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

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Are you aware?

Fondue for the Cure!Typically I don’t write about breast cancer all that much on this blog. Instead I choose to focus on the positive, what I am learning through this battle, and the blessings I have encountered during the journey. For this post, however, I felt the need for something different. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Then again, you already knew that. Everything is dressed in pink and pink ribbons, even the White House is bathed in pink lights this month. It’s been 28 years since October became the official month for breast cancer awareness but this October is entirely different for me—I am now AWARE of breast cancer. It’s easy to get lulled to passivity by the overabundance of pink every October. Like Pepto-Bismol coating our consciousness, we can see the pink but not the need to act.  I have supported the cause in the past: I have donated, raced for the cure, bought the pink ribbon gear, and worn the apparel, but let me tell you, nothing heightens your awareness of breast cancer like a diagnosis of breast cancer!

So this month I am asking you, no, pleading with you to not only become more aware of breast cancer and the need for continued research toward a cure, but become personally aware of the risk of cancer and take action toward good breast health. By that I mean self-exams. My breast lump was discovered by me in the shower. Mammograms are an important and necessary tool, but there is an equally important process by which many women have detected a problem and begun the first steps in their battle against this disease. Ladies, if you are not in the habit of doing monthly self-exams, now would be a great time to start. Gentleman, please talk to the women in your life about this vital life-saving process. Your mother, sisters, wife, and daughters all could use a nudge and gentle reminder.

If you need a little more motivation let me share some staggering numbers with you. Approximately 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer at some point in her lifetime. That’s just fewer than 12% of all women in the U.S. In the last year, there were an estimated 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer, with an additional 57,650 new cases of non-invasive (in-situ) breast cancer in the U.S.  For more detailed and mind blowing statistics please see: www.breastcancer.org

For all the retail stores offering breast cancer awareness sales, the restaurants with special breast cancer awareness menus (the photo at the top is a group of some lovely ladies in my life out for breast cancer awareness night at the Melting Pot earlier this week), for all the races and pink ribboned fundraising events, don’t forget the important task of assessing your breast health.

Monthly self-exams save lives.

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

He’s big—I’m small

I had the wonderful blessing of spending a couple of days with a dear friend and her daughter in Monterey last weekend. Having grown up in Southern California, I have always loved the beach. It is a special place of peace for me. Now that I live a couple of hours from the coast, I don’t get as many opportunities to dig my toes in the sand, but when I do they are always glorious.

The ocean reminds me of just how big our God is and just how small I am in comparison. The strength of my problems pale in light of the power and might of the waves. The thing that always gets me is the God of the universe, the creator of the seas, with all His glory and majesty, loves me!

“You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.” Nehemiah 9:6

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.” Psalm 24:1-2

“You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations. The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.” Psalm 65:5-8

I will remember the morning mist and the cool salt air, the laughter of good friends, and meditate on these verses today as I sit once again today in the chemo chair—and the God who created the oceans will bring me comfort.

“A friend loves at all times,
    and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32

Who hid the remote? I want to change the channel…

O.K., so I’ve got to be honest I am tired of dealing with cancer. I have spent the entire summer in doctor’s offices, getting pricked and poked, enduring round after round of chemotherapy, feeling sick and exhausted, bones aching, and I am just really getting weary of living in this documentary about breast cancer!! I am ready for an action adventure, a comedy, or even a sappy chick flick. Just please, somebody change the channel!!

I was crying out to God today and found this verse in the Amplified Bible that seemed to fit my mood. “Evening and morning and at noon will I utter my complaint and moan and sigh, and He will hear my voice.” Psalm 55:17

I am so thankful that God will hear my complaints and not judge me for it. There is just something about telling my Savior about my struggles that makes things easier to bear. The amazing thing is—He WANTS to hear my grievances. He wants to hear me. He wants to hear you.

“Trust in, lean on, rely on, and have confidence in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts before Him. God is a refuge for us, a fortress and a high tower.” Psalm 62:8

When I look back on the last four months as I have battled this disease, God has never let me down. He continues to lift me up even when I complain and grumble. He has shown me His goodness in the people who have cared for me, loved me, and been so faithful to pray for me. He has opened my eyes to so many blessings in the middle of the mess; things I would have surely missed if I wasn’t fighting cancer this summer.

“He has redeemed my life in peace from the battle that was against me.” Psalm 55:18

Perhaps I would have enjoyed a Western or a travel documentary, but now that I think about it, I have learned a lot on this channel.

New Challenges = New Blessings

When I wrote my last post I was about to start a new chemotherapy regimen and didn’t know what to expect. I had heard from other women who have braved this road before me that it should be easier. I can now say with much gratitude that they were correct. With this new “chemo cocktail” come new and different challenges. But more importantly I am learning that with each new challenge, God is faithful to show me new blessings.

Taxol, my new chemo drug, has the unfortunate side effect of bone pain. I have felt it most in my legs. A few days I was unable to move much from my couch and needed support just to cross the room. I say all this to highlight the difference between the first few days after chemo and the glorious blessing of God’s strength in the days that followed. While on the couch, I had the opportunity to pray more, to praise more, to dig deeply into God’s word, and seek His face. This is blessing in and of itself. Had I my normal strong legs, I may have missed this precious time. As the pain lessened and my strength grew I was happy to walk my dog and once again enjoy time outside in the warm Sacramento sunshine. 🙂

What came next was an unexpected blessing for which I will forever be thankful. My daughter and her boyfriend had signed up for a trail race in Lake Tahoe to benefit the Tahoe Cancer Center. (We all love Lake Tahoe and are avid skiers in the wintertime!) When my daughter’s boyfriend was unable to attend due to work constraints, Kate asked me to go with her to and spend the day at Squaw Valley, I could ride the tram to the top and wait for her to finish the 3 ½ mike trek from the base to high camp. It seemed like a lovely way to spend the day and I gratefully accepted the invitation. But by the morning of the race, my leg pain was gone and God had renewed my strength. So instead of sitting on the sidelines waiting for Kate, we walked the race together! 3 ½ miles straight up!! It was the most beautiful and challenging hike I have ever experienced! So thankful for time with my daughter, so thankful for God’s strength in getting me through this difficult time in my life and showing me every day that HE has I all I need, so thankful for the beauty of His creation. So thankful, just so very thankful.

The beauty of God's creation

I have chemo again today. I know what is ahead: more challenges, more blessings.

“I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.”  Psalm 18:1-2

We made it to the top!

From why to what and how…

It has been three months since I heard the doctor say, “You have breast cancer.” I think for most people when faced with a difficult diagnosis, major life struggle, or big disappointment the “why” questions come pretty quickly. “Why is this happening to me?” “Why now when life was going well?” “Why GOD are you allowing this?” “Why do some people get healed miraculously but not others?” “Why do people who put their trust in God, still die early deaths?” “Why is there so much suffering?” But as the days turned into weeks, I found the why questions just left me frustrated and in a negative mood.

A helpful shift for me was to start asking “what” questions. “What can I do during this time to encourage others as they face struggles?” “What are the hidden blessings in the midst of all this?” “What is GOD’S purpose for me in this?” “What lessons can I learn now that I wouldn’t have access to otherwise?” This shift in thinking has given me resolve and determination. Now I am energized instead of frustrated. Living in the what has been so much better than living in the why!

Another shift for me has been to the “how” questions. “How is God going to fulfill His promises to me?” “How is God going to be glorified in this time of struggle?” “How can I make the most of this time?” “How will I be different when this is all over?” I think the how questions are the most exciting. Instead of frustrated, I am expectant and hopeful.

I am not an expert theologian, but as I read God’s Word I think the Lord is eager for conversations with us. He longs for us to spend to time with Him and chat like we would with a good friend. I also think it is fair to ask God questions and even complain about our circumstances. I love the Psalms for that! But if the questions we ask lead us to a negative and bitter place, perhaps we need to ask different questions.

“This is what the Lord says–the Holy One of Israel, and its maker; Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled the starry hosts.”  Isaiah 45:11

I have for many years said to my students and my clients, “We are not in heaven yet, we can’t expect it to be perfect.” We are all part of the brokenness of humanity and will suffer many kinds of struggles in our lives. I think Peter said it best, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” 1 Peter 4:12

I have chemo this afternoon and because it is a new drug, I don’t know how my body will react. I had lots of questions for my doctor about this. But this morning I will spend time questioning God and I know He has all the answers.

What questions are you asking today? 

Good news, great news, and greater news

So the good news is I was able to have chemo last Thursday. Funny how being denied chemo for a day while the dermatologist checked on my skin issues was so infuriating and then being allowed to have the infusion with all the nausea, headache, and exhaustion is now good news!! But in this fight I don’t want to back down! So with that last infusion, I am now finished  with half of my chemotherapy. It’s always nice in a race when you pass the half-way point.

The great news is the biopsy from my blistered hand revealed it was just a reaction to the drugs and not one of the very scary diagnoses the doctors were worried about. My hands are much better, the stitches from the biopsy will be come out next week, and I am thanking God for his protection of my body as I submit it to the rigors of chemotherapy.

“Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, Be strong, do not fear, your God will come, He will come with a vengeance; with divine retribution He will come to save you.” Isaiah 35:3-4

Now for the even greater news—I had an ultrasound today to check on the effects of chemo killing the cancer and the tumor has shrunk by almost half!! Praise God for his faithfulness!!

Since I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in late April I have held on to God’s promises in His Word. Specifically Isaiah 53:5, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” One of the things I love about this verse, especially as someone battling cancer, is the verb choice and tense—are healed. Not may be, now could be, not someday possibly, but we ARE healed.

For the past eight weeks during chemo I was thanking God for healing me without seeing any healing. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

The ultrasound today was a nice visual of what God is up to.   🙂

Another twist and turn on the chemo ride…

Sitting in the chemotherapy room today, passed my blood test, got hooked up to my IV, premeds are flowing to aid with the nausea and other side effects, but then got pulled in to see the doctor to check out the rash and blisters on my hands. After much discussion he decided I should see a dermatologist before continuing chemo. Just a precaution but he didn’t want to flood my body with those toxic drugs if I am having a serious reaction. Some quick calls to my dermatologist for an emergency appointment tomorrow, the IV was removed, and I was sent on my way.

Feeling disappointed because I thought I would have passed the half-way point today. Praying for a good resolution at the dermatologist office so I can have chemo tomorrow (feels kind of strange that I want chemo especially since I was trying to talk my mom into taking me to the zoo down the street from my oncologist today instead of to my chemo appointment!)

But it also reminded me of my reading this morning in God’s Word. I raise the war cry and say to cancer, “Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Prepare for battle and be shattered! Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan but it will not stand, for God is with us.” Isaiah 8:10

I am eager for the battle because I know I don’t fight it alone. “You are my lamp, O Lord; the Lord turns my darkness into light. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.” 2 Samuel 22:29,30

I can trust in God to get me through this. “It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle.” 2 Samuel 22:33-35

I will not back down because God is giving me strength. “I pursued my enemies and crushed them; I did not turn back till they were destroyed. I crushed them completely, and they could not rise; they fell beneath my feet. You armed me with strength for the battle; you made my adversaries bow at my feet.” 2 Samuel 22:38-40

Cancer’s goin’ down!!!

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