More Than Enough

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.

Wading in the Water

Untitled-3 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.

Don’t Fake the Story

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!

Fight Like a Girl

cervical-cancer-ribbon-colorMy cancer treatment starts today. What I know today may change tomorrow, but here’s the schedule:

I’m loaded down with anti-nausea meds and I’m ready to fight this disease.

As crazy as this sounds, I am ever-so-slightly glad that my type of cancer is isolated to women. I love being a woman and I’m highly motivated to fight and make sure that no other women in my life are impacted by the HPV virus and cervical cancer. Please go get checked for the HPV virus today. Get vaccinated. Tell someone you love to get vaccinated. If you’re sexually active or you have been in the past, go get checked. If you’re concerned that people in your church, or people you know, will find out you’ve been sexually active and shun you or shame you, please call me and I’ll take you somewhere you’ll feel safe. Call me! I’ll go with you. Don’t put it off any longer. Don’t let anything stand in your way. Please!

Keep Calm and Trust the Story

tshirt For the last 49 days I’ve been compiling a list of new vocabulary words. A few of the words I’ve used before but never in the context I use them now. Prior to April 25th, H,P and V were letters in the alphabet, and the only time I saw them together was on pamphlets nestled away in plastic thingys hanging on the walls in the doctor’s office. Pappilloma has a lovely sound to it, but wedge it between human and virus and, well, stuff happens. It’s good to know that sometimes HPV may go away on its own and not all types of HPV lead to cervical cancer. A Pap test can find changes in cervical cells before they turn into cancer, and if you treat the changes, you may prevent cervical cancer. It’s really important to have regular Pap tests. My last Pap test was three years ago and it came back clean. I’m convinced HPV waits until you least expect it.

The pathology report came back and I studied it for hours, googled the big and the small words, and prepared a list of questions. I have low-grade, endocervical adinocarcinoma, initially staged as IB1 (i.e. the cancer can be seen without a microscope and is 4cm or smaller).  Nobody had said anything about a tumor, so naturally I was curious when I kept seeing the word come up. What I’ve learned is that cancer is a disease where abnormal cells don’t function properly, divide quickly, and produce too much tissue that forms a tumor. So they keep referring to “my tumor” but there isn’t a giant lump anywhere. There are symptoms associated with cervical cancer, but early cancers, like mine, usually show no symptoms or signs. As the disease attacks nearby tissue, symptoms start to occur. I have no pain or bleeding and there are days when I actually forget about the disease.

The first test, of many, came in the form of an ultrasound – internal and external. Invasive and awkward. Next came a CT scan served with a lovely barium sulfate beverage followed by an iodine chaser [BTW, barium is a chemical element with the symbol BA and atomic number 56. Because of its high chemical reactivity barium is never found in nature as a free element]. Bartender…I’ll have two!

I met with a Gynecologic Oncologist [GynOnc]and took my Mom along for moral support. There at Cancer Care Northwest, in Spokane, WA., the GynOnc broke it all down for me. She ordered a PET scan and referred me to a Radiation Oncologist [RadOnc]. I left the office numb. The words were all starting to run together and they were becoming a bit more real. She gave me three weeks to decide between option A (Radical hysterectomy followed by radiation) or option B (Radiation and chemotherapy followed by a standard hysterectomy). My BFF, google, helped me sort through more of the details.

The next test, my favorite so far, was the PET scan. Nuclear medicine. Basically, they injected me with a positron-emitting radionuclide, I took a nap in a recliner while it flowed through my body, then they put me in the PET scanner and cranked Jazz through the speakers while I took another nap. The results of the PET scan, taken from eyes to knees, indicated that the cancer has not spread to anywhere else in my body. However, the tumor is bigger than they initially thought and has been upgraded to a IB2 (i.e. the cancer can be seen without a microscope and is larger than 4cm).

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One week later, I met with the RadOnc and asked him to confirm or deny my google findings. He confirmed it all and gave me good news and said he didn’t think I would need radiation or chemo, and the operation sounded like my best, and least harmful, option. “If you were my wife sitting there,” he said, “I would tell her to choose the surgery. And more than likely, you won’t need any radiation at all.” I left the office singing and returned to work. Less than two hours later, he called me with an update. He had spoken with my GynOnc, and she had thought about the treatment and changed her mind. He suggested I call or make an appointment to find out why. I didn’t take the news well.

There are times in my life that I fail to trust the story. Like the Israelites, I forget all the good things God has done and I simply need to be reminded. Time for a party? Without any hesitation, I simply yanked the pen out of God’s hand and made an appointment to get a second opinion from another surgeon, with whom I was familiar. Now you might say there’s nothing wrong with getting a second opinion, but I know why I did it – I wanted to have my way. The surgeon had an opening the next morning and I took that as a good sign and drove to Spokane to meet with her. She was kind and patient and answered all my questions. She reassured me that I was in good hands, the best hands, and suggested I call the GynOnc to give her an opportunity to explain.  And I did just that. I went to her office and asked if she had 15 minutes to speak with me. She was gracious and kind and explained her reasoning. My weight is a factor for a radical hysterectomy. Tough to hear, but it is what it is. She said, “When my heart and my head can’t come to an agreement over treatment for a patient, I listen to my head. It’s where my experience and training reside.”

I drove home from Spokane and used the time to hand the pen back to God. In reality, I know He was always holding it, but now and then I fool myself into thinking I actually know what’s best for me. The next day I met again with the RadOnc and his staff. They mapped out my body with another CT scan and I walked away with three, permanent tattoos. They will use the tattoos to line me up perfectly each time I come in for treatment. As it now stands, my treatment will be radiation and chemo for the next 6-8 weeks. External radiation five days a week, in Lewiston, and chemo every three weeks, followed by two weeks of internal radiation – every other day –  in Spokane. I’ve read all the scary bits. And, for the most part, I know what can go wrong, what the long term effects will be, and the hopeful outcome. The RadOnc told me I could not have planned my cancer better. What? “Your hips will play an important role during radiation treatment, acting as a barrier for your pelvic bones. And, just so you know, skinny women don’t do as well with radiation to this area of the body.” God has a great sense of humor. And, if all goes as planned, I will most likely just need a standard hysterectomy some time next year, or none at all.

If you think of me, please pray for the following:

    1. That I would be fearless and trust the story, and that my cancer would bring glory to God.
    2. That the radiation treatments would only effect the areas where the disease resides and no other organs would be damaged.
    3. Opportunities for me to share God’s greatness with others. I’m having a difficult time sitting in the waiting room with all the sick people, but I know God is beckoning me to share His love.
    4. That the effects of the radiation and chemo would not overwhelm me and I will be able to work for as long as possible – without needing to take time off.
    5. For the women and children of Peniel Crossing. That their daily needs would be met and God’s love would be evident to them.



 

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