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.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Heavenly Body

I spent some time yesterday inside a scanner "tunnel." The machine buzzed and hummed and moved around me searching from head to toe for signs of that cancer. I had to lay there completely still for 24 minutes. I always use this time to talk things over with the Lord. It has been 5 years ago this month since the mammogram that found my cancer, so I've been through quite a few of these scans. I used to think of these scans as just a formality to confirm that the cancer was still gone, but since it returned so aggressively I can't help but wonder which part of my body it will invade next.

After 5 years of various treatments my poor body has gotten quite beat up. I know I can never expect to feel 100% again because of the damage done to it. With each symptom, ache or pain I wonder if it's caused by the cancer, or a side effect of medications, damage from treatments, or just plain growing old.

Of course I pray for God's miraculous and complete healing, and I believe that He could if it was His will. But I'm just not sure that it is. Does that mean I have a lack of faith? No way. I know that God designed this earthly body of mine to only last a certain number of years. This body is destined to break down, wear out, and fall apart. So at some point some part is going to give out and I'll be trading it in for a new heavenly body. Some days I really look forward to that body!

 I thought back on conversations I've had with friends lately. As we get older (50's and 60's) it seems like our conversations include much more about our latest pains and illnesses. We used to laugh about our parents' same conversations, but now our kids are teasing US. Yeah, 50 or 60 used to sound ANCIENT to me when I was younger, but as I reach those numbers myself it doesn't seem so old any more! But now our bodies are limiting us and won't let us do nearly all the things we'd like to.

Our hair is gray, white, or falling out. Or better yet -- it's sprouting out of places it never grew before! Our joints ache and tell us when a storm is coming. We have to buy "comfortable shoes" now to accommodate our ingrown toenails. Charlie horses send us leaping from bed in the middle of the night. Our calendar fills up with various doctor appointments and we can't even read it without our bifocals on. All of this is really no surprise, it just seems so foreign when it starts happening to YOU! God warned us in Psalm 103:14-16:
"For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer."
 Probably the part I hate the most is food limitations. We have to watch our calories, cholesterol, sugar, Vitamin K, you name it! Anyone reading this who's under 30 has either tuned out or is laughing hysterically at the "old people" -- but trust me, you'll be here too someday. I would dearly love to travel the world, go to exotic restaurants and sample their wares without ever having to give a thought to what ingredients are in it that might make me sick.

John & I have annual passes to Disneyland which they have graciously agreed to put on hold for us until I am well enough to use again. We haven't been in 2 or 3 years now and I miss it so much. Sure wish I had the strength and stamina to do it (even in a wheelchair). Occasionally I can manage a shopping trip to Walmart, as long as their motorized carts are fully charged. We went last night and John pushed me around in a wheelchair cart -- small children stared at me like I was an alien, but it was still great to get out of the house.

My heavenly body will never tire out, never lose hair, never sag or wrinkle. Never get a headache or heartburn. It's going to be wonderful to eat whatever I please -- I look forward to that marriage feast! The Bible tells us that our new bodies will be imperishable (oh, I love that word!), perfected, glorious, powerful, immortal, changed. Read that again slowly and take a moment to savor that thought! You can't help but long for that!
"Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality." I Corinthians 15:51-53
"Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is." I John 3:2

Monday, July 30, 2012

Chemo and Care Packages

"What is chemo like? Does it hurt?"

My 95-year-old mother asked me this recently during a telephone conversation.  Even after all these years, I realized that she didn't understand what my experience is like. So, I thought it might be a good idea to blog about this and share the information with others -- those who are newly diagnosed and facing chemo as well as their family & friends.

First of all, if you are a family member, let me encourage you to go along for the chemo treatments. It will give you a better understanding of what your family member is going through and your support to them will mean the world -- trust me! I've heard of many people who don't want to come because they think it's frightening or depressing. Well, please read my blog titled "Life isn't Always a Box of Chocolates" and put on your big girl panties!  Yes, some days it is sad to see the sick and hurting people there, but those are the times to thank the Lord for His mercies to you and say a prayer for these folks who need His healing touch.

I remember we were told that my husband could join me for my first session, but not after that. We politely ignored that rule and John has been with me for every treatment in the past 5 years.  Most of the other patients have a family member with them and they are a great encouragement, not only to the patients but also to other caregivers. The nurses are happy to accommodate them and we "regulars" are like family to each other!

But back to the chemo. After you get situated in your recliner, the nurse will start your IV. If you can arrange it with your insurance, see if they will allow them to draw your blood for your lab tests at this time. It will save you an extra trip to the blood lab earlier in the week and one less needle in your life.  Some folks are quite anxious about that needle, but be assured that these chemo nurses are very good at what they do.  I even had one nurse start my IV by flashlight when we had a power failure!  For the first year of weekly treatments, I had regular IV's and the veins in my arm got pretty worn out. I have since gotten a port put in to my chest which is practically painless and very convenient -- I highly recommend it!

Usually the first medication they will give you is benedryl, to help protect you from an allergic reaction. Most everyone falls asleep, at least for a little while. Sometimes I'll go home and nap for 4 or 5 hours afterward.  You may also receive a corticosteroid which also helps reduce allergic reaction, may relieve nausea, and helps your chemo medicine work better.  This usually makes me a bit jumpy, like I've had too many cups of coffee.  Sometimes I will have trouble sleeping  the night after, but it will pass.

Ask if you can get some IV medication for nausea (in addition to a prescription for pills to take at home later as needed). These usually work GREAT and it is best to cut this problem off at the pass.  Each medication will take anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours to administer.  I always ask the nurse about the medication every time she changes it to a new "bag." Then I watch the drip, drip, drip and I ask the Lord to bless each drop of medicine as it goes into my body. You can check the monitor to see how many more minutes you have for each medicine.

The medicines are usually cold, or at least colder than your body temperature, and it tends to make you cold as the treatment goes along. They can usually give you a pillow and a blanket to make you comfortable, or you might want to bring your own.  The treatment itself is not painful and any side effects you may get don't usually start until at least several days later. Everyone's experience will be different, but personally I have found that side effects are pretty manageable and not as horrible as I had imagined. They have lots of drugs to treat various side effects, so don't hesitate to ask for help! There are also a lot of natural remedies so ask about those too. Talk to other patients for their suggestions.

One time I was seated next to a nice lady who was receiving her first treatment and was quite nervous. I tried to tell her a little about what to expect and reassure her that she'd be just fine. A short while later I started to have an anaphylactic reaction to one of my medications (throat swelling shut, etc., etc.) and there was quite a commotion! The nurses quickly jumped into action, administered some epinephrine and soon I was fine. That was scary, but was quite rare -- I've never seen it happen to anyone else. I never saw that lady again and unfortunately I'm quite sure I gave her a good scare.

After the treatment, I feel kind of "wiped out." It's hard to describe, but I just feel like my blood has been diluted (which it has!). Plan to rest the rest of the day.

A few years ago when I found out that my cousin would be going through chemo herself, I wanted to do something to help but she was 3,000 miles away. So I thought about what items were helpful to me during my treatments and put together a "care package" to send her. I included things like a few knit caps, a good book, a devotional, a scarf, neck pillow, some ginger tea, hand sanitizer, an MP3 player, etc.

Then I started hearing of more and more women being diagnosed. So I started sending out care packages to everyone I heard of. I have always found that the support and helpful advice from other survivors has meant the most to me, so I wanted to extend that same support to others. Sort of "pay it forward!"

If you have any suggestions or items to donate for care packages, please let me know. Also, contact me with anyone newly diagnosed who could use a care package.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Is it God's Will that I Suffer?

So many popular preachers are spreading the false doctrine that it is God's will that you be healthy and rich, so those are the things you should be seeking after. Aka: "Health & Wealth" or "Name it and claim it!"  No wonder they are popular -- they are just tickling peoples' ears, telling them what they want to hear. But this doctrine they preach doesn't hold water in the Word of God.

I just got some important scan results yesterday, and today I am praising the Lord that they came out good!  I know God is before me, behind me, and walking along beside me, and He is graciously answering my prayers and those of the many folks who are praying for me (thank you all!).  But if the scan results hadn't been good, would that mean God didn't hear or answer our prayers? Or that He doesn't care about me?  I talked about that in an earlier blog -- sometimes His answer is "No" or "Not right now" or even "I have something different in mind."

I can't help feeling like I've dodged a bullet this time.  I am greatly relieved, but I also know I'll be facing a different scan later this month and may not get such favorable results.  With stage 4 cancer, I know the rest of my life will be a series of various scans followed by the anxious wait for the results.  Sometimes good, sometimes not so good.  I almost feel guilty asking for folks to pray for me each time and taking them along on this roller coaster ride over and over.

I recently heard of another person I've been praying for who didn't have such favorable results.  Why were my results good and his were not?  Why does God allow the bad results?  Is it His will that we suffer?  Did I do something wrong? (I covered that last question in my blog titled "The Blame Game" in March -- check it out.)

God has recently been speaking to my heart about His children who suffered, specifically Paul, Peter, and the early saints told about in the book of Acts, as well as the earlier story of Job.  I LOVE the book of Acts -- it reads like an action movie and keeps me coming back to find out what happens next to the early believers!

In Acts 24 Paul was sharing the gospel with the Jews in Jerusalem and he was arrested and imprisoned. There he continued to share his faith in Jesus with government officials he otherwise would never have had the opportunity to meet. Paul faced many hardships including being stoned and shipwrecked.  At any one of these points I would have reevaluated my decision to continue. He also suffered from some unknown "thorn in the flesh" but he pushed on. I might have said, surely this isn't God's will for my life -- this is miserable!

We assume that our destiny is comfort, but sometimes God has missions for us that don't include comfort.  Our constant pursuit of our own comfort isn't always God's mission for us. When I thought of a plan for my life, what it would be like, I didn't plan on cancer. Wouldn't have been my first choice! But what I want may not be God's will for my life. Do you think Paul would have chosen imprisonment and all the hardships he faced? What about Job?  Would you choose a life plan that includes losing all your family, your livelihood, and all you own? Think of how many people over thousands of years have been blessed and encouraged by the story of Job's faithfulness in spite of incredible adversity.

Sometimes God has missions for us that don't include comfort.

That's a pretty big pill to swallow.  I'm okay with that -- are you? I'm not in heaven yet -- this is earth and we can expect to have some suffering while we're here. We can't expect everything to be perfect when we're living in a fallen world. But I know that He is always with me, through the Holy Spirit we can find contentment in any situation -- whether with plenty, or with nothing. And I know that all things work together for our good and for His glory!

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Romans 8:18

"Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:11-13

"And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
 Learn more about Paul here:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Life Isn't Always a Box of Chocolates!

I began writing this entry about a week ago and I found that my frame of mind was just a bit too ….. angry.  So as I often do, I set it aside to give it more thought and finish it later.  After some reflection and talking it over with a few trusted friends, I think I have gained some new perspective and am ready to try it again.

A while ago I went back to the hospital to visit a sweet lady who had been a hospital roommate of mine. She is also battling cancer and is having a rough time of it. I had hoped to bring her some encouragement. When I got there, however, she was enjoying some much-needed sleep so instead I visited with her daughter.

She told me about the rough journey her mother has had over the past few weeks and it broke my heart to hear of her suffering. But the thing that bothered me most was hearing about others who couldn’t handle the reality and unpleasantness of her illness. 

I’ve heard stories of similar experiences from others and even known of a few folks like this. They can’t deal with it so they close their eyes to it, ignore it, pretend it doesn’t exist, and they run away. They may be the folks who should be stepping up to help, the ones who are needed the most. But POOF! They just vanish. They don’t visit, don’t call, don’t write, can’t even acknowledge what’s happening because THEY can’t handle it! Often this means that responsibilities all fall to one family member, or to a caring friend or neighbor (thank God for them!).

I’ve also witnessed (many times!) husbands who don’t come with their wives for their treatments. They wait in the car, because coming into the oncology office is too depressing to them. OR, worse yet, they go to work and their wife has to drive herself to and from chemo (and fix dinner for him when he gets home). Are you screaming yet? 

This is the point where I got really angry, and although I thought it was a righteous anger, perhaps I need to try to view the situation from these peoples’ eyes. I want to tell them to grow up and learn to deal with real life, including the “icky” parts, but perhaps there’s more to their reaction than I realize. Perhaps there is an experience in their past that makes this situation especially painful for them and is why they run from it.  I also have to realize that not everyone has faith in Christ, which is what gives me strength and gets me through this. I pray that they will find it.

But a friend of mine also pointed out that this kind of reaction may be yet another by-product of this self-centered society we’ve become. Individuals have become so focused on their own happiness and comfort, that they have forgotten how to express compassion to hurting. I want to shake them and remind them that someday life’s “unpleasantness” may happen to them too.  Imagine what it’s like for the person facing the illness. We don’t have the luxury of running away – it’s with us 24 hours a day. They may feel guilty and have regrets when it’s too late and that loved one is gone, so try to get a handle on it now. Life isn’t always comfortable and pleasant.

If you are one of those dear sufferers who has been deserted, my heart goes out to you, and I hope you have found comfort in the One who will never leave you or forsake you. Thank you, Lord that when times are tough and humans fail me, You are always by my side.

“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Genesis 28:15

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Body Parts

Another lesson God has taught me is that we are not meant to or designed to handle everything on our own. That's been a tough lesson to swallow at times, in the course of my cancer battle, as I find I am just physically unable to do all the things I used to or want to do. As much as I want to cook a fabulous dinner for my family, go pull weeds in my garden, or dust those bookshelves that have really been bothering me, I have to let go of things, let others do for me and keep my butt firmly planted on the couch.  It is so frustrating when my body just can't do what my mind wants to.

My latest challenge involves my heart. Good grief, it seems like it's always some new body part breaking down each week, but now it's my heart! I have always been strong, physically fit, no problems or limitations, before the cancer. But now my heart is challenged and has been taking a beating (no pun intended!) due to some of my treatments and medications. Its not supposed to be this way! I should still be running and turning cartwheels! But now I have to be careful, limit activities, and take special care of myself..... and accept help and allow others to do FOR me.

The truth is God often answers our prayers and ministers to us through the hands and feet of His people. He refers to the church as the BODY of Christ -- each part has a different purpose, a different ability, a different talent. An eye cannot serve you in the same way a stomach does, and no one person can do all things. That's why God gives each of us a different gift and puts us together in the community of a church, so that we can help and support each other.

I have a dear friend who tends to go MIA for months at a time when she is dealing with a problem, whether that might be physical, financial, or emotional.  Instead of seeking the support of her friends and family in Christ -- other parts of the body -- she tries to take it on all by herself, and the problem becomes overwhelming.  I start to wonder why I haven't heard from her in such a long time, then find out she's been hiding all alone with this huge problem.  I love her so much and it hurts me as well to see her pain. This is not at all the way God intends us to live.

Over the years, it has also taken a lot of pressure off me, knowing that I don't have to be Martha Stewart, Chef Ramsey, etc., etc. - - - - - - all rolled up into one. It's OKAY! That particular thing just isn't my gift! God gave me a different gift! I am an elbow -- not a knee! I am a different part of the body, no less valuable, no less useful, no less needed, just different. When you're facing a problem or find that you need help, don't guilt yourself about it and don't hesitate to accept help from others.

Thank you, Father, for Your perfect design and plan -- for the different gifts You have given each of us and for fitting us together so well. Please help me to be a willing recipient as well as an instrument of Your Hands and Feet. You are so good to me. How grateful I am for those people who have helped me with the gifts You've given them. Please bless them for their willingness!