"It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes." Psalm 119:71

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Hard Week

I've mentioned it several times before but it's very hard to find and keep peace when you're dealing with health issues. Most of the time I am completely ok with my diagnosis, my current status, and my treatment. But then there are times, like this last week, when something somehow dislodges or comes loose and I find myself back at square one. Back at the bottom of the mountain, looking up and thinking, "There is no way I'm climbing that! There's no way I'll ever make it to the top!"

When this murky mood hit me recently I immediately got on my knees, pulled out my Bible, and talked to God. I read scripture after scripture and found that it didn't matter how much I read or how much I pleaded to get some peace- I just felt empty.

And for three days I lived like that- a shadow of a person, just trying, yet again, to crawl into God's lap. Eventually I got there. And I wish I had an answer to tell anyone out there who will ever find themselves in a similar position. But I don't. All I know is that I had enough faith to keep saying that even though things felt scary and dark, I knew that my God was still in control and that if I kept searching long enough, I'd find Him again.

It seems unusual that we have to fight so hard to get to God sometimes. I think it feels unfair that I have to ride this roller coaster of acceptance. I wish I could say that I trusted in God enough that I never had a low moment or a day filled with fear. But there's something about God, something intrinsic to his character-- He isn't a genie in a bottle and He won't always give me what I want when I want it. He loves me enough to teach me again and again that this world, and my happiness in it, is not that important. He loves me enough to allow me to feel pain on earth so that I don't get short-sided, comfortable or selfish while I'm here.

I'm reading The Hole in Our Gospel (phenomenal!) and I read this today and identified...
"'I showed up, Lord. I'm here. It took every ounce of my courage just to be here. But I can't do this job. I feel hopeless for the first time in my life. I don't even know what to do next. It's up to You now. You got me into this, and You'll have to do the rest. Help me.' And He did. For perhaps the first time in my life, God had me right where He wanted me, helpless and relying completely on Him." 

Forgive me, God, for all the times I start to get content and rely on myself. Thank you for the sometimes painful reminders that I can only rely fully on You.

Susan P. texted me yesterday and said she heard a song and God told her it was for me. I'd heard it a hundred times before but somehow never listened to the words. They are moving words that exactly capture how I feel.

Running back to His promises. That perfectly describes my life for the past six months. Continually running back to those promises...

Thanks for the song Susan.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Back and Forth

I'm betting that if you talked to an oncology psychotherapist, I'm right on track with the other thousands of people living with dormant cancer. What are those phases of acceptance? Denial, anger, depression, etc, etc.

Is there a phase called schizophrenic or bi-polar? Cause that's me right now. Up and down, happy and sad, joyful and mad.

I pulled out my pink ribbon coffee mug a few days ago and I felt like it was a huge step for me. It was a good morning, I was embracing my "survivor status." Later that day I decided to venture into my On Demand videos of breast cancer (they are offering a lot of special tv shows on bc in honor of bc awareness month) and I'd eventually turned the tv off feeling depressed. I fumed and daydreamed of burning all of my cancer books in a huge bonfire.

The next morning I thought I'd conquer a left-over effect of chemo- I ordered a green tea smoothie. I used to order them all the time, until I got one the morning of a chemo treatment and from then on couldn't stomach the idea it.

So I walk into Smoothie King and the girl who sees me every morning says, "You want your usual?" And on impulse, I say, "No, give me a green tea smoothie, please!" This may sound like nothing to you, but small things like this are helpful for me. I felt empowered to order this drink I associated with chemotherapy. But three minutes later I was sick to my stomach as I walked to my car with the green drink. And I kept getting more and more nauseous.. and I never coul take even one sip of the smoothie.

Chemotherpay is still with me, even though it's been over a month since my last infusion. My hair is growing back. I look like a chia pet right now. But, my eyebrows are completely gone except for about nine little pathetic hairs on either side. It's weird that my eyebrows didn't fall out until the rest of my hair started growing back.

I still get tingly and numb feet at least once a day, too. Which is also a side effect that didn't really hit me until after chemo. But none of the physical ailments of chemo are as bad as the mental issues I'm still facing from Chemo-Coma or "Chemo brain."

Example: I've always been a fan of Iron Chef. Terry and I used to watch the Japanese version of the tv show in college. And I've seen the American version several times. Earlier this week I was surfing some of the shows On Demand and saw that they had all the episodes of The Next Iron Chef in which they put cooks to the test to see who will be the next competitive star of Iron Chef. I watched 6 episodes of The Next Iron Chef and was watching the finale when it suddenly occured to me that I was watching an old season. And that I had, in fact, seen the winner of Next Iron Chef compete on Iron Chef several times.

Did all that make sense? Simply put, I spent 6 hours of my life watching a competition when I already knew who the winner would be. I just couldn't remember it.

Those of you who are survivors of chemo--- how long does all of this last?

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Weak Little Sissy

It's been over a week since I've written. I've been wading my way through a combat zone- October! It's Breast Cancer Awareness month and it's driving me nuts! While I'm very, very appreciative of all the attention my "popular" disease gets every year, I'm really tired of being reminded about it so much. I know, I know, I sound very ungrateful, huh!?

The truth is that I'm pretty darn annoyed this past week or so. What's that saying about fatigue making quitters of all of us? I'm tired and it's making me grouchy. My radiation onc told me from the get-go that this whole process would make me tired, but I brushed it off thinking that nothing could be harder than chemo.

While I was certainly right about that- radiation is nothing compared to chemo- I have to admit that it's still making me feel pretty exhausted. Every morning I do ok and I guzzle enough coffee to give an elephant a jolt, but by around 4 o'clock I hit a wall and it's all I can muster to get the kids in bed at 8. I've been pushing past being tired, thinking "Who am I to complain? People have it so much worse..." But today I ran into a fellow bc patient at the docs office. She gets radiation just before me and we've struck up a friendship. She didn't have to have chemotherapy, so she quite possibly doesn't have my frame of reference, but today she said, "I'm so tired!" and I was so grateful to her for sharing! I needed someone in my shoes (actually she's had one week less radiation than me) to admit being tired so that I could relax and allow myself to take things a little slower too.

There was a commercial once where this shirt-less man was sucking in his stomach as a pretty woman walked by. After she's out of sight, he lets out his breath and his big belly bulges and drops over his pants. When my friend admitted to being tired today, I mentally 'let my belly out.' It was an immediate and huge relief to stop faking it and say, "Really? You're tired? So I'm not just a weak little sissy? It's ok to be tired? Great news!"

It was a good reminder that sharing our personal feelings and experiences, regarding any matter, is a great thing for us to do. You never know who needs to hear that you've struggled too.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

People on Your Path

Last week I was leaving the house when, as soon as I backed out of the driveway, I spotted a woman walking down the sidewalk on the opposite side of the road. As I drove closer towards her I realized that she was wearing a scarf on her head. And then I saw the tell-tale sign of breast cancer- she had had a mastectomy on one side and wasn't wearing a prosthetic.

I drove a split-second longer, then suddenly slammed on my brakes, parked my car in the middle of the street and left my door wide open as I walked to catch up with her. And the only way I can describe what happened next was that God took over and the Holy Spirit guided me through this conversation.

I said, "Excuse me," and got her attention. She wore no makeup, looked tired, and I could tell she wasn't as old as she appeared. I think she must have been in her late thirties. I said, "I'm being treated for breast cancer right now, and is it ok to assume that you are too?"

She said yes. She told me she was experiencing a recurrence, that it had spread to her lung and that after four years and a lot of chemotherapy her doctors had just told her there was no more hope.

The words I spoke next were from the Holy Spirit as he guided me. I said, "There is always hope. And I'd like to pray for you right now." I grabbed her hands and we stood there on the sidewalk and prayed. I don't remember anything I said, I just remember how wonderful it felt to be in the presence of God on the hot sidewalk in Cypress, Texas. I remember that as I spoke outloud, I was inwardly praising God. For what, I'm not sure. It was actually a sad story that the woman shared. And I identified with her pain. So I find it miraculous and awe-inspiring that I could feel godly peace in that moment.

When I said, "Amen" and looked up, there were three cars patiently waiting on the street. The door of my car was still ajar and no one could get by. We live on a busy street and I was impressed that no one had honked their horns to get our attention. I hope that they could tell by our posture that we were praying and that the Holy Spirit we felt so clearly was also evident to them.

It turns out that Cassandra, the woman I prayed for, was also a believer. I wasn't meant to share the gospel with her that day, but I know I was meant to share that moment with her. I pointed my house out to her and asked her to please come by anytime she wanted. I haven't seen her since. But she's been on my mind every day since then. For me it was a little glimpse of heaven. I didn't know her but I loved her immediately, just as Jesus does. God revealed a little bit more of himself to me that day and I'm still reveling in that palpable presence a week later.

And earlier today, God brought another breast cancer patient into my life. Although hers is a very different story. I met the woman as I picked Micah up from pre-school. She and I were the first to arrive to collect our children (her grandchildren). She was wearing a Komen "race for the cure" t-shirt. It's October- breast cancer awareness month- so I've seen many, many people sporting their pink clothes and Komen gear. But for some reason I decided to ask her about her shirt. "Did you participate in the race?" I asked.

She said, "Yes. I'm a survivor and I walk every year."

It turns out that she is an 18-year survivor. She had stage 3 and it was in her lymph nodes just like me. She said that when she passed the 10-year mark her doctors told her that she was "in the general population." Meaning that she now has no higher chance of recurrence than any other woman. I didn't even know that was possible. And just hearing her story gave me hope.

So, God brought me two women in the last 7 days who've walked my path. One nearing the end of her journey, and one who has put the pain and experience far behind her. I don't know what my journey is going to look like. But I'm grateful that I got to meet these women and hear their tales. I'm grateful that God loves me enough that He takes the time to so intricately weave my life so that I cross certain people's paths at certain times.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Food Fight!

Terry and I have each cooked one meal for our "health food cook-off!" Terry cooked first. Here's what he made:

1. Cod with a lemon butter sauce
2.creamy asparagus
3. black beans and quinoa
4. chocolate covered strawberries

Well, that's what he tried to make anyway. It all started going downhill for him when he attempted the lemon butter sauce. See, a while back I'd accidentally bought vegan butter. I'd been in a rush and seen "All-natural" written on the tub and just grabbed it. I didn't realize till later that my "butter" had no dairy in it! I haven't been cooking with it at all and it tastes ok on the occasional slice of toast. But when Terry attempted to melt it down into a creamy sauce, all he got was a pot of burnt oil. And so he got mad. And gave up on his sauce altogether. So we had cod-minus-the-sauce.

Next he attempted the black beans and quinoa but a few minutes into cooking he decided it didn't "look right" so he tossed it out and made black beans from a can instead. He was really annoyed by this point and said he'd never cook again!

His asparagus dish, on the other hand, was so darn good that I've made it three times since! And the dark chocolate strawberries were great too!

All in all, his dish got a 7 (out of 10) from me. I've told him that he's lucky when it comes to my scoring. I like food in general; doesn't have to be fancy or healthy, is just has to be on a plate (and sometimes not even that!) and I'm happy. Fish- good. Beans- good. Asparagus- gooood!! Way to go, babe!

Sorry there are no pictures of his dish. He was in such a foul mood after cooking that I knew pulling out the camera would send him over the top!

The following week it was my turn. Kelly, Kyle and Eileen were unlucky enough to be visiting us on the day I made my meal! (And the busyness of that night is the reason there's no pics of my food either.)

I made:

1. pear and balsalmic chicken
2. spinach and cauliflower gratin
3. veggie and polenta cakes
4. Almond torte

I really liked the chicken. I think it was the best dish overall. Terry didn't like that my cauliflower was a little undercooked and I thought the sauce on this dish was too sweet (from yogurt). The kids loved the polenta cakes but in the end that dish was waaay too time consuming and not worth making again. The almond torte was wonderful to me because it is the only thing even slightly resembling dessert that I've had in ages. But it was really dry. Not sure if this was because I over cooked it or just because it's a bad recipe. It's made with no flour, sugar, or butter. Just almond meal, eggs (whipped and whipped and whipped some more) and all natural, organic maple syrup.

Terry hated the polenta cakes, didn't even try the torte since he doesn't like dessert, but still gave me a generous 6.5.

And more food tips and finds:

Ezekiel bread! Delicious and so much healthier than even the standard wheat varieties. Find it in the freezer section.  
Stretch Island Fruit Company! Kind of like fruit roll-ups but with only fruit purrees and no added sugar. Great for throwing in your purse. They've replaced Micah's love for those nasty little fruity gel bite things.