Introspective Insights

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

Surgery Day

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.

Day of surgery. All cleaned up and antibacterial wipes done. My last food, eaten. I can have liquids until 11:30am. Kayla is nervous for me and she throws up right after she wakes up. It’s a beautiful day. It reminds me of the day Kayla was born 11 years ago.

As nervous as I had been the night before – to the point of a drunk, anxious, spinning feeling to anxious coughs – like asthma after running in the cold – I wake up this morning and command the enemy to leave me in the name of Jesus. No more spinning and a supernatural peace envelopes me. I post the following to my Facebook group:

 

 

 

 

I talked to Rachel last night and she said, “You have had your body sawn in half and a baby taken out, so how bad can it be?” Good point. We talked about lots of other random things and it was a good diversion.

Trying to stay calm this morning. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13.

Surgery day is long. We don’t leave the house until 11:15, arrive at the hospital at 12:15pm and I go right in. They take me back for the needle insertion to mark the non-cancerous breast lesion. In the first room on the wall there is a yellow day lily painted on silk and embroidered in small circles, almost like quilting. I didn’t think about it much at the time.

Next, they take me into the mammogram procedure room. The doctor is very nice, and the needle insertion goes quickly. They were going to make me stand for it as they needed to take several mammogram pictures before and during to ensure they put the pin in the correct location. Instead they found a sitting gurney chair and used that. And yes, there was a needle sticking out of me, while I was awake, before surgery, taped down until they put me under. So weird.

I prayed quietly as I waited for the doctor and sang, “I love you Lord”. Then I looked at the picture on the wall – a white flower painted on silk with embroidery (same artist as the lily in the other room). I looked at the tag – white trillium. Suddenly I remembered the yellow day lily Rachel texted me that morning. The first in her garden this spring – she said, “I think this is for you.” The same type of lily and same color as the picture in the first room.

My eyes refocus on the trillium in the mammogram room I’m in now. I hear God speaking into my mind, “A gift for you, from me. You are right were you should be.” The flower swells off the wall as tears fill my eyes. Wow, just wow.

Ever since I learned about trillium, the pretty white flowers that grow mostly in northern Michigan that turn a beautiful shade of lavender, I’ve wanted to see one in person, near my home. I was privileged to see tons of them in Petoskey when my sister lived there. About three years ago, I was driving to pick up the kids from school and as I passed a small forest on the way, God beckoned me to look into the forest and said, “there are trillium there”. I could see them a bit from the road and after picking up the kids, we circled back and got out of the car to investigate and take pictures. There is no way I would have seen the trillium without God’s nudging.

After the needed is inserted, they wheel me to surgery prep and I was the only patient there. The nurse who did my IV was excellent – hardly a mark and no bruise. All of my blood pressure checks were normal – first time since I was diagnosed. Next, I meet with the doctors. The plastic surgeon draws funny lines all over me. He sees the needle sticking out of me and asks, “Who are you, Jane of the jungle?” I laugh.

The anesthesiologist gives me a small patch behind my ear to prevent nausea as a dear doctor friend recommended. He also inserted a nerve block near the lump removal site. This administers pain relief for about 18 hours after the surgery. I have never heard of this. Thankfully they sedate me during the insertion because, yeah, I see now on my upper chest where the block went in and no thanks! That would have been very painful to experience awake! I then see the surgeon briefly.

They wheel me back to the O.R. I see the table waiting for me and the lights, but they aren’t on yet. Then I wake up in the recovery room. Jerry and I and the nurse are the only ones there. I drink juice and eat crackers and feel nauseous but go to the bathroom and start to feel better. The nurse takes out the IV, I get dressed with Jerry’s help and we leave at 8pm – the sun still shining. I put the chest seatbelt behind me on the way home.

Dawn picks up my prescriptions and Laura watches the kids and they had a good day. I stay up for a while to get the pain meds going, update a few things on Facebook, answer text messages, and then go to bed. Surgery done. Now, time to recover…

 

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.

Community Around

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 5/12/16: Today feels impossible. This cold makes me feel achy and tired. Took a nap for a couple of hours but didn’t really sleep much. Feeling run down affects my outlook on life. I just want today to be normal – no doctor phone calls, no tests, just a normal day – but that hasn’t really happened. I get the MRI results on paper in the mail and call to preregister for the MRI biopsy, which is tomorrow. This cold reminds me that I am not 100%, nor will I be for a long time. I have no desire to go outside even though the sun shines. Jerry texts me about talking to a social worker or a Stephen Minister (a person trained to help those with major life issues from a Christian perspective). No, I guess there will be no normal – at least not anytime soon.

For years I prayed for community. When we lived in our apartment, we lived 30 minutes away from church, so we didn’t get to know people well. When we moved to our house and started having kids, I remember family visiting and just one person making us a meal, but no one else was there. We truly did not have friends that lived close enough to stop by. (Most of our friends lived 30 minutes or more away.) I remember holding one of our sweet babes, alone, and crying out to God, begging him for community, for love, for people who would carry us in difficult times and we would learn to carry them. For someone, anyone, to knock on the door, send a text, call on the phone. The silence was deafening.

Here, now, amid this darkness and pain, our community rises to meet us. People call me, and I don’t want to answer the phone. People text me every day. Cards start coming in the mail.

Hugs and stories from other breast cancer survivors come to my attention. Sister Rachel texts every day and later when I start radiation she calls me every day. I appreciate it all, but I don’t know how to respond. God giving me such good gifts of love, hope, people stepping forward into my pain. God, answering my prayer for community – even when I could not accept it. God, building this community around us over the last five years and beyond. Always Him, always God, working all these things out. Community stepping in all around us.

Somehow, I know that I can make it through this day and the next.

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.

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.

Overwhelmed

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 was apprehensive to go to church today because I knew that people’s response may be overwhelming. But in the end, it was fine. Countless friends encircled Jerry and I offering prayer and support in whatever way we needed. It WAS overwhelming, but in the best possible way.

Three ladies I don’t know very well came forward to tell me their own breast cancer stories and how well they are doing now. It made me think that if they can get past this, so can I. That I can live to tell about this and praise God for how far I’ve come. (I learned later that two of the three had nearly the same diagnosis, doctors, and experience that I had.)

During communion I prayed for God to heal me. After the service, I asked for the anointing oil because oil represents the Holy Spirit. Pastor Dave anointed me with oil and prayed for me. He said in his prayer that God’s power will be shown in my life – a common theme I believe God is showing me. This blog, these posts, are a testimony of God’s grace, healing, and provision for me.

I believe God can heal me and will choose to as he sees fit. And as I’m praying to him for wisdom, he is showing me the anger I so regularly feel. How it’s infected my everyday life, become too much a part of me. I’m praying for this repetitive anger over me to be gone. It seems key to my recovery somehow.

Diana’s Scare

Last year at this time I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went through numerous tests, surgery, and radiation therapy. During those days, I wrote constantly. I’m compiling those journal entries into the beginnings of a book. 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.

Diana is my dear friend. We met through church and got to know each other through Women’s Ministry where we served together with three other wonderful ladies for two years. Now we work together, we’ve taught a couple of bible studies together at church, our kids are nearly the same age. We share many things, but what we didn’t expect to share was two very different cancer scares.

Diana texted us that Thursday evening, anxious, upset, asking for prayer. They called her back for an ultrasound and second mammogram. We prayed from our own virtual corners offering her comfort and reassurance. I just knew she was going to be OK. We later learned that her tests all came back negative for cancer.

That same Thursday night I am in bed reading. I am engrossed in my book, I mindlessly begin rubbing my chest just above my right breast. I feel something there…hard, oval shaped. I’ve never noticed it before. Jerry checks it, he is surprised too.

The next day when I put a bra on, I don’t feel it…it’s as if it sinks as my breast lifts. Is this all my imagination? I call my primary doctor anyway and she orders the mammogram and ultrasound as soon as possible. By Wednesday I have had a mammogram, an incredibly long ultrasound, and a needle biopsy in two different areas. By Friday I know the news and it is not good.

Diana repeatedly tells me how she feels guilty. “How could it be you and not me?” She is a compassionate and loving person. She cannot comprehend how she was dealt the scare and I was dealt the real thing.

We taught a Bible study months later and she told the class her story, which is a part of my story. It was October. I finished treatment just two months before. The only person who knew my whole story was Jerry and my journal. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to talk. My eyes filled with tears as she told her part. My throat began to close and burn. “Can I do this?”, I thought.

When she was done, I paused…30 pairs of eyes on me. I told her what I know in my heart is true – that without her concern and her obedience in reaching out to us in prayer, my radar would not have been up. I do not believe I would have found that lump or even been looking. She was part of God’s plan to save me.

We need each other. We are here on this earth to love each other, lean on each other, pray for each other, share our burdens. Diana’s faith and perseverance in asking for prayer are part of my story. When you share who you are, honestly, brutally, lovingly, you invite healing and connection in ways that you may never know.

Reflections From the Spray Park

I always struggle at places where tons of moms are because I can’t stand the Pinterest-bragging-cooking-from-scratch-organic-food-designer-kid-bathing-suit-perfectly-coordinated-everything that is here. The talk at times is the worst – I did this, I did that – the constant “one up” banter. Since when did we decide that we were all in a competition? That somehow being better is the goal?

This is my cynicism talking and I know not everyone here is in the perfectionism race. But I feel it around me here and it makes me grateful to be alone scribbling in my notebook. But I’m looking too – seeing the two moms who can still sport bikinis. Wow – that’s never going to happen here. The mom with the over sized t-shirt and hat hiding her beautiful face. The momma nursing her newborn, bleary eyed kissing her baby’s head.

Maybe the truth is that I hide here alone because I don’t want to take a chance on truly knowing others when the external fronts we all display are so off-putting. We all struggle and we all fight guilt and self rejection and perfectionism and is my facade better than yours?

Finally, after all this time, the community I’ve longed for I have in abundance. Friends and invitations and I am humbled by God’s providence. Yet how do I allow a larger community in – always allowing new interactions? To become what I longed for back then – to return it back? Mostly its laziness, tiredness, excuses.

But I know I need to change, so I offer the ice pack and the band aids and she smiles and thanks me. And I realize that we all are looking for acceptance and love and we can easily give a smile, a hand, a kind word.