Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: Who Do You Say I Am?

Recently, out of the blue, Jesus asked me, “So, who do you say I am?” Startled by the question all kinds of words flooded my mind…Lord, Savior, Friend, Healer, Provider…Before I could try to put together a coherent, definitive answer, He said, “I will make it easy for you. Just say I AM. Any and every thing You need Me to be I AM.” I found myself pondering that thought the rest of the day.

I didn’t know why His response struck me the way that it did. I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior when I was 5 years old. I distinctly remember making a conscious decision at that young age that I wanted Jesus to live inside my heart. I can’t say that I honestly understood what salvation truly meant at the time. I just knew I loved Jesus and wanted Him to be with me always. And most of all I wanted to see Him in heaven. Thinking about it now, in light of all that has occurred in the last six years of my life, in some ways I think I got stuck on who I learned He was in the Bible days, and who I know He will be when I get to heaven, but never fully allowed Him to be who He is in my now.

The other day I was telling one of my daughters that before I had cancer if I had to describe myself the word “controlling” would never have entered my mind. My personality is such that I can pretty much get along with anyone, go with the flow, and roll with the punches. I respect other people’s right to not agree with my opinion or perspective. I don’t argue or try to change anyone. People are who they are, until they desire to change. Even with my daughters, now that they are adults and it is no longer my responsibility to guide their decisions, I listen to their dilemmas and respond only if my opinion is solicited. Unless God tells me to say something specific to someone, I pray about what I see, and mind my own business. 

When Jesus asked who do I say He is, not was or will be, but who He IS right now I saw a conflict between who I say He is and who I allow Him to be. His question shined a light on how controlling I am when it comes to my own life. When I had the stroke I still felt like I had some measure of control over my own life. I worked as hard as I could in physical therapy and felt very accomplished when I was able to walk without a cane. Occupational therapy was often frustrating, but the first time I was able to cook breakfast for myself I knew every moment of frustration was worth it. Speech and language therapy almost always had me in tears. Julie, my speech therapist, taught me all kinds of “tricks” so I could adapt to my brain’s new way of processing information. My million dollar moment was when I went to the grocery store by myself and did not get overly frustrated trying to follow my list or cry at the cash register when I had to deal with numbers to pay.

Cancer is a whole different animal. Everything about it makes me feel completely helpless and out of control. There is nothing I can do, except trust Jesus to be everything I say He is and more. I will start chemotherapy next week and the thought of it still unnerves me inside. I have to go into it knowing that Jesus really is my Peace, my Healer, my Comforter, my Great Physician and He can be all of those things without my help. The idea that there is nothing for me to do except allow Jesus to be who He is, is a foreign concept for me. When it comes to my own life, being still and knowing He is God makes me feel so uncomfortable.

So, for today, I am thankful for the opportunity to learn how to let go and let God be God. I can only imagine the great freedom I will feel on the other side of breast cancer. I expect to be so comfortable with allowing Jesus to be the I AM of my entire life, ever circumstance, and every concern that I will be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride of my resurrected life in perfect peace and unspeakable joy! 

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Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: Today My Life Begins…

Last Wednesday, the day before I went to the oncologist to find out what my treatment plan would be, I went to lunch with one of my dearest friends, Yvette. She is the kind of friend you can sit and talk with for hours and feel as if you have only been talking for minutes. She is more of a sister to me than a friend. When we met for lunch I shared with her that days before as I was walking pass the mirror in my bedroom the Lord asked, “What do you see?” I paused in front of the mirror and was surprised that I couldn’t answer the question. I saw my face, my hair, my body, but when I looked into my own eyes I honestly didn’t know what I saw. I knew the person looking back at me was physically me, but I didn’t know who “me” actually was anymore. So, I responded, ‘I don’t know what I see. Right now I don’t see anything, but a face looking back at me.’ I told Yvette it was in that moment I realized whoever I was before the cancer diagnosis on January 10th died. That day and the days since the diagnosis have fundamentally and forever changed me. The rest of that day I felt pretty somber inside. I really felt like someone died.

The next day, last Thursday, I met with the oncologist to discuss my treatment plan. After some discussion that day and a review of all of my test results the following day, it was confirmed that chemotherapy would be a part of my treatment plan. As much as I hoped I would only have to do radiation, my perspective remains unchanged. I know every moment of this cancer journey will ultimately work for my good and God’s glory. And I am still determined to be the best example of Jesus that I can be throughout. That is my perspective.

However, how I feel right now is quite different. I spent most of the weekend extremely upset and angry with Jesus. I cried. I fussed inside and vented to several of the beautiful, Godly women in my life who allow me to say whatever I need to say however I need to say it. They continually respond to my pages of texts with only love, encouragement, and support. Not once has any of them judged or quoted scriptures at me. They simply hold me accountable to what they know I believe. 

By Monday, my emotions were beginning to subside a bit. The weather was nice so I took a walk around the lake. As I walked the Lord said to me, “Lisa, your perspective about what I have permitted before and what I am permitting now is based upon the thought that I have allowed these things so that you may be a light for someone else who is traveling in darkness. Though that is true, I have permitted all that you have experienced and are currently experiencing more for you than for anyone else.” I was completely stunned by this. He went on to say, “I asked what you saw when you looked in the mirror, because I want you to mark this moment. The moment you recognized a death has occurred. I Am the Resurrection and the life (John 11:25). Only in death can one be resurrected. I know you don’t understand My plans. I know you are upset with Me. Cry as much as you need to cry. I understand every emotion you are feeling. My desire is that you simply trust Me. On the other side of this, when you look in the mirror, I want you to see Me looking back at you.”

I would love to say His words instantly made me feel better inside about the chemo, but that is not the case, at least not yet. I did mark the moment in my mind. I look forward to standing in front of the mirror one day, on the other side of this, and seeing Jesus looking back at me from the inside of me. I can only imagine what my brand new, resurrected life will be like. 

Yesterday, while I was on my iPad a video popped up as a suggestion to view. The video was made by someone who used a song called “Today My Life Begins,” by Bruno Mars, that I could only find on SoundCloud, as the background for their slideshow. The words to the song immediately captured my attention, encouraged, and stayed with me all day long (click here if you want to check it out). It reinforced what the Lord said to me on Monday at the lake. I was also reminded of the the yellow flowers (pictured above) I saw in the midst of the barren trees as I walked. In the midst of all of the dead looking trees there was a glimpse of beautiful life. Before long, I will go to the lake and the trees will be full of life again, surrounded by even more beautiful flowers. For today, I have decided today is the day my resurrected life begins.

Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: You Can Trust Me With This…

A few years ago when I was going through one of the most challenging seasons of my life, a very dear friend said something to me that has stayed with me since the day she said it. We met for dinner and as I was crying she said, “But, Lisa can’t you see God knew He could trust you u with this?” The “this” she was speaking of was having a stroke and going through a divorce in the same year, along with a few other curve balls that were thrown in the mix. I didn’t really think about what she said when she said it. But, later and quite often since then I have heard her words. It had never even occurred to me that God was permitting the things that were happening in my life, because He trusted me to go through it as an ambassador for Him and on the other side of it be stronger, wiser, and even closer to Him. 

I have been asking myself and Jesus if He can really trust me with breast cancer and all that it entails. So far, I have not been a big bundle of sunshine and have spent a whole lot of time going over, in great detail, all of the reasons I have a “right” to be upset and some days really angry with Jesus. I know I am human and all of the emotions I feel whenever I feel them are normal and it’s ok to cry when I feel like crying or to be upset just because I am upset. I’ve long since gotten over living according how I feel, which changes from day to day and sometimes moment to moment. So, how I feel about having breast cancer really isn’t the issue. It’s my perspective that matters.

After the surgery last week, I began to really examine my heart about this breast cancer issue. As I did I discovered my perspective hasn’t been what it should be. From my perspective, Jesus permitted something to happen to me that I don’t like and just didn’t seem fair to me. Deep in my heart I just kept saying, ‘I cannot believe You would allow this to happen to me too.’ My entire perspective has been about me, with the secondary hope that somehow my suffering would help someone else. I didn’t have an option to choose or decline having breast cancer. But, I can choose HOW I will handle having breast cancer. And that all depends on my perspective. 

By the end of last week, I was able to send the same friend I spoke of a text that said in part: “I know I may still have some tough days, but I’m ready for whatever this cancer journey brings…there has to be somebody along this journey that is trying to take on cancer without Jesus. I want to represent Him well and introduce Him to whomever I am given the opportunity. Today I feel privileged to have been assigned such a task.” And I meant what I said from my heart. I know I won’t feel privileged to have been assigned breast cancer everyday. In fact, I don’t feel that way today. But, every day that I journey toward the other side of breast cancer I will press pass however I feel, and be the very best representative for Jesus I can be, just because I love Him. My hope is that He truly can trust me with this. But, more importantly I KNOW I can trust HIM with this.

Yesterday, I had my follow up appointment with the breast surgeon. She said my cancer is stage 1 A, which means it did not spread to my lymph nodes or metastasize anywhere else in my body. The tumor (or tissues from it, I guess) is being sent for a specialized test called an Oncotype DX test. This test will determine if chemotherapy will be a part of my treatment plan or if I will be able to do just radiation five days a week for seven weeks. I see the oncologist on the 23rd. The results should be back by then and he will determine my treatment plan. I am truly grateful for the results and no matter what the treatment plan is my perspective will remain the same. 

For today, since I have truly decided to get over myself, I plan to pray each day for someone I don’t know personally. Today’s unsuspecting victim of my prayer attack is…Bruno Mars. Since his music brought my mind to complete blankness and gave me such relief during the time I truly needed it, he was the first person that came to mind. Only I will not pray for Bruno Mars, because that is just his work “costume” that he puts on everyday, his stage name. Instead I will pray for Peter Hernandez, who I am sure is probably a little different than “Bruno Mars.”

Although he appears to have everything a man could ever want or need, I don’t know that he has the one thing EVERY man (and woman) needs. And that is the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ and a relationship with Him. Who knows, maybe I can pray him into the direction of some true Jesus Followers (not the religious people who are following a religion, not Jesus), and in some way, no matter how small, a seed is planted in his heart and he catches a glimpse of who Jesus really is and how much He truly loves him just as he is at this moment in time. Were it not for the breast cancer (and probably the concussion), I seriously doubt that I would have spent as much time as I did listening to Bruno Mars’ music and it probably would never have crossed my mind to pray for him.

One of the many amazing things I have discovered throughout my relationship with Jesus is that if I allow Him to, He helps me to see Him and purpose in everything. Even the things I consider “bad.” But, even those things work together for my good and His glory (Romans 8:28). So, if you are in relationship with Him nothing is ever as bad as it seems. There is a beautiful song called, “Blessings” by Laura Story that really expresses that well.

Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: Countdown to Surgery Day…

It has taken me almost an entire week to really process all the information I was given during my doctor appointments with the breast surgeon and oncologist last Thursday. My sisters and my mom went with me to the appointments. I woke up that morning thinking about when I joked with Hassan, the PET scan technician, two days prior, as he did the injection of the radioactive substance into my vein. I joked that I was going to light up like a Christmas tree when I left. That thought led me into prayer. I prayed that God would illuminate Himself in me in such a way that Jesus could be seen in me as bright as the star that led the Magi to Him after His birth. 

After I prayed I started getting ready for another long “date” with Jesus.That day I decided to do it up the best I could (pictured above). In order to accomplish that it took much longer than it would have any other day. I felt like I was moving in slow motion. I put on my headphones, hit shuffle on my Gospel playlist, and listened as I was doing my hair and make up. The first three songs that played were “My Worship” by John P. Kee, “Balm In Gilead” by Karen Clark-Sheard, and “Worth” by Anthony Brown & Group Therapy. I left the house that morning with my mind fixed on Jesus, determined not to be moved one way or another by anything that was said to me. In my mind, I knew all I needed to know. Jesus told me on December 29, 2016, before I even had the biopsy that, “This affliction is not unto death (John 11:4 NKJV).” And, “I will live and not die and declare the works of the Lord (Psalm 118:17 NKJV).” That was enough for me. 

My first appointment was with Dr. Hampton, the breast surgeon. My sister, Leslie, went in the exam room with me so she could be my “ears” and catch all the things my brain did not during the conversation. This was strictly a results and plan of action appointment. As soon as we got in the room Leslie had the ingenious idea to record a voice memo of the appointment on her iPhone. It never occurred to me to do that. Yesterday, as I listened to the recording for the first time, I began to remember (which for me is actually seeing random images that look like snapshots or small movie clips of something that happened in a non sequential order), both of my doctor appointments from last week. The way God compensates for what was injured in my left brain is simply amazing to me. He takes the random images in my mind and one by one He “assigns” or attaches words to them. Then as I type the words, He helps me move them around until they make sense. That is how, even with aphasia, I am able to write this blog and wrote and published my first book, “Conversations with the Master: Revelation Genesis” in 2012. But, when I wrote the book it was truly all Him. I was just His stenographer.

As I am sitting here trying to attach the right words to what I remember it is really difficult. It’s almost as if I type out the things they told me and what I know is to come, it makes all of this more real to me. I don’t know if that makes sense or not, but that’s what I feel like inside while I am writing this.

Dr. Hampton went over the details of my tumor, the full results of the biopsy, and my treatment options. My tumor is considered small because it is a little less than 2 cm, which right now classifies it as some variation of Stage 1 invasive breast cancer. She explained that invasive cancer has the ability to spread, but does not do so always. She went over a lot of specifics regarding the tumor itself and said she was hopeful that the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes, because they didn’t appear to be effected on the PET scan. She then went on to say the only way to be certain is to remove a few of my lymph nodes and biopsy them. From all of the information she had available, she said my two options were a lumpectomy and a unilateral mastectomy (removal of the entire breast). 

If I chose the lumpectomy she explained that she would remove the tumor, a margin of the breast tissue surrounding the tumor, as well as a few of the lymph nodes under my left arm. About a month after the lumpectomy I would begin radiation treatments everyday, Monday – Friday, for seven weeks. She said she could not definitely say chemotherapy would not be a part of my treatment plan until they received the pathology report from all that was removed. If I chose the mastectomy she said they would essentially remove all of the breast tissue from my left breast, similar to the way you gut out a pumpkin. I would then have my left breast reconstructed and that would be it. I would not require radiation, or chemotherapy. In my mind, it was a one and done procedure that I truly considered. There just seemed to be too many unknowns with the lumpectomy. The only thing she could tell me with certainty is that I would have to do radiation treatments. And in both cases I would have to take some kind of hormone pill for five years. As she continued talking, and my sister asked her some questions, I no longer heard anything they were saying. Instead, I was hearing what Jesus said to me on December 29, 2016 after He told me I wasn’t going to die. 

He said, “As for all else concerning this affliction all I ask is that you trust ME and ME alone with the details. You needn’t stress your mind or be nervous over the results of man’s report or man’s prescription for healing. I and I alone am your Healer. I am the Great Physician. I created the body in which you now dwell, every inch of it. I created every cell, every blood vessel, every microscopic entity that even man has not yet discovered. There is no sickness, no disease, no ailment, no affliction greater than Me! This is MY load to carry not yours! I carried it with Me to the cross and it was defeated that day. So why then would I place this sickness upon your back to carry? So, My beautiful one….just remember I NEVER make a promise I cannot keep. And My promise to you this day is that I shall keep you in perfect peace, with your eyes on Me and Me alone, and you shall believe ONLY My report no matter what is seen or said in the eyes of man. MINE is the final say in all things.”

When I rejoined the conversation Dr. Hampton and my sister were having I did so knowing Jesus was asking me not to choose what sounded to me at the time like the lesser of two evils, the mastectomy. With that, there were no unknowns to contend with and no drawn out treatment process, just recovery from the surgery and a pill to take for five years. I told Dr. Hampton that I would do the lumpectomy and repeated to her what I understood the process would be. The surgery is scheduled for Monday, January 30th and I should be able to come home the same day.

I finished my appointment with Dr. Hampton 15 minutes before my scheduled appointment time with the oncologist, Dr. Mendoza, whose office is in the same building. This appointment was just for me to be reacquainted with Dr. Mendoza, who is also the hematologist, I saw six years ago when I had the stroke. He was just as pleasant as I remembered. It was strange to go over all of the changes that occurred in my life the last six years. Until that time, I don’t know that I really realized how many life-changing events had occurred. He was glad to see the significant progress I had made since the stroke and equally disappointed that I was seeing him again now for breast cancer. He basically reiterated the things Dr. Hampton told me. He, however, after looking at the pictures and reports from the mammograms, the ultrasound, the MRI, and the biopsy, did not agree with Dr. Hampton’s timeline of starting radiation a month after the lumpectomy. He said he was not comfortable doing nothing for that amount of time. So, he told me to schedule an appointment with him for two weeks after the surgery. He believes all of the pathology reports needed to begin a treatment plan should be back by then. 

After the appointment, I relayed the information my to mom and sisters, who all waited in the waiting area this time. We then decided to go to Friday’s for lunch. As we all sat at the table deciding what we were going to order, talking about random things, all of their voices, including my nephew who joined us and was seated next to me, began to sound like a bunch of inaudible loud noise. In my own mind I was trying to force my brain to do what it just wasn’t ready to do, which was put all of the seemingly millions of pieces of information I had just received together in a way that was clearer and not so overwhelming. So, I sat at the table and began to cry. All I could say was, “This is a lot. It is too much.” Everyone at the table immediately tried to console me as I continued to cry and tell them they just did not understand what I was trying to say. Finally, I dried my tears, ordered my food, which my baby sister, LaShawn paid for. So, I joked, “If crying at the table gets me a free meal, I will have to do it more often.”

When I got home I immediately went to my bedroom, cried some more, and told Jesus I really needed His mind (1Corinthians 2:16 NKJV) going forward to be able to process what was happening. When I finished crying, I put my headphones on, got in my bed, and listened to music. Later in the evening I played my Bruno Mars Playlist (which now includes all of his CDs). As I listened, I realized though I really do believe “24K Magic” is a good CD, when I listen to it it’s a welcomed escape from information overload, crying, cancer, battle weariness…all of it. Listening that night I had absolutely no thoughts my mind, I just lay in my bed listening to Bruno’s voice (I really didn’t hear any of the words – just his voice layered over some really good instrument sounds).

I’m still not afraid. I still KNOW I am not going to die. I still KNOW I am already healed. And I KNOW all of those things as absolute truth, because God spoke it. Despite all that I know to be true, in my humanness, I still have a dull ache in my heart as I prepare myself for surgery day. For today, I am just so very thankful I made the decision to accept Jesus as my personal Savior when I was five years old. Our relationship has matured greatly since then. When I journal our conversations I almost always end them with, ‘I love You, Jesus. My Lord, My Love, My King, and very best Friend.’ I cannot imagine trying to travel this journey without Him. 

As I’ve been writing this post I have been listening to, on repeat, a beautiful song called, “Because of You,” by Tamia, who has multiple sclerosis. The song so beautifully describes how she has only made it because of the Lord and puts words and music to how I feel today. Check it out if you get a chance. 

Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: And Beauty is Her Name…

Let me first say if you haven’t noticed already I love music. I do not pigeonhole myself by choosing to only listen to one particular genre or by making the ridiculous decision to listen to music according to the race or ethnicity of the artist singing or playing it. Instead, I choose what I listen to based upon what I can actually stand to listen to. Some “secular” songs are just a bunch of venomous, vulgar words strategically sung or rhythmically spoken over top of music or a beat. To me, that is not music anyway. It’s just a bunch of noise (strictly, my personal opinion. I totally respect yours if you disagree). In the same vein, some “Gospel” songs aren’t really Gospel as much as they are inspirational (again, just my opinion), which doesn’t bother me at all. It’s still music. 

I also love to sing. I am the headliner of my shower and the star of the one-woman shows I perform daily in my bedroom. On our way to or from one of my many doctor appointments, as I was singing the song playing on the radio, my mom said “You have a beautiful voice (of course, she’s not the least bit biased because I am her daughter. Not only that, what mother do you know would say to her daughter that has breast cancer, ‘Oh by the way, you do know you can’t sing, right?’ LOL). 

Anyone reading this who is around my age (46) and happens to have been a member of First Baptist Church of Glenarden (in Maryland) when it was located in the original building on Brightseat Road, down the street from Landover Mall, will appreciate the story my mom then told me about when I was a “Sunbeam.” For those of you who do not know what I am talking about, the Sunbeams is the name of the children’s choir at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden. When I and my sister, Leslie, were Sunbeams (over 40 years ago – WOW!), we wore these bright yellow choir robes, which made perfect sense. We were Sunbeams after all (the new Sunbeams get to wear cute color coordinated outfits. So, are they really Sunbeams like we were? Lol). My mom said the choir director let me be in the choir with my sister when I was three years old and she was six. I don’t know what the age threshold was, but it was older than three. So, unless other such concessions were made over the last 43 years, I may have been the youngest Sunbeam ever! What an honor. My mom said I sang the songs, but spent most of the time asleep on the choir director’s lap once our time to “shine” was finished. 

I said all of that to say, after the stroke I lost a lot of who I once was. But, God in His graciousness, mercy, and unfailing love for me not only left me with my love for music. But, enhanced it. Prior to the stroke, I didn’t wake up humming or singing what I call my “Heaven Songs”, which are melodies or full songs that are somehow downloaded in my brain overnight. I didn’t have my daily headliner gig in my shower. And my one-woman shows did not exist. I am convinced if I could really sing and had any musical gifting at all, I would be dangerous. Maybe I’ll add learning how to play an instrument to my “things I WILL do” list.

One morning last week, after I got out of the shower, I stood naked (is that TMI? In the world we live in now, I don’t think there is such a thing anymore, but if it is I’m sorry) in front of my bedroom mirror and tried to imagine what my body would look like without breasts. My bra size is 38 D (again, forgive me if that is TMI). I stood there for several moments trying to visualize myself without my 38 D’s prominently posted in their normal position (which at 46, having had three children, is much more south than I would like them to be, but such is life). Standing there I recalled how I felt when I had to have a hysterectomy 13 years ago. I already had three children, but still felt like I was less of a woman somehow. My doctor assured me it was not unusual to feel that way after a hysterectomy, but couldn’t be further from the truth (Leslie, yes, I am resisting the temptation to tell the story Aunt Mary shared with you because I know for SURE that is TMI! You can thank me later). 

The medical advancements that are now available for women with breast cancer are wonderful. If you have to have or choose a mastectomy or bilateral mastectomy (removal of both breasts) you have options as to how you would like that area of your body to look afterward. But, even with all of the options available, I’m sure it does not erase the emotional and mental effects of having a part of your body removed that at one time you may have used to feed your baby, or what may have been one of the parts of your body your husband/boyfriend/man/significant other or even you, for that matter, liked most. As I pulled myself away from the mirror my heart began to ache for all of the women who have had or will have to stand in the mirror and no longer see the breasts they once had in their normal position. As I started to get dressed, the chorus of the song “Beauty,” by Dru Hill began to play in my mind. The words are, “Walks by me everyday, her and love are the same. The woman that’s stolen my heart. And beauty is her name.” So, I put on my headphones and listened to the song.

When the song ended Jesus softly repeated something He said to me a few years ago, “Of all the flowers in creation none can compare to the most precious and delicate of them all, a woman. She is the softness, the delicacy of humanity. Her gentle, quiet spirit, should she choose to put it on, captures My heart. Though some have reduced her to body parts, only seeing the parts of her that ignite their lusts, I look upon her as with the eyes of a Master Artisan admiring His most treasured work of art. I see the beauty in every perfectly placed imperfection and declare each one beauty-full. I see the beauty of the heart within, which too often escapes the naked eye. Each time you look in the mirror remember: ‘Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.’ Then look again and see through My eyes.” 

1 Peter 3:3-4 (NKJV) says, “Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”

So, ladies…big boobs, small boobs, no boobs, big hips, small hips, big butt, small butt, size 0 or the largest size available, and every size in between…no matter where you fall on the spectrum you are ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL, just because you are a woman created with the “incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is vey precious in the sight of God.” Rather or not you choose to walk in, and be who you were created to be is purely your choice. For today, I hope we ALL choose to be beautiful! 

Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: Feels So Good To Be Alive…

I clearly remember a day a few years ago when I was still recovering from the stroke, I was in my bedroom really upset, crying, and praying. No one was home, but me. The more I cried the louder the volume of my “prayer” grew (it was really me having a temper tantrum, letting God know how totally displeased I was with how He was handling my life). That day I was so angry with God. I just did not understand what He was doing or why He had permitted so much pain and suffering in my life. Admittedly, some of the heartbreak and heartache I had suffered to that point was the byproduct of my own poor choices. But, the things that hurt the most that turned my life upside down I didn’t choose. I didn’t choose childhood molestation for myself, I didn’t choose to witness the things I saw in my parents’ dysfunctional marriage and ultimate divorce, I didn’t choose abuse and abandonment, I didn’t choose divorce in my 15-year marriage, and I certainly didn’t choose to have a stroke at age 40. At one point in my prayer/tantrum I remember screaming at the top of my lungs, ‘Why didn’t You just let me die!’ Of course there was no response from heaven at that moment, which exasperated me even more. So, I REALLY started crying then. I mean the uncontrollable, inconsolable kind of crying where snot is all over your face, your shirt is soaked in the front, and when you are finished you have a headache and are so tired all you can do is go to sleep. 

When I woke up the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, with no response, I finally accepted God was not the least bit moved by my temper tantrum and to drive the point home He kept waking me up day after day with no response to my inquiry about my sufferings. At least not in a way that I recognized back then. So, I did what I have always done when any kind of pain or adversity came my way, I just kept going. 

My dad gave me a wonderful gift in that I can smile, laugh, and joke my way through just about anything no matter what I feel like on the inside. But, as it is with most gifts, used improperly it can be just as much a curse as it is a gift. For me, to keep going meant continuing on with my life as if whatever traumatic event or heartbreak that occurred never happened. I was going, but I wasn’t moving forward or backward for that matter. I was just aimlessly going, hurting, grumbling, and complaining on the inside, much like the children of Israel did on their 40-year journey toward the Promised Land. At some point I think I just decided, it is what it is. I truly loved Jesus with my whole heart and if this was a part of carrying my cross to follow Him (Matt. 16:24-25), so be it.

Another gift I seem to have is the gift of silence. My sisters call me a “vault,” meaning if you tell me something in private you can trust that it will not be repeated. I introduced you to my family in yesterday’s post. NOTHING in my family remains private for longer than a day or two, before whatever has been said or occurred, good or bad, makes its way through the appropriate channels to ensure the whole family is aware. So, to have gained the level of trust among my sisters to be called a vault is a true honor. To my knowledge, there is only one other family vault (Yes, I am talking about you CB). 

For most of my adult life my vault-likeness worked both ways. Not only did I guard and not repeat what was told to me, I also very successfully never told anyone anything about me or my life, beyond the regular surface level things. I was considered to be a “private” person. Even so, people (not just my family members) have always seemed to be very comfortable talking to me about the most intimate details of their lives, even when I didn’t reciprocate and share anything about mine.

On January 14th I woke up feeling like I had been running a very long race. I felt tired and winded like I was trying to catch my breath so I could keep going. As I got up to try to push myself to keep going Jesus said to me, “But, can’t you see, Lisa? I took your breath away so you can stop and BREATHE!” That morning, I thanked God that He permitted cancer to trespass in my left breast for a time. It meant I could finally stop for awhile and just breathe; taking one breath, one step, one moment, one day, at a time like He told me after the stroke six years ago.

My granddaughter, Chloe and I have a very special relationship. She was born about a year and a half after the stroke. I was still struggling quite a bit with the aphasia and comprehension. At that time I had to talk myself through the most common tasks like brushing my teeth. I would stand at the sink and say out loud, ‘Ok, I take that thing (my toothbrush), put some of that stuff (toothpaste) on it, turn the knob that has the ‘c’ on it….’ When Chloe was a baby, she and her mom (my oldest daughter Ashley) lived with me for awhile. Where I lived at the time had a huge walk-in closet in my bedroom that became my secret place for just Jesus and me. I went in that closet for hours at a time just talking to Jesus. In there, I read Psalm 27 everyday. It was the only thing I could read that I understood. Once Chloe was born, the Lord told me to have her be my prayer partner in the mornings. So, every morning, Chloe and I either went into our secret place or sat on my bed and prayed. 

Chloe is four now and loves to pray, sing worship songs, hear Bible stories over and over again and then retell them to you. She also has this ability to watch the same movie or show umpteen times and enjoy it each time like she is seeing it for the first time. One of those movies is, “The Peanuts Movie.” I have had the privilege of watching that movie with her at least ten times (and I am not exaggerating). After about the third time we watched it together, I let it continue to play through the credits rolling. As the credits rolled a song called, “Good To Be Alive,” by Meghan Trainor began to play. As it played, Chloe and I danced around the living room singing the chorus that says “oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh, oh it feels so good to be alive.” I downloaded the song from Apple Music so it could always be a part of the rotation of songs for the Chloe and Nana dance parties that often take place.

I woke up this morning singing the Meghan Trainor song from “The Peanuts Movie Soundtrack”, until I finally had to put my headphones on and play it. As Meghan and I were singing, I thought about Chloe and could see us dancing and singing around the living room the day we first heard the song. As I was thinking and Meghan was now singing without me, Jesus whispered so softly in my ear, “SHE, among many other reasons, is why I did not let you die.” 

As I sit here with tears streaming down my face, for today, all I can say is, ‘It feels so good to be alive!’ If you’ve never heard the song it’s definitely worth hearing. I think you will like it.

Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: Introducing…My Team

Yesterday was a long and tiring day. I had back to back appointments with the breast surgeon and oncologist. Way too much information to process in one day. I need a day or two before I can talk about those appointments. I have another doctor appointment today with my primary care physician. So, I thought today would be a good day to introduce you to my “Team.” My medical team pictured above are: on the left is Dr. Jose Mendoza, Oncologist/Hematologist, the beautiful woman standing next to me in the top picture on the right is Dr. Regina Hampton, my breast surgeon, and last, but surely not least, on the bottom right is Dr. Waseem Hussain, my Primary Care Physician. I cannot say enough about this team of medical professionals God hand-picked to care for me during this journey. I cannot say enough about their superior bed-side manner, knowledge, and ability to explain things in “plain” language that I can understand.

My visits with Dr. Hampton are more like sit-down conversations with one of your best girlfriends and the subject of the day just happens to be breast cancer and the surgical options available. She is compassionate, encouraging, supportive, and has a laugh that makes you laugh with her.

Dr. Mendoza and I are old friends so to speak. Since he specializes in both oncology and hematology I saw him several times six years ago when I had the stroke. At that time his job was to try to figure out if I had a blood disorder that may have caused or contributed to the stroke. I remember how thorough he was, because he refused to believe that at age 40 the stroke I had was just some strange anomaly that occurred for no reason. So, I was already very familiar with his determination to leave no stone unturned until he is satisfied with what he discovers. He shows genuine concern and kindness, talks to me not at me and just overall has a very comforting spirit. When I saw him yesterday for the first time since the stroke he said, “It is so nice to see you again, but I was really hoping I would never see you again. And especially not for this.”

I don’t think I have the words to adequately describe Dr. Hussain. He has been my primary care physician for almost ten years. He is by far the BEST doctor I have ever seen. He is knowledgeable about everything imaginable, he is personable, thorough and when you are in his office he spends as much time as you need with him. He is soft spoken and his voice alone is comforting. He has been my primary caregiver through sicknesses, surgeries, the stroke, and I am so thankful he is still on my team during this breast cancer journey. When I saw him in his office the day he got the biopsy results he came in the room, sat down, and said, “Well, we received the results we didn’t want to get.” He thoroughly explained what the next steps would be, held my hand, gave me a tissue, and said, “Everything is going to be ok, Lisa. You can and will beat this. The road may be pretty rough, but you will recover, live a long life, and be here to see even more grandchildren born.” THAT’s the kind of doctor he is! I absolutely love him!

I am blessed to be a part of a BIG, loud, loving, supportive family. My family loves HARD and STRONG. If I had to try to describe the kind of family we are all I could come up with is a black (or African American if that is the better way to say black) version of the family depicted in the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” We are them to the tenth power! My family is a family full of what I call “people collectors”. Meaning, once you have come to a family function, have dated, been married to or divorced from anyone in my family you are a lifetime family member and can expect to still be invited to family functions and remain informed of all the news that travels through the family grapevine. Technology being what it is, my wonderful nephew/son started a family group chat on Group Me that many of us are a part of. There are days that if I do not look at the family group chat for just an hour I return to see 50 messages to be read. I think the all time high I missed in one day was 72. That is who we are. I said all of that to say, in my family if I have breast cancer then EVERYBODY has breast cancer! So, collectively they make up the largest part of my team.

There are a few family members I want to mention by name and face: Pictured below from top to bottom on the left: My mom, Rev. Susie Taylor (holding my grandson, Logan), my older sister, Leslie, my younger sister, LaShawn (also holding Logan – he’s 13 months now). From top to bottom on the right my gorgeous daughters: my oldest, Ashley, in the middle (like me, and she looks the most like me) LiAnne, and my “baby,” Jasmine. This core group of ladies, along with four prayer warrior friends God has blessed me with, are the ones who see or hear from me on my good days, not so good days, and all the days in between. They pray for and with me, they listen to me vent, they comfort and encourage me. But, I must say more than anyone else I can’t say enough about my beautiful daughters. They journeyed with me day in and day out during the stroke recovery years and they have jumped on the breast cancer train with me with such grace, love, and compassionate care. They are exceptional young women. My Ashley has decided she is going to ask to be put under general anesthesia with me on surgery day so she can be wheeled in with me and hold my hand during the procedure (that is just how she is). LiAnne is in the fitness and wellness field. She is in excellent shape and very disciplined. She will be the one to help me stay on track with my physical fitness. Jasmine is in the science field and has an extraordinary ability to explain the most complex scientific information or math in a way anyone could understand. She is definitely my ace in the hole with all of the medical stuff. And if you are reading and intend to follow this blog then you are a part of my team too. You are family. I have already been so blessed by the many words of encouragement and prayers. I do not take prayer lightly and am truly grateful for each person that remembers me when they call out to God in prayer. So, for today I’m just thankful for my team, and that Jesus is the Captain! Because of Him, I know as a team we have already won, because our opponent was defeated over 2,000 years ago. My body just has to catch up to what I already know to be truth!