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.

Remodeling

As I’ve gone through this cancer fight, I’ve had in mind a training metaphor. I truly have been in training, and not always a good learner. As I watch my husband work on some small remodeling projects, I see metaphors there, too. Since I am unable to help him, I have plenty of time to contemplate metaphors!

Over the last 10 years, we have been in one project or another, working on this old farmhouse (if you’re thinking I’m the old farmhouse in the metaphor–ouch! And yes.) We have run the gamut of remodeling, from simple paint jobs to changing the floor plan. Each project has been individual to this house, this room, this wall. Nobody else in the world has this same set of circumstances with which to work.

So it is with the Lord’s remodeling of people. Every person, every personality, every trait is different from anything anyone else is or has. And just as there is no shortage of people willing to advise about home renovation, there is also no lack of people offering suggestions about even the very private corners of others’ lives. Too often, I am one of these.

Generally speaking, when the floor plan is being changed, it’s pretty obvious to everyone around. It’s hard to hide exposed studs and outlet boxes. Onlookers see destruction and chaos, but it’s also clear that new and better things are coming, and that brings with it anticipation.

Though exciting, this is a long and weary process. Each step takes time and can’t be rushed if the desired results are to be achieved. This means crumbled plaster. Dust. Scraps. It’s a mess. And bit by bit, it starts to come back together. The mess gets cleaned up and new construction starts. Lumber scraps. More dust. Drywall mud. Paint. Trim. More mess. In the end, if the builders are patient, the result is well worth it. Though it’s been a difficult project, it finally looks clean and new, and the old is forgotten.

So it is when the “floor plan” of a life is changed. Sometimes this change is voluntary, but more often it is thrust upon a person by circumstances beyond his or her control. Illness. Divorce. Loss. All of these things cause a stripping down–an exposing of the very framework of someone’s being. The wiring and supports are in plain view. The dust and rubble can cloud the vision and obscure the end goal. This is an excruciating and vulnerable place to be. The whole world can see the process, and some doubt the job will ever be completed.

Everything changes, though, when the Master Builder is invited to the scene. Though He orchestrates every detail of every life, He is often not allowed into the process. People decide that He is to blame for their circumstances, and shut out the only One who can make beauty from the ashes. They continue on, unqualified for construction, and often abandon the project half finished. You know the people I mean. They are sad and lonely, and so full of potential–but afraid to continue on. They desperately want and need someone to invest in them and to introduce them to the One capable of making all things new. Sadly, many of us see the mess and turn away, unwilling to get involved.

At the other end of the construction spectrum is the touch up work–fresh paint here and there, and maybe a little patching. Often, we only see someone for their irritating habits or their apparent sin. We see dirty paint and hairline cracks. We walk past, silently judging what we think we see. How different would our community, our church, our family be if we were to invest the time in a little painting? Above all, love one another deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. 1Peter 4:8 Does that mean we slap some paint on and ignore what’s underneath? Sometimes. Because sometimes, every one of us needs someone to just love us through a rough patch and not nitpick about our shortcomings. And very often, when a person is treated as the precious and perfect person God created, they rise to the occasion and live up to their potential.

I don’t know. These thoughts are half-baked. I’m thinking and processing as I sit, thinking of ways that I am on both sides of the remodeling process. While I am being worked-over myself, I am also alongside others under construction. I don’t want to be absorbed in my own project–I want to be aware enough of others that I can simultaneously walk beside and encourage them to not abandon the work.

Unless we are building, changing, growing, we are stagnant. Those are the only choices. We’re moving or we’re stuck. Lord willing, we aren’t moving backwards, though I suppose that is also an option. Open my eyes, Lord, that I may see Your work in others and be willing to be used in their lives. Keep me from being lost in my own process. Keep my focus on the Master Builder, the perfecter of my faith, and keep me grateful for those who walk alongside me.

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.