Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Motorcycle Meditations

My recent slump has proven to be a blessing in disguise. Isn't that just how God works?

I had to figure out why I was so enveloped with sadness and that forced me to wrestle with some big questions. As I pondered what was going on in my heart, some important pieces of the puzzle came together for me. I realized that I was not only having a difficult time dealing with the adjustment of living with cancer, but more so I was struggling with not being able to do much of what I had filled my days with prior to my diagnosis and treatment. I found myself facing a sense of loss, a real void in my life, having to contend with this exorbitant amount of unfilled hours in each day... and it was pulling me into a deep sense of sadness.

You see, I'm used to putting far more on my plate than could ever be accomplished in just one day. In the midst of which, I would often add to my stress by comparing myself to my peers in ministry. I've spent countless hours berating myself for not putting in as much time as other Youth Workers say they do or for not having as many big activities and events planned as some of them. Somehow, no matter how hard I would push myself, I never seemed to live up to my own standards. Needless to say, I'm used to waking up and going to sleep with my mind racing through all the things I feel I need to accomplish in the next 24 hours. Yet, now that I've been diagnosed with cancer, I've had to pass off much of my weekly responsibilities to my (totally awesome) volunteer team. I find myself waking up most days wondering, "what am I going to do with all the hours in today now?" That is frustrating, to say the least, for someone like me who is so driven!

As I struggled with this new-found and undesired void in my days, I became sadder and sadder as I missed the activity and busy-ness of ministry life. I came to realize that my excess of unfilled hours had gotten me to the point where I had slipped into feeling useless and purposeless. Not good!

Well, like I said before, a couple of really caring friends got my motorcycle up and running for me a little over a week ago. We went out riding and, though I originally felt like I was being unwise and wasting time, it turned out to be the best thing I could have done. First off, it was the most normal I've felt in months. While I was on my bike, I wasn't Heather, the cancer patient. I wasn't Heather, the Youth Director. I was just Heather, God's child enjoying his creation. I hadn't felt like myself like that in so long. What a gift! Second, it was a great time for me to ponder on some of my struggles and questions, as well as Scripture and God's promises.

I began to exercise my brain over the question of my usefulness and purpose in life. I started to process through some fundamental questions... ones that I already had answers to, but I felt like I had to revisit and dig deeper on. So, I got to thinking about the question, "what really is my purpose?" For so long, my knee-jerk answer to that was Youth Ministry... but now, I can't do Youth Ministry the way I was doing it before (note, I'm not saying that I can't do it at all... it's just different and not so life-absorbing). As I tried to answer this fundamental question of purpose, I began to realize that over the years, I had somehow unknowingly blended my calling and my purpose together. I have a calling to "do" Youth Ministry, but it came to me on that beautiful motorcycle ride that if, for some reason, I couldn't ever do Youth Ministry again, I would not suddenly be without purpose!

So then, what is my purpose? The simple answer, the one that immediately came to mind, is this: "Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever" (from the Westminster Catechism)... but what does that really mean? How do I live out that purpose? Do I really believe that? I mean, I might say I do, but whether or not I live it out in my daily actions proves whether or not I truly believe it or if it's just lip service. And finally, do I just believe it because it's been taught to me for years now... or is it really a truth that stands on Scripture? Ah.. the deep ponderings of life!

Being on the bike, I couldn't manage to come up with a concise verse off the top of my head that spelled out the answers to those questions and I couldn't go search for it either. So, I ended up pondering over some of the great people of the Bible.... guys like Abraham, David, and Noah. I got to wondering, "what was it about them that pleased the Lord?" Abraham was credited with righteousness; David was called a man after God's own heart; and Noah was one of the only people God considered worth saving through the great flood. So, what was it about them that pleased God?

Well, Romans says that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:3). Then there was David... he was all over the place with his faith! In several of his psalms, he railed against God when he was upset, but then submitted to him again when he realized he was wrong; he committed adultery, but was still called a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22)! Noah believed God when he was given ridiculous instructions to obey (Gen. 7:1-5). (I can just imagine him saying, "You want me to build a what... an ark? OK, Lord, whatever you say!"). The more I thought about it, the more I realized that God wasn't pleased with any of these guys because of what they did for him... he was pleased with Abraham's righteousness, David's desire, and Noah's belief. It was all about their hearts... what they did for God - their actions - simply served to prove what was already in their hearts (check out James 2:18).

It was all starting to come together for me, but I still had one important question to hash out: When it comes down to the heart, the question remained, how does one enjoy the Lord? I've been thinking that God just simply enjoys it when I find joy in his creation and appreciate him... when I simply delight in who God is and find joy in my relationship with him. God didn't put me on this earth because he needs something from me. It's not like his plans will unravel if I can't continue to do things for him as I have been. Think about it... when I'm on the bike, God doesn't love me any less because I'm not doing ministry or something else for him. He loves me just as I am because he created me and he created this earth for me to enjoy, so when I'm out on the bike enjoying God's creation... just being his child (not a cancer patient trying to encourage those around me or a Youth Director trying to minister to teens)... when I'm just being his child, I think God loves it!

The epiphany I had was simply that God first wants me to BE with him before he wants me to DO things for him. Not that he wants me to check out of life to go on some mental ascent (again, my actions are important, as they are proof of my heart), but the "being" must come before the "doing". I know myself... when I put it the other way around, it all goes cockeyed! I start doing all sorts of things in my own strength and I start to sacrifice my relationship with God for a job serving him. That certainly isn't what any good father would want for his children! So I'm learning that this is a different season for me. God is forcing me to go from "doing" to just "being".

It's a real paradigm shift for me, but it's driving me deeper in my understanding of God and my faith in him... and for that I'm thankful.

Friday, April 24, 2009


This whole situation has been an emotional roller coaster ride from the start. I’ve been up and down and all over the place, but that’s to be expected. Some days I feel perfectly normal. Some days I feel completely defective. Some days I’m confident that I’ll see total victory in good time. Some days I feel like I’ll never overcome this. Some days my faith is strong. Some days it’s weak. It’s a tough journey in a lot of ways and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the negatives and forget the positives.

Take, for example, my current struggle with the amount of debt I’m incurring. If you boil it down to bare bones, it feels like I’ve only got two options ahead of me: either I don’t make it out of this alive… or I come out of it with my health intact and the bonus of tons of debt in tow. Though I don’t begrudge heaven, I’m not sure I’m ready to welcome either of those choices at this point in my life. I still have a lot of living I'd like to do!

Of course, I realize that I’m forgetting that there is a door number three in that scenario. God is just as much the Great Financier as he is the Great Physician. He is powerful enough to take care of both my physical and financial needs in ways I may never expect. Besides, if I say that I trust him, I must trust him in every single area of my life. If I say that I trust him, but I hold back on one part, then I don’t really trust him at all. So, the question becomes… do I really trust him? Can I be satisfied with whatever comes my way knowing that God, according to his sovereign will, has allowed it?

A good friend recently reminded me of a Hebrew song that I learned at a Seder once. It’s been ringing in my ears ever since we talked about it. It’s a great reminder of the many wonderful things God did for his people in the Old Testament… and it’s exactly what I needed to realign my perspective. It’s called Dayeinu (pronounced Die-ay-noo).

Translated from Hebrew, portions of the song go a little like this:

If he had only brought us out of Egypt

If he had only split the sea for us…
If he had only led us through on dry land…


If he had only drowned our oppressors…
If he had only provided for our needs in the wilderness for 40 years…
If he had only fed us manna…


If he had only given us the Sabbath…
If he had only given us the Torah…
If he had only brought us into the Land of Israel…


So, what does dayeinu mean? “It would have sufficed” or “It would have been enough.”

Soak that in for a moment or two. If God had only done the bare minimum for us, it would have been enough. Not only would it have been enough, but we would have more than enough to be thankful for. God is not obligated to make life easy for us and still he delights in blessing us in so many ways.

This is the shift in perspective that I so desperately needed:

If God had only saved me…
If he had only secured my eternal fate…
If I had to crawl on my hands and knees through the rest of this life to get there…

DAYEINU! It would have been enough!

But that’s not all God has done for me. I've already been given far more than I deserve. I’ve been blessed in so many ways. He has provided for me unexpectedly more times that I can count. Oh me of little faith! Why do I so easily lose that perspective? I forget how much God has done for me, how many times he has proven his faithfulness to me. Why would I not hope in faith that he will work in amazing ways through this situation, too? He is certainly not obligated to fix every problem I encounter, yet time and time again, he chooses to do far more for me than I deserve.

God is so good! He is far more faithful to me than I am to him. In response to his faithfulness to me, I am determined to do my best to not let my attitude get skewed by my finite perspective. Rather, I will choose to hope in faith that God will continue to provide as he has so many other times in my life. So, my attitude of choice for today – focus on the positive, not the negative. Dayeinu!

Let me share with you a brief list of the positives that God has blessed me with recently:

1) I just found out that my next treatment will NOT be postponed… dayeinu!

2) I also found out that my liver is functioning well enough again that we don’t have to lower my chemo dosage for this treatment… dayeinu!

3) I learned that the mass in my uterus has shrunken yet again by about ½ to 1 cm… not as much as I had hoped, but dayeinu!

4) I just got connected with a financial counselor at St. Luke’s who will help walk me through the process of applying for medical assistance, seeing if there are other assistance options out there for me, and dealing with the hospital billing departments if any issues arise… dayeinu!

5) I learned that if I’m declined for medical assistance, St. Luke’s might still be able to help me at least a little bit with their Charity Care… dayeinu!

6) I found out that part of the amount that I thought I had due in current bills may not have yet been processed by my insurance company, so it could still be lowered at least by a little bit… dayeinu!

7) And last (but by no means least), thanks to some very caring friends, my bike is back on the road and the weather looks good for the weekend… dayeinu!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How Comforters are Created

God's got a real sense of humor... or maybe it's just irony.

I was just starting to feel like I was coming out of my slump of sadness when I managed to pick up a nasty bit of a cold this week. I felt absolutely miserable all day yesterday and have been concerned that this cold might have wiped out my white blood cell count enough to force my doctor to postpone my next treatment, which is scheduled for this upcoming Monday and Tuesday.

Please pray that my treatment doesn't have to be postponed!!!

Thankfully, this morning I woke up feeling a little bit better... and then I got a phone call about bills. You see, the elders have very graciously offered to handle all the back and forth work of calling my insurance company and the billing agents for me to determine exactly what amounts are being covered by insurance and what amounts are my responsibility. Those bills upset me so much, so I'm really thankful for their help in this area! However, the thing is - I've been working hard over the past couple years toward being debt free and I was just starting to see the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel when I got my diagnosis and had to accept the fact that I'm going to be snowballing debt like mad through this process. Well, today was the first real proof of that. I was informed that I have over $8,000 in current bills due (that's after my insurance company has paid their part) and I've got $27,000 more already in process... and I'm not even half way through the first step of my treatment! Obviously, I'm quickly racking up a lot of debt! Now, I know we're not supposed to worry and we're supposed to trust that God will provide (he did promise that many times throughout Scripture), but all this was still tough for me to swallow. It's not that I didn't know it was coming; it's just that the financial end of this whole ordeal is just as much of a test of my faith as the physical end for me, if not more!

So, here I sat this morning, feeling sick and worrying about finances as the clock ticked away reminding me that I had committed to sharing my testimony at the nursing home this afternoon. I thought seriously for a while about calling my friend and backing out. How was I supposed to minister to and encourage others when I'm feeling so low myself??? I finally decided that, even if it killed me and I made no impact at all, I had to remain faithful and keep my word to serve the Lord in this way. I was going if it was the last thing I would do today!

I showed up at the nursing home not feeling at all like ministering when the music started. Wouldn't you know all the songs were about trusting God through trials and about how Jesus is there for us when we are suffering. It was all I could do to choke back the tears in front of the ten or so seniors sitting in front of me!

Then I it was time for me to share... I thought I would be able to shut down my emotions and get through it without much thought, but that quickly proved to not be the case. I started to choke up again at my first mention of cancer. I was able to pull it together and made it through to the end of my testimony, where I encouraged the residents to trust God's promises and rejoice in their suffering (of course, I was preaching more to myself than anyone else in the room).

Within a few short minutes of finishing, one of the nurses approached me with tears in her eyes. She said I just had to go and visit one of the residents who has been going through radiation and is about to lose her hair. She looked me in the eyes and told me that I would be such an encouragement to her... if she only knew!!! I was a wreck inside myself and here I find myself smiling on the outside and saying, "Sure, I'd love to! Show me the way." Before she turned around to lead me to the lady's room, she said something simple and profound, "I'm sure God will give you the words you need."

Wasn't that the truth! I think I received as much encouragement (or maybe even more) from this precious resident and her husband than I gave them. We talked for a few minutes and prayed together before I left the nursing home altogether. As I walked out the doors alone (because everyone else had already scattered by then), I was reminded of a passage I had read weeks ago:

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 ~

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows."

Here's the obvious - Paul praises God for giving us the comfort we need as we go through our troubles. Then he turns that right around and challenges us to take that very comfort we have received and use it to comfort others who are struggling. We are promised that in Christ, our comfort will overflow.

Makes sense... that's a passage I've leaned on many times before as I served the Lord. As God allows me to go through difficulties, I learn to use those experiences to minister to others with the love of Christ.

However, in this passage, we can learn just as much from what's not there as we can from what is there. Paul never says, "When you have gotten through your troubles and are feeling much better, you will be able to comfort others with the comfort you received from God." Go ahead... re-read it. I dare you to find that in there! It's just not! No, instead we see only the challenge to help others with the comfort we have received. There is no time frame given to us. We are simply to comfort others out of the comfort we have received from God whenever the opportunity arises!

Later on in 2 Corinthians12:7-10, Paul develops this idea even more:

"To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Do you see it more clearly there? It is in our weakness that Christ's power rests on us in the most prevalent ways. Truly, when we are weak, then we are strong because it is God working through us, not us working in our own strength!

I learned that I do not have to wait until I am through my trials to help others. I'm simply called to be available... whenever I may be needed... in times of joy or suffering... whether I feel able or not. In fact, I think it helps me all the more when, in the midst of my own struggle, I place my focus on the needs of others and remind them of God's great promises and truths. Turns out, I'm not only reminding them - I'm reminding me, too!

So, what are you going through today? Has God called you to comfort someone else, even in the midst of your trial? Step out and do it... like me, you might just be surprised by the results!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

When the Tears Fall

It's been a rough week. It's nothing that's not normal, but I've had a hard time the past few days finding hope and joy in the midst of all that's going on in my life right now. I just feel enveloped with sadness and I'm having a tough time seeing the forest for the trees at the moment.

So, today, I simply leave you with a song that has been my determination through all these emotions:

When the Tears Fall
by The Newsboys

I've had questions without answers
I’ve known sorrow, I have known pain
But there’s one thing that I’ll cling to
You are faithful, Jesus you’re true

When hope is lost, I’ll call you Savior
When pain surrounds, I’ll call you Healer
When silence falls, you’ll be the song within my heart

In the lone hour of my sorrow
Through the darkest night of my soul
You surround me and sustain me
My defender for ever more

When hope is lost, I’ll call you Savior
When pain surrounds, I’ll call you Healer
When silence falls, you’ll be the song within my heart

And I will praise you, I will praise you
When the tears fall, still I will sing to you
And I will praise you, Jesus praise you
Through the suffering, still I will sing

When hope is lost, I’ll call you Savior
When pain surrounds, I’ll call you Healer
When silence falls, you’ll be the song within my heart

You’re my spring of living water...
In the lone hour, you are there...
Lord in my sorrow, you are there...
You are my healer...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Not My Will

Apparently, I can talk a good talk...

Can't we all? I just had a friend tell me that she admires the strength with which I'm facing this whole situation I've found myself in. Me, strong? I don't feel strong... and most of all not this week!

The days following treatment are difficult for me. It's just a matter of bearing down and getting through the symptoms and side effects that come with the cocktail of medicines that were just pumped into my body. The problem is, it's not just difficult physically. The days following treatment are also the hardest emotionally. They're the days when I inevitably wake up praying, "Why do I have to have cancer? I don't want this. I'm ready for my miracle healing now, thank you!"

On top of that, this past week I was really bummed to realize that Easter would come the weekend immediately following my second treatment. Easter is my favorite holiday. I appreciate the solemn reflection of Good Friday and I so love the beautiful reminders of the risen Savior embedded in our Sunday worship. Yet, this year with Easter coming right on the heels of a treatment for me, I wasn't sure I'd even be able to make it to church for my favorite holiday!

Well, I made it... but it was emotional to say the least. I'm glad I was there, though. I was reminded of something I needed to hear. On Friday night, I was reminded of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. The night he was to be arrested, the night before his crucifixion, he went to the solitude of Gethsemane to talk to his heavenly father. He doesn't say much, but what he did say speaks volumes. Jesus tells his disciples that his "soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" (Matt. 26:38). Then he prays a simple prayer - just two sentences... "My father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will" (Matt. 26:39).

I am utterly overwhelmed by this scene. Here is Jesus, the God-Man, facing the darkest hour of his humanity. He's overwhelmed with sorrow... yet he doesn't run away; he doesn't complain; he doesn't whine; he doesn't make excuses or try to come up with alternative plans. He simply prays in bold honesty, "Father, I don't want this. Can't you take it away or change it? No? Well then, may your will be done... not mine."

There are things in each of our lives that we wish we could just bypass. No one wants to go through difficulty and heartbreak. No one gets excited over suffering. I certainly wish I didn't have cancer. Yet, I am so thankful that God gives us a glimpse into Jesus' dark hour... because in that small glimpse, I can find peace in the midst of my dark post-treatment hours.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that "we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin" (4:15). Jesus gets the pain in our lives. He gets it when we feel like we can't handle the struggle anymore. He gets it when we want to give up... or at least see what's behind door number three!

I love what Jesus did with his dark hour. Did you catch it? It all lies in one tiny, but profound sentence... "Yet, not as I will, but as you will." They're ten little words that change the trajectory of my heart. Jesus faced a trial greater than anything any of us could ever face... and he submitted to God's plan. He dreaded what was ahead, yet he was perfectly obedient to his father's will.

Considering how I felt all this past week, I was having a hard time with that... until Sunday morning, that is. On Sunday morning, I was reminded of the end of the story. On Sunday morning, I was reminded that God had a far greater plan for Jesus' darkest hour. On Friday, all seemed lost when Jesus died. Yet on Sunday, all victory was won when he conquered the grave and rose again!

"When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.' 'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?'" ~ 1 Corinthians 15:54-55

I found myself sitting in church on Sunday morning in tears as I was reminded that no matter how tough the days of this life may become, I have victory in Christ. No matter how bad I feel, no matter what may happen in the future, even death does not have victory over me because my life is hidden in my risen Savior.

Rest assured, God has a greater plan and purpose for even the darkest hours of our lives. So I ask... Where, O cancer, is your victory? Where, O cancer, is your sting? It may seem as if it has overcome me, especially right after treatment, but my victory was won long ago in a garden called Gethsemane and on a hill called Golgotha.

With that renewed perspective, the real question then becomes what will my prayer be as I live out the rest of my days here on this earth? My hope is to imitate my Savior and pray, "Yet not as I will, but as you will."

It is in that simple prayer that victory is won over even the darkest hours of our lives!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What Makes a Woman?

I finally did it.... I shaved my head on Sunday.

Like I said in my last post, when I went to see my doctor on Thursday, he was surprised to see that I still had a full head of hair. If I believed in jinxes, I'd definitely say that he jinxed me because two days after he made that comment, my hair started falling out in mass! I know many of you who saw me on Sunday morning would be surprised that I decided to shave off what looked like a full head of hair.... It was just too emotional to stand in the shower two mornings in a row and pull out handfuls and handfuls of hair. I even had to blow dry my hair while standing in the tub because so much was flying out! Two days of being upset in the morning and having to take extra time to do "hair clean up" after getting ready for the day (plus some great friends who promised to make the experience as painless as possible) was enough to convince me to take the leap. Besides, I knew that I wouldn't feel up to doing it this week right after treatment... and I knew that continuing to lose my hair so quickly would only compound how miserable I'll be feeling. So, after much struggling and deliberation, I finally decided to do the inevitable... and I found myself choking back the tears as I faced the clippers.

It turned out to not be that bad at all, though... I can't tell you how thankful I am for my friends who helped to actually make the experience fun in the end. They thought of every detail... from covering up the mirrors, to vacuuming all the hair off the floor before I could even see it, to making a "bald is beautiful" sign for me, to documenting the whole thing for future laughs, to simply smiling and joking with me through it. To those friends... saying thank you just doesn't seem to cover it. You may never know just what a blessing you were to me on Sunday! You helped me through a huge hurdle in this journey.

Now, here's the thing... I've never considered myself a vain person or even a girly-girl. In fact, I could probably be considered more of a tomboy than anything else. So, the emotions that came with the prospect of losing my hair were a real surprise to me. I found myself wanting to hold onto it as long as possible as fears and questions rampaged through my mind. Would I look ugly? Would I look even fatter than I already do? Would I look hyper-masculine? Would I look sick? Right up to a couple hours before actually doing it, I was still really wrestling with the decision. However, while praying during the Lord's Supper, though, a verse came to mind...

Matthew 16:24 ~ "Then Jesus told his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."

The thought dawned on me, "What if Jesus were to ask me to take up my cross and follow him... and what if he said that the cross I would have to bear would be shaving my head? Would I do it then?" Almost immediately, I thought, "Yes... at least I sure hope I would!" So what's the difference? That stumped me for a minute, but then I realized something critical. If Jesus asked me directly to lose my hair, I'd do it willingly because it would clearly be for him; it would clearly be something positive. Yet, in my mind, to lose my hair as a result of chemotherapy points to something negative. It points to the fact that there is something wrong in my body. It points to the fact that I'm very sick (even though I don't feel sick). To lose my hair as a symptom of chemotherapy makes me feel like I'm succumbing to the disease of cancer! But is that really the case? Is it rather that this is just a part of the journey and another opportunity to trust God even more and learn even deeper truths of who I am, who he is, and how he cares for me? Hmm...

That brings me back to wondering - why did this hurdle bother me so much? It forced me to think again about vanity. Like I said, I've never considered myself a vain person or a girly-girl. I don't spend a lot of time trying to make myself look prettier and I don't worry a whole lot about fashion, etc. So, why would the prospect of being bald make me falter so? I had to ask a question I didn't want to... Is there more vanity in my heart than I realize? As that question arose in my heart, God immediately brought me to another Scripture -

1 Peter 3:3-4 ~ "Do not let your adorning be external - the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothes - but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious."

Wow! I've read that verse many times... I've even taught on it numerous times! But somehow in the midst of this hurdle, it hit me like never before. Even though I don't think I'm a vain person, I had to admit to myself and God that there really is some hidden vanity in my heart. It's right there, I just never saw it before. Truly, the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9)!

There's something inherent in all women. To some degree, beauty is important to us! I don't know a single woman who doesn't want to look good. Now, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. The issue is - where are we placing our hope and trust? Really think about it. I honestly didn't think I was trusting in my appearance to any degree, but obviously there was some hidden vanity in my heart that needed to be dealt with. So, I challenge you ladies to examine your hearts.... If to any degree (no matter how small), we find our value in our appearance or rest in our beauty to get what we desire, there's something seriously wrong!

"Charm is fleeting, and beauty is in vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." ~ Proverbs 31:30

As I sit here typing with my newly bald head, I'm coming to a new understanding of beauty. I'm realizing that my countenance, not my hair or my clothes, is what makes me beautiful... and that countenance comes from within. As absolutely silly as I think I look, I'm realizing that my inner beauty can outshine the shiniest of bald heads if I just find my joy in the Lord and let his Spirit flow through me during this crazy time in my life!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

News from the Doctor's Office

I went in today to get a physical examination and have my pre-chemo blood work done... both with the hopes of being given a clean bill of health, so I can get on to Round #2 on Monday. Since I'm feeling well, I figured this would be a pretty mundane morning. It turned out to be monumental!

I learned from the doctor that my white blood cell counts were lowered significantly from my first treatment. He said that they were low enough that if I had caught anything, I would have landed in the hospital. (A note to my Youth Group kids - this is why I've been avoiding hugs!) Praise God that I didn't pick anything up! To prevent from anything like that happening, I now have to make my way down to St. Luke's the day after I come home from treatment to get a shot to help boost my white blood cell count. They're also going to give me some additional anti-nausea meds while I'm there... every little bit will help.

My first gift this morning was little and it came when the doctor walked in the room and commented on my full head of hair. Apparently, he was expecting a bald Heather. He was surprised that my hair loss has been so gradual (at least so far). That little gift, by the way, gave me the ability to get my soon-to-be-expired license photo taken this week. Now I don't have to look at a bald picture of myself for the next four years! Thank you, Lord, for those little blessings!

The second gift was even better and not so little. Since last week, my pelvic pain has decreased significantly. I'm on less than half the amount of pain relievers I was using before; I'm no longer attached to my heating pad; I can sleep through the night now; and I'm getting along quite well throughout the day. I didn't want to get my hopes up, but I couldn't help but think that maybe this meant that the treatment was already working. One of my doctor's assistants told me that it certainly could mean that, but she didn't want me getting my hopes up because they usually don't see any changes until after at least a few treatments. Well, today I got the official word...

My doctor told me that the mass in my uterus has decreased in size significantly! In his initial examinations, he measured it at 12 cm. Now, it's down to 8 cm!!! That's a third of the original size! He used words like significant and notable and then he said this... "Let me put this in perspective for you, Heather. We just don't see changes like this after only one treatment." He didn't say it's unusual. He didn't even say it's rare. He said they don't see things like that! God gets all the praise for this one. I'm counting it as my little miracle along the way.

So, the news gets even better - According to my doctor, if they can measure one mass, they will use that as a marker for the rest of the cancer throughout the body. I can safely hope that the treatments are having similar effects on the distant sites in my lungs and kidney, too! We won't know for sure until after my PET/CT scan in May, but this is such an encouragement to me. It definitely makes the prospect of my upcoming treatments easier to take. My doctor also said he is hopeful that we will continue to make good progress with each treatment, so please keep praying that God uses these treatments to miraculously rid me of all the cancer.

Now... as a side note, I was informed today that my pathology results came in from my surgery and I am now being considered a uterine cancer case again. Because of my age and the way it has spread, my oncologist originally labeled me as a cervical cancer case. Now, he is sure that it had its origin in my uterus. He said that it's highly unusual for someone as young as me to have uterine cancer, but this doesn't change my prognosis or treatment plan. It just changes the label. It's simply a matter of symantics, except for the fact that uterine cancer tends to respond to treatment a little bit better than cervical cancer (again, another little piece of unexpected good news).

So, on this monumental day of small (and not-so-small) praises, I'm just overwhelmed with thanksgiving for God's faithfulness through this journey. I've been praying right along... and tons of people have been praying on my behalf. Yet, I didn't assume that I would receive such solid encouragement so early on! God is good and I'm amazed at how willing he is to work on our behalf when we trust in him!


One final note... a good friend informed me that my six-day silence after my first treatment was a little unnerving. Unfortunately, I was just incapable of sitting at the computer with all the symptoms I was dealing with. So, in honor of my friend, let me give you an advanced warning:

I'm going into the hospital on Monday morning, the 6th, to start my second treatment. I'll be returning home on Tuesday evening, the 7th. For that next week, I'll be out of commission as I wade through the symptoms I'll be facing from the chemo meds. If you don't hear from me, just know that I'm alright. I just need to get through that time on my own.

There are so many people who have offered to help in so many ways and I want each of you to know what a blessing it is to me to know that I can call on you when I have a need. The problem is... when I'm really feeling bad, there's nothing anyone can do (and to be honest, I can't even fathom having anyone around for that time). Then when I'm beginning to feel better, I need to be up and about as best as I can (doctor's orders). Unfortunately, that leaves precious little that anyone can do to really be of help to me in a practical way through these treatments. The biggest thing you can continue to do is go to the throne room of God and pray on my behalf. Beyond that, I'll be sure to let each of you who has offered to help know when a need arises. Just don't feel like you're somehow out of the loop... because you're not! :o)