Catastrophic

Seventeen years. That’s how long we have dreamed of moving to Wyoming. In the past year and a half, the opportunity has arisen to finally make this dream a reality, and we’ve been seriously considering it. Last fall, as we got closer and closer to a “yes” decision, Larry would often say “Unless something catastrophic happens, we will probably move.”

Cancer is pretty catastrophic. My diagnosis threw all our gears into neutral and put us in a holding pattern. We waited out the first several months, breathless, needing direction. Moment by moment, piece by piece, it came. And is still coming.

God said “Cancer is catastrophic. But I’m still bigger.” He is demonstrating His power and continuing to move in our lives, which includes moving our family to the state of Wyoming.

It’s a little daunting. No, it’s a lot daunting to be finishing up the active part of treatment while working to get a house ready to sell, finding a new property to purchase, dividing the farm, and packing a house all while having zero energy. Oh, and we have a grad party to throw the week before we leave. It’s all huge and it’s all simultaneous. And while leaving will be difficult, it’s all very exciting.

How all these pieces will fall together, I don’t know. There are so many things to arrange and figure out. But God has shown that He is in charge of all of this. He is leading. He is guiding and orchestrating. We just have to keep walking in the way He has shown, and all will be well and very well.

While so much uncertainty surrounds us, we have peace and confidence. We don’t know what our lives will look like in a year, but we do know we will remain safely in His hand. No catastrophe can change that. God is so much bigger than all these things. And we are grateful.

Running

Tomorrow will mark chemo treatment 10 of 12. It will also mark three months since my mastectomy. In between there, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and most of winter happened.

While some days seem never ending, time overall has flown. I am almost five months from diagnosis, and nearly 7 months from the breast exam that set all of this into motion.

There are 10 months left of infusions, but these will be every three weeks and not have side effects. I am told the biggest issue will be the inconvenience. Five to ten years of hormone therapy will start soon, as well.

Initially, we thought that treatment would be brief and we could return to normal life. A hiccup, so to speak. We see now that such is not the case–not at all. Life will be forever different because of this one thing.

It seems to me a clear parallel with so many other things in life. How many times have I made a mistake in a moment only to realize that I have altered my life, maybe forever? I’ve sometimes been short sighted, seeing only immediate results of my actions or words, and discovering later that they were farther reaching than I could have imagined.

Likewise, I’ve underestimated the effects of a kindness or a generosity, no matter how small. Sometimes, a moment to write a note of encouragement can make all the difference in the world to someone who is struggling. Sometimes, a meal carried or a text message sent is the cup of cool water a person needs to make it through the day. There have been many such blessings in my life over the course of this journey. So many times, I have been blessed by a note, call or visit. The journey has been more bearable because people took a moment of their time to think of me.

Above all, the choice to follow Jesus has changed my life. It was a simple decision, acknowledging that He is worthy of my trust and obedience, that has made my life what it is today. I look around this world and see the hurting, lonely people and I want more than anything for them to find the peace I’ve found. I want them to meet their own cancer diagnosis not with despair, but with hope that it is not the end. Even if death is the short term result, Everlasting Life with the Savior is the eternal reality.

Life moments, regardless the situation, matter. Moments turn into hours. Hours become days, and so on until we reach our final day. I am running a race, and though cancer has become one leg of this race, it is only one small part. I have been running since the day my tiny feet reached the open air, and will run until I draw my last breath. I want to run well. I want my life to count for something–not because I want to be remembered, but because God has put me here to make a difference in the lives of others. I want to be faithful to travel the road to which I have been called, no matter the twists and turns.

This race is not one of speed, nor is it in competition with others. It is a race of endurance. It is a race I am guaranteed to win, simply because I have put my trust in the One who runs ahead of me. Because He has been there before me, I can go with confidence, following the course laid out for me. Though the road is not always easy, it is worthwhile.

And so, I will look ahead and not behind. I will learn from where I’ve been, but not dwell there. I will fix my eyes on the prize and run the race set before me, for His glory. And He will strengthen me.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2a ESV

Good For My Heart

Dinner was good for my heart and soul. Thursday was rough, and yesterday I didn’t feel well. We had been invited to fish fry for supper last night, so I rested all day hoping to have the energy to go. I didn’t have the energy. To be honest, I felt awful all the way there and wondered if I should have stayed home.

Once we got to the restaurant and I got a little something in my stomach, I felt better. It was so nice to see our friends and conversation was easy and good. It turned out to be a really great time and I’m so glad we went.

I didn’t realize how little I leave the house for anything other than medical appointments. I do make it to church now and then, but that’s it. With the winter set deeply in and very little social outlet, it’s no wonder I’ve been struggling. I have a little less than a month of chemo left and I think I will help myself by planning places to go and things to do that are just for fun.

Stac and I are both three quarters done with treatment. Daily, we remind one another that we WILL make it. We will get through this. Our individual road maps are etched into our bodies for the rest of this life on earth. We are marked. More than this, though, we are marked for eternity by the One who saved our souls. Though we are passing time and landmarks on this present journey, the real finish line will be when we reach the gates of Heaven, welcomed by the One who has sustained us all this time. What a glorious day that will be! And if I thought dinner out was good for my heart and soul. . .

Low

Tonight is a low night. I’ve held on pretty well all day, but now I’m tired and my resolve is gone. I feel lousy and I look worse. Self-pity isn’t my goal, I’m just being real.

My muscles are weak, my hands hurt. My feet are numb and I’m achy. I’m on my third nosebleed today. My eyes are weepy but the skin around my eyes is so sensitive that it hurts to wipe them. My face is puffy and swollen, and with my bald head, I look like I’m eighty. I have gained so much weight that I feel awkward and ugly.

My husband is sweet and wants to encourage. “Only three treatments left.” Only three. That means four more weeks of this battle, this fatigue, this feeling like I’ve been run over. I’m over tired, and I know I’ll feel better, at least mentally, tomorrow. But somewhere tonight, there is another woman in my shoes who needs to know she is not alone.

Sister, where we are is an awful place to be. It’s hard, it’s mentally draining, it’s physically demanding, it’s maddening. But it’s temporary. One day, we will be done with all this and look back and not remember how hard it all really was.

For tonight, I’ll fight through and you do the same. We can make it. One foot in front of the other, step after weary step. I won’t give up if you won’t. And though I don’t know you, I know you are out there. I’ll pray for you as I go off to sleep.

We can do this. We have to.

Wee Hours

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen 2:51 a.m. The house is so quiet. My only company is Harry, the hamster. He’s wide awake and boasting of his endless energy by running incessantly on his little wheel. All the other people and pets are sleeping. Even my buddy Duane is snuggled in somewhere.

I went to bed about midnight and lay there until my muscles got restless and I had to get up. One of my chemo pre-meds is a steroid that causes hyperactivity and insomnia. Thanks to dexamethasone, my dishes are done, the wood stove is stocked, and I’ve solved a number of problems in the quiet of my own head. I’m still not sleepy but too tired to read, so Andy Griffith is probably next.

Chemo went well today, though it was long. I continue to gain water weight, and the solution lies in the juggling of two drugs that may be the culprit. The problem is that with so few treatments left, by the time we figure it out, I’ll be done. My oncologist and I decided that it is in my best interest to continue as we have been, accepting that this is the way it will be until treatment is over. My last echo looked great and my kidney numbers are excellent, so there is no reason for concern–it’s just hard to watch the scale climb. God is stretching me in more ways than one. Perhaps He is trying to show me, once and for all, that my value does not lie in the shape or size of my earthly body. I would never judge another as harshly as I judge myself.

My friend and I had a great day. I was unusually tired, but we still managed to have good conversation and laugh a lot. We both needed that. We had Mexican food for lunch and I was able to taste that a little, so that was nice. It’s possible that my greatest love in life after God and family is Mexican food.

It’s now 3:05. I’m going to cuddle into my nest and see what Barney Fife is up to in Mayberry. Hopefully I’ll doze off. This sleepless night has changed my plans for tomorrow–it won’t be safe for me to drive my daughter to the clinic. It’s okay. Flexibility has become my life this winter, so we will reschedule and see what else the day has in store.

I pray that no one is awake at this hour reading. I wish you all sweet dreams and peaceful rest.

Slow Days

I’ve been out of bed for roughly 30 minutes and I can already tell this will be a very slow day. I was on my feet quite a bit Saturday, went to church yesterday, and was up and about quite a bit afterward. The fatigue this morning is deep and consuming. I am again so glad that I am able to stay home during this time–so many people I know worked full time through chemo. I don’t know how on earth they did it. They are clearly made of stronger stuff than I!

I would like to read today, and maybe after a cup of coffee and something to eat I’ll feel more able to do that. Right now, though, my eyes are droopy and I could doze off. Words are swimming on my screen as I type.

The elliptical seems like an impossibility today, but I’ll get on it if I can. Later. I also have a couple phone calls I want to make. I’ll have to push myself until adrenaline kicks in, do the minimum, and spend the remainder of the day resting and quiet. Chemo is tomorrow and I need to go into that day as rested as possible.

The Lord God has ordered all my days. He’s ordered this one. I’ll just have to see how it unfolds, moment by moment.

The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand. Psalm 37:23-24 NIV

Fellowship

It’s Sunday, and I get to go to church! I’ve missed the last three Sundays because influenza has been rampant in our area and I’m convinced church is one of the easiest places to catch whatever is going around. I hate staying home from church, so today will be a treat.

Even while I look forward to the fellowship and the gathering, I’m gearing myself up. Social interaction outside my home is taxing and exhausting. Overall, I feel pretty well this morning, and I’ll pace myself getting ready so I don’t leave the house already wiped out.

My favorite part of the service is the worship music. I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to sing, but I will surely enjoy listening and feeling the movement of the Holy Spirit. Our pastor always gives a challenging sermon, and I’ll enjoy that, too. I hope he isn’t offended if I doze off–it really won’t be a reflection on him!!

God is so good, and it is good to dwell in the secret place of the Most High. I am privileged today to join my church family in doing just that.

Fear Not

I can’t say that I’ve had a lot of fear along this journey. I have certainly had my dark moments, and some anxiety about things unknown. These could be measured as degrees or shades of fear, I suppose. With cancer, the obvious fear is death, but I haven’t really spent much time thinking about that.

The only thing that I can say was an honest-to-goodness fear is how my hair would grow back. Clearly, this is vanity at its finest, because a person’s hair doesn’t matter. Or shouldn’t. But it does, really. Aside from the sentimental idea of not getting Shane’s curls back was the fear of my hair coming in gray.

You may have noticed I said “was.” That’s because I have a bunch of thin, fuzzy hair coming in–gray. It’s too soon to know about the curl situation, but this first development is a little off-putting. My lifelong best friend was gray at 18, so I’ve made it a fair bit farther than she did. However, being gray before 50 was not ever my best case scenario.

As I see this hair coming in, I realize the fear was so much bigger than the actual thing. Isn’t that always the way? Yes, I see what’s happening, and I do have the hope that color will return after chemo. I am told that can happen. But really, when I think about it, I know a few pretty gorgeous women with gray hair, and I think this is something I can survive. I feel like I’m kind of rocking the bald, maybe I’ll look great gray. If I don’t like it, I’ve heard there are places I can go to get my hair color changed.

I’m in a pretty cool place right now in life. I’ve had some really scary things happen over the last several months and have been forced to face them. Fear has been a definite choice in each case, and God has been helping me step-by-step to choose otherwise. With slippery slopes all around me, not once have I fallen into a place where He could not catch my hand and bring me back to dry ground.

The fear of something is always greater than the thing itself. Though I didn’t realize it, cancer was one of my biggest fears. Now that I’ve faced it, I see it wasn’t as bad as fear had me believe. Though my prognosis is excellent, I am not out of the woods yet and I will never feel completely safe from cancer’s recurrence (Ha. I just googled the spelling of that word and the example given was “a drug used to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer).

If cancer hits me or those close to me again, grief will most definitely be a huge factor, but I think I will approach the situation with predominant emotions other than fear. Cancer is a big deal, and a difficult one. It often ends tragically. Walking with the Lord has made all the difference. Allowing Him to carry me is what has changed this journey and made it bearable.

What are you afraid of? What haunts you? Give it to God. In the first place, if you fear something, that means it hasn’t happened yet. It may never happen. Why waste precious time and energy on something that may not ever come to be? Secondly, if what you fear does happen, you will find that there is a way to walk through it. This is where the hope of our salvation in Jesus Christ comes into play. No matter what happens to us, with our hands in His there is always a way. It’s a promise. A confidence. A sure thing.

My worst case scenario on this journey is death, obviously. I don’t want to die yet. I have things I want to do, dreams I want to pursue, grand babies I want to hold. I want to watch my children grow and learn and get married and find their ways in life. Far more than that, though, I don’t want my family to face the grief and loss of my death. Not that I’m something great, but it’s always a big deal to lose a wife, mother, daughter or sister. That’s not an obstacle I want them to have to handle.

But God, in all His infinite wisdom and mercy, knows what is best. If he chooses to take me Home, He will walk my family through the grief. He will use it to make them better and stronger people, and will help them to find fulfillment and joy and healing. I KNOW that this is true. And, if He takes me Home, I get to live out eternity in His presence, never again fearing or grieving or in pain. I kind of think that beats what I have planned for the rest of my little life here on earth.

Suffice to say I can trust in Him, wholly and completely, whether it concerns gray hair, grand babies, or my very life. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31 ESV

The Elliptical

Before surgery, I was told that exercise during treatment would be critical. We live 30 minutes from the nearest gym, and with winter setting in and considering the roads we live on, walking really wasn’t going to be an option. This news was very discouraging. The only option I could see was a piece of equipment we had no chance of affording, especially since I wouldn’t be able to work all winter.

The same day I got this information about exercise, a close friend texted me. “Let me know what I can do to help. You know you can ask me for literally ANYTHING, right?” I hadn’t told her about my appointment. “Got a thousand dollars sitting around?” I shot back, totally kidding. She took me seriously and asked what I needed.

There is one particular elliptical that I had only ever used at the gym and it was the only piece of equipment that worked well without stressing my joints. I looked on Craigslist and found one. One thousand dollars. My friend was serious about helping me so, stunned, I sent her the link. She got back to me the next day and said it had already sold. I thanked her and let it go. I really just let it go out of my mind completely. I appreciated the gesture and figured if I were supposed to have the FreeStride, God would figure it out.

A few days later, she sent me the link to another ad. “Is this the same one?” No, it wasn’t. It was the same machine, but two quality grades higher. It was even better than the first one–and priced accordingly. She contacted the seller, and given the situation, he knocked several hundred dollars off the price. She accepted and said she’d pick it up.

Before long, he contacted her back and told her he’d had another offer, this one higher than his original asking price. He would rather her friend (me) have it, but had to be sure that she would actually show up to get it. My friend assured him she would be there, and he waited til the weekend for her to get the machine.

About 10 days after my original request, a machine that I needed and couldn’t afford was delivered to my door and assembled in my home. It ended up that two friends went together to pay for and haul it, and I am so grateful. Their generosity and kindness humbles and blesses me.

To see the way God showed compassion through the guy that could have made quite a bit more money on his machine is pretty amazing. Craigslist can be a cutthroat place, but this guy was kind and accommodating.

Now that I am on the downward slope of my chemo regimen, I am so incredibly blessed to have the elliptical. I really don’t see any other way to be getting the exercise I need, and it’s nearly miraculous to me that I can simply walk to the other room and make use of it. It is a blessing to my family, as well, since many of them use it routinely.

Thank you so much, dear friends. Your part in my journey has been a huge one, and will continue to be for years to come. Bless you for your generosity and love.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

Fatigue

I was “assessed” numerous times yesterday. My oncology PA, the lab RN, and a couple different infusion RNs all asked the same questions. For all, I had the same answers. Of the myriad of symptoms and reactions, fatigue is by far the worst.

I didn’t mind the repetitive questions. I did mind the repetitive answers. Each person told me, individually, that the only answer/remedy for the fatigue is exercise. While I knew they were right and I was polite on the outside, my inside felt defeated. It’s not only counter-intuitive, it feels impossible.

When I say “fatigue,” I don’t just mean I’m tired and could use a little rest. This is a deep fatigue. DEEP. I sleep 9 hours and want to go to bed. I get a burst of energy, get up and move around slowly doing one task or another and in 15 minutes I’m nearly unable to get back to my chair. I push my bladder to the limit because the bathroom is so far away. It’s laughable, really.

Not all days are are like that, but more than half are. On the “good” days, I can get up and maybe even get out somewhere, but it’s mostly adrenaline and followed by a crash. It’s very discouraging.

Hearing that the intentional exercise is the key to beating this fatigue was difficult and frustrating. If I’m honest, it was also humiliating. Maybe if I had been pushing myself harder all this time, I wouldn’t be so wiped out. Nobody there made me feel like I was failing. Quite the contrary. They were all supportive and encouraging. I am fully capable of being my own harshest critic and finding fault where there is none.

I am going to take their advice to heart and make an effort. Last night, thanks to steroid hyperactivity, I walked a very slow half-mile. It will be my goal to get on the elliptical 3-4 times a day for just 3-5 minutes each time, totaling the recommended 20 minutes or so daily. Half the battle will be getting up the ambition and energy to walk to the other side of the house where the elliptical lives.

My husband has been trying to make use of the machine daily himself, so I have company and am grateful for the support. Today shouldn’t be too hard, since I have another day of hyperactivity. It will be a good jumping off point.

This is very similar to the subject matter of my last post. Spiritual weariness is only remedied by spiritual activity. When I am tired of reading, I need to read. When I least want to pray, I most need to do it. Energy begets energy, and I believe that is true in every realm of life.

There is definitely a time to rest, and rest is crucial to body, mind, and spirit. But there is also a time to forge ahead with energy, even when that energy can only come from Him.

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31 ESV