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