Introspective Insights

Introspective - adj: Examining sensory and perceptual experiences. Insight - n: The capacity to discern the true nature of a situation.

Encouragement From All

In April 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. During those days, I wrote constantly. This post is a continuing series of the book I hope to one day publish. I survived cancer, which is a tremendous gift, but cancer continues to remain a shadow in my mind.

Journal entry 5/22/16: It is the night before surgery (Sunday) and I literally feel like I’ve stepped off a boat and am trying to get my land legs. I’m not dizzy, so it must be stress. This happened the other day too. I feel restless and tired and yet I couldn’t take a nap this afternoon.

I’ve received so many cards, text messages, phone calls, and gifts this week – I can’t keep them all straight. So many hugs, promises of prayer. It is all surreal – I just had no idea of the love out there.

I’m trying to remember the last few days, but they are a blur. On Thursday a friend took the kids and told Jerry and I to go out to eat. We went to the Post and I ate my favorite there – Fried Egg BLT with Spicy Maple Bacon. Sooo good. I tried ginger beer and didn’t like it, but Jerry did. It was nice to be out, just the two of us doing normal things. I’m finding in the midst of this chaos, it is the everyday rhythm that keeps me going.

Friday Kayla and Zach went to school for Field Day and I spent the day with Abby. We didn’t do too much, except shopping, which we did some damage! We ate at IKEA like we did when she was little. It was fun to spend time with just her.

When we got home, I started getting calls. First from the surgeon’s office telling me that I have to go in early before surgery, so they can insert a wire where the small non-cancerous legion is located. I have to be awake during this procedure. I’m not happy about this.

Next, I get a call from the geneticist. She tells me that all six genes tested for cancer came back negative including BRCA1 and BRCA2. Praise God! BRCA2 came back noted as a “variant of unknown significance”. This basically means no genetic link to cancer, so I’m free and clear! This means that chemotherapy is very unlikely. Final genetics results with details in just three weeks.

Friday night I melted down. We had not done much cleaning for Kayla’s birthday party the next day. I worried about dealing with the mental fatigue of all of this. I pick the worst times to melt down. It was 10:15pm and Jerry had not started making the cakes yet. He started at 10:45pm, oh well. Thankful for Laura who came early to help put up decorations, clean bathrooms, and do dishes. Dawn helped with the food when she got there also. The party was a lot of fun and Kayla had fun. It was a nice diversion for me and helped me get through the weekend.

The day of Kayla’s party, Jerry had been home for five minutes from running an errand earlier in the day and I came outside and said, “What’s that on your car?” There was a gift from Erica – she’s so sneaky – a prayer shawl made of Solomon knots – a new stitch she just learned. Love her.

The prayer session after church was so nice. A few friends and Mom came, and Pastor Tim led the session. He prayed over Jerry and I and anointed us with oil. Although I’m nervous about the surgery, I feel immense peace. I am grateful for such a loving church community.

Today, the last day before surgery, my women’s ministry ladies came over with a large laundry-sized basket filled with gifts. Each gift was individually wrapped with a long ribbon attached to it. They said that after each milestone of treatment or every day or whatever I wanted I could pull on a string and open a gift. They told me that each gift was meant to encourage me. Kayla counted the strings – wow – 40 gifts! I’m honored and in awe of this gesture. Can’t wait to open one tomorrow.

There is so much to write but I must get to bed. I’m overwhelmed by the love and support of so many. God is good.

Praise God No Matter What

In April 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. During those days, I wrote constantly. This post is a continuing series of the book I hope to one day publish. I survived cancer, which is a tremendous gift, but cancer continues to remain a shadow in my mind.

Journal entry 5/17/16: I’m waiting for the call about the MRI biopsy results. Very much hoping it is this morning. Praying for no more cancer. I keep going to the bathroom. I’m a little shaky, yet I can’t keep my eyes open like my body wants to shut down.

I think God is telling me to praise him no matter what – regardless of the biopsy results. I will – but I don’t know what that looks like – what to do or how to act. But for now, I’m going to write down the verses that people have given me or those that have been revealed to me.

Revealed to me:

  • Philippians 1:21 “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” This is a hard truth – but isn’t it true that we win either way?
  • A constant for over a year and hanging on the wall in our living room: Philippians 4:13 (ESV) “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
  • To remember that it is not what we can see in this world that matters, but what is unseen. 2 Corinthians 5:7 “For we live by faith, not by sight.”
  • That God’s purposes are beyond our understanding. And even though he does not want us to suffer or be in pain he will work all things out for our good, for those of us who are his children. Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Tim S. / Rachel: comfort in anxiety. Philippians 4:4-7 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I do not have to accept anxiety but pray and receive the peace of God which is beyond my understanding.

Mom: One of my favorite bands is Jars of Clay, named after the following verses, which Mom reminded me of: 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Beth and Lisa L: Lisa said that she was praying and reading her Bible and this verse made her think of me. Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Laura E. texted me this verse reminding me of who God is, even in this storm. Psalm 46:10 “He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’”

Beth: reminding me that God sees me in all things. Psalm 139:1-2,12 ESV “O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.”

My friends and family, giving me spirit-filled words to lift me up and remind me that I’m not alone.

The phone rings and the MRI biopsy results are good – no cancer in the two spots sampled! One was a benign spot. The other is an interductal papilloma – a “high risk breast lesion”. They will remove this spot separately from the cancer lump and it will not affect anything. Certainly not a case for mastectomy. I am overjoyed! God is good! Somehow getting this good news breathes new life into me.

Lori and Diana pick me up and take me to Panera to celebrate. We laugh about silly things. Talking and eating and sharing with them soothes my soul.

Gifts Upon Gifts

In April 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. During those days, I wrote constantly. This post is a continuing series of the book I hope to one day publish. I survived cancer, which is a tremendous gift, but cancer continues to remain a shadow in my mind.

Journal entry 5/13/16: One of my love languages is gifts and people have been so generous with their time, prayers, and money, buying us food, and pouring into our family. There have been dinners, gift cards, cards, phone calls, watching the kids, text messages, flowers, coffee, candy. One of my most treasured gifts is from my dear friend Charlotte. As we were on the phone last night, she prayed a beautiful, moving prayer over me. I was stunned and calmed and overwhelmed by her beautiful, spirit-inspired words.

These are the true gifts that community can offer. Yet reaching out is hard for so many of us. When my mom had cancer, I didn’t know how to help, to talk to her about it. We live 150 miles apart and, in my head, I used every excuse in the book to be silent, to not visit. I was at her surgery, but as treatment progressed I didn’t visit. It feels so awful writing this down and realizing how much of an avoider I am. One day she was talking about how difficult her days were – when her eyes watered so much she couldn’t watch TV, couldn’t read. Food had no taste and lying in bed too much hurt more than being awake. During that terrible time, she said, “All I wanted was someone to talk to.”

When someone you know is going through serious illness or grief, it is better to say something through a simple text or message, a card, your presence, even when you don’t know what to say, than to say nothing at all. This shows that you see them, you are thinking about them, that you love them. All gestures big and small are appreciated.

Life and Joy in the Pain

In April 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. During those days, I wrote constantly. This post is a continuing series of the book I hope to one day publish. I survived cancer, which is a tremendous gift, but cancer continues to remain a shadow in my mind.

Journal entry 5/13/16: I haven’t talked about the MRI biopsy, the anxiety, the heart leaping dread when the phone rings, a gastro system confused and traumatized by constant stress. The uncertainty of now is this waiting. My body betrays my relatively calm mind in these moments.

Today it was when I was on the table for the MRI biopsy. I had taken the Valium but as we went further into the procedure I realized it was not enough. Over an hour with my arms and shoulders outstretched in the superman position, causing pain and numbness and stiffness. Four hours past breakfast and when they injected the numbing agent, they needed the maximum amount. But it was not enough, and I felt some of the movement, the needle, the burning.

I felt faint, sweat swelled up in every pore. I just wanted to move to relieve the tension and pain, but I couldn’t. They put cool cloths on me, took off the blankets. It seemed like an eternity, but maybe it was only a few minutes and I finally came out of it. The radiologist doing the biopsy said this was the body’s normal response to stress, that even if the mind is calm, this can happen. This was the most stressful test thus far.

I go home and collapse onto the couch. I’m sitting listening to For King and Country – Shoulders.

My help comes from You

You’re right here, pulling me through

You carry my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on Your shoulders.

This song soothes my soul as I remember that God carries me through this.

My thoughts center on sister Rachel and all the trauma she has seen in recent days. A few short months ago she gave birth to sweet little Owen just one day shy of 28 weeks. While the circumstances around his birth were terrifying, his prognosis was good. Rachel and her husband Kal prepared themselves to be preemie parents and while Rachel recovered, they concentrated on adoring this little 1 lb. boy. Ten days later, he became sick and coded several times and died. They lost him forever on this earth. Their sweet little boy they had just begun to know, left them way too soon.

Just five months later and here I am in my mess and pain and she texts me daily even in the midst of her own horrible, personal, pain. Somehow, she is still willing to enter this pain with me. Overwhelming sobs roll out onto my shirt.

Beth, mom to five boys and dear friend texts me that same afternoon, “It’s a baby!” I perk up, sit up on the couch and text back, “What kind of baby?!?!?!” “A GIRL!” and sweet pictures start scrolling onto my phone. This beautiful family of five boys welcomed their sweet number six – a girl! I cry tears of joy and as I tell Jerry and the kids all five of us scream in delight. This pain and sorrow in life inexplicably linked to joy. Life continues, and we choose to engage and thrive or disconnect and die.

The catch in my throat, my tears, you see it all Jesus and I know you are doing a work, redeeming me always even during this terrible disease.

Email of Hope

In April 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. During those days, I wrote constantly. This post is a continuing series of the book I hope to one day publish. I survived cancer, which is a tremendous gift, but cancer continues to remain a shadow in my mind.

Journal entry 5/11/16: I received an email from my pastor today and his words offer so much hope. Here is what he wrote (used with permission):

Hello Jen,

I hope you are sensing God with you during these days.

This morning you came to mind and I had a thought that I pass on to you from the Lord. It is this. You are a writer, and one of the challenges in writing is writing about something meaningful, something that will make a difference to others. You have that “gift.” I know calling it a “gift” seems like a real stretch, but bear with me.

The word is this: keep a diary. Record what you are experiencing; your emotions, your faith, your God moments, your anger, your struggles, your doubts, your revelations, everything. Then, when you are delivered from this, write about it so that others might learn and grow from your experiences. You may already be doing this, if so, please consider this as confirmation of what you are doing and why. I encourage you not to waste this opportunity. God wants to use you. You have a purpose in all of this and a future. What Satan meant for evil, God means for good. It may seem at times to be slim consolation, but such writing will give you a way to process what you are experiencing, as well as a way to record your experiences for you to write about when all this is behind you. And, it will be behind you. (Emphasis, mine.)

You know that you have many people praying for you and your family. I trust that this word is, in part, a result of those prayers. I look forward to how God is going to use you.

In Jesus,

Pastor Dave

 

As I read this, I cry an ugly, howling cry because I know he is right and I know that I can’t stop now. I reply and thank him, tell him that this confirmed what my dear friend Char told me yesterday. That I’m already writing, that God is with me.

Pr. Dave’s confidence that one day this will all be behind me gives me hope. Hope to share with others, so they can learn and grow and share the hope that I have.

Wilderness

In April 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. During those days, I wrote constantly. This post is a continuing series of the book I hope to one day publish. I survived cancer, which is a tremendous gift, but cancer continues to remain a shadow in my mind.

Journal entry 5/11/16: I read Psalm 63 in my devotional Bible today, verse 3 where it says “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” Do I really live that way? Is God’s love what I focus on solely? The devotion says that whole weeks and seasons and years can feel like wildernesses – yes, that is where I am right now. It seems with each test and day going forward I’m entering the dark of this wilderness.

The MRI results are mostly good, but also sketchy. The left breast is completely fine – praise God. The lymph nodes on both the left and right side are not enlarged which, which generally means it has not spread. Awesome news! But there is a separate area that they need to look at further. There are many things this could be – benign things. So, I have to go for an MRI guided biopsy. I’m so upset that I have to do another test. For now, I’m scheduled for more than a week out, but hopefully I will know today if they can get me in sooner.

These tests are so scary – I feel lost in the woods. God, please let this new area be nothing and that we go forward with the current surgical plan.

I’m trying to stay positive, but it is hard to not think the worst. I know God is with me. I like what my friend Jamie said on my Facebook page, “They are starting to see that the cancer is leaving.” That has been my prayer from the beginning – complete healing.

I think back to Psalm 63:3 – how can I focus on this love – a love better than life – a life that IS life. Surely this love can lead me through this wilderness – keep me alive.

Devastated

I stare at the screen in disbelief in the half light. More invasive treatment, cancer in the lymph nodes, chemo, treatments for the next six months, and then two months of radiation. I feel like I’ve been kicked in the stomach. Devastation is the only word I feel for my cousin – my age, just months older – with this terrifying new course set before her.  I choke on the words as I tell Jerry and I sob.

Doesn’t every survivor think that this could have been them? Or someday it still might? Her prognosis looked way better than mine and when we talked weeks ago, she was upbeat. She’s always been stronger and more positive than me.

We spent so much time together when we were young – she could take any situation and make it fun. Once we were in a boat near her cottage and we got stuck in a channel where we had to lift the boat over obstacles along the bank. It was terrifying for me, but she smiled and laughed and never showed any fear.

As much as I’ve been through with my own cancer experience – surgery, radiation, mental anguish, I can’t wrap my head around one more person telling me they have cancer. Every.single.day it feels like there is someone else. And I wonder how and why and do we need one more stinking reminder that this place is not our home?

I pray in the shower…what can I do to help? I’m so far away. I’ve always been an avoider and yet it seems that each passing day God is calling me to enter the pain of others and I admit that it is harder than anything I have ever done, save my own pain.

“Why is God allowing my suffering? Will God heal my hurting? … Will I make it through this? How you answer these questions in the midst of your pain will shape your view of God, yourself, your life, and eternity. These are the most important questions you will ever answer, because pain often alters the destiny of our lives for better or for worse.” I am Strong by John S. Dickerson. (Emphasis, mine.)

The pain of watching yet another person in my life go through this terrible disease is almost too much to bear. But I’m convinced that God is good, he never changes. And I know that my cousin, my friend, will get through this. I am here, and I love you.

All information in this post used by permission.

Losing Concentration & Anger

In April 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. During those days, I wrote constantly. This post is a continuing series of the book I hope to one day publish. I survived cancer, which is a tremendous gift, but cancer continues to remain a shadow in my mind.

I’ve never thought of myself as an angry person, but really, anger manifested itself several times in my life. There are people in my life whose angry behavior I often observed, but I can’t use that as an excuse because at some point, the anger becomes my own and I can’t fully explain the process.

I remember being in high school, so full of rage one day that I tore apart my whole room. I can’t even remember why. I only did this once and I don’t think I really broke anything – so it must have been a controlled “burn”.

In my late 20’s anger was a daily part of life. I didn’t realize how bad it was until the overwhelming dread of how hard life was had enveloped me. Through deep prayer and consultation with my uncle, a pastor, and his prayer team, I was freed from that anger.

With the advent of cancer, my old enemy came saddling up and I deceptively agreed to his terms. Yet, I didn’t even realize the depths of what I was agreeing to.

It is two weeks after my diagnosis and the day mixed up. I’m trying to help the kids focus on school, yet my fuzzy focus makes simple decisions seem impossible. I forget why I’m doing things, why I went into a certain room. It’s like “mommy brain” but so.much.worse. It’s very difficult to concentrate. People keep asking me how they can help, and I don’t know what to tell them because I can’t seem to have a complete thought about anything.

I want us to finish this homeschooling year strong, but I see that goal quickly fading. Every single day I do something cancer related. A phone call, a test, a conversation with another specialist, planning for the next whatever. I just want a normal day, to clear my head, to not allow the word cancer to enter my brain. But it doesn’t look like any normal days are coming anytime soon.

Today, two years later, I can see that this is where the anger began. This is where that hot rage boiled over into a text message to my sister Rachel, “Let’s give a woman who hates needles, doctors, and anything medical related and let’s give her f&*%ing cancer.” I feel the tears rolling down my cheeks. I want to punch something or break something (there’s a lot of glass in my kitchen…). The devastation of this has only begun. The darkness was moving in like a grey cloud that eventually shifted to black.

The anger began to take over and I didn’t even realize it. That undercurrent of rage / lava built up under the surface, yet I didn’t have time to be angry. All I had time for was surgery, treatment, blood draws, and tests after tests, and doctor’s appointments after doctor’s appointments. All energies were spent on gathering information, analyzing treatment options, ensuring that all tests were covered so that a clear treatment path was obvious. Ain’t no time to be angry when focused on survival.

But despite all that focus on life, survival, forward momentum, anger continued building silently, quietly, forcefully.

The First Breakdown

In April 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. During those days, I wrote constantly. This post is a continuing series of the book I hope to one day publish. I survived cancer, which is a tremendous gift, but cancer continues to remain a shadow in my mind.

After meeting with the plastic surgeon and pondering everything involved with the surgery and aftermath, I break down. I text Rachel and Char and pour out the pain – more invasive surgery than I want, scars inside and out, forced into menopause from medications I will have to take after it is all over. I think that maybe after a while I will be cancer free – praise God, but the scars and effects will be far reaching.

It is Monday and I think about the Women’s Ministry meeting scheduled for tonight. I have the mugs Diana and I bought as a gift for the team. (Ironically, they say, “Today I Will Choose Joy.”)

I am scheduled to lead the devotion tonight. It is mid afternoon, and I cannot shake this off. I collapse on the couch and sob an ugly, terrifying sob. Panic and pain and pure despair wash over me. I was diagnosed just 12 days ago and most of my attempts to continue with normal activities have succeeded, but not tonight. I can’t figure out how I’m going to get off the couch. I cry to Jerry. My thoughts swirl into a black hole. I lie down. The kids kiss me and bring me a blanket. I lay there and stare. I can’t eat.  Abby kisses me and wipes my tears. Kayla flees to her room in anger and tears as we tell the kids we can’t go to Camp Arcadia over Memorial Day weekend.

I text Diana, “I can’t do this tonight, I’m so sorry. Can you pick up the gifts?” She is over two hours later, flowers in hand…I am still on the couch. I try to sit up to greet her; she says no, to stay there. She bear hugs me in my pitiful state right there on my couch. I am overwhelmed with her care and concern.

This is the first breakdown of many. The mental despair that cancer invokes is cruel and relentless. Months later the mental onslaught continues, but the moments of despair differ only in that they are more spaced out. The intensity and horror and fear of recurrence, any little twinge of pain or discomfort or the sensation of strange tissue invites another session.

Mother’s Day and A Vision

In April 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. During those days, I wrote constantly. This post is a continuing series of the book I hope to one day publish. I survived cancer, which is a tremendous gift, but cancer continues to remain a shadow in my mind.

I’m having a pretty fabulous Mother’s Day and am trying to stay in this moment, but this weight, this cancer, is so heavy at times.

I’m trying to be still and know that he is God. So hard to do. I see these faces I love and I think – will I be leaving soon? All information I know thus far says no – but getting this disease reminds me that we are guaranteed nothing. And in that realization, I have moments of stillness and I wonder what that means. I do not know God’s timing, but I know he is healing me and I know he is with me and loves me. And I know my goal sooner or later is Him – not a place, but a person – HIM. How do I live out these waiting, uncertain days? I try not to think about the C word or dwell on it – but live, just live life. To find the stillness in the uncertainty.

Flowers and hugs at church. A lovely friend saying, “God isn’t just saving us – his word isn’t just for us, but for healing too.”

Listening to the end of the For King and Country CD – there is a monologue where the speaker talks about love – how it’s the only thing that remains. And I close my eyes and I see Jesus in a yellow pink glow waving love around me and saying that love is everything and all things; that he loves me. This means everything; I stand in awe of my creator.

I can’t ask, “Why cancer?”, but I want to. I want to know and understand, but the only thing I know – the only thing he has revealed to me is that his power, God’s power, will be demonstrated in my life. Resting my spirit in his peace and power today.