Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Chasing Cancer

As many of you know, I started this blog when I was diagnosed with cancer in March, 2013 as a way to keep friends near and far updated during my journey. It has been a long, difficult haul, but through it I have seen beauty, hope, compassion, generosity, and love.  In September of 2014, after my third surgery, I was finally cancer free, though I still had to go through four more months of chemotherapy. A cancer patient is not declared in remission until five years have passed with no recurrence, so I have been on a countdown timeline every time I go for a scan.  I have had quite a few issues and complications since then, and a total of eight surgeries or procedures, the last one being this June, only three weeks before we left on our family trip to Uganda. I have not posted on my blog for a while, and I apologize to those of you who are getting this news via blog or FB. It is simply the best way to share with many people.

In May I had my annual body scan to check on cancer, and the first week of June I had a surgery to repair some complications from the surgery I had back in October. Two days after my surgery I received a call from my oncologist with news that the scan revealed a tumor on my lung. I went in to review the scan with him. The bad news, he said, was that this could be cancer. The good news was that it was small and localized, and nothing else was found. He referred me to the pulmonary specialist to do a biopsy. In the meantime, I was having some issues from my surgery, and let me just mention that we were now two weeks away from our Uganda trip. I had a few long wrestling matches with God. I couldn’t believe that I was so close to this trip that I had planned for over a year and that I was going through more physical trials.

I had not shared any of this news with more than a handful of people—I didn’t even tell my family outside of Greg and the boys. I wanted to focus on Uganda—being reunited with my village family and sharing this joy with Greg, Noah and Micah. I managed to go on the trip and experience one of the most rewarding and joy filled times of my entire life. (That is another blog post altogether). Upon my return, it was time to face the reality of all my medical issues.

July has been filled with appointments, scans, blood tests and procedures. I am emotionally and physically exhausted. I had a biopsy on my lung—called a bronchoscopy--since they went down through my throat—and the pathology report came back INCONCLUSIVE. So the next step is I meet with the lung surgeon to decide if we just go in and take this out or if we do another biopsy. (My choice is go in and take the damn thing out—I already have a tic tac toe game of scars on my entire torso). In addition, I am dealing with fluid and drainage issues from the June surgery and having procedures to take care of that. My frustration and impatience and pain level are all at their peak. I am on the phone with doctors, nurses, insurance or schedulers, or at the hospital at least three times per week. I am so tired and weary. And not to mention that with all the medical advances out there, why can’t they come up with a drain that is user friendly? I have a drain sticking out of my lower abdomen—the stitches are irritating the skin and it is difficult to even move, and now the drain seems to be leaking. I call the nurse and she has little sympathy—“Oh just tape it up,” she says, “since you come in later this week.” For all of you who know how much of a fashionista I am—this takes me over the top. I am ready to invest in some mu-mu type dresses to get me through this. Of course “mu-mu” and stylish don’t fit together, so maybe this will prompt me to start a new fashion business.

What does the future (as in the next month) hold? Tomorrow I go to the doctor to get the drain pulled. If they tell me I have to keep it in, I will demand it come out and then I will go crazy ballistic on them.  On Sunday I fly to Colorado to move Noah into his second year at CSU and I look forward to our family time there. The day I return I meet with the lung surgeon and make decisions from there. I then have a diagnostic mammogram to review the benign lump they found back in February.

I call all this “chasing cancer.” It is my new normal, my reality. Even though all the appointments, scans, procedures are time consuming—what is the alternative?  I would rather find out early that I have spots or tumors so I can deal with it, than hear the horrible news that the cancer has spread everywhere. I must stay on top of it. I must battle it. I must endure……

Two weeks ago I gave the message at our church and shared about our experience in Uganda and what we learn from our village friends. Here is a short excerpt from what I shared:

"During our devotional time, our team unpacked a little of Psalm 23. Most of you have heard this psalm—usually at a memorial service. It is a psalm of comfort and solace, but also of celebration. It is a reminder of God’s promises. It starts like this: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Another translation says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I have all I need.”
When we looked at our village friends, we realized they truly get this passage. Despite their poverty, their struggle for basic needs, their history of a tragic war torn past, they come to the end of themselves and come to this truth—the Lord is my shepherd, he is all I need. They fall at the foot of the cross in reckless abandon, pouring out their hearts to the one who gave it all.

And us? Not so much. I asked myself and I asked my team and I ask you today to think about this. Is this passage true for you? Is the Lord all you need. Do you want for nothing more? Is Christ sufficient for you?

 Your answer is probably just like mine and most of the people I know. You see, we ADD to it. We say things like, if I just have health, and family, all is good. Or, faith, family, friends, that is a blessed life. But that is adding to “The Lord is my shepherd, I have all I need.”

I don’t think we intend to do this-- it is just a matter of culture colliding with basic Christianity.  For most of us, Christ alone isn’t enough so we make our own version of Christianity and we add to it.   What is your equation?

Is it Jesus plus….success, Jesus plus a nice house in a good school district, Jesus plus athletic achievement, Jesus plus grades?  Is it Jesus plus talent, tradition, family, power, prosperity? Is it Jesus plus your sports schedule, or your kids’ accomplishments? Is it Jesus plus service, plus reputation, plus popularity, or Jesus plus comfort? 
Many of these additions are a natural part of our American suburban life and they aren’t necessarily bad unless they become idols.  If all were truly stripped away, would Jesus be enough for you?

This is what we learn from the Ugandans. They have nothing to offer but themselves.  They respond to the cross and the gift of grace with gratitude and joy.It is 100% Pure, nothing added. To use the title of a book to drive my point—their equation is Jesus plus nothing =everything. That is why they dance and sing and play the bongo drums until they are dripping with sweat.  That is why they pray for hours simply repeating the names of God.  That is why they greet us with smiles and tears of passionate joy.  That is why, despite their circumstances, they are resilient, hopeful, and transformed."

My Ugandan friends have been through decades of war, famine, homelessness, rape, brutality, death, and yet they remain the most joy filled people I have ever met. It know it is because they truly believe that Christ is sufficient for them—that His grace and mercy are all they need. Sometimes I get mad at myself for throwing my pity parties and wallowing in my pain. And then I remind myself that the God of the universe, who knows each of my Ugandan friends intimately, also knows and understands my pain. My journey may be different from the villagers, or from people who live in tent cities downtown, or from single parents struggling to raise kids alone, or from families watching their precious kids battle an illness, or from those who have lost their parents or children way too soon, but God knows each of us and our battles and He meets us where we are.

I wish I had a different journey. I wish I could be strong and healthy and running at the beach. This is my life right now: cry, sleep, pray, try to get work done. Rinse and repeat. God knows how frustrated I am. He knows my pain. I don’t understand why this trial hasn’t been taken from me, but it doesn’t change my belief in God. It doesn’t change who He is, or His promises. It doesn’t change the absolute joy I get from my husband and two boys. It doesn’t change the incredible community of support I have from so many friends.

I vowed from the moment I was diagnosed with cancer that I would not “waste my cancer.” I vowed that I would share my journey in a raw and transparent way, so that others could get a glimpse into the life of someone with cancer who also has faith. I vowed that I would not sugar coat anything, including my physical and emotional pain. I am not a pillar of strength. I am simply a woman who gets her strength from a mighty God.

 I pray you will lean on Jesus in the trials of your life—whether they are physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, or circumstantial. He never promises you an easy life, but one in which He is by your side. I will continue to chase cancer, with Jesus by my side. In the pain and the struggle, I will lean on Him even though I do not always understand. I will trust Him with my life and I will remind myself daily that his grace is sufficient for me.


6 comments:

Kate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kate said...

Kirsten,

Keep up the good fight my sister! I know you are battle weary but know that many are praying for you and sending you God's strength to keep you going. My thoughts and prayers are with you and I'm always available for a good "bitch" session if needed. Sending peaceful and healing thoughts your way!

Love, Katy

Irene Dwinnell said...

Kirsten,
Give it hell...I shall cheer you on from NC. You are a warrior with an army of love to put you on its shoulders.

Lorraine said...

I'm riveted in the the knowing Christ is our everything; I'm reacting as well to your rollercoaster journey. Although I don't post, Kirsten, you always have my prayers and love.... For you all.

Pamela Sundin-Hart said...

You are, quite sinply, a true woman after God's own heart. Your honesty puts me simultaneously to shame and called to act in my own life. I am so sorry we could not con net in person when you were in OR recently so I could see your lovely face that reflects the beauty of God. Love and support from Beaverton!

Anonymous said...

Kirsten, this post was so raw and amazing. It is such a difficult battle and one you have done with grace and perserverence. God knows your heart and understands your questions and frustrations....even anger. Know we are all by your side with prayers and to help in any way necessary. Prayers to you beautiful lady...YOU GOT THIS!!!