Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Answered Prayers

One thing I have definitely learned about God over the years, is that He thinks much differently than I do and nearly always answers my prayers in a totally different way than I had intended.  Wow, Lord, that's NOT what I meant!  I have become cautious of praying those "dangerous" prayers!  For example, I am careful of praying that God will give me patience, because He doesn't send it as a neatly wrapped present floating down on a cloud! He sends it in the form of a difficulty or trial in my life, through which I will develop patience.  Sigh.  Boy, I would sure prefer the neatly wrapped present.

Years ago, in a moment of prayer when I was worshipping and praising God, I thought about our home in heaven that He is preparing for us, how awesome that will be and how amazing it will be to worship the Lord right before His Throne!  We are just visitors in this world, but our true home is in heaven and I longed and yearned and ached for that home and the perfection of being with the Lord and my loved ones  in that perfect place.  I poured my heart out to the Lord about this longing.

It would seem that He is answering that prayer in the form of my cancer, that may be sending me to my heavenly home sooner than I would like and not at all according to MY plan.  DANG, Lord! That is not at ALL what I meant! I was praying for Jesus' return to rapture His Church and take us home to be with Him.  THAT would have been so much easier than this path you have set me on instead. But I will still trust you, because you are GOD and you love me and you know what you're doing!
 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.  "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9
I have learned that walking with the Lord and trusting Him is not just asking Him to bless the plans YOU'VE made, but being attuned to HIS plan for you.  It's so easy to quote that handy verse that says God will give you the desires of your heart. Hooray! That means God is like a giant vending machine and I can just ask Him for anything I want! Wrong! As you grow closer to Him, He changes your heart and the desires of your heart to better align with His desires.

I have learned not to take God's promises out of context, because they are often smack in the middle of other important instructions for me:
"Trust in the LORD and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it." Psalm 37:3-5
One of my favorite old songs has always been Garth Brooks' "Unanswered Prayers." The lyrics always strike a melancholy chord in me and make me look back at my life and think about how God has answered my prayers in different ways than I had asked.  I DO, however, think that Garth got the lyrics wrong -- there is no such thing as an unanswered prayer -- they are simply answered differently! I'm so glad God is the "planning committee" and not me! It's an ongoing lesson in trusting Him!

Enjoy a listen to Garth, but modify the lyrics as you sing along....... "Differently Answered Prayers!"

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Blame Game

The subject of today's blog has been on my heart for a very long time, but I've been having such a hard time writing it.  Friends have been encouraging me to write about it and most importantly I know there are others out there who are hurting and need to hear this.  I have really struggled yet the words just wouldn't come. I think that's because the Lord still had more He wanted to teach me.

First, imagine you are battling a terminal or serious illness, or facing some other kind of crisis in your life. Now imagine that someone tells you that your illness or problem is because of unconfessed sin in your life and you just need to confess and turn from your sin in order to get well. Also, you just need to have stronger faith, then God would answer your prayers for healing. Or my personal favorite: "Just think good thoughts!" (Wish I had a dime for every time I've heard that!).  So basically, YOU are to blame for your own illness and it's your fault that you're not getting well.  Now imagine that this "helpful" advice is coming from fellow Christians, the very people you need to support and pray for you.  How hurtful and isolating this kind of thinking is!

This went against everything I believed, but still I was wounded by it.  I examined myself for unconfessed sin, strong faith in the Lord, and a positive outlook.  I'm not perfect, but I felt I passed them all.  I ran to my Bible to defend myself and clarify my understanding of God's view of sickness and healing.

First, I looked at the story of Jesus healing the blind man in John 9:1-3.  
"1 As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him." 
The disciples assumed that the man's blindness was the result of sin -- either his or his parents', and this was a commonly held view, based on Exodus 20:5:
 "I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me."
But Jesus corrected them and said that this sickness was not the result of sin, but was a means of displaying the mighty works of God.  He didn't mean that this man or his parents had not sinned, only that his blindness was not a direct result of sin in their lives.

I felt better, but was still searching for more. A few days ago I was paging through the New Testament looking for a particular verse, and I happened upon James 5:14-16:
"14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." 
This seemed to completely support the idea that I thought was wrong!  What the heck?!!  God, now I'm really getting confused.  Help me!

I dug a little deeper and learned more about what God's word says about healing.  First of all, in a general sense all sickness is a result of the fact that sin entered the world.  Sometimes sickness is a direct result of sin in a person's life, but not always.  The blind man is an example of that, and so is Job. The verses in James refer to an illness that is related to sin.

God can and does heal, and he uses different means, including natural body processes, medicines, through doctors, and sometimes miraculously. But -- it is not always God's will to heal. He has not promised to heal in every case, so it is not something we can demand from Him. It is a mercy.

Also, it is not true that failure to be healed indicates a lack of faith.  The Bible is full of examples of men and women who suffered and struggled: Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Job to name a few. If that were true, some people would live on & on indefinitely!

I have also found the "health and wealth" theology to be hurtful and unbiblical, again laying blame on those of us who are sick or suffering.  Talk about kicking a dog when he's down! The main problem with the "health and wealth" or "name it and claim it" theology is that it is man-centered rather than God-centered.  Our happiness becomes the aim of life and the main reason for God's existence is to give us what we want.

Jesus told His followers to take up their cross every day which meant to be ready to suffer.  We are called to die to the flesh, to the world, to everything we want. We are not called to seek our own happiness, but to seek the glory of God.  Yes, God has promised us blessings and prosperity, but most will come in heaven.

Paul suffered from a "thorn in the flesh" which God didn't take away, but rather told him "My grace is sufficient for you." (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Paul said that God had a purpose in his illness and a purpose for not removing it.

I have always prayed that God would grow me more like Christ each day of my life.  I believe that is His will for all believers. He uses all the events in my life (ALL THINGS!) to accomplish this, including my suffering.

Satan wants to trick us into thinking that God doesn't love us, doesn't care, or that we have done something wrong to bring the suffering onto ourselves and feel shame.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Our God is good and faithful.  He blesses us -- sometimes in our darkest valleys when we don't feel like God is blessing us, that is when we receive God's greatest blessings!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rejoice?? Really?

Over the years I have learned that God speaks to us in many ways and I just need to be paying attention in order to hear him.  I used to think that God only spoke as the booming voice of Charlton Heston and I wondered about the many people in the Bible that God spoke to, almost like a face-to-face conversation.  How come I never heard Him speak to me?

Now I realize that God has been speaking to me all along.  He speaks through His Word (which is why it is so important that I read it regularly), through books and devotionals, through sermons, through my friends and family, through my brothers and sisters in the Lord, through "coincidental" events in my every day, through random people that cross my path, through that still small voice in the back of my mind that's urging me to do something.  I just have to pay attention and listen -- otherwise my prayers become a one-sided conversation.

This morning He spoke to me in a single sentence in my devotional.  I have an awesome book that was given to me by a dear friend a few years ago -- "Jesus Calling" -- and it's amazing how the Lord speaks very specifically to my need each day.  This morning's devotion was on the subject of trusting the Lord and not being afraid.  That's a reminder I need to hear often.  But the sentence that really struck me was God's instruction to me to "rejoice as we journey together toward heaven."

Rejoice as we journey together toward heaven.


Wow.  Is that how we react when we think about dying? About the end of our lives here on earth and the beginning of our life in heaven?  Rejoice?  Heck no!  Our perspective is just the opposite.  Sure heaven will be nice and all, but death is viewed with such sadness and dread.  But looking at it from God's perspective, we are journeying toward heaven and that is certainly something to rejoice about.  We are all one day closer to heaven than we were yesterday!

Father, you have told us to rejoice ALWAYS.  Give me Your eyes and Your heart -- help me to view this journey from Your perspective, to walk close to You, and to rejoice always.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Be An Educated Patient

I know it's been a over a week now since my last post and I'm sorry for the delay, but my battle has been a bit rough recently.  I'm hoping things are on the upswing now and I can get back to my blog!  Today's blog won't apply to everyone, but I'm trying to write a variety, and this will apply to those who are newly diagnosed.

Sadly, in the past couple of weeks I've had two more friends who were diagnosed with breast cancer -- a sisterhood I would rather not see growing.  Wow, sometimes you wonder if there is there something in the drinking water!  One friend is a former co-worker and we reminisced about how many of our former co-workers have since been diagnosed with some sort of cancer, most often breast cancer.  Although, I guess if you looked at it statistically, we're about right since 1 in 8 women get breast cancer in their lifetime and breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women.

After hearing of their new diagnoses, I had to think about how I would advise them to face this new challenge.

Get all the information you can.  Get copies of all your scans and tests.  Ask lots of questions of your doctor.  If you don't understand, ask again.  Take a spouse or friend along with you to be your second set of ears -- they may pick up information that you miss.  Get a second opinion.  Investigate the reputation of the doctors you are sent to and ask around if there are specific oncologists, surgeons, etc., that friends and family would personally recommend.  If you have friends who are nurses, they can be a great source of information like this.

You may also want to do some online research and educate yourself so that you will better understand what the doctors tell you and also so you can ask informed questions.  However, this isn't for everyone but I like to do this so that I am well-informed.  As awesome as my doctors are, there are times when I feel they are not telling me everything, just to protect me, which isn't entirely a bad thing, but personally I want to know.

I do have to caution you, however -- the internet can be a scary place.  Not all of the information out there is accurate and not all of it will pertain to your specific case.  There have been several times when I have scared the bejeebers  out of myself and my family with information I have found online.  Make sure you only research on reliable websites, then ask your doctor about what you've read.

You will need to be your own best advocate on this journey.  There will be times when you will have to make choices about your treatment and when you may have to do battle with your insurance about what is best for you.  Educate yourself, surround yourself with the best experts, as well as friends & family who can assist you with these matters.  Then, you can head into battle well-equipped with knowledge! Fight on, sisters!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

"All I Can Do is Pray"

How many times have you said or heard someone else say "All I can do is pray?"  I just HATE this common expression and I'm sure it must be one of Satan's favorites, because it belittles the awesome power of prayer.  When we view our problems, our human nature wants to physically be able to DO something about it with our own two hands.  Without that action, it feels like we aren't doing anything.  We have to release it to God and trust HIM to take action -- so "all I can do is pray!"

In fact, prayer is the most powerful thing we can do to address our problems and it should always be our first line of attack, rather than a last resort.

Over the past several years since my diagnosis, I have been greatly blessed to have so many people praying for me.  Whenever anyone asks what they can do to help, I always ask them to pray for us!  I have friends, family, church family, friends' church prayer chains, and even complete strangers praying for me!  How incredibly blessed I am!  Thank you ALL!  I know there are many folks praying for me that I will never even meet this side of heaven.  I look forward to meeting them one day and thanking them for their prayers!  

I was recently blessed by the prayers of a friend-of-a-friend whom I've never met.  I didn't know it at the time, but this woman had felt led to pray for me specifically.  She would occasionally wake up in the middle of the night and felt God wanted her to be praying for me.

About this time, tests showed that the cancer had spread to my brain.  The doctors explained there were two different treatment options, one more severe than the other, but I would need to have another scan done to determine which treatment I qualified for.  I really needed good results from this scan and it was scheduled for later that week.  However, I got a call and got in several days early on a cancellation.

When I came home from the scan, I had received an e-mail from this woman.  She introduced herself and told me how God had led her to pray for me.  She also said that God had told her we would have a "good report," although she didn't know what this meant or that I'd even had the scan.  We got the results a few days later -- they were the good results we'd hoped for and I qualified for the less severe treatment!  Her prayers for me were answered just as God said!

I always remember in Matthew 27:51, where it tells about the moment Jesus died:
"And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split."
Jesus' sacrifice on the cross had torn open the veil that separated us from the Holy of Holies. Now we can boldly come before the very throne of Almighty God with our prayers and requests.  Never forget what a great privilege that is, what a great price Christ paid for our privilege, and how POWERFUL those prayers are:
"The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." James 5:16
Don't EVER say "All I can do is pray!"

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Changed Perspective

Have you ever thought about how your perspective might change if you were suddenly faced with your own mortality? Spend a few minutes considering that one.  Stage 4 cancer can really blow your mind.  Now I'm not planning on going anywhere anytime soon, and I always leave room for the healing hand of God in my life, but realistically none of us is promised tomorrow.

I have always looked at life expectancy statistics and thought that I would live my life out to the ripe old age of 80-something or even more.  My mother is 95 and still going strong and I have had many relatives that lived to nearly 100, so I felt my odds were pretty good.  Sure, you hear of people who die at a young age -- a 10-year-old with leukemia, an 18-year-old in a shooting, a 30-year-old in a car accident, or even the thousands that die in random natural disasters, but you never expect anything will happen to YOU.  You are young and indestructible!

Here's what God has to say about our time on earth:
"Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.  You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away."  James 4:13-14
So we should always be mindful that the Lord could call us home at any time.  But if you suddenly thought that your life could be trimmed to only months or so, how would that change your priorities?  How would you choose to spend your time and resources?  How would this affect your thinking?  It has really made me stop and examine myself as well as observe others.  All the little things that consume our days, suddenly don't matter at all.

Someone told me that if they thought they might soon die, they would go out and buy all the stuff they'd ever wanted!  Really?  So to them, the accumulation of STUFF equals a fulfilled life.  Sadly, I think most of us are guilty of this kind of thinking, at least a little bit.  But I know that in the final mix it's not going to matter whether I had a designer purse, or what kind of car I drove, or even how big my flat-screen TV was (sorry, John!).  It's all just STUFF, and let's face it -- he who dies with the most toys ..... still leaves those toys behind!

I always liked the Tim McGraw song Live Like You Were Dying, so I looked up the lyrics and ran through his bucket list: Skydiving, Rocky Mountain climbing, 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu (I have NO desire to try bull riding, but must admit that is the catchiest part of the lyrics!).  Lots of folks plan the trips and adventures they'd always wanted to do.  Hmmmmmm, is that what life is all about?  I have to admit, I am heavily tempted in that direction.  Not so much the daredevil zip-lining through a jungle, but I'd love to see beautiful, historical sites around the world, homelands of my ancestors, and see the Holy Land just once.  At this point, I'm not well enough to do any traveling, so I have to enjoy it vicariously through my sons and also travel shows safely viewed from my couch.

But what I have learned is that when you filter out all the "fluff" of our everyday lives -- whether my shoes match my bag, who has a degree from the fanciest school, who saw a celebrity at the market, etc., etc., -- NONE of it really matters except for what matters in eternity.  It all comes down to hearing the Lord say "Well done, good and faithful servant! " Matthew 25:23 when I stand before Him.  Jesus has bought my salvation -- I know that's a done deal and I don't have to worry about "earning it" -- not that I could anyway.  I only want to please Him with what I've done with the gifts He's given me.  Prioritize your life based on what matters in eternity and don't sweat the small stuff.

Steven Curtis Chapman put it so well in his song "Last Day on Earth." Hope you enjoy this version:
Last Day on Earth

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The 768 People You Meet in Heaven

Have you ever thought about who you will one day meet in heaven?  Top on my list is Jesus, but also some people I know from Bible history.  Think about it, they are NOT fairy tale characters, but real flesh and blood people, as real as you and me.  Sometimes I think about what it must have been like to be Esther, or Job, or Mary, and I think about questions I'd like to ask them.  I also look forward to a happy reunion with believing loved ones who've gone before me.  How wonderful it will be to hug my dad and my sweet Aunt Alice again.  My grandmother died when I was only 3 years old, so I never really knew her, but I'm told she was very sweet and could play a mean game of dominoes.  I sure hope we'll get to play a game together!

But in addition to these people, I also look forward to meeting ancestors I've never met.

Along with a cupboard full of old photo albums, a copy of our family tree that was put together by a cousin of mine has long sat in my desk drawer as well as a hand-written tree that went back several generations.  I decided it was time to take them out, dust them off, and put the information together in a way that I could hand down to my kids and grandkids.  Otherwise, once I'm gone, my kids won't have any idea who these folks were.

It's amazing the amount of information a little online research can produce.  In the course of about a year, my tree has grown to 768 people, including ancestors on 3 continents, and dating back to the late 1500's.  I've also found distant cousins and learned about family I never knew I had.  I used to think that people who were into genealogy had an unhealthy obsession with the past. After all, these people were dead and gone, right?  But when I started learning about my own ancestors' personal history, considered what their lives may have been like, and thought about actually meeting them someday, my thinking changed.

I come from tough stock, and I have learned that many of the women in my family tree survived difficult lives, often widowed and left to raise their children.  I thought it was rather scandalous that my great grandmother had been married 4 times, then I realized that in her time a husband was the main means of support -- there was no social security and women didn't work.  My other great grandmother was widowed due to a coal mining accident. leaving her with 5 children and pregnant with twins.  What amazing and strong women they must have been!

The men in my tree were remarkable too.  One grandfather came to America as an indentured servant but worked his way up to becoming a respected landowner.  Others immigrated from Ireland about the time of the great potato famine, seeking employment and opportunities.  What discrimination and hardships they faced here, and yet they endured!  I have also discovered several ancestors that fought in the Civil War.  Three of them claimed to have been present to witness General Lee's surrender to Grant and they were very proud of that.  I am wondering, however, as the story seems to repeat often, whether this was just a favorite veteran's tale.

One branch of my family tree even dates back to England in the late 1500's.  Although I haven't yet confirmed when they came to America, it must have been about the time of the Mayflower.  Sometimes I think about what it must have been like to be an individual living in England at that time and what led them to decide to leave everything behind and make the dangerous trip to the "New World."  They really risked it all, and the reason most people came was seeking religious freedom.  I am awed by this example of such great faith in God -- and such a passion to obey Him that they would risk everything to make the journey to this new unknown land.  Wow!  These are some of my ancestors I look forward to meeting most and hearing tales of their faith!  Hey, Ebenezer.........

Monday, March 5, 2012

Kitchen Fires Show He Cares

These past 4 years have not been easy for my dear husband either, and I know that.  When he vowed to take me for better or worse, in sickness and in health, I know neither of us expected the extent that vow would be tested.  This good man has passed with flying colors!

I know he finds it frustrating to stand by and see me suffering while he wishes there was more he could do to help.  He has been AMAZING and has taken on such a heavy load -- working 4 - 10-hour days so he can be off every Friday to take me to chemo, cooking, cleaning, handling the bills and running the household so that I can get the rest I need.  But I think his favorite way to nurture me is through the meals he loves to prepare.

John loves to watch Paula Deen, Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, and all those Chef Ramsey cook-offs.  He is always getting a new inspiration for a fabulous dish.  He is also careful to avoid all my food allergies -- and that is no easy task!  I would have to say that MOST of his cooking ventures are successful, but there have been a few fire extinguisher stories......

The first happened on Christmas morning, 2007.  John has made beef jerky for years and it is a favorite Christmas gift for many of our friends.  Every Christmastime, he drapes the oven with the dripping meat slices, turns the oven on very low, and props the oven door open just a bit, filling the whole house with the wonderful beef aroma.  The hours-long process often means he is up in the middle of the night checking and shifting batches.  It IS fabulous, but makes a huge mess of the oven, so I request he finish the job and clean up the oven prior to my Christmas day baking.  He agreed to do it and I assumed he had, when I turned on the oven to preheat for Christmas coffee cake.

Imagine my surprise when just a few minutes later flames and smoke started billowing out of the oven!  We will always remember that Christmas as the one when I woke the whole family up to "FIRE!!!!"  I teased him afterward that it was just his attempt to get the new oven he'd been wanting (yes, he got it).  He's currently trying to figure out a similar trick so he can get a bigger flat-screen TV.  I'm on to him now, though.

There have been a couple other small fires, resulting in a new barbecue, a melted tea kettle and a gift of a fire extinguisher from our friends.  Once I caught him putting bacon in the oven on a paper towel on a paper plate.  He couldn't understand why I had a problem with this.  I think he's trying to burn the whole kitchen down so we can finally do that remodel job!

Our loving church family is always offering to bring over meals for us, and although it is so very kind of them to offer, preparing food for me is John's favorite way to show how much he cares.  And he hasn't burned the house down yet!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Why me?

When I was in my early teens, our pastor's wife died from colon cancer.  It seemed like a long and horrible suffering she went through, and each Sunday we would hear an update on her condition and request to pray for some new surgery or treatment.  It was awful and frightening to me and I remember thinking about how very sick she was and I prayed that the Lord would spare me ever having to suffer from cancer myself.  And yet, forty years later here I am battling Stage 4 breast cancer -- just exactly what I had hoped wouldn't happen.

Even so, out of the last 4 1/2 years since my diagnosis, I could count on one hand the number of days I've wasted by questioning "Why me?"  Sure, there have been a few where I have grieved for the life I wanted and the experiences this disease may one day rob me of.  But I don't dwell on questioning the Lord's wisdom in allowing this in my life, because I've seen Him use "bad" things for good in the most surprising and beautiful ways.

Not quite 20 years ago, when our sons were about 4 and 7 years old, I was laid off from my job at GTE.  I'd had a very good job that I loved and assumed I would stay at until retirement -- then our department closed and I was suddenly unemployed.  We lived in Southern California and relied on my job to supplement our family income, so this was difficult.  After losing my job, my health insurance was due to run out, so I decided to see the doctor and get checked out for some things I'd been putting off.

I'd noticed that one of my eyelids drooped a little.  That may sound silly, but we wondered if that might be an indication of a more serious problem, so I underwent various tests and scans.  As it turned out, they never did find the source of the eyelid problem, but in the course of my tests they discovered a potentially life-threatening condition I'd had all my life that had previously gone undetected.  I had an AVM, a malformation of arteries in my brain, that could at any time hemorrhage, causing brain damage or death.  I had been a ticking time-bomb and never knew it!  Because they found it before I had a hemorrhage, the doctors were able to treat it and this basically saved my life.

One of the most interesting and exciting things I learned through this, was that my two sons were miracles (now I had official confirmation of this!).  The doctors told me that given my condition, it was a miracle that I had survived not only one but TWO pregnancies and childbirths!  They said that increased blood flow usually causes a hemorrhage, yet in my case I'd had no problems!  I felt so blessed not only to have these two precious sons, but to have lived to be their mother!

When I look back at the chain of "bad" events, I am always amazed at how the Lord worked them all together for our good!  If I hadn't lost my job, I wouldn't have lost my health insurance and wouldn't have pursued my health problem which actually revealed a more serious problem, then getting the life-saving treatment I didn't know I needed and also revealing God's merciful and miraculous hand in the blessing of my two sons!

This is why I don't waste time crying "Why me" and I trust the Lord to know what's best for me.  He truly DOES work all things together for good, even though we may not see it at the time.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Terms of Endearment has always been one of our favorite movies (now rather ironically).  Note to younger generation: 1980's movie with Jack Nicholson, Shirley MacLaine, and Debra Winger -- check it out on your Netflix.  I especially love the scene where Debra Winger suffers through a luncheon with a group of friends who politely steer the conversation around all kinds of other topics, but avoid the most obvious elephant in the room.  Finally she can't stand it anymore and she shouts at them "IT'S OK TO TALK ABOUT THE CANCER!"

I've had this experience a few times myself.  It's not that cancer has to be the core of every conversation, and I certainly don't want to be defined by it, but the reality is that it is a PART of my life and impacts many of the other parts.  I'm comfortable talking about it and want my friends and loved ones to understand this part of my life -- not pretend it doesn't exist.

A couple years ago I had a luncheon at my house with a bunch of old friends.  I considered them some of my best friends, but I realize that I based this solely on longevity as we'd been out of touch for a long time.  I was about 9 months into my year of treatments following my first diagnosis and during that whole afternoon, not one of them asked me how I was doing or in any way mentioned the cancer.  This was very hurtful to me.  Conversation stayed on subjects of their families, careers, travels, and other mutual friends.  They all knew about it, so I just had to guess whether it was just too uncomfortable for them or they just didn't care.  Or then again, maybe they were all of the mindset that "it's just breast cancer." As it happened, I even received a phone call during lunch from my health insurance to remind me that I was overdue for my annual mammogram (ouch).  They all heard me explaining to the woman on the phone that I wouldn't be needing one following my double mastectomy.  I've even had this happen at family gatherings sometimes and it can sure make a person feel unloved, lonely, and isolated.

I'm sure not every cancer patient feels as open as I do, and some may prefer to keep their struggle private.  I would recommend at least politely asking how they're doing, and giving them the option to shut down the topic if they're uncomfortable.  It seems uncaring to completely ignore it.  Be respectful, supportive, and allow them to guide the conversation.

Cancer is a scary, uncomfortable topic, but just breaking the ice with 3 little words -- How are you? -- can express much-needed compassion.

Losing My Hair

Four and a half years into this journey now, I've lost my hair 3 times now.  My very first appointment with my oncologist was on a Thursday and the following Monday I had my first chemo treatment, so I didn't have much time to adjust to the big changes suddenly thrust upon me.  Hair loss, I was told, could be expected to begin 3 weeks afterward, and it did happen nearly to the day.

The extent of hair loss will vary depending on the type of medicine you are receiving, but my experience has been complete baldness each time.  My oncology nurses told me that I would only have "some thinning," but it never worked out that way for me.  Perhaps they were trying not to scare me, I don't know for sure, but I was never terribly traumatized about it -- it was only hair and would later grow back. Besides, I had bigger fish to fry.

My hair before had been fairly straight, but very thick.  The photo I have on my profile (not the plastic wig above!) was actually taken a couple years prior to my cancer, but I chose it because it was one of my favorite styles and how I wish it still looked.  As it started coming out in the shower, I piled the fistfuls in the corner and filled nearly half the wastebasket.  This happened several times, and I still had a good amount left on my head.  I was picking up hair off my pillow each morning, off my clothes, the backs of chairs, everywhere.  I finally had enough and decided it was time to take the leap and just shave off what was left.

I offered the job to my husband, John, but he wanted no part of it.  My youngest son, Matt (about 18 at the time), agreed to do it and we headed into the bathroom with the hair clippers.  I told him to just have fun with it, and we both really did.  I think he decided to get revenge for the horrible home haircuts I'd done to him and his brother when they were little.  First he buzzed it into the shape of one of my sugar-bowl cuts (circa 1990), then he used the edge of the clippers to spell out words on my head, and lastly he graduated to a mohawk.  The two of us were hopelessly lost in laughter.  My older son Kyle even stuck his head in the door to see exactly what was so funny, but John didn't share our humor and stayed away.  I really wasn't upset about being bald and hoped that my positive attitude would help my guys be okay with it too.

Once the hair was gone, I was determined to take advantage of a new fashion opportunity!  When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!  I explored all the options -- several different wigs, various hat styles, and tried to learn how to creatively tie scarves around my head (although I never really mastered that one).  I found wigs to be too uncomfortable and itchy to wear for very long and eventually just wore them for church or special occasions.  Hats became my favorite, but I was very self-conscious about completely covering my baldness.  I didn't want people to notice the bald gap in the back of my baseball cap or the fact that I didn't have a hairline near my ears.  When I went out in public, I felt like people might notice I was different and wonder about what kind of cancer I had.

If you are new to this and looking for head covering options, there are plenty of places to be found on the internet that specialize in items for chemo patients.  They even have instructions for tying scarves and mini hairpieces to tuck under the edges.  One of the best is through the American Cancer Society at: TLC Hair Loss Products for Women  You can probably pick up a copy of their catalog at your oncologist's office, too.  If you're shopping for a new wig, have fun with it and try a different style or color you may not have been brave enough to make the commitment to with your natural hair.  But, I would recommend that you go to a store with a large variety so you can try them on before spending the money -- you may be surprised by what actually looks good on you and what doesn't.  Also, check with your health insurance to see if you qualify for reimbursement before spending $300 on that fabulous wig as that may affect your decision.

After chemo, you can expect your hair to grow back different than it was before.  Although my color has always been the same (white -- without the help of L'Oreal!), it has gotten curlier each time.  The first time it grew back, I tried every kind of conditioner or straightener to get it back to the way it was, but nothing made it look the same.  I've since decided to just work with the new curly locks!

The second time I went through chemo and lost my hair, I let Kyle shave my head.  I don't recall it being quite as much fun as none of us had expected to be going through it again so soon, but he was still a good sport about it.  My darling John surprised me one evening by disappearing into the bathroom and coming back out with a shaved head to match mine as a show of his support.  What a guy!

The third time, I just went to my hairdresser and gave her my business since I wouldn't see her for awhile.  I knew John still wouldn't do it, and I didn't ask.  

I've gotten MUCH less conscious about whether people in public recognize me as a chemo patient and whether that bald spot peeks through the back of my cap.  I know I get lots of curious stares whenever I walk through a store, and I've even had a few brave people ask about my cancer -- or tell me about their experience, or even their loved one.  Sometimes it has been a means to initiate a wonderful conversation.  I know I don't look "normal" (why does that matter, anyway?) but I think of it as a kind of badge of honor -- I'm fighting a battle with a fierce enemy, but it hasn't beat me yet!