Pieces of the Puzzle

Two years ago today I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. In the past, this would have been a death sentence. As I look back over my life in the last twenty-four months, I am incredibly grateful. As I sit typing this blog, I am cancer free, just finished a nice six mile run, will spend some time working on my dissertation this afternoon, and later take my mother to a play this evening. I am blessed. My life has returned to normal and I only see my oncologist every three months for a blood test and a high five.

I am so incredibly grateful for the many wonderful people who cared for, supported, encouraged, inspired, carried, and prayed me through my battle with cancer. Many of which I didn’t know prior to having cancer. Survivors who told me their stories of hope and assured me life would get easier were an amazing source of strength when I was at my weakest. I remember meeting a young woman who approached me when I was in the last phase of chemotherapy; it was at a time when I was feeling pretty low and tired of the whole thing. I had gone with a friend to a park and this woman must have noticed my bald head under my baseball cap. She however, had the cutest short hairdo and was playing with her daughter on the swings and seemed to be having a wonderful day. She told me she was a breast cancer survivor and had since regained her life. The cute hairdo was regrowth after chemo and she once again had energy to chase her kids and enjoy her family. I was so encouraged by her story and by her willingness to share with it with a total stranger.

Now I get to carry on that work. We are surrounded by people who need encouragement. If you are a cancer survivor, you can share your story of hope.  If you have never had cancer, count your blessings and you can lend strength to those in the battle of their lives. We are all important pieces in this puzzle.

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” 2 Corinthians 1:4

Heart Puzzle

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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

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

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.

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.

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