Crushed? Run.

Cancer

sustain me notes on cancer faith infused encouragement for stage four cancer patients

I was working in the office yesterday sipping on carrot juice and waiting for The Phone Call. You know, the one every cancer patient ponders after scans. Pinned mentally between thinking you feel really good but knowing one sentence could change everything. Again.

I dialed the office number at 11:01 AM to ask if they had results per my doctor’s instructions. I was hoping, as I had bartered so with my younger daughter that morning, that since they had not called the day before, it meant there was nothing to be concerned about and everything to feel hopeful about.

“Let me get your message over to the team,” said the receptionist. “Someone will call you back shortly.”

PET scan for stage four colon cancer after treatmentTwo days earlier I had chatted with the doctor before going in for the PET scan. The scan was the one year mark from my second round of radiation (more targeted this time, just on the mass in my iliac artery) and chemo (no port in my chest this last time, just a daily pill) to lasso stage four colon cancer.

“If this test comes back clear, we won’t need to have you come back for another year,” the doctor had said. “The window of concern is from one to two years after treatment.”

I was one year out from treatment. Would the day’s test set me free for another twelve months or reel me in backwards? God, will you please keep me moving forward? I’ve been wounded enough, right, please? But what if going backwards physically is Your choice of “forward” for my life? How much of this is on me to juice and follow the wellness plan, and how much is about me claiming – no, crying out to You – Your promises, and how much is about Your complete control of my life and my submission to Your plan? And what about the hundreds of thousands of other people suffering and dying from cancer? What is this all about? Deep down I know the answer for me. Maybe it’s the answer for you, too. It is all about God’s loving plan for my life. However He chooses for that to play out in life or in death. Wounded thoughts. Crushed hopes? Grace-filled, personally invested, merciful God. No matter what.

The cell phone buzzed and pulled me back to the present. It was the doctor’s office.

“Mrs. O’Connor? Your scans were clear. Everything looks normal.”

And my day went back to … normal. Just like that. Work issues… personal concerns… family needs… but no cancer. Normal.

psalm3418 verses about crushed in spiritAre you crushed maybe between physical illness, or spiritual wounds, or brokenhearted over personal battles that you never signed up for? The Lord is close. Don’t run away. Turn around and run. As fast and hard as you can to Him. He is near you today. His Word, as the songwriter says, will not fail you. Not in life. Not in death.

Speaking about turning and running to the Lord, here is one of my favorite songs about turning to Jesus in times of trouble. Sometimes we have to choose to focus our eyes on Him to hold off the crush of life. The words encouraged my heart all this week, along with reading from Psalm 34. Hope the words and music from this song lift you up a little today too.

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Verse 1: O soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Savior, And life more abundant and free!

Refrain: Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.

Verse 2: Through death into life everlasting, He passed, and we follow Him there; O’er us sin no more hath dominion—, For more than conqu’rors we are!

Verse 3: His Word shall not fail you—He promised; Believe Him, and all will be well:, Then go to a world that is dying, His perfect salvation to tell!

Written by Helen Lemmel, 1922. Arranged by Sharon O’Connor.

Before we go our separate ways, a question. Have you been rescued by God from troubles? Upheld by His love in great difficulty? Would love to have you share briefly here in the Comments a verse of scripture or a meaningful quote for others in need of  encouragement. Let’s help each other thrive through the “crush”.

Sharp Silence. Hidden Gifts.

General Thoughts

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It’s Saturday morning. So naturally, like you, I’m sipping on coffee and thinking about sorrow.

Wait. What?

Tom and I walked in the woods the other day. It was bitter cold. Snow crunched under our feet and the air burned our lungs. It was perfect. There was a sharp silence all around. We ventured off the path and cut up through the woods exploring new avenues between the old, black trees. Winter’s work had removed the overgrowth. New paths for travel were sparklingly clear. We had to work a little harder to move from the trusted trail. I learned if I put my feet exactly where Tom stepped ahead of me I did not slip as much. He did the hard work and I only needed to follow. I was so intent on keeping up with him I almost missed it.

“Look!” he said.

Tom stopped and pointed past my right shoulder. I turned to see a doe. She was watching us from a clearing just past the edge of the woods on high alert, poised to run. A flash of brown behind her jumped into the next batch of trees, a fawn taking flight. The doe took a tentative step away while keeping her head toward us. Then we saw another flash, this time of white. An albino fawn was there for a moment longer, and then all three deer were gone.

“Have you ever seen one of those before?” I asked Tom. I wanted the white deer with brown spots to come back.

“Not up close like that,” he said.

We stared for a minute more and then turned to make our way back onto the path and towards home. It was a lovely diversion. You don’t see the hidden gifts unless you step into the woods where they dwell.

Facing cancer today or another serious illness? Then you know all about diversions. And they’re not always lovely. There are no imprints on the hard path showing you where and how to land safely. The silence of anticipation turns into a raging storm of emotions and tests and surgeries and treatment. Then it gets silent again as you try to heal and recover and step into your new normal. Maybe you’re dealing with a return of cancer. Sorrow walks with you for a time. And time again.

pleasuresorrow

Don’t you think it should get easier? Doesn’t it take your breath away when it gets harder?

Rest for a minute before you push forward today. Lift up your weary head to look around the woods. Life is joyfully teeming under frozen soil. God is working, creating life, healing brokenness all around you. In you. He’s preparing you for something good. Some purpose only you can fulfill in His plan. Trust Him. Call out to Him. He’ll lead you safely through deep woods on your walk with sorrow.

Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord:Lord, save me!” Psalm 116:2-4

Have you cried out to God in distress during illness? How has He answered your prayer? Maybe share a comment here? You might leave an imprint for someone else in the woods to follow.

No Evidence

Cancer, Cancer Resources, Fundraising, General Thoughts

blood pressure cuff on cancer patientI was scheduled to visit one of my doctors on a sunny fall afternoon a week or two ago. I had not seen this particular specialist in three years; he was one of the first to confirm that something very bad was going on in my body. I had completed my usual “let’s contemplate what the worst thing is that can happen during this office visit” mental exercise while driving to the office, and settled on — nothing. It should just be a conversation to schedule a not-great-but-not-the-worst-procedure-I’ve-ever-had.

The nurse came in, apologized for the long wait, looked at my chart, and said, “You poor woman. You’re much too young to have gone through all of this.” Thank you, thank you for confirming what I’ve been suspecting for a few years now. I smiled and she put the blood pressure cuff on my arm. She pumped the ball thing at the end of the tube and I realized my heart was pounding.

“Top number is a little high today,” she commented.

“Yes. Usually my blood pressure is pretty good. I guess I’m a little anxious; this is one of the appointments that sort of started the circus three years ago.” She smiled and made her notations in my chart, and then left the room.

The doctor came in and we began to chat. He exuded a friendly, business-like confidence.

“I have to tell you, you look great.” The wheels on his chair squeaked slightly as he turned to the desk.

“Thank you. I believe it is the food and the juicing. I mean, I know there is no guarantee for the future.” I wonder if I’m tossing words into a vacuum. No human has any guarantee for the future physically. He was listening though. I wonder sometimes why more of my doctors aren’t really curious why I’m doing so well. It is by the grace of God, clearly; after all, it is the food He created and gave us that is helping me – but it should not be a secret kept from cancer patients. I lament the chasm between the business of medicine and the art of nutrition and the willpower of people, self included, to be disciplined to do what is best for the body. But let’s give a little credit where credit is also due for the regular treatment I chose to accept. “The more targeted treatment obviously seems to have worked, and I believe the juicing and food are what may keep this under control going forward.”

He smiled. “Ah yes, juicing is healthy, but you really need to watch the sugar with that.” Wait. I meant vegetable juice with a few green apples. “Unfortunately,” he continued, “There is simply no evidence to prove this works to fight cancer.”

I raised my eyebrows with a grin and pointed to my belly. “Right…  there is no evidence.”

He folded his arms, looked at me for a moment and then gave me a big smile. We moved on in our cordial conversation and I left with an appointment for the upcoming procedure.

“Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God, you who have done great things. Who, O God, is like you? Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.” – Psalm 71:19-20

Other Thoughts from News and You’s:

  • News about local students donating scarves for cancer patients to the American Cancer Society – well done: http://www.wbng.com/home/Students-donate-scarves-to-local-cancer-patients-230222771.html?m=y&smobile=y
  • Healthcare and its astronomical costs and safety net is a real “thing”, especially for cancer patients. Our family deductible with regular health insurance was extremely high last year. One PET scan in the new year and a stent replacement and voila, deductible met. Don’t misunderstand, God is in control, and I’m grateful for a safety net, but individuals and families with solid jobs are facing real, hard decisions about how to afford medical care and fulfill their financial responsibilities. Interesting to see what is happening (or not) with healthcare. You may view this as something being forced upon our nation. You may see it as something legitimately helpful being made available to everyone by the government. Either way, the implications are very real: http://nation.foxnews.com/2013/10/31/breaking-docs-show-only-6-people-signed-obamacare-day-1
  • Sad news about Fleetwood Mac cancelling their tour due to co-founder’s cancer and treatment – best wishes for recovery: http://www.nbcnews.com/entertainment/fleetwood-mac-tour-canceled-due-singers-cancer-8C11477698
  • Speaking of “evidence”, there is a more serious evidence that we tend to agree or disagree on as humans. The proof for a Creator God who is keenly interested and invested in our eternal future. I pulled out a trusty 4Him CD last week and have been listening to their great music and lyrics on the way to work. Here is a song about the evidence and truth of the God who created you and loves you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRIwa3iHvL8
  • Do you vote? This week we will be given the chance to voice our opinion about casinos expanding in New York in the voting booth. I was listening to talk radio and the proponents for gambling expansion sounded very enthusiastic about the wonderful ways gambling can help our state and solve a number of financial problems. As a tax payer and voter, I do wonder, why do they feel gambling with all of its glamor and proven potential for personal and societal moral destruction should be pushed through so quickly and so extensively? Another proven revenue source – gas drilling – that also needs to be monitored (and is monitored heavily in the states it is helping), has been delayed from helping our workers, our homes, and our business revenues by five years and counting. Why such a different standard for implementation? Here’s an article from an independent candidate for mayor of Syracuse, NY, about gambling expansion. Please go exercise your constitutional rights and vote: http://www.syracuse.com/opinion/index.ssf/2013/10/casino_gambling_in_ny_will_create_more_problems_and_solve_nothing_commentary.html
  • Lastly, please visit http://www.chloecards.net for unique cards designed for you to encourage cancer patients. Looking for particular wording for a greeting card and can’t find it? Email infoATchloecards.net and they (we) will create a card just for you!

Looking for Chariots

General Thoughts

Do you ever stand in a storm looking for a chariot?

looking for chariots in snowstormsThe last weekend in the City for treatment in January found me quietly just trying to slip through, working to steal home base and call the treatment run complete. But I was caught somewhere between Second and Third streets with an internal bleeding problem on a cold, snowy Saturday night.

The voice on the phone trained to deal with cancer patients having problems from treatment like me said in a matter of fact tone, “We’re pretty sure it is nothing serious; but the doctor would definitely want you to come in based on what you are describing to me. Most likely it is a mild complication from being near the end of radiation treatment. Use the emergency entrance and get here as quickly as you can.”

My mother and sister were keeping me company. Crochet needles and crossword puzzles and Kindles were dropped as we bundled up and made our way into the frosty city night. I felt a weary sort of despair in my gut and dreaded the process of trying to find a taxi late at night and navigate our trio to the cancer patient emergency room. A place where nobody knows your name but everyone has your number and you’re wishing you could scalp your ticket on the corner outside the door. No takers.

I stood on the pavement outside the hotel scanning the street. Next to me was Mom. The woman who always says how much she loved carrying life and that I was her fifth gift from God and she had whispered to my infant ears and teenage heart that as much as she and my dad loved me God loved me more and she told me God had a plan for my life and always, always found ways to encourage my dreams. She now stepped gamely, although frailly, towards the street holding my hand. On my other side was the big sister who taught me how to make sense of piano notes and put up with my messy side of the room and read stories on other long ago wintry nights about Daniel and the lion’s den and had me babysit her boys and shared her heart on walks along country roads and listened when my heart was heavy about anything, searching the streets for a taxi. Both women had boarded their first bus ever for a trip to the City two days before because that’s what they do when Sis needs help. And now we had to get a few blocks that felt like miles. I was earnestly praying for … a dark mini van that was parked just up the street from our hotel.

Not a taxi in sight, but there on the street sat the blue hospital van that shuttled patients to and from the cancer treatment (ahem) spa every day. The driver looked surprised to see our trio approach on the empty street at nine thirty at night in a swirl of snowflakes. He smiled at us.

“Sure, get in out of the snow and stay warm while I make this delivery. I don’t usually come over this way but I had a package to bring here tonight.” Of course he did. God sends chariots, built like blue vans in a dark and cold City, when His kids need help. Off we went to learn that I was to be given a reprieve from the blood thinner for the weekend to solve my problem.

I kept thinking about the blue van on our trip four months later as we traveled back to the city for an MRI. The May 22nd MRI would be compared with the one from November when the mass was an angry throbbing growing bunch of maniacal cells. Had treatment pulled the rapid cell division plug, or made it more angry and determined to kill? Had juicing begun making things right in my body?

I did not know what kind of chariot would appear this time, but I was hoping there would be something to carry us past the surgeon’s point blank pronouncement that morning of, “Well you absolutely will need surgery, no question.” This had been stated multiple times to my husband, Tom. Through some communication mix-up, one hour into our three and a half hour trip, we received a phone call asking us to come and see the surgeon before the MRI. They could work me in very quickly then I could go on to the MRI, at another location, due to a change in the doctor’s schedule. The original, carefully planned schedule had been for us to do the MRI, and then journey to another location blocks away to get the MRI results from the surgeon that same day. Traveling a few blocks in New York City at the wrong time of day can wreck your schedule.

“But we were going to have the results read this afternoon… how will you do that if we come before?” My wheels were spinning out loud as I listened to the young man who called to change the appointment.

“Um, yes ma’am, we’re not sure who would have told you that; we won’t get results that quickly. But the surgeon still wants to see you to check the tumor site.” The scheduler was in a slightly panicked tone of voice. We were blowing his attempt to move my appointment by deciding not to go at all. I suspected someone would be getting a stern tongue lashing for losing a patient for the day.

“Wait,” I said. I’m really nice. So it takes awhile some days for me to choose to end the misery very quickly. “So, you’re asking us to completely change our schedule, when we have a seven hour travel day and are one hour into the trip, to move our visit earlier, potentially making us late for the MRI, which is the higher priority, and we are just finding out now that you won’t have results today for us after the MRI?” I asked this watching my almost 77-year old mother who had come along just for those results. On three different phone calls to and from the appointment guy, and then to the actual surgeon who called to straighten things out, I stated that it made no sense to try to see her, if there would be no results to… see. On one of the calls I simply handed the phone to Tom. He brought the conversation to an abrupt halt by saying, “Look, it ain’t gonna happen.” That call was followed by another directly from the surgeon, who convinced Tom to hand me back the phone. I was nice. I understood that in her concrete opinion I would need surgery. I was prolonging the inevitable by not keeping this appointment. Oh God. Can you override that confidence? Do you send chariots to help people run away from needing surgery?

I decided there was no reason to keep the appointment, without results to review. A mental image of the scheduler guy getting chewed out flashed before my eyes as I said, thank you, but no thank you, we’ll wait for results. If the MRI shows I need a surgeon, we’ll reschedule. I felt like I had been liberated from something that I could not define. Maybe it was just the small victory of feeling like we had been just another appointment to be maneuvered with no thought to our situation. Were we making a mistake?

Six days after the MRI I dutifully called the surgeon’s office, as requested, and was told, “Oh yes, the radiation oncologist and the surgeon spent quite some time reviewing and discussing your scans.” Somewhere in my mind an alarm bell started going off. “Not to make you nervous, of course!” I was certainly nervous. “The doctor would like you to talk to the radiation oncologist for your results instead.” Interesting. I left two messages with the radiation oncologist after deciding this must be really good, or really not good. The nurse was not giving me any indication. And there was no return call by the end of that day. The day before (and the day after the MRI), I had the privilege of opening for Dr. David Jeremiah, by playing piano for a very special celebration. Ok actually I opened for musician Marshall Hall, who provided worship music, for David Jeremiah. Wait. I did not open for Marshall Hall either. It was just fun to say. But I did have the honor of playing a piano prelude and an offertory just before Marshall Hall opened for David Jeremiah. Phew. Beautiful encouragement through music and the preaching of God’s Word. Dr. Jeremiah teaches that God delivers His people out of tribulation. I thought about Enoch, and Elijah; God had sent chariots and carried them away. Certainly He must have a spare I could borrow.

On the seventh day after the MRI took place, I sat outside in the early morning with my Bible. The pages flipped open (really) to Isaiah 38 and the passage of Hezekiah’s prayer. He had been given a death sentence, and cried out to God, and God restored his health. He rejoiced and talked about being able to praise God by playing on stringed instruments in the temple. I wondered if it was bargaining with God to ask Him to do the same for me? He is not a respecter of persons, you know. What God does for one, He can do for any. Soon after reading that passage I called the radiation oncologist for the second day in a row. She called back.

“I have to tell you, your scans were rather remarkable. The tumor shrunk so much, it looks like it was resected.” The Healer had made His mark. “The mass has pulled away from the blood vessels so they are no longer being threatened.” Maybe I wouldn’t need a heavenly chariot to deliver me after all. She went on.

“The surgeon feels she can go in now and remove the rest of the mass so there is no further threat. But it would be a major, major surgery, and would result in a permanent colostomy because there would be a loss of blood vessels that feed the colon.” I had no desire for any more surgery. I also had no desire to get another colostomy if I had anything to say about it.

“Doctor, I am grateful for the care I’ve received and for the treatment. And I realize the medical community does not give any credence to juicing and raw foods for health. But I believe this has helped, and I want to continue with that. I do not want surgery if we’ve seen such good results and my life is not being threatened.”

She listened patiently and said, “Let’s schedule a PET scan for August; we can see how you are progressing from there.” I agreed. I told her I may still need the surgeon’s skills at some point in the future, but not now. I forgot to ask how much the size of the mass had changed and called back. She said, “I can’t answer that easily because it has decreased so much. I would say by 80 to 90 percent. I’m very pleased with how well you responded to treatment. The person who read your scan and gave the results did not know you had gone through treatment; they thought you had surgery to get it that small.” I felt like I was in a blue van again, safe and warm, driving quickly away from the cancer patient ER.

We’re not completely out of the woods yet, but by God’s grace, it feels like we’re on the right path. Er, chariot.

Isaiah 38 – go read it. Here is my favorite section:
17 Surely it was for my benefit
that I suffered such anguish.
In your love you kept me
from the pit of destruction;
you have put all my sins
behind your back.
18 For the grave cannot praise you,
death cannot sing your praise;
those who go down to the pit
cannot hope for your faithfulness.
19 The living, the living—they praise you,
as I am doing today;
parents tell their children
about your faithfulness.

20 The Lord will save me,
and we will sing with stringed instruments
all the days of our lives
in the temple of the Lord.