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.

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

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