Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: Pretty In Pink

Before breast cancer my favorite color was shades of blue. I still like my blues, but I have fallen in love with pink! This month being breast cancer awareness month, I have enjoyed seeing shades of pink everywhere. At times it is almost surreal for me when I walk into a store and see a breast cancer awareness display and realize I am counted among the sisterhood of women battling the disease.

Last weekend I went to a luncheon a fellow warrior and friend held at her home for breast cancer warriors, supporters, family members and friends. My daughters, sisters, and mother went with me. It was an amazing time! I was the only one in attendance that is currently in treatment. It was so encouraging to talk to and see all of the beautiful women LIVING beyond where I am right now. As encouraging as it was it was also a bit overwhelming for me. When I got home that evening I found myself wondering what’s next?

As I lay in bed that night I wondered what my life will look like on the other side of breast cancer. On the other side of this I still have an entire life to rebuild. I’m not who I was before I had a stroke in 2011. I’m definitely not who I was before I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January. I have yet to discover what it is I am skilled at now that my right brain is more dominant than my left. I am still adjusting to being a mom to three adult daughters and not three little girls. And although after being divorced for six years I have finally mastered sleeping in my entire bed, I still haven’t mastered being single. All of these thoughts swirling in my mind brought me to tears.

Just as He always does Jesus mopped up my tears by saying, “I have given you a tremendous gift. I have redeemed the time you thought you lost. This is the clean slate day you have longed for. Your brand new beginning. Do not look at what is no more as something that has been lost or taken from you. See it for what it is. You are not meant to remain stationary. You have transitioned beyond what was to what is and shall continue on to what will be. I have a good plan for you. One that exceeds your greatest expectations. You need only trust Me. I know you don’t always understand or necessarily like my methods, but you can always trust My motives.” With that, I was at peace.

I started radiation on October 2nd. My kickoff to radiation was making it to my date with Bruno Mars on September 30th! The morning of the concert I had no words for how I felt. It had been eight long months, a week after I was diagnosed, since I purchased the tickets. I remember telling Jesus I had to be here and well on September 30th, because I had a date with Bruno Mars that I HAD to keep! He promised I would be. For eight months when I got upset I listened to my Bruno Mars Playlist and danced in my bedroom. During chemo I took the nausea medicine and forced myself to eat rather I was hungry or not, because I didn’t want to lose too much weight. I wanted to look healthy for my date. Every day that I could I went walking, my mom and I did Aqua Zumba twice a week. I wanted to be strong enough to dance all night on my date. After my final chemo on September 7th I felt so sick I was in bed for 10 days, but Jesus kept His promise. I was here and well enough to make it to my date. Not only did I make it, but I danced all night! For everyone else it was just a concert. For me, it was so much more. It was a night I will never forget!

As of today I have completed 13 of the 35 radiation treatments I have to do. I’m still adjusting to having to go every day, Monday through Friday. The treatments are quick and painless, but draining and my breast has become super sensitive and sore. For today, I’m holding on to Jesus as tightly as I can trusting that He really does have a plan for me, looking forward to the adventure!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

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Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: Hidden In Plain Sight

I am blessed to be surrounded by a family of loving, supportive, intelligent, accomplished, beautiful women (the guys are great too!). Last weekend, a handful of them gathered together at my baby sister’s house for a brunch to celebrate my completion of my last round of chemo. The picture above is my favorite of the ones we took that day. Their love, laughs, hugs, and encouragement gave me the jump start I needed as I begin my next leg of this journey, radiation.

My last chemo really took a toll on me. So, I haven’t been able to do much and most days have been spent in the bed for the past few weeks. But, today, after a month long hiatus, I was able to return to my favorite place to go for a walk, a big, beautiful lake near my home. Over the summer most days I was able to push myself out of bed and get there to walk. Twice around is about three miles.

No matter how bad I felt, inside I knew if I could just get to the lake, those two trips around would be worth it. For me, the lake is where Jesus and I have some of our best, most intimate moments together. It’s our “meet up” spot. Lol. At the lake, there is no cancer or cancer treatments, no sick body, just Jesus and me, walking, talking, singing, dancing, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying…us just doing us. So, today I was so excited when I finally felt well enough to return.

When I arrived at the lake everything was just as it was when I left it last. Every tree that lines the path to the lake was still in its proper place, only now the leaves have changed colors and are falling. The lake itself is still just as beautiful, peaceful, and pristine. I saw the usual array of beautiful birds, butterflies, and the occasional turtle as I walked along my customary route listening to my “Jesus and me” Playlist.

As I walked, admiring the sheer beauty all around me, I began to feel heavy inside. I suddenly realized I had truly forgotten what a gift living on this side of life really is. I hurt inside that there were days over the summer that I almost envied my fellow warriors who got to go Home, while I had to stay here and fight. I recalled how completely finished I was on the morning of my 8th chemo. I begged Jesus to please explain to me why He was keeping me here. It felt like a punishment, not a gift. That morning, it wasn’t just cancer and it’s treatment I was done with. I was done with having been molested, having my heart broken over and over again, suffering a stroke and still trying to rebuild my life from that and a divorce…. I was done with what life on this side of heaven had to offer. It required too much fighting, too much crying, too much pain and I was FINISHED!

Seeing the beautiful landscape all around me, I thought about my beautiful family and how the ladies gave up their Saturday to spend it loving on me and all of the ways Jesus has sent love and encouragement to me on my lowest days. Not just during this cancer journey, but throughout my entire life. He has always shown up for me. He has always been faithful and true to His word. Though I know I am human, and most people probably wouldn’t judge or criticize me too harshly for how I felt the morning of my 8th chemo, today when I thought about it I hurt because I felt like I cheapened what Jesus did for me when He gave up His life on the cross.

He died so that when things like cancer and all of the other crazy, painful stuff entered my life, I would know it has no power over me because He already defeated it on my behalf. So, for me to say I no longer want the life He died for me to have, in my mind, is the ultimate slap in the face! All I could muster up to say from the deepest part of me is, “I am so sorry, Jesus. Please forgive me.” To which He lovingly replied, “My heart toward you remains the same. I love you. I will never leave or forsake you. You are Mine and I am Yours. I am Your Healer. I am Your Deliverer. I am Your Strength. I am Your Peace. I have abundant life and even life more abundantly for you beyond this affliction. I know you are battle weary. All I have ever asked of you is that you rest in Me that I may show you the beauty I have hidden for you in plain sight.”

In those moments I reaffirmed in my own heart that my life with Jesus is worth fighting for. In May, I watched a sermon Pastor Steven Furtick preached called, “The Drop Zone.” In it he said, “If it were not hard it would not be worth fighting for. If it were not hard it would not be worth surviving for.” Each day I am given on this side of life is another opportunity to point somebody in the direction of Jesus, to be His hands and His feet, to be an extension of His love. That is both a gift and a privilege. I pray I never forget that again.

On Tuesday I went to my second appointment with the radiation oncologist. This appointment was to do a CT scan and the markings so they can formulate my plan for treatment. As I sat on the CT scan table waiting for the doctor to come in I suddenly got upset inside. It was as if I was being told for the very first time that I had breast cancer and I almost burst into tears. I suddenly really understood all of these months, since January, I have actually been fighting breast cancer. When I thought of that moment today I thought, ‘I’m not just fighting. I already won!’

I am learning that who I am in Christ, the risen Jesus, the Holy Spirit IN me, is way stronger than this tent I am housed in. That same power that woke Jesus up from His death state is the same power that moves this worn, achy, crappy feeling, sick body everyday. So, for today, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord (Psalm 118:17 NKJV).” I am just so very thankful for the beauty and the gift of today!

Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: The Me I See

Last Thursday, September 7, 2017, I rang the bell and completed my ninth and final round of chemotherapy. At the beginning of all of this I was bombarded with so much information that somehow I mistakenly thought I was told I had to do 12 rounds of chemo. On August 17th, the morning of my 8th chemo, I reached my end. I woke up early that morning and prayed like I do most mornings. But that morning was very different. As I prayed, I cried and told Jesus I was finished. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t depressed. I was FINISHED. My children are grown. I had done the best I could to be a light for Him and an extension of His love in every way I could. I wanted my work here to be finished. I pleaded with Him and told Him that I just could not do four more rounds of chemo. His only response to me that morning was, “You can’t, but I can.” Immediately, with an attitude, I stopped crying, pulled myself together and got dressed. His response let me know He still had work for me to do here and although I felt as if I was finished, He wasn’t.

When I arrived at the oncologist that day, my doctor asked how I was feeling. I told him how much harder it had become to recover from the treatments. He said with a smile, “Well just three more weeks and we’re done!” I looked at him puzzled. He clarified his statement by telling me my next chemo would be my last. He said he didn’t know who told me I had to do 12 or how I got confused, but I only had to do nine. You could not wipe the smile off my face! I left chemo that day feeling like I had caught my second wind. I better understood Jesus’ response to my breakdown that morning and I knew for sure with Him I could do it one more time.

My last chemo I took cupcakes and doughnuts to celebrate. Both of my sisters went with me. I wasn’t prepared for the sense of sadness I felt. The staff and rotating group of fellow warriors had become family to me. The thought of not seeing them on Thursdays every three weeks made my heart ache. I received and gave lots of hugs. I told them I’m not going to let them forget me. I’m already thinking of what I will do for them for Christmas. I left that day glad that it was over, but still wondering in my own heart and mind if I really had it in me to continue on through the rest of this journey. Inside, I still felt like I had nothing left and was finished.

The usual after chemo side effects hit me like a ton of bricks. I stayed in bed all day Friday and would have done the same on Saturday except I had committed to going to a cookout with my sister, Leslie. I wrestled with rather I would go or not all day until finally I decided I would push myself and go. I didn’t know why, but I just felt a press in my heart to go. It didn’t start until 3:30. So, I stayed in bed until the final hour and started getting dressed around 2:30.

When Leslie and I arrived at the cookout the beautiful woman who was that host greeted us with hugs. Leslie introduced me as “the one who writes the blog.” The woman then hugged me again with a big, warm hug and shouts, “You are the bomb.com!” She went on to say how my videos on Facebook have been such an encouragement to her and that my voice is very soothing. Later in the day, she shared her own testimony of her battle with a life-threatening disease. I was truly encouraged and inspired by her journey. She is the definition of a warrior!

Today, as I am writing this blog post, it is day seven after my last chemo. Other than going to that cookout, I have been in the bed feeling sicker than I have throughout all of the treatments. As I lay in bed today I thought about all of the words I have heard spoken to or about me. Words like, “strong,” “encouragement,” “blessing,” “fighter,” “beautiful.” I’ve heard statements like, “You don’t look like you have cancer!,” “No one would ever know you were sick if you didn’t tell them!”, and my now all-time favorite, “You are the bomb.com!” As I thought about that today I thought, ‘I would love to meet the person they see.’

The reality is that is not the me I see. Most days I am just barely hanging on. In 2011 when I had a stroke and could read words, but couldn’t understand them I would sit in my closet every day for hours and read Psalm 27, because it was the only thing I understood. Every day Jesus would say to me, “I in you, you in Me; forever and ever. Amen. Don’t worry. I got you on the left. (He said that because the stroke happened on the left side of my brain).” I understood that despite having the most loving, supportive family on this side of heaven, at the end of the day it was just Him and me. And that remains the same.

I used to pray that one day I would look so much like Jesus that I wouldn’t know where He ended and I began. A cute prayer in theory, but in reality I need to ALWAYS know and clearly see where I end and Jesus begins. One of the many things I love about the writings of the Apostle Paul, in the New Testament, is he clearly defined what was him and what was not, always giving all glory and honor to God for His miraculous works. In I Timothy 1:15, he even spoke of himself as being the “chief” of sinners. The line of demarcation was clear. Though I know I am a generally nice person and don’t give up easily, all of those wonderful words that have passed through my ears I have sent directly to Jesus.

In this “selfie”, “followers,” and “likes” generation where so much effort is placed on showing everyone your “best” self and gaining praise for it, I need for it to always be crystal clear in my own mind that the very best of me is Jesus in me. He’s the part of me that is a blessing and encouragement to others. He’s the strength and fight inside of me that keeps me going from day to day. Absent Him, I am certain many of the words I’ve heard over these past months would be quite different. Looking from the inside out, the me I see at this moment is very small, tired, weak, and fragile. But, I know I am safe in the arms of the One who is greater and is everything I am not.

For today, I am comforted knowing were it not for Jesus, “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13 NKJV).” Next stop on our breast cancer journey seven weeks of radiation, five days a week…

Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: My Body, God’s Temple

It has been awhile since I sat down and wrote a blog post, May 26th, after my fourth chemo, to be exact. I have since completed two more chemo treatments and am now beyond the halfway mark of the end of chemotherapy! All has continued to go well, except that my heart rate and blood pressure have been elevated, which my oncologist expressed concern about. If it continues, he said we will have to take a look at my treatment and possibly make some adjustments.

I’ve finally gotten into a rhythm where chemo is concerned. I don’t get worked up or upset about it anymore and no longer have to “prep” myself for it mentally and emotionally a few days before. I don’t know that I will ever fully be used to and comfortable with having the needle put into my chest when it begins. But, each time its done I know I’m one step closer to the finish line. Breast cancer has become such a major part of my daily life that all of the aches, pains, ups, downs, physical, mental, and emotional nuances that come with it are a part of my new normal. So much so that when my body prohibits be from doing something I want to do or I get really cranky because I am exhausted from doing something small I get frustrated and upset, because I often forget that I am still in a battle. 

Last week I made it back to doing one of my favorite things, walking at the lake near my house. I absolutely love it there. I walk there for as long as I can in the mornings listening to my “Jesus and me” Playlist. It is my time of praise and worship. There are two songs by Mercy Me that really ministered to my heart. The first one is called, “Greater.” The song says, “There’ll be days I lose the battle Grace says that it doesn’t matter. ‘Cause the cross already won the war. He’s Greater, He’s Greater. I am learning to run freely. Understanding just how He sees me. And it makes me love Him more and more. He’s Greater, He’s Greater.”

As I walked, listening to those words, the lyrics jumped off of the music and into my heart. It was as if I suddenly realized for the first time, with great clarity, I am in a battle. Daily I battle to force my aching body out of bed and do some kind of exercise. I battle to press pass how nauseated I feel and choose the right foods to eat, while praying they stay down and I do not vomit. I battle the intense feeling of loneliness, while surrounded by the people who love me most. I battle trying to understand where I fit in this crazy world I live in. I battle trying to remember that God really is working all things together for my good and His glory. As I listened to “Greater” that day, the revelation that no matter how intense the battle and how many days I feel as if I am losing, Jesus already won the war on my behalf settled so deep in my heart that I felt renewed. 

That day I started thinking about my body. At my oncologists suggestion, I’ve been trying to do some kind of exercise daily. Mostly I just go walking at the lake, but I also incorporate some very light strength training. I’m beginning to see my body changing. The back of my arms don’t flap as much when I wave or lift my arms. My lower body isn’t as jiggly as it once was. And on my good days I feel my muscles growing stronger. As I’ve been trying to be consistent with exercising, I have used I Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV), “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies,” as my motivational scripture. 

The same body that has had more surgeries that I can count right now, a stroke, has suffered tremendous mental and emotional trauma, and is currently being pumped with poison every three weeks to war against breast cancer, is the actual House, the Temple in which God’s Spirit, Holy Spirit, lives. Throughout many of my traumas I have often said, ‘Well no body has nailed me to a cross yet so this pain is nothing compared to what Jesus suffered for me.’ But, I am beginning to see that all of those indescribably painful experiences really are tangible, relatable, glimpses of the pain Jesus suffered on the cross. Every lash of the whip that tore through His flesh and each nail that pierced His body was laced with my sin, my abuse, my stroke, my cancer, my pain… He bore ALL of it on His body in my place. Romans 8:16-17 (NLT) says, “For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.” So as a joint heir with Jesus, I must also join Him in a measure of His suffering. But, Romans 8:18 (NIV) promises, “…our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

The chorus of Mercy Me’s song “Flawless” says, “No matter the bumps, No matter the bruises, No matter the scars, Still the truth is The cross has made, The cross has made you flawless. No matter the hurt, Or how deep the wound is, No matter the pain, Still the truth is The cross has made, The cross has made you flawless.” As I listened to that as I walked at the lake on another day last week, it was a much needed reminder that no matter how many times I miss the mark, despite all my failures, heartbreak, rejection, every perfectly placed imperfection, and the sickness and disease that has attacked this body, because of Jesus I AM FLAWLESS! 

In John 2:19 Jesus said, “…Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” He was speaking of His body, His crucification, and His resurrection. Galatians 2:20 (NIV) says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” My body is is not my own. It is God’s temple. It is prime real estate! Jesus paid the ultimate price so that He, through His Holy Spriirt, could live on the inside of me.

Ephesians 2:6 (NIV) says, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” Since I am crucified with Christ and reside in Heavenly realms with Him, I know when my “three days” of this cancer journey are over He is going to raise this body to abundant life, health, and strength like I have never known before. For today, I am standing firm on the promises of God’s word, while I keep pressing on toward my expected end of this breast cancer journey.

4 Down 8 To Go… Losing Myself

I started the day earlier than I usually do for chemo yesterday. My appointment was at 8:00 AM instead of the usual 8:45. I woke up not necessarily looking forward to it, but not dreading it either. I was at peace. It was a pretty gloomy, rainy day, but I had a smile in my heart and on my face. I also took another three dozen doughnuts with me, which were an even bigger hit this time. There were smiles all around and several staff members asked me what bakery I went to, because the doughnuts were so fresh and delicious. Mission accomplished upon arrival. The doughnuts brought the Sonshine on an otherwise dreary day.

When I went to the lab to have my blood drawn, I told the phlebotomist I brought doughnuts and to make sure she got one while they were still warm. She smiled slightly and said, “Thank you, but I don’t think I can eat anything.” She went on to say she had so much on her mind that was weighing on her that she didn’t even realize she hadn’t eaten dinner the night before. I asked her name and told her I am praying that God will speak peace to her mind, calm her spirit, and arrest whatever it is that is causing her such anxiety. I told her not eating just won’t do. I assured her there is NOTHING Jesus can’t fix. Her countenance lifted a bit.

When I saw my oncologist he complimented me on my new hair do and said I looked really good. He was pleased with my white blood count and that I was able to get over the cold I had for the last two weeks. He said we will just continue on schedule and take one treatment at a time. Then it was off to the Infusion Unit.

My Infusion Nurses, Tracy and Kim, were very pleasant. They put the doughnuts out for the other patients to have if they wanted one. It was a really peaceful atmosphere. When Tracy put the needle in my chest to get the party started, it didn’t hurt as much, which was a wonderful blessing. I generally have pain in my chest and my shoulder for a few days after chemo. My sister Leslie (pictured above), went with me. Because of the earlier time, the unit was fairly empty when we arrived. So, Leslie was able to sit in one of the big comfy, reclining chairs next to me and do some work while I listened to music.

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in January I started a cancer journey playlist. It has grown considerably since then and is filled with all kinds of songs. Any song that I wake up singing or comes to my mind and can’t get out of my head or I hear and it speaks to me, it makes the list. One of the songs on the list is “Lose Yourself,” by Eminem from the 8 Mile Soundtrack. When it played during chemo, the words jumped off the music so much so that I listened to it several times. 

Just in case you haven’t heard or don’t remember the song because it is so old I’ll tell you what I heard. The beginning of the song is Eminem talking and he says, “If you had one shot or one opportunity to seize everything you wanted in one moment would you capture it? Or just let it slip?” The rest of the song continues that line of thought with the chorus declaring, “You better lose yourself…the moment you own it…never let it go…do not miss your chance… this opportunity comes once in a lifetime.” Another line of the song says, “Better capture this moment and hope it doesn’t pass…”

As I sat in the Infusion Unit listening to Eminem passionately rapping about his fight and determination to not miss his moment I thought about not missing mine. It seems I am naturally wired to think of everyone else, but me. Thus far in my journey, even when I was angry with Jesus, my heart’s desire has been to magnify Him for somebody in the midst of this. Then it would all be worth it. It wasn’t until I was listening to Eminem talking about losing himself in the moment for his passion, music, that I thought, looking around the Infusion Unit, ‘I don’t want to miss this moment.’ As crazy as it sounds this is MY moment, this is my one shot at doing cancer with Jesus, because I am NEVER having cancer again. And I don’t want to miss all that He has for ME in it. When I say that I don’t mean stuff. Things have never mattered much to me. Now that I have had a stroke and cancer things really don’t matter to me. 

Like, Eminem, I want to lose MYSELF in this moment so I can come through this looking more like Jesus than I ever thought possible. For me, the everything I want is just that Jesus is able to use my life in any way He chooses and when people see me they see Him. I want to capture this moment, because it is giving me the opportunity to know Jesus in ways I have not known Him before. I want to lose myself in this moment so Jesus can freely remove from me whatever needs to be removed and magnify in me the things about me that I don’t see that need to change. I don’t want so much of my attention to be outward that I don’t grab hold to this moment and let it slip away without gaining all I need from it. 

The other day while I was talking to Jesus I told Him I want my life experience to be, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10 NKJV)” And if the pathway to that goes through cancer or whatever else this life may bring, I’m ALL IN! Today I realized for me, my “worst case scenario” isn’t death, financial loss, losing relationships (two divorces cured me of that!), losing stuff, or any of the things that used to fill me with fear or make me feel like my world was coming to an end. My worst case scenario is leaving this place not having been everything God created me to be and being the biggest, brightest, loudest cheerleader for Jesus that I can be! For today, I am thankful that in 2002 Eminem recorded a song that Holy Spirit used 15 years later to speak to me in such a profound way during my fourth chemo. Marshall Mathers (Eminem’s real name) has unknowingly solidified his spot on my random, people-I-don’t-know-personally prayer attacks list.