Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Valentine's Day Like No Other!

It's been just over a month since my last blog, and the turns my life have taken in that time ..... well, it's hard to believe. Stuff like this couldn't be dreamed up by the wildest Hollywood writers, but it is in the heart of God! Wow.

As I write this, it is Valentine's Day, and while folks everywhere will be gushing with the traditional celebrations of romantic love -- chocolates, flowers, expensive dinners, flashy marriage proposals, and lots of Hallmark cards -- I can think of no one who has more to celebrate today than me and my husband John.

Since Christmas I have been so sick, due to fluid build-up around my heart. Not only has the tumor against my aorta affected it, but there was also damage from radiation I'd had to that area. My impaired heart has impacted every other part of my body and I was weakening more and more. Doctors recommended that I have surgery to put a "window" in the membrane around my heart to relieve the fluid build-up, although they couldn't guarantee success -- it would be my best chance, so we decided to do it.

In the midst of all this, God seemed to be very quiet. I'm sure this was mostly MY fault, though, for just not LISTENING.  I was feeling so overwhelmed that I didn't event know how to pray and my communication with Him was almost none, except for frequent pleas for HELP!  For some reason, the word I clung to the most was MERCY, and I begged Him for mercy over and over -- in whatever way He saw best.

So February (National Heart Awareness Month) began with my heart surgery. It went well, although its ultimate success will still be evaluated as I recover. I was in the hospital for a week, most of that in ICU. My faithful husband John was at my side every possible moment, even though he was exhausted himself.  John hadn't felt well for at least several months and was increasingly fatigued and complaining of chest pain and symptoms similar to my own. He would come to my hospital room, stretch on on the recliner next to my bed and sleep for hours. He had seen the doctor himself repeatedly and was undergoing a series of tests. They had not pinpointed the cause, but he'd had pneumonia and we knew he'd been "burning the candle at both ends" caring for me.

Finally, John saw his doctor with test results just a couple days before I was to come home from the hospital myself. The doctor wanted him admitted immediately and he became my neighbor right down the hall in the cardiac section. Yes, when I got the full news about John's condition as I lay in my own hospital bed, I fairly freaked out. I was WAY past the point of asking how much more we could take, and it seemed like it just kept on coming. But as more details unfolded about him, I realized what a miracle it was that God had safely brought us both through.

We learned that John had 4 blocked arteries: 2 blocked 99% and 2 blocked 100%.  I still don't understand how he had survived and managed to function at all like this. Two days after coming home from heart surgery myself, I returned to the surgery waiting room as John underwent a quadruple bypass (we even had the same awesome surgeon!). Although he has been through much pain and now faces a tough recovery, his surgery was a success and he is already much improved!

John is a walking miracle and I have no doubt that this was exactly the MERCY that God led me to pray for -- although we had no idea at the time! How wonderful that God understands our "groanings" when we don't even know what to pray for! God saved his life by allowing this problem to be discovered and treated just in the nick of time!
" In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."  Romans 8:26-27

The timing of all these events was crazy -- I don't think even Lifetime movie writers could have come up with this!  As we celebrate Valentine's day, John & I both know we have so much more to be thankful for than just a little romance and paper hearts! The very heart of the one I love has been saved by the mercy of God -- it's impossible to measure that!
“For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name.
And His mercy is upon generation after generation Toward those who fear Him."    Luke 1:49-50

Saturday, January 12, 2013

In Sickness and in Health

My dear John has been the best husband in both good times and bad. Funny when you say that in your wedding vows you never expect the "bad" part may actually be put to the test one day. How very blessed I have been to have him for my husband. The following is a blog entry written by him to share his perspective as a caregiver:
I've been wanting to share my perspective on the life of a caregiver. The ups and downs are like a wild ride at Disneyland. Many friends and relatives have commented to me about how surprised they were at what a good job I've done and how brave I have been with the day to day challenges that occur. I tell them, "Really? I'm not the brave one here."

The brave one is the one fighting this disease day in and day out while still functioning in their everyday responsibilities and family trials and tribulations. Who knew 5 years ago that this would be an ongoing process or that life would never be the same for us? I feel no kudos are earned and it is an honor to do whatever I can to make my wife comfortable on a day-to-day basis.

I'll start with friends and family. I must admit I was really hurt by some close friends and family that stayed clear of us and had very little or no contact. Rather than dwell on this, I chose to praise and thank God for the many friends and relatives that have stepped up to the plate and bless us every day with the things they do. Erin has mentioned in her blogs of the Friday "chemo day" delivery of flowers from our "flower fairy," dear Lynn, longtime friend and neighbor. I don't know how to ever begin to thank her for her faithfulness, love and support.

The times when I am alone and driving to work seem to be when I have my emotional breakdowns.  I'll think of the time ahead without my Erin.  It seems like a bad dream or a Lifetime movie that is NOT happening to us. Well, it IS!  I feel the minor things I do for Erin is just that -- minor. I am surprised to hear how little many husbands support their wives at the chemo lounge, and how many women drive themselves to and from their treatments. Really?

I'm sure there is a support group for us caregivers, but I've never sought one. I have been fortunate enough to have a dear friend, therapist, and cancer survivor to meet with and air my thoughts. I leave her wiser, stronger, and ready to take on our next challenge.

I feel when Erin is feeling good, I fall back mentally to the days of past where we could just freely shop, dine, and travel. You always hear people saying to cherish those days and do not take them for granted. I would think nothing more of those days, but it being the "norm" rather than a special moment.

We both laugh a lot through the difficult paths that our life has taken us, such as the time we went to the memorial park to pick out our final resting places. It was like watching a "Roseanne" episode! Erin and I were put in a room to choose plot locations, the granite for our markers, and even what font type they would use.

We would giggle like children until the "funeral lady" would reappear. We rode in a golf cart to the plot locations and we were the first in the new neighborhood to pick out the land in which we will be put to rest. Our sons didn't share our excitement or humor when I told them we had bought "real estate" in the O.C. and would be moving!

To see your wife, lover, and best friend in any pain is indescribable. I only wish it was me going through the treatments. I could never imagine I would outlive my wife since her mother is still alive at 96 and going strong! Anxiety sets in when I think of life in the future without Erin. Such a deep pain and sadness that I immediately put it out of my mind.

Erin has prepared many boxes of things for our sons and future grandchildren that will give them a glimpse of their grandmother. She has bought books that she has read to our sons and recorded her voice as she will now be able to read those same stories to our grandchildren. Time.... how lucky are we that she has had this time to prepare things like this.

I remember every day that I'm not alone. So many friends are there waiting to comfort me and help out in any way. When I'm alone, I feel it. I do not feel like any hero or great husband. This is just what one does for someone you love: you care for them. For all you caregivers, I'd like to be your friend, rock, and support. I feel I have a lot to share (good and bad) and I could be a help to you and all the things you are going through. You can contact me at

I have put off writing this blog for fear of expressing myself in a way that would sound too sappy. The words come to mind from one of my favorite movies, "Terms of Endearment:" "IT'S OKAY TO TALK ABOUT THE CANCER!"  I plan to write another entry in the future to share more of my experiences. Please let me know any specific topics you'd like to hear about.

Knowing that all the prayers, love, and support we caregivers get from family and friends, we can also get from each other. I'm here for Erin...... I'm here for you! God bless!

Cancer Doesn't "Win"

In the past few weeks my health has taken a sudden downward turn and although I think we knew it would eventually, things are happening faster than anticipated. Before Christmas I was enjoying lunch with girlfriends, short shopping trips, time revisiting favorite family traditions. A bout with the flu started late Christmas day and was soon compounded with other symptoms that has sent me to my oncologist numerous times as well as a few ER visits.

Before we'd been able to follow up on a possible spread to my spine, it seems the nasty tumor abutting my aorta is causing more trouble. I am so weak and seem to have nosedived so quickly. While a panel of experts reviews my case to recommend next steps, we had "the talk" today with my oncologist and I am working on updating my Advance Healthcare Directive so all my end-of-life wishes are in writing. By the way, I recommend everyone do this, whether healthy or ill, young or old, and discuss it and give copies to your doctors and family members.

I can't help thinking of my friend who has stopped chemo, is receiving palliative care, and joyfully looking forward to meeting her Lord. That sounds pretty good, especially the end of the journey. Some of the potential treatments and procedures I might face sound pretty awful and I have told doctors and family that I don't want to endure torture for only a small hope in buying a few short and miserable weeks or months in this life.

Friends put on their brave faces, pat my hand, and tell me to not give up the fight -- I'm going to be okay. I smile. Yes, I'm going to be just GREAT, but probably not in the way they meant. My physical body will only be able to fight off the cancer for just so long, and then I will joyfully leave this battered shell behind and head for the new home Jesus has been preparing for me.

But when that time comes, I don't want anyone saying that I have "lost my battle with cancer" or that "cancer beat me." CANCER DOES NOT GET THE VICTORY! I am tired of viewing this as a battle, fight, or a curse and I don't think of myself as a warrior or hero. I just did what I had to do while holding firmly to my Savior's Hand.

But cancer doesn't win!

I recently was given a great little booklet by John Piper titled "Don't Waste Your Cancer." What a lot of wonderful little nuggets of wisdom it contains. One article describes the sufferings of disease in this life as "labor pains" of a new creation and that something wonderful is coming!
"For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body." Romans 8:22-23
"Beating cancer" doesn't equate with extending my life in this world. Satan would like me to think so, but the truth is I will be the victor either way, and the greatest victor when I join my Lord: "We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord." 2 Corinthians 5:8

To God be the glory! Cancer doesn't win!