My Mom called me. It was 5:15 am. Her voice was calm as she said, “I think he’s gone.” I drove as quickly as I could – a thousand thoughts racing through my mind. I expected the call so it wasn’t a surprise, but some moments just can’t be imagined. When I got to her house, I hugged my Mom close and tried to absorb her pain. I went in to my Dad and saw him laying there peacefully. I put my fingers to his neck and felt for a pulse. He was warm and I watched his chest, expecting it to rise and fall, but it didn’t. I gently held his wrist and checked for a pulse. His hands were cold. On September 23rd, 2014, my Dad left his earthly body and went to rest.
This year is coming to an end and there’s a few details I need to wrap up. Before now, I couldn’t bring myself to do a “cancer” update. I wanted to make it through and, perhaps, even forget about it all. However, God has been faithful in so many ways and I realize I need to finish the chapter before I can move on. And, I recently learned that some friends were concerned I had died. So here goes…
The last three weeks of external radiation and chemo were difficult. When people ask me what I learned from all of it, I tell them I didn’t realize how much more I had to lose. Without going too much into the details, the two things I lost during my final weeks of treatment were my dignity and my value.
I went from eating “some” food to avoiding all food. I chewed for taste but then I lost the ability to taste. Gatorade turned against me and even water became an enemy. The diarrhea became severe and my potassium levels dropped significantly. I ended up getting several IV re-hydration treatments. At that point, I was totally unproductive and felt like I had nothing of value to offer the people around me. I stood in the margins and watched as they moved through their days. I needed to be there, to understand what it felt like to be in that place, and to be so loved by people around me that my soul found its way out before my body did.
And that’s one of the most important things I’ve learned. People get left in the margins because they don’t have anyone that holds on tight when things get messy, when life gets so complicated and there’s no hope of rebuilding, when the ladders you depended on no longer exist.
Which brings me to the last few weeks of internal radiation. I had five treatments – each one required an operating room and sedation. The actual treatments only took 15 minutes, but the preparation took hours. The IV needle became more and more difficult to insert because of the dehydration. I had one good vein left and lidocaine helped the needle make it through the scar tissue.
My champion, through internal radiation was my niece, Hannah. She hung on tightly and wouldn’t let me attempt the journey on my own. After the first treatment, I didn’t want to do anymore. I begged her to make an excuse so that we didn’t have to go back, but she insisted. And two treatments turned to four and then we had only one left. All those hours of staring at the ceiling and trying not to move began to fray the neatly tied strings holding me together. And then we were done. No evidence of disease. For now.
Some things I expected to happen…never happened. And some things were unexpected: The amount of time I’d need off work, the effects of radiation on my joints and muscles, the way I view God the Father, the mountain of bills left behind, the many people who love me. It was a journey I needed to take and I am thankful that His Grace was more than enough.
Well, that was an interesting week. It’s now the middle of my third week of chemo and radiation. I’m happy to say I’m doing well. I still have my hair and no nausea. I only have two more weeks of chemo treatments. Weeehooo! It’s getting a bit more difficult. The combination of therapy is rough at times, but I’m managing it and working around the hard parts. The radiation treatments are daily, so there’s no break from the torture. This week will actually be my first full week of radiation. With each spin of the x-ray machine I ask God to protect my organs and that the radiation will be effective where it needs to be. As the radiation accumulates, the lining of my intestines gets torn up and, well, stuff happens. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, but it’s temporary. Thankfully, all the tissue will regenerate over time.
Eating is a bit difficult. My new diet consists of Greek yogurt, hummus, beets, peanut butter, bananas, cheese, deli thin turkey, naan and pita. Gatorade is my new BFF. Thanks to my niece Hannah, who has arranged and army of people to care for me – including herself -I have iced cold Gatorade all day long. My potassium levels are low and the Big G meets that need. Water tastes awful and caffeine is my temporary enemy.
More than likely, I will need to start working from home a few days a week. The day after my chemo treatment is difficult. I get really bad headaches that cause dizziness and pain. And my gut doesn’t appreciate the dual day of treatment, so it likes to beg for attention. It’s just better for me to be at home and close to my bathroom on Wednesdays. Thankfully, my boss is a gem and she encourages me take care of myself. I actually forgot this was an option.
Last week was difficult. We took my Dad to the E.R. where they determined he had crushed two vertabrae. They transported him to St. Joseph’s in Lewiston where he underwent a procedure to insert glue into the vertabrae to relieve some of the pain. It worked! (Insert Hallelujah here!) They kept him at St. Joseph’s to treat his wounds and help him stabilize. His nurse, Karen, was a blessing beyond our wildest dreams. She was kind to us and helped us understand how to get my Dad the care he needed. We received several visits from Joe Rosales, who prayed with us. This was a gift that we needed more than we knew. I am so thankful for Rachel and Joe for their kindness to us these past few weeks.
It was a difficult week for my Mom. We traveled back and forth to Lewiston every day. Fortunately, my radiation treatments were in the building next door, so we combined our efforts and got it done. On Tuesday, St. Joseph’s released my Dad. My Mom and I transferred him to Good Sam’s, as they were unable to pick him up. Unfortunately, my Dad had to sit in the car for almost 45 minutes while the staff located a wheel chair. Not a good moment. I ended up late for my chemo treatment and just about lost my mind. It worked on my Mom’s last nerve, too. I hated seeing her like that. But we all survived and my Mom can drive over and spend time with him whenever she wants to. She sits with him for lunch and dinner and gently reminds him that food is necessary. Her nights are lonely and her days are complicated. She could use some TLC from anyone who cares. I would love to have her come home to a bag of groceries on her doorstep, a loaf of tasty bread, a card with kind thoughts, and any little acts of kindness that would say, “We know this time is difficult for you and we want you to know we care.”
This phantom verse, “God helps those who help themselves,” is attributed to Ben Franklin and to Hezakiah 6:1, which is not a book of the bible. In fact, it’s not even biblical. Proverbs 28:26 tells us that, “He who trusts in himself is a fool.” Been there…done that. Toss this one out. And then there’s this little gem: “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Ummm…Yes. He will. Who started that nasty rumor? The truth is, God wants you to trust in Him, to lean on Him, to let Him carry your burdens. And He comes to you, as the body of Christ, and helps you. The difficult part is when the body of Christ doesn’t pay attention and fails to care. This is a huge failure on the part of the church – to bear one another burdens. And when we need help, we don’t ask for it, mostly because there might be a little voice in our head that says, “Everyone has excuses, just like me, and they don’t really want to help.” And if people are unloved inside the church, that means the people living outside in the margins, the people who have no support system in place, no family to care for them, no Jesus to visit them, are often devastated when God doesn’t show up to help. We need to get better at this. We need to find time in our lovely, perfect families to look around and carry the burdens of others. All it takes is a willing heart. And sacrifice. And time. And…less excuses. Pull together your resources, open up your arms and invite people in. If we can create shalom – allowing people rest and restoring people to flourish – we will be more like Christ to a hurting world.
Fifty-eight years ago, my parents said “I do!” I wasn’t around back then – not even a sparkle in their eye. Nevertheless, I’ve had a front row seat to it all. If I had to choose, I would not choose their kind of marriage for myself, but it’s worked for them and they’ve managed to stay “in it” all these years. There have been a few times when I’ve given my Mom permission to leave it, begged her to, but she remained committed to her vows and politely told me to “butt out.”
A marriage between two people is never between two people, regardless if the marriage is dotted with children. It’s a testimony to the world of sacrifice, forgiveness, commitment, endurance, and restoration – it’s a testimony of Christ. A good testimony, a bad testimony, and something in between. And children watch and learn. Family watches. Friends watch. Neighbors watch.
My Mom is an amazing woman. Today she’s sitting in the hospital room with my Dad. His health has failed dramatically over the last two weeks and she is no longer able to care for him like she’s done for 58 years. His pain is severe due to broken vertebrate from a fall and there is no treatment except for easing the pain. In addition, he’s developed an infection from laying in one place for too long. Moving him was unbearable, for him and for us.
We’ve spent quite a few hours talking about what all this means. She told me, “I thought we had more time.” But is there ever enough time? How much time would be enough if you knew it was coming to an end? She blames herself for his fall and I cannot take that from her. I gently remind her that this is his story, too. And falling was inevitable. I look at her face and I know she is grieving for the man she’s already lost to dementia, to the thought of her future without him by her side, and for that moment when she can’t care for him in any of the small and big ways. She has given her life to his comfort in small acts every day, for years. He has been a king in our home, and she has served him with gladness.
I’m not close to my Dad. When I was a kid, my friends would all tell me how great my Dad was and how lucky I was to have him. And I believed them and saw him through their eyes. But when you have a front row seat, you see things and hear things that friends don’t. You sit at the dinner table, hear the harsh words spoken behind the front door, and withstand the long hours of silence and selfishness. And this is the Dad you remember. My love for my Mother and my desire to protect and defend her from my Dad came early in life. Were it not for those years, I am convinced I would not have the overwhelming compassion to care for women and children today. I am thankful for this gift, this grace, this life lesson.
Several years ago, I started hearing teaching on “Father Hunger” and started to believe the nonsense. I’m convinced it was formulated to make men think more highly of themselves than they should. Did I make choices in my life seeking the love that was missing from my Dad? Possibly, but I also had the love and support of an amazing Mother who filled in the gaps and raised me to be strong, independent, and courageous. So many children are fatherless in this world due to stupid wars, selfish men, and love of empire…surely there is another answer. And I began to see that teaching children to know God, the Father, from an early age, is far more good for the soul. A loving Father God who seeks to restore our souls and continually reminds us of His love is more than any earthly Father could ever be. It wasn’t until I was able to change my expectations of my Dad, to see him as simply a man made in the image of God, that I was able to love him and confront him and see beyond all the spoken and unspoken hurts of the past. We sat and talked and I told him things I needed to say, we made peace, he asked for forgiveness and we forgave the past together. And I never thought that day would come, but God is faithful.
So now my Dad is nearing the end of his story. I have mixed emotions. I hate seeing him suffer and I want it to end. I want him to have “more time” because that’s what my Mom needs. There are so many unanswered questions that only God knows the answers to. Does my Dad have a relationship with Christ? Will I see him again? Nevertheless, I pray this for him:
Heart, body, and soul are filled with joy.
For you will not leave me among the dead; you will not allow your beloved one to rot in the grave.
You have let me experience the joys of life and the exquisite pleasures of your own eternal presence.
— Psalm 16: 9-11
My first round of chemo and week of radiation is over. Weeehooo! I survived it. I was brave and kinda “let’s get this over with,” until the nurse hooked up the Cisplatin and, in that few seconds, I realized everything was about to change and I lost my courage. I looked around the room filled with people hooked up to all manner of drugs and I realized I wasn’t any different. I resented their sickness because I didn’t want to be like them. This thing, this disease I’ve never seen with my own eyes, was changing everything. I couldn’t feel the poison enter my body, but I could see it dripping down and mocking me.
It just so happened my friend Marilyn was sitting across the room caring for another woman. I reached for a tissue and tried to wipe away the tears that were betraying my braveness when I saw Marilyn walk over. Her eyes were filled with tears and she said, “Please don’t cry. It’ll be okay. Please don’t cry.” It’s all I needed. That little moment of kindness changed everything. And the best part is that I couldn’t have planned it if I’d tried. In the little details, in the unexpected moments, God tells me He loves me. He uses ordinary people, and orchestrates simple encounters, to love the world. He knows me. He wants me to know how much He cares. And when I’m weak, He is strong. And I may never have experienced the rawness of His love were it not for this disease, and all the other things that I’ve encountered these last few years that, on the surface, look like failure.
Overall, the week went well. No nausea. No puking. I still have hair. My chemo will now be delivered every Tuesday. I’m supposed to expect 48 hours of good followed by, perhaps, two days of bad. But so far…no bad. This week was a bit unusual because I started out with a sinus infection prior to my first chemo treatment, which slowly moved in to my chest. I chose Tuesday for chemo so I can be fully rested by Sunday. And despite some difficulty breathing, I woke to a glorious day and managed to worship and serve in the nursery. Thank you, Dr. Rice, for the Z-thingy. I feel better already.
Perspective changes everything. It is a necessity, not a burden, to raise my hands and worship the King. I’m trying to encourage Amelia to sing, so I sign with her and as I move my hands to the words it shakes loose the little bits of me that cling to my comforts, my pride, my own personal space. My emotion runs down my face and there are times when I need to stop just to breathe and find the words to express the wonder and joy that comes from knowing how much love God has for His people.
This week has been filled with lovely gifts. Those pizzas. That hummus. That visit. That note. Those enchiladas. That nap. And that other nap. Lots of support from unexpected places. Though it is extremely difficult for me, I’m getting used to God using people to show me His love. It’s like there’s this moment when you realize the difference between “people” helping and God working through people. It’s difficult to explain. It’s as if the thin, tattered curtain of my pride is moved out of the way and I’m able to see through to where the help is really coming from. It’s a glorious life-changing moment and I need to find a way to better explain this, because it’s significant for so many reasons. And so I am asking myself, “How can I find a way to remove the ME from helping people so that they see Jesus right away?” Must needs be I spend some time thinking about this.
They tell me that as the radiation and chemo accumulates in my body I will begin to feel changes. More fatigue. Maybe pain. Nevertheless, I still intend to fight. I anticipate some bad days, maybe I’ll lose my courage, and maybe I’ll hold on so tight to the hem of His garment that He’ll say, “Who touched me?” There’s a part of me, the over-achiever, who wants to sail through this and say, “Nothing but net.” But something Lonnie Frisbee once said to me sticks in my head, “Don’t try to get out of something that God has fixed in your life. Learn from it, because if you don’t, He’ll just fix it your life again, over and over again, until you get it right.”
So this is my story. It’s not the story I would have written, but it’s mine. I have a feeling there will be days when I’ll want a do-over, days when I’m ashamed of my lack of courage, and hours when I just want it all to be over with. And I’m sharing this with you so that if you ever need me to walk over and say, “Please don’t cry. It’ll be okay. Please don’t cry,” you’ll know I’ve been there and I mean it. If all I can do in this life is tell people how much God loves them, show them even a glimpse of how much He cares, get out of the way and lead them to the cross, then I’m in the right story. And I am thankful!