Sunday, April 22, 2012

Garden of Eden

When I was a kid, some of my parents' favorite trips and outings were to visit famous and beautiful gardens, such as Buchart Gardens in British Columbia, Descanso Gardens, the Huntington Library, etc., and anywhere else a rose would stand still for my father's camera. He loved photographing gardens and flowers and we still have tons of the photos he took years ago. As a child, though, I found this extremely boring. I'd dutifully pose next to the roses and smile for the camera while secretly terrified that I would get stung by the bees that were buzzing around.

My mother was raised on a farm and never lost her love for tending a vegetable garden. Every summer we would enjoy the fresh veggies from her crops. The best were the asparagus. She loved to tell the story of the asparagus that grew wild along the road by their farm when she was a child. They would often pick some for dinner, if the mailman didn't beat them to it.

In later years when I met my in-laws, I learned that their favorite hobby was tending their quarter-acre yard. They grew every variety of roses, along with exotic orchids and plumeria, two large vegetable gardens, and 16 various fruit trees. Nearly all their free time was spent there, weeding, pruning, planting. It was certainly very nice, but in my mind it was just a lot of hard work -- certainly not my idea of fun.

My perspective changed, though, a few years ago when our family moved back to my childhood home. John & I started spending our weekends lovingly tending the flowers and fruits. I dug up part of the back yard and put in a new flowerbed, planting some of my mother's favorite flowers. We also replaced my dad's rusty old storage shed with a gazebo where we could sit and enjoy the yard. We loved to visit various nurseries and bring back new and exotic plants to add to our garden. I even planted some asparagus, knowing that it would take several years before it was good to harvest. What had seemed like boring hard work had now become our favorite hobby. I loved our garden and wished my dad was still around to see how we had taken such good care of it. He'd probably snap a few photos of my roses.

In the past few months I haven't been well enough to get outside and weed and prune and dig in the dirt like I had been. I really miss that. I think that of the many things I would miss from this life, my garden is near the top of the list. Then I started thinking that surely God has created a magnificent garden for us in heaven. Can you imagine a place tended by God Himself? A place of boundless beauty and tranquility, free of any pollution, contamination, or sin!

I thought about what the original Garden of Eden must have been like, the original, unspoiled creation of God, and what it must have been like for Adam and Eve to walk around that garden, walking and talking with God Himself. That was certainly the ultimate garden experience. And Jesus' favorite place to go and spend time in prayer with His Father was the Garden of Gethsemane. Of course God has taught me over the years many life lessons related to gardening -- how He prunes us at times, which may be painful, but produces more fruit. How we need to be mindful to keep the weeds out of our lives that choke out that fruit.

We've been having some wonderful warm spring weather recently, and I went outside just to walk around my garden and enjoy it. I picked a bag full of avocados, snipped a few sprigs of asparagus, and picked a few roses to enjoy in a vase inside. I inspected the many plants I hadn't been able to tend for awhile and was surprised to find buds and blossoms on many -- even on some cactus I'd never seen bloom. I quietly told my Heavenly Father that I know we'll have a lot of other things to do in Heaven, but I sure hope we'll have plenty of time to enjoy the garden. I heard Him answer me as His words spoke to my heart: "We'll have all eternity."

I can hardly wait.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Young and indestructible

My father died 12 years ago in a palliative care hospital from cancer. I remember it as a kind of creepy place. One of those nondescript buildings you drive by every day, never knowing exactly what it is or knowing that there are people suffering inside.

I'll never forget walking through the halls of that hospital and seeing the patients there. I think he was in a wing designated especially for respiratory care, because it seemed that all the people had breathing problems. It was horrible to witness their suffering. Many sat in the hallways with their oxygen tanks, wheezing and looking at me with desperate, pleading eyes.  If you've seen those recent TV commercials about the effects of smoking, it was like that but multiplied by 20 or 30 that I walked past on my way to my father's room.  My heart broke for these people and I couldn't help thinking that if young people could only see this, could walk down this hallway, they would never pick up a cigarette in their life. Of course, I couldn't know whether smoking had been the cause of each person's suffering I saw there, but I did know it was likely.

My father had smoked for 30 years, during that era when smoking was "stylish" and it wasn't publicized how lethal a habit it was.  When I was about 3 years old, I refused to kiss him goodnight one night because I didn't like the smell of his smokey breath.  He immediately quit, cold turkey, and never smoked again. When I think about that now, I think how difficult that must have been for him after having smoked for 30 years, but that's how much my father loved me. God bless you, Daddy, I love you too.

It's easy to think that sickness and disease will never happen to you, especially when you're young -- you think you're indestructible.  But it can and it does.  I never smoked, I ate healthy, maintained a healthy weight, had regular check-ups, etc.  I took care of myself and yet still -- here I am fighting cancer.  You just never know, but still, why take chances with risky behavior that you know could endanger your health in the long run? Some of the people I love the most are smokers and I so wish they would quit.  I also worry about my kids not eating properly, not taking good care of their health. Don't I sound like a typical mother?

We are given these bodies as temporary vessels, as a temple of the Holy Spirit --
"Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body." 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
I have been bought with a price, Jesus paid the greatest price. Those verses always spoke to me the serious responsibility of making good choices and taking good care of the body God gave me. Please take good care, for those who love you, and for Him who loved you most of all.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Flower Fairy, and Other Random Acts of Kindness!

I have been greatly blessed by the kindnesses of others during the course of my battle.  Shortly after my original diagnosis, when I began weekly chemo, I discovered a beautiful bouquet anonymously left on my doorstep the morning of my chemo treatment.  The mysterious flowers appeared each Friday just before I left my house for my appointment.  We nicknamed the unknown gifter the "Flower Fairy" and before long discovered that it was our dear friend and former neighbor, Lynn -- although she was extremely sneaky and hard to catch in the act! The flowers appeared every week for a full year, until I had finished my treatments.  What a sweet reminder they were that someone was  thinking of me and keeping me in prayer as I continued my battle -- I was not forgotten in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Two years later when my cancer came back and I resumed chemo, the Flower Fairy was back in action again! What a lovely treat it was to find a new bouquet each time I opened the front door to head for chemo. She would often leave my favorite irises, or bright colorful mixes, or seasonal flowers like daffodils or tulips. Once she even left some unusual Irish blossom in honor of St. Patrick's day and my Irish heritage. And try as I might, I could never seem to catch her in the act so I could thank her. Whenever I would ask her about it, she would just smile slyly.

We originally thought that my chemo treatments the second time around would be weekly for a year, just like the first time. So we were surprised to learn that they would be weekly for the rest of my life. I notified the Flower Fairy that she was off the hook and we certainly couldn't expect the flowers to continue. She just smiled and the flowers still appear on my doorstep early every Friday morning, often with a sweet note, but always reminding me of her love and support and prayers.

We have a few other special friends who have really blessed us with their kindnesses. There is Judy, who has always made herself available to me to drive me to any doctor appointments as needed. She does this faithfully and without complaint, even when she is ill or in pain from her own ailments. She calls me almost daily to check on me and see if I need anything. What a faithful friend!

Barry is another dear friend who has been the big brother I never had.  He also prays for me faithfully and has done battle for me on occasion. I may never know the full story of the "cain" he raised at the hospital to get me the care I needed after nearly 12 hours in the ER. I'm so lucky to have him in my corner!

Our heartfelt thanks to all who have been God's hands & feet, angels in disguise, to help and support us. Some with a thoughtful card in our mailbox, or a meal for a difficult day. Others hold us in prayer, stop by for a cheery visit, or offer an ear when we need it. God bless you for putting feet to your friendship!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Searching for Joy

I remember hearing in the news some time ago that Goldie Hawn had announced she was embarking on a search for joy.  I googled it this morning and found that this was about 10 years ago!  My word, how time flies!  It was announced that she had a camera crew and was heading around the world to meet with scientists, poets, and all kinds of people on how to find joy.

At the time, I thought about writing to her on the subject.  True joy is only found in Christ, and as an unbeliever, I feared she was looking in all the wrong places.  So many people are searching for joy, happiness, fulfillment -- aching to fill that void in their lives with SOMETHING, ..... but what is it?  Here was a woman who had fame, wealth, love, family, seemingly everything the world has to offer and yet she lacked joy and didn't know where to find it.  I thought about this and many times composed in my head what I would write to her, but never did it.  10 years later I still think about her search and also think of others like her.

In my google search this morning, I couldn't find the documentary she had said she would make on her findings, so I don't know if that ever happened.  Did you find joy, Goldie?  I saw that in a few interviews she mentioned that she found joy in her family, in helping others, and in giving.  Admirable things, but still probably missing the true source.

My google search took me to a lot of Oprah interviews and articles from her experts on 5 or 10 things to do or buy or whatever that will guarantee your happiness and joy.  Everything is so focused on ME, what I want, what makes ME happy, ME, ME, ME.  What a self-centered society we have become!

Years ago I found a statement in a women's Bible study group that perfectly defined joy, how to find it, and finding fulfillment in life.  I jotted it down and tucked it away in my Bible.  Unfortunately, I don't now recall the author, or I would give her credit here --
"There is no greater joy in life than knowing you are fulfilling the very reason for your existence. When your life brings glory to God and you walk in a close love relationship with Him, nothing on earth can steal your joy! Remain in Him and He will remain in you. Then your joy will be complete."
 Yesterday I received some very tough news. After fiercely battling this cancer for 4 1/2 years now, it is still aggressively invading my lung and elsewhere, so new treatments will begin next week.  You would not expect that the topic of "joy" would be on my mind at a time like this, and yet it is.

The God of the universe, Creator of all, desires a relationship with me and loves and cares for me SO MUCH that He sent His son Jesus to suffer the punishment for MY sins, so that I could be forgiven and enjoy relationship with Him, now and for eternity!  Knowing that, why would you ever need to search for joy anywhere else?  Walk with Him daily and seek to do His will, and you will know true joy -- YOUR happiness will be a byproduct!

Tomorrow I will celebrate with great joy that my Savior died for me and He lives again!  I look forward to the day when my joy will be truly complete:
His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’  Matthew 25:21

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Mastectomy Question

To mastectomy or not to mastectomy?  That is a difficult dilemma faced by many breast cancer patients.  And if you do, one or both? And do you want reconstruction? And if so, what kind of reconstruction? These are tough questions and I can't give you any clear answer, since each woman must decide what is right for her.  There have been several celebrities in the news recently who battled breast cancer and chose to have mastectomies.  I can only share my choice and my experience.

My surgeon very clearly explained my diagnosis and what things I should consider in making my decision.  I only had cancer in one breast (and lymph nodes), but was at high risk of the cancer recurring in the other breast.  I also had concerns that reconstruction might impede detection of possible future tumors, although the doctor assured me that would not be a problem.  It still haunted me that dense breasts had prevented earlier detection for several years.  I have also heard how painful the post-surgery "stretching process" is, and I felt that I was already going through enough suffering without adding to it, thank you very much.

I have never felt defined as a woman by my breasts.  I was only meagerly endowed anyway, so although it seemed like I got cheated when I lost what little I had, I still felt no less a woman.  I realize this is MUCH different than most women feel about mastectomies, but I also resented them since they contained the cancer that threatened the rest of my body.  Get rid of them!

So I chose to have a double mastectomy without reconstruction, and I have never regretted that decision. I never grieved the loss of my breasts or stood in front of the mirror and cried.  My husband was quietly hoping I'd choose the D-cup reconstruction, but he supported me in whatever I decided and agreed that my health was first and foremost.  God bless him!  At the "chemo lounge" I have gotten to know several other breast cancer patients and we discussed our choices.  A couple of them were young women, in their 30's, and had chosen reconstruction.  It had been painful and difficult for them; one was not successful.

I was always content as long as I could wear a comfortable prosthesis and look the same in my clothes.  "Comfortable" is the key word in that sentence.  If you have seen the silicone monstrosities and industrial strength bras they try to sell ....... ouch!  If you are prosthesis shopping, consider lightweight and comfortable.  You also want to be sure straps are not overly tight and constricting if lymphedema is a concern.

Most health insurance will pick up the tab for this and allow you to get new once a year or so -- be sure to check out your options and insurance requirements.

I should also mention that I have known several women who have NOT chosen mastectomies, but only had lumpectomies, and based on the aggressiveness of their particular type of cancer, it was the right decision for them.

I recently heard of a friend who, due to occurrence of cancer in her family, underwent BRCA gene testing to see if she was genetically predisposed to certain cancers.  Following positive test results, she has chosen to have a hysterectomy as well as a double mastectomy.  I have heard that many women are choosing to have prophylactic surgery like this and I applaud their courage in doing this!  I read an article on Medscape Today that told that those who test positive for the BRCA gene have an 85% risk of getting breast cancer sometime in their lifetime, but following a mastectomy their risk drops to 1%. However -- not all breast cancer is related to the BRCA gene (I tested negative, in spite of my own cancer and family history).

Keep fighting the good fight, ladies!  As always, I hope that sharing my experience helps someone out there!