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. 

Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: Some Days Feeling Helpless, But Never Without Help

Last night I got to spend the evening out with my family at a farewell dinner for my nephew, James, who is going active duty in the Army. Together my older sister, Leslie, and I have six children. She has three boys and I have three girls. Most of our first cousins on my mom’s side of our family have children about the same age as our children. Collectively, we are all one big immediate family. James is the youngest of our children.

There are very few things I love to do more than spending time with my family. We are a big, loud, lovable (depending on who you ask, lol) bunch. Knowing I was going to see the people I love most last night set the tone for my day yesterday. I woke up not feeling great, but no complaints. I had something to look forward to. I was able to eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast and drink a cup of light coffee (any day I can drink coffee is a GREAT day). I ate something small midday, hoping I would be able to eat at dinner. I was able to do some lower body toning exercises. By late afternoon I started getting myself together to go to dinner with my family at 7 PM.

It takes me so much longer to do everything since I started chemo. Trying not to look as bad as I may feel is a major production. It took me approximately 3 1/2 hours to shower, do my hair, put on makeup, and get dressed. And I still wasn’t completely ready when my sister arrived at 6:30 PM to pick me up. As I was doing my hair I noticed how much it has grown since I got it cut the week I started chemo in March. I smiled at God’s faithfulness when I recalled what Dr. Mendoza said during my visit before my 3rd chemo last week. He said, “If your hair hasn’t fallen out by now, it isn’t going to.” He said it isn’t uncommon to not lose all of your doing the chemo I chose to do. Even still, to me, it is a miracle and one less reminder of cancer when I look in the mirror.

When I am getting dressed it’s hard not to look at the scars on my chest, especially the one where the port catheter is. It is so prominent. I try not to think about the fact that at some point they will have to reopen that incision to take the port out. But, I guess that will be a happy day. It will mean I am finally finished with all of this! I’ve never worn a lot of makeup, but find myself putting more on, especially under my eyes. I can see the dark circles forming and how exhausted I look most days. Yesterday as I looked in the mirror I felt so helpless. Though I have been able to maintain my weight (with a lot of effort), I still saw someone who looked frail, tired, and beaten down. 

It’s amazing how your natural eyes can play tricks on you if you allow them to. Before tears had the opportunity to form in my eyes, I could hear Jesus whisper to me, “You may feel helpless right now, but you are never without help. I am your very present help in your times of trouble. I am your hope. I am your strength. I am your peace. Any and every thing you need Me to be I AM.” When I looked in the mirror again through His eyes, through the eyes of my Hope, I didn’t see someone frail, tired, or beaten down. I saw a beautiful warrior with the scars to prove it!

For today, I am just thankful for today. Psalm 46:1 (NIV) says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Isaiah 26:3 (NLT) says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” John 14:27 (NLT) says, “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” My Hope is in Jesus and Jesus alone. I know I can trust Him to always be true to His word. Though some days I may feel helpless, I am never without help and I will never be hopeless!

Journeying to the Other Side of Breast Cancer: 3 Down 9 To Go…

It seems with each chemo I learn a little more about myself. Yesterday’s treatment was tough. I didn’t feel well physically or mentally when I woke up. I just wasn’t feeling it yesterday. I didn’t want to have my finger pricked to check my white blood count, get weighed, have my blood pressure and temperature taken, then have my oncologist examine me and talk about any side effects I am experiencing so he can determine if the treatment needs to be modified in any way. And I DEFINITELY didn’t feel like having that needle inserted into the port in my chest! Even when they spray my chest some kind of spray the is supposed to ease the pain a bit before they do it, it still hurts. But, since not going wasn’t an option I rolled out of bed at 4:30 AM and started my day. My appointment was at 8:45 and the office is only about 15 minutes from my house, but I knew I would need every minute of the 3 1/2 hours to get myself together to go.

For this visit I ordered three dozen doughnuts from a fabulous bakery not far from my house and scheduled to pick them up at 7:30. When I arrived at the bakery there was a line of people, with their morning coffee in hand, out the door. That’s how good their doughnuts are! Mine were already prepared, boxed, and waiting at the counter for me. They were so fresh they were still warm. I couldn’t resist getting a dozen doughnut holes for my grand babies. I figure why not get them amped up on sugar, while they are visiting me. Watching my daughter handle her two rambunctious little ones the way I once had to handle my three little ones, always makes me laugh. 😂 

My niece, DeAnna, arrived to take me to chemo a little after 8:00. When we arrived I told the young lady at the front desk I brought doughnuts and asked if there was somewhere I could place them and the napkins so anyone that would like one would be able to see them and serve themselves. She directed me to a counter just outside the Infusion Unit. Then another staff member corrected her and said I needed to put them in the conference room. When I did she asked me what company I was from. I laughed and said, “I am a patient.” She grabbed me and gave me the best hug and said almost in disbelief, “You brought these for us and the other patients!” I asked her if she could take two dozen into the Infusion Unit for me and we left the other dozen in the conference room for the staff. She insisted I go with her to the Infusion Unit to give them the doughnuts so they would know who they were from. I told her they didn’t need to know who they were from. I would be over there shortly anyway.

Next stop was the lab to have my finger pricked to check my white blood cell count to make sure it wasn’t too low to do the treatment. I’ve never asked what is a good number or what is too low. Whatever it is mine was good, because I was able to do the treatment. My visit with Dr. Mendoza, my oncologist, started off differently. He came in, sat in the chair, and said he started reading my blog. He said, “You never know what people have gone through.” I don’t remember his words verbatim but he said something like, “Ms. Ransome I had no idea you have been through so much. I’m so sorry those things happened to you. Yet, you come here with a smile and joy that you share with others.” His words really blessed me. I felt humbled and honored with his busy schedule he took time out to read my blog. He said I do a really good job of detailing my experience. He has the most calm, gentle, caring spirit. And like me, his default facial expression is a smile. At the end of the visit, I took our now customary selfie, and was ready for chemo.

Chemo itself was uneventful. Same drill, different day. My niece wasn’t prepared when my Infusion nurse, Nicole, inserted the needle into the port catheter in my chest. She cried. My heart hurt that it upset her and felt so very blessed that I have a family that loves and supports me so much that different family members, friends, and my fellow breast cancer warrior,Wanda, always ask if they can take me to chemo. Once she dried her tears, DeAnna and I talked the entire two hours we were there. The time flew by. After chemo she treated me to lunch at Panera. I hadn’t eaten anything for breakfast and was able to eat a half of a sandwich. 

When I got home I immediately got into bed. I texted the four ladies that I know are true prayer warriors and am blessed to call my sister-friends asking them to please pray for me. I told them I couldn’t really explain how I felt. I just didn’t feel like myself. I was growing battle weary and felt like I was being beaten down from the inside out. They each responded with words of encouragement and prayer.

When I went to lie back down I thought over the events of the day. The smile on the young lady’s face when I picked up my doughnut order. She knew what the doughnuts were for and excitedly handed them to me. The staff member that gave me such a big hug when she realized I was a patient, not a pharmaceutical rep trying to woo them with some doughnuts. The smile on the phlebotomist’s face when I told her I brought doughnuts and she should go get one while they were still warm.The smile on Dr. Mendoza’s face as he shared his insights with me about my blog and his kind words. The tears my niece cried when she saw the needle pierce my chest and when she dropped me off at home, hugged me tight and said, “Thank you for letting me take you to chemo today, Aunt Lisa. I love you so much.”

Today, I discovered the thing that gets me out of bed everyday is love. Love is what makes me want to press pass what I feel like, put my feet on the floor each morning, and go wherever the day takes me. I just want to share with as many people as I can the warm, nonjudgmental, unconditional, never ending, love of Jesus that He so freely gives to me everyday.

For today, I am thankful that through all of the smiles, hugs, and even DeAnna’s tears, I was able to see Jesus. In each smile I could see Jesus looking back at me. And He was pleased. In each hug I felt His arms wrapped around me tightly. In Dr. Mendoza’s words I heard His voice reminding me He hasn’t changed. We have been through many battles together. Just as He was with me then. He is still with me now. In DeAnna’s tears I saw Him crying to remind me that He hurts when I hurt.

I don’t know what I will take with me when I go to my next appointment on May 25th. I have some time to think about it. The Easter candy bags at my second treatment and the doughnuts yesterday were such a hit maybe I’ll stick with keeping everyone high on sugar and take some scones and pastries. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It amazes me how something as small and seemingly insignificant as candy and doughnuts, placed in the Master’s hands, given in love, can change the entire atmosphere of a place where people are sick, hurting, and scared. When I am finally finished with my treatments I just want them to know Jesus was there. I want to make Him unforgettable, especially for the patients that come by themselves. I want them to know in Him they are never alone. Any opportunity I am given I tell people it is JESUS they see in me. To know Him is to love Him. To love Him is to share Him.