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!