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.

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.

Cancer In A Box

Back in 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’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.

Yesterday I was diagnosed and today I just want it to be a normal day. But normal is different for everyone and that word cancer was already starting to rip the normalcy rug from under me.

My brother Chris and sister-in-law Kristi came over to visit. We planned to celebrate Chris’s birthday and I was laser point focused on this being about him and not me today. In my head I’ve refused to think much about everything because I’m waiting until the next appointment, the next phone call for more information. It seems pointless to obsess over things. But I didn’t really think about what this means to other people – what they may do or see when I see them. There was no way cancer could be anything but the elephant in the room that day.

Chris is the quiet giant of our family and it is easy to believe that not much affects him, but of course that is not true. Kristi needs to talk, to process things, just like most women do. She sat with me practically in tears the whole time. She told me how sad and down Chris was when he found out and had not yet told her what happened. Seeing his expression of sadness, choked up, looking down, it affected me greatly. Kristi invited me to always speak my mind about it in their presence – good or bad – that all emotions were appropriate and OK. I’ve never thought about how important this is – opening the door to speak openly.

She also acknowledged that only talking about this can be overwhelming too. Very true. Cancer was definitely the last thing I wanted to talk about. I told them that I have put this in a box until Tuesday. There is nothing I can do about it until then, so what is the point?

This whole exchange with them made me wonder – am I taking this seriously enough? By some appearances it may seem not. I think that I am, but I just can’t make the words “breast cancer” roll around in my head all that time or I will go crazy.

Diagnosis Day

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. Since then, 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.

No one wants to say, “I have cancer,” but the fact is, I do. No one wants to live in that reality, but I must. So here I am writing this story I don’t want to write, but I must write.

The first thing is the peace, the answered prayers already. The preparation of my heart and mind. I start to think back over the last few months. God preparing me to face this reality. I remember driving past the cancer center one day knowing somehow in the corner of my mind that I will be spending time there. There are more and more ways that God has prepared me and I didn’t write them all down. Too many to count or remember.

But back to the phone call, the words “invasive ductal carcinoma”, me kneeling on the floor by the bed, calming my frayed voice and mind. Trying to ask questions, trying to understand. The radiologist is kind and reassures me that I have done the right thing, I went in immediately when I felt the lump. I will get through this, it is very treatable. Her voice echoes around in the white space of my mind. I hang up the phone. I call Jerry and now I’ve crumpled all the way down to the floor and I choke out the words, “It is cancer.” He says, “I will be right there.” I lock the bedroom door. I lie down.

It’s news that I didn’t want to share with people who have hurt so much, my family. It’s what my 10-year-old daughter Kayla so aptly described as “The thing that happens to other people, not someone you know and definitely not your mom.” Yes, my heart breaks for this wiser-than-her-years girl.

The love and support start to pour through my phone – overwhelming, still processing it all, making a list of all that people have offered to do.

I want things to stay normal somehow. I want to laugh and sing and read, run when I can and accept in the pain of life is also the joy. They are inexplicably linked.

Telling the kids is painful. They don’t understand and we try our best to explain it all, what we know, but there are too many unknowns at this point.

We decide to go out to eat at P.F. Chang’s that night. Kayla doesn’t understand. How can we be out and pretend that we are happy when we are so sad? We explain that sometimes in the face of darkness and pain, we choose celebration in an act of joyful defiance.

We put cancer aside. We try the white tea with tangerine. We each sip quietly. We find a way to laugh and smile.

Knowing

It is 9:18pm and I am spent, empty, listless. Mondays can be like this, but today cast a heavier burden than usual. I drove to the kid’s school three times – almost four when I realized Kayla forgot her gym clothes. I baked bread, did dishes, made dinner, baked chocolate chip cookies. Helped Zach with four times as much homework since he missed school today. I drove to two stores and got my eyebrows waxed in an hour’s time. My activity tracker should say I walked the equivalent of five miles, but it only says 2.5 – a typical non-exercise day for me.

This weariness started at 5pm when I realized that today was all “doing” and not “knowing”. I did a plethora of things for those I love, but I didn’t invest in knowing them more and for that, I am sorry. I spent my time unwisely today. Yet, this is a typical pattern for me and I’m not sure how to change it. I sit in the living room, at the table, and look at their faces. I marvel how much they have changed over the years. In a few weeks, Abby will be five and do I remember how she looked when she was nine months old? Memories fuzzy, tasks always at hand. I don’t know how to get to know them better, to help them understand that they matter to me.

My failure to know haunts me with icy words. “They will leave you and never come back.” “You are missing out on everything.” “Why try to know them better, the time is so short.” And I withdraw into this gnawing pain. I don’t have an answer, I only know the question. And I usually have it together, which makes this all the more difficult. I understand the mechanics of the solution, but not the heart of it.

So I am quiet and listening and looking towards tomorrow, searching for grace.

Captivated By Child-Like Faith

I’ve been a bit down the last day or two. Overwhelmed by the impending holidays, the dark days ahead, the time change, and my over committed schedule. Times like this, make me wonder how I can make it through each day.

Today started out sunny orange, reflecting the last remaining fall colors so brilliantly. But as I drove my little Abby to school, the inky gray clouds had settled in promising rain. As we rounded the corner of our block, I noticed a row of trees that had just turned yellow red in the last couple of days. “Look at those pretty trees, Abby!” All she said to me is “Glory to God”. Yes, my sweet baby girl, of course. Glory to God for the beauty he gives daily if we just slow down enough to look. Then she started singing the song of the same name.

I need to remember to look at this world through her eyes, in child-like acceptance of what God so freely gives to us. This child inspires me daily and I can take no credit for her faith. It is a gift from God and for that, I am grateful.

Sucker Punched

I’m not one to whine and complain, but there are times when a day attacks and wins. I’m not sure when it started, but by mid-morning, the headache began. By noon, I couldn’t keep my eyes open and by mid-afternoon, I was angrily yelling. In my self-inflicted time out, I asked myself the same question I always ask, why do I fall victim to this madness?

I crawl out of my hole, apologize to the kids. Start slow and quiet, helping with homework. Understanding fills the room. Hugs and silliness and laughter follow. Yet, I still face off to the fear, the sneaky lie that tells me that I push the kids away every moment and that someday they will give up on me. Yet, I know that even when I’m irrational, I always love them. And this broken, tarnished mom will always start again.