Chemo curls and chia pets

It is amazing to look back over this past year and see all that has transpired. A year ago I was in the middle of chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. I had lost all my hair and had barely enough energy to make it through each day. My goal was to finish chemo, get through surgery and be cancer free. Praise God for his strength and seeing me through to that goal. I am now enjoying good health, have enough energy to run most days, and only have to see my oncologist every three months to get the all clear. But most important during this past year and half, my daughter met and fell in love with wonderful man and they are getting married on Saturday!! We are so blessed to have Andrew as part of the family.

When I started growing my hair back after completing chemo I remember telling a friend that I didn’t care if a chia pet grew out of the top of my head, I was just tired of being bald. Well, careful what you wish for! My hair came back so curly that it very much resembled a chia pet.  A cute and sassy chia pet, but chia nonetheless.

Chia pet

Now my goal is to find some sort of a cute hair do for my daughter’s wedding that doesn’t have everyone remembering those old “ch ch ch chia” commercials. I visited my hair stylist recently and she diligently tried to tame the beast and alas, it will not be tamed. So I have gotten used to wearing a head band and just letting those chemo curls do what they will. It still is much better than wearing a baseball cap every day and I don’t have one that would match the wedding colors! What I have learned through all of this is that hair isn’t really that important. Unlike Sampson from the bible, my strength is not in my hair. It doesn’t define me. While I like having some again and it does keep me warm (who knew being bald would make me so cold?!?) there are so many more important things in life—like love, health, family, friends, and spreading the good news of God’s grace and mercy.

In Luke 12:7 when describing God’s care and concern for us, Jesus tells us that God even knows the number of hairs on our head. That verse now makes me laugh. God had quite a job keeping track of mine this past year as it all fell out and then started growing back! Regardless of my hairstyle I will rejoice in the God who loves me and has healed me. On Saturday I will celebrate with my daughter and Andrew as they start their life together….even if I look like I have a chia pet on my head!

4-6-2013 at Blackbird

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Don’t go looking for trouble

I saw my oncologist on Friday. It was my three month check-up since being declared cancer free (I love saying that, by the way!) It was a little surreal being back in his office after having spent so much time there in the past 10 months. He asked some questions, listened to my lungs, checked for swelling in my legs, asked some more questions, ordered a blood test, and said I didn’t need to come back again for another three months. It was rather quick and painless for an oncology appointment. I asked him what I should be looking out for or if there was anything I need to pay special attention to and he said, “Erin, don’t go looking for trouble.” While he later clarified and said if I had any unusual pain or swelling I should give him a call, his words have really resonated with me. How often do we worry needlessly, seek out problems, or fret over things that we can’t control?

God tells us, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6

Our minds can get so wrapped up in worry that we miss the blessings of the day. I am in a great club of women who have battled breast cancer and won!! We each have a choice to worry about the cancer coming back or celebrate the fact that it is gone. I want to spend every day praising God for healing me and giving me cancer free days, not anxiously wondering if it will return.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matt. 6:25-34

worrying

What does worry do for us anyway? There is no good in it. While we are to be responsible with our lives and our health, there is no need to fear. I plan to take good care of my cancer free body: eat nutritious food, exercise, actively manage stress, rest well, praise the God who saved me, spend time with family and friends, and refuse to worry!  So that’s my plan. What’s yours?

Don't worry just praise

Valentine’s Day…cheers or jeers?

hearts

Ahh…Valentine’s Day: anticipated holiday of happy couples everywhere and dreaded day of endurance for many singles. Regardless of your relationship status this Valentine’s Day, I encourage you to soak in the love that never ends and bask in the warmth of our Savior’s embrace.

Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 136:26

Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to share God’s love with others and nurture yourself too. If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we need to be careful and not leave ourselves out of the equation. When we love ourselves well, we are reaffirming God’s love for His creation. Are you treating yourseslf well? taking care of your heart, body, mind, and soul?

14 things to do on February 14th that will fill your heart with love:

  1. Send a note of love and encouragement to someone who needs it
  2. Smile  (It will brighten your spirits and someone’s day)
  3. Do a favor for a neighbor
  4. Read Psalm 139 and ponder how God made you unique and special
  5. Savor a really good cup of coffee or tea (Let the warmth hug you from the inside)
  6. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, food bank, or homeless shelter
  7. Buy yourself flowers (if finances are tight, walk through a garden center and just enjoy the plants & flowers, marveling at God’s creativity is designing so many varieties)
  8. Anonymously pay for the person behind you in line at your local coffee shop
  9. Spend time in nature with the Creator of all good things
  10. Exercise!! Enjoy the endorphin rush J
  11. Sing (loudly and badly if possible. It’s more fun!)
  12. Ask God how much He loves you. Listen for the answer
  13. Bake and deliver cookies to a convalescent home
  14. Dark chocolate (Need I say more?)

You have filled my heart with greater joy. Psalm 4:7

my sweaty heart

my sweaty heart

When I got off the treadmill yesterday, I was surprised to see the sweat on my shirt had formed the shape of a heart. I know it’s disgusting but it makes a good point! When we treat ourselves well, inluding how we eat and exercise, we are being loving and we’ll feel better too (see #10 above.)

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord for he has been good to me. Psalm 13:5-6

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Musical chairs

I went to a chemo infusion room today. Not for me but to visit a dear friend who started chemo this morning. It was a strange feeling walking into the familiar environment but knowing I wouldn’t be getting sick later. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I sat nervously in the chemo chair for the first time not knowing how the following months would be. Then after what seemed like an eternity I was sitting in the chair for the last time, exhausted and weak but grateful it was finally over. I remember new patients starting their chemotherapy journey that day as I was finishing mine, seeing their nervous faces and feeling an ache in my heart for them. And now it’s Patty’s turn at musical chairs, except in this game we all hurry to get out of the chair hoping never to sit down in a chemo chair again.  Tonight my heart aches for her too. As I talked with her today my eyes couldn’t help but linger at her beautiful long hair that will be gone in couple weeks… She is beautiful and strong and will bravely battle this disease, then soon will be her time to say good-bye to chemo chairs. Godspeed Patty!

musical chairs

A new year—a new beginning

I love the optimism of the New Year. It’s a fresh start and anything is possible. Several years ago I began a daily Bible reading plan that would guide me to read the entire Bible in a year. I had been a Christian for many years and had studied parts of the Bible, but had never read it cover to cover. So with all the best intentions, I set out on my quest. While I struggled at times and didn’t complete the day’s reading, I would try to catch up and was determined to read even those books I had previous avoided like 1 & 2 Chronicles and Numbers. When I finished my reading that year on December 31st, it was a celebration, not of my efforts which had been sketchy, but of God’s faithfulness to meet me each time I sat down to read and to show me the great truths and joys in His Word. I follow a reading plan each year now and no matter how many times I have read through the Bible, there are always fresh revelations and hidden kernels of wisdom found in its pages.

2012 is over and it was, for many people, a difficult year. My breast cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy, and surgery will all mark the significant events of the past year for me and my family. But I can also see God’s goodness, the promises of His Word, the miracle of healing, and His faithfulness. I started a new reading plan yesterday and I am excited to learn the new lessons God will teach me as I study His Word in 2013. I especially love the first few words in the Bible, “In the beginning God…” Genesis 1:1

starsBefore anything else, there is God. He is at the center of it all and should be at the start of all we do. In every day and in every circumstance God is there. When we need encouragement, wisdom, strength, or direction, God is there and able to supply all we need. In our happiest moments and in our deepest sorrows, God is there waiting.

In the beginning God—How will you begin your new year?bible with cross

Christmas joy

It’s Christmas Eve, the house is quiet, everything is finished and the presents are finally wrapped and under the tree. Tomorrow the house will chaotic and fun, filled with family, food, laughter, and Christmas music. As I sit this evening and reflect on the last several months, I am again struck by God’s goodness.

I received an early Christmas present last week when I learned that I would not have to undergo radiation treatments.  As I have been healing from surgery and continuing with the reconstruction process, the threat of radiation was always looming. I have been trying not to think about it too much but it was always hovering somewhere in the back of my mind. My doctor wanted me to see the radiation oncologist for a recommendation and the countdown to that appointment was never far from my thoughts.  Sitting her office last Wednesday, I was trying to prepare myself for the next round of treatments but remembering how faithful God has been throughout this journey. Chemo is over, surgery went well, and I am a cancer survivor. What a blessing to find out I will not have to have radiation!!

From the fullness of his grace we have received one blessing after another.  John 1:16

Christmas seems just a little brighter now. I hope this season finds you counting your blessings too. With so many difficult things in our world today, so many sorrows, devastating storms that rip through communities, senseless violence and tragic losses, it seems even more important to celebrate the victories, to share the joys, to join together and give God the glory.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas!             Nativity

Reflection

I have spent the last month recuperating from surgery and reflecting on life. Seven months ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer and faced a very uncertain future. I started this blog ten days after being diagnosed and I wrote in that first post,

“I do not know what the days ahead will hold for me but I do know my future…I will see God’s goodness displayed through this trial. Romans 8:28 is just as true today as it was 11 days ago.And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and called according to his purpose.’ My hope and prayer with this blog is to encourage others with God’s grace and mercy as we all face the trials and struggles that compete for our attention. I choose instead to dwell on the good. Philippians 4:8 has been my battle cry, ‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent and praiseworthy—think about such things.’ It is not my choice to have breast cancer, but I can choose to walk each day by the love and light of God’s grace and mercy. I can choose to focus on all that is good in my life, to look up instead of down, to smile instead of frown, to sing even through my tears, and to have hope, always have hope.”

Since I wrote that first blog post, I have completed chemotherapy and have experienced such an outpouring of love I can’t even describe it. The nausea and headache are long gone but I hope never to lose the feeling of warmth and affection that enveloped me as so many people reached out to help me.

Last month I had a bilateral mastectomy and began the long process of reconstruction. Once again God showed His love and faithfulness to me through his people—reaching out and pitching in to help me, so much love, so much generosity, so much encouragement after my surgery and over the last seven months. Now I am cancer free!! God’s goodness has certainly been displayed during this season of struggle. “How great is God—beyond our understanding! The number of His years is past finding out.” Job 36:26

I so appreciate the many people who have prayed for me and my healing. My strength is growing with every day and I will give God the glory for His awesome power demonstrated in victory over cancer.  “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope.”          2 Corinthians 1:10

Photo courtesy of Tainted Canvas.

Hurdles on the Horizon

I have really enjoyed these last few weeks since finishing chemo. I am feeling stronger; I no longer have a headache; I am not such a frequent visitor to the oncology office—Ah, the good life! Yet looming on the horizon is my next hurdle in the cancer fight. I will undergo surgery on Monday and the anxiety is beginning to creep in. I feel confident in my decision. I have great assurance in my surgical team. I have a wonderful support network of family and friends to help me. But since the only surgery I have ever had was when I had my wisdom teeth removed at age 22, a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction seems like a much scarier endeavor!

But I will trust in my God and his protection over me. He has shown himself faithful throughout this cancer journey and I know he will continue to carry me as I enter this next phase. 1 john 4:18 says, Perfect love casts out fear, so I will choose to focus on God’s perfect love for me and not let fear get its grip on me in the days before surgery.

…I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope. Acts 2:25-26

Hurdles aren’t the only thing I see on the horizon—I also see hope.

hope on the horizon

The end of chemo!

I am finished with chemo! My strength is starting to come back and I am celebrating the end of this phase in the battle. God is faithful and has given me all I have needed and blessed me with more than I could have imagined. I have had wonderful support and have experienced God in deeper ways as I have walked this path.

“The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.” Psalm 145:13-14

I still have a few more weeks to regain strength before I have surgery and I plan to enjoy every minute of it!

Today I spent the afternoon with my daughter and her boyfriend at Lake Clementine. It was beautiful and relaxing. Floating on the water looking around at the gorgeous scenery, with the trees beginning to change colors, laughing and telling stories, it was just a lovely day.

Getting my life back

I am blessed! Yesterday was the first day of classes at William Jessup University (www.jessup.edu) where I teach psychology. It was so wonderful to be on campus surrounded by an excited group of college students, to reconnect with faculty and staff, chat with students I have had in classes in the past, and meet my new students for this term. I love teaching and always look forward to the start of classes in the fall, but this year after a summer battling breast cancer, yesterday was especially sweet. I felt like me!

All summer I have been masquerading as a cancer patient, dutifully enduring tests, chemotherapy, doctor appointments that never end, and basically living someone else’s life. But I have so missed living my own. While I realize I am not quite finished with the cancer patient life, I am getting my life back in stages and it feels great!

While there is no good time to be diagnosed with cancer, I am thankful that my diagnosis occurred at the end of the spring semester. I have been able to devote my summer to fighting this disease and now when I am almost finished with chemo, it’s time to return to classes. How great is that?!?! I did continue to see clients this summer but I did not allow my caseload to increase as I normally do during my break from teaching. I know I needed the down time but now I embrace having fuller days doing what enjoy. My new students were incredibly gracious when their instructor walked in sporting a cap sans hair and I look forward to getting to know them over the next few months. Returning students have been so generous in thier offers to help me, in thier faithful prayers, and encouraging words. The faculty and staff all have surrounded me with love and support.

I still face surgery in October and the possibility of radiation after that but for now I will rejoice in being able to do what I love to do, surrounded by a wonderful college community. I am blessed!

“How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you.” Psalm 31:19

“I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High” Psalm 7:17

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