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

Wait, what?

A few days ago, I got a phone call from my clinic. It was someone from Radiation wanting to set up an appointment. It had to be a mistake, and I said so. She assured me that, no, she had the right person, and my oncologist had ordered this consult. I nearly lost it right there on the phone. She transferred me to my nurse navigator who promised to check it out and get back to me.

I got off the phone and freaked out. It makes me sad that I reacted with such lack of control and reasonable thought, but there it is. Radiation hadn’t been mentioned since October, when our decision to have double mastectomy instead of lumpectomy was made. With lumpectomy, radiation is a given. With mastectomy, it is very often not necessary. Since October, we have been under the impression that radiation is off the table.

The nurse navigator called back and confirmed that, yes, my doctor had ordered this appointment. It would appear that this is a way of closing loops, leaving no stone unturned. It is highly probable that the conversation will be to review the initial discussion, talk over what has transpired and where we are now, and determine that radiation is indeed not necessary. But. There is also a chance that, based on surgical pathology, it is still a precaution they want to take (I don’t know what we would be targeting–the tumor is gone and there was no cancer in my lymph nodes).

The element of surprise in this case was brutal. When this call came, I was newly excited about being done with the rough part of treatment, and was beginning to feel better overall. My oncologist had made no mention that he was requesting the appointment. This new development took the feet out from under me. I was instantly in despair and panic mode. “I can’t do radiation. Not now that I am finally on the mend!”

Then, a still, small voice inside reminded me wherein lies my strength. I remembered who holds me–who has held me from the beginning of this journey–who has held me all my life. If radiation is a road I need to travel, He will hold me still. Will I take it calmly and sitting down? Probably not. I am human, after all. Self preservation is part of my nature. But He will work me through that, too.

And so, until my appointment with Radiation tomorrow, I’ll continue surrendering to Him, and trying not to worry about the future. My prayer is that Larry and I will accept whatever recommendation is given and weigh it prayerfully. If God adds another leg to my journey, so be it.

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” Psalm 31:14 ESV

Evening Out

It has been 11 days since my last chemo treatment. Though many of the side effects are still present and may be for months to come, some things are beginning to even out.

My mental clarity is better already, and this is a huge blessing. I’m beginning to be capable of thinking about plans for the day, what’s for supper, etc without feeling panicky and like I can’t connect two thoughts. Just the fact that every little thing overwhelmed me mentally has been difficult for everyone.

Emotions are evening out as well. Since the mama is the thermostat for the house, I see the overall mood and emotional state of the household improving even as my personal emotions stabilize. This is HUGE, especially for those in the house for whom emotions are uncomfortable and difficult.

I am able to be up and doing more and more each day. Bit by bit, normalcy is returning. We still have a long way to go, but every little ounce helps. The household has been in such disarray and this has been one of the most difficult seasons of life. I fight feeling guilt about this. After all, I am the one that had cancer. All of this difficulty, this rocky road, started with me. I look around and see the struggle of everyone in my family and know that they are fighting for a breath of fresh air–because of me. I know in my head that this is unreasonable–I didn’t volunteer for this. And yet, somehow, part of me assumes responsibility and feels at fault. Thanks to the grace of God, most days I am able to let that part go and remember that all of this was ordained and allowed, for a purpose. It’s not about me at all.

You see, when cancer hits, it doesn’t just hit the person who was diagnosed. When one person has cancer, everyone in the family has cancer. Friends have cancer. The church body has cancer. Why this disease is so far reaching, I’m not sure, but it is. And so I’m learning that my family needs recovery time, too. They aren’t done processing, feeling, and hurting. Some of them have barely started.

Up until now, I haven’t been capable of much more than tending to my own treatment and process. Out of necessity, I have been pretty centrally focused. Nobody faults me for that, and I don’t fault myself. It’s the nature of the cancer beast. Regardless of the prognosis, there is a certain amount of the cancer life cycle that is simply survived. Some processing can happen during that phase, but much cannot.

And so my prayer focus today is for my kids. I’m praying for them to see the grace of God through this dark cloud. I’m asking the God of all comfort and peace to overwhelm them and walk them through the process of their own healing, even as I heal. I want them to look back one day and see their mom’s cancer journey as a place of growth and change–a necessary refining fire in all of our lives. I don’t want them to look back in bitterness and anger. But that’s God’s business. All I can do is lay them at His feet and let Him do His work.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 ESV

Hope

Two days ago, I woke up dreading, sad, weary. I was headed to chemo. Even though I “only” had two rounds left, I still had two rounds left. When each day is a long, hard battle, two weeks feels like forever. It was two weeks in which I knew I would continue to decline. This drug has had a cumulative effect on my body, and while the first couple weeks felt pretty manageable and not so bad, every week since had been harder than the previous.

Now, just two days later, everything feels different. Things are not very different, but my outlook is new so it feels that way. For the first time in treatment, I am nine days post-chemo. My last 10 Thursdays have been hard days–ones that I just planned on staying in my chair, dozing off and on, too wiped out to do anything even as simple as reading. Today, though, I have hope. This Thursday will be different. It already is.

Though I am tired from the activity of getting up and ready for the day, my mind is alert. I didn’t get up, get ready, and sit down in my chair to sleep. The cobwebs are beginning to clear some in my brain, and thinking simple things through is beginning to be less frustrating. I realize that the chemo recovery will take months, maybe a year, but I can feel small changes daily and I am embracing every little one.

I am so grateful that, though my hands and feet are far from normal, the intense pain and itching is less today.

I was able to clean my kitchen yesterday–though it took me all day, with many rests, I did it. I am making small, attainable goals with scheduled rests between each one. It is important to pace myself, and I know myself well enough to understand that setting the bar low is the key. For example, yesterday, I would set the goal of putting away the dishes in the drying rack and washing one sink full. It felt good to reach that goal, and though I needed to sit and rest then, I was okay with that because I had succeeded. Using psychology on myself, y’all.

One step at a time, one task at a time, one day at a time. That’s how I’ll manage this recovery. And you know, it’s not a bad philosophy for life in general. Make an attainable goal, reach it, rest. Repeat. I do understand myself well enough to know that if I’m not careful, small goals will become frustrating and I’ll get discouraged. That’s where the continued prayers of the saints around me come in. So many people are praying for me–lifting me up to the Giver of Life–that I’ll make it through this. If you’re one of those, I give you my sincerest thanks.

I’m off to read (yay!) my devotional and my Bible. That’s my next goal for the day. After that, I’ll make another, and another. Keeping my eyes on Him and each task before me, I’ll make my way through this day. It’s gonna be a good one.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13 ESV

The Next Leg

Chemo Day started out like all the others. I was exhausted before I left the house, and with the muscle weakness I’ve had, I’m sure many people I passed in the skyway figured my day had started out with a beverage stronger than coffee. I have a certain “swagger” lately.

I was scheduled to see my oncologist, due to fairly severe issues with my hands and feet. My feet have been feeling like I am walking on bunched up socks, and my toes and fingers have been severely itchy, burning, and painful. Several evenings this week I have sat holding ice packs, just to relieve my fingers. This is called “neuropathy,” and it is a side effect of the main chemo drug I’m on–Taxol.

We parked and hiked 2 blocks (literally) to the Cancer Center. After they accessed my port and drew labs, we waited semi-patiently for an hour to see the oncologist. I really, really appreciate this guy and his approach to medicine. He listens, he explains, he researches, he educates. I feel well cared for. And I could listen to him talk all day.

Anyway, after hearing my symptoms, he said that the Taxol had become toxic to my system and it needed to be stopped. Given that I’ve already had 10 weekly treatments, he determined that the best course of action was to stop the Taxol but continue the last two weeks of Herceptin. What does this mean? I AM DONE WITH CHEMO!!! I have had more than enough of the Taxol to achieve full efficacy, and the remaining Herceptin has no side effects. I cried right there in his office.

Yesterday I had no Benadryl, no Pepcid, no doxycycline, no Taxol. I took two Tylenol and had a 30 minute infusion of Herceptin. No heartburn. No restless legs. Piece of cake. Walk in the park. Last night, I wasn’t sleepless and manic. Today, my face isn’t red, rashy, and sore. It hardly feels like Wednesday.

My mind says “Hey, you’re done! Get up and be normal!” but my body says “Whoa, there. We have a long way to go.” Yesterday ended the tearing down and destroying of my cells. Today, we start the rebuilding. While the “hard” part is supposed to be done, somehow I feel like the actual hard part is just beginning.

It’s going to take time for my strength to return. Fatigue this deep doesn’t resolve overnight. Lord willing, the neuropathy will fade and disappear altogether, but there is a 25% chance at least some of it will be permanent. Over time, the weight will come off, my hair will grow back, and my complexion will clear.

I am not patient with myself, so this rebuilding process will be a challenge for me. I will overdo and expect too much. And so, a new leg of this journey is starting. Thankfully, the Lord will be patient when I am not. He will remind me to pace myself and to give myself grace. He will remind me that the road is long but there’s time. I’m sure my mother will, too.

I am over the moon excited to be done with chemo. I am so grateful for all the support I have had thus far, and for great medical care. Moment by moment, day by day, I’ll work my way back to health. And because my God does all things well, all of the prayer that has been offered up on my behalf will be answered. It already has been.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV

Help

There is a burden so heavy on my heart. Several people I love very dearly are struggling. The issues are huge and their frustrations are great. I want to help.

Sometimes, helping is offering a hand up. Other times, to truly be a help, God calls us to back off and draw boundaries. The latter is especially difficult and comes coupled with grief and guilt.

I have been on both sides of this. There have been times when those who love me have had to draw hard lines in order for me to see clearly where I was and where I was headed. Nobody feels like a winner at the time those lines are drawn. Years later, I can see the necessity and blessing of that process in my own life, and I’m grateful I was so loved. That doesn’t make it any easier to be the line-drawer now.

There have also been times when I have needed a hand up. I can see many instances in my past where people have offered me opportunities or gifts or loaned me time or money in order to get me back on my feet and give me a boost. My present circumstances are no exception. The helping hands we have received lately have been numerous and overwhelming. We are grateful.

Receiving help is a tricky thing. Pride often gets in the way, especially if help has been needed and received before. The enemy can get in the way of our joy in receiving, and make us feel guilty that we have needs yet again. That we still haven’t gotten it right and can’t make it on our own. The gifts can then become salt in our wounds and further proof that we have failed.

Isn’t it grand, then, that we serve a God of second (and third, and fourth. . .) chances? Isn’t it amazing that He sees where we’ve been, sees where we are going, and uses others to steer and direct us? He surrounds us with people who love us dearly and are willing to walk those roads with us, backing up and re-routing when necessary, because they believe in us and know we can succeed.

Even as I am burdened for these people I love, I understand that I am the person for whom someone else is burdened. I am the recipient of someone else’s prayers and help and guidance. Just as God has me in place to help, He has others in place to help Me.

He’s got this covered, and I can trust Him.