Exposed

I got a package in the mail today. It was kind of creepy. I ordered it myself and I knew what was inside. Still creepy. With trepidation, I opened the padded envelope and found an entire head of hair.

They tell me I’ll lose my hair after my first cycle of chemotherapy. Now, y’all, I don’t consider myself to be a vain person (I’m learning I’m much more vain than I ever realized) and I just figured when I go bald, I’ll wear hats. Hats are cute; I like hats.

Then I started thinking. In addition to my kids requesting that I get a wig, I realized that if I don’t have one, everyone everywhere will know that I have or have had cancer. It’s not a fact I care to hide, but it’s also not my favorite topic of discussion. And so, I ordered.

The wig is cute. On a stand. On my head, mmmm, maybe. At the moment, I’m just trying to be as prepared as I can, since I likely won’t care much to be shopping once my hair falls out and I’m a puddle of tears.

Losing my hair is a harder thought for me than losing my breasts. I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. I think part of it has to do with dignity–women my age aren’t meant to be bald. We rarely are bald, and in fact spend quite a bit of time in the pursuit of good hairstyles. Something given at birth is being stripped away against my will. I realize mastectomy will also strip something away, but it’s different. That part of me is shielded from view and protected. My head is just right out there, seen by the world.

Enter vanity. Or rather, expose vanity. I don’t think it’s wrong that I feel grief at losing my hair–not at all. However, it WILL grow back. Maybe it will be even better! And yet, that’s not a comfort. I’m still stuck.

I think, at the core, this is an issue of surrender. I have come to terms at the moment with having cancer (this is something I know I will have to do time after time in the next year). I have come to terms with surgery and mastectomy, and I am willing. My hair, on the other hand, is something to which I’m clinging. Perhaps it’s as simple as having my outside be as exposed as my soul feels right now. Maybe it all comes down to vulnerability. When I walk around now, my battle is private. Strangers, and many people I know, aren’t aware of my situation. In due course, it will be glaringly apparent to the world.

Maybe I’m not ready for that. But I’m working on it.

Meet Stacey

Just a few days after my diagnosis, an out-of-state friend messaged me with a few prayer requests from her church. She mentioned that a woman there had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer.

Being the extrovert that I am, I asked for her name and immediately barged into her world. I’m so thankful I did. It turns out Stacey was diagnosed 4 days before I and was facing a very similar journey to mine.

We hit it off, and Stacey and I now check in daily. We don’t know each other well, but we have some pretty amazing things in common, not the least of which is an abiding faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ. We are a year apart in age (no need to specify who is older–ha!), both have a number of children, etc, etc. It seems we are both married to comedians, as well. My husband said “Hey, maybe you’ll become “breast” friends!” to which hers replied “Yes, keep us abreast of the situation!” I have a feeling this witty exchange will be drawn out for months. . . much longer than it deserves to!

I have heard many great success stories since my diagnosis. It seems everyone knows someone who had it and survived and lives an abundant life. As wonderful as those stories are to hear (and they are!!) nothing compares to having a Sister in Christ who is walking the very same road as I, at the very same time. Over the next many months, we will understand each other like no one else does.

Some would call this coincidence or great luck. I have no such illusions. The Lord God has planted us in one another’s lives–maybe just for a season, maybe forever. Proverbs 17:17 says: A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. Stacey and I share a sisterhood that was born for this journey—this adversity. Praise God.

Pushing Forward

My daughter Wendy came to me last evening to tell me that God had put a verse on her heart for me. I always pay attention when someone comes to me with something–it’s how the Body of Christ works.

Mark 3:10 He had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him.

The verses prior to verse 10 tell that Jesus was speaking to the crowds and so many had been healed and wanted to be healed that He had to sit off the shore in a boat so that people couldn’t crowd him as he spoke.

People believed. They saw Jesus working and ministering and healing and they wanted it for themselves. I am one of those people.

I haven’t felt the call to pray for miraculous healing in my situation. I do pray for that often in other situations, and I believe completely in God’s ability and desire to heal miraculously. Rather, I am deeply convinced that God’s work in my life and potentially the lives of others will come through my walking of this dark road–willingly.

And so I see from the verse Wendy gave me that I must push forward to touch Him. I must keep my eyes ahead and upward, trusting Him to complete His work in me and through me. I will need those nearby to remind me of this. I haven’t even started treatment yet and I am so very tired. My body is fighting this cancer with all it has. . . literally. Add to that the emotional and mental components, and going into the journey I’m tired. I’m weary. I’m fighting discouragement and I haven’t even begun to run the race.

So pray for me, my friends. When God brings me to your mind, ask Him to keep me focused on the prize, not distracted by the rough terrain.

Defenses Down

Today will be a tough day. This will be my first Sunday in church since my diagnosis. There are so many people at First Baptist who love me and truly care about my family. I have a pastor who preaches the Word and loves his people. The worship team helps to usher us into the presence of the King. So what’s the problem?

Church is where my defenses come down. Nothing moves my emotions and bares my soul like corporate worship, so I predict I will be a mess. When my friends offer a kind word and a hug, it ruins any bravado I may have had and the waterworks start. I’m sure this is a perfectly healthy and normal way to react, especially given the circumstances, but it’s hard for me.

You see, I’m the caregiver. I’ve fed and cared for a farmer for 23 years. I’ve raised or sheltered children for almost as long. I love and live to see that others have what they need. Not much makes me happier than when people enjoy my food or want to hang around my house.

Now, I’m moving into a place where, for a prolonged period of time, I will be the one who needs to be fed and looked after. I will be vulnerable and needy and I hate that part.

I have learned, in theory, that for every person who wants to wash feet, someone must be willing to let their feet be washed. Now, that head knowledge must make the journey to my heart.

Not Just My Story

I’m getting a lot of attention these days. I don’t like being the center of attention. I do appreciate all the caring and loving people surrounding me, for sure. I love that God is raising people up to encourage and support me.

Today, my son turns 15. I have one son and 7 daughters. As I think about his life and pray for him this morning, I’m very aware that this whole cancer deal isn’t just about me. It’s part of his story, too.

He’s turning 15 and learning and growing in life and just found out his mama’s got cancer. You know the bond between boys and mamas. . . and as far as he understands, his mama could die and leave him alone.

After he learned the news, he came into my room and asked if I wanted a hug. YES! I will always want a hug from this guy. He leaned down (He’s 6’5”) and held on tight while I sobbed. That was a moment that will likely never leave either of our memories.

The same is true of my daughters–my strong, lovely, amazing daughters. This is part of their story, as well. They are the ones who will fill my shoes for the next 6 months or so. We are all going in strong, but the day will come when we are all weary and tired and maybe angry.

And my husband. I can’t imagine getting the news that a spouse has cancer. I pray I never know the feeling, but I know Larry feels it deeply. It’s a major part of his story. I told him yesterday “I’m sorry, dear, but if I have cancer, you have cancer. That’s how it works. . . if you do it right.” And so we walk this part of the story together. And he’s been amazing. God blessed me beyond measure to give me this man.

When we go through something tough in life, we tend to think and wonder about what the purpose is. What’s God doing? Why is this happening? Some of us look inward for the lessons we think we are supposed to be learning and think our struggles are only about us. How often we miss the other pieces of the puzzle. Since our lives are all intertwined on one level or another, what is tough for me may be tough for someone else in my life, and maybe this difficult thing is actually me being a tool in the Maker’s hand so that someone else can learn and grow.

Regardless what will come of this situation I’m in, I know that it’s not about me. Not entirely, anyway. It’s about His higher purpose. And I am willing.

Running Shoes

I’m lacing up my running shoes, literally and figuratively. It feels to me like the starting gun will go off when I enter the cancer center. I’ve met with surgeons before, but never an oncologist. It’s getting real.

Hebrews 12:1 says so much, but what sticks out to me this morning is this: “let us run with endurance the race which is set before us.” I think the race referred to is our Christian walk in general. However, I think we can apply it more personally as well.

Over the last 20 some years, my races have been motherhood and farm wife. Farm life. Several different income generating businesses. Friend. Daughter. Sister. Each of these has required different things of me and honestly, some of them have been obstacle courses.

Today, all of these races disappear into the background and a marathon appears. It occurs to me that perhaps God has used the other races to condition my heart and soul so that I will have the stamina and endurance for this big one.

I’m so glad for verse 2! “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Someone I trust implicitly has run an infinitely more difficult race. He is the One who will help me, guide me, train me. He will perfect my faith through this. My part is to look to Him.

I am well! But am I?

I have a degree in English, which makes me something of a grammar nazi. At the coffee shop, I am asked a hundred times a day “How are you?” To which I reply “I am well!” Grammatically speaking, this is correct. “I’m good” is not.

I also value honesty. Lately my overactive mind has asked me whether I am being honest when I answer that way. I’m not well. Physically speaking, I have a disease. Cancer is growing even as I sit here typing. So how should I answer? I hate to ambush someone with “I have cancer! How are you?” I also hate to be untruthful.

As I pondered this yesterday, (my mind is really, really overactive right now) the song It Is Well came to mind. I love that song. It may be my favorite hymn of all time. That is my heart’s cry through this whole ordeal. . . that it would well with my soul.

And so, I have found peace with this dilemma. Is my body well? Nope. But my soul is.

Learning

I love to learn. I google things at least a dozen times a day, just because I want to know. Things like why otters hold hands when they sleep and how big a platypus is and what’s the difference between almond and amaretto. Trivia, all of it, but it fascinates me.

This week I have been googling other things. Things like HER2 and what foods feed cancer and what mastectomy scars look like. None of it is trivial. And if I don’t guard my eyes and thoughts, it leads me down a deep, dark hole of despair.

I now know more about cancer than I ever thought I’d need to, and I have barely scratched the surface. The learning curve with cancer is steep one; it comes at you fast and furious and you try to tread water and discern what applies to you and what doesn’t.

A week ago, none of it applied to me. Cancer was blissfully something that happens to other people–not that I would ever wish it on anyone or take it lightly for them–it was just something I rarely had to think about. Now, here I am and it occupies every corner of my life.

They say ignorance is bliss. It isn’t when knowing what’s going on in my body will likely save my life. As difficult as this new education is, I am grateful for how much the medical community has learned, and for the privilege of living in a time when medical advancement is immense.

Regardless of my feelings on the subject, school is in session. God grant me the presence of mind and wisdom to be a good student.

How it all started

I had a bruise. It had no color; it just felt like a bruise on my left breast. I couldn’t feel a lump or anything, but I figured since I had blown off the routine mammograms for the last 8 years (I’m 48, and they recommend starting at 40) I’d go ahead and get it checked out. I had no idea how providential that little bruise would be. Really.

By the time my appointment rolled around, the bruise was gone, but I figured I’d go in anyway. My nurse practitioner felt a lump in my right breast! She recommended mammogram and sonogram, which I had the following week. I went home feeling confident that all was well and I’d go back in a year to do my routine duty.

Not so. I was called back for a second set of tests, and then again for imaging and possible biopsy in Duluth. That was a tough appointment. When you are called to the Breast Center for tests, stuff gets real and fear sets in. I cried silently through much of the 3 hours I was there.

Then I went home to wait. As I waited and prayed and committed it to the Lord, He gave me the peace that I would indeed be found to have cancer, but that all would be well. I had no guarantee of what that meant, but I could rest in it.

The call came late in the day Friday, and was as I expected. Friday dragged into Saturday and then Sunday. . . finally on Monday I got a call with appointments. Finally, I had something I could DO. There was something on my calendar. It was a start.

That brings me to today. I met the surgeon and found some encouraging news–I can avoid radiation by having a more radical surgery, my lymph nodes are clear, and I really like my surgeon. I also found some discouraging news–as much as I want to avoid chemo, it’s not likely, as the type of cancer I have involves HER2, a protein that enables faster growth and greater recurrence. I’ve always thought if I ever got cancer I’d go a more natural route and skip the attack of chemo on my body. Turns out I did get cancer, and it’s an aggressive sort that will perhaps make it unwise to take the time to try other methods. This makes me deeply sad, and so I pray that if I am to have chemo, both my husband and I will feel a great peace about it.

My schedule is beginning to be crazy. . . days I don’t work, I have appointments. Oh, the appointments.

Here I am. . .

I’ve started several blogs over the years. I love to write and have always enjoyed the idea of keeping up with a blog, more for my own love of writing than anything.

Enter life. Exit blog.

Here I am, starting again. This time, it’s not for me. I am commissioned to write, and I will trust that He who commissioned me will enable me to keep up, for His glory. You see, this time it’s different. I’m going to have a story to tell, and maybe someone will find strength and encouragement in it.

Exactly 5 days ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. But you know what’s cool? I expected it. No, I never expected to get reproductive cancer of any sort. There is no history in my family, and it’s scientifically proven that the more time you spend lactating and the more children you bear, the less likely you are to get it. I have 6 biological children, y’all. I’ve done my time. And yet, here I am.

From the time of my biopsies last Wednesday, I had a deep and abiding peace that the results would be positive. I also knew that all will be well and very well. Does that guarantee that I will beat it and live a long and happy life, not remotely.

I could ask “why me?” But then, why not me? What makes me special, that I should be above this diagnosis? Absolutely nothing. And since I KNOW that The Lord my God has everything in His hand, I can trust Him with this. (I will likely need you all to remind me of this as the journey gets rockier–just please be gentle!)

So, that’s my intro. If you’re intrigued, keep reading. If you have other things to do, God’s blessings as you go.