Thursday, June 10, 2021

You Are Not Alone

 It has been five months since I last wrote a blog post. The intent was to focus on turning this blog into a book, but my health and my mental state kept me from creating. I am not going to lie—this isn’t an easy post to write. It has been a long, dark season and I am going to be candid in hopes that others will feel they are not alone. I’m going to take you through the dark chapter I have been in, and then walk you through how I am coping, and how the next chapter seems to be unfolding.

I started 2021 coming off a rest from chemo and radiation that had gone from September through November. My scan looked stable (still cancer in my lungs and pelvic bone) and my cancer numbers were low. But to keep the cancer at bay, I resumed more chemotherapy in January. I had a positive outlook on it, and despite the terrible side effects, my doctor and I concurred that this was a good regimen. I set goals, wrote in my journal, redecorated my son’s room so that it was a fresh new guest room. I was walking and spinning and feeling pretty upbeat. 

And then….right before my third round of chemo…after a year of COVID and keeping safe…..I GOT COVID! It hit me hard and fast and since I was immune compromised from cancer and chemo—it was a big scare. But God! COVID took me out, but it did not affect my lungs or breathing at all! In fact, I never needed an inhaler once! However, I had the other symptoms—massive migraines, body aches, no appetite, dizziness. And then Greg got it and we were these empty nesters with four dogs and we couldn’t even get up to get water for each other. I felt like my body was a mass of concrete blocks and I spent two weeks in bed—so tired that I didn’t watch Netflix or read books. I just slept and slept and slept. Our friends offered to bring meals and groceries, but we didn’t want anyone to come near our Covid ridden home. Our son Noah flew out from Denver and worked remotely from home, and took care of us and the dogs for ten days. I was ready to be well—to move on from this fatigue. I tried to will myself to get out of bed, to go for a short outside walk, to stretch….and the fatigue and fogginess continued. I got frustrated. I cried out to God. I started losing hope and certainly lost joy. I could feel myself sliding into a deep depression. I know all the signs and I know coping strategies, but I was tapped out. I slept. I cried. I mourned. 

Whenever I dip into weariness or sadness, I do three main things. One—I get into God’s Word—even if I have no desire to open my Bible. I just read Psalm 91 over and over again. That’s about all I could do. Two—I try to put things in perspective. I don’t like to compare my situation to others—we all have our own battles. So as I put things in a new view, I do number three which is practice gratitude. Thanking God for his grace, his mercy, his provision….and grateful for who and what I have in my life. But none of this was helping me. I was spinning into a deeper, darker depression. I talked weekly with my doctor and weekly with my therapist. I cried and cried…a lot. I didn’t want to see my friends, or talk or text. I didn’t have motivation to do anything I love…like hiking, reading, gardening. It was just daily darkness.

We took a short trip to Colorado to see the boys and it was a beautiful winterscape. It was wonderful to be with the boys and our friends, but I was still exhausted and slept a lot.  In April, I took a short trip to see my best friend Kathy in Pella, Iowa—where it was Tulip Time. I was weary and in a lot of pain from my pelvic bone (knew the cancer was growing), but we walked each day and she and Joe fed me fresh food, and I drove a tractor. It was another precious time, but on the way home on the plane—wearing a mask in the airports and on the planes, I began to get claustrophobic and had anxiety attacks on the plane. I just sat there with my mask and did deep breathing to get through each one.  When Greg picked me up at the airport, I was frantic and had a full blown panic attack.

More talks with my doctors and therapists. Talks with my pastor and my best friends and sister. I didn’t seem to be getting out of this. And then, we got hit with a life changing whammy that has affected our finances and our retirement. I cannot share the details due to further consequences down the road, but let’s just say that the spiritual battle arrows were piercing and crushing us. God protected me and Greg and our family. He reminded me that He has already won the battle and He is fighting for me. He took me back to the passage in Ephesians to “put on the full armor of God”. Some of us learned this passage in rhymes and visuals in Sunday school, but it is real! We are in battle and God fights for us daily. He fought for me during this long, dark time, and He revealed His promises to me in His Word.

“The Lord says, ‘I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.” Psalm 91: 14-16.

That was where I was. My oncologist said I had “Post Covid syndrome” in which the fatigue symptoms continue. I took some new medications. I slowly started getting out, taking the dogs on short walks. Talking with my friends again. Cooking a bit. Reading some. It was a slow slog. And then it was time to start radiation and chemo for my pelvic bone tumor and the tumors in my lung. Still manageable, but still treatment….again.  I was tired of the pain keeping me from being active, and I rallied upon God’s strength. I finished radiation three weeks ago and began round one of four chemo infusions this week. Yes, the battle with cancer continues, but by the grace of God, I am still here.

I have stepped into a few new chapters in the past two weeks.

First, with the love and support of my Risen Church family, I am taking a three-six month sabbatical. I am so grateful for my beautiful church family and the love they have poured upon me. This will be a time when Greg and I will attend church, but I won’t doing my leadership roles. For awhile, for such a time as this, I will pray and rest.

Second, I will use this time to pray for all the Young Life camps and properties and the leaders and teams who are taking kids to camp as they open for the first time since COVID began. Young Life ministry is in our family blood; it is integral to who we are all in our faith, and I desire to be in fervent and faithful prayer.

Third, I will work on my book.

And lastly, I am happy to announce that I am officially ordained! After years upon years of doing premarital and engagement counseling, and watching so many sweet ones I love marry and have kids, I was humbled and honored to be asked to officiate a wedding of one of my beloved former youth group “kids”. So, I began the process of ordination and I can now legally marry, bury and baptize. Of course I will do this at the discretion of the Lord and glorify Him in all my endeavors.

There are many unknowns in the next chapters of my life, just as each of us lives each day not knowing if it will be our last, or when the next whammy will hit. Sometimes we have to go through long, dark, difficult seasons, not knowing when or if they will end. But for each day of life, I thank God for breath, family, friends and community. Whatever long dark season you may be in, I pray that you can make it through each day—with perspective, with prayer, and with gratitude. You may not feel any change, but keep at it. Slog through it. Ask for help. Seek counsel. Trust the Lord.

You are not alone.



Debbie Pederson-Nuñez said...

Kirsten, you are hands down one of the most influential and inspiring spiritual woman I know!! The way you navigate through life’s ups and downs holding firmly to your faith, while allowing yourself to be authentic and transparent to yourself and those who are blessed to witness your journey is a true gift!!! I have been in a dark space myself, albeit dim in comparison to yours, and your words inspire me. I have allowed myself to fall out of community and fellowship while concurrently knowing that it is what I need the most. Perhaps your testimony will draw me back. Thank you for sharing so authentically and ministering to so many! You are being mightily used by our Lord!! I pray that you will continue to work on that book and get it published. The world needs it! I need it!! Love you, beautiful warrior!!!! ������������������

Rose Ann said...

You are the picture of Gods strength, Kirsten. Thank you for your post. Love and hugs from afar.