Friday, November 9, 2018

Beauty in the Broken

Our world is broken. We see the pain and suffering in our cities and across the globe. I pray for our world and I pray that people would see hope within the midst of suffering. This week our family got slammed with our own suffering. It came after a beautiful week I had in Fort Collins, Colorado with my son Noah and my husband Greg, plus my sister Karen and my mom Ann. We were there to celebrate Noah’s 21st birthday and my mom’s 80th birthday. It was perfect fall weather—windy and cold and the fall leaves were all over the ground. It was the weekend of the lighting of all the trees in Old Town where all the shops, pubs and restaurants are. It was truly magical—it looked like we were surrounded with stars and snow. We ate well, hiked, toured the campus, shopped, and shared lots of memories and made new ones together. It was a weekend filled with love and laughter.

The day before I left for Colorado I had the biopsy on the mass in my pelvic region. I was told I would hear the results in seven to ten days. I headed to Colorado with my focus on hope and happiness with my family. I didn’t want to think about the mass or the biopsy (but of course it was always in my thoughts)—I just didn’t talk about it.  My week ended with a cancelled flight in Denver and an overnight stay and a rescheduled flight that took me to Phoenix and then home, 24 hours later than expected. While I was waiting in the airport, I received a call from my oncologist’s office with a message saying that my doctor wanted to see me the next day. I absolutely knew what that meant.  I called my oncologist’s nurse and left a message that said, “Hey I know what this means, and I have been down this road so many times, so please call me back or have Dr. Reid call me back and just give me the news.” After I left the message, I had to board my first flight to Phoenix and couldn’t receive calls. When I got to Phoenix, I checked my phone and my doctor had called. He said to call him back. At this point it was 8 pm and I was boarding another plane, but I knew--I absolutely knew that the mass was cancer. I arrived home exhausted and on Tuesday morning (election day), I called the nurse and said the same thing—to please just call me and give me the news. She called me back within the hour and said that they usually don’t give this news over the phone, but she and my doctor agreed that I have been down this road so she told me. The official medical news is that the mass is “adenocarcinoma consistent with original colon cancer.” In real people terms it means that the mass is cancer that originated with my colon cancer. The mass is not on an organ, but it is pushing against my kidney. I went into business mode and made the needed appointments and then contacted my insurance company to make sure they were approving it all.  I now have two appointments next week: one with my oncologist and one with the colon surgeon. They will be giving me my treatment plan which I hope and pray is not extensive. My mind is racing with thoughts of chemo, radiation, surgery—all which I have been through before—and have much anxiety associated with all of them.

Now I sit in the waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Something that I am not good at—this waiting. It is hard for me, but I have learned much about waiting these past five years. Waiting means trusting. Trusting God that He knows even when I don’t. I will admit that it is hard to trust God in this. This will be round four of cancer in the past five years. It is unrelenting. I struggle to pray for strength and hope. I don’t have it on my own. I only receive the strength and hope from Jesus. I know it is okay to scream out to God and pour my doubts and fears upon Him. He knows. He suffered before me. He was mocked, misunderstood, abandoned by his friends, beaten, and then crucified. But he conquered all that with His resurrection. He conquered it for you and for me. He knows my pain and He knows yours.

On the evening that I found out that the mass was cancer, people poured into my home. Friends from church, my former church, my neighborhood, our Poway community, my Young Life family. My house was filled to the brim—people on the floor, in the kitchen, up the stairs, in the entry. Angela, Aaron and Wesley played guitars and led us in beautiful, precious worship. We all sang together and cried out to the Lord. My friend Molly led the prayers and my friends interceded in prayer for me with so much love and hope and victory. I had not cried the whole day, but the minute people started pouring into my house I couldn’t stop crying. I cried the whole night. But it was a beautiful cry. It was crying in my pain and suffering. It was also a crying of joy because I am surrounded by this amazing community who overwhelms me with love. A crying of hope because I have a God who understands, who knows, whose arms are around me in the midst of this horrible storm that I do not understand.  Beauty in the broken.

The next morning I had to take our sweet dog Moses to the vet. He had been lethargic and not eating or drinking.  The vet took X-rays and a blood panel and showed me the film of the X-ray and told us he needed an ultrasound. She was concerned about the fluid in his body and what looked like a mass on his spleen. I was breathless and holding back the tears. I couldn’t look at another scan with another mass. It was too much. So Greg took Moses to the ultrasound and we received more horrible news. Moses has cancer in his liver and spleen and has internal bleeding. It is inoperable and the vet said he may have one-two weeks left. We had to come home and tell Micah and then call Noah in Colorado. Two pieces of horrible news within two days. I seriously went numb. I couldn’t pray or call out to God. Thankfully our sweet friend Terri had brought us dinner and the three of us ate a delicious meal and talked together as a family. After that I went into my room and got on my knees with my Bible and I told God that I had no words. Then I sat in the waiting and the quiet. I went to God's Word. I went to a familiar verse—one that I have read many times over the years.

Philippians 4:6-7
Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

I sat there and thanked God for who He is even though I don’t understand all that I have gone through. He is still on the throne. He is still majestic and holy. I believe that. I know that. He has shown me so much beauty in the brokenness. So much joy amidst the pain.

The verse says to tell God what I need. So I told Him that I need His peace. This peace is described as a peace that exceeds anything we can understand. That is the peace I want.

Friends, would you join me in praying for peace? Not only peace for me, but peace for many others who are suffering across the globe. Peace for our nation. Peace for our world. Peace in our hearts.
I don’t know what is ahead of me until I meet with the doctors next week. I am in the waiting. But amidst the waiting God has shown me so much beauty in the broken. He is giving me glimpses of His glory. He is giving me friends who stand in the gap when I cannot pray. He is giving me loving friends who bring meals and who drop off flowers and cards. He is giving me text messages from friends who are reaching out with love and hope. Friends who are offering encouragement. He is giving me beauty in the love of my family and my boys. We are all going through this together, but we see the beauty in the broken. And we wait.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Scared. Anxious. Frustrated.

Today’s blog post is a major medical update--it is a lot of news and rather clinical. I began writing this blog in 2013 with the purpose of giving my health updates to those near and far--this is one reason I write. The last few weeks have been emotionally and physically draining. Here we go:

As most of you know, I have been battling chronic pain since last May due to a bladder condition called Interstitial Cystitis, along with an inflamed kidney that I have been trying since June to get taken care of. Due to some extremely unprofessional care on the part of some doctors, plus the system itself, and many insurance disasters, I had to wait months to finally be seen by the kidney specialist. 

I will spare you all the many details that I have been chronicling for months in case there is a grievance or even a lawsuit ahead of me. For many of you this is a review, so hang in there.

In June I had a scan that showed I had an inflamed kidney and obstructed ureter. I had this scan because I went to my primary care doctor in extreme pain. She referred me to a urologist and it took five weeks for that to get authorized and for me to be seen. He told me this was partly my IC condition (flare up), but he wanted to refer me to a kidney specialist. This was on July 11. It took my insurance and the medical practice until September 9 to get me seen by this specialist (months of continued pain while I waited). When I saw him on 9/9, he could not find my scan image nor my notes within my chart! Let’s remember that I am at UCSD which is supposed to be one of the top medical institutions in the country! And somehow my images and notes go missing? So he scheduled me for a new scan and told me to come back in three weeks. And then, to top it off, my insurance and his office made many mistakes and I did not get the scan for another month. 

Last week I finally got the scan. I attempted to get an appointment within the week to have the doctor read the new scan and was told, “He has a very busy week.” With a few extremely firm phone calls, they finally gave me an appointment during his “very busy week” to read the scan. I also called the Imaging Office so I could march in to pick up my own copies of the reports and CD's so I could be assured if I took them myself, he would have everything in his hand. I took copies of the CD’s and reports from my scans dating back to April. I am telling you all that I have to be my own advocate in this health and insurance system and so do you. The problem is that it is so exhausting, frustrating, and time consuming.

With my arsenal in hand—the copies of the CD’s, the written reports, advice from my two doctor friends who gave me questions to ask, I headed into the appointment last Thursday.

These are the results of the scan: I have a severely inflamed right kidney and obstruction in my right ureter. (Duh—excuse me, I have known this and FELT this pain since June). The scan also showed a mass in the pelvic region (not attached to an organ) that seems to be pushing on the kidney giving it “distress”, thus causing more pain. The scan did not show cancer in any of my organs, but the mass needs a biopsy.

I left his office with an action plan. He put in orders for STAT/URGENT because I told him that if he doesn't do that, then my insurance takes their sweet time. 

The first order is for a biopsy of the mass. I do not like hearing the word mass. I do not like hearing the word biopsy. 

The second order is for a procedure to put a stint (plastic tube) in the ureter so the kidney can drain, and this should alleviate the inflammation. This will be under general anesthesia, a short procedure and out patient, so no hospital stay. The stint could be in up to three months and he will check by scan to see how the kidney is doing.

So where am I today, one week after I was seen by the kidney specialist? I was given an appointment for the biopsy consult for today, however, OF COURSE, even though the orders were URGENT, after speaking with my insurance yesterday, it was still NOT approved. This resulted with a cancelled appointment this morning.

Yesterday afternoon I spent four hours—equaling my entire afternoon (I told you all that this is a part time, almost full time job) on the phone with nurses, schedulers, my nurse advocate, insurance, and finally Thomas who is a liaison between my primary care practice and insurance. Thomas has been a soldier for me as he intervenes and gets things done when I call with my insurance woes. By the end of this long afternoon, Thomas had all my nurses and schedulers phone numbers and names and was directly calling them and my insurance to ensure that orders and authorizations and appointments are in process and will get done. I know it will happen, because he has done this before with great success.  Thank you Jesus for Thomas!

As of right now, I have a biopsy consult for Monday, October 22, and an appointment for the stint procedure on November 14. I still need to get the biopsy procedure and I need authorization for all appointments.

How do I feel during all of this? Scared. Anxious. Frustrated. Scared. Anxious. Frustrated. On repeat. Exhausted. Overwhelmed. Wiped Out. Exhausted. Overwhelmed. Wiped Out. On repeat.   

I will leave it at that today. I know this is all very clinical, but it lets you into a window of my world right now. Thanks for being my champions with your love, support, and prayers.

Monday, October 8, 2018


October 8, 2013. This is a date etched in our family’s memory. It is the date of my first cancer surgery to remove the tumors in my colon and liver. It was the first time I had ever been under anesthesia, and the first time I had a major surgery. After being diagnosed in March with stage four cancer, and after five months of chemotherapy, on October 8, 2013 I headed into a 9.5 hour surgery to finalize the process. I had thousands of prayers going up from prayer warriors across the nation and globe, all praying for the report that the surgery would be successful and I would come out of it cancer free. And….I did! The liver and colon surgeons told us that the tumors were removed and there was no cancer in the linings or margins. Though the recovery was rough, the news was a miracle! Even the doctors admitted that this was a difficult case, but they were determined, as was I, that we would tackle this and win! Today is the five year anniversary of this major victory.

Two weeks ago my youngest son Micah turned 18. Since he was now an adult, he could legally get a tattoo. He had been planning the design for his first tattoo for a few months. I remember in August, he was talking with his buddy Hayden about their tattoo designs. I said to them, “Remember you have to be 18 to get a tattoo, and a tattoo is for life so be really smart….” And then I remembered, “Holy shit, my kid is going to be 18 in a month—this is getting real!” Micah was serious about his tattoo. He knew what he wanted. He had researched fonts and designs, so he made an appointment with a tattoo artist who had been recommended to him, and one week after he turned 18, he got his first tattoo. His first ink is this: X.VIII.MMX111 on his right forearm. He had told me a few weeks before what it stood for and why he chose it, and I had a long mom cry when I found out, and I still weep as I look his tattoo. He chose the date October 8, 2013 in Roman numerals to commemorate the date of my first surgery when I came out cancer free. My baby (well okay he is 18, but he is always my baby) planned and designed and created his first tattoo to memorialize a date that celebrated my life, but also the life of our family.

Micah was in sixth grade and Noah in ninth grade when I was first diagnosed. Those are tender and difficult ages in which to navigate life, but then they found out I had cancer—a cancer that did not have a good prognosis at all--which made for a frightening and anxious road ahead. I remember clearly the day Greg and I sat down with them and told them the news. We attempted to be completely straightforward and honest about the cancer diagnosis and what the doctors had told us. We explained that I would have chemotherapy, and what that meant—that mom would have some side effects, that I might be weak and tired a lot of the time, and that this would end in a surgery that would entail a two-three month recovery. We told them that we wanted them to share any feelings and fears with us and we told them to please be free to talk with friends or their Young Life leaders or anyone who would listen and help if they felt they couldn’t talk with us about their feelings. We told them that it was okay to feel scared, anxious, angry, frustrated and any other emotion that they might not even be able to name. We told them that this was a new road to all of us, and that we would need to navigate it together. We told them that we would be honest with them through the process and that we would pray everyday as a family. Noah’s first response was, “We will pray through this mom.” Micah was a little more aloof and detached (reminder—he was an 11 year old sixth grader) and he responded, “Yah, we will pray.” We told them to take their time to process all this and that we would be there for them every step of the way.

As chemotherapy began and my body began to change a little—my hair began to thin out; I needed to take naps, and once a week for 48 hours, I had to carry a chemo bag around that was attached to a port in my chest. It was those days that made it more real, and made it look like I was sick. I am sure it was scary for my boys. We kept communication open, and as surgery came closer, I think all of us were carrying anxiety and fear in our hearts that we couldn’t really describe or explain. It was ours to deal with and pray through. It was also during this time that my husband stepped up to the plate in huge ways. He was the one who got up in the morning to make lunches and get them off to school. He was the one who took them to sports practices and games. (Through everything I tried to get to every game, no matter what). He was the one who did the grocery shopping and the laundry and the cleaning. Things were different in our household, and though I tried my best to make things look as normal as possible, everyone knew inside their hearts that things were not normal, that mom was sick, and that mom was going to have a big surgery that she may or may not come out of. I prayed daily (hourly) for my boys—for my boys to have strength, for them to be able to cry, for them to be able to cry out to God as well, for them to keep their faith despite this storm.

I remember with crystal clarity the day of surgery. We had to be at the hospital at 5:30 am, so it was dark and chilly when we left and as we walked out into the morning dawn, my driveway and fountain were lit up with mason jars filled with candles and words like hope, faith, love, and dream written on each jar. This was the work of my dear friend Mary—who had been a rock for me through this whole journey. Of course, my day then started with tears, lots of tears-- of gratitude for all the people who had surrounded me during this time. I was filled with love for these friends, yet scared, but also filled with hope. Friends met us at the hospital, ready to pray all day in the waiting room as I spent my 9.5 hours in surgery and then two hours in recovery. I remember waking up after surgery, groggy and saying hilarious things (I heard later about my non sensical conversations under medication.) But there when I woke up, tired and in a haze, were my husband and my sweet boys, holding my hands and leaning over me with love, faith, and the most precious and beautiful smiles I have ever seen.
When we received the news that the surgery was successful, we realized, each in our own hearts and our own ways, what a miracle this was. As I look back at these five years, I am still in awe that I am a walking, living miracle.

It hasn’t been easy. Nine months after the first surgery, in July 2014, we discovered that the cancer had returned, this time in my lung. Once again, we had our family conversation. Once again we came together as a family and prayed. Once again I had another surgery—which was successful-- and for 2.5 years I was cancer free! Then last year, in May 2017, I found out the cancer had returned to my lung again. Last September I had another surgery, this time removing the lower right lobe of my lung, and once again the surgery was successful. Even though the surgery was successful, this year has been extremely difficult. We found out that my cancer markers continue to rise, yet scans cannot find any cancer. It has been a year of waiting, a year of anxiety and a year of fear. And yet, we as a family have learned that when we give this anxiety and fear to the Lord, and we continue to pray, that with Christ, we get through those hard times. We cling to the promises that God will “never leave us nor forsake us.” We cling to the promises in His Word that with His strength we will have courage that we never thought possible. It still isn’t easy. It doesn’t make the fear or pain go away. But it reminds us that we have ONE who suffered before us, who knows our pain and our fears. And we go on, living under the grace and  mercy of Jesus Christ.  

My boys have processed these fears and anxieties in their own ways and they have come out stronger and with an even deeper faith. They amaze me with their hope and resilience. We have all grown through this, and our family’s priorities have changed immensely. We say yes to family and friends and no to anything that is not in sync with our values and that is not life giving to us.

I know my boys have had a rough road as they have dealt with a mom with cancer for the past five years. But when my youngest decides to get his first tattoo with the date October 8, 2013 on his forearm, a tattoo that will be with him for life, a tattoo that screams “I love my mom and I have hope”-- I know that God has been with him, that God has been with us, and for that I am forever grateful. I am blessed. I am blessed. I am blessed.   

Monday, August 13, 2018

It's been a Doozy

Let’s just say that it has been another doozy of a summer. I wish I could report that everything has been rainbows and unicorns, but let’s admit that’s not reality-- for any of us. Last year at this exact time, I spent four days in the hospital, only to get out and return to an eight day stay for surgery to remove my lower right lung in which they had found two tumors. That surgery and recovery were extremely painful and difficult, and I remember thinking, “I am getting old.” But the reality (besides getting old) is that I had endured nine surgeries in five years and the effects were taking their toll on me. Plus, I beat myself up when I don’t recover and get back to my usual self within one day. One month after the surgery, my cancer blood markers weren’t as low as they should have been, so my oncologist began monitoring my blood levels monthly and scanning me every other month in order to track the cancer that he suspected was growing somewhere in my body. (My blood markers to indicate cancer have been going up by 1-2 points each month).  In November I was diagnosed with another condition called Interstitial Cystitis, which I have written about in my blog. It is a painful bladder condition that causes bloating and back pain and much more. (WEB MD has a clear explanation of it). For the past 11 months I have been “chasing cancer” and dealing with symptoms and flare ups due to this IC diagnosis. 

Since the end of May I have been having severe migraines along with nausea and vomiting. I went to the doctor to find out the cause and was told this was a flare up of my IC condition and they also found in a scan that my ureter (goes from kidney to bladder) was inflamed and blocked, thus causing my kidney not to drain properly. Due to authorization and insurance woes, this has not yet been addressed (I still am waiting to see the kidney specialist), which means that I endure the pain every day. I also deal with the extreme distress caused by all the phone calls related to insurance, payments, scheduling, and run arounds with people who have no idea what they are doing. One week in July I logged 18 phone calls within 48 hours trying to deal with the urology department and prescriptions. I had at least two days where I seriously thought I was going to implode. Every fiber of my being was in pain and the stress of dealing with incompetence and no results had my head pounding and spinning.

Now wasn’t that a fun and exciting way to begin this blog post? You probably don’t want to read any more! And as you know if you follow me regularly, I try to stay real and raw, and I don’t sugarcoat anything, but there is hope. There is always hope. I have so many people who say to me, “How do you get through this? I could never do it.” Or, “You are so strong, how do you live through the pain and keep going?”  These are valid questions and I have come to realize this, from the very beginning of my journey…I have options.

What are my options? 
One: I could sleep all day and cry over the pain and my situation and watch Netflix. 

Two: I could get angry at God and the world and everyone around me and live in a state of depression and agitation. 

Three: I could recognize my situation, do the things I love when I have the strength and energy, and love the people around me with intentionality and purpose. And, pray daily for healing and strength to endure that only comes from God.

Of course I choose option three every single day. Now remember this, I don’t feel great a lot of the time, and there are days that I simply can’t get out of bed due to a migraine or lack of energy. But most days, I give myself rest and grace and then I push through to live and love despite the chronic pain. It actually makes me feel so much better to get out, exercise, shower, and do things instead of lying in bed thinking about the pain and allowing my crazy head to think of all the worst case scenarios out there. I also realize that there are many people who simply cannot get out of bed because their bodies are so broken down and the pain is so bad. But now, while I am able, I choose to do whatever I can to push through.

So yes, this summer has been a doozy. But through the pain, I have so many stories of joy and love. I had my wonderful trip to North Carolina with my boys, seeing great friends, and exploring new places. I have been on beach walks with my family and friends and it never ever gets old that I live twenty minutes from some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I have discovered new eateries in town and had lunches and dinners with dear friends. I have laughed and cried with my women’s group each week as we pray together and hold each other up through the hard and good times. I have watched movies and read tons of books. I have been to Celebrations of Life and weddings. I have had my little ones over to swim and eat popsicles in the pool. I had my son Noah home and had special family times just hanging out with all of us around the table, eating or playing games or just talking. And each week, as another migraine hits or I have another round with insurance, I focus on the joy and the gratitude and the life that I still get to live for one more day.

To end this post, I want to share some good news. On Friday I had a thermography scan. It is a different type of scan that doesn’t expose me to radiation, but uses heat/laser to scan the body. The doctor told me that if she hadn’t known my history of all this cancer, that I am one of the healthiest people she has scanned! She did find the kidney and ureter issues, so I still need to get that taken care of. She found a TON of inflammation in my bladder, renal and pelvis area (due to the kidney issues and from all the surgeries), but she found NO cancer anywhere!  No masses, no tumors, no cells. She said all my organs look good, my bone density is great, and my immune system is strong. She said it is obvious that I eat well and exercise. That night after the scan, I slept the deepest and strongest in months! 

There is hope and I will cling to that. Despite the pain, I will push through, with Jesus as my strength and comfort, because that is the option I choose.

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
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
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
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
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
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)
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

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.