Monday, July 2, 2018

Fifty Five and Staying Alive!


I made it! I am 55 and staying alive! As Facebook shares memories with me, it is crazy to think that five years ago I spent my 50th birthday going to chemo appointments and preparing for the surgery that would successfully remove three tumors—one from my colon and two from my liver. It was a hypersensitive time for me—I was reeling with so many emotions, but the strongest was the intense will to live so I could watch my boys continue to grow into the amazing men they are today. I remember first praying that God would allow me to see them graduate. After the first surgery, I upped the ante and asked Him to please let me see them get married. Most of you who have followed my blog from the beginning (and I thank you for your faithfulness, your support, and your prayers) know that my journey is far from over. The cancer has come back twice (both in my lung)—the most recent tumor found at this time last year. So this post is an update on my health, a peek into my faith and attitude during this difficult time, and a reflection on what it is like to live while chasing cancer.

I know I have been silent on my blog lately. The intent was to scale back on blog posts so I could focus on turning my blog into a book. Unfortunately, I have been horribly undisciplined in writing my book, and a lot of it is because I am still inundated with health appointments, scans, insurance issues and all the bureaucracy involved in chasing cancer. The good news is that I FINALLY have a nurse advocate and social worker interceding on my behalf through my insurance company. This only took FIVE years! But they check in with me every week, help me with resources, and do some of the dirty work so I don’t have to think about it. (for any of you who have had to deal with health insurance, you know that it is truly a part time job and it only produces more stress and anxiety for an already sick patient!!!)

On the health front—it has been extremely difficult lately. Most of the complications began back in October of 2016 when I had surgery for an abdominal hernia due to the zipper scar from the first surgery in 2013. I have written about this in previous blogs, but for purposes of catching you all up, here is the short (well, not so short) version:

*After the hernia surgery, I had numerous issues with back and stomach pain and numerous return visits to the doctors. It took five months before the doctors finally got it and realized that the surgery was not done properly and that they needed to repair it.
*I had the second hernia repair last June and that led to the “summer from hell” in which I had multiple complications with drains and infections which led to me being in the hospital for four days (days in which I was supposed to be moving Noah into his second year of college).
*Concurrently, the doctors found that I had another tumor in my lung and I was scheduled for surgery to remove that tumor. Three weeks after I left the hospital, I was admitted again where the lung surgeon removed the lower lobe of my right lung. They got the tumor and found another small one at the same time.
*Thinking I was cancer free again and ready to move on, I found out that my cancer blood markers kept rising and they have continued to rise each month by about 1-2 points. This has led to scans (with a hefty co-pay for each one) every other month to find where the cancer might be. Each scan has come back with NO TUMOR found, hence the term I have coined—“chasing cancer.”
*Concurrently the doctors diagnosed me with Interstitial Cystitis (IC)—a bladder condition that is extremely painful, but treatable (not curable).
*I was starting to feel a bit better, though my anxiety would rear its ugly head every time I felt pain or headaches that lasted more than one day. And then in May I began getting the strangest symptoms of nausea and weakness and throwing up and tightness and bloating in my abdomen. So I went to the doctor, got a full physical, blood work, and scans of my pelvis and abdomen. (NO, I wasn’t pregnant—I am a senior citizen people!) The results came back that I had swelling and inflammation in my ureter (which goes from kidney to bladder) and elevated creatinine levels (which help with kidney function), but no infection detected.
*Which leads us to the present. I am still experiencing nausea and chronic pain on the daily. I have appointments with a urologist and a kidney specialist, but they are in late July. And I have NO answers since the scan did not show cancer yet again.

To sum it up, I am a HOT MESS. And…this is extremely difficult for someone like me who HAS NO TIME FOR THIS BUSINESS! I have a life to live to the fullest.

For a TYPE A, control freak, INFJ (on the Meyers Briggs scale), Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)—all this wreaks extreme havoc on the heart, soul, body, and mind. And it leads me to the end of myself every single day…which leads me to my knees which leads me to my Savior which leads me to surrender. Every hour, every day. 

I can honestly say that I have not felt 100% well for nearly two years. Most of my days I push through at about 65% and there are some days that I push through at about 30%. It is wearing, taxing, and exhausting. I have a short fuse, little patience, and many little fits of rage. This last month during all this pain I had one full blown panic attack and one mini panic attack—which I have never had before.  (Unfortunately the beneficiaries of these lovely qualities are my husband and boys). As I have said before, my husband qualifies for sainthood. And as I have also said before many times in my blog, I am just trying to keep it real here. I want you all who read this to know that even though I have my faith and even though I know Jesus is with me, this is so hard to go through. I am weary. I am burdened. I long to feel vibrant and full of energy and able to every day things without having to push myself.

Two weeks ago I went to North Carolina to pick up my son Noah from the Young Life camp where he had been working for three weeks and to tour five NC colleges for my younger son Micah. I was still weak with nausea and headaches and add to that the humidity and the elevation (we were up in the Blue Ridge Mountains)—and while I had a few decent days, I also had about three very miserable days where I could barely make it through. And in those extremely hard moments, Noah would come in and pray over me. I was getting really pissed off that I was in so much pain and I was determined that pain would not get the best of me, so the boys and I headed off to a gorgeous hike to Linville Falls in the mountains. It was an easy two mile round trip hike and I figured I could do it. As we walked I was feeling winded and my stomach was tightening up and I had to stop at least five times because I thought I was going to puke. The boys were so patient with me and kept saying we should turn around and the stubborn me refused to turn around. It was only a two mile hike dammit! I saw all these cute older couples with their walking sticks and I said, “I want to do that when I am eighty years old! And I can’t even make it now!” And then I started crying and the boys patted my back and held my hand and told me I would be doing that when I was eighty! We made it up to the falls and back and it was absolutely gorgeous and I came back and rested and by the evening I was feeling well enough to go out to dinner. We went to an adorable place in the college mountain town of Boone that the locals had recommended and the boys and I laughed and talked about our trip and they teased me for being such a dork of a mom. When we arrived back in San Diego and Greg picked us up at the airport and asked about the trip, the first thing Micah said was, “Well mom cried about 35 times on the trip!” And to my defense Noah chimed in and said, “Well that is true, but she cried tears of joy a lot, and tears of stress, and tears of pain.” And all I could think of was, “So this is what my boys will remember of me…a wacked out, stressed out, crazy woman!”

 I am not the only one who has endured pain through this cancer journey. My boys have had to deal with this too, in their own way. My biggest concern is that I have not been there for them, and that is why I push through despite the pain, and try to live as fully as I can and experience all I can in the time that I have with my boys, my husband, my friends and my family. Even though my boys tease me for being a dork, and comfort me in my pain, and hug me during my crying outbursts, and steer clear of me when I begin to hyperventilate over piles of laundry, piles of dog hair, piles of unopened mail, I know that our family is bound together in the love and grace of Christ. And when I fear that the only memories they will have are of me being one wacked out crazy mom, I get these words from Noah in my birthday card:

Mom, thank you for continuing to show us what it means to live with so much joy and perseverance through everything that comes your way. The way you live your life is a light to so many people including our family. I love you and support you through it all. You are best—you senior citizen. Now go get that movie ticket discount. Love, Noah

So this is what it feels like to be “55 and still alive”…I am in pain, I fear the unknown, I have anxious thoughts and sleepless nights and I am chasing cancer STILL. But. But. But. I am here. I am grateful. I have a family who knows me at my darkest and still loves me. And I have a Savior who has chosen to keep me alive and who covers me with grace. Grace upon grace. Every hour. Every day.  

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Choosing to Live Well


Every day that I wake up and find myself alive, I get to shout, “Thank you God for my life!” Once a year I recognize and remember the day I was first told that I had cancer. 2018 marks five years since I heard those life changing, priority making words. On March 1, 2013 I walked out of my doctor’s office after hearing that I was diagnosed with colon cancer, only to hear two weeks later that the cancer was already in my liver as well—stage four cancer. Last week, I remembered and reflected upon the five year anniversary of my diagnosis while attending a wedding in Cancun of my dear friend’s son (who I had the privilege of watching grow up). We had drinks by the pool, swam in the Caribbean, and kept the dance floor alive all night.  Not too shabby of a way to celebrate the life I still get to live. Every day I acknowledge that I am a walking miracle. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I do know that who I am has changed because of cancer. How I live has changed because of cancer. How I love and how I spend my time have changed because of cancer.

I have always said that I cannot be defined by my role in society. I cannot be defined by what I do for my career or by my role as a mom or a wife or a community volunteer.  But having cancer has certainly defined and shaped me. It hasn’t changed my identity because I can only be defined by who I am in Christ—I am God’s beloved, His child, His heir. I am always going to be a daughter of the King, adored by Jesus, not for what I do, but simply because He created me and chose to love me.  But through this trial and this suffering God has transformed me. He has strengthened my spirit and stretched my faith. I am not the same.

During these past five years I have undergone nine surgeries, and nine total months of chemotherapy. I have gone through days and weeks of darkness where I never thought I would see light. I have felt searing pain, relentless fatigue, and periods of severe depression. I have had anxious and sleepless nights and moments of complete exasperation. I have cried out to God in despair and I have praised God in joyful thanksgiving. I have loved more than I thought possible. I have cussed more than I ever have and prayed more than I ever have.

During these five years I retired after 29 years of teaching and working with youth in ministry. I started a new job and planted a new church with people I adore. I celebrated my son’s graduation from high school—which was the first thing I prayed for after I was diagnosed. I remember praying, “God please let me live to see my boys graduate. Please don’t let me die while they are teenagers.” I have attended ten weddings of former students and I have become Lola or Jaja to nine new babies and more on the way. I have met and re-connected with friends across the nation and the globe. I have buried my father and my father in law and attended way too many memorial services of others who died way too young. I have run 5k races, biked along the coast, hiked, gone to spin and yoga classes. I have redesigned and redecorated rooms in my home, and gardened in my backyard. 

I have traveled—and celebrated God’s creation with numerous friends. I have been to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Cabo, Portland, Seattle, my hometown of Concord, the San Juan Islands, Georgia, South Carolina, Belize, Cozumel, Honduras, Texas, Colorado, and Uganda.

I have spent hundreds of hours in hospitals, waiting rooms, and doctors’ offices. I have spent tens of thousands of dollars in co-pays for my medical care, and despite the frustrations I am thankful that I have medical care. God has provided for us in ways we never thought possible. He has redeemed my time and given me a new appreciation for how to spend it and who to spend it with. He has shown me how to give myself grace. He has told me when to stop, when to rest, when to give up control, when to pray, when to heal.

I wish I could say that I am celebrating the five year anniversary of being cancer free, but I cannot. I am still chasing cancer. But as I look back on what God has allowed me to experience despite the pain and suffering, I am grateful and thankful that I have loved, lived, and laughed so well.

Whatever you may be facing today, you have a choice on how to approach it, fight it, deal with it. Choose wisely. Choose well what you do with your time, your energy, your purpose. Choose well how you prioritize your life. Take what you have been given and turn it into a gift for someone else. Be selfless. Do justice. Love mercy. Give money, time, and resources away…with joy. And love. Always, always love.

“The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8


Monday, February 19, 2018

Big Hugs. Big, Big Hugs

“These are a few of my fav-or-ite things…..” Sing it with me now….who doesn’t love The Sound Of Music and who doesn’t sing, weep, and dance with joy when watching it? Why? Because it is a true story about hope amidst evil and sorrow. It is a story about beauty emerging from the ashes. Today’s blog post is a quick health update, followed by a list of some of my very favorite things (mainly organizations) that have been instrumental in giving me hope and healing amidst the horrible evil of cancer.

First, the health update. If you follow my blog regularly you know that I am still “chasing cancer.” My oncologist is monitoring me through monthly bloodwork panels which check for something that in lay terms is called a “cancer tumor marker.” A person without cancer growing in his/her body has a level of 0-3. Since September (after my lung surgery) my markers have been going up about two points per month, and I am now up to level 17. After surgery my numbers should be going down, so this number is NOT GOOD. However, in my January scan (from brain to toes), there was NO DETECTED cancer tumor anywhere.  So I continue to go in each month and pray the levels will go down (they haven’t) and then wait for the next scan (probably every three months) to see if we can detect where the cancer is…..and continue as always to pray for a miracle. The good news is that I feel strong and healthy most of the time.

I can’t pinpoint why, but lately I have been extra emotional and sensitive. It might be the anxiety of knowing there is cancer somewhere and waiting, waiting, waiting. Or it could be that I am just so damn grateful for each new day that God gives me. It is in this heightened emotional state that I have been reflecting on “these favorite things” that have really helped me and blessed me throughout my five year battle with cancer. This list is from my heart—no one paid me to endorse them, I promise. I could (and maybe I will) write a blog post about each one, but for now it will be a simple list with a link so you can check each one out on your own time. So here you go…a few of my favorite things that have helped me battle the beast.

Moore’s Cancer Center…there really is a place where everyone knows your name (besides the Cheers bar). It’s not a good thing that everyone knows my name at a cancer center, but the fact that the employees (from the front reception, to the lab techs, to the surgeons, doctors, and infusion center nurses) greet me by name shows the love and kindness that is poured into every patient from everyone who works at Moore’s. I have spent hours upon hours at this place over the years and while I don’t want to be there, I am surrounded by the most dedicated, compassionate people who don’t think of me as a number or a patient, but as a whole person. Everywhere there are big signs that say HOPE or WISH or BELIEVE, and there is always a smile, a kind word, and a blessing when you arrive and when you leave. And hugs. Lots and lots of hugs.

Eco Chateau Spa www.spaecochateau.com
This spa has two locations in San Diego and both are adorable—appointed with shabby chic and vintage finds—I walk in and feel like I am in a warm, inviting home. My friend Amanda nominated me for a program this spa offers called “TLC for the Big C.” The spa offers free monthly membership for people going through cancer. This includes one service per month of your choice (massage, facial, body wrap), plus four infrared sauna sessions and a few more perks that you can look up when you visit their website. Since I have been going there and focusing on my wellness, I have never felt better since the day I was diagnosed.  Every employee is kind, knowledgeable, and compassionate. And hugs. Lots of hugs.

Studio Sweat www.studiosweat.com
I have been working out at this spin studio for years, even before I was diagnosed. I love how this studio works—you can buy classes by the class pack (10 or 20 at a time) and you sign up for your class which means you need to show up because your bike is reserved. ( No flaking, no rolling over in bed—take your fitness seriously people). But if you do have to cancel (as in being a cancer survivor gives you some really sucky days), there is certainly compassion and understanding (shout out Bethany). The trainers are well educated in the fitness world and at the same time, extremely personal. They know each person in their class by name and give us encouragement as we ride. They have helped me throughout my journey by knowing my story and helping me modify where needed, especially in those days when I returned to spin after my post surgery recoveries. I love how I feel after a spin class—super sweaty, energized, and ready to tackle a new day. Plus, the community there is like family. We ride strong together. And hugs. Lots of hugs. Sweaty ones. And fist bumps too.

Explore Solutions www.exploresolutions.org
This community based organization helps teens and their parents find the best college fit. They first meet one on one with your teen to help him/her begin to navigate the college process.  Then, through their large group sessions, high school juniors and seniors explore the many options out there for the college decision making process. They help you understand finances, applications, essays, tours, test taking, and so much more. Since I was in the thick of my cancer battle when Noah was going through the college process, this was a true godsend to me. Maureen, Gail, Cynthia, and Daniela are truly passionate about what they do. They are helpful, personal, funny, truthful, and honest. They give amazing guidance. Through this, I have formed a friendship with Maureen, (who loves and knows everyone so I am grateful that I get to call her friend). Maureen is also a cancer survivor who gives back to the community in many ways.  And hugs. Lots of hugs.

Stitch Fix www.stitchfix.com
I love this personal stylist company! I started getting my “fixes”—boxes of five personalized clothing pieces sent to your door.  I know a lot of people think I like to shop because I love fashion and accessories, but truth be told, I hate to shop. I hate trying on clothes (and those ugly lights in dressing rooms). On those days in my battle when I wanted something new but didn’t have the energy to shop or even think about what to wear, knowing I had a box of clothes arriving made my day extra sweet. It’s really a fabulous concept. There is something super awesome about getting that perfectly assembled box with new surprises that kept me uplifted during my battle. (Cyber hugs sent to my stylist.)

Farmgirl Flowers www.farmgirlflowers.com
I love gardening and all things flowers. I will let you explore the website to read about the heart behind this California based company which uses American farmers/growers and recycled coffee burlap bags to wrap their bouquets. I have used this company to send flowers to friends who have done so much for me in my battle. When I purchase a bouquet from Farmgirl, I know it is not a stuffy looking floral arrangement that looks like it was purchased from a Hallmark site. The bouquets are lovely, full, flowy and organic. The company gives back with their “With Heart” campaigns-- like this month they are partnering with She-Can with their mission to help train women in leadership from post conflict countries like Rwanda and Cambodia. Check out their site. I am telling you, giving and receiving flowers is such a boost, especially when it is a surprise. Flowers are hugs. Big hugs.

Thrive Causemetics (note the spelling) www.thrivecausemetics.com
I came across this company on FB when I saw a post about an eye brightener.  I love make-up and being dramatic with it and dressing up and looking my best. When you have cancer, there are many medications (including chemo) that wreak havoc on your skin. Many times I have felt tired, weak, sallow, and just plain blah, so I am always on the hunt for something that helps me feel and look better. When I went to the website to check out the product, I found that this company is much more than a cosmetic line. I love their mission statement: “Beauty with a Purpose” and helping “women thrive through cancer.” Gosh I have always said that I am a survivor, but a “thriver” sounds strong, powerful and hopeful!  I am thriving!! For every product you purchase, the exact same product is sent to a woman who is thriving through cancer or domestic abuse. Check out their website to hear their heart and philosophy. I love their blog too. I went back on the site and purchased more items and am excited to try them. I can’t wait to reach out to them and tell them how thankful I am that they are making such a difference with their products and their desire to help women.  Big hugs to companies with a purpose that is so much greater than making money!

Risen Church www.risensd.com

I saved this one for the end. My heart. My family. My joy. Remember when I said I was extra emotional these days? Well I am weeping just typing these sentences as I think about the family that is my church. I mean it. Family. The way God intended family and community to be. The way church is intended to be. This place. Authentic and real. Imperfect people who love a perfect Christ. I am restraining myself from going on and on. Because-- So. Much. Love. Without my God, my Savior, my faith, and my church family, there is no way I could have made it this far in my journey. And hugs. Big hugs. Big, big hugs. So many hugs. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Keep on Keeping On

 As many of you know, I love getting Christmas and New Year cards--seeing pictures and hearing stories of how friends are doing from all seasons of our lives.  I traditionally send out a card and a letter, but I have been hit and miss these past few years due to my health. When I do send out a card, I always choose a word that best encapsulates the previous year for our family. Looking back on 2017, I struggled to find a word that really fit the ups and downs we dealt with as a family. But as I spent time in prayer and reflection, the word that came to me to describe the Loy family in 2017 is PROVISION. Here is a little review of our family and how God provided for us last year.

I do not want to spend a lot of time focusing on the bad and the ugly, so I will start with it, and get it out of the way. 2017 absolutely sucked when it came to my health. I could go on and on, but good Lord, I promise to spare you. In a nutshell, I spent most of the year feeling less than 50% most of the time. I had complications from a surgery in 2016 which led to another surgery in June 2017 that had many more complications. At the same time, my doctors found another tumor in my lung, so I had a second surgery in August with a very difficult recovery. What I discovered? I am getting OLD. Nine surgeries in three years has taken its toll on me—and I don’t bounce back as well as I would like. I did a lot of crying out to God, a lot of dropping to my knees in prayer, a lot of cussing and shouting…and a little bit of punching and throwing things. Yet in my pain and suffering, God provided. He provided love, comfort, and strength in the hardest of times. And even if I couldn’t see it during the darkness, He revealed it to me in the light.

Despite my poor health, “we kept on keeping on.” One thing I have learned with cancer is that you push on and live the best you can. Our greatest joy of the year was traveling to Uganda (our second home) with all four of us. Noah and I were thrilled to share our love of this place and these people with Greg and Micah—and they jumped right in, working alongside and embracing our Ugandan family. To quote from a card Micah gave to me: “Thanks mom for sharing the most joyful place on earth with me.”  The village we have adopted has been transformed by Christ, and the villagers who have endured so much pain and tragedy display the renewal of the Lord in their hearts and their homes. God provided for us to travel there and he gave us travel mercies (despite some crazy bus stories). I can say with certainty that this was one of the top experiences of all our lives and we cannot wait to return in 2019 to plant a new church.

God provided for Greg’s company which continues to flourish and grow. He provided for our church, Risen, as we head toward our official one year anniversary of being a new church plant. God has provided for us financially to pay for my health bills while at the same time paying college tuition for Noah. He is in his third semester at Colorado State Fort Collins—fully involved in Young Life—is a leader at the local high school and lives in a house with guys in his Bible study group. Micah is a junior and beginning to pare down decisions of his top colleges to apply for in the fall. He is involved with leadership and ASB at his school and has become a fashion diva with hopes to create his own clothing business in the future.  I would say that he got his fashion sense from his mama, but his taste is much more expensive than mine!  He is also involved in Young Life and hopes to serve at work crew this summer. God’s provision for our boys has given them a great community of friends and mentors who pour into them and help them navigate their faith as our whole family has struggled with the difficulties of my illness.

One of the joys of being a former Young Life and Youth Director and teacher is that we have many life long relationships with sweet young ones. We had the joy and honor of attending six more weddings and I have affectionately called these the #weddingofthemonthclub. We get to witness the love and hope that still exists despite the broken world around us. God provides grace and hope to us through young love and marriages grounded in Christ.

We also had some fun travel adventures. We went to Atlanta and Columbus, Georgia in the spring for my annual college reunion with my forever friends from my Resident Advisor days at UCSB. We also got to see Greg’s cousins and my friend Kendall. The Coca Cola Museum was fascinating! Noah and I went to Oregon for my niece Gracie’s high school graduation. We made a few trips out to visit Noah in Fort Collins. He sure picked the best college town—such a beautiful and fun place to visit. And lastly, we capped off the year with Christmas in Puerto Vallarta—my “happy place.” I am in awe at how God provides us with his creation to reveal His majesty. We are blessed that we get to explore the many places God has designed for us to enjoy.

But the most beautiful thing that God has provided for us is the gift of community. He created us for real, authentic, vulnerable relationships with other people. We have seen God’s provision through the lens of community—friends walking alongside us in the suffering and in the joy. Friends and family near and far praying for us and praising with us. A church family that has a blast together and who extend grace to one another. Friends who laugh uproariously together, and who work together to seek God’s truth and behold his glory. Friends who love with words and with action. Because of God’s provision we are truly #bettertogether.

As you head into 2018, the Loy family prays that you will experience God’s provision in your life. We pray that you will experience His provision the way the Israelites did in the desert. God gave them just enough manna to make it through one day. If they tried to hoard it, it would rot. Sometimes there are days when we try to control what God provides and take it into our own hands (okay, every day), but God promises that he will provide.  Sometimes that provision is simply HIM—his Holy Presence. May you feel his peace, his provision, and his presence.



Thursday, January 4, 2018

Cherish the Chaos

Our family experienced a relaxing Christmas vacation in one of our favorite places, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We sat by the pool, body surfed, read books, played ping pong, took beach walks, rode ATV’s in the mountains, and ate delicious food. We were all set to come home just in time for the New Year, to celebrate our 23rd anniversary on New Year’s Eve, and still have more family time since the boys would have another week off from school. All that changed when we were about twenty minutes away from landing at the Tijuana airport.

We have traveled to Mexico numerous times, and with San Diego being so close to the border, we have often taken flights out of Tijuana. There is a new Cross Border Express which simplifies getting across the border and makes for easy access to the TJ airport. We have never had any issues. The only problem is that they do not translate into English at the airport or on the planes, so we have to rely on what Spanish we know and the people around us who are bilingual.

It was 8:00 pm on December 30—our plane was scheduled to land at 8:30 in Tijuana, and with our car parked at the border express, we would be home easily by 10:00 pm. But the flight attendant came on and said something and many of the passengers moaned in disappointment. The man next to me translated and told me that the plane could not land because of fog and that the TJ airport was closed for the night. The plane was going to land in Mexicali. (geography lesson—Mexicali is about two hours east of San Diego, with a large mountain range in between). Then the man told me that this has happened to him before and that the airline would probably shuttle all of us back to Tijuana. This news wasn’t great, but at least we would get home at some point that night. Then the flight attendant came back on and said that we would land, but that everyone needed to “find your own resources” to get back to whatever HOME was to you. Another translation by the kind man next to me and another huge moan and groan from the passengers. The flight was filled with many passengers who were American and needed to cross the border. We landed in Mexicali, and waited on the plane until they told us that everyone needed to get off, get their luggage, and find their transportation….or we could sleep in the airport and wait until 8:00 am, but with no known time of departure back to TJ. More moans and groans.

Now let me describe the Mexicali airport: my son Micah described it as “an abandoned office space.” It was literally one large building with two rooms: one where the luggage came and then a small area outside to wait. There was no Starbucks, no bar, no restaurant. There was a vending machine that took pesos and had no bottled water. The planes land on the tarmac and the luggage is put on carts and wheeled to the luggage carousels in which one worker lifts each piece of luggage onto the moving carrier. All this is done with a large window where we passengers can see everything going on. It would have been much easier to just get our luggage ourselves and walk in with it. So here we were with about 150 nervous and angry passengers who were waiting for our luggage, on the phone trying to find transportation, and calling relatives.

As we stood waiting for our luggage, we watched two other planes land, passengers walked in and their luggage came through the carousels.  People started going to the window searching for our luggage and didn’t see it. Then people started knocking on the window, talking to the crew, asking where the heck is our luggage. People were scrambling-- talking to each other: “What are you doing for transportation?” “What is going on?” People started talking to the Federales, the airport crew, and the airline workers who simply walked away from us.

We finally found out that our luggage had not been released from our plane because “our plane wasn’t scheduled to land here, so we are not a priority.”  I swear, I felt like I was a hostage and that there was going to be a mob attack on the airline workers at any moment. And it was all in Spanish, so I was at the mercy of the people who translated for us. In the meantime, while we were waiting for our luggage, we had checked into renting a car (nope, couldn’t cross the border with it), taking an Uber (nope, the Uber guys didn’t have Visas to cross the border), or taking a taxi (same, they could only take us to the border at Calixico). Plus we had seven people—two of whom were over 6’4 inches tall (we were traveling with our friends the Deckers), seven large sized suitcases, and one very sick husband.  (Side note:  Let me just add that this whole time Greg has been super sick—he had caught a head cold in Mexico, but when we left he was feeling okay except for a cough. But on the plane home, he got increasingly worse, and was experiencing chills and weakness and fatigue. By the time we got off, he went into the waiting area to lie down and the rest of us worked on trying to figure out transportation. This is NOT like my husband—I have not seen him this miserably sick in all our years of marriage, and for him to not help in this sticky situation was very telling).

Our luggage finally got pulled off the plane THREE HOURS later, and by this time I had secured two Uber guys who said they had Visas and could take us to El Centro (shady and sketchy mind you; once we got everyone and our luggage, they took off with out us). We then found two other Uber guys who smashed our luggage, our tall people, and my sick husband into their little cars and drove us to the Calexico border. Then one of them walked us through two blocks of sketchy neighborhood rolling our luggage on cobblestone streets and me holding Greg up as he tried to make it shivering and coughing to the border crossing. We went through customs and now had to get to El Centro where our friend Adrieke and her son Alex had driven a car and a truck from our home in Poway out to a Denny’s in El Centro (super sketch once again) and were going to meet us there to drive us the final two hour leg of the journey home. (Yes, you can applaud them for Friend of the Year award).  We found out from the customs agents that there are no Uber drivers in Calexico, but told us that taxis were right outside….by this time it was 1:00 am. We found a line of six taxis and there was not one driver in any of them, except the last one had a driver who was sleeping and when we knocked on the window, he couldn’t start his taxi, nor roll down the window, so we headed up the street to find two taxis to transport our motley crew another 20 miles to meet our friends. We did finally make it home by 3:00 in the morning, thanks to our friends who made a four hour round trip car ride to retrieve us. And mind you all, that our car was still parked at the TJ border express! (Huge shout out to our son Noah and his buddies who drove back down to the border on Sunday to get our car and bring it back to us).

Whew, I am exhausted just recounting this story—and I hope you haven’t lost me yet!

So this is how our 23rd anniversary started: in an airport in Mexicali, with a husband shivering with chills, and no idea how we were getting home…..

And this is what I observed: I have two sons who have learned how to deal with frantic travel situations (they have been through Uganda, Mexico, and with many “bus camp” trips under our belt—shout out Young Life crazy camp stories—we have learned to deal with some insane transportation issues).   They stepped up to the plate when their dad was tired and weak.

No one in our group got cranky, even though we were tired and hungry. No one freaked out, (well we all did on the inside, but kept it together). Everyone kept a positive attitude and a clear head, and everyone did what they needed to do to get through the situation.

During this whole ordeal I had texted our friends to cancel our NY EVE plans, and ended up giving my husband cough syrup and cold medicine on our anniversary instead of filet mignon and champagne. When 2018 arrived, our house was strewn with luggage, mounds of laundry, piles of unopened mail, an empty refrigerator, and four excited dogs who were thrilled that we were home. It was not the neat and tidy beginning to a 2018 that I had anticipated. It was not the anniversary that I had expected. I was feeling a sore throat and a sinus headache coming on, and I was grumpy. I wanted a “do over.” #restart2018.

And then I began to calm down a bit and reflect and realize things—things that are important and true about me and my family and the chaos of life.

Life IS chaotic, and it IS unexpected. Things don’t go as planned and don’t meet our expectations. Things are thrown at us all the time and it is how we react and respond that show our true character.

Maybe the New Year didn’t start the way I wanted it to, but then I remembered that with Christ, every day is a new beginning, filled with his riches and his grace and his mercy. Maybe my house was a mess, my husband was sick, and our plans were foiled, but hey, we were together, as a family, and we are bonded with the love of Jesus.

And now….now we have this crazy story that we can all tell… about how 2018 started and how our 23rd anniversary unfolded. And one day we will laugh….because it is OUR story. OUR family memory. Chaotic, yes-- cherished….absolutely.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

In the Ring: Round Four

It looks like I am headed into the ring for round four of Kirsten vs. cancer. I’ve got my boxing gloves on and my head up. On Monday I received a call from my oncology nurse telling me that the cancer markers in my blood were elevated and on a small, but steady incline. She said that my doctor wanted to see me the next morning to make a “plan.” I swear I felt like I had been kicked in the gut, the wind knocked out of me, and all my blood dropped to my toes. After calling my husband and son in Colorado, I drove home (I was out visiting a friend who has a brain tumor), told my son Micah, and then went directly to bed. I was wiped out. I couldn’t pray, talk, read my Bible, journal, or anything. I just rested. That night I went through every worst case scenario possible. Greg went with me to the doctor visit and talking to the doctor helped a bit, but doesn’t change my situation. Here is the scoop:

The elevated levels in my blood indicate that there is cancer somewhere in my body. We just have to find it. The good news (if there is any good in finding out you have cancer again—not, never) is that the levels are small which means it is probably an isolated tumor and not spread everywhere. Now we have to seek it out, isolate it, and destroy it. This means that I will have a full body scan in early January, and monthly blood tests and visits to my oncologist. If they find it (and doctor thinks it is most likely in my lung), then I will have either radiation or surgery. The thought of having surgery number ten so close to my last surgery makes my anxiety meter go through the roof. This is not at all how I want to enter 2018.

But…..it is what it is and I have to accept it and deal with it. I honestly have stopped questioning or asking why or trying to figure out what I am supposed to learn through all of this. It just is. The more I fight or question it, the more frustrated I get. I am learning to take it day by day and continue to live well and love well with the time I have. I feel like I have been so blessed to have already survived three rounds of this cancer—like I am the Energizer Bunny—I keep going and going and going.

This weekend I was at an incredible Celebration of Life for my beautiful, resilient, fierce friend Edie Davis. She was one of my “cancer culture” mentors. Her husband, sons, and pastors did an amazing job of celebrating her life through stories, humor, video, and music. But of course it was hard for all of us because we are here and she is not. She lived and loved with gusto, adventure and a servant heart. So much of her philosophy on life and faith is similar to mine. I want to share two quotes that she said that were shared at the memorial. I really hope I don’t butcher them as I am doing my best to paraphrase them. The first quote she shared as she was living out her final months: She said, “You can love and care for people at least ten minutes a day and still have time for a nap.” That’s who she was—always generously giving her time and her wisdom to those around her. And the other quote that her son shared from one of her journals was this: “My life impact isn’t global; my life impact is personal.” And it is so true. She impacted so many people in her circle and community with her grace, wit, compassion, and love. Edie loved to reflect and journal—very similar to how I process and grow. Those quotes remind me of my philosophy of living and loving that I have shared in previous blog posts. I have no desire to be known or famous, but I do want to be known for loving those in my life well and for having an impact on them. Edie inspired me to continue living a life of purpose with a servant heart and for the glory of God.

So here is what I am doing with my news. I am going to keep on living. Yes, living and loving and serving and helping and growing…..for whatever time I have. I am going to head to Puerto Vallarta for Christmas with my family and eat lobster on the beach and laugh and play games and swim and read and love them well. I am going to get my scan and my blood work and keep my head up and throw left hooks at cancer every chance I get. I am going to continue to pray for a miracle and pray for a cure and pray for healing. I am going to work harder, longer, and faster on my book and attempt to get it out and published within the next three months. I am going to proclaim the freedom and grace that Christ gives every chance I get through the way I live and love.


And at this Christmas season this is my prayer for you:

 Dear Lord Jesus, I pray that my friends would gather loved ones close and show love through words and actions. I pray they would put pettiness and grievances behind them and make priorities in their lives that put people first. I pray they would know the peace and comfort that comes from You. I pray they would live lives filled with meaning and purpose and that they would not wait until a tragedy or crisis strikes to take life seriously. I pray they would know that You love them as they are and they do not need to clean up or fix up to be accepted by You. Amen. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

People. Pray. Proclaim.

As I sit down to write today, fires are ravaging much of Southern California, high winds are hurling patio furniture, plants, and trash cans down the street, and a 4.2 earthquake and its aftershocks hit yesterday with its epicenter 20 miles from our home. San Diegans are on critical fire watch alert and it is difficult to not be unsettled and anxious. And yet, I remind myself daily (and often hourly) that God is in control, that this is not the perfect earth He originally created, and that all will be restored. Today’s blog is a little bit of update, a little bit of hope, and little bit of a guest author—my 17 year old son, Micah. May today’s blog post give you hope, assurance, and a bit of a challenge.

First, the health update. I am still dealing with insurance—contesting some bills and trying to wrap finances up before year end. My insurance twice denied the medication I was prescribed, saying that the dosage “did not meet their guidelines.” They then told me that my doctor could not change anything via email or fax and that he had to fill out a form and mail it via postal mail. Last week, after FIVE weeks of waiting, I finally got my prescription filled, but it was only due to a wonderful nurse at my doctor’s office who stepped up for me. The nurse, Ryan, pulled me aside while I was talking to the office manager about all this craziness and told me that he was going to contact insurance as well as the pharmacy. By the time my appointment was finished, Ryan had pulled a chair up by his computer for me, and sent me off with the name of the pharmacist at Costco, the correct prescription, and a big hug. I began taking my medication that night and felt improvements immediately. Today, one week later, I am almost back to normal with my strength and energy. If we could just put humanity back into our systems! Ryan will be receiving a card and a gift from me this week and I hope he will know how blessed and appreciative I am because he fought on my behalf. I am so grateful!

Second—a little bit of hope. About six weeks ago, I was up on my cabana drinking my coffee and having my morning quiet time with my journal and my Bible. I was in the midst of my painful recovery and feeling no progress and no hope. As I was having my pity party, I felt God quietly speaking to me. I felt Him assure me that despite my pain and suffering, that I could still make an impact on those around me. I felt Him telling me some words and I wrote them down. “People. Pray. Proclaim.” I started praying over the words and I realized what God was telling me through my pain.  People come first. Before anything else. Before chores and work and programs and social media. Pray for the people in your life. If people come first and people are important, then I need to be lifting them in prayer—all the people in my life. I can pray for people when I am walking my dogs, driving, when I am on my knees, when I am lying in bed in pain. 
Proclaim the gospel in all you do. Proclaim Jesus in your words, deeds, actions, behaviors and values. Proclaim Jesus in your pain, in your joy, in your trials, in your suffering, in your workplace, in your neighborhood. These three words have helped me re-define my priorities. These three words guide my choices, actions, words, and decisions.

Third—a bit about my guest author—Micah Loy. About three weeks after this time with God, I was talking to my son Micah after his school day. He said, “Hey mom, I am writing my final paper in APEL (AP English Lit) about you.” “Really bud,” I said, “What is it about?” He told me, “It is called a Definition essay. We have to define something in 500 words or less using an extended metaphor. So I am defining you.”  He then proceeded to tell me about his ideas for the essay and the examples he was going to use. He said, “My metaphor for you is a first dance at a wedding.”  I was shocked! I have talked to my boys about how much I want to live so I can dance with them at their weddings. They know that the title of my book is going to be I Plan to Dance. I know that Micah is a really observant kid—not much gets past him, but until I read his essay, I didn’t really know how much he has been taking in regarding my pain and suffering. So, I am honored to share his essay with you all in my blog today.
She Will Dance
Micah Loy
A mom is someone who takes care of you. A mom can be anyone that has shown you how to live your life, has taken care of you, and has helped you through tough times. But my mom is a first dance at a wedding. She takes the right steps and is seen as perfect to all people watching, even though she has her imperfections. She goes through a lot of twists and turns but in the end she nails it.
In my eyes my mom is perfect. Sure, she yells at me for not getting up and doing what I am supposed to do, but she never stops caring. She constantly asks me if she is being a good mom and I always answer the same way. “Of course mom, why wouldn’t you be.” She always thinks that she hasn’t been there for me in times of need because she has been battling cancer for the past four years, but really she doesn’t know how much she has actually done for me. She taught me to always have faith in anything and to not stress about the small stuff. My mom wonders why I don’t get scared when she goes through all these surgeries and I reassure her by saying “Mom, if you can do it one time, you can do it again. God is with you.”
My mom isn’t afraid to show her emotion. Countless times I have come home and she is crying because she just wants to go back to when she wasn’t cut open and she didn’t have the scars to prove it. She is a woman who called her son crying because she was in pain and needed him to meet her at the emergency room. A woman that, despite cancer, still had a grasp on her faith and knew that she was going to dance at her son’s wedding.
My mom goes through twists and turns. If you don’t know her, you would only see a woman who keeps a smile on her face and tries to please everyone. But to the people who know her story, they see a woman who has defied the odds of life, surviving cancer more than three times, and has undergone more than ten surgeries. I see a woman who has put all her faith in God to keep her alive. My mom, throughout the time she was going through this hard time in her life, still continued to change and impact people’s lives, including mine. She showed me that you just have to push through something when God gives you a challenge.
My mom is the biggest influence in my life. I should always cherish the times when she just wants a hug from me. I have to live in the moment with my mom, since I don’t know when it could be gone. Her time with me is a first dance that I never want to end.

I share this because I want us all to be reminded that people (and our kiddos) are watching us—they watch and learn from our actions, our words, and our responses to trials and suffering. After I read Micah’s essay, I realized how important it is that I am living out “People, Pray and Proclaim.” My kids and husband(people) are the number one in my life after God. I pray for them daily and I proclaim Christ to them in all that I do and say. It doesn’t go unnoticed.

Ryan, the nurse who fought on my behalf, put people first. He made a difference in my life that day and now because I have my medication due to him. 

My son Micah, through his observations, has proclaimed his faith to his classmates.

God the Father and the Creator, chose people to be His instruments to proclaim the gospel. Flawed, undeserving people, who He uses to glorify Him and testify about Him on earth. What grace. What honor. What joy.