The Red Stool

A little girl was 3 1/2 yrs old when her mom & dad split up. She didn’t understand; she only knew that she was going to live with her grandma along with her mom & siblings on a very cold, lonely, miserable winter day.

Her mom had been upset and abrupt with her, and she felt so alone. Her dad wasn’t home anymore; he could always make her feel better. There were so many tears & emotions, and there was a solemn, cold feeling that she had not experienced before.

The big farmhouse kitchen was all set, ready for the noon meal, while grandma tried to console her momma. Her momma’s crying scared her. No one knew what to say. Her little sister was screaming and her older brother stood silently in the corner with a solemn stare. It’s as if her and her siblings were invisible, but silently crying out for comfort.

And that’s when grandma noticed. She noticed the scared little girl trying to hide behind a stool. She leaned over and kindly asked her bewildered little granddaughter if she liked that red stool, and when she whispered, “Yes”, grandma asked if she would like to have that red stool to keep for her very own! Wow! Grandma helped her up on the stool, and assured her that this red stool belonged only to her, not anyone else. And that red stool became almost a life raft for her. No matter what changed in their lives, no matter who might leave her or let her down, she always had her red stool that she could cling to. And her grandma kept her word throughout the years, offering her her red stool at every meal without fail. It took a kind grandma to recognize that a small child was filled with fear and gave her something that offered stability in a time of so much uncertainty.

That red stool is long gone, but there are some sweet, forever memories that are etched in that little girl’s heart and mind forever. Today we, that little girl’s grown children, want to give that red stool back to her. Only this time instead of it being a life raft for her, it’s a reminder that God is good and gracious. He won’t leave us, regardless of the circumstances. Today that little girl has walked many paths over the years. Now she is the center and foundation of many more lives; those of her husband, her children. And her grandchildren. She has offered a stability to those around her in times of uncertainty for them. The tides have changed. Happy 50th anniversary, Mom & Dad!


I Survived

I found this journal entry; written on the day I left the hospital after what we prayed would be my last chemo treatment. Just brings back soooo many memories as if it were just yesterday! There’s probably no point in me posting this, right? Wrong! It’s a good reminder to me… of so many things! God’s graciousness. His comfort. His peace. It reminds me to be thankful for all of those little things like being able to get out of bed or walk to the bathroom; to be thankful that I’m no longer so weak that I have to wear Depends.My life got so humiliating! It reminds me to be thankful for friends and family. I’ve lost so many dear friends to cancer, leaving grieving families behind. And my heart aches for them, and at the same time wondering why God chose to leave me? So much has changed in the last 2-4 years. God brought us through it all. My latest cancer in 2017 was synovial sarcoma. It doesn’t respond to chemo; otherwise, I would have been going through more chemo this last year. That will bring you back to reality. Really quickly! So, read this journal entry and think back about what all God has brought you through in your life. Then take some time to thank Him. I don’t think we do that enough… just say “Thank-you!” And hug your family and friends. You never know when God might call them home.

I’m out of the hospital and on my way to get my LAST (hopefully LAST EVERRRR) Neulasta shot. You know, the one that makes your bones go into overdrive in order to make your bone marrow go into high gear … in order to… so that… & all that jazz. It hurts. That’s all that really matters, right?

We spent last night at a brand new hotel as sort of an attempt at celebrating; they gave a decent LLU discount, which was nice! But, as is usual, I forgot how rough those first few days are. I was trying not to lie on my left or right sides; the right side messes with the port and IV lines, the left just pulls those IV lines too far. Then I’d remember … I didn’t have any of those lines attached anymore & I’d do my best to take advantage of every square inch available. It’s my wifely duty.

And then I’d wake up crying. Don’t ask me why. It’s an art I’ve perfected; being scared to death and crying. Whenever. Wherever. For no particular reason. Last night I had a reason though; I was scared. I had nightmares. I couldn’t move. I wasn’t completely aware of where I was, & I felt sick. Unbelievably sick. Then my dear husband came to my rescue… again. Seems he’s been doing a lot of that lately! It was a rough night but far more relaxing than any night you could spend in the hospital!!!! Larry set his alarm so he could give me meds around the clock; waking up after several hours of no meds right after chemo can be rather disturbing. Trust me. 😉 And so, we both begin our day exhausted… but forever grateful that this is …the last!!

Rounding the Corner. It Would be Different This Time.

Two weeks ago I found myself back on the 9300 unit of the Loma Linda University and Medical Center. Three days earlier I received a call from my husband, who had been sitting in the emergency room all day with my daughter, saying that his doctors wanted to admit him to the hospital for observation. His liver was failing for no apparent reason. Other than his recent knee surgery, he only gets sick once every six years “whether he needs to or not”, as he would cheerfully exclaim!

My brain and emotions were in turmoil. My husband is never sick! It’s always been me. He’s always the one taking care of me, helping me get around when my back would go into spasms, giving me my daily doses of meds so I don’t forget or take too many, cooking meals when I have trouble standing, holding me upright when my legs are weak, and helping me in to the vehicle when that first step seems insurmountably high! Now the tables had turned. It was my turn to sit with him in the hospital. It was my turn to make that 4-hr round trip to take him his phone charger, toiletries, extra clothes, and pickup some decent food for him. It was my turn to endure the incredibly uncomfortable bedside seats. It was my turn to ask questions. It was my turn to worry. Yet be strong. It was my turn to put on a brave face for the kids and assure them that everything would be okay because none of this was a surprise to Him.

Stepping aside for just a moment, let me backtrack and give you a little bit of history. My husband runs a non-profit organization that leads work crews for non-profit camps, working on whatever projects they need. Traditionally, the first two weeks in January are some of the busiest weeks. This year was no different. Ordering supplies, making sure to stay within budget, shopping around for the best deal, guaranteeing that supplies are on the ground in preparation for the crews, organizing everything with the camp, assigning workers to different projects, assigning crew leaders, ensuring that quality standards are met at all the various sites and projects, leading meetings, answering a barrage of legitimate questions, and on, and on, and on. And to top everything off, I had another CT scan coming up with another appointment scheduled with my oncologist. The last CT scan that I had had showed a new tumor in between my heart and my lung.

I knew he wasn’t feeling well. His coloring was off, looking kind of pale. He’s normally so tan, with a naturally darker skin pigmentation so it’s harder to tell when he’s pale. He hides it well! But by mid-week he had a definite yellow hue, there was no question about it. The whites of his eyes were a bright yellow. He was itchy, nauseous, and tired. I hadn’t seen him so sick since… well, ever, really! We decided where he should go, he made arrangements to hand-off the crews to various crew leaders and made sure there were enough supplies to last throughout the rest of the week, and my daughter started the long drive to take her daddy to see doctors that would accept our health insurance.

Long story short, he was admitted to the hospital for liver failure and the only open bed was… (wait for it…!) …on the cancer unit. The same unit where I spent weeks for heavy doses of chemotherapy. The same unit where I would curl up in the bed, lying on my side so as to not mess up the IV lines, and whimper in pain. The same unit where I had roommates who were literally dying and cried when my husband would pray with them. The same unit where I clearly remember pleading with the Lord to please make it stop. The same unit where nurses gave me “the red devil” intravenously. The same unit where I couldn’t go to the bathroom by myself and where I threw-up in bed. The same unit where I hallucinated, seeing people that weren’t really there and talking nonsense.

I told myself that I would be fine. I had to be fine. I had to be strong. We rode the same elevator I had ridden so many times before, carrying the same weekend bag I had carried innumerable times prior. We pressed that same number 9 button and stepped off onto that same carpeted landing. Nothing had changed over the years. We rounded that same corner, and walked down that same unbearably long hallway (that, for anyone else, probably was only a few feet!), turned the corner to the medical oncology wing and came to those same double doors with those same “Please be quiet” signs posted at eye level.

Everything was fine. I had my three grown children with me. I wasn’t the patient this time. It would be different. Wouldn’t it?

Those doors opened and a flood of memories, scents, and noises came rushing back as if it were replaying my story just four short years ago. But I could overcome! I walked around the nursing station, found my husband’s room, and proceeded through the doors until we came to the first bed and discovered a familiar, smiling face that I had been missing for what seemed like weeks. We were also met with the very familiar sounds of football! My dearest husband was keeping himself entertained by watching football! I should’ve known!

Hugs were exchanged, I got the most recent update on my husband’s health, and we all somehow managed to find a place to sit, though I will admit that that was a difficult feat in a room that’s shared with another patient and all kinds of equipment, wheelchairs, computers, IV stands, and chemo pumps. The bedside table became a stool as did the overnight bag! My poor husband was doing his best to be content in his situation, though his coloring was no better and we discovered that his unsoothable itching was a result of his jaundice. The boys watched a motorcycle race with their dad and I stood up to stretch. I thought if I took a few steps that it would help alleviate my back pain.

If I would have just continued sitting there I might have been fine. But standing up I saw the bathroom door and I was transported back four and five years ago where getting to the bathroom was just misery. I saw the whiteboard where nurses would write the date, their names, and sometimes a short, uplifting message for the day. Again, it was like a time machine. I went back to when I was the patient and staring at that white board was sometimes the only thing I could do. I could smell the soap, I could feel the IV and the needle in my port, I could feel the pressure of the IV lines on my port, I could feel the needles of the second IV in my arm, I could feel the tape and the bruises. I could smell the saline when it hit my blood stream, I could feel the injections in my abdomen, I could feel the nausea, and smell the plasticy and sanitary pink bucket that they would leave on my bed to throw-up in. I remembered the socks, the leg contraptions they would place on my legs when I was bed-ridden. I remembered all the pain and suffering and … all of a sudden it was hard to breathe.

I tried pacing to try and catch my breath. My heart was racing. I tried plugging my nose so I couldn’t smell. I put lotion on my hands and placed my finger under my nose so all I could hopefully smell would be my girly-smelling hand lotion. I tried standing in the corner so I wouldn’t see anything that might take me back to those horribly trying days. And I prayed. Hard! I didn’t want to cry! I was stronger than that… or, at least, I wanted to be! I pinched my lip. I pinched my arm. I bit my cheek. Anything to stop the memories and the tears in a vain attempt to regain control. But the tears kept coming. And the shaking started.

And that’s about the time when my family started to notice that something was wrong. That’s when my daughter quietly pointed out that Mom was having a hard time. That’s when my son offered to drive me back to the hotel and that’s when my husband got out of his hospital bed to comfort me. ME! The not-sick-one! How was this even happening to me?!!? I hit a new low. My KIDS were having to take care of ME! My sick husband was pulling me close to him, praying for ME! I was quickly losing this battle so I leaned on his chest and cried uncontrollably. It’s not supposed to be like this! I was so scared. And mad. Infuriated with myself. What was wrong with me? I wasn’t the patient! I wasn’t hooked up to any IV lines, the nurses remembered me and were excited to see me again. And I was having an official, full-blown meltdown!

That night ended by going back to the hotel room, (that, by the way, the Lord so graciously & generously provided) curling up in a comfy bed, lying my throbbing head on a soft pillow, closing my swollen eyes, shutting out the world, and falling into a deep and restful sleep. God knew I needed rest.

The next day we went back to that same hospital. The same room. And I prayed that somehow the Lord would give me strength. I wanted to be with my husband. The same struggles were there but He answered my prayer so bountifully that day; not only did I not cry, but doctors decided to discharge my husband that afternoon. We were all able to come home that day!

Our plans for those few weeks certainly didn’t include any of the above. But they were God’s plans and through it all God so graciously reminded me of a few things:

1. We don’t have to be the one that “keeps it together” in hard times. God is there to take control if we’ll just let Him. I thought that I had to control it, and I failed miserably.

2. It’s okay to have a “meltdown.” It’s a good reminder that we’re just human. We can’t control everything. And that God is the ultimate comforter. I didn’t have my husband beside me that night in the hotel room; the worries and memories were overwhelming, yet God allowed me a sweet, restful night.

3. Life is scary. Life is short. We need to trust Him, and we need to use what time we have here to glorify Him. Live for Him. Impact eternity.

4. God’s in control. He’s always in control! We can’t see the big picture because we don’t need to. But God can see the big picture, and He’ll guide us through life’s maze. And some sweet day, my life’s maze will be over and my dear, sweet Heavenly Father will be there to greet me. And I’ll be able to take His hand only this time He’ll guide me to Heaven because on October 16, 1981 I knelt and prayed for Him to forgive me and save me from Hell.

5. It will be worth it all. All of life’s trials and sorrows are painful to maneuver through right now. But some sweet day it will be worth it all when we see Jesus! Keep that song in your heart today.

God is Good

I’ve completed my radiation treatments! I feel normal! I get up in the morning and begin my day just like anyone else. After crawling out of bed and scuffling into the bathroom, I manage to drag myself into the kitchen to get something to drink or eat. Then I head back to my bedroom to crawl under my warm covers to drink my tea or eat my yogurt, or whatever my hands have found. It’s when I get back to the bedroom that I start to notice anomalies… I’m short of breath. How did that happen? I haven’t done anything! My aching back has now become supremely painful and the shooting pain in my ribs has jolted me out of any bleary-eyed state I may have been in earlier. But, I make it back under my covers, with pillows propped precariously to try to support the various areas of most discomfort. My feet are starting to thaw with the warmth of the bedding, but I find myself gasping for air and wincing in pain. I must not have the pillows arranged properly. Maybe the back discomfort is just my imagination … it will go away eventually, right?!

No, the back pain doesn’t go away, although a tender back rub from my husband will often calm down the spasming, knotted muscles. No, the shortness of breath doesn’t get better, due in part, I suspect, to the surgeon’s removing part of my left lung. Some days, weeks, or months, my husband isn’t home and I have to continue on without him.
But every morning the pain and discomfort remind me that I cannot make it through my day without God. Those aren’t new or profound words. They’re words we hear all the time. They’re words that we might flippantly remind ourselves of occasionally. But how good is God when He reminds me every morning that I can’t possibly survive another day without His help? 
I’m so thankful that He patiently reminds me and doesn’t give me the responsibility of remembering! Because we all know how well I remember things…! 😂

Scars. The Untold Story.

My surgery incision sites can’t be seen if you were to just look over at me. I have to work pretty hard and use a mirror in order to see some of them! Sometimes I’m glad I can’t see the scars; it’s a scary reminder of what was there and what can so easily come back. On the other hand, I can see some of the scars if I just look. I can feel the pain or numbness left behind from the surgeries. Either way, I have scars from this life that I could never have predicted. There have been valleys that my family and I have gone through but there have also been mountaintops that we’ve navigated. Regardless of the emotions and where we were on our journey, they are all memorable and they’ve all shaped me into who I am today.

Sometimes the scars scare me… quite literally, and I find myself crying or shaking. Sometimes the scars create an inexplicable feeling of gratitude; the Lord has allowed me to live and guided us on a journey I never could have survived on my own.

The scars remind me that I am nothing. We are totally dependent on Him.

The scars remind me that God’s plans are best because He can see the full picture; I can’t.

The scars remind me that no matter how hard and tedious we plan the day, or the next month, or the next five years of our life, that our lives can change in an instant.

The scars remind me of death. It’s inevitable for each and every one of us. No one is immune.

The scars remind me of Christ’s crucifixion; He took my sins and died in my place so that I could accept the gift of salvation.

The scars remind me of what Christ endured for us… you and me! The pain.

The scars remind me of life; the life that I had, the life that I hoped to have, the life that I’m living now, the breath that I took this morning. We so often take such a miraculous thing for granted! How is it that such a technologically advanced item like the human body isn’t a marvel for the whole world to behold in awe? How did we get so used to accepting such wonders and finite detail as “routine?!”

The scars remind me of childhood. Remember falling down and skinning your knee? Remember when your mom would ease the pain and fix it? Moms are gifted that way; taking the pain away and making us feel comforted.

My scars remind me that other people have scars too and they’re not always of a physical nature. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t experiencing (or have experienced) pain or fighting through a valley. I was reminded of doubting Thomas in John… refusing to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, saying he would have to see the actual wounds and scars before he would accept it. Why are we the same way with others? Unless we can see that you are physically sick, we won’t sympathize with struggles that person might be in the midst of? They may have been through terrifying, forever scarring valleys, yet we may not have seen the struggle firsthand so we expect them to continue on in life as if it were all one big mountaintop and are quick to judge if they falter. Sometimes I wish we could see people’s hearts!

My scars tell stories. They make me step back and think. They make me pause. What makes you pause? What makes you marvel at the little miracles that we see every day? What makes you stop and thank the Lord for your mother? What makes you seriously question your plans, or gives you the ability to trust Him and His plans for you?

I have scars… not something that everyone has. But God has used those scars in my life. What is He using in your life? Let Him use those “scars.” Let Him remind you, teach you, guide and comfort you. Just look. We just have to take the time to actually LOOK at the scars. It’s okay to be afraid or scared because there’s a Heavenly Father willing and ready to help and comfort you. It’s okay to be thankful and praise Him for what He’s done. It’s okay to step back and be in awe of what He has created and provided. It’s okay to enjoy life and remember to take nothing for granted.

Look at your scars today. What’s God trying to tell you?

“Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” John 20:27-29

Instead, Wait

Waiting. It’s become the story of my life. Waiting and waiting some more. 

  • I waited for the doctor to tell me the diagnosis. 
  • I waited until after he said “cancer” to cry. 
  • I waited for a hospital bed. 
  • I waited for the nightly treatments. 
  • I waited to go back home to see my kids. 
  • I waited while my husband took care of me before we could go to an appointment. 
  • I waited for tests to come back clear.
  • I waited for my oncologist to open the scan results on his computer. 
  • I waited to hear “it’s back.” 
  • I waited for it to strike. 
  • I waited for the surgery day. 
  • I waited for the epidural. 
  • I waited to see my husband. 
  • I waited for the medications. 

You get the idea, right?!? My life used to be the same as everyone else’s. I used to get up in the morning and live my life; go to work, help the kids, cook, do laundry, etc. And, if we were lucky, I might be able to prepare for a family vacation. We’d carefully plan months ahead of time so that we weren’t being unfair to employers and co-workers, so that family could plan accordingly, and our family had something to look forward too! 

Cancer changes all of that. You can’t plan. You’re left hanging. Waiting to hear test results before you can decide if you can go on vacation. You wait to see how well/poorly the treatments go before you can decide if you’re well enough to go to work. You wait to see if you can pay the bills that month because the savings account has been cleared out paying medical bills and treatment costs. We’ve experienced so many disappointments in our lives since cancer. It’s become a family joke… don’t plan a family vacation cuz cancer is going to come back! It took away our highly anticipated 8-week sabbatical that we had been preparing for for well over a year. It took away a week long family reunion, it took away precious time I had with my children. It took away some very rare, carefree moments that I was so desperately looking forward to. 

As I sat in bed, wondering when the pain would subside, wondering if life would ever have those carefree moments again and if we would ever have the luxury of planning again, I came to the realization that I was waiting … yet again! But this time 

  • instead of waiting for my medications, I was waiting for my daughter to come home! 
  • Instead of waiting for my husband to care for me, I was waiting for him to return to the couch to sit beside me and hold my hand. 
  • Instead of waiting for the doctor’s office to call, I was waiting for a text from my sister. 
  • Instead of waiting for sleep to close my eyelids, I was waiting for my son to come home for a visit! 
  • Instead of waiting for the doctor to give me a dreaded treatment plan, I was waiting for him to tell me that surgery was successful. 
  • Instead of waiting for my kids had to leave again, I was waiting for when they’d come home next. 
  • Instead of waiting for the day when my husband had to leave for work, I waited for the day when he’d return. 

Life with cancer has been difficult during the best of times. Even when things look clear you’re waiting for it to rise up and strike again, and then you spend precious time trying to mend the emotions and get yourself back on track. It is hard on the family members; the stress of not knowing, the worry of knowing, the anxiety of the questions left unanswered. We can’t plan definitely for tomorrow; we can only temporarily think plans through. Only God holds the future. Instead, we can wait. 

Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD. -Psalms 27:14 

Our soul waiteth for the LORD: he is our help and our shield. -Psalms 33:20 

Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him… -Psalms 37:7

Learning a New Me

It’s been awhile! Today I sat down in my yellow chair, reflecting on my life since cancer. The treatments are over, my hair has grown back, I’m no longer in a wheelchair or bedridden, and my tests and appointments get a little further apart with time. However, with all of those acknowledgements, I find myself raw. It seems like a crazy spiral that I know (somewhere in my subconscious) isn’t real nor is it long term. Yet here I am, two years later, still wondering when I will be able to turn my life around?!

A normal gas engine for a regular vehicle can idle anywhere between 540 up to 1000 rpms. You know what “idle” means, right? It means “not active, not in use.” Your vehicle is just sitting there, waiting for instructions from you since you, the driver, are in control. When an engine is working harder, the rpms climb. When you drive up a steep grade your engine needs more power. Well, that’s me. My person is stuck in high gear. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, thinking, or feeling; I’m in the “screamin’, all-in” mode. My anxiety levels are high regardless of the situation or circumstances. That’s bad. My emotions are at extremes. That’s bad! My anger is quick to boil over, the tears are constantly threatening to spill over for no apparent reason, the fear is always looming, never subsiding, the irritability seems to be set off by more insignificant things.

I feel like I’m on high alert all the time; will I say something offensive? Will my frustration show? Will I cry? If I start crying, will I be able to stop? Why am I crying in the first place? Whatever happened to the easy-going old me? How do I learn who the new me is?

My oncologist said that it’s not uncommon for cancer patients to suffer from ptsd. It’s a daily battle. My ptsd was brought on by cancer and major life changes have not helped my situation at all! But my heart aches for so many others out there that are hurting, facing similar battles with anxiety and ptsd that I am for different reasons – losing a loved one, life threatening diseases and traumatic treatments, etc. And well-meaning people (yes, even Christians) can oftentimes make it worse by throwing around terminology and phrases that don’t help. Here is a list of phrases I recommend avoiding telling someone who is struggling:

1. “You need to just put your past behind you.”
Well, I would if I could, but my past (cancer) is what defines me as who I am today. It’s what makes me who I am today. That can’t be ignored. I look in the mirror and I see a different me. God directed my family and I through our past and He gave us grace. It’s to be remembered. Not forgotten.

2. “God won’t give you more than you can handle!”
Au contraire! Yes, He will. With the sole purpose of drawing you closer to Him. Ptsd is a daily battle that all kinds of different people have to deal with who are from all walks of life and are various ages. There’s no one situation that fits for everyone.

3. “You just need to trust Him.”
Yes, I do. Do you really think I’ve been trying NOT to? In the same breath, so do you. Don’t give advice that you’re not willing to take. Are you trusting Him with your child(ren)? Are you trusting Him with your broken down vehicle? Are you trusting Him with your finances? Your job? Your marriage? Your friends and relationships? Your Christmas budget? So many people throw this phrase out there as a good ol’ fix-it for anything that ails you, but it rarely comes across as sincere simply because very rarely in life is everyone trusting Christ as completely and wholly as we ought to be. Oftentimes this phrase only comes across as caring if the other individual has been through the same ordeal as you have experienced. Don’t minimize their trauma and the battle. Work on your trust. Don’t worry about someone else’s.

4. Religious cliches… combining 2 and 3…
It is often easier to discourage someone by throwing these comments out there because these statements often make an individual feel inadequate or that they are not living as spiritually as they need to be. Quotes like this can be more discouraging and you don’t want to make the individual feel like God is judging them in any way because of a valley that they are struggling through.

5. “It’s because of the meds that you’re taking. You need to get off of them.”
No one can fully know or understand a person’s medical history and have no right to change, doubt, or create doubt about a person’s prescriptions. There are oftentimes legitimate physical needs for medications and since you’re not a doctor you cannot assume that any of the medications that someone is on is either “bad” or not working. Leave the medicine to the professionals.

It’s hard to try and figure out who the new you is. You used to enjoy certain things in life and now they no longer bring the same joy. It’s changed. Worries and anxiety seem to hang over your head when you used to be able to live life seemingly carefree beyond the normal stresses. It’s changed. People look at you funny or avoid you. Why? Did you lash out at them and don’t remember it? Do you act differently? It’s changed.

Struggling to understand who you are again is a task that no one prepared me for. No one prepared my family for. There are times where I cry in despair, feeling I have no control over my new path. There are times where I cry from fear, of what I might do or from the unknown. There are times where I cry from being overwhelmed; life changes, or the constant threat of “the cancer” returning. And there are times where I cry because of the known. I know I’m different now and sometimes grieve losing my old self. I cry because I lost a year and a half with my kids; my kids were getting older and high school graduation was coming that year for my oldest and the following year for my second child. I can see my time coming to an end with them under our roof. And then there’s the inevitable… I cry because I’m alive. I cry because I’m not the one in the hospital bed on IV lines. I cry because I feel guilty that I survived.

I know that I have issues that need to be worked on. But I’m far from alone. How many other housewives, or cancer survivors, or widows, or widowers, or adult men, etc., get up every morning psyching themselves up to fight the mental battle anew that morning? It’s a battle that so easily feels like you’re losing. It’s a battle that Christians don’t talk about, or if they do they impart their misplaced good intentions. It’s a battle that is way too often judged and the souls that are fighting it are often left alone on the battlefield to fend for themselves. So today, I encourage you to pray for those who struggle with mental and anxiety battles. Encourage them. Love them. Don’t judge, scrutinize, or try to give advice. Just listen for a change. Just be there for them. As James 1:19 states, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak…” Sometimes a sympathetic ear makes all the difference and is the small boost of help that they’ve been looking for. After all… God listens to us.

“Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.” Jer 29:12

I haven’t posted in a while. Here’s an update; learning my “new normal!”


I was diagnosed with cancer in Feb 2013. My treatments took a full year. Now, I’m still doing routine MRIs, CT scans, bone tests, blood work, port flushes, etc. Every time a test comes back clear I ask my oncologist, “Can I finally say ‘cancer free’?” His response? A very blunt, “No.” I get that there’s no guarantee; tomorrow is never promised to anyone. I get that this cancer has a high recurrence rate and its aggressive. I understand that there’s risk involved. So the question becomes not how do I obtain the goals that I desire, but how do I respond to realities of which I have no control?

I’m not going through chemo, my hair has grown back (except for my sketchy eyebrows!), I no longer need a wheelchair (but my body is ridiculously weak), I no longer have burns on my back and esophagus (there are scars), I don’t have a drain hanging from my side (but I tend to hunch over while walking, favoring my left side). My back isn’t in pain from the tumor but I have constant sharp, searing nerve pain in my ribs and the back muscles knot up and begin a war. I don’t fear the next treatment; I fear myself. I don’t fear the hallucinations; I fear my emotions.

You see, the battle with cancer during the treatments, as gut wrenching as they were, were something we took one day at a time … together. I had my oncologist encouraging me. The nurses would smile brightly and be as gentle as possible. I got electronic reminders that people were praying for me and notes in the mail. We got phonecalls, and a reassuring hand on the shoulder. It helped our entire family unit! We weren’t alone!

Now the treatments are over and all of a sudden the team that you had surrounding you are gone. There are still friends praying but it is assumed that you are picking up the pieces and carrying on with your life. Sounds normal, right? There’s nothing wrong with those expectations, right?! I thought it would take me a few months to get back on my feet and be my same ol’ self again. Why wouldn’t I? After all, I had survived chemo, radiation, surgery, and then more chemo; the oncologist told me in no uncertain terms, “Don’t go on the Internet; it will scare you to death” and followed up with, “The treatment for Ewing’s is the worst possible thing I could do to any of my patients.” Well now, my regular office work seemed so minuscule! I didn’t even see it as a mountain to climb! It was an open gate leading back to my old life. A few months after returning from work I failed at something in my office. I truly can’t remember what it was (it was something mundane), but I do remember joking and saying that I was going to blame my mistake on the chemo! The individual I was talking to responded with, “Well, how long are you going to blame chemo anyway!?? I mean, really?” Wow! That response kind of rocked me to my core; I certainly wasn’t trying to avoid taking responsibility for anything I might have done wrong. I was joking! On the other hand, there are times when it’s a legitimate excuse, for goodness sakes! (I figured I’d blame chemo for everything for the rest of my life…!) But now it was clear to me that people fully expected me to function on a totally normal basis; back up to full throttle. No excuses or you look like a wuss and you’re seen as the whiny-complainy one. I’ve never been a whiner so I pushed myself harder. I wanted to pull my own weight and then some. I wanted to be reliable and the backbone of the team. I wanted to be needed. And I’ve never referred to my cancer at work again… not in a working sense.

The harder I worked, the worse I got. I was so beaten down by the time I got home from work I was simply worthless. No cooking, no cleaning, no talking; I’d fall asleep wherever I landed. No laundry. No nothing. I’d drag myself out of bed in the morning, feeling sick to my stomach and off I’d go again. My weekends consisted of staying on the couch or in my bed, gaining enough rest and strength to get through Sunday and then my work week began again. It’s one of those “Well, my, you LOOK good!” scenarios where your legs are about to crumble beneath you, your heart is racing & you have beads of perspiration on your forehead while you secretly wonder if you’re going to faint. If you look good, then you’re fine, right?! There are so many diseases and illnesses where you might look fine but you’re stuck in a very dependent, sick mode. I also found myself struggling with a personality and emotional change; PTSD. This was completely foreign to me!

Now, to try and make things better I would have to cut back on my work hours and in response to that, my job responsibilities would change drastically. I felt like a failure at home AND at work even though I was the first one to admit that the extra rest was the best thing for me.

It comes back to the question we stated earlier…. how do you handle dealing with the curve balls that life throws your way?

1. Accept that there is a new “normal.” Your life is different after dealing with any kind of trauma, and disease is trauma. Find a friend that you can talk to and vent too. They don’t need to encourage you; you just need to let it out.

2. Make adjustments in your lifestyle. I had to change my work, cutting back on the hours I worked and finding a position that was less stressful. I can’t do all the housework and cooking myself but I’m much more able to help at this point than I was 6 months ago. And I’m enjoying it. I only regret not making this change right away after coming back from cancer. I regret pushing myself.

3. Find a hobby. I had to find something that would get me outside and keep me focused on something other than that weird pain in my leg (or a lump in your arm, or a chronic cough, or a pinched nerve in your back, or…, or…, or… A Ewing’s sarcoma diagnosis has a way of hovering over your head…for forever. Kind of like any cancer. It can always sneak back into your life and turn everything upside down again. A trusted friend could go to a Bible study with you, you could start painting or drawing, learn graphics on the computer, write a blog… something to occupy your time and your mind.

4. Try to exercise. I hate this. I’m so weak I struggle still with endurance and stamina but I know that exercise is healthy. Exercise creates endorphins and you actually feel better. Try a short walk to start with.

5. Get others to pray for you! The long duration of this disease is discouraging at best. It wears on your mental and emotional stability. I find myself dealing with anger more than I ever would have imagined! I was always the easy going one and now I found myself getting completely irritable over minute things like someone clicking their pen, banging on a table, saying hello, kids being unruly or misbehaving, etc. I actually “mourn the loss” of my old self, as crazy as that sounds. I just can’t think of a better way to say it. Some days I feel like I can step out of my body and judge my emotions or reactions as completely overboard, yet here I am doing it again. Are my reactions right? No! But it’s truly a daily battle to keep everything in check. You can’t overcome this without God’s help!

6. Find somebody else you can help or encourage…this one might take awhile! It’s important to note here that others aren’t always willing to receive your helpful tidbits and pointers that you’ve learned from your experience. Some people aren’t receptive of advice. Just keep on focusing on Him and find another soul that you can help until you find someone that needs your assistance or encouragement!

7. Figure out what calms you down; music, a pet, quiet and rest, etc. There’s usually some kind of trigger that will bring your anxiety levels down… maybe gardening, reading a book, looking through a magazine. Remember: people around you are clueless & don’t understand your anxiety or emotions.

8. Develop a thick skin. Sadly, there are always going to be a few people out there that are going to say the wrong thing, insinuate something rude, take advantage of you, put you down, or treat you as a lesser human being. In order to let these retorts bounce off of you, pray for them! As hard as it is… just start earnestly praying for them and you’ll find your heart softening before you ever say, ‘Amen.’image

Smelling a Memory

image.jpegThe other day I cleaned out a drawer where I discovered many of the head coverings that I wore during the year and a half where I was bald from cancer treatments. I struggled with them; finding something that was comfortable and wouldn’t slip off, something that matched my outfits and didn’t have inside seams that scratched my scalp, something that would keep me warm when I was cold and something that would keep me cool when I was melting down. Needless to say there was quite the variety of goodies in that drawer!

There was a part of me that was reminded how grateful I am that I no longer require the use of any of those items! On the other hand, it was like somebody stuck my finger in an electrical outlet; the shock jolted me right back to those many, many hospital rooms. Each hat or scarf reminded me of something different; none of them were good. The soft cream cap reminded me of those painful nights in the hospital, where I found myself crying, curling up in a ball, wondering if I could do this and how long I could last. Then wondering why the Lord wasn’t taking the severe pain away. The fuzzy purple cap reminded me that the strongest doses of chemo sent my body spiraling into menopause and the new struggles with temperature variations. All of a sudden I would be profusely sweating and claustrophobic and then next I was freezing cold. The bright yellow cap took me back to one of my earlier appointments where the oncologist predicted my hair would be gone within a week, while my husband and I stood there in complete shock, a kind nurse offered me a cap to take home with me so I was ready for when the inevitable happened and I hadn’t mustered up the courage to go shopping yet. I remember the black and white hat that I wore to keep the sun off my scalp and neck while my family pushed me around in a wheelchair. I was too weak to walk. I remember looking at everyone else walking normally down the sidewalk, through the hallways, wondering how I managed to be stuck in a wheelchair in my 40’s and the humiliation of my husband needing to care for my every need like brushing my teeth for me. I remember the lilac colored cap that I got frustrated with when my hair tried so desperately to grow during radiation and chemo but only managed a tiny sprig… which acted like Velcro next to a microfiber pillowcase or cap!! They stuck to my scalp! Talk about annoying…

So many scarves and hats or caps, and emotions to go with each one of them. But do you know what was more powerful than the memories? The smells!! With each hat came a memory of a room, a place, an emotion. And with each memory came a whole host of smells as if I were standing there today, this very minute.

I could smell the steamy, hot plastic food trays as they arrived, then the waft of various food odors that were never pleasant. I smelled the saline as it entered the bloodstream, the smell of the sterilized equipment as the nurses wore protective gear being careful not to let the chemo bags drip on anything or touch any skin. I smelled the mask; the paper medical masks that anyone coming near me or in my room had to wear. I remember struggling with the claustrophobia again when I wore one. I smelled the bathroom odors; strong, pungent chemicals that came from me, not from cleaning agents to keep the bathroom clean, and the coordinating “hazardous chemicals” sign posted in brilliant coloring on my door. I remember the smell of the industrial hospital linens; the linens on the bed were crisp and clean but far from inviting. The warming blankets had a separate odor as the nurses would carry one in from the warmer to put on my legs and feet to calm my shivering cold body. I remember the smells in the waiting room. The hospital waiting room was overcrowded and packed & had so many different odors it often made me sick: perfume, cologne, deodorant, body odor, body spray, smoke, food, musky, sweaty, and more. It made your mind swirl. I remember the smell of the pink plastic buckets that sat on my bed, standing ready for the inevitable stomach-turning episode the morning after chemo. I remember the smell of the paper cups that my meds were given out in, the smell of the packaged jello, the smell of the nurses as they worked so closely with my port, the smell of the soap that every dispenser in that complex contained, the smell of the pre-packaged non-skid socks that you were given at admittance. The list goes on and on. I can feel my heart trembling and my stomach churning as if I were walking onto the 9300 oncology unit right now.

Out of all of the smells that are seared into my memory, there are two very distinct odors that are more vivid than the rest. They aren’t odors that anyone would even think of either. When I smell either one of those two odors it is quite literally like I stepped into a time machine. You’ll probably think I’m crazy, but just wait…

I remember my body odor! Don’t laugh! Let me explain… During all of my treatments I struggled with hot flashes, menopause, intolerance to cold, etc., but I quit having any underarm perspiration. Crazy, isn’t it?! I just quit sweating there. I still sweat (obviously, since I had hot flashes, right?!?!), just not quite in the same way. And, my body odor was completely different. It took me a few weeks to figure it out too. I would lie in bed, suffer from temperature variations, hit panic and meltdown mode whenever I though I might have a fever (that was a very serious indication and we had strict instructions from my oncologist to head straight to their ER if that ever were to happen), and I associated those emotions with a very distinct, chemical odor. I would spray on perfume or body spray, and wear deodorant just like I’ve always done, but I could never smell those things. The chemicals in my system were being excreted through my pores. It wasn’t an offensive odor; not like you’ve been working outside in the hot sun with no deodorant or like you haven’t taken a shower in 3 weeks. I’m not sure if anyone else noticed that I smelled different. I never thought to ask! Those hats brought all of these smells and memories back.

I remember my head odor! Now you really think I’m crazy, don’t you?! Seriously, ask my husband if you want confirmation. When I lost my hair, my hair died. Everything was killed. We shaved my head but that only removes the hair from the scalp up. You have to remember that each hair has a root. You could see little black dots on my head from where the roots remained embedded in my scalp, but if you took your index fingers and lightly squeezed on either side of that root, it would just slide right on out (similarly to an ordinary pimple). There was just a lonely little hair follicle sitting in there, unable to grow, unable to fall out, unable to go anywhere. It was fried beyond recognition! Those little bits of dead hair stuck in my scalp also had a very peculiar odor and nothing that anyone noticed beyond my husband and myself. It’s a jarring memory. No one warns you about these crazy memories and odors when you go in for treatment.

My hats brought back memories; most of them are horribly terrifying where I want to run crying to my bedroom. On the other hand, I am also reminded of the many friends and family members that sent so many of those hats as gifts or sent money to purchase them. I know exactly the individual and their sweet faces that belong to each covering. I remember the well wishes and notes that were sent. And after all of the torment and scarring, God reminds me one more time of His gracious provision and mercy. Even though there are days where I struggle, and there are moments where the memories and flashbacks are overwhelming, I come back to the same conclusion… I wouldn’t change a thing.