Breast Cancer Journey: Stuff Gets Real

img_1406I had a second surgery this past week. Some of the skin they left after my mastectomy had died and had to be removed. After the surgery was over I posted on Facebook, “I had a great time.” The sad thing is, that was true. It says something about your life when surgery is the highlight of your day. But they numbed me. They sedated me. They all took care of me, including my husband. They made sure I was not in pain and that I did not get lost.

In contrast, that morning I had met with the medical oncologist for the first time. He explained to me that my cancer right now is Stage IIIC. That is the last stage before Stage IV, which is metastatic breast cancer, meaning cancer that has spread to other organs. And they haven’t ruled that out either. The oncologist also commented that I’d had a completely clear mammogram in 2014, and then in October 2015 they find a cancer that turns out to have already advanced to IIIC.  It is lobular cancer, which doctors keep saying is “tricky,” first because it apparently grows in sheets so is hard to find, and also, according to the oncologist, if it returns it returns aggressively. Therefore, we are going to have to use the biggest guns available: a total of 20 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by probably six weeks of radiation, followed by five years of hormone therapy. And the chemo? It’s not some new, gentle chemo that has been developed in recent years. It’s the stuff that causes you to lose your hair, suffer nausea, mouth sores, bone pain. The worst of it, a combination that includes “the red devil,” will be given for the first eight weeks. I think the following 12 weeks are a little easier. I also get steroids. So I think this means I get to be bald and bloated, although ultimately chemo generally results in a dramatic weight loss.

It will probably be four weeks until I start the chemo, because I have to heal properly from my surgeries. I also have to have an echocardiogram to make sure my heart is strong enough for chemo, and the PET scan to make sure there isn’t any other cancer hiding anywhere.

So how am I doing? I am going more than a little stir crazy with the recovery from the surgery. I still have a drain, which prevents me from being able to do so many things, including just rolling around in bed at night and wearing a bra.  I remain relatively calm, however. I’ve done only a little online research. It talks in terms of 5-year and 10-year survival rates, and I got a little choked up over that, because I was able to think about how old my grandson would be in five or ten years, and there was so much more of his life I wanted to see. But I spoke to a friend yesterday whose mother in law had Stage III breast cancer, and she just celebrated 20 years cancer free. And that is what I intend to do. I am not looking forward to the treatments ahead, but I got through the surgery and I will get through this. My faith stumbles along, one day at a time, and I am stumbling with it.

I was reading some old journal entries this morning, and I read the one I wrote right after my repeat mammogram, when I started to suspect something might be wrong. I was reading a YA book at the time, Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu, and I wrote a quote from it in my journal: “I’m not going to try to reduce the weight of your burden, but I’m going to help you grow strong enough to carry it.” Yes, that is what I believe. That is what I feel.

I have that faith for my own journey. But if there is an area where I struggle, it is my ability to provide for my family, both financially and emotionally. Why is it so much more difficult to muster faith for that? Nothing new, though. It has always been this way. And yet always, somehow, we have survived. I have been intending for years to write, have two books swirling in my mind and word processing programs, but I have a paralysis because I am afraid that they will amount to nothing. Silly, I know, because in the process what does the outcome really matter? God has given me grace periods in which to pursue this, and has extended them again and again. I pray that what he has given me will not go to waste. Also written in my journal were these words:

“And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the waters of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left…. And he will give rain for the seed with wich you sow the ground, and bread, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous.” Isaiah 30:20-23

But I noted also the verse right before it: “He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you.” This was one of the words my pastor gave me for the journey. He talked about Peter walking on the water, but later elaborated that Jesus had only stopped to allow that because the disciples had been afraid and had called out to him for help.

So, Lord, here I am. I am calling out to you! I am afraid. Be with me. You don’t have to do it all for me, but help me to do it. Set my feet in the right paths, show me the way, and let me walk in it.

Notes from the wilderness

imageHello world. I have left my nest of pillows and blankets on the couch and I am sitting at the kitchen table. It’s kind of cold here, shivery. But it feels a little more human like. I’m getting tired of recovery from surgery. No, a lot tired of it. It’s kind of depressing actually.

And perhaps this is part of why I am where I am spiritually, which is in the Wilderness. There have been times in my life when I can read the Bible, and say amen, when I can find passages that feel like God is speaking right to me and it sets my heart alight. There have been times when I talked to God, and he seems present, and answers. Now I read the Bible and say, “Eh?” I pray and it isn’t necessarily that I feel God isn’t there, but he is sitting on a hard chair across the room and not answering.

Maybe I feel like he doesn’t like me that much.

It has never been my in my thoughts that if God loves you, bad things don’t happen to you. In fact, quite the opposite has been my thought: that if God loves you, he allows into your life the experiences you need to grow and become the person you came to this life to be, and to contribute to the world the special gifts you have to contribute. That is what I believe.

Emotions are a funny thing, however, and especially so for me. I have had so many emotions that have tried to kill me I have learned to bury them, and I have come to have a hard time dealing with them on a surface level. Even now, how do I feel? Honestly, I know I am scared. I am scared to have a PET scan because so far every place they have looked for cancer, they have found it. I have the American Cancer Association figures in my head. Stage III breast cancer has a 72 percent five-year survival rate. Not bad. But if it shows up anywhere else, it would become Stage IV, and that has a 22 percent five year survival rate. Numbers dancing in my head, although as long as the number is greater than zero I intend to be part of the survivors.

And I’m at a loss as to how this happened, and happened so quickly. It’s not as though I never had mammograms!

But I don’t feel afraid, if that makes sense. There are tears that sometimes leak out but I’m not sure where they come from, or where they are going.

Right now I just think life will be better when I get rid of these drains and bandages, when I can get shower and get dressed and leave the house, when I can do things for myself instead of having to ask for help with stupid little things. As long as I am stuck in the house, I think perhaps the rain and storms we have had have been a little bit comforting, but my heart will feel lighter when the sun shines again, and when leaving my nest on the couch doesn’t cause me to shiver.

Life would also be better if I felt a little less alone spiritually, if God was not sitting silent on that hard chair across the room, if I read the Bible, or anything, and felt it speak to me, although truth to tell reading at all has been kind of difficult since surgery. I stopped taking the percocet during the day because the words were muddling themselves up when I tried to read or write, but there still seems to be a bit of a drag in the mental functions. I am just plain tired.

Time, time, time. That is what it will take here. Time to heal. Time to move on. Time.

Tuesday is Michaela’s birthday. I was looking at my calendar the other day trying to figure out when my next doctor’s appointment is. I saw a dot on the 24th and thought, no, I don’t have an appointment that early in the week. I had to open it up in order to see that it is Michaela’s birthday. How could that have ever slipped my mind?

My heart breaks.

Again.

 

 

Breast Cancer Journey: Perhaps I have not taken this seriously enough.

It is eight 15781015_10211421052747677_7308533655132470120_ndays now since my mastectomy. It was a modified radical mastectomy, unilateral, according to what my doctor told me at my one week checkup yesterday. That means that in addition to the breast they took a bunch of lymph glands. They biopsied one during surgery and found cancer in it, so they took a couple more that looked suspicious, and then she said they took ten others, most of which she didn’t think would be a problem. It turns out that cancer was found in every single one of the lymph glands that was removed. Not to state the obvious, but that is not good.

My mind went back to when I had that second mammogram, how I had though absolutely nothing of it, how routine and unimportant it was. Even through biopsy and diagnosis, I took it only kind of seriously. To me, even a diagnosis of breast cancer was a thing you dealt with and put behind you. My mother did that, a simple lumpectomy, no spread to the lymph glands, radiation for a few weeks, and it was done with. I have heard from so many people, breast cancer survivors. You do it and get on with it.

Now, breast cancer has become something that has run so far ahead of me that I can’t see it, and I know that I am going to have to run to catch up with it. It is not a simple fight anymore. It is going to be an all out battle. But it will be a battle.

Next steps: I meet with a medical oncologist (my doctor is a surgical oncologist), probably have a PET scan to see just how far ahead this beast has run, and schedule radiation and likely chemo.

Can’t do anything until I finish healing from this mastectomy, though, and that is my first goal. So the good news, for anybody who may be facing this procedure in the future, is that it was not nearly as painful as I thought it might be. I’d classify it more as discomfort. There are a couple of reasons for this, perhaps. One is that my doctors injected a local anesthetic that was supposed to last up to 72 hours post op. The other is that I have noticed I have a considerable amount of numbness. Not sure what this is due to. My doctor told me, but I think I wasn’t paying that much attention. I also didn’t pay that much attention when she said whether it would be permanent or temporary, because I am sitting here thinking that it can remain forever as long as it remains past the point where it would hurt if it wasn’t there! I have definitely had discomfort, and took percocet for a few days at the beginning, although within a few days I had switched to motrin except at night. But it was not nearly as bad as I’d anticipated.

The really annoying part is the drains. There are two tubes coming out of my body, each collecting liquids of varying shades of cherry and amber in these bulbs that hang by clips from my clothes. A couple of times a day I have to empty them and measure the liquid. It’s not awful, but it is annoying. There are little bandages that surround the holes where the tubes come out of my body, and they do not want to stay put at all. They are always having to be replaced, and this is annoying for me because the whole idea of tubes coming out of my body is very creepy for a germophobe like me. They were still doing their job too well to take them out yesterday, but hopefully within a few days they will be gone, and I will feel like a brand new person! In fact, healing this mastectomy is feeling like such a necessary step. It’s hard to feel like a fighter when you can’t lift anything that weighs more than five pounds, or bend over without feeling like you might break something, and when you are just so doggone tired.

So onward with this healing, which just takes time. And rest I suppose. Then to the battle.

Thank you for your prayers, and I guess I should take a moment to say that my faith doesn’t and never has rested on such things as absence of hardship or instantaneous healing, or answers to any other prayers. It seems pretty obvious to me that there are purposes to this life that require us to step outside our garden of comfort. All things work together for good, one way or the other. Meanwhile, I have been feeling a level of calm through this that amazes even me. So your prayer support is helping. Honestly, I am feeling very tired, like too tired perhaps to prop up a lot of my own faith. So thanks for holding me up with yours.

Thank you everybody. I love you.

Surgery Tomorrow!

15823276_1149299361835724_1780175567423913694_nThis time tomorrow (8:00 a.m.) I will be in surgery. Today is going to be a busy busy day. I have so much just plain cleaning to do, which I left till the last minute so I wouldn’t have to do it over again. I will start with folding the towels, putting the blankies in the dryer, and another load of bedding in the washer. I have instructions to sleep in clean sheets tonight. I am still trying to figure out how to keep my bedding clean, since I sleep with four small dogs, and since they live in my bed during the day as well. I’m a bit of a germphobe, so this is a particular challenge for me. But, anyway.

Next I am going to get my toes done. I have given up the manicures, as much as I loved them, because the time and money are just not going to be available for them. But my toes are difficult, and feet so naturally unattractive, they need help. Plus I have to look at them all the time, spread out on the bed in front of me, as they are now.

This afternoon I have to go get an injection of radioactivity into my lymph glands. I assume this is to make me glow in the dark, you know, just in case the lights go out during surgery.

And at the end of the day, I have to actually try to get to sleep early, because I have to check into the hospital at 6 a.m.!!! Well, at least we should get good parking.

I will admit I am a little nervous, but mostly I am excited to just get this over with finally and move into the next phases. I am not going to lie, that final phase a few months down the road, where I get brand new perky boobs, is a great motivator. I saw a dress today with a low back, and I thought, hey, I might actually be able to wear something like that in the future. Never, ever in my life, even when I was young and before children, could I ever have thought of something like that.

I am finally beginning to see ahead of this thing. I am beginning to look forward to summer, when hopefully all the treatments and surgeries will be over, when I will be cancer free, and healthier than ever. It is beginning to feel a bit like an awakening, that at this point in my life, instead of winding down I will be winding up for a whole new chapter.

Meanwhile, I have a few mountains to climb, and my first steps are in this surgery tomorrow. My husband and my daughter will be going with me to the hospital with me. And when I let go of their hands to go into surgery, you can bet I will be reaching out to grab another hand, one that bids me come, walk on the water, and tells the waves around me, “Peace. Be still.”

I will post again in a few days, to let you know how things are going.

Thanks for your support. Love you all!

Breast Cancer Journey: Bye Bye Bye Booby Bye Bye

So since I am old and a lot of you are young, I guess I need to clarify that you are supposed to hear Janis Joplin singing the title line of this blog entry. But yes, I am indeed going to be 15825811_10211421048947582_6925963522546962115_nsaying goodbye to one of my boobies next week. I am a little apprehensive, because it is surgery and all, but I have never really liked my boobs. They are just too cumbersome. What upsets me most is that they are removing one and leaving the other, which will be the worst of both worlds, at least for awhile. Eventually I will have a new mostly matching set, smaller and happier boobs, although that will take another, much more complicated surgery a couple of months later.

It has been a long wait for this surgery, and this has not been to the benefit of my mental health. I went through the anxious stage, but I guess that was too much for my brain to handle, so I eventually slid into my sort of familiar land of denial of feelings. In that place, I have become dull. I have withdrawn from most physical contact with the world, and when I do have contact I just feel as though I am not completely there. I don’t engage. I listen and contribute some to the conversation, but I feel like I am somewhere else. People will ask if I am okay, or just wonder. Yes, I say, I am okay. And it is true: I am okay. I am just not here. I am flat. Like one side of my chest is going to be after next week.

I have also realized that I am having a hard time seeing past all this. It is basically going to take up much of the next few months. There is surgery, then healing, then likely radiation, and after that the reconstructive surgery. Honestly if they were taking both boobs I might forego that part, but it is standard part of the treatment now so I am going to do it. That will be a far more complicated surgery since it will be both boobs, plus they are going to take the material to make the new boob from my belly, so three surgical sites, with three completely different procedures in each, and a long surgery I imagine, since they have to reconnect blood vessels to the transplanted tissue. But the implants, I am told, don’t last forever. You have to get them replaced every ten years or so. No thanks!

The recovery from the second surgery will take a month or so anyway. And they are still not sure what other treatment will be in the future. Possibility of chemo, likelihood of hormone treatments since my tumor is both estrogen and progesterone receptor positive. So surgery, healing, radiation, maybe nine or ten weeks. Second surgery, healing, another four weeks. Honestly I guess it could all be finished in three or four months, and yet it feels like an eternity, and I am having a hard time seeing the other side.

I was in the awkward position of actually looking for a job when all this began. And I kept looking for one, although I knew that even though the law doesn’t require me to, I would have to tell a prospective employer that I would be having to take off large chunks of time immediately after hire, and nobody is going to hire me under those circumstances. So the job search is going to be off the table for awhile. Meanwhile, there are a few things I could be doing to prepare for my future earning potential. I do have two books that are in progress in one way or another. If worse came to worst I could probably self publish them and make at least a little bit of money. I know that I am really, really bad at self promotion, however. I’m not sure what it is that keeps me from working on them, but I think part of it is just thinking that it is impossible for me to be A Writer. It is what I always intended to be, from first grade on, and here I am Still Waiting To Become What I Am Meant to Be. Oh, I have used my skills to make a living, for certain, mostly writing legal briefs and motions, letters and declarations. Fun, but not what I had in mind. I wish someone would just offer me a publishing contract and give me a deadline which would make me Do Something. But since I haven’t even marketed my ideas, that’s not likely to happen. Meanwhile I sit paralysed.

I also enrolled in a Real Estate course awhile back, which I could work on and complete, and which would give me a little extra padding to my resume. I have been a resident property manager in my life and I am a paralegal, so add those three together and it could be helpful in getting a job. Who knows? I could even make it rich selling real estate! But I’m not doing that either. Instead I am watching Netflix and playing Candy Crush and visiting on Facebook.

It’s not like a don’t think there is going to be a future. The thought of dying hasn’t actually entered my mind. I know it is a possibility, but it is a statistically remote possibility. It is just a battle to fight and move on to the other side. On the other side, I will be better, and stronger. I believe that. But all I can see right now is the mountain in front of me.

So, benefits of cancer? Yes, I have experienced some. Most notable has been weight loss, and I don’t mean unhealthy weight loss because I have cancer. Since my diagnosis I have returned to a vegan diet, and a healthy vegan diet. I have lost fifteen pounds since November 30th, not bad for the Christmas season. But the most amazing thing is that my appetite has normalized. I am not certain what to credit this to. I did quit drinking diet sodas and I wondered if perhaps it was true what all those annoying people have always said, that the artificial sweetness of the diet soda triggers your appetite. And I drank a lot of diet soda. But these days, I just don’t have that insatiable desire for food that I used to. Being a vegan has helped with unconscious eating patterns. Over the holidays my kitchen counter was sometimes filled with cookies and pies, and had I not been a vegan I might have just unconsciously grabbed them and eaten them. But because I was a vegan, I couldn’t, and more to the point, I didn’t want to. I feel an honest aversion to the whole idea of eating animal products. On the other hand, there was a box of vegan cupcakes I got for my birthday that I didn’t eat either. I had a couple of bites of one, and it was just sickeningly sweet so I never touched them again.

So I find myself thinking, oh, this is what it’s like to be normal? I don’t think about food all the time. When I am hungry I look for something to fill the hunger and I am filled pretty easily. I am losing weight. I have diabetes, and at last check my A1C had gone down to 5.9, which was down from 6.5, which was from 7.5, and my random glucose in my pre-op test was 88. Win, win, win. Weight loss, new boobs, removal of abdominal fat to build my new boob. I am finally going to be beautiful! Okay, maybe not beautiful, but I will have the opportunity to be fitter than I ever have been. Do I have cancer to thank for this? At least in part. Better health through cancer. It was that wake up call, I guess. Take this stuff seriously.

Surgery is next Wednesday, January 11th. I appreciate your prayers. I will get back to you afterwards and let you know how it goes. Thank you as always for your support.

Breast Cancer: The Journey Continues

It is not quite three weeks since my diagnosis, although it seems like a million years. This time has been spent getting tests and more information so we can plan our attack.

I had an MRI, which showed that the cancer was quite a bit larger than they had estimated based on the ultrasouIMG_0243nd. This upped my staging to at least IIA, and changed the surgical approach from lumpectomy to complete unilateral mastectomy. I was really pleased initially to find out that breast cancer treatment includes getting nice new boobs. Even the lumpectomy was to include breast reduction to make them match, which would have been done at the time of the initial surgery. Now I will still get nice new boobs, but it is going to require reconstruction, and because I might need radiation, it will not be done at the time of the mastectomy. Instead I will get an expander put in, which will be pumped up gradually each week, and then after the radiation treatment, they will do the reconstruction and make both boobs match. But in the meantime I will be having to live with one missing boob and one, umm, old boob. That will be unpleasant. I’d almost rather have them both gone, but nobody offered that option.

The other fun part is that rather than getting an implant (did you know that those have to be replaced every ten years???), they are going to use my own belly fat to do the reconstruction. So I will get a tummy tuck as well as a boob job!

In addition, I have vastly changed my way of eating since the diagnosis. I am basically following the Crazy Sexy Cancer diet (ala Kris Carr). I have been a vegan before, and I stopped because it was too hard to try to feed my family, most of whom were not in favor of beans and tofu. So it wasn’t a leap. The book (or movie) Forks Over Knives is also pretty informative regarding the health benefits of a diet free of animal products. Here is the thing, though … I am loving it! I not only have no desire to “cheat,” the very idea of eating something with animal products is repellant to me. My appetite itself has changed as well. I no longer desire to eat for entertainment, boredom, or out of stress. I just eat when I need to eat, and my only desire is for regular size portions. I also gave up drinking diet sodas, and I do have to wonder if this has something to do with my appetite regulation. As much as I resisted the notion, I have heard for years that although diet soda doesn’t contain any calories, the artificial sweeteners do trigger your appetite. Who knows? Maybe they were right?  Or maybe it’s just my general state of mind, which is a little bit, umm, odd right now.

So yes, I am focusing on these improvements, because they are the good things to focus on. I have a lot of trepidation about surgery and recovery, but there is no point in it, so I am putting it on the back burner. It’s not like I can say, oh no, I don’t think I want to do that. I will just go in and do it and get over it. One step at a time. Worry is a misuse of imagination

The fact that I am dealing with cancer, which is a deadly disease, is something that I know, but it is something that just hasn’t made its home in me. To me it is an illness, something that has to be treated, and with treatments that are sometimes unpleasant, but I am not thinking about the possibility of dying. I asked my older daughter if she had looked up my survival rates, because I was pretty sure she had, and she told me they were 80-something percent. Those aren’t bad, right?

When I was reading the Bible one morning, I came across this passage:

“When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2

That reminded me of a book I had read many years ago about a young mother suffering from cancer, Walking Through the Fire, by Laurel Lee. Published in 1977, it is now out of print, but I purchased a used copy on Amazon. Her description of her feelings at her diagnosis with Hodgkins Disease felt familiar: “I was in myself, receiving a new dimension of concerns, and I was outside myself, watching myself receive it. I was not upset, and I puzzled at this…. I walked outside thinking, I get to think about things that usually would be held from me until later seasons of life. Wisdom is the principal thing. My body rode the bus home, and I executed the correct mechanical procedures to transport us, but my mind kept sorting images.”

Yes, that is kind of how I feel. Somehow outside myself. In truth, there are those occasions when I am beset with this inner trembling, but even that seems to arise more on a physical level than a mental level. My body, I guess, knows I am afraid. My mind just doesn’t acknowledge it. I have a lot of practice at this kind of thing, though. My mind has been burying my feelings for 28 years now, since my daughter’s kidnapping.

The last time I saw my breast cancer surgeon, who I trust and love, she hugged me when we parted. I don’t think I have ever had a doctor do that before, even my primary doctor who is loving and kind and but hugs you only with her eyes. I very much appreciated the gesture, and hugged her tightly, but it kind of worried me as well. Doctors are always asking if I have more questions, prodding me as though there are some questions they know that I have forgotten, but I just say no. I’ve never asked that question regarding prognosis and survival. Just one step at a time. I wondered for a second if the hug was because she knew something I didn’t know, but I concluded it was just because she is a wonderful human being.

Laurel Lee’s cancer was advanced, and she was pregnant at the time of diagnosis. Plus it was forty years ago and cancer treatment was not what it is now. In her surreal state of mind after diagnosis she said, “The doctors were too serious for me not to be serious. I made an appointment within myself to consider dying.” I am pretty sure I am not afraid of dying. But there are reasons I need to stay here. There are people who need me, and there are things I need to accomplish. I have been procrastinating for a very, very long time on some of the things I need to do! I came across an interesting quote this morning by Ted Dekker: “Perfectionism is procrastination in cheap disguise.” This would apply to my failure to make proper progress in writing. I’m fifty pages into the book I have been hatching in my mind for so long. Perhaps this diagnosis is what I needed to light a fire under me, not only because I want to accomplish what I believe I need to accomplish, but because I hope to be able to make a living at something, somehow, some day.

It occurred to me that I had never learned the end of Laurel Lee’s story, so before I started re-reading the book, I looked her up. She did die of cancer, not the original Hodgkins, but pancreatic cancer, about thirty years later. Okay. Give me another 30 years and I will be fine. Meanwhile, Laurel Lee got to accomplish those things she wanted to accomplish, raising her little children, and touching the world through her writing.

There are still questions about my cancer that will not be answered until after the surgery. It could go from Stage II to Stage III yet, depending on the lymph node biopsy. I might need radiation, or might not. I might need chemo, or might not. There is no point in looking far ahead because the aswers are not available.

So all this has been like basic training, I guess. Soon the battle will begin. I will be sure to write from the front, and let you know how things are going.

Meanwhile, just remember, whatever it is you are facing today, YOU CAN DO IT. 

Love you all.

Breast Cancer: The Journey Begins

I learnesomeone-needs-youd this week that I have breast cancer. It has only been a couple of days now, and I think there is still a bit of disbelief. Having breastfed five babies from birth through ages one to three, I suffered from some sort of illusion that this would protect me from breast cancer. My mother had it, but I was bottle fed, so I thought I had some extra protection that she hadn’t had.

Because of this illusion, I hadn’t been terribly concerned when after a routine mammogram they called me back in to get a second mammogram and ultrasound. I’d had a friend have that same experience and it had been nothing, so I was completely unconcerned. I had to wait until the next week for the appointment, and in the meantime I didn’t even give it a thought. It wasn’t until I was walking from my car to the clinic that I felt a jolt, that it occurred to me that what I was doing might possibly be a significant moment in my life. After that I couldn’t shake it. I went to the bathroom, which smelled like a hospital bathroom, and I remember thinking how I really like hospitals for some unfathomable reason, and maybe that was a good thing. As I sat waiting for the radiologist to review the new mammograms and then the ultrasounds, I thought about the book I was reading at the time, and how I should remember that (Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu, about two abducted children who were found and came home).

The radiologist came in and told me that there was something significant there. He showed it to me on the ultrasound, and it looked like a storm cloud in my breast. He said that I needed to get a biopsy. I calmly accepted all this. There was still some sort of a disconnect here, but as I walked to my car I found myself feeling choked up, found tears coming to my eyes, completely unattached to any thoughts going on in my mind, just a spontaneous well.

It was another couple of weeks until I had the biopsy. My daughter and her husband work for a theater company, and she was actually acting in one of the shows and it was performance week, so I wanted to be able to help care for my grandson. So the biopsy was put off until the next week, Thanksgiving week. And because it was Thanksgiving week, I had to wait the long holiday weekend before I could get the results.

Early Monday morning I got a call from my doctor’s office asking me to schedule an appointment to come in to talk to her. I knew that meant bad news. She is a busy, busy doctor, and would not schedule an appointment to say, you are okay, just get your yearly mammos. When I got off the phone again I got that inexplicable feeling of being choked up and teary.

The reason I say it is inexplicable is because I don’t think I am afraid. Well, I am. In some ways I am shaking in my boots terrified, but that is more about my ability to take care of my family in the here and now than the c-word itself. Like I said, my mother had breast cancer. I remember when she was diagnosed she told me that her first thought was, “At least I will get to find out what happened to Michaela.” What she actually meant was, “At least I will get to see Michaela,” but she couldn’t say that, because that would be saying that she believed Michaela was dead. But that didn’t happen. She had a lumpectomy and some radiation treatments and it was over. Cancer was gone, and never came back. She died some years later of emphysema instead.

My dad also had cancer. Lung cancer, inoperable because his lungs were too severely damaged from emphysema, so he also had radiation therapy. This was 30 years ago when the word cancer equaled death in my mind, so it surprised me that my dad just went on living and living and living, year after year. His bad lungs left him disabled, but having cancer seemed kind of to assume the importance having crooked teeth, only less noticeable. He also died some years after his diagnosis, of another condition completely unrelated to his lungs or his cancer.

So I’m not so afraid of this C word diagnosis. My mother blazed a trail through this breast cancer, and as I told my doctor, I figure I will just follow her path until someone tells me different.

And yet, there is something else there, that thing that brings spontaneous tears to my eyes. And there is treatment to look forward to, one way or the other. According to my doctor I will have surgery to determine how far the cancer has spread into the breast tissue, because what I have is the “invasive” kind, and they can’t tell this on mammo and ultrasound. I will also have to have a lymph node biopsy to see if it has spread there. I am not a person with a high pain tolerance, and I remember my mother telling me in particular that the lymph node biopsy was the most painful part. So there is that. I also don’t like general anesthesia. Last time I had it I coughed for six weeks afterwards, presumably due to something they did with the breathing tube.

In other words, I am not afraid for my life, but I am a little bit fearful of the journey. Although at the same time, I am maybe in the far back of my mind just a little bit afraid. I am famous for being strong, it seems, having survived my daughter’s kidnapping, not that this is a sign of strength because it’s not as though it’s something you choose to do, like climbing Mt Everest. It’s more like you find yourself on the top of Mt Everest and have to make your way down or die there. You are there, you do it. If I have developed a skill here, it is the ability to deny, distract, and bury my feelings so deep I don’t even recognize them anymore. I think this is probably a character flaw more than strength, but it has certain benefits for survival I guess.

But. God. There is God. In my wandering ways, I wandered back into his arms awhile ago and made the decision to just stay there whether I had all the answers or not. So here I am. The day after I received the diagnosis my pastor called me, and he prayed a prayer for me that just made its place in my heart. He talked about Peter walking on the waters that should have consumed him. I have always identified with Peter. After all, he denied Jesus three times, but Jesus had foreknown this, had told Peter it would happen, had told him that Satan had asked permission to sift him like wheat, but that Jesus had prayed for him, that his faith would not fail, and that once he had turned back, he was to strengthen his brothers. I have always felt that deeply as a call to me in my own denials. But my pastor went on to pray for me, that I would be able to step out and walk on the waters that wanted to consume me.

I knew this would be what I would carry with me on this journey, that whenever I was afraid this is the picture that I would bring to my mind, of me walking on the waters that want to consume me, because God is with me. Jesus will hold my hand when the waters are smooth and clear, and when they are stormy and dark. The song Oceans by Hillsong came to my mind also, on a continuous loop.

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand
And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

I have always been one to believe that there is a purpose in what happens to us. This morning I was reading in Isaiah, chapter 30, and among other things, the following verses spoke to me.

He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.

They speak to me, because if I have a prayer, it is for me to know the way and walk in it, to do what I have to do, to accomplish what I need to accomplish. There are always so many things in the way of this, and I am so unsure of what the way is. If you want to pray for me, pray please that I find this way and actually walk in it, that my feet follow and my hands do what it is that I need to do, that I am able to sow the seed I have been given. And that I can care for my family while doing all this, please, as in the following verses, “And he will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and bread, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous.”

So here we are, and off we go. I will check in along the way and let you know how the journey is going. And for those of you who are also going through hard things of any kind, let me share with you my song, Oceans by Hillsong, in this exceptionally beautiful video filmed on the Sea of Galilee.

Faith battles: Is God Speaking?

14138823_10207205513795653_6220339703742543748_oMy faith in God is not based in my mind. There are too many questions there. We are talking about things that are completely beyond what at least my mind can grasp. Faith is like quantum physics. My mind says, “Huh? Can you show me that please? Cause it makes no sense at all, and I’m not quite sure I even like it.”

My faith in God is not based in my emotions. My emotions are all over the place. My emotions are wrapped in abandonment and despair. How could they possibly support the idea of a God who loves and cares for me? How can I open myself up to the possibility of further abandonment, not only by a God I put my trust in, but by people because of that trust?

Instead, my faith in God is based in experience. It is based in God calling to me, speaking to me, very occasionally holding me.

For a long time, God was not speaking to me. I lived in unbelief, wanting to believe, but God was silent. Yet I kept chasing God, calling to him. And finally, when I reached a bottom of sorts, he spoke. The first word was a passage from the Bible he had used to call me before. I’d tucked a highlighter randomly into the middle of my Bible, and when I opened it I thought at first it was a psalm someone else had mentioned that I’d intended to look at more deeply, so I stopped to read it before moving on. I was surprised and encouraged when I saw it was a passage in Hosea which was so personal and special to me. The next day again, a similar passage, this time in Joel, verses in which God is calling Israel back to himself, telling them that his love for them is unending.

The next day I read a blog about the prodigal son, about the Father being so overjoyed about his son’s return that he ran to him when he was still far off. The son had thought the father would be angry at him for leaving home and squandering his inheritance, but he wasn’t. He was just happy to have his son back.

And the next day, I read a meditation by Ted Dekker, and it also was on the prodigal son.

One message, two confirmations.

This morning I was sitting here, feeling a little sick, my mind not lining up still, my heart honestly just grieving. In my Bible reading, I was in John 20, the resurrection story. I read that when Mary went to the tomb, she met Jesus there, but she didn’t recognize him until he called her name. And I thought yes, that is me. It takes him calling my name for me to see him. The Bible itself says that the message of the gospel is foolishness to those who haven’t heard that call. Yet I am still with Thomas, saying wait, let me put my fingers in the holes in your hands.

Then I am with Peter. I identify so closely with Peter, with Jesus telling Peter that he would deny Jesus three times, but when he returned he should strengthen his brothers. In the final chapter of John, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Peter gets exasperated over this repeated question, saying, “Lord you know I love you.” But each time Peter answers, Jesus tells him, “Feed my sheep.” For each of Peter’s denials, Jesus has given him an affirmation, and has reinforced his direction to strengthen his brothers, to feed his sheep. And finally, “Follow me,” even after predicting that Peter would die for his faith.

I was also listening to worship music this morning while I was doing my Bible study, and as I was digesting this, I was reminded that wandering is not unique to me, or even to modern times. The 18th century hymn, Come Thou Font of Every Blessing, says, “Let that grace now, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee. Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it. Seal it for thy courts above.”

Then the next song came on, one of my favorites, Brokenness Aside by All Sons & Daughters. “Will your grace run out if I let you down? Cause all I know is how to run. Cause I am a sinner. If it’s not one thing it’s another, caught up in words, tangled in lies…. Will you call me child when I tell you lies, cause all I know is how to cry.”

Again, one message, then one confirmation, coming right on top of one another.

And yet, as I believe, still I doubt. Maybe I’m just crazy. Is it all just coincidence? Maybe I’m making things up to make myself feel better. But perhaps that is the purpose of these messages, to tell me that God knows this, that I wander and doubt, but he still seeks me, still calls me, that he will make it beautiful, that perhaps even he will use it to some day, some way, to feed his sheep, to strengthen his children.

As God seeks me, I seek him. Through the rain I seek the rainbow. Lord, make it beautiful. Please. My heart is aching.

Faith to do good

I had a discussion on Facebook today about the current presidential race, and one woman said Hillary was endangering our country by wanting to bring in Syrian refugees. The woman in question claims to be a Christian. This is something that I just don’t understand. I remember when the Syrian crisis began, the church I attended showed videos about how terrible the situation was, with Christians being beheaded by ISIS, among other terrible atrocities. At that time it seemed we were being encouraged to care and to help.

Within a few months, however, I noticed that Christians were up in arms about the possibility that Syrian refugees might be allowed into our country. “They could be terrorists,” they said. “We have to make sure we have enough for our own people before we go helping people from other countries,” they said.

I was truly astounded by this attitude coming from Christians. This is so far from what Christ taught! He taught faith, not fear. Matthew 25 says that whenever we do not help someone in need, it is as though we have failed to help Jesus. He taught that when the storms arise that we should not be afraid, but have faith, that he is always with us. He taught us not to be afraid to share what we have. Remember those loaves and fishes? What a lack of faith is displayed by those who call themselves Christians but dig in their heels against helping our Syrian brothers and sisters.

There are children who will suffer and die because of that triumph of fear over faith.

I guess I kind of take this personally, because the triumph of fear over faith, or compassion, or human kindness, or just plain goodness could well have cost my own child her life. My daughter, Michaela Joy Garecht (www.dearmichaela.com) was kidnapped in 1988, the victim of a witnessed stranger abduction. Michaela’s friend saw her being kidnapped, watched the kidnapper’s until he drove his car out of the parking lot and onto the highway. Then she ran to get help. At that time, however, there was an older woman pulling onto the same highway from across the street. She took note of the kidnapper’s car. He was driving so erratically she thought he might cause an accident, and because of that she made an attempt to memorize his license plate number.

Later that day she watched the news, and realized what it was she had seen. Did she call the police? No, she didn’t. She didn’t because she was more afraid of the remote possibility of danger to herself than she was concerned about the certainty of the horror my daughter was facing. It was three months later that she called me, but even then she was motivated by fear. She had been in the grocery store and had seen a man who looked like my daughter’s kidnapper. She was afraid that he might have recognized her and might want to hurt her, and that is why she reached out to me.

I was nice to her. I talked to her, I “understood.” I talked her into undergoing hypnosis in order to try to recall the license plate number, but it had been a long time by then, and she told me the day before the session that she would not remember the license plate number. And she didn’t.

My sweet, beautiful, kind, innocent little girl endured what unknown fate that might have been prevented if this woman had come forward with whatever information she had, if she had come forward soon enough to be able to retrieve the license plate number. I really could not understand how she could have allowed the unlikely danger to herself to outweigh my daughter’s suffering, my daughter’s life.

And I don’t understand those who would lock the gates and turn their backs on the Syrian refugees because of their own imagined perception of possible danger, or worse, because they aren’t sure we have enough to share. One day, one way or another, I believe they will have to answer for this.

The sad thing is that these people don’t even acknowledge what they are doing. They don’t own up to their fear. They don’t confess their lack of faith. They seem to think they are fine, righteous even.

It’s just part of the political climate this season I guess. A heartwrenching season. I pray it will be over soon and we can go to better days under compassionate leadership.