Saturday, February 25, 2012

Finding Support (or How Support Found Me!)

After I completed my chemo, surgery, and radiation treatments following my original diagnosis, my life became more normal.  I had continued to work during my treatment, but now went back to full-time.  My hair grew back.  John & I even got Disneyland passes.  Life was good and the thought of cancer possibly returning was many years down the road, though I did have regular scans every few months.

It was about 2 years later that a new tumor was found in my lung and this news really threw our family for a loop.  Cancer had again reared it's ugly head and suddenly seemed much more serious.  It was no longer "just breast cancer."  We were all having a hard time dealing with it and found ourselves short-tempered and fighting with each other.  We were each driving away the people we loved and needed most.

One morning as we were driving to my chemo appointment, John & I talked about the fact that we needed to see about getting help.  We resolved to ask my doctor if she could recommend a support group or something like that.  We weren't handling this struggle well and knew we couldn't go on this way or we would be headed for disaster.  Together we prayed that God would send help.

The chemo treatment rooms at my oncologist's office consists of 3 large adjoining rooms with approximately 20 patient recliners and a central nurses' station.  We arrived and I settled into a recliner while John took a chair nearby.  In the recliner next to me was a younger woman and her husband was with her also.  We started chatting and discovered many similarities in our diagnoses, treatments, our faith in Christ, and our life situations.  By the end of our treatments that day we had become good friends and it was apparent that God had placed Kim and Nelson next to us that day as an answer to our prayers just moments earlier!  And, Kim turned out to be a Marriage & Family Therapist!

After that day, the four of us spent many Friday mornings chatting away at the "chemo lounge!"  We also became acquainted with other couples there who were going through similar struggles.  It helped so much to share patient to patient as well as caregiver to caregiver (husbands need support too!).  It felt strange to say, but most days we came home and told about "having a good time at chemo today!"

We got some great advice from Kim which helped us through some tough times.  Hopefully, I was able to share some helpful wisdom with her also, as one who had already been through treatments once before.
I HIGHLY recommend striking up a conversation with the patient in the chair next to you, or somehow connecting with other patients.

Since completing her treatments, Kim has started Soft Clay Marriage Family Therapy group, which specializes in teenagers, addictions, depression, and more, and serves Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino counties.  Check it out at:

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Fear NOT!!!

One thing I have had an ongoing battle with, is fear.  I know that's something that my fellow cancer survivors can relate to, as well as many other folks.  Once you've had cancer, it's hard to overcome that nagging fear that it will come back.  Every little ache & pain is accompanied by a little voice that says "the cancer is back, the cancer is back!"

About 6 months after I had completed my first course of treatments, I started having severe pain in my shoulder.  It took the doctors awhile to diagnose it (it turned out to be "frozen shoulder," something I'd never heard of) but in the meantime, that little voice in my head was relentless and had convinced me the cancer had spread to my bones.  I laid awake at night, frightened by the yet-undiagnosed pain in my body.  My thoughts really ran wild, but God was teaching me a lesson about dealing with fear and learning to trust Him.

One thing He taught me was that God doesn't recommend that we shouldn't fear -- He commands us not to fear!
" The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed." Deuteronomy 31:8
 "Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you." declares the Lord.  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."  Joshua 1:8-9 
"So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows." Matthew 10:31 
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Philippians 4:6
Furthermore, He tells us about the SOURCE of fear:
"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power and of love, and of a sound mind." 2 Timothy 1:7
So if God didn't give us the spirit of fear, guess who did?  Fear is one of the greatest tools of Satan, and whenever he starts whispering in my ear, I try to remind myself of this.

Even knowing this, fear is still a difficult struggle for me.  I have no fear of death -- I know that I'll be with the Lord, but I do worry about the sickness and suffering I may go through before death.  Sometimes when I'm feeling just too overwhelmed, I imagine myself climbing onto God's lap, burying my head in His strong chest and His arms surrounding me.  How comforting it would be if I could actually experience His physical touch and I long to actually feel His hand holding mine.

One night I had a dream that I was on a mountain trail on the edge of a rocky cliff.  I was walking with a man who was protecting me.  There was an enemy who was chasing me and there seemed to be nowhere to escape.  Then my protector took my hand and together we jumped off the edge of the cliff.  Although I couldn't see it when I jumped, it turned out to be not that far down, and we landed safely.

The next morning, my devotional was on Psalm 73:23-26:
"Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand.  With Your counsel You will guide me, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."
I got chills!  It was like King David had written these words just for me over two thousand years ago!  It was clear God was trying to tell me something -- I was heading into a difficult or dangerous path ahead, and even though I couldn't see how things will turn out, God will be holding my hand and I will land safely.

When Satan tries to whisper fears into your ear, just hold tightly to the Hand of God.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Are You Afraid of Scans?

In the past few years I've been through so many tests & scans that they are no big deal to me.  While some people are claustrophobic about the scanners, it has never bothered me a bit. However, I found myself very anxious about one of them and worried for days beforehand.  I prayed & prayed but couldn't shake a feeling of dread.

Finally on the morning of the scan, I was reading my favorite Psalm 34.  When I got to verse 7,  I claimed it as God's personal promise to me:

"The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them."

I envisioned a mighty angel of the Lord going with me -- not a little chubby baby angel, but a big strong one!  I continued to pray and remind God of His promise.

When I got to the imaging center, the technician was a wonderful and caring young man who explained everything to me and did everything he could to make me comfortable and at ease.

Once he had me all set up and he was leaving the room, he said, "I'll be able to hear you from the control room during the scan, so just call if you need anything.  My name is Angel."

(Just as a footnote -- I'll tell you what you've probably already guessed -- the scan went just fine and my fear vanished!  I was so moved by the real and personal way God answered my prayer, that I started crying during the scan and they had to do part of it over because I had moved a little!)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Keep the Faith!

I know I promised you a story next, but I got to thinking that first I should include a blog about my beliefs so that all the stories that follow will make sense!

First and foremost before anything else in my life, I am a Christian.  I was raised in a Christian home and put my faith in Christ at a young age.  When I was little, I remember wondering how to know whether I would go to heaven.  My mother stressed the importance of attending Sunday School every week, so I figured that must be God's criteria.  I felt fairly certain I had enough check marks on God's attendance sheet!

Then, when I was about 12, my family started attending a different church where God's plan of salvation was more clearly explained.  I learned that it wasn't a matter of good attendance.  It also wasn't a matter of my good deeds outweighing my bad when I stand before God.  Jesus took the punishment I deserve and bought my salvation, but it only applies if we accept it.  I gratefully and joyfully accepted His great gift and I gave my life to Him.

This is what I believe!

About 12 years ago,  I had reached the point where I thought I was a "mature Christian" -- I guess just by virtue of having been a believer for so many years.  How naive and arrogant I was! Then I heard a message given by a missionary at our church that served as a wake-up call and turning point for me.  I realized that my relationship with Christ and my growth as a child of God was an ongoing process that would continue for the rest of my life.  What an adventure my life became when I opened my eyes to all God wants to teach me, allowing Him to grow me and use me every day!

Many people have told me that they think it's a great thing that I haven't LOST my faith in Christ as a result of my battle with cancer.  That surprises me.  Perhaps some might be angry with God and turn away from Him, or think that He has failed them.  But I can't imagine going through a difficult trial like this WITHOUT Christ!  I have often said that this is where the rubber meets the road -- if you TRULY believe God's promises are true, then they are true both in bad times and good.  I'm not going to stop believing just because God has directed my life down a path that I wouldn't have chosen.  Who am I to think that I should always understand and approve of God's plan? He is omnipotent God, creator of the universe, yet He knows every hair on my head (or lack thereof) and every cell in my body, and He LOVES me more that I could ever understand, so I KNOW that I can absolutely trust Him.

I'm also a firm believer in Romans 8:28:
 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.
Over and over I have found that when I look back on the unpleasant happenings in my life I can see how God used them for good -- sometimes in the most unusual and unexpected ways (serendipities!).  I love it when I get to see Him at work -- when something amazing happens that you KNOW could only be a "God thing!"  I have a friend who calls it "riding on God's shoulders!" I also believe that often He uses all things to work together for good to people we don't know and in ways we may not see this side of heaven.

My point is, no matter what -- God is in control, He loves me, and He is going to use this trial for our good and His glory!  It may be an "E-ticket" ride, but I have nothing to fear -- and it's going to have a great ending!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My breast cancer journey

As I begin my first blog post, let me admit to you that I am a purely amateur writer and have barely even read any other blogs. I don't quite know where to begin, but I think I 'll start by telling you about the cancer that set me on this current journey I'm on.

I was 47 when I was first diagnosed with Her2 positive breast cancer.  I'd had regular mammograms for many years, probably since my 30's, but the cancer had gone undetected because I had dense breasts.  I'm told this is common, so if any of you ladies have this also -- let me encourage you to do your self-exams, get mammograms, and even ultrasounds or MRI's if your doctor will approve it. I was told that my cancer had likely been growing for 3-4 years before it was finally detected.  At this point it had spread to lymph nodes and was considered Stage 3.

Prior to my diagnosis, I had a much different perception of breast cancer, and I'm afraid that many women still do.  I didn't think of it as a life-threatening disease, but rather I thought that the worst that could happen would be that I'd have to have a mastectomy and lose my breasts.  I've had people comment to me about other "more serious" types of cancer, as though I merely had the flu and would be feeling better after a bowl of soup. I have to admit, I used to feel the same way about breast cancer.  

When my oncologist discussed my course of treatment, which included chemo, surgery, radiation, and more chemo, I looked at my calendar and planned for sometime next year when it would be all over and my life would get back to "normal."  Little did I know that my life would take on a whole different kind of "normal" and that cancer is an ongoing battle, whether that is by body or by spirit or both.

I had a couple of doctors tell me that mine was an "aggressive" form of breast cancer, but I was new to "cancer speak" and I took this to mean "don't put off treatment" and "we'll have to be aggressive in our treatment plan." I never thought that "aggressive" meant life-threatening. After all, this was JUST breast cancer, right?  Since then, the cancer has spread twice to my lung and recently to my brain so my battle goes on!  

I recently watched a TV show with a well-known doctor on the topic of breast cancer. I was excited to watch it and hoped to hear of some new developments.  Instead, I heard the doctor seem to downplay the seriousness of breast cancer. He even ended by stating that breast cancer is survivable (in some cases, yes, but not always).  I was ready to start throwing things at the TV by that point!  I fear that half-truths like that only perpetuate women's tendency to not take breast cancer seriously.

Here are some breast cancer truths for 2010 (per the National Cancer Institute and breast

  • Breast cancer is the most frequent cancer in women worldwide
  • 261,900 women developed breast cancer in the US in 2010
  • 39,840 women died from the disease in the US in 2010, roughly 110 every day
  • About 1 in 8 US women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime
Just a few more statistics -- about 20-25% of all breast cancers are Her2 positive (mine) and of those with Her2, only 10-16% eventually have disease that spreads throughout the central nervous system including the brain.  You would have thought that the odds were in my favor!

I hope that perhaps through my blog I can help spread a warning among women -- take breast cancer seriously and get thorough exams! 

It continues to be an amazing journey through which the Lord carries me, blesses me, and teaches me along the way.  In my next blog I want to begin sharing some of the stories and experiences and lessons I've learned on this journey.  I am 4 years late in starting this blog, so I have a lot to catch up on!  I hope it will be a serendipity to you!