters for fall. I even had a few draped over my arm when I happened upon these beauties …. a pair of shiny candy apple red high-heeled pumps!

Oh, they are SO not me! Well, at least not me recently. If you've battled cancer, or other serious illness, you understand what I mean. Dazzling beauty and the latest styles are way down on your list of priorities. My clothes now focus on what keeps me warm in the cold chemo lounge, what keeps me cool when I'm having hot flashes, necklines that allow access to my port, and what's just plain comfortable for a day of resting on the couch. I'm lucky to be color-coordinated and it's been a very long time since I've actually felt pretty.

There was a time when I dressed up every day for the office and had a closet full of stylish high heels. But now thanks partly to chemo, I guess, and a number of very painful visits to the podiatrist, I have officially reached the age of “comfortable shoes.” My closet now is filled with Crocs and Sketchers. Nothing that would painfully pinch my toes—not even flip-flops any more (oh, how I miss my Rainbows and Havaianas!).

But these perfect red delights were just too much for me to resist! I quickly dumped the sweaters and headed to the register with my find. To heck with comfortable shoes!

If all goes as planned, they will provide the POP in my outfit when my husband and I go out next month to celebrate our 30 year anniversary. We got cheated out of a proper celebration for our silver wedding anniversary 5 years ago because I was sick and in the midst of my first series of chemo. I’m hoping we’ll be able to have a special evening this time, even if it's just nice dinner at home.

I don’t have the dress yet -- I'm still searching for just the right one to make me feel pretty again -- but boy, have I got the shoes! They'll look fabulous even if I'm just wearing sweats or pj's!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Lay It At God's Feet and Leave It There

As a cancer "warrior" I don't always have a courageous smile on my face, I'm not always waving a victorious sword over my head. I do thank everyone for your awesome support and prayers and pats on the back, but I must confess that the reality is there are times when I am weary, discouraged, defeated.

I do believe in spiritual warfare and that it is going on around us all the time. Some days the enemy gets the upper hand and I feel really beaten down. I had one of those days not long ago. I came home, crawled into bed, pulled the blankets over my head, and just wanted to escape the world. It was one of those days. Those rare but really awful days. I was not just in a "funk" but really defeated.

As I retreated into bed, I could feel this heavy mood settling over me. Not one that passes after a good night's rest, but one that oppresses for days or even weeks. I didn't have the strength or the will to fight it off, although I knew I should.

Just then, the phone rang and it was a friend of mine calling to check on me. I didn't feel like talking to anyone, but I answered it anyway. She immediately picked up on the sound of my voice. "What's wrong?"

She listened patiently then said "Okay, here's what I want you to do!" She looked at the clock -- it was 20 minutes til 10. "I'm giving you 20 minutes to have a pity party, cry your eyes out, get it all out of your system. After that, no more. Lay it at God's feet and leave it there."

I hung up the phone, grabbed some kleenex, and did pretty much as instructed. I hadn't had a good cry in a long time and it felt totally cleansing. I poured my hear out to God, told Him my frustration, guilt, anger, fear, all of it and let the tears flow.

When I had gotten it all out of my system I opened my eyes and saw that the clock across the room read 10 o'clock on the dot. I sighed and felt a huge load off of my shoulders. I have often been told that to better fight the cancer in my body, I need to avoid stress. Stress would weaken my immune system. A recent study showed that stress hormones can directly support tumor growth and spread.  While I understand this, it's always seemed like a "Catch-22" to me. How do you eliminate stress in your life when the cancer is the main cause of it? I guess that means that those folks who annoy me with "Think good thoughts!" aren't totally off base after all.

I have found an occasional good cleansing cry to be very therapeutic for me. Just don't let that mood hang on to you -- lay it at the Lord's feet and leave it there!  Perhaps Augustine was experiencing something similar when he wrote the following prayer:
"God of our life, there are days when the burdens we carry chafe our shoulders and weigh us down; when the road seems dreary and endless, the skies grey and threatening; when our lives have no music in them, and our hearts are lonely, and our souls have lost their courage. Flood the path with light, run our eyes to where the skies are full of promise; tune our hearts to brave music; give us the sense of comradeship with heroes and saints of every age; and so quicken our spirits that we may be able to encourage the souls of all who journey with us on the road of life, to Your honor and glory."

Friday, September 28, 2012

Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

It was the 1970's. Disco was big, everyone was learning to dance the Hustle, and girls bleached their hair and feathered their bangs to the side to get that "Farrah Fawcett look." I was in my senior year at Millikan High School and my favorite class was Mr. Hollis' creative writing class. I remember he loved to talk about his good friend Ray Bradbury, the famous author of Fahrenheit 451, required reading in every English class. I also remember Mr. Hollis kept his saxophone in a case behind his desk. Not a usual teaching tool for creative writing, but if we could get him to reminisce off the topic, we could sometimes get him to play something for us, thereby avoiding an hour of classwork.

Maybe I liked Mr. Hollis class because it was an easy "A" and writing just seemed to come naturally to me. Maybe because Mr. Hollis was always so flattering in his comments about my writing. His glowing remarks made me feel like I was something special and he urged me to pursue writing as a career. He boosted my ego so much, that when I submitted my first paper to my college professor the following year, I was certain he would also be impressed by my great talent!

Wrong. My papers continually came back covered in red marks and harsh criticisms. I had great respect for my professor and figured he must know what he's talking about. I was timid, naive, soft-spoken, and didn't fight back. I figured dear Mr. Hollis had just been trying to encourage me and all that talk about "writing talent" had been mere flattery. I was crushed. I gave up the idea of pursuing a writing career, although I still got my degree in Creative Writing, just because I liked it and it came easy to me.

I spent the next 25 years in a cubicle, typing and filing, designing and proofreading yellow page ads.  Not exactly writing best-sellers. Not writing at all until cancer threw up a detour on my path. Several years into my cancer treatments, a friend's persistent encouragement finally got me to start writing a blog to share my experiences with others. It seems that all these years later, God is finally putting to use the gift of writing He gave me long ago. It still surprises me when people compliment me on my writing, because it comes so naturally to me -- it's no big deal, don't words flow for everybody? Maybe I still believe my college professor more so than Mr. Hollis.

Still, I am moved to see how God gifted me and prepared me for the work He had for me, even if it was nearly 30 years later.

Just a year or two ago when I was sitting next to my good friend Kim in the chemo lounge, she shared another amazing story of God's way of preparing us for His plans. She told me about the time she had taken a philosophy class at a community college. During one class the professor began attacking Christian theology and asked if there were any Christians in the class. Kim was the only one who raised her hand. The professor asked her to convince him of her beliefs and challenged her to a debate against him and the rest of the class on the last day of school. Talk about intimidating!

Kim was scared. She knew that her tender Bible stories wouldn't carry any weight and she was going to have to bring the heavy ammo -- hard facts and plenty of them. She knew she would have to approach this intellectually and normally that just wasn't her style. She studied books on apologetics, talked with friends and pastors, memorized scriptures. Months later, when the day finally came, she was prepared, but then the professor dismissed class early. When Kim asked him 'What about our debate?' his response was that he really didn't care what she had to say. Class dismissed.

I can't imagine Kim's frustration! All that time studying and preparing, all for nothing. What was God thinking? She had prepared for so long and now to not even have the opportunity to share her thoughts was frustrating and discouraging.

The next day she went to the hospital, where she had been supporting a friend and her family whose sister was dying. Kim told me she had the amazing privilege of being with her when she drew her last breath before she entered heaven. After a while, she left the room and went out to the waiting room. She sat down next to a young man who was a friend of the family.

On previous visits, this young man would get angry when Kim would pray with the family. But this time he turned to Kim and asked "Who is God?" He told her not to give him any fluffy emotional feel-good stories -- just the FACTS. Kim almost started to cry when she realized that her recent adventure in apologetics had nothing to do with that philosophy class -- this was the moment that God had been preparing her for, and she proceeded to share all the information she'd studied. The young man was moved and told her he didn't know she was capable of such an intellectual, factual approach. He wept, his face in his hands. Kim says that to this day she doesn't know whether he came to the Lord, but she does know a fertile seed was planted that day.

So recently, when my friend Lynn told me about her plans for training, certification, grad school, then a specific career at a specific place, etc., etc., all very carefully scheduled and laid out, I just smiled. She was anxiously waiting to hear whether she'd been accepted to grad school and it seemed as if she has hit a roadblock and things may not go quite as she had hoped and planned. I told her I had seen this sort of thing before! God is no doubt preparing her for something, and He will use her, but it may not be in exactly the way she has planned. This is why I've learned not to panic when things don't go according to MY plan -- because GOD'S plan always works out and is so much better than mine anyway! These repeated lessons have convinced me of His Hand in ALL things and have taught me that I can trust Him absolutely!

Just another example of ...........
"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Much Too Young to Feel This Damn Old

Very rarely have I ever seen one of my many scans to get an actual idea of where the cancer is invading. Once I got a view of my skeleton following a bone scan and saw a few lights on my side that turned out to be broken ribs (beware of coughing too hard if you have osteoporosis). But for the most part, doctors' reports with descriptions and dimensions is all I've had.

The one that's really stuck in my head, though, is the description of the mass in my upper lung "abutting my aorta." I knew there was one in my upper lung, but to hear it was right against my heart was freaky.  It does explain why I'm feeling short of breath and weak.  Of all places! Why couldn't I have a tumor on my big toe instead? It's like the enemy knew the most critical spot ..... and ..... bullseye!

Lately I have found I get winded just doing the smallest things. My heart pounds and I have to slow my steps, or just stay planted on the couch when I'd much rather be up and doing something. Leave the chores undone. Some days I can't manage anything more strenuous than tapping my laptop keys.  It's so frustrating! As the song goes, I'm much too young to feel so damn old!

I'll be turning 52 later this week. That used to sound awfully old to me, but not so much as I approach it. The woman inside my head feels the same as when she'd just graduated high school. Surely that wasn't very long ago, was it? Even at 52, my body should be much more able, if it wasn't for this cancer. Good grief -- I long for the health and stamina of my 95-year-old mother! She said to me the other day, "Oh that's right! You'll be turning 42 in a few days, won't you?" With an honest miscalculation she had shaved a full decade off my age.

For a split second I wished I WAS 42 again. Do you ever wish yourself back to a younger age? Not me.  Yes, it would be nice to have a thinner, wrinkle-free, stronger me and be able to enjoy the happy moments of my sons' childhood all over again. But then I remember the down side, the struggles, the unhappy moments, illnesses, etc.  No, I wouldn't wish to go through all those things in my past all over again. Life is a mix of the good and bad, and the good Lord brings us through it all for a reason. To form us and mold us into the people we are today.

So I'll celebrate my birthday and look ahead instead of behind. Here's to a new year and all the good things it will bring!

Friday, September 7, 2012

5 Years Ago Today -- The Call That Changed My Life

Celebrating my 47th birthday with my family, 5 years ago,
and 2 days before starting chemo.
Today marks the 5 year anniversary of the day that my life changed with the news that I had breast cancer and I can't help but think about what that day was like and how my life has changed since then.

I'd had regular annual mammograms since I was in my 30's because I had fibrocystic breasts. This is not an uncommon condition and in fact 50% of all women have this at some time. But because of this, I was not alarmed to find lumps occasionally. I'd had my annual mammogram about a month earlier and the tech spotted some calcifications in my left breast. He told me it was probably nothing, but if I was his mother or sister he would advise getting it checked out just to be sure. Looking back now, I wonder if he was just trying to save me from being frightened.

I had a needle biopsy done a couple weeks later. I'd had cysts aspirated before so thought this would be similar. Unfortunately, I was surprised that it was actually quite painful. I was sore for several days afterward.

Then....we waited anxiously for the results. It was about 7:30 on a Friday evening and I had just returned from a walk with my friend Lynn when the phone rang.  We had given up on hearing any news over the weekend and were surprised to get a call from my doctor so late. He explained to me that the biopsies had tested positive for an aggressive form of breast cancer in my breast and in lymph nodes under my arm. He told me about what the next steps would be, who I needed to call, and how my treatment would be determined.

He stressed to me a couple times that it was aggressive. At that point I really didn't understand what that meant. In my mind, I thought it meant this is serious, don't delay treatment, but I didn't think breast cancer was life threatening. The worst that could happen would be that I would need a mastectomy, right?

That Sunday morning when I left for church, I drove to the end of my street and discovered a huge flock of women in pink tee-shirts walking down the street. It was a breast cancer walk, Avon I think. What a coincidence, huh? The pink women lined my route all the way from the end of my street to my church, a couple miles away, where they walked right by the front door. I wondered if I would be finished with my treatments and walking with them in a year. I felt like the newest member of a loving, supportive sisterhood -- yet, one I really didn't want to join.

In the next two weeks I saw the oncologist and surgeon, then got a second opinion which reassured us we were on the right track. One thing I learned from the doctor who gave me the 2nd opinion, was that based on the growth rate of my main tumor, they estimated that the cancer had been there for 3 to 4 years. It had gone undetected in previous mammograms due to the cysts. That was upsetting and I always warn other women of that possibility. Then, just 2 days after my 47th birthday, I began chemo and my journey began.

I remember how bizarre and surreal it felt after getting that fateful phone call.  I would wake up in the middle of the night and think -- wow, I have CANCER in my body, and yet I don't feel sick, I don't feel any different than I did yesterday.

Celebrating with my family, 5 years later!
When I look up statistics on breast cancer, they seem to calculate it based on how many survive to 5 years after diagnosis and beyond. Happy anniversary, cancer! I guess that means that as of tomorrow, I am beating the odds!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"God Will Never Give You More than You Can Handle" -- Is it True?

A big story in our local news this past week was the suicide of a successful movie director who jumped off the Vincent Thomas bridge. The bridge is a familiar area sight and just a few miles from my home. Initial reports said that this man had just been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. His family has since denied that report, so we must wonder what drove him to this act and to abandon his wife and young sons.

Suicide is an offensive subject to me since I am fighting for my life. It seems to me that he threw away the precious gift of time that God had given him (the topic of my last blog). Is that okay? Is suicide okay in the case of those who have a certain amount of suffering in their lives or a terminal illness? If so, how do you determine the amount of suffering at which it becomes too much? There was much chatter about this event on a cancer blog website that I read. I was surprised that most of the comments folks made were about HOW he did it and that perhaps another method would have been less painful. There was no concern over what may have driven him to do it or compassion for his family that is left behind. It was more like a conversation on how-to tips for suicide. I thought it was so sad and my heart aches when I see through the eyes of people who have no hope.

I have had so many well-meaning people tell me that "God won't give you more than you can handle" as they face the challenges in their own lives and try to encourage me in my battle with cancer. In a way, I'd like to think that was true, and that God didn't have such a high opinion of exactly how much I CAN handle. I've thought it myself, when I heard of a friend who seemed to have more and more bad news heaped upon her. But then the other day I started questioning, thinking yeah, it sounds nice, but where in the Bible does it actually SAY that? Did God REALLY promise us that? Or is it just one of those nice-sounding expressions that people assume are from the Bible (but they aren't), such as "God helps those who help themselves?"

The truth is, the thought comes from 1 Corinthians 10:13:

"No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it."
So this promise is specifically about temptation, not suffering. Although we would like to think we are protected from "too much" suffering, that is a dangerous and false teaching. After being pounded by problems, we might conclude that God has let us down, but the truth is, He will never leave us or forsake us and His grace is sufficient!

The Bible is full of stories of people who were given "more than they could handle." So why does God allow it?

How about the Israelites when they were chased by the Egyptian army and trapped against the Red Sea? That was certainly more than they could handle. Or, consider Gideon and his troop of 300 which God had whittled away from the original 22,000 to do battle against 135,000 enemies. Think that was more than they could handle? In each case, there was no humanly possible resolution and God intervened to rescue them miraculously!

I think God often works this way in order to reveal His power and so that He will get the glory -- not us! It also teaches us an important lesson in relying on Him and not our own strength or "wisdom" as we go through life's inevitable difficulties.

In 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 Paul wrote:
"For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction, which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us. He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us."

God may very well give you more than you can handle -- but don't worry, He can handle anything!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Gift of Time

So we just saw my oncologist a few days ago to discuss the results of my last scan. Although the results were better than I had expected, they were not as good as I had hoped!

The two tumors in my lung that we had spotted previously were still there, but had responded to treatment. The radiologist wrote that they were markedly reduced. That word excited me, but when I read the numbers I decided that he and I had a very different definition of the word. However, my doctor was very encouraged that both tumors were reduced and also the SUV numbers were way down, which indicated that the cancer was inactive or at least very slow growing.

Of course I would have preferred to hear that the tumors were gone, as had often been the results after previous rounds of chemo. It is also a concern that one of the tumors abuts my aorta. Don't like the sound of that. Perhaps that explains my lack of strength and energy lately. Yes, I'd rather the cancer was all gone, but now we have to just settle for reducing it and slowing it down.

I've been digesting this information for a few days now and adjusting to the progression of the disease. Although it's not what I want and I'm not feeling 100% or even 75%, I haven't lost faith and I continue to fight on. As I was doing some things around the house yesterday, I thought about how my focus, priorities, and daily activities have changed since my diagnosis. Some people die suddenly, without any warning, having had no time to prepare for it.

Some might be angry with God when they get a terminal disease, but we all have to go sometime in some way.  I smiled to myself and thanked God for the precious gift of time that He has given me. I realize I may have years left -- or I may not -- but fighting this cancer has changed my focus and allowed me time to do the things I'd procrastinated for too long. Long overdue things like organizing family photos (still working on it, but I'm getting there!) and writing personal and family history to hand down to my children and grandchildren. My husband and I have taken care of personal matters like our wills and pre-planned burials. But most importantly I've been sharing my faith more boldly than I'd had the courage to do before. I wish I hadn't waited so long to do that, but I'm so grateful God is giving me time now to do it.
  "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." Ephesians 2:10

I just heard of a friend's niece who is now terminal and home on hospice care. Doctors have only given her a few months to live and she still has matters she needs to handle. I'm praying that like me, God will give her the precious gift of time she needs to finish her purpose in this life.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Don't You Trust Me?

I watched a movie yesterday, "We Bought a Zoo" with Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson. Without giving away any of the story, the plot was a young widower and his kids trying to make a fresh start following the death of their wife and mother. Each of them was grieving her in their own way and hurting deeply. Some of them were not handling it well at all.

It made me think of my own family and how they might handle my death, if I should lose this cancer battle. I am perfectly content with going home to the Lord. I look forward to my new body and a new address in heaven, seeing my deceased believing loved ones, and seeing Jesus. I'll be in a better place with no more suffering or tears. Who wouldn't be fine with that? But I have always worried about how my family would get along without me and how they would handle my passing. It's in those thoughtful, heartbreaking moments when the Lord quietly whispers in my ear, "Don't you trust Me?"

I went through a similar situation nearly 20 years ago when doctors found an AVM (arteriovenous malformation) in my brain, a potentially fatal condition. I considered treatment options and made out my will, just in case. My sons were 4 and 8 years old at that time and I couldn't imagine them growing up without their mommy. While Satan tortured me with those agonizing thoughts, the God of the universe quietly countered my fears with "Don't you trust Me, Erin?"

In this crazy busy world we get so caught up with doing things and handling them ourselves without ever seeking the Lord or realizing that He's in control. At home, I'm one who organizes and handles things. I'm in charge of reading instructions and directing assembly of things. As the only female in the house, I'm always the one depended on to help find lost items (Mom! Have you seen my ---?). And I am the head peacemaker, translator, and negotiator between my men when an argument occurs.  AND I'm the only one who knows how to fold fitted sheets! What in the world would they all do without my help, guidance, and wisdom?

 Oops. I really let my ego get carried away when I entertain thoughts like that. I know that God is loving and all-powerful. He is large and in charge. I can trust Him with all aspects of my own life, but releasing the care of my beloved family completely into His hands and letting go?  That is really tough, but ultimately I know I can trust Him with them too. I think about how deeply, deeply I love them and then I try to compare that to Jesus' love for them -- I know He loves them even infinitely more that I do, and gave His life for them, so of course I can release them into His Hands and trust Him to take care of my family if I'm not around.

My favorite lesson on trusting God is the story of Peter walking on water with Jesus in Matthew 14:22-32 . Peter was doing just fine as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, but when he started checking out the wind and waves around him, he started to sink until Jesus took his hand.

I was listening to a radio program the other day on which the host told about her recent cesarean childbirth. It had been her greatest fear come true, and she too had heard the Lord had ask her "Don't you trust me?" She did, and everything turned out fine. So often God uses our greatest fears or the things (or people) that are most precious to us in order to teach us to trust Him.

Ok, Lord, I'll trust You.