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Posts Tagged ‘cancer’

September 29th, 2016 was my last big chemo treatment… the kind that makes a person instantly old. After that came the “lesser” chemo every three weeks; surgery to remove a cancerous tumor and eleven lymph nodes; then thirty radiation treatments. All that was completed this past June followed up by hormone therapy. Hopefully those drugs will keep the devilish disease from returning.

Praise God I lived to tell about it! Now I have sense enough to really be thankful for things I missed while going through treatment; Simple things like sleep. I rest so well now that I’m back to snoring loud enough to rattle the windows. In fact, I’m so loud that I may be responsible for the zombie movement since I surely wake the dead.

I’m thankful for food that I used to love but couldn’t stand the taste of while taking chemo. Things like coffee, chocolate and fried chicken that David makes in his mom’s old electric frying pan. Oh how wonderful. He skins it then soaks it in milk, rolls it in flour and the crust is to die for! I even love the wonderful aroma of it cooking. Last year I would hurl at the thought. David literally lost twenty pounds while I was sick because he tried not to eat in front of me. Well, that and a boatload of worry when I prayed stupid stuff like, “Lord Jesus! Just take me home!”

Bless his heart.

I’m thankful for friends and family. Though I loved these folks before, something about a friend stopping by with a new nightgown she happened upon at Marshall’s’; brown sugar bagels from Panera’s; a new hat and a funny story… it felt a lot like love. One day I found a bright red picnic basket outside the door filled with lotion, lip balm, a funny coffee mug, garden clogs and flip flops. Just thinking about being strong enough to walk outside and have a picnic or work in the yard felt a lot like hope.

I’m thankful most of all for so many prayers and messages telling me often that folks were praying for me. In a time when I couldn’t process the words of Scripture, though I knew they were true, others lifted me up. A pastor friend stopped by and I told him of my struggles. Having been with many folks going through chemo he related that one of them said his brain was so foggy that reading the Bible was like reading a can of soup. It meant nothing. The pastor’s kind words helped me past the guilt I was experiencing to an understanding that God had not left my side. It felt a lot like faith.

I’m thankful for David. I knew to be thankful before I got cancer. But something about having a husband who cleans up behind a grown woman who is too sick to make it to the bathroom in time really shows what a man is made of. Again, bless his sweet heart. His kind example of faith, hope and love felt a lot like grace.

And lest I spiritualize things too much, I have to admit that I’m thankful for hair. Apparently God looked down at the curly bob I’ve worn since the eighties and said, “Enough of that girl! You need a new doo!” He grew it back, curled it not quite as tight and even gave me a few sprigs to pull toward my ample forehead. I imagine He smiled at His work and said, “Not bad for an old chick.” I know it’s vain, but I can’t even tell you how happy I am to finally have hair. It feels a lot like joy.

I have to say, I think I owe my life to you. Remember the story in the Bible of the men who carried their friend on a cot to Jesus? The place was so crowded they lifted him onto the roof. I reckon they had a pulley system of some sort. They removed the roof tiles and let him down right in front of Jesus. Luke 5:20 says that Jesus healed the man and forgave his sins when he saw the faith of his friends.

When I was so weak I had to be carried, you my friends lifted me up to the Lord in prayer. You faithfully asked Him to heal me. Praise God He did! It feels like faith, hope, love and grace rolled into a great big bundle of joy!

Yes! I’m so thankful!

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Carry Me

I’m so proud. I have a bang. And three eyelashes. It’s been a year, two weeks and one day since my very kind friend Jennifer came over and cut my hair down to the fuzzy nubs. She is a professional and has done this many times for others going through chemo. But for me it was a first. She brought all her gear to my tiny bathroom, pulled up a chair for me and set about her work. I dared not look in the mirror. I was just thankful she offered to come by the house instead of having me meet her in the salon. When she finished, I turned to look and immediately burst into tears. She held me and let me cry while I tried to make jokes. I tend to handle hard things with humor. It didn’t work this time. She wasn’t buying the comments about my high forehead reaching all the way to the back of my neck. Instead she took the other seat in the room and told a story of her past. It was heart wrenching and very personal. I don’t know what prompted her to share something so private at that particular time. But I’m glad she did.

It wasn’t like, “Oh honey, you think that’s bad. You haven’t been through anything yet!” It was just a gentle recounting of something very hard that somehow she made it through. Then quietly she took my hand and said, “You have God in your life and you’re strong. You will make it too.”

She hugged me again then left. I checked another mirror and cried some more. I seriously doubted her words and really didn’t care whether I lived or not… except for my beloved David.

Day after miserable day I could barely lift my bald head. If it wasn’t for hurrying to the bathroom to empty the few contents of my stomach, I wouldn’t have moved at all.

But here I am, one year, two weeks and one day later, with a bang and three eyelashes. With an eyebrow pencil I draw in what’s lacking on my face. If only it came with an eraser for those dark circles. But like Popeye the Sailorman, “I ams what I ams.”

Besides, Jennifer was right! I DID make it! I even find myself smiling and trying to do normal things again; like work in the yard.  In my head I am strong and have big ideas of where to move my Lenten roses. I want to divide my beautiful blue hosta and split the chartreuse ones so I can share. The holly bushes are devouring the front of the house and my heart shaped garden around my bottle tree is being attacked by wire grass.

But for today I must let it go. I will rejoice in how far I’ve come. Food tastes really good again and sleep comes each night without a fight. Hot flashes are less and I no longer feel like I may burst into flames from the inside out. Occasionally I have a case of internal combustion but so far it hasn’t scorched my bang nor my three eyelashes. In fact I fully expect to wake one day with three bangs and seven eyelashes and maybe even bushy brows. But for now I will remind myself that when I was weak, the Lord was strong. Like a little kid I reached up toward my Daddy and said “Carry me.”

And He did.

PS:

Just as I finished writing this, I got a call. The growth the CT scan revealed on my liver is benign. No sign of cancer. I’m bawling like a baby and thanking God again for His tender mercy. Next thing you know I’ll have bangs… plural!

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Faith of a Regular Joe

I had a CT scan this week. It is the last of the tests to see if my cancer has been defeated. It’s been a long hard year and a real struggle. But today is also the last opportunity I have to praise God before knowing the results of the scan. You see, I’m still having unexplained pain in my lower back. It’s different from the usual everyday stuff. And as you know my beloved mom-in-law had breast cancer too and seemed to be improving. Then suddenly her back began to hurt. Sadly the cancer had moved there with a vengeance, eventually taking her life. So I can’t help but wonder.

However, today is the day I can praise the Lord and trust Him ahead of time, no matter what the test reveals. It’s not that I am sure He has taken the cancer away. Many good people with much more faith than I, have died of the nasty stuff; like my sweet mom-in-law. Instead, my faith rests in the goodness of God. He alone is wise and holy and knows the best path for me. So today I will praise Him.

During the past year some of my best encouragement has come from the Psalms. The folks who wrote those words were just regular Joes like me with all kinds of problems. When I saw these words, I wondered if the writer had been watching the last year of my life.

Psalm 107:18-21 says, “They couldn’t stand the thought of food, and they were knocking on death’s door. ‘LORD, help! They cried in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress. He sent out His word and healed them, snatching them from the door of death. Let them praise the LORD for His great love and for the wonderful things He has done for them!”

Author Philip Yancey says, “Confidence in what the Lord will do springs from the knowledge of what He has done.” When I recall the goodness of God in my past, His lovingkindness, and His many answers to prayer, it fills me with confidence that no matter what the future holds, I can trust Him.

Though my body is weak, my faith is small and my brain is tired, my heart can’t help but praise Him. For His unfailing love is higher than the heavens! His faithfulness reaches to the clouds! [from Ps. 108:4]

 

Lest you misunderstand, let me tell you what you already know. I am no saint. However, this is not my first rodeo.

Obviously.

But this one thing I’ve learned.

The Lord can be trusted.

“‘LORD help!’ they cried in their trouble and He saved them from their distress.

He calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves.

What a blessing was that stillness as He brought them safely into harbor!” –Psalm 107:28-30

When I look at my trial as an opportunity to trust Him, it feels like victory rather than defeat. And like the regular Joe begging Jesus for help I pray,

“I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” –Mark 9:24

Beloved reader, may the storm you are navigating today be calmed to a whisper and the waves be stilled. And may the stillness in your soul be a blessing worthy of praise and thanksgiving.

PS:

Special thanks to my daddy Seabert Pittman who took the beautiful pictures used in my story. He has an appreciation for every sunset and sunrise God gives, and also an eye for contrasting darkness with light… just like the Lord. As our Father says, “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” –Psalm 30:5

Also, I got a call from my oncologist before I put this story out. The CT scan revealed a cyst on my liver but she does not believe it is cancer. I will have an MRI on July 14th. So again we wait, and walk by faith.

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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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