Introspective Insights

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

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.

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.

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.

Doctors and Tests

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.

We went to the first appointment with the surgeon and I truly believe she will be excellent. She felt normal tissue on my left breast, which is encouraging. She recommended plastic surgery where I am getting the lumpectomy because I am so small. This surprised me. I didn’t think she would be taking that much tissue, but she is the expert. She recommended a mammogram on the left breast also, genetic testing, and an MRI. I believe I am in good hands.

I had my c-word necklace on that day. Not cancer, but a four-sided necklace with the words created, cherished, celebrated, and chosen on it.

Each word refers to a Bible verse as a reminder of who I am in Christ:

  • Created – “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:14.
  • Cherished – “I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have chosen you with loving kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3.
  • Celebrated – “He will take great delight in you…he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17.
  • Chosen – “The Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession.” Deuteronomy 14:2.

I have to remember that these c-words more than trump the c-word that is cancer. The surgeon said she liked my necklace. I have to remember that my life is a living testimony. I need to hold onto these c-words and never let cancer overshadow who I am – who God has created me to be and the purpose he has for me.

After the appointment, the scheduler at the surgeon’s office scheduled every possible appointment I would need in the coming week or two. I was floored how she fit everything in so quickly for me. This was an answer to prayer. Elder Tim prayed for me that first Sunday, that tests would be scheduled quickly – God working in all these circumstances.

A few days later I’m at the MRI, Valium consumed, and IV inserted and gowned up. I am face down in the superman position. The tech explains the procedure to me and how the dye will be pumped into the IV later on. I can hear her talking through a speaker in the next room, but she explains that the machine is loud and if I need her to press this black bulb squeezer thingie attached to a coiled, black wire.

The test begins, and all is well, but the Valium has me a little silly. I’m tired and fighting to stay awake. Every time I look up to see where the tech is, I can see the IV and the coiled up black wire and I am startled every time thinking that the dye is black going through that coiled wire. I start laughing! Why should I be afraid of black dye? Needless to say after the MRI, I sleep most of the afternoon.

Each day I talk to a doctor or tech or someone regarding cancer. It is starting to wear on me. It has only been eight days since diagnosis.

I start a Facebook page for people who want to follow my journey and pray for me. I am surprised when more than 100 people join the private group. What should I say or do on this page? God help me.

Be Still

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 liked being still. Most of my years I’ve moved quickly through school, activities, work life. But in recent years, now that I’m home with the kids, I’ve begun to slow down a bit. I’m an acts of service kind of person meaning that one of the ways I show love to others is by doing things for them – dishes, laundry, making lunches. But even just a few days after diagnosis, the mental toll is slowing me down. I see that this is God asking me to slow down. Today was a profound reminder of this. My friend Laura texted me Psalm 46:10:

“Be still, and know that I am God.

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth!”

Yes! Not only do I need to remember to be still, to slow down in all this anxiety and uncertainty, but to also give all praise and glory to God. It is illogical, but I can still praise Him in this illness, these tests, this waiting, this cancer. He is still God and I’m glad I’m not!

As I went to read from my devotional Bible the next morning, the text was this exact Psalm.

God is reminding me that he is on the throne and he holds me in his hand. Nothing is too hard for him.

So, for now, I’m trying to be still as I wait, to not focus on the diagnosis, but focus on the One who holds me through all this.

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.

Throwing Myself Against the Rocks

As many of you know, last year around this time (April 2016) I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went through numerous tests, surgery, and radiation therapy. During those days I wrote constantly. Since then, I’ve started to compile those journal entries into the beginnings of a book. This post is a portion of that 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 starting near the end of this cancer journey, because while it seems that I am finished, the truth is that this word “survivor” is only beginning to dig its talons into my mind. It’s August, just 10 days after radiation therapy ended. A mere four months since this nightmare began.

I am starting to get a glance at what cancer can do to the survivor. My body is beginning to heal, but my mind is beginning its spiral into the dark. Yet I don’t really understand the storm still coming.

Me at Camp Arcadia

It is evening at Camp Arcadia on the beautiful northern shore of Lake Michigan. I am struggling, feeling awful about myself – all the weight I’ve gained, the aftermath of surgery, and four months of recovery and radiation treatments. Feeling tired and sluggish beyond comprehension. Yet, I’m in this beautiful place – one of my favorite places in the world. The sun is on it’s way down, but it is still fully late summer evening light.

I am sitting on the raised patio six feet above the pounding surf. Beach hazard in effect, surging waves battering the seawall in front of me. At that moment, the despair envelopes me like a black cloak. I envision myself jumping in, imagining the consequences. The current pulling me under the water and the waves pushing me up, slamming me onto the rusty, jagged, metal wall, rocks, shore. My body continually battered, bloody, lifeless, crushed, smashed over and over. Normally the horror of such a thought is immediately rejected, but the heaviness is too great and in that moment the image replays over and over. I hear Jerry and the kids looking for me, yelling my name. Searching, but not finding.

It is a terrible way to die and I know I can’t do it. I press stop on the mental replay and I choose to walk away, the roaring still in my ears, images fresh and horrible in my mind. I cannot tell Jerry what I’ve just witnessed in my mind’s eye. This week has been challenging enough, the last few months heavy with despair, tears, anger, listlessness, fear.

The next night I am on the shore again, waves crashing again realizing that forward movement seems like jumping into those waves only to be battered and carried along where I don’t want to go. And isn’t that what has happened these months? Death and illness – cancer – sweeping over me, pulling me down with the undertow. Going forward doesn’t seem like an option. I am stuck here for now in the mental anguish of this pounding surf.

But these waves, these breakers, the verses come back to me – Psalm 42:7:

“Deep calls to deep

at the roar of your waterfalls;

all your breakers and your waves

have gone over me.”

All the breakers and waves HAVE gone over me. I’m battered and beaten mentally, physically. And YET deep calls out to deep. I’m drowning, but the God of the universe calls out to me in my deepest parts. And these waterfalls cover me and what happens when I emerge from all this? I don’t know as I feel that the emerging is the painful process of right now.