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

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!

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

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

The Ups and Downs of the Chemo Rollercoaster

Okay, so there are more downs on this ride than I would prefer but there are some ups too. Losing my hair has been an adjustment but I also no longer need to shave my legs! Showers are incredibly quick! In the heat of the Sacramento summer I stay incredibly cool: no pesky hair to trap in the heat!

Each chemotherapy infusion has its own challenges but each week off has its own blessings. My third chemo brought with it the unfortunate side effect of an ugly rash and blisters on my hands. It itches and burns. My fingers are swollen and my knuckles look deformed. I was showing a good friend and colleague my hands today at work and telling her that although it is painful I am thankful that I have a job that allows me to sit with my hands discreetly in my lap while I see clients. I actually don’t need my hands much for my daily duties at work. What a blessing I’m not a seamstress!

This past week I was able to run a 5k race with my kids on the Fourth of July! What a joy and surprise blessing in the middle of this trial. I love to run and when I found out I would be having chemo one of the things I grieved was my daily run. Running is my all-time favorite hobby. I turn on some worship music, head out on the bike trail along the river, rejoice in God’s creation all around me, and feel most connected to my Lord and myself. Knowing I would be giving this up for 4 months was depressing. I am so glad that I have been able to run a little during my week off from chemo. I haven’t ventured out to my favorite spots and usually just hit the treadmill where I know I can step off it if I get too tired or weak, but when I saw the local Fourth of July race would be in the middle of my good week, I was overjoyed! God continues to amaze me with His faithfulness and mercy as I move through this. He gives me strength and courage for each challenge and has tucked in some wonderful blessings at just the right time!

July 4th 5k

“The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom.”     2 Tim. 4:18

Tomorrow will be my fourth chemotherapy session and I will be officially half-way finished with chemo! Praise God for His goodness and mercy.

Blessings, blessings, blessings

Lately I have been thinking—I am incredibly blessed. While from the outset a cancer diagnosis is not welcome news, it has been an eye opener for me. I am seeing with much more clarity the many blessings that have been there all along in my life but have been unnoticed or at very least not fully appreciated by me.

I have good health insurance. I am able to receive treatment with very few hassles. My doctor is local so my travel time to receive treatment is minimal. The facility where I receive treatment is clean and professionally staffed. Having visited other parts of the world, I know that in some areas people must travel several days by train to the nearest medical facility and even then it may not be adequately staffed or clean. It takes me less than an hour by air conditioned car to get to my appointments—such a blessing!

I am able to read my bible openly while having chemotherapy. God’s Word is a great comfort to me but in some parts of the world owning a bible is illegal. I am so blessed to have freedom of religion and to own not just one but several bibles!

I have choices for my meals. While chemo leaves the unfortunate side effect of nausea, my pantry is stocked with things I can tolerate, I have a dear friend who has filled my freezer with home cooked comfort food, and the grocery store, which is less than 5 minutes away, never runs out of food. The food supply in many parts of the world is not only inadequate but certainly does not allow options. I am so blessed.

My office has a couch. As a therapist my work space is quite comfy and created especially to be a place of peace and tranquility. I am able to take a short nap between seeing clients on the days I need a little more rest. Another blessing!

Of course the biggest blessing for me at this point in my life is God and his faithfulness which is ever present and giving me strength for each day. I went on a hike with my daughter on Sunday. We laughed and enjoyed the beauty of foothills. I breathed in the fresh air, soaked up the sunshine, and tried to capture the feeling of strength and vitality so I can carry it with me to chemotherapy tomorrow. But even if it begins to wane in the days to come, I know God is lifting me up and is strong enough for the task.

Kate in the blackberry bushes

I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
 I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt his name together.  Psalm 34:1-3

View from the trail in Auburn

Lessons

Knowledge is such a wonderful gift and I am a greedy person. I love to learn, I love to discover, and I love to dig deeper. I want to know how things work, how stuff is made, why things happen as they do, when did it start, has it always been this way? And perhaps my favorite, why we are we the way we are? This extends of course to my professional life as a marriage & family therapist and as a psychology teacher, but also in my personal life–why, what, how, when–and the list of questions just goes on and on. Having breast cancer has opened up a whole new area of discovery for me. I am getting in education in biology, oncology, pharmacology, hematology, health insurance and finance, but the most incredible lessons I have learned thus far since my diagnosis have come in the form of people. People who are bending over backwards to help me, people praying for me that I have never met, people who have no reason to support me yet are uplifting me and giving me strength. People are amazing!!

Have you ever stopped and pondered this? Why are people so amazing? What is it in the human DNA that causes someone to love and support another? I’m not sure if it is the chemo fog in my brain or just the simplicity of the answer but I believe God has a hand in it.   🙂  We are created in the image of our God and God IS love (1 John 4:8). Deep within us is the desire to love, not just love our families, our friends, and those who deserve it, but to love– period. God commands us to love and when we do, we get to experience being more like Him and more like we were created to be. Not to mention the blessing that is bestowed on the recipient of that love.

As an educator, I am always looking for more effective ways to help my students learn. I like to use hands-on experiments in the classroom, personal experience to illuminate lessons, and guest speakers to broaden the academic voice. So I see this time in my life as an incredibly effective way for me to learn more about God. I am getting hands-on experience in God’s amazing love. I am not saying God gave me cancer so I could learn, but that because God loves me so much He will use this time of struggle to help me understand and know Him in an even deeper way.  I am embracing the lesson.

But I am like an olive tree
flourishing in the house of God;
I trust in God’s unfailing love
for ever and ever.
 For what you have done I will always praise you
in the presence of your faithful people.
And I will hope in your name,
for your name is good.  Psalm 52:7-9

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