Full Circle

Just days into my breast cancer journey, I “met” Stacey online. Tonight, I met her in person. I was nervous as I walked up the front steps, but the moment she opened the door, it felt like we’ve been friends forever.

My husband and I spent the evening with Stacey and Joe, and had a wonderful meal. Good things are coming for this friendship. We all hit it off, enjoying one another’s company and getting to know each other.

Every step of this difficult path has been led by God. He has met every need, soothed every hurt, and walked alongside me. I have seen His face in the faces of doctors and nurses who have cared for me. I have heard His compassionate words through cards and messages from well-wishers and prayer warriors. I have felt His touch in the hands of those who have physically cared for my body.

God’s peace has indwelt me. God’s grace has sustained me. God’s love has surrounded me. So many of His servants have ministered to me in one way or another.

I have one surgery left, and quite a bit of maintenance before I can move on without cancer defining me. Even as I heal and gain momentum, I know I will never truly be able to leave this experience behind. It is my prayer that active cancer is in my past–never to return–but only the Lord God knows for sure.

It is also my prayer that someone reading this has been encouraged and felt supported through my experience. If even one person has seen the face of God through my words, this entire battle has been worthwhile.

My journey is changing now. Instead of heading for chemo, I’m heading for Wyoming and new adventures.

I am blessed, I am grateful, I am content.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:1-5 ESV

Stacey and Brenda

Sisters

Me: I really hate having no nose hair Stacey: I know, right? It sucks!! Never would have thought how important it was Me: Contrary to popular belief, it does have a function. Lol

This crazy conversation is proof that walking the same path with someone else is an amazing thing. When I have cancer-related things like this on my mind, Stacey gets it. Things I can’t really explain to other people are fair game with her.

My sister-in-law is another example of this. Our husbands have farmed together longer than either couple has been married. Over the years, when the guys have been busy calving or in the fields, or things have been stressful, we’ve understood one another and been able to support each other. When nobody else could relate to our long hours, lack of vacation time, and need to be flexible, we have had each other. She is of utmost importance in my life and has been for years. She is a treasure and her worth is far above rubies.

My husband and I are in Wyoming this week, looking at property and making arrangements for our move. We are in Stacey’s hometown. She’s not feeling well today and tomorrow we are both busy, so we have made plans for Wednesday. We have been in daily conversation via text since September, and the time is finally here to meet in person. I’m nervous. I don’t know why I’m nervous, I just am. What if I’m not what she expects? What if we don’t click in person the way we do online?

I have a feeling when we see one another for the first time, we will bawl like babies. What we have shared in experience this winter has bound us together. I know it will be fine once we get into the same room and get talking. I wish my sister-in-law could be here to share this moment. Two vastly different life paths, two incredibly different traveling companions. And I am so grateful for both. My life is richly blessed.

Thank you, sisters.

Proverbs 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother [or sister] is born for adversity.

No, thank you.

My mom called last night. Her church group is having a ladies’ meeting and they wonder if I’ll speak. Immediate panic. I don’t “speak.” I don’t like crowds and I especially don’t like being in front of them.

Writing is different. I can pause and think. I can take time to look for the right words. I don’t have to make or avoid eye contact or pretend the readers are all in their underwear. It’s safer. And if I cry, nobody sees.

But then I think about the last 5 months and all that I’ve been through. All the fears I’ve faced and conquered, all the noise I’ve made about being willing for God to use me and this situation for His glory.

One of my all time favorite verses is about being a jar of clay, through which Christ’s light can shine. If I’m clay, that means I’m plain and ordinary and unremarkable. I can identify with that. Nothing amazing comes from regular clay pots. The point is that any beauty seen is from what is within the pot. It’s not too often that we see a gorgeous bouquet of flowers and are more impressed by the vase.

Do I want to be a guest speaker? No, thank you. Am I willing to be a jar of clay and brave enough to let Jesus shine through me? I’m willing, but I’m not brave. I guess we’ll see how this goes.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that this all-surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 2 Corinthians 4:7

Normal?

Life is beginning to get back to “normal.” Although, normal as we left it in September is not normal as we find it in February. I am getting back on my feet and I’m now up more than I’m sitting. This is wonderful and I’m enjoying being able to cook, clean, and think straight.

A daughter came and deep cleaned my kitchen and some of my living area, since we have fallen so behind over winter and we are trying to ready the house for realtors. I’m not going to gloss over the fact that even on my best day my housekeeping is not stellar so she had her work cut out for her. We’ve always been busy and mess-makers with one project or anther, so house cleaning has never been top priority. Now, it has to be. Welcome, New Challenge.

Now that I’m on my feet more I’m realizing just how weak my muscles are, particularly in my legs. Beside the fact that I have been so inactive, this is a chemo side effect that could last months to a year. On flat ground, it’s only a problem if I am very tired. Stairs, however, are another matter. I’m grateful that we live in a single story house with just a few steps up to the entrances.

Stacey and I have been comparing notes (read: whining) about the muscle weakness. So far, if she has fallen, she hasn’t admitted it to me. I did fall a few days ago, off a kitchen chair. Other than a sore behind, I’m no worse for the wear and it served to remind me that caution is important, no matter what I think I can tackle. My attitude is “I’m done with chemo, let’s get back to living!” My body, despite its valiant efforts, isn’t there yet. I suppose this is another opportunity for me to learn patience.

Dad and I were discussing this last night, tongue-in-cheek. Feeling like every little thing has to be a life lesson when we would really just love a break to live and breathe and take it easy. How nice it would be to press the pause button and take a little time to catch up.

We both know, though, that human nature doesn’t allow pauses. We are always moving one way or the other. Life is never static for anyone. Even if the events of life seem to halt, the mind and soul continue to work and move. If we are not challenged to move ahead, we will default to sliding backward–to laziness and eventually giving up.

Some people find this challenge in the workplace, and become workaholics. Some find it in their children and nearly smother them, only to find one day that the kids are gone and they no longer have a purpose. Hobbies drive other people. Every spare moment can be consumed in learning the next skill or the next step. We all invest in something, whether we realize it or not. There is something that keeps each of us going, even if it’s unhealthy like addiction or codependency.

Faith is what keeps me hanging on. I don’t mean the “faith” that is trendy in home decor right now. I mean honest-to-goodness, I-KNOW-who-holds-tomorrow faith. I have a relationship with the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. I don’t know how I would survive life without Him. You see, when you put your faith in a career or people or charity work or hobbies, you are trusting in things that will one day be gone. All of those things are temporary and man-made. But when you put your faith in Jesus, all of those things take on new meaning and new life. They become tools rather than the goal itself. And when they pass away, as all things will, what remains is eternity in Heaven, where the real treasure lies. What we do during life becomes the short range plan on the way to the long range goal of eternity with our Creator, in a place where struggle and strife are no more. Tears cease, and suffering stops.

So while I struggle to learn patience, it’s just one little sapling in the big-picture forest. That fact gives me hope and perspective and keeps me willing to carry on, knowing that each day is gaining for me eternity. I can live with that.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Cor 4:16-18 ESV

Perception

Stacey is having a rough time. Even though I’m not out of the woods, I’m feeling better than she is, and not long ago, I was there myself. She has a great support system, but I would venture to guess that of all the voices right now, mine is one that she hears the loudest. It’s not because of who I am, but because I know exactly how she feels. I KNOW. I’m traveling the same road.

I caught up with another friend over a very long cup of coffee not long ago. She and I see each other rarely, but when we do, it’s like no time has passed. A couple times a year, we get together and spill our guts. There are several very painful areas of life that we both have experienced or are experiencing. I hate talking about those things in general, but I don’t mind hashing them over with her. Why? Because SHE KNOWS. She has insight for me that makes total sense. We understand one another without having to give the back story or trying to explain. We just know.

These women, and others, are invaluable in my life. For different reasons, each is necessary and a blessing because we share life experiences. When it comes to the huge things, perspective is everything. It’s kind and encouraging when someone says she is praying for me and offers help. I appreciate that. But when Stacey says “Ugh. I know you probably won’t sleep well tonight because of the steroids. I’ll pray” it’s a totally different thing. She KNOWS.

The least lonely place on earth is alongside someone who knows what you’re going through and what you’re feeling. At this moment in life, Stacey is one of those people. You know who else KNOWS? Jesus. He never had breast cancer, but He suffered far greater things. He understands me better than I understand myself. He knows my every thought and feeling and pain. I can talk to Him candidly, and he already knows the back story. He will never leave me. He hears my cries and sees my tears. I have nothing to hide, and no need to hide anything. He doesn’t speak to me audibly, but He definitely speaks to me. I’m His child–His kid–and He’s my Daddy. I’m safe with Him.

I have very recently been where Stacey is, and in many respects I still am, so it means something to her when I say “Better days are coming!” If you are reading this while traveling the breast cancer road, take heart. You’ve got this. And if you’ve trusted Jesus with your life, He’s got you. Bravely and boldly keep walking. There is a finish line, and it’s closer than you think.

. . .holding fast to the word of life , so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Philippians 2:16 ESV

No Guarantees

At the first big oncology meeting we had last fall, there was a very sweet nurse whom we found to be very encouraging. She was a year post breast cancer and was doing well. Though I don’t know her situation, I know she opted for a lumpectomy with radiation rather than a mastectomy.

I haven’t seen her the last several weeks, and she has been on my mind. I’ve been praying for her and wondering what is up. Today, I saw her again. She was wearing a scarf and has lost her hair again. Her cancer has come back and she has had to have radiation on her head–so I would guess the cancer moved.

My feelings about this range widely. I have so much compassion for her. Even though I don’t know her well at all, I can imagine how discouraging it must have been for her to finally make it through treatment the first time, only to be back there a year later. I also feel panic, because she has been an inspiration and has represented such hope for us–especially my husband. What if I finally get to the end of this journey, only to find myself back at the beginning?

Honestly, though, I just have to separate myself from her entirely. Our situations are different, our lives are different, God’s purpose for each of us is different. My cancer could come back in a year or ten years. It could never come back. And for that matter, I could step off the sidewalk tomorrow and get run over by a bus.

We have no guarantees. Not one of us knows what will come tomorrow. We have no promise that we will even wake up tomorrow. But that’s okay with me, because I know who holds tomorrow and I can trust that His timing and purpose is perfect. I have chosen to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, and I know without a doubt that whenever my time on Earth is over, I will be with Him in Heaven for eternity. It is my prayer that this nurse has the same assurance. Who knows? Maybe I will get an opportunity to share my faith with her. Maybe she already knows Him and we can share our faith together.

Whatever happens, I am at peace. If I wake tomorrow, I will be grateful for another day. If I don’t, I’ll begin a new journey, hand in hand with my Lord.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. John 14:3 ESV