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Posts Tagged ‘cancer’

Adventures at Sea

It’s been right at a year since the cancer diagnosis. Thankfully my strength has gradually returned. I decided to give it a try. We hadn’t been sailing since last June and the sparkling water beckoned. The Captain charted our course pulling out a map that made little sense to me. It hardly mattered. I was content with a comfortable place to rest where I could soak in the day. The first mate loaded all the gear. After tossing life jackets, fishing rods, extra towels and a picnic on board, she untied the boat and off we went.

The sun hit my face along with a stiff breeze and a gentle spray. I was glad to finally be over the sickness of chemo and able to enjoy one of my favorite pastimes. Just as I was beginning to relax the water became a little choppy. The first mate offered me a snack and looked at me with concern. I assured her I was fine. Nothing was going to spoil our day.

Suddenly the sky darkened and the seas became quite rough. The Captain assured me he knew a shortcut to our destination and took a hard right into the waves. I held on for dear life as the boat climbed each wave and landed with a monstrous splash. It seemed to me we were taking on an awful lot of water. The first mate advised me to put my life jacket on instead of just holding it in my lap. My heart pounded as I followed her instructions. Up and down we went over wave after wave. I tried not to think about it as my tummy reminded me of the omelet I had for breakfast.

Suddenly the Captain shouted, “There’s too much water coming in! I think we have a leak! I’m going to check it out!” Overboard he went.

“You stay here! I’m going to help!” With that the first mate abandoned ship as well. The two seasoned sailors disappeared under the boat.

Alone I waited.

There was no sign of either of them.

I closed my eyes trying not to panic as I wondered about the sharks they had spotted earlier.

A voice broke into my thoughts.

“Mom? Are you sick or just playing boat?” My daughter asked as she stood looking at my bed full of pillows and blankets and snacks. “Where are the kids?”

I clutched the pillow I was using as a flotation device and smiled. “They’re under the boat making repairs. But don’t worry. They can hold their breath a really long time. Besides, Jesse knows a shortcut to California and Marie brought lots of snacks.”

While my daughter peeked under the bed at her giggling four year olds, I rested against one of the extra life jackets. It felt so good to be back in the land of the living. After a year of cancer treatments, playing “boat on the bed” was way more fun than I remembered.

I’m just glad Jesse can read a map better than I can.

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My Head is Cold!

I think I need a new hat. My head is cold. With the recent change in weather I’ve been made aware of how much hair adds to one’s temperature. So to Downtown Salisbury we went. The Stitchin’ Post was our first stop. The sales clerk there was so pleasant and sympathetic. Without even having to tell her that I wouldn’t want to bear my bald head out there in front of God and everybody, she offered a dressing room where I could try on hats. The kindness of some folks is a little bit amazing. The hats were beautiful but at the time not quite warm enough. However I will never forget her compassion.

So up the street we went to Timeless on the square. I had visited there early in the cancer diagnosis looking for a wig. The co-owner also offered a dressing room last June when this started. She understood firsthand how it feels to be suddenly bald as she has been through cancer and all the horrible side effects of the treatments. But unlike me she is very young. Still she sympathized and brought wig after wig for me to try. I couldn’t make them work for somehow when I gazed at the reflection looking back at me, all I could see was a Muppet with too much hair for the amount of face. Plus the hair was very young. My face… not so much.

It was then I decided to make do with a hat.photo cap

When I popped back into her shop six months later she hardly recognized me. But again she very patiently showed me every hat in the store and tried sweetly to find what I was looking for. I felt like Goldilocks except for the golden locks. Nothing suited me. I needed something to cover my ears. My ears are cold too. Obviously she understood. She has been where I am.

I don’t know the story behind the compassion of the lady in the Stitchin’ Post. I didn’t even get her name. I wish I had. Maybe she’s been through cancer too or maybe she’s cared for someone close who has. Or maybe she’s just one of those rare souls who looks for ways to comfort others. Whatever the case, she reminded me of the verse which tells us to work willingly as though working for the Lord. [Col.3:23]

Both ladies exemplified Christ to me that Saturday. When all this is over I sure hope to come out on the other side a lot more sympathetic. My care for others in times past has been less than commendable. But in the mean time I must go search through our winter gear. Surely there’s a toboggan in there somewhere.

My head is cold!

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For Sleep and Pumpkin Pie

This Thanksgiving season I’m grateful for things I’ve never thought to be thankful for. It has never occurred to me to be thankful for nose hair until chemo scorched it all away. Slowly it’s starting to grow back. Now the liquid in my head doesn’t pour forth unabated as it has for the past six months. That’s a good thing. The hair on my head is starting to come back as well. I’m so thankful for that. For years I’ve complained about my fuzzy red head. No more. If some glad morning I wake to find the gaps filled in nicely I shall be forever grateful.

I’m thankful for taste buds that have started to rehydrate. Yesterday I had a patty melt and I liked it! Grilled onions and melted cheese on a hamburger with rye bread… yum! What a blessing to taste food again. Anything sweet still tastes funky, but maybe by Thanksgiving my mouth will be ready to appreciate pumpkin pie.

I’m thankful for strength. I’ve hardly left the house in months except for doctor appointments and chemo treatments. Saturday we went to Lowes with a thousand of our closest friends. I figured I’d need to wait in the truck while David fetched the goods. Instead I was able to go in and shop the garden area without fear of keeling over. Strength is a wonderful thing. I felt like a real girl again traipsing around the pansies all willy-nilly.

I’m thankful for a mostly clear mind. I’ve been in a chemo fog for months but suddenly I can tell I’m getting back to myself again. The terrible cloud of depression has finally lifted and I think I might live to tell about it. The regimen of strong medication has been completed and the terrible anxiety is less with each day. We are so fearfully and wonderfully made. So when a boatload of poison is dumped into our system our bodies can have strange responses and generally toss anything we dare to consume. Our minds and hearts forget the things we know to be true. Sleep won’t come, though we stare at the darkness and pray for every person we know and some we don’t. But last night, I slept! What a great blessing!

I’m thankful for compassionate people who continually check on us and sympathize that our world is upside down. David and I have been through some stuff in our forty-two years of marriage. We’re like that Farmers Insurance commercial. We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two. However, we have never been through anything like this. I have no doubt that we will emerge more compassionate. I sure hope so. Compassion is a beautiful thing.

And believe it or not, I’m thankful for the last six months. I can’t honestly say I’m thankful for cancer. Too many dear people have been taken from us because of it. But I am thankful for the things we have learned. It’s one thing to have faith that God will keep you safe in a storm because you read it on Facebook. It’s a whole ‘nother to experience it firsthand.

When the waves are up to your nose and you have to bounce on tippy toes just to catch your breath; when your body is so weak you can’t take another step, but your bowels demand that you hurry; when a dark cloud of depression grips your soul with so much fear that all you can manage is to let the tears pour freely; when your prayers are reduced to silence before the One Who has promised to never leave, now that’s a real storm!

Dear friend, He doesn’t need our words. He sees the anguish of our soul and draws us close to His heart. Then after a while, which may seem like an eternity, He remains faithful and we come out on the other side. “Peace be still,” He commands and the storm is quieted. Then we wake one morning from a restful sleep with a hankering for pumpkin pie.

For that I am abundantly thankful.photo cap

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The Paper Chain

He made a long paper chain for me to count off the days. Chemo had worn us both down to the very last nerve of our already fragile psyches. Since my cancer treatments started in May and would continue until the end of September, it had been a very long hard summer. But suddenly we had something to look forward to. A friend graciously offered her house at the beach for us to get away for a week-end and leave the Big C behind. If I could just get past that last chemo and take a few weeks to build up my strength, then we could get a glimpse of the ocean. And everyone knows that saltwater is good for what ails you.

Day after day I tore one ring off the paper chain and prayed for better days. We scheduled our trip for the last week-end in October and hoped for decent weather and better strength. Finally the time came and the last of the paper chain was torn away. The forecast was beautiful. Food was planned and packed since I have a hard time eating. We tried to think through everything we’d need for our little trip as I was still so weak.

We arrived at the house on Friday afternoon. The place was gorgeous and overlooked a marshy creek bed with lots of wildlife. We unpacked and took the golf cart toward the beach. The access where we parked was rather steep and involved a lot of steps. Resting often I was glad to spot a bench at the end of the long walk. There before me opened up the view of the ocean. Waves lapped gently on the shore and the water shimmered in the sunlight. After a short rest we took our chairs down onto the beach. But out of nowhere we were swarmed with biting flies. Have you ever been a part of such a lovely experience? It was not pretty. Though we had some serious repellent, probably harmful enough to kill us, it did not deter the flies. They seemed to lap it up like grandma’s Sunday gravy.  Suddenly I had sympathy for the Egyptians back in Moses’ day. We could not stay. Those nasty creatures followed us all the way back to the golf cart and didn’t leave until David picked up some serious speed.

Saturday a new day dawned and we wondered whether to try again. But I was so sick and needed to maintain a close proximity to a toilet. Sorry delicate readers– just keeping it real. David brought Cream of Wheat to the little patio table on the deck facing the marsh. We prayed for a good day and wisdom to know what to do. The sun was warm for October 29th so we lingered and watched the giant cranes and herons as they watched the tide come in with their breakfast.

Then we spotted him: a huge old buck wandered from a cluster of trees and just stood there for our viewing pleasure. One by one other deer joined him, some even splashing in the water that rose to where they were. We sat in the perfect place just far enough away that they didn’t notice us but we could enjoy their movements in the rising tide. It’s a picture I’ll never forget.

Sunday morning came and we decided to give the ocean another try. Again we armed ourselves with repellent and sunscreen and mounted the golf cart. This time we drove a little farther and found an access which was constructed more like a ramp instead of a stairway. Gradually it wound through the wooded area then offered benches overlooking the ocean. Sparkling water spread before us along with fishermen and families enjoying the sunshine and surf. Though I was too weak to walk in the soft sand, the bench worked just fine. We sat there soaking in the beauty of it all for what seemed like hours. It definitely cured what ailed me.beach

Sometimes it feels as if a trial will last forever, much like this story of our lovely week-end. Like biting flies, pain and despair quickly gobble up what little bit of strength we have.  I’m so glad we hung on and tried again to find that happy place. The next time I feel like giving up I plan to pull up those scenes I promised never to forget.

The majestic old buck with head raised sniffing the wind; the graceful doe frolicking at the water’s edge; the beautiful ocean pounding the beach then pulling away for another time; all just because the Lord made such a wonderful world. No, cancer is not so wonderful. But because of it my eyes are opened like never before. I never knew such joy could be gained by being still and watching the world. And never before has anyone made me a paper chain, counting down the days til we could simply be together.

 

 

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Currently I’m in week two of my second round of chemo. In case you’ve never walked with someone on the cancer treatment journey, this particular regimen means a day of infusion every three weeks. Right about the time the patient begins to recover from the chemo it’s time to take another. And Lord have mercy, I’ve been sick. We’ve learned a couple interesting things along the way that are helping us maintain a small measure of sanity. One of those is to have Cheerios on hand at all times. Emergency consumption may be needed to ward off nausea which hits all willy-nilly for no apparent reason. Wiser folks warned me to keep lemon drops and ginger candy and other citrusy yumminess available for such occasions. So far they have not been the ‘godsend’ that I was promised. Ginger ale has helped a little, though it like everything else tastes like metallic dishwater. Thanks to several Father’s Day gifts I can now consume the bubbly treat from a Yeti cup so at least it’s cold any hour day or night. God bless the father of our home who graciously shares his bounty.

Back to the Cheerios:  I’ve found that as long as I eat a bowlful the second I wake up in the morning they help stave off impending barfage. Throw in a half a banana and the yumminess is enhanced twofold.photo (1)

Another simple thing which helps is Townhouse Crackers. A couple of those placed strategically by the bed not only settle the tummy but also invoke happy memories of a country song of yesteryear.

“You can eat crackers in my bed any time… you can kick off all the covers in the middle of the niiiight…”

I’m sure the cute little blonde singing the song on the Lawrence Welk Show never had a clue. Maybe she did. Perhaps verse two included the trashcan and the icepack and the two fans blowing at gale force speeds. But I doubt it.

Another simple thing I’ve learned to keep handy is a handkerchief. My daddy always carries one and now I do too. I remember learning to iron on his and was proud of how nice I made them. One day he informed me with all the love a man with a house full of girls could muster.

“DO NOT KEEP STARCHING MY HANDERCHIEFS! THE SNOT WON’T EVEN STICK ANY MORE!”

He gave me a hanky the other day at my request. Though I had some at home, now I know that at least one of them was his. It brings comfort having him near even if it is for wiping my nose. In case you didn’t know, after chemo the nose hair is scorched right off and clear snot just runs free without warning. Now I carry a hanky like daddy and tuck it stealthily like mama up my sleeve or in my waistband for quick and simple extraction.

Another simple thing came from Scripture this morning. I declare I’ve read all around this verse but had never marked it. Basically it says,

“You don’t know everything.”

I’ll take that.

Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The Lord our God has secrets known to no one.”

I also love that it is followed by verses I’ve heard and clung to for years. They are just as true. While I don’t know everything, this I know.

Deuteronomy 31:6- “So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you!”

So take that CANCER!

You can have my nose hair, my taste buds and my sleep and my strength. You might even steal a lot of my courage. But you cannot take the things God has planned for me. Because like me, YOU DON’T KNOW IT ALL!

But the Lord does.

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Not Real Brave

About a month ago I announced to the world that I have breast cancer. Just like that I put the news out there before God and everybody. I get accused often of being a ‘private person’ which is kind of hilarious considering the stuff I share with complete strangers. However the accusation of being private is fitting. I really hate having people all up in my business. David and I tend to keep to ourselves and just play the cards we’re dealt. Our way of coping is less about sharing and more about making light of things in order to deflect the attention. But lately it seems that he and I both have been impressed that the Lord would rather we allow others into this place we lovingly call Clarkville.

Our family creed has always been the same as the state motto for North Carolina. “To be rather than to seem.” Well… that and “If a little cheese is good, a lot of cheese is better.” Sometimes I wonder if our family mantra is more akin to Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong WILL go wrong.”

Poor Murphy. We feel your pain. Though we truly want to honor the Lord our lives are not always real pretty. I hope you are surrounded with as many good people as we are. For it seems the Lord does not expect us to bear our burdens alone. We’re learning that it’s important to allow people in. It’s not up to us to manage our image or to come off looking like we have it all together. Lord knows we need help.

But how do you say that and not come across like a whiny butt? Or needy? Or even ungodly? Aren’t we trusting God to get us through this? Do we not have the precious truth of Scripture emblazoned upon our very souls?

David said something very valuable to me one day. I love him even more for it. He said that Christian women have it hard. Because we know the Lord, it’s almost as if we’re expected to lose our hair and Flopsy and Mopsy and still go hopping down the bunny trail as if we can happily do all things through Christ Who strengthens us.

Those were not his exact words. My version is a very loose paraphrase. The man has loved me for forty some years and would never say Flopsy or Mopsy. But you get the point.

Sometimes it seems that if we call ourselves Christians it’s supposed to be okay to lose our hair then go out in public feeling hideous.

I’ve got news for you.

It’s not.

It hurts like Gehenna and I’m not good with it at all. I’m sad and crying like a fool even as I type the words. Apparently I am not real brave.

But you know what?

I’m pretty sure God knew that about me already. Step by step, day by day He’s turning my weakness into strength. This morning He took my hand and led me to a crazy verse about Moses of all people. It says that he “Kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the One who is invisible.” –Heb.11:27

Isn’t that odd? God commended Moses because he continued to put one foot in front of the other by trusting the God he could not see. What a picture of faith.

By His grace I will do the same.

At some point I’m going to have to leave the house without hair. It’s one thing to shave your head and look like Kelly Pickler. It’s a whole nother crapstorm to be sick as a dog and sixty-stinkin’-one with your head in a ball cap.

No, I didn’t find a wig. All the ones I tried on made me feel like a Muppet. That was a different cry-fest. So while I still have eyelashes and eyebrows I took the first selfie of my life so I could change my profile picture.

So here I am, in front of God and everybody trying to “be rather than to seem.” The smile is fake but it’s all I’ve got. And right on cue sweet David brought me homemade cheese grits to settle my tummy.

Because if a little cheese is good…

You know the rest.photo cap

PS:

Special thanks to my beautiful friend Jennifer Naves who made a house call when my hair began falling out. With the skill of a gentle surgeon she cut away the curls and exposed the fact that life is still a wonderful joy to be held tightly.

Sweet Jennifer, you make me want to be brave. Much love from Clarkville!

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The Best!

I saw the quote somewhere, maybe in the back of a magazine. It was under a picture of an older couple walking down a sandy shore. It said, “Hold my hand, grow old with me. The best is yet to be.”

Or something similar. My memory cannot be trusted.

I love the saying, but I love the truth of it even more. My sweetheart has held my hand since we first met as juniors in high school. We were certain that the best was yet to be.

And it was.

Together we brought three funky chicks into the world. Each one is quite unique and opposite of the other. Yet each has a part of our personalities.

They crack me up. Their humor is much like their dad’s: subtle, dry, off-kilter, with notes of sarcasm and mischief… kind of like a fine wine. However, it is always tempered with kindness. The balance is delicate.

Through forty-two years our home has never lacked laughter. I was reminded by a dear friend that it is indeed the best medicine.

Praise God.

Hopefully it works even better than chemo.

Did I tell you that I have cancer?

Yep. Just diagnosed.

That got my attention too.

It seems there’s breast cancer with a little side of suspicious lymph node activity.

The laughter at our house came to a screeching halt. It was replaced by something akin to gut wrenching fear. Information overload drop kicked us into the reality of upcoming decisions which seem almost trivial in the midst of The Big C.

Shall I try to find a wig that looks like my hair? Or sport a bald head that may or may not be lumpy? So far I haven’t been able to find a wig even similar to my lovely mane.

Imagine that.

It seems no one wants curly hair that used to be red.

David says it’s the opposite. Everyone wants to have hair like me so all the wigs that look like mine have been snatched up.

And just like that the humor returns… with gentle notes of kindness.

He takes my hand and leads me to yet another appointment. I have no idea where we are because I am so directionally challenged. Across the parking lot he guides me like a little child into the unknown. I comment on the pretty fountain as it splashes water around the happy flowers planted there. He smiles and hurries me inside to meet another kind technician. She explains yet another procedure. I try to make a joke when someone says “Have a nice day!”

“It’s been a great day! Well… except for the possibility of killing off Flopsy and Mopsy. But other than that it’s been awesome.”

He shakes his head and laughs. Again he takes my hand and leads me back through the maze of cars to an unfamiliar place. That’s our truck so apparently I have been there before. Yep the truck is definitely ours because it has all the stickers of places we’ve been.

He opens my door and I can’t help but notice.

There’s room for more stickers on the back. Apparently we still have places to go. Maybe the best IS yet to be.

Gown in the front, gown in the back, paper pants and MRI loveliness because apparently one gown couldn't quite cover it.

Gown in the front, gown in the back, paper pants and MRI loveliness because apparently one gown couldn’t quite cover it.

Or maybe… the BEST is just having someone to hold my hand and laugh when I laugh…

And cry when I cry.

And love me so much that it matters not if I have hair.

Happy Anniversary beloved David!

Thank you for holding my hand through thick and thin, sickness and health, riches and… no wait: through everything EXCEPT for the riches. Apparently there was a strike at the dock when our ship came in. So instead let’s go get another biopsy plus a port for the chemo and determine to live as long as God sees fit!

Hold my hand. Grow old with me my love. The best really is yet to be!

I’m certain of it!

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