Introspective Insights

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

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.

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.

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.

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.