Tag Archive | cancer

Making change

Our toy cash register

Our toy cash register

It’s been awhile since I posted in this blog.  The good news is  life is back to “normal” in the sense that I am not undergoing any treatment for cancer.   I am feeling pretty much recovered from all the side effects.  There’s still some aches and pains and sensations but at this point I honestly don’t know if it’s still from treatment or if it’s from aging, LOL.  The joke among my “cancer friends” is that we can blame most any symptom we are feeling as a lingering side effect from chemo!

Here we are at the start of 2014.  A new year.  A clean slate.  Another fresh start.  It’s probably a blessing that we don’t know ahead of time what the year may bring.  One thing I learned through this whole journey is not to worry about what may or may not happen but to take one day at a time and to enjoy life to its fullest. (Matt.6:27) Whatever comes my way, I am confident that God will give me the strength I need and will not leave me to walk  alone. (Deut. 31:6) He has brought me through some very tough days.  The road ahead may include some steep inclines, rough terrain, deep valleys, curvy and winding roads, an occasional bump in the road, and detours but my GPS (God Perspective System) will keep me focused knowing that He has my best interest in mind.  We won’t always understand the course He has us on but we can be assured of where we’ll end up ultimately.

I enjoyed the bike the most for cardio...actually steered on the courses selected!

I enjoyed the bike the most for cardio…actually steered on the courses selected!

New Year’s is a popular time to make resolutions on changes we want to make in our life as we reflect on how we did the previous year.  Some things are out of our control but many are not. We have a choice on how we’ll travel our journey through the year. Probably some of the most popular resolutions are health related…exercise, lose weight, eat healthier, get more rest, etc.  Most of these are broken within a month and then people just give up completely.  I wish more people looked internally to make changes…attitude adjustments and heart issues…than just externally.

My graduating class...12 weeks of sweat and tears.

My graduating class…12 weeks of sweat and tears.

I think the success of a resolution boils down to desire, motivation, discipline, and wisdom.  You have to really want to reach a goal bad enough in order to do something about it.  There has to be reason to reach it.  You have to have an obtainable plan to get there and it has to be plan that if followed will indeed get you there.

As a child I enjoyed playing “store.”  When I was teaching my own children, we used a play cash register and they learned how to make change.  We would set up toys and other items and put price tags on them.  They would “shop” and purchase items or be the cashier, but either way they had to learn how to count money and make change. It was a process and took time to learn.

Receiving my diploma and yellow rose at Livestrong graduation

Receiving my diploma and yellow rose at Livestrong graduation

doing the leg press

doing the leg press

Do you really want to make change in some areas?  Then do something about it.  I know for myself that last year I set a goal to run in a 5K and to start getting myself back in shape physically after going through cancer treatment.  I did run the 5 K in September and then I also signed up for the Livestrong program at the YMCA.  It is a free 12 week program for cancer survivors that encompasses cardio, strength, and flexibility.  It was a big commitment.  I had never even been in a gym before.  Not only did I learn a lot and get healthy and fit but I met a great group of people as well.  Now at the start of the new year I am ready to take on the challenge of trying to maintain my fitness.  I am still not sure whether I will join a gym or do it on my own at home but I am determined to follow through.  I feel better than I have in a long time.

Whatever my journey this year encompasses, I am determined to go through it feeling my best, not only physically but emotionally and spiritually as well. “Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.” (1 Tim.4:8 MSG)  Change is hard but if we stick with it and really want it, with God’s help we can achieve it.  Here’s to the best in 2014.

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“Running” out of Excuses

It’s been awhile since I have posted on my blog.  Thankfully I am done with all my cancer treatment at this time.  A year ago I had finished my chemo and was in the middle of radiation when I felt like I needed to start doing something about getting my body back in shape.  I felt weak and stiff and was 20 pounds heavier from the steroids.  I felt like I was walking around in a fog from chemo brain during the Fall.  By January I was starting to feel a little better.  I went on diet and lost about half of the weight I had gained during treatment but still hadn’t started any kind of exercise regime.  If you recall, I was determined to do what I could to start exercising and still hadn’t really done anything.

When this summer came I knew I had run out of excuses and so I started running…literally.  Last September I was aware of a running-600x4005K in my town and had set a goal in my head to run in it the following year when I was finished with all my treatment.  Am I a runner?  Let’s just say that  I hadn’t jogged since college.  We’re talking over 30 years here.  I put an app on my ipod called C25K (couch to 5K).  This aptly describes where I was coming from and the direction where I was trying to head to.

It’s a 9 week program that has you train for 30 minutes/ 3 times a week.  I figured that was easy enough.  It didn’t go according to distance but by time spent training.  Day one starts you out jogging for 90 seconds at a time and walking in between.  It sounded easy enough until I started  training.  That first 90 seconds seemed like 90 minutes!  I kept looking at my watch thinking the app was broken or wasn’t working.  I kept waiting for the voice to say, “Walk.”  It was not easy but I was determined to do this.

How long is a 5K? It’s 3.1 miles or it would be like “running across a football field 54.68 times, running around all four bases of a regulation baseball diamond 45.47 times, running the length of an NBA-regulation basketball court 174.12 times or running a little less than 1/4 the length of Manhattan.” As I built up endurance I mapped out a course from my house that increased as the weeks went by.   I kept with the program all summer, running mostly in the early morning before it got too warm out (or before too many people saw me).  I only had one fall.  It was a face plant where I landed on both of my palms in August and my hands are still peeling as they heal. It was on days like that that I questioned myself wondering if I was crazy for starting this in the first place.   I also scraped a shin one time rounding a corner too snugly where there’s a low brick wall.  Other than that I survived and hopefully didn’t look too ridiculous although one of my son’s friends saw me running when he was stopped in traffic and mentioned it to him.

By the seventh week I was able to jog for 30 minutes but then I started back to work.  I wasn’t able to fit in running before work and I was hot and tired at the end of the day.  I tried running then but it was too laborious.  My training was limited mostly to the weekends.  I paid and signed up for the 5K knowing that if I didn’t commit I might back out.  A portion of the proceeds were going to help victims from Hurricane Sandy at the Jersey shore.  The race was the day after I completed the C25K app.  Initially my goal was to run the entire race but I realized I would not be able to.  Rather than getting discouraged I changed my goal to simply completing the 5K but I wanted to do it  in under 40 minutes.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect at the event.  I went to the race way too early.  I had to pee and then the only bathrooms they had were quite a distance away.  There was probably about 240 racers there and they had some children’s races first.  The start of the race reminded me of a herd of cattle initially and was a little difficult with bodies everywhere but pretty soon it starts to spread out.  Some move way out ahead of the pack and others trail behind.  I was somewhere in the middle, passing some and others passing me.  Probably more of the latter.

I was afraid that I might not know where to go but the course was clearly marked and crossing guards and police were at intersections stopping any traffic.  I could usually see someone ahead of me to follow as well.  Unfortunately part of the course was going up streets on an incline.  I chose to briskly walk those parts of the course, taking a breather then.

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My bib! They have some kind of timing chip in them to record our times.

I crossed the finish line 158th out of 225 racers who finished in under one hour. A small crowd was gathered at the end cheering us on as we crossed the finish!  There were more runners but they only record the times of those who finish in under one hour. My time was 38:28.83.  I could have pushed myself a little more but chose not to. I had reached my 40 minute goal! My pace was a 12:23 mile and I was happy with what I accomplished.  Now I have my own official time to beat should I ever do another 5K.  I would like to but the bottom of my feet are really killing me from all the training so I don’t think I will.  The following week after the race I started my next goal…Livestrong…a 12 week program at the YMCA.  More to come…

Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” (NLT).  While training for this 5K this verse came to mind often.  I learned very quick that even a sweatshirt was too burdensome to have with me if I wasn’t wearing it.  Any weight, any excess was a burden and would slow me down.  Days when I was having trouble with my ipod or earbuds and was preoccupied with them would slow me down.  An uneven sidewalk tripped me up that one time and my injury was bothersome for quite some time.  It took a lot of endurance (or some translations read perseverance) to train and run the race.  It wasn’t always easy; wasn’t always ideal circumstances, but I had to keep at it in order to reach my goal.  There were witnesses not only at the finish line but along the race course as well, watching and cheering us on.

In The Message, Hebrews 12:2-3 says, “Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls.”  We are all runners in this race of life, in our walks of faith.  Even in training I had my eyes set on goals along the way…just make it to that tree, the next intersection, to the park, to the cul-de-sac, etc.  There will be distractions, things to slow you down or trip you up, hurdles to get over.  The good news is that Christ has gone on before us.  He’s waiting at the finish line for us!  He’s cheering us along on the way!  He’s showed us how it is to be done and given us what we need to make it there!  He’s marked the course for us.  Read your training manual (Bible) and follow it!  Don’t be lazy.  Hang in there.  Get moving and I’ll see you at the finish line.

“Blooming” trials

This week I heard the word “blooming” used in a way I wasn’t familiar with.    I had always thought of blooming only in the sense of flowering or blossoming.  The word “blooming” can be used as an adjective or an adverb, rhyming with crewman or human,  is chiefly British and was probably a euphemism for “bloody” as in a bloody fool.  It is used as a generalized intensive.

Photo credit: Joshua Siniscal

Photo credit: Joshua Siniscal

This happens to be one of my favorite times of the year.  I love to see all the trees budding and flowers blooming, the grass turning green and lawns getting cut, flower beds being cleaned up, and gardens started.  Unfortunately for so many with seasonal allergies this is not a favorite time of year but one of dread.  Green dust covers our cars and the pollen count climbs higher.  I see many with puffy itchy eyes and congestion.  It makes me wonder how something so beautiful can cause so much heartache and discomfort?  The pollen’s got some blooming nerve!

At the same time, there are horrible things like cancer or many other trials and tribulations that are not beautiful in and of themselves but can bring forth beauty.  It’s like a bulb or seed in the ground…ugly, dead, lifeless, hidden.  After a period of time and nurturing in the soil, with some warmth from the sun, and some water, a new life pokes out of the ground and blooms for all to see!

My lilac tree

Patience, the lilac tree

This is the same in our lives.  A bad report, some unwelcome news, a loss, or a heartache happens.  Our heavenly Father holds us in His bosom, comforts us, cradles us, gives us hope, warms us in the Son, refreshes our spirit with His Word, and once again we are ready to bloom in a new place where He has planted us for yet another season in life.

My oldest daughter loves lilacs and when we moved to our current house I planted a lilac tree that was only about 18″ high.  It took several years before we even had one bloom on the tree and while we waited she aptly named the tree “Patience.”  It is now tall and full of lovely blossoms but they didn’t come overnight.  It took a lot of love and nurturing, some very cold winters, and a time of waiting before others could enjoy the beauty and fragrance that it gives off.

“I will put beautiful crowns on their heads in place of ashes.  I will anoint them with oil to give them gladness instead of sorrow.  I will give them a spirit of praise in place of a spirit of sadness. They will be like oak trees that are strong and straightThe Lord himself will plant them in the land.  That will show how glorious he is.” (Isaiah 61:3 NIRV)

Blooming where you are planted (amidst your trials) is a bloomin’ good place to be!

Spilt milk

There is an idiom that says not to cry over spilt milk.  There is no use crying over a past loss or something that cannot be undone or changed.  This saying came to mind when my car broke down the other week.  I had to be towed and after why store cord bloodtaking a look under the hood the car was not worth fixing and had to be salvaged.  As I emptied the contents out of my vehicle I noticed that I had only gone 15 miles on a full tank of gas!  We asked the mechanic if we could siphon out the gas somehow.  It was impossible and we abandoned the car with a full tank.

It was bad enough that now we needed to purchase another vehicle but it really bothered me that I had just filled up the tank the night before the car died.  It hurt.  I was annoyed at what had happened.  I was dwelling on it and realized it was only spilt milk.  I had to mop it up and move on.

The other container of milk that spilled was the fact that my car broke down because it needed a new timing belt.  We had the timing belt replaced 16 months ago by a different garage.  This mechanic showed us the current timing belt that needed replacing…dry rotted and missing “teeth”.  There was no way that this was a belt that was only 16 months old yet we had the receipt from the work showing it had supposedly been done.  We called the previous mechanic but it was already over 12 months and 12,000 miles so it was no longer covered and it was his word against ours that it had indeed been replaced.  We could argue but it didn’t seem like it would get us anywhere and could drag on or we could simply mop up the milk and move on.

Even regarding cancer it would be easy to say, “I should have eaten better or exercised more or ….” and maybe it would have made a difference.  As parents we regret some of things we did or didn’t do in raising our children. There are so many areas of our lives; education decisions, job choices, something that was said or shouldn’t have been said, a purchase we made, an opportunity not acted upon, etc. etc. etc.  Yes, the choices we make in life do have an impact on our life but once made cannot be retracted.  The thing to look at is how we go on from there.  Do you chose to move on or are you living with regret with the “What if’s” and “I should/shouldn’t have” ?  It’s spilt milk.  Mop it up by dealing with the consequences and then move on.

My full tank of gas and a mechanic’s error are really minor in comparison to major things to move on from;  for me they were big at the moment.  Finances are very tight right now and it hurt.  Not only would I need to purchase another car but I would have to fill it up again!  I could have let it really get to me and get me down for a few days but I chose to see it as spilt milk and move on.  One thing I did to turn this into something positive was I purchased Conquer Cancer license plates for my “new” (ha ha 17 years old) replacement vehicle.  I feel like I’m continuing to kick cancer’s butt each time I approach my car and glance at my plates.  I haven’t been able to participate in a walkathon but most of the plate fee and 100% of the minimal annual renewal fee goes to cancer research.

Matthew West has a song called “Hello, my name is.”  The first stanza is “Hello, my name is regret. I’m pretty sure we have met. Every single day of your life I’m the whisper inside that won’t let you forget.”  He goes on to say that listening to those voices and lies causes defeat in our lives and that we can be set free by who we are in Christ adding,  “I am no longer defined by all the wreckage behind.”  Watch it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuJWQzjfU3o

Forget the things that happened in the past. Do not keep on thinking about them. I am about to do something new. It is beginning to happen even now.  Don’t you see it coming? I am going to make a way for you to go through the desert. I will make streams of water in the dry and empty land.”  Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIRV) Why live with regret whispering in your ear when we can have hope for something new and different with the Lord?  No more crying over spilt milk!  Mop it up and move on.

Specialists

Don’t grow older or get sick.  When my kids were younger my husband would always tell them that they weren’t allowed to get any older on their birthdays.  We didn’t find a way to keep them young and I haven’t found a way to stop myself from getting older either.  Guess I would be rich if I had found that fountain of youth.

The older we get, the more aches and pains and ailments arise.  I first noticed it years ago when I started needing to use reading glasses in order to thread a needle or to read something.  I don’t remember after that what order things started happening in (guess that’s another sign of aging) but at some point getting up off the floor was harder than I remembered.  Going down the stairs first thing in the morning before the joints are oiled is an awkward task.  I look forward to going to bed earlier and earlier and the list goes on.  Now I’m at the point where each new ache or pain makes me wonder if it’s just due to gradual aging or if there’s something wrong.

I use to have just the basic doctors…my primary and my gynecologist.  At some point an endocrinologist and a cardiologist got thrown in the mix.  Over the past year I added a surgeon, an oncologist, and a radiologist.  I have one week off from work later this month.  Guess what I have lined up while I am off?  A trip to Bermuda?  I wish.  Instead I get to take a “trip” that involves fun activities such as a breast MRI, a root canal, a Pap smear, an echo-cardiogram, a Herceptin infusion, and a thyroid ultrasound and I’m a relatively healthy person.  I can’t imagine what my week would look like if I was older or sick.

It seems medical life use to be easier when I was younger.  I only had two doctors and would go to one or the other depending upon what was happening.  Now I have many specialists.  Although there appears to be some overlap they each need to see me for different reasons.  When I saw my oncologist this week I asked her how I’m supposed to coordinate seeing all of them and who was I supposed to put down to have what reports sent to?  It can get pretty confusing.

I am happy to report that there is ONE specialist who specializes in everything and meets all  our needs. “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19 (NIV)  He is the Great Physician and a healer and a worker of miracles.  “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” Matthew 9:35 (NIV)   “Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord.  Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sickand the Lord will make you well.” James :14-15 (NLT)   He is concerned about every aspect of your life and knows everything about you without even ordering any tests.  “You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something.” Psalm 139:15 (Message)  You don’t need a referral in order to see him.  There is no co-pay.  There is no wait.  His office hours are 24 hours a day, seven days a week.   “Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.” Ephesians 2:18 (NLT)  He accepts all insurance plans and those without insurance because he shows no partiality.  “God, your God, is the God of all gods, he’s the Master of all masters, a God immense and powerful and awesome. He doesn’t play favorites, takes no bribes, makes sure orphans and widows are treated fairly, takes loving care of foreigners by seeing that they get food and clothing.” Deuteonomy 10:17-18 (Message)  Now that’s quite a special specialist!

Who’s to blame?

I’ve learned a lot over the past year.  It was ONE YEAR AGO this month that I went in for a routine mammogram with plenty of things on my mind.  One thing that was not on my mind was concern for the results from my mammo.  I had had one plenty of times before and wasn’t having it done as a result of a lump I felt or because of any pain or tenderness.  It was “routine” after all!  Little did I know at the time how the results from that one screening would change the course of direction for me last year.

Ever think about how one action, one choice can make such an impact on your life?  I didn’t know much about cancer other than that it was something that happened to “other” people.  I wasn’t really overweight, got plenty of sleep, some exercise, ate fairly well with healthy choices, didn’t smoke or drink…why would I even think that cancer would happen to me?  Especially breast cancer…after all, I had nursed four children and each at least for one year and went for yearly exams and  check-ups.  After cancer happened to me I realized that no one is exempt!  We all live in a fallen world where there is sickness, poverty. disease and evil.  It is a sinful world and we are subject to many things.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to live a healthy lifestyle or that it is in vain, but it doesn’t exempt any of us from  disease or illness.

I would not choose to redo last year.  Going through tests, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, prescriptions/medication, continued infusions,  pain, discomfort, all the side effects (long and short term), the inconvenience, the monetary expense, missed work and activities,  the paperwork, the follow-ups, the appointments, the dependence upon others for meals, rides etc. is no fun.  In a word it is suffering!  I would not wish it on anyone.  Your whole life changes overnight.

The Blame Game

However, some changes are for the better and would not have come if it wasn’t for the suffering.  As much as cancer in any form is a negative thing, how you deal with it as an individual will determine whether it can be used as a positive in your life.  I have seen this over the course of the last year running into many cancer patients throughout my treatment.  Some are angry and bitter and curse and blame God asking, “Why me?”  Realizing that no one is exempt living in a fallen world I ask, “Why not me?”  I don’t blame God for my cancer.  He chose to send His Son that He loved to a sinful world and die a painful death to accomplish salvation  for us.  I am sure that there is a purpose and plan in my cancer.  Some of that I have seen already and one day the rest will be revealed.

Do I blame God?  Let me answer that again.  As a matter of fact I do.  I blame Him for making me fall more in love with Him.  I blame Him for making me more empathetic towards others who are physically suffering.  I blame Him for making me re-prioritize my life and think about what really is important.  I blame Him for trusting Him even more with my life.  I blame Him for strengthening my faith. I blame  Him for giving me a platform to share my faith.  It is a direct result from my battle with cancer that these things have happened and for that I am thankful.

Dr. John Piper has written an article/booklet about his personal experience with cancer called, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer”  which can be downloaded as a free PDF. I highly recommend it.  Our sufferings teach us not only about ourselves but about the true nature of God as well.  It is our opportunity to get to know Him in a way that you only can if you are sharing in His sufferings.  Dr. Piper writes, “Satan’s designs and God’s designs in our cancer are not the same.  God designs to deepen our love for Christ.  Cancer does not win if we die.  It wins if we fail to  cherish Jesus Christ.”

Philippians 3:8-11 says, “ Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ  and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.  I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death,  so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” (NLT)

I believe the difference in anyone’s journey though cancer or other suffering is whether you choose to avail yourself of the HOPE that is yours for the taking.  Instead of blaming God for the suffering, praise Him through it and allow Him to work in you.

Three’s a charm?

Many things come in threes or happen in threes. Why I’m not sure. Three was considered lucky and as a result many things ended up based on that number.  How often have we started something by saying, “One, two, three, GO”?   In baseball, three strikes and you’re out; three outs and the inning is over.  Ice hockey consists of three periods of twenty minutes each. An atom consists of three parts: protons, neutrons and electrons. With three notes you can form a chord.  There is a nursery rhyme about Three Blind Mice.   Both  the “Three Little Pigs” and “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” are classic children’s literature.  The Three Musketeers is a classic novel.  Our family likes to watch old movies of the Three Stooges.  When my children were little we would give them three gifts at Christmas and remind them that baby Jesus only received three gifts when the wise men visited him.

As I wrote before in No Small Thing, I need an aromatase inhibitor as part of my treatment for the next five years.   The first one I was on was  Femara (letrozole).  That left me feeling unbelievably achy in all my joints.  Next I was switched to Arimidex (anastrozole)  and that has left me with rashes on both of my arms and hands.  One week from now I will start the third one that is available on the market, Aromasin (exemestane).  My doctor’s exact words were, “Three‘s a charm and I am hopeful that this one will agree with you.”  We  shall see.  I am hopeful  and pray that it has no side effects as the last alternative would be taking Tamoxifen which I really don’t want to have to resort to.  I don’t believe in charms or luck but I do believe in prayer and am trusting God that this third one will be the answer.

2012 is drawing to a close soon.  I never dreamed that  this past year would have turned out the way it did.   Then again, no one EXPECTS to get cancer, do they?  My treatment was in three parts…surgery, chemotherapy, radiation. My chemo infusions were every three weeks.  My radiation had a magic number with not one, but two threes;  33 total treatments.  I am still receiving an infusion of herceptin every three weeks until next May.

All this talk of threes reminds me of some threes in the Bible.  Esther had everyone pray and fast for three days.  Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.  Jesus rose from the grave on the third day.  1 Corinthians 13:13 reads, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (NIV)  One of my favorites is the trinity; God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. I am so thankful for that “threesome” especially this time of year as we once again center on how God the Father sent His Son to earth in the flesh as a baby to save us from our sins.  Now that’s a threesome that I wouldn’t call a charm but an outright miracle, and one that we can count on every time!