Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks

Tonight I went to a Thanksgiving service at my church where testimonies of thankfulness were shared. Here's what was on my heart and what I shared:

This has been the hardest year of my adult life… and the darkest year I’ve experienced since I believed in Jesus as my Savior. It was a year ago this very week that I began to experience what would become debilitating pelvic pain that eventually led to a diagnosis of stage 4 uterine cancer. What followed has been a near yearlong journey through chemotherapy, major surgery, and more chemotherapy with radiation soon to come.

Since last Thanksgiving, I’ve felt more sick than I’ve ever felt in my life and I’ve been more exhausted than I’ve ever been in my life. I learned that my doctor wasn’t sure I’d even make it when he saw how bad my cancer was in the beginning… and to add to that, I learned that statistically I face a mere 15-20% chance of even surviving the next 5 years. Needless to say, I’ve spent this year struggling with more questions and fears than I ever imagined I would in my lifetime… and I’ve wrestled with some very deep and dark emotions.

I certainly don’t feel like being thankful this Thanksgiving. Yet I find myself unable to deny that I still have a lot to be thankful for.

- I’m thankful that my church elders have even bothered to keep me on staff through all this.

- I’m thankful that God provided the best GYN oncologist in the northeast to care for me.

- I’m thankful that God has worked through medical advances and the prayer of his people to heal my body of cancer almost completely in less than a year.

- I’m thankful that I’ve been given the opportunity to share how I've experienced the love of God with people I never would have met if I hadn’t gotten cancer.

- I’m thankful that no matter how hard it is to face each day, God always gives me just the grace and strength I need to get through it.

- I’m thankful that I can see God using this tremendously difficult time in my life to transform me into something far different than I was before.

- But most of all, I’m thankful that I have come to see and know God in ways I never could have apart from such a long and difficult trial: He has proven his faithfulness to me over and over again… even when I’m not feeling so faithful myself. He has shown me how very deep the rivers of his comfort are when I am hurting in ways that I can’t even express. He has affirmed over and over that he has a purpose in everything that I’ve faced… and that if I woke up this morning, he has a purpose for me in this day.

- Most importantly, He has proven the promises of his Word to be a strong and true foundation to cling to. Isaiah 43:2-3, for example, has meant a lot to me over the past year - "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My Anchor

A dear friend sent me this today and it was a perfect expression of how God cares for me through the most difficult of times...

The anchor holds
though the ship is battered;
The anchor holds
though the sails are torn;
I have fallen on my knees
as I faced the raging seas;
The anchor holds
in spite of the storm.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Radiation Oncology Consultation

This has been an exceptionally difficult treatment cycle for me emotionally. Hence the radio silence... but I wanted to get at least something of an update posted before I go down from my last scheduled chemo. I'm writing from the infusion center... chemo #6 of phase 2... so let me try to update you before I'm drugged and incapable of focusing clearly.

Two weeks ago I had my radiation oncology consultation. I went into the appointment blissfully ignorant due to the fact that a number of people had told me that radiation is much easier than chemotherapy. I quickly learned that this will most likely not be the case for me. Because of the location of my radiation and the major extent of my surgery this past summer, radiation holds a very likely prospect that it will be just as difficult as chemo for me. The side effects will be a little different, though.

I won't bore you (or gross you out) with the details of the side effects. Suffice it to say - it's not going to be easy and there are some pretty daunting long term side effects, some of which are possible - pray that I don't suffer from life-long chronic lymph edema (a build up of fluid) in my legs - and some of which are definite - those I won't even mention here.

When I was receiving all this information, at first I felt like a deer caught in headlights. I was being inundated with so many details that were just so hard to accept! The longer the consultation went on, the more I felt like I had just slammed into a brick wall. It knocked me off my feet and it took me a good week or so just to shake off the shock and stand back up again. Now it's a matter of processing all that I learned. Brick by brick, I'm pulling apart that wall because there is no escape... I'm going to have to walk through it and get to the other side one way or another.

I won't have any definite answers on my schedule until the beginning of December, but for now it looks like I'll be in radiation for the better part of two to three months. I'll do external radiation every day (Monday through Friday) for about 5 1/2 to 6 weeks... maybe more. Then I'll do internal radiation once a week for about 3 weeks. I'm holding onto the good news that there's a good chance I'll be finishing treatment about a week before my mission trip to Haiti. It'll be rough, but I'm still hoping to be able to go.... We'll see!

For now, I have very mixed feelings. It is such a good thing to be so close to taking another step toward the end of my treatment. I've been unbelievably blessed since I was diagnosed last February. My cancer is so aggressive and advanced, it's a wonder (I would say a miracle) that I have responded so well to treatment. There are days when I'm amazed that I'm even looking at a realistic possibility that I'll be told I'm cancer-free someday.

Yet, I'm finding that it's almost as intimidating to face the prospect of transitioning back into "normal" life as it was to transition into treatment. On top of that, there are so many questions that swirl around my head every day. What will the next scan show? Will I stop responding to treatment so well at some point? Will the cancer begin to grow again? Will it come back after I'm in remission? How long will I live? Will I die a long and ugly death because of this disease? ...And so many more. It's difficult to live in this state of limbo all the time. Yet, in truth, nothing is guaranteed to any of us. We just fool ourselves into thinking that it's all going to be OK. We deny the reality that this life is merely a vapor (James 4:14).

I find myself being pushed into a new reality through all of this. I'm recognizing on a whole new level the pain and fragility of this life. I've gotten to a point where I'm totally burned out. I'm done. I'm done with feeling sick so often. I'm done with always feeling tired. I'm done with my body not working the way I want it to. I'm done with my hands and feet being numb. I'm done with struggling through all the many emotions that come with cancer and its treatment. I'm just done. I wish I didn't have to go any further in this life. I so long for heaven.... I long to realize the promises of no more tears, no more pain, and no more suffering. I'm done with this life! Yet, there are a few people precious to me whose eternity still hangs in the balance... they have become my motivation for hanging on still.

That said, let me be clear about one more thing, so you don't go worrying about me. God has very much so been holding me in place. Somehow by his mercy and grace, he has kept me from being completely washed away and drowned by these thoughts. He has given me a firm foundation and a keen sense of purpose in the midst of it all. I know that if I woke up today, God has a purpose for me in this day. I know that if I'm still here, there's a reason for it... and it is that truth to which I cling.

Still, my feelings are strong right now and I'm struggling in a big way... but this week I got a great reminder. I was reminded of Noah of all people! Like him, I feel as if I've been flooded and I'm floating adrift on a vast sea (Genesis 8:6-12). Noah was in need of a little hope when he released a dove from the ark and waited for it to return to him with a sign of dry land somewhere.... anywhere! He got that glimpse of hope when the dove finally returned with an olive leaf in its mouth. Like him, I'm looking out at a vast and stormy sea praying for a glimpse of hope from the Lord. I'm holding onto his promises and the faithfulness he's shown me, so that I may still have the eyes to see God through this very dark time. No matter how I happen to feel at the moment, he is still my stronghold and refuge (Psalm 18:2-6). That will never change.

If you're in your own dark time, feeling like you're on a stormy sea... let me encourage you with what encourages me, "Look to the horizon. You never know when a glimpse of hope may be coming you way!