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.

 

Not So Crazy About Pink

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I’m not sure how I feel about October as Breast Cancer Awareness month. Don’t get me wrong. I dutifully place pink ribbon stickers on my outgoing mail for one month out of the year. I feel the tug at my heart as I hear a survivor’s story. I am all for a good cause and this is a great cause. Too many women get breast cancer and too many women die from this disease.

The problem I have is that everywhere I go, I am reminded that I had breast cancer. My scars and not-so-distant memories are enough to remind me daily that I need to see my doctor yearly, get a mammogram, do self-exams and be aware. Sometimes, I struggle to put the cancer behind me, especially so in October. I just want a break when I run my errands, browse the store aisles, eat my meals or watch t.v. But there it is: pink ribbons and pink packaging everywhere. I can’t escape it.

Maybe this year it won’t bother me as much. I am one year further along from the original diagnosis. I am healthy. I feel good. Pink is even starting to grow on me. For those times when I get overwhelmed by too much breast cancer pink, I picture Jesus wearing pink. Jesus always makes me smile and reminds me that His pink represents compassion and the power to heal. Now that’s pink I can embrace year round.

Proverbs 15:30

A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones. 

Proverbs 16:24

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. 

Proverbs 17:22

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

 

 

LORD, Please Give Me the Big Miracle

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I wanted the big miracle. I was praying for the big miracle. I wanted God to change my breast cancer diagnosis to cancer-free, dumbfounding the doctors. I wanted God to banish the tumor, no surgeon needed. I wanted God to make my cancer journey easier, shorter and cheaper.

Every test result and every doctor’s visit was a painful reminder that my big miracle didn’t happen. Words of advice helped me to recognize what I needed as much as the big miracle. Words from a stranger who I met through a phone conversation arranged by a mutual friend. This breast cancer survivor advised me to quit praying for God to take away the cancer and to start praying for what was around the corner.

Her words spoke to my heart. I was so focused on the big miracle on my terms that I overlooked the miraculous in each day. Finally, I was able to rejoice in the miracles present all along. God’s confirmation of the medical team to guide my care. God’s peace for the type of treatment chosen. God’s comfort through the people he placed in my life. All miracles at just the right time in the perfect way from the heart of God to my troubled heart.

Oh, I continued to pray for the big miracle as we are taught to be bold in our requests. I know that God is more than able to deliver on the big miracles. But I also learned to trust God for the time in-between the big miracles. As I prayed for the big miracle, God in his mercy provided the bigger miracle. God desires to be in the mire of our lives. God treasures our relationship with him. Jesus chose to die on the cross to insure that relationship forever. All bigger miracles that abound for us this day. Thank you LORD for giving me the biggest miracle.

Mark 11:24

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 

Hebrews 12:2

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

 

Things that Go Bump in the Night

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A cancer diagnosis can instill fear: fear of the future, fear of treatment, fear of re-occurrence, fear of death and even fear that doesn’t have to make sense. Thankfully, my breast cancer was caught early and I was spared some of the fears that other cancer patients have to deal with. However, I remember one fear that caught me off-guard: fear of the radiation treatments.

These treatments were every day, Monday through Friday for seven weeks. I was positioned and then a machine whirred around me. It didn’t take long. It wasn’t painful. The technicians were sensitive to my needs. Regardless, those thirty-five treatments could instill panic in me that I struggled to control.

Why? The simple answer is that I could not see the radiation. I had to trust that the physicists properly calibrated the machine. I had to rely on the technicians’ expertise to operate the equipment. There was two feet of concrete wall to protect the workers, but there was nothing between me and this source of powerful energy. I feared what I couldn’t see.

I was able to overcome my fears of the invisible by focusing on a more powerful source, one not created or controlled by man: God. I learned to daily trust the Creator of heaven and earth who has every imaginable and unimaginable, every seen and unseen power at his disposal. The invisible God only became visible through faith. The invisible God became my God when I believed his promises for my circumstances. God will always be our ever-present refuge from the things that go bump in the night and darkness of our lives.

Isaiah 41:10

So do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

2 Corinthians 5:7

For we live by faith, not by sight.

My Happy, Happy, Happy!

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Jumbled memories that define the start of my cancer journey. A lump that should have been nothing to worry about. My doctor was reassuring as she handed me a lab request for follow-up work. A room full of people. More than I thought necessary to inform me that the lump was benign.

My introduction to the word cancer. “It is 50-50 cancer and I’m leaning towards cancer.” The radiologist was blunt. All of a sudden, I felt very alone. Hearing the statistics for five year survival rate based on the type and stage of my cancer. It wasn’t as high as I figured it would be. Cancer is scary stuff.

The first tears. The oncologist informed me that if the breast cancer returned as a metastasis, I would die. Okay, he didn’t use those exact words, but I understood the implication for the first time. Cancer is serious business.

My husband’s birthday. We were hoping and praying for a celebration. We sat in the surgeon’s office awaiting the pathology report on the breast cancer. I scanned the mumbo jumbo of the lab summary for any sign of good news.

Relief and profound gratitude. Hope and resiliency anew. The cancer was caught early. My journey of healing had begun. Thank you, God for my happy, happy, happy!

NOTE: For the 50 word version of this post and my response to a writing challenge, check out the Holistic Wayfarer, (www.holisticwayfarer.com) and look for the post, “It’s Happy Hour.”  Parenting, family, poetry…all good stuff over on Diana’s blog.

Isaiah 61:1-3

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. 

 

Life Can Sucker Punch Ya

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January 1, 2011. We had just celebrated Christmas and were enjoying the last few days of vacation before getting back to our normal routine. We were optimistic about the New Year. And we were clueless about what was right around the corner: life’s sucker punch.

Three days later, my doctor discovered a lump in my breast. Thirteen days after that, the cancer diagnosis was confirmed. Breast cancer was not on our list of resolutions for the New Year, but it defined the new year. We did our best to fit life into the regiment of doctor appointments and cancer treatments.

I crossed off days on the calendar to mark the time when I could smile again. But God was giving me reasons to smile for the todays. The cancer was caught early. My younger son and I spent his Spring Break in Washington D.C. We celebrated his high school graduation. The good things of life were still happening.

I had anticipated better days in the future, but God reminded me that this day in God’s presence is really good too. And the most important lesson I learned: life’s sucker punch doesn’t have to be a knock-out.

Note: This year, I am celebrating three years of being cancer-free! For the month of October and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I will be posting stories about my personal experiences with breast cancer.

Lamentations 3:22-23

 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Psalm 90:14

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.