Traveling Companions

We got wonderful news yesterday. My oncologist is new to our clinic. He is young, trained at Mayo, and on the lookout for cutting edge medicine. He also sounds like Ricky Ricardo. I love it.

He had planned for 18 weeks of chemo, using four different drugs that would pretty much atomic bomb my body. We met with him yesterday and he had a better plan. it turns out studies are showing that with my cancer type (HER2+ with negative lymph nodes), less is more. In over 400 patients studied, there is only one percent lower success rate using two drugs instead of the four. The regimen is much better tolerated and the side effects minimized. He took an hour to discuss the option with us, showing us the research. We agreed, readily.

Both surgeons agreed that my healing is coming along nicely, and I have permission to gently use my new exercise machine. I had five appointments yesterday, and all of them were encouraging. It was a really good day. I had feared exhaustion–instead, I had enough energy at the end of the day to take my youngest girl out for a burger.

As I sat waiting for an appointment, I updated various groups of people on messenger. Immediately, my phone and Larry’s started dinging. Person after person responded to the updates, giving a thumbs up or a comment of support and continued prayer. People rejoiced with us.

This is how the Body of Christ should function. A person in need tells others of their need, and asks for prayer and support. I have never been good at this. Most of us aren’t. Then, those asked to pray and support actually do. Both are equally important–if I want to meet needs, I have to know what needs there are. And, if I want support and to have my needs met, I must make my needs known. It’s a give-and-take, and at some point in every life, each will be necessary for healthy growth.

So I offer a HUGE shout-out to those who have been in my corner cheering me on, bringing meals, offering encouragement. We can’t travel this road without you. We still have a long way to go, and I pray you’ll stick with us. Y’all make great traveling companions.

Today

Today, I know where I stand. I feel tired, but otherwise well. I am home with my family, where I am cozy and comfortable and known. My body looks familiar in the mirror. Though it carries more weight than I like and has some unsightly places, it has always been here, and it is mine.

Tomorrow, everything changes. There are blanks I can’t fill in. I don’t know how well I’ll come through surgery, though I have every confidence that I will come through. The pain is inevitable. I don’t know how it will feel exactly, but It will be difficult to handle.

It will take me awhile to be brave enough to look in the mirror; I will not like what I see. Even the excellent work of skilled surgeons will be difficult to look at–cut, bruised, and wounded–unfamiliar.

I will experience floods of emotion. Grief will be the overwhelming one. Add to those core feelings fatigue, exhaustion, and pain. This family’s about to scale a mountain.

So today, we will make an effort to be normal, even though normal is clouded and tainted by tomorrow. We will worship with our church body, then pack for the hospital and make sure all is in order. I’ll go early to bed, and pray for sleep. I will be as ready as I can be.

I take captive these thoughts of fear and grief and loss. I know that all will be well and very well. I can see the sun on the horizon and I know that the Son travels with me.

Today is grim. Tomorrow is unknown. The future is very, very bright. Lord willing, this trial will yield for me a long and happy life, cancer free. These difficult days will become a blur, and I will have to read this to remember how I felt this morning. Time is fleeting, and Mercy is sure.

Training Wheels

The past year has been a challenge, medically speaking. I’ve had a number of diagnoses, none of them very serious. Well, until the cancer deal. I guess that’s pretty serious.

While no one issue has been particularly alarming, they have all had one thing in common–fatigue. I’ve pretty much spent the last year or so being very, very tired.

I’ve really been very mature about the whole thing, reacting to my limitations in normal fashion. I’ve ignored them. I have just decided, for the most part, to behave as though I’m not tired. This has resulted in me running on adrenaline, doing too much, and crashing. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Then came the cancer diagnosis. My body offered one gigantic adrenaline surge and then shut down. Completely. I spent a week unable to pretend I wasn’t tired. I simply couldn’t get out of bed or off the couch. People started telling me how important rest is now and how vital it will be in the coming months. You can imagine how I received that.

I am a get-things-done kind of girl, and when I found out I’d be having surgery, it couldn’t get scheduled soon enough. Let’s get this show on the road. The call finally came; surgery would be in three weeks. THREE WEEKS?!? Here again, my maturity showed up. It was stellar, believe me. Frustration, despair, you name it. Of course, most of it was inside my own head–we must be an example to the children.

God is not mocked, nor is He fooled. He knows exactly what is going on in my heart and mind, every minute of the day. He knows I am human. He knows what makes me tick and how I process and react. He created me that way.

Now, the three week wait is nearly over. I look back and I see that I needed that time. You see, God has been working on my heart–teaching me to accept His plan. He’s been working on my resting skills. In three days, I will be resting involuntarily, for quite some time. It will go more easily for me now that I am beginning to accept rest as a gift rather than a burden.

While I have felt that rest was doing nothing, it has actually been accomplishing so much in my heart and mind, as well as in my family. I have been learning to rest without guilt; my family has been improving its serve. They have been adjusting to mom not doing everything, and learning to step in to fill the gaps. We’ve been in boot camp, learning the physical drills before the emotional and mental challenges ramp up.

A tough leg of the journey is starting. I don’t feel ready, but I know it’s time for the training wheels to come off, and I’m so grateful to have had them. My Father knows what He is doing, and does it in spite of my feelings. I can rest in that.

Waiting

Remember the anticipation of opening presents on Christmas morning? In childhood, that was a painful, yet delicious sort of waiting. We knew the time was short and the payoff would be great. We could sit near the tree and wonder, imagining what might be in the brightly papered boxes. Never did we worry that the presents might still be unopened on December 26th, December 30th, or March 1st. It never crossed our minds that the gifts might actually be for next Christmas. Our waiting had some boundaries and some predictability, and always a payoff that was worthwhile.

Waiting in adulthood is a whole different thing. There are moments of that delicious anticipation, but generally speaking, the wait is surrounded by blurred lines and a cloud of uncertainty.

Stacey has been doing so much waiting. While my cancer diagnosis has been pretty clear cut, hers has not. From the start, I have had a pretty clear treatment plan, and it has followed expectation thus far. Stacey, on the other hand, had a lymph node dissection followed by waiting for test results and diagnosis. While waiting for surgery, she got the news that they were uncertain about the initial diagnosis and needed to do further scans to rule out wider spread cancer.

Wait for scans. Wait for results. Thankfully, the scans were clear, and she had her double mastectomy yesterday. Now, she waits for pathology to determine whether or not she will need chemo and radiation.

I have done my share of waiting, especially the last year or so and most of it before I even knew I had cancer. To be completely honest, the last year and a half has been pretty excruciating. There has been so much frustration and loss. So much waiting to see what God would do. . . how He would lead. . . which path was next. To say that cancer added confusion and difficulty to an already rough road is an understatement.

I understand and appreciate that so many of our trials and waiting in life are to grow and stretch us–a refining process. That doesn’t make it easy. Totally frustrated one day, I asked my pastor when God would think I’ve learned enough to take a break for awhile from the waiting. His reply? “Our waiting doesn’t end til we reach Heaven.” Thanks, Jeff.

He’s right. I know this life on earth is not all there is. I know that there will be struggle and pain and waiting as long as I live. But you know what else I know? Life here is short. Heaven is eternal. Think about that. Eternal. Forever. Never ending. No pain, no trials, no tears. THAT is worth the wait.

And while life here is often difficult, it’s also wonderful. There is so much to be grateful for–so much that is worthy of praise. I find joy in little, mundane things as well as the huge blessings that come my way. I can see God’s hand all around me. And so, I am content–even as I wait.

Outpouring

I love going to church. Worship music moves my heart like nothing else. Good preaching guides me and leads me in my daily walk. Poor preaching teaches me to be gracious and reminds me that I am prideful!

The thing I love most about church is The Church. I don’t mean the building, though ours is nice. I’m not referring to the order and style of our service, though I enjoy that, too. It’s the people. Oh, the people!

As the service let out and people meandered toward home yesterday, I found myself surrounded. I had ladies on all sides. All reminded me of their prayers. Most gave me a tight squeeze or a pat on the back. Meals were offered, and one dear soul pressed money into my hand. I felt so loved and cared for. I looked across at my husband and saw that he, too, was being shown love–in a more brotherly manner.

It is my privilege, my blessing, my honor to be treated this way. A line from one of my favorite songs comes to mind. “I’ll surrender to the power of being crushed by love.” Love isn’t always easy to accept. Sometimes people press into your private places and you feel pushed against a wall. But oh, the power of that love! When I surrender to the outpouring of love from my Sisters and Brothers in Christ, there is such joy–such relief. Burdens are shared. Sin is revealed–and forgiven!

Here’s the hardest part, at least for me: in order to experience this outpouring, I have to be in a position of need–and wiling to let people see it. Vulnerability is a valuable commodity; showing my weakness is costly to my pride and my sense of self-sufficiency (also pride!).

Since unknown need is difficult to meet, the amount of “coming-alongside” I receive is directly proportional to my willingness to be vulnerable. When I let down my guard and admit that I need others, it frees them to walk with me and minister to me in ways I deeply appreciate. It also frees them to be vulnerable in their need, and allows me to be the one helping and serving. It’s a duet.

You see, the beauty of the Body of Christ is that, even though we are all on different roads, we are traveling together. Sometimes the journey is a vacation filled with laughter, joy, and spectacular views. Other times, it is a sheer cliff, and one of us dangles while the others hold on for dear life.

I want to be the foot washer, not the one with dirty feet. I am finding there is so much blessing in both, and one can’t exist without the other. Learning lessons like this is part of the purpose in my current journey. Some things can’t be learned in the classroom–they have to be experienced in the field. God give me the grace to be a good student.

Lucky Girl

If I believed in luck, I’d say I’m the luckiest girl alive.

Last night, several of my daughters went on a mystery shopping trip. I was told to ask no questions and they’d be gone awhile. It was obvious that they were up to something.

When they came back, they gave me this:

I. Love. This. Every single thing I pulled out of that basket had a purpose. Everything was chosen with care. Each item showed that my family not only loves me, but knows me. It is one thing to be loved, and quite another to be known.

There are people in my life that I love and that love me, but we don’t really know each other. We haven’t spent the time it takes to find out what makes the other person tick. We haven’t invested in each other enough to be able to pick up those little treats that we know will make the other smile. And that’s okay. We can’t be close to everyone, and we’d exhaust ourselves trying.

I count myself blessed–not lucky–to have more than my share of people who love me. I am even more blessed to have more than my share that really, truly know me.

And greater even than that blessing is the knowledge that God himself, Creator of the universe, KNOWS me.

139 O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

13 For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

How amazing it is, how blessed I am, to know that every step of this difficult journey in my life is in His hand. I will walk through shadows and He will be there. Part of the way He shows His presence is through acts of kindness like this gift basket.

What more can a girl ask for?

The Journey

September 6, 2019, the world stopped turning. Plans we had made, dreams we were chasing, and day-to-day operations all came to a screeching halt. A cancer diagnosis changes everything.

After the “adrenaline week,” I crashed. I could hardly function and could barely stay upright. The emotions and thoughts of the previous week had completely wiped me out.

Since then, I’ve been introspective. Processing. What you are reading now is part of my process. . . I think and pray, and then I write. I’m sometimes surprised at what comes out. Very often, I’m more aware of my own feelings and thoughts after I have put them on the page. I’ve journaled for years, but somehow, this is different.

I know that my God does all things well. I know that nothing goes to waste, and that He brings good out of everything, no matter how terrible. Sometimes, that’s not easy to see. Sometimes, all we can see is the darkness. It’s hard to see past our pain, and harder still to see past the pain of those we love.

Some people don’t want to see past their pain. Instead, they nestle into it and make it their safe space–afraid that if they let go of the pain it means letting go of that person or thing they lost. Sometimes, I think pain becomes comfortable and we don’t move on because we fear that finding happiness and freedom means making a new start, finding a new normal, and what if we fail? What if the new thing is harder than the pain that we know?

This morning, I’ve been reading in Philippians. The Apostle Paul was a man who knew pain. He knew pain in ways I never will, and had an amazing outlook on it. I’m sure he struggled just like every other human, but He always saw that God was still in control, and that there was purpose in whatever hardship he was facing.

Philippians 1:12-14 caught my eye. “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear that throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”

My first thought as I applied this to my situation was I can’t compare myself to the Apostle Paul! Why not? He was just a man. He did incredible things for the Lord and advanced the gospel, but he did it by being teachable and usable. It was the power of God flowing through him that made the difference.

That same power flows through me, if I let it. If I remain surrendered and willing, if I trust in God’s sovereignty and goodness, this thing that has stopped my personal world can change the world around me.

And so, this is my prayer: that these “chains” that hold me would show those around me that God is worthy of praise. That He can be trusted with every fiber of my being. That a life without Him is empty and meaningless. The day-to-day road I walk can be rocky and difficult, especially the mountain that is directly before me. But my Travel Companion is gracious and kind, loving and perfect. There is so much joy in the journey, and if even one person gains courage through me, it is a journey worth taking.

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.

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.