What if God’s purposes are bigger than your answered prayers?

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The title of this blog was taken from a Facebook status posted by the associate pastor of our church. He and his wife are currently experiencing a heartbreaking situation, as she is pregnant with a baby who is not expected to survive more than a few hours after birth. What is in their minds and hearts? I can only guess. Thousands of prayers are being offered for them, for their baby. What are they expecting to happen? I don’t know.I can only imagine.

But I understand the sentiment of this statement, what if God’s purposes are bigger than your answered prayers? I understand it because when I was diagnosed with breast cancer there were people who wanted to (and did) pray for a miraculous healing. But I knew in my heart that was not to be. I knew that this was a journey I had to take, for whatever reasons, for whatever purposes. Maybe it is for myself, to learn, to grow, to become the person I am supposed to become. Will cancer weaken me, or will it strengthen me? Who knows, I might end up competing in the Tour de France after it’s over! Or I might just be in my own individual spiritual Tour de France. Maybe it will touch other people’s lives. My children’s, for certain. I have seen this already in a few ways, for better, or for worse which will end up better, if you know what I mean. Maybe there is one stranger out there whose life I can end up touching through this. Who knows?

But this I know, we were not promised a rose garden. Bad things happen, even to good people. Life is hard sometimes. God has works to perform in our lives and in our hearts, and like the works of a surgeon or an oncologist, those works are not always pleasant in the moment. But they are for good, for a purpose beyond what others may see.

We can see it, though, if we are honest. We may not understand it, but we can sense it. We know when God is moving in our lives, because even though we may not like what is happening, even when we might sometimes have sleepless nights, tears, even a panic attack, behind even those things there is a sense of peace.

I am afraid of what I am about to do, it is true. I’m not sure where I am going or where I will end up. But behind it all, there really is that sense of peace. I have had a whole lot of practice in resting in that peace while toiling through the deepest, darkest places in this world, as most of you know. This is just another thing.

 

Breast Cancer Journey: Dear God, what do you want from me?

16196717_10211607204321350_2071707470_oDear God, is there something I am not getting here? Is there something you want me to do that I might not have the energy to do after I start chemo? You wouldn’t, umm, be trying to kill me or something, would you?

No, I don’t believe that. But why would I? I have not taken this thing seriously since before my diagnosis, since my ho hum attitude toward being asked to come back for a second mammo and ultrasound after the first one. The terms, “I have cancer,” and “I have breast cancer” — I can say them, but they don’t really ring true. I can stand in front of the mirror and look at the mastectomy scars, and there is still some disconnect. Is that me? How did I get to here, on the other side of that mastectomy?

Also, I had a PET scan, and no cancer was found in my body after the surgery. Now I figure this doesn’t mean that there isn’t any, or they wouldn’t bother to torture me with chemo and radiation. And my type of cancer is sneaky. It is invasive lobular carcinoma, and while most cancer grows in clumps, this type of cancer grows in rows of cells, eventually turning into sheets of cells instead of a lump. It is insidious because it can be hard to detect. So while a part of me says, they have cut out all the cancer and now we are just cleaning up any stray cells, but that shouldn’t be too hard so I will be fine, another part of my is cautious and concerned.

So far my chemo has been delayed twice, and it is about to be delayed a third time. First I cannot seem to get rid of this surgical drain, and I can’t have chemo until after it is gone due to the possibility of infection. It seems I am out to set some sort of world record in surgical drain retention. As of tomorrow it will be seven weeks. Usually they are in for one to two weeks, occasionally as much as four weeks. The output on the drain needs to be below 30 cc’s a day before they can safely remove it, and mine is still averaging 50, occasionally dipping to a blessed 40. My surgeons keep saying, “Are you doing too much?” Well, I’m doing darn little (which you can tell by looking at my house), but who knows, maybe it is too much.

Meanwhile, the anticipation of chemo has been a pretty dreadful thing. I have been given a whole list of possible side effects, each one of which would lay me out on its own. I have also been given a lot of literature on chemo from various sources, and have found some measures that I can take to try to minimize those side effects, and have begun those. The doctors prescribe a ton of anti-nausea medications, including an IV infusion of one at the time of the chemo itself, so I am hoping not to have to deal with that. The mouth sores, the bone pain, those worry me.

What worries me most is the immunosuppression, trying to avoid getting sicknesses and infections. At least it’s not flu season, I told myself, but just then it seems an end of the season virus decided to make the rounds, and sure enough it hit my family. I was already in chemo mode, and I washed my hands raw, I used hand sanitizer wipes and gels after every contact with every surface, and I avoided getting close to people. It had hit my little grandson first.He is fifteen months old and this is his first real illness. Five days later his mom and dad both came down with it. They all live with me, so at that point I figured I was doing a pretty good job avoiding it. Under normal circumstances, I do have a really good immune system when it comes to upper respiratory infections. But a week later my system surrendered. I got a scratchy throat first, and as much as I tried to deny it, it turned into a cold.

Right now I am trying to baby myself. I am trying to stay in my room, on my bed. In fact, I am writing from there right now. I am trying not to talk, because it irritates my throat, and not to “do too much.”  I have taken antihistamines and expectorants to keep my bodily fluids from getting out of hand, and tylenol to keep the inflamation down. I have requested someone bring me greens to throw in my shakes, and I am taking all my supplements. I am just trying to minimize this darn cold so it won’t turn into a long, drawn out thing, and to get rid of this drain.

We simply have got to get this show on the road. I am hoping the anticipation of chemo is going to be worse than the chemo itself. I am looking forward to the day when I can say, well, we got through that. And in addition, this is really dragging out the time of treatment. As it is my disability payments don’t quite reach the anticipated end of my treatment, and that end keeps getting farther away. I talked to another cancer patient today. We were talking about supplements, and not being able to afford them, and the term she used was “financially crushed.” I thank God our medical insurance is pretty good, but I was unemployed and looking for a job when I was diagnosed, and I won’t be able to actually get a job until it is all over, and the place where the two ends don’t meet could be tough.

If I had to do it all over again, I think I would take money more seriously from my youth. I would try to like science more and English less. I would learn about money and how it works, and put that knowledge to work. Sometimes I watch shows about people with great careers, often instead of families, and I think how much easier their lives are. But that was not who I was, not who I am. Even to this day, my family means more to me than money. In fact, my family is the only reason I even care about whether I have money or not.

But here is what I would do if I had to do it over again. I would be a vegan right from the start and would raise my children that way. I have seen since I started a vegan diet that literally all my blood chemistry has fallen dramatically into line. Asked generally about diet, with no reference to veganism, my oncologist said that there is some evidence that a diet free of animal products helps protect from cancer (although he did admittedly say that during chemo he wanted to me just eat whatever I could). I would not drink sodas, at all. All of the cans are lined with BPA, which is implicated in causing a host of medical problems, including cancer and diabetes. Same goes for diet sodas. I spent so much of my life addicted to diet sodas in BPA lined cans.

I used to think, as I abused my body through junk food, that one day if I reached the point where it was possible that it would cost me my life (I had in mind sudden heart problems rather than an insidious cancer invasion), that in that moment I would regret every single unhealthy, unnecessary morsel or drink I put into my mouth, ever. I would think to myself, why don’t I just stop now, so I don’t have to come to that day? Why, really, why? In my heart of hearts, I think there was a bit of a self destructive impulse in there. But there is one thing I know for certain, and that is that I don’t really know myself all that well.

Anyway, this is where I am right now. In limbo, circling the field, waiting to land. It’s getting to be really old, too. So, God, if there is something I need to get done before I head into chemoland, could you please give me a bit fat hint? I’d appreciate it.

Or maybe there is just some wisdom I can’t see. Maybe my chemo was delayed twice, because God knew that sometime in that third week, I would come down with a cold, which I am not allowed to do while I am having my treatments.

Who knows? But whatever it is, could we please just get a move on? And make it an easy journey, please, God?

As for the rest of my life, it hasn’t been going all that well. Since January 11th, I have had three, count ’em, three surgeries. The first one, the major one that required hospitalization afterwards, was okay. The second one, which was to remove some dead skin, I have actually characterized as fun. I had sedation rather than full anesthesia, no breathing tube, and they woke me up in the operating room right after surgery so my surgeon could talk to me. I woke up in the best mood ever! I wanted to party! More to the point, I wanted to eat. Everything. The surgery was performed in San Francisco, because it was an emergency surgery and that is where my surgeon was working that day. I asked my husband if we could go to Fisherman’s Wharf on the way home. It had been an afternoon surgery, so I had gone for a very long time without eating, and I was hungry. I could taste that crusty sourdough bread that is like no other bread in the world. And crab. My little vegan heart wanted crab.

We didn’t go, and I don’t honestly remember what I did eat that day. But it was as though a switch was flipped that turned on my appetite. Having done so well for so long, I just wanted to eat. I had previously only wanted food when I was hungry, and then it was just something to eat, but suddenly I was thinking about food all the time, and I was eating stuff I didn’t even really want or like in an effort to satisfy this craving … which hasn’t gone away, if you were wondering.

Of course, I also had my appoinment with my chemo doctor right around then, and was told all the dietary restrictions I would have during chemo. I was also told I might not want to eat because food would probably not taste good. Well, that’s okay by me. I think. Perhaps I was making up for my anticipated losses by eating more food than I need right now. Nevertheless, I am struggling to bring this under control, because it is not healthy.

Spiritually also I have been suffering. God is so far away! I told him the other day, if you want me to keep believing, you are going to have to start talking to me. No word yet. In all honestly I haven’t talked to God much either. I read about him, think about him, learn about him, but I haven’t actually been talking to him. This is a big fat heavy duty subject that I’m really too tired to go into. But it’s just another area where I’m struggling.

Not unusual, I don’t suppose, to struggle with some things in these circumstances. I do appreciate your prayers, as always, and your love. That is one thing I have had in abundance in my life, love. So thank you all for that.

Hope to be back soon with progress and good news!

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.