What’s On Your Mind?

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“You have cancer.” What comes to mind when you think of a cancer diagnosis? In 2011, this question was no longer a hypothetical. I’m sure my response was normal as I began to wrap my mind around cancer and my name in the same sentence.

I dealt with many different emotions in the beginning.

Denial: I remember telling the doctor that I didn’t have any pain. “How can it be cancer?” (This was my first lesson about breast cancer. Pain is not necessarily a symptom.)

Fear: Would I be around for my younger son’s high school graduation in six months/ We had a diagnosis with no further details. What did my future look like?

Grasping for Control: Immediately I began to network with friends and friends of friends who were in the medical profession or knew breast cancer survivors. I wanted to be informed and ask the right questions so I could get answers. If I could articulate the issues, perhaps I could grasp control and rein in this cancer invading my body.

Going to a Dark Place: Learning and discovering more information introduced me to the sad stories and sadder endings with breast cancer. I began to ponder the new realities in regards to my body, my life, and ultimately, my mortality. Would I feel the same if I had a mastectomy? Would I look like me if I needed chemotherapy and lost my hair? Would there be a future? Would I be there to celebrate my sons’ weddings and dote on grandkids someday?

One evening, my husband and I sat at the kitchen table discussing my cancer as it was a too common conversation topic in those days. The burdens of all my thoughts, fears, and anxieties spilled out as tears falling down my cheeks. I asked my husband, “Will you still love me if…?” and filled in the blanks with the very personal feelings I hadn’t been able to express up to that point.

I desperately needed my husband to scoop me into his arms, reassure me with the strength of his love and answer with a loud “YES!” My husband did and said something that caught me off-guard. It was even better than what I thought I needed from him. He looked me directly in the eyes with an intensity I am not used to and responded, “I am in it for the long haul!” That moment was a turning point in my cancer journey.

We were going to get through “this,” whatever it looked like because I had his heart and he had mine. I have no doubts that God used that conversation around the kitchen table to personally demonstrate His love for me.

As we face crises, we need something, really someone, to lean into and know that we are never alone. We can look into God’s word in the Bible and sense His intense love and unending compassion for us. We can keep on keeping on with confidence because God has promised to never leave nor forsake us.

God wraps us in His hedge of protection and whispers into our hearts, “You are loved. I have always loved you.” Jesus’ death on the cross is the purest evidence for the depth of God’s love for you and for me.

Almost seven years later, I am healthy and remain cancer-free. I still lean into God for His hugs and to hear Him say, “I love you!” My heart responds with gratitude and devotion as I tell God, “I’m in this life for the long haul with you!”

Isaiah 42:16

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.

 

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What I Do Have!

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The request came in as an e-mail to our cancer ministry. The cancer survivor was an out-of-state resident with no personal connection to us. She must have googled cancer and our name popped up. She wanted support. We offer support. The only problem was that we don’t offer the type of support she was most interested in.

The person took the time to fill out our enrollment form. I admit that it was the most creative application I have seen to date. Her answers to varying questions revolved around money. Her specific prayer requests included a gift basket with gas and food gift cards from our church. Under favorite color, she replied “blue” tagged along with “quilt.”

I am a six year cancer survivor and a one year leader for a cancer ministry. Without fail, the top two prayer requests are for healing and for the family members that accompany the survivor on his/her cancer journey. Gift cards and pretty things fall much further down the list of prayer necessities. Nonetheless, I get it. Cancer is expensive even with good health insurance. People going through cancer oftentimes experience financial hardships.

I replied to the person’s e-mail and acknowledged her financial need. Sharing our mission statement, I explained that we are not able to financially support her. Rather, we “provide hope, encouragement and love through a community of support so no one battles cancer alone.” In my mind, I patted myself on the back. I took her request seriously and responded appropriately. With an extra dose of mercy, I decided to reach out to her with a personal phone call if I heard anything back via e-mail. All I needed was a brief response like, “Okay” or “Thanks.”

I didn’t hold my breath and I wasn’t surprised that my e-mail sent was the end of our interaction. Only it wasn’t the end of it. I should have filed away the paper application, but I couldn’t bring myself to do so. Her form sat on my desk for a over a week. God kept bringing this woman to mind. The more I tried to find closure, the more I thought about this woman and her situation. Specifically, God kept bringing me back to Acts 3 in the Bible.

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Acts 3:1-6)

That’s when I knew that I didn’t do all that I was supposed to do. I had already said a prayer on the woman’s behalf. What was the next step? A clue was on her application. Under activities and interests, she mentioned something that tied in perfectly with a gift we send to those served through our ministry.

I called the volunteer who mails that particular gift and explained the situation, including the God nudges I felt. I had to smile at the volunteer’s confirmation. She replied that her mother had a saying, “It doesn’t matter what is in their heart. What matters is what is in your heart!” We sent the gift.

We expressed the love of Jesus Christ to a stranger. The name of Jesus was shared with someone who needed to hear His sweet name.  I don’t know the response or the result because we never heard from the person again. Nonetheless, I knew that I could finally file the application. We  had offered the very best of what we do have: the name of Jesus.

 

 

 

Please, Let’s Keep Our Comments to Ourselves

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It was after I had finished treatment for breast cancer and was trying to put it all behind me. I had a doctor’s appointment unrelated to my cancer care. Of course, I updated my medical history with the cancer diagnosis.

I felt the doctor’s eyes as he looked me up and down and concluded with, “So you had a mastectomy.” It was an incredibly rude comment that can still rile me up years later. He could have simply said, “You look beautiful and healthy!” (Further insult upon injury is that I did not have a mastectomy to treat my cancer. Needless to say, I never returned to this doctor.)

Breast cancer is personal and not just because it is about breasts. Each cancer journey is unique with a myriad of decisions to be prayed over and made by the patient and the doctors together. Before commenting, remember that we don’t have all the information. We didn’t hear what the cancer patients heard. We don’t know what they are comfortable with and what terrifies them.  Let’s not judge them. Please, let’s keep our comments to ourselves.

Rather, know that there is plenty we can do as the list of needs is long for cancer patients. Pray. Encourage. Listen. Love on. Reflect Christ. As appointed stewards of God’s grace, we all have a gift that somebody needs from us today.

James 2:13b

Mercy triumphs over judgment!

1 Peter 4:10

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.

 

 

Give Me More Butter Please!

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This post is dedicated to the doctors, nurses, and technicians that deal with cancer on a daily basis. Their wisdom, patience, and compassion for all the patients that cross their paths are an answer to prayer. 

Butter has played an ongoing role in my breast cancer journey. No, it is not the newest cure-all for cancer. Let me explain.

When I was well on my way to a recovery, I wanted to thank the doctors that diagnosed my cancer and helped me take those first steps on my cancer journey. I had already written my thank you cards, but I wanted to do something extra. I learned from the nurse that the radiologist’s favorite cookie was chocolate chip. I baked a batch and surprised the doctor with a plateful of chocolate chip cookies.

Later that day, my husband tasted my cookies and declared them “chocolate chip biscuits.” I was horrified. The cookies weren’t terrible, they just weren’t my best. I pondered my options. Do I let it slide? Do I try to make it right? Do I simply hope that the doctor doesn’t have discerning taste buds? Do I pray that the doctor quickly forgets my name and my cookies?

Being me with my perfectionistic tendencies, I couldn’t let it be. I had to make it right in the only way I knew how. I made a second batch of cookies. This time I used all butter. I didn’t mess around with half butter and half margarine, which was my mistake in the first place. Give me more butter please! Before I prepared that second plate for the doctor, I got my husband’s approval.

With a sheepish smile, I brought my favorite doctor a second plate of chocolate chip cookies along with an explanation and an apology. Now, every year when I get that yearly mammogram, I bring him cookies. His first question to me is always, “Have the cookies been taste-tested by your husband and the boys?” It has become our running joke.

One year, the doctor asked me to participate in a presentation he was giving to graduate students at a local university. The topic was on the patient-doctor relationship. I diligently prepared my thoughts to share and decided to conclude with chocolate chip cookies for the doctor and the entire class. Of course, he proceeded to share the story of that very first batch of chocolate chip cookies. I didn’t mind because our personal joke is one of the special connections that we share.

Who knew that an ever-learning cook and a radiologist could find a link between breast cancer and butter and still be laughing about it years later? The only reasonable answer is that God surprised me with unexpected joy in my breast cancer journey. Give me more butter please!

Habakkuk 1:5

“Look at the nations and watch – and be utterly amazed.  For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”

 Zechariah 9:12

Come back to the place of safety, all you prisoners who still have hope! I promise this very day that I will repay two blessings for each of your troubles. (NLT)

 

 

How The Story Ends

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It never gets old to say that I am a cancer survivor of four and a half years and counting. This post is my heartfelt thanks to those many people that prayed for the happy ending to my cancer story.

A cancer diagnosis evokes a reaction. Sometimes that reaction turns into a story. As I shared my breast cancer diagnosis in 2011, I heard many stories, including stories without the happy ending. “My first wife fought it for three years before she passed away.” “My mom died when I was in the sixth grade.”

The words from well-meaning people were a reminder that a cancer story can have a sad ending. Those were hard words to hear at any point, but especially so when the details of my cancer diagnosis were still unknown. I knew that their intent wasn’t to scare me. These people were deeply affected by cancer and it was their way to connect with me in my cancer story. Perhaps their words were poorly timed, but their compassion was evident in their broken and still healing hearts.

We were in this together. That was the point. That was the encouragement. There were people praying for me. There were people who knew exactly how to pray for me because they had endured a version of their family’s cancer story. There were people who loved and lost, but still survived cancer’s pain through God’s grace. I much prefer the happy ending. Regardless of the outcome, we are never alone.

Romans 12:15

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 

 

 

 

The Hour After The “C” Word

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It was the hour after I first heard the “c” word. The doctor seemed so confident in his conclusion that the lump was breast cancer. I reminded myself there was still the possibility that he was wrong. Hearing the first mention of cancer and my name in the same sentence stopped me in my tracks. The “c” word, biopsy, ultrasound pictures, and unasked questions played over and over in my mind.

In the hour after I first heard the “c” word, I still needed to run errands. Life had to go on. First on the list was picking up high school graduation pictures. As I drove to the photographer’s place, my mind was racing faster than the car.

I picked up the pictures, happy to see my youngest son handsome and all grown up. Would I see him graduate from college? What did my future hold? Breathe. We don’t know anything for certain. Relax. There is so much that has changed since my mom had breast cancer. I knew that I was being a pessimist and going to a dark place. There may be a very good logical and benign reason for this lump. I just wished the lump in my throat would go away too.

My husband called to ask about the doctor’s visit. It wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have over the phone alone in my car. I wasn’t ready for the tears to begin yet. I wanted to be held and know that we would get through this: whatever this turned out to be.

The doctor commented that my husband would want me to have the biopsy as soon as possible. I refused to schedule for the earliest date: my birthday. The diagnosis of breast cancer came two days after my birthday.

My cancer journey had begun. The diagnosis was my introduction, well, actually a painful reminder of how truly vulnerable we are in this world. Cancer was the motivation to draw closer to my God and depend on Him for everything. In that hour, God began to reassure me how strong He is and remind me how strong I can be in Jesus Christ.

Deuteronomy 31:6

Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

Psalm 18:1

I love you, O LORD, my strength.

 

The Highest Compliment

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As a late bloomer in regards to writing, I am grateful for the encouragement to keep writing. Guest-blogging for a fellow writer is always a high honor, but not the highest compliment. Being asked by a friend, the editor of a quarterly magazine for a local newspaper, to submit an article is confirmation of my abilities. Seeing my name in print is still not the highest compliment. Retirees, needing a write-up on their volunteer activity, asked me to compose it. Their thank you was a gift card. Even being paid for my writing was not the highest compliment.

The highest compliment was my card propped up on a bedside table. I did not personally know this person who was a cancer patient in hospice. As part of the ministry Cancer Hope, I send cards with a message of Christ’s love. (Read my previous post on Cancer Hope.) I don’t remember what I wrote, but I know that the words were inspired by the Holy Spirit and prayed over before being mailed. After the woman died, I heard from a family member (in the ministry) that my card was near their loved one in her final days.

The highest compliment was that God chose me to write His words of comfort and to share His love. Evidence of the highest compliment was a simple homemade card that will be our special connection for all of eternity in heaven. Hearing God, being a vessel for God and touching lives will always be the highest compliment in my book.

2 Corinthians 4:7

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Psalm 126:5

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.