Friday, December 7, 2012
Another test, called a tumor count (or tumor marker), is pretty high still. The oncologist said they want to see the number be 4 or less...mine was 86. But don't freak out. They knew this number was going to be high, so we're just going to watch for it to drop. That was also just before I took my treatment, but it will be a little while before we can get another accurate count, since the cancer should be dying from the radiation and that doesn't happen all in one day.
It's amazing how much there is to know about this illness. I have so much information that I never thought I would need, and I still don't understand everything. But it has created more compassion in me for others going through such sicknesses. Pills and blood draws, treatments and waiting...it's part of everyday life for so many people. I am thankful that my life has been able to continue with such minor interruptions. I am also thankful that I now have a better understanding of what it's like for so many people around me.
My thyroid dose is being increased, so I will probably have another increase in weight loss (is that a backward way to say it, or did you follow me ok?). This is no big deal, as these levels will have to be monitored and adjusted forever. I am still losing weight on the dose that I'm currently taking, so we'll see what the next round does for me. It's so encouraging to see my numbers go back down to what they were 3+ years ago! I saw my weight charted starting way back before I was carrying Mikey, and the steady rise on paper is alarming. But the recent drop made me do a little happy dance! lol.
Well, I don't have much time today...or deep, emotional thoughts...so I'm ending this for now. I love you all. I am forever thankful for your kindness and prayers. I say it often, but I cannot thank each of you enough. The support I have received from those around me has been incredible. I pray you have a wonderful weekend!
Friday, November 16, 2012
It's not the same. For the first time in my life I have no volume and very little range. But I can sing, which is more than anyone expected. Even my speaking voice is a precious gift that amazes the doctors. I was supposed to have a whispery, garbled sound to my speech, and I don't. As long as I don't try to raise my voice, most people can tell no difference from before my surgery. It's been a process of small steps, and I keep expecting to hit the end, but I haven't yet. I am thankful for every step: I am thankful for the recordings we have been able to make in the past of Brad and I singing. No matter what, we will always have those. I am thankful for my speaking voice that is recongnizable as my own. I am thankful that even before I left the hospital in July there were notes (they didn't come out the same pitch as I had in my head, which was a bit of a shock, but they were musical, at least). I am thankful that one day I sang a note that finally did match the notes in my head. I am thankful that the few notes I had back in August have grown to a few more notes. I am thankful that, since I have no volume, we have microphones. :-) I am thankful for a husband who kept asking me to try to sing. For being so gentle and loving, and who did not give up on trying to reclaim a bit of the music we have always made together. I am thankful for those precious moments together again, praising the Lord in song. I am thankful, even if what I have today is all I ever have, that music is not gone from my life. I am amazed that God would even give me this.
I don't know what God's plans are for my future. I know He is fully able to restore me completely. My prayer is that whatever He does give me, I will forever use it for His glory. It's so easy to take for granted the things that He has provided. I have so much, and yet I often find myself wishing for more. But today my heart is full of nothing but gratitude, and I can clearly see all of His provision. And this trial by fire has changed me in so many ways. No matter what the future holds, I will forever be deeply, eternally, unspeakably thankful for the gift of song.
Saturday, November 10, 2012
Well, it wasn't all that bad, really. I'll try to walk you through from beginning of my low-iodine diet to back home after in-hospital isolation time.
The diet, for anyone who doesn't know, is formulated to starve your body of iodine. This means no salt, unless it's iodine free. No dairy, no seafood, no prepared or canned foods (no way to know what type of salt they use). No going out to eat, no eggs (which means no noodles), no soy, very little meat and worst of all (for me) no creole seasoning! I baked my own bread to make sure it was iodine free. Other than that, I mainly ate stir-fry. There are actually a LOT of things you can have, if you know how to cook them. And I highly recommend that you go to Thyca.org and download the free pdf low-iodine cookbook they have there. I did stir-fry because it was easy for me and I liked it. I seasoned with Mrs. Dash (I had about 4 flavors I would rotate around), and it was just fine. I started my diet on October 13th. This was also the day I stopped taking my thyroid medicine. At first, I didn't notice much change in my body or behavior. As time went on, though, I began getting tired easier. Not weak, really, just worn out. My patience with the kids dropped. I was more easily irritated. Not as cheerful when Brad came home. My habit is to stay up a little while after everyone has gone to bed...it's the only time of the day when I run no risk of anyone wanting anything from me. But after 3 weeks of following this routine, I was the first in bed. I didn't even care how late the kids stayed up. If they stayed up late, that meant they would sleep in late, and that was fine with me! I wasn't miserable, by any means. My body was a little achy. I didn't cheat. We needed a TSH number of at least 30 for the treatment to be effective, and I was terrified that I would overlook something that I wasn't supposed to have and not hit my number. Even though there were plenty of times when I watched others eat...often eating food that I had prepared...and known that it must have tasted so much better than what I had...still there was no REAL temptation. All I had to do was think of my doctor shaking his head sadly and saying, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Swander, but your numbers aren't quite what we need. We'll have to delay your treatment. Let's try another week on the diet and then we'll do another blood draw." This scene instantly banished any hunger for whatever food was nearby.
On November 1st, I had my blood drawn. I was so nervous about my numbers that my mom went with me. It was an anti-climactic event, since the results didn't come until Friday. Someone riding there and back with me really helped me not stress out about it, though. It was also great to have time with just my mom...we don't get that often, and it was nice. It funny how special times like that can be, even when nothing particularly important gets discussed. The next afternoon the call came. Remember, we're looking for a number of 30 or higher. The nurse cheerfully announced that my numbers were great, the doctor was thrilled and we were on for treatment on Monday. I asked what my THS level actually was. It was 62! I was so excited. So happy that I hadn't taken "just one bite" somewhere along the way. That one bite probably wouldn't have kept me from treatment, but it's a slippery slope, and cancer is nothing to mess around with, just for a few seconds of enjoyment. She said, "You didn't cheat." "No, I didn't!" I proudly replied. She immediately asked how I was feeling. I said, "Well, I just woke up from a nap." She wasn't surprised. But again, other than the sudden drops in energy, I was doing great. The high of knowing I had done well over the past 3 weeks carried me through the weekend. My husband was so proud of me. It was so worth it all!
Monday morning we headed back. I had a full escort. My mom, my dad, my sister, my brother, my sister-in-law and their youngest boy all rode up to see me to the hospital. We had to stop at my doctor's office to sign a consent form that had expired since I signed it back in July. Then around the corner to the hospital where there was a bit of waiting and a lot of registration forms to sign before being wheeled like an invalid up to what must have been the furthest corner of the hospital.
My whole room was insulated against radiation. It became more personal as I looked around; it was insulated against me. The floor was covered with some sort of thin padding (which I was thankful for, because it was much warmer for bare feet than the cold laminated tiles in most rooms). The wheeled try beside my bed was wrapped in plastic, as were the TVs and the toilet. Here you can see a bit of the floor, plus how well they covered this oh-so-essential part of my room.
I had to empty my suitcase into the closet and take the laptop and nook out of their cases. All these cloth/leather coverings would easily absorb radiation, so they couldn't stay with me. I changed into an outfit I got at goodwill and packed my regular clothes and all the other things I couldn't keep with me (including my purse) back into the suitcase. My family couldn't stay too much longer, but before they left, we were able to pray together.
After everyone left, I had nothing to do but wait for them to come in with the RAI pills. I flipped through channels and set up the gadgets I'd brought to keep me entertained. Found the best plug in spots for the laptop and nook, checked out where my mom had put my stash of hard candy (needed to keep the saliva glands working so the iodine didn't gather and make my neck swell up) and made sure I knew where all the notes people had sent with me were. I'll post more on those later...they were very possibly the best part of it all. The nurse gave me 2 little tablets that I had to let dissolve under my tongue to prevent the nausea that RAI sometimes causes.
After a little while, my doctor and the radiologist came in. They had a small, silver insulated canister with them. They went over my instructions one more time: Drink lots of water, wear gloves when handling things like the laptop or my phone, suck on candy (especially tart candy, like lemon drops...I also had lemon wedges in the room, which I squeezed into my water. This seemed to work very well, as I was killing two birds with one stone), take extra showers. After we had discussed everything we could think might be a question or concern, the canister came open. Tongs pulled out 2 innocent-looking pills, each a bit larger than a tylenol. They put them in my gloved hand and I popped them both in my mouth. Down they went, along with a 12 oz bottle of water. The men smiled and left.
The silence was the worst. All of you moms know that even though we often crave a bit of quiet, absolute silence usually means bad news. :-D With 4 or more kids always around my house, my "some thing's not right" radar goes nuts when there's no noise at all. The TV came back on, but it was just because I needed something in the background. It stayed on almost the whole time I was there. I had left my contacts at home, knowing I would have to throw them away if I took them, so everything I watched was a bit blurry.
Then I remembered the care package that Virginia had packed for me. I had fun pulling out the crazy things she had stuffed into a colorful bag, and reading her reasons for each item. Thank you, Lord, for a friend who gave me a reason to laugh when the emptiness of my room made me want to cry. Then I read the first of the daily encouragement cards she had added. Then came the notes from people on facebook and a couple text messages and phone calls. By that time, an hour had passed and the radiologist was back with his little box to measure my radiation output. He told me that I was emitting 50 times the amount of radiation deemed safe for the public. I am so glad I had that hour of pick-me-up before he came in. Instead of making me fearful over any possible side effects, I was encouraged that the treatment was, indeed, moving through my entire body and would attack any remaining cancer. He took 3 measurements at 3 different distances from me, reminded me to drink lots of water, and left.
The nurses would call before bringing in a meal tray to see if there was anything else I needed so that they could come in as few times as possible in a shift. They were very nice, and took care of everything I needed, but they didn't stay longer than they had to. They would wear a plastic covering that they would throw away before they stepped out of my room. There were 3 trash cans, which housekeeping did not empty as they would in a normal room. All of my meals were served with disposable everything...they even came in on a styrofoam tray. After I was done eating, everything went into the trash.I had bottled water and cokes in my room before I was given the pills, and the nurse would bring a large cup of ice with each meal. As I finished each 12 oz bottle of water, I would mark it on the nurse's marker board, since they were supposed to keep track of my fluids. I also had to mark each time I used the well-protected toilet. I took 2 showers each day. One just after dinner and one mid-morning. My doctor said this is something he recently started recommending for RAI treatments, as it makes a significant difference in flushing the radiation from the body. They told me my goal should be about 4 hours of fluids per hour. I wanted to make sure I got home on Thursday, so I was bound and determined to do at least that much. My average ended up being 6.5 oz/hour, including the hours I was asleep. I'm not bragging about how much I was able to drink, I just want anyone who might be about to go through this to know that it really does make a difference. Fluids are the only thing that will make this process go more quickly.
By the time I was measured on Tuesday, quite a bit of the radiation had been flushed from me already. They started talking about me going home on Wednesday, which I had not dared to hope for. I was so encouraged that it was easy to keep drinking! Also, the RAI seemed to have made my mouth a bit dry, so I was happy to have all of that water. Tuesday night was the election, and I went to sleep disappointed and with a headache. Wednesday, everything caught up to me. The lack of sleep from nervous energy Sunday night, the emotional drain from a video chat and phone calls with my kids (my precious 3 year old brought me to tears both when he was so excited to hear from me and when he was brokenhearted that I had to say goodbye), frustration over the presidential election results, all of this on top of the reduced energy from my diet (which I was still on) and lack of thyroid medication. I had a headache. I slept almost all morning and had little appetite. I managed to keep up on the fluids, though. I didn't want to add one more reason to be unhappy. Finally it was time for another reading and I passed with flying colors! Suddenly everything was bearable...I was going home! With my wonderful husband on his way to pick me up, I started packing. I tossed out any paper that I had touched with my bare hands, I threw away the rest of the candy and the toothbrush and toothpaste I had been using. I flipped through the channels until I found something lighthearted that matched my mood, and watched bits of it as I paced the floor waiting for my ride.
When Brad got there, he brought the suitcase that my parents had left with, with everything still inside. He was not allowed in the room, but the nurse brought it to me. I quickly pulled out the clothes I had worn to the hospital and changed. I tossed out my goodwill clothes and packed the laptop and other electronics into the suitcase. Brushed out my hair, put on a smile and went to meet the one person I had missed most of all. This awesome man was ready with a big hug and a celebration plan. We went to Longhorn steakhouse for a dinner like I hadn't had in ages. I had a loaded baked potato, a salad smothered in ranch dressing, strawberry lemon aid and more steak than I could find room for. What was left (about half of both steak and potato) came home with me for lunch the next day. I will say, after a month of bland food, I did pay for that meal a bit the next day. But, oh, it was worth it! Sitting with my husband, knowing the treatment was done, feeling for the first time that the end of this ordeal really was in sight. It was as much reason to celebrate as the birth of our children.
Arriving home was incredible. Hugs (several times around) and "Mama, we missed you!" and I love yous and promises of back rubs and foot rubs and help cooking and all the things my beautiful children know are special to me. Until you are gone, you never know how important coming home is.
I started back on my thyroid medicine the next morning. All the excitement had worn me out, and I was so thankful that Tosha stayed around to help even after I was home. I got up with Brad as usual, but ended up going back to bed before the morning was over and slept for almost 4 hours. It will take a little bit of time for my energy levels to go all the way back up, but I feel better each day. Today is Saturday, (3 doses of meds now) and I'm doing well. That little pill will be part of my daily routine for the rest of my life. Amazing how something so small makes such a difference. Again, I praise the Lord, that He has allowed men the knowledge that gives me this supplement.
So that was my radiation experience. I will go in for a full-body scan in a couple weeks, and we'll find out how it worked. I was blessed to not have any sickness during treatment, and more blessed to be surrounded by love, prayers and support through the entire ordeal. If anyone has questions, please ask! I will answer honestly and as accurately as I can. The unknown can be scary. I hope my post today is able to reassure someone who is walking this path behind me.
Sunday, November 4, 2012
After service is over (which I've survived without a flood of tears), my precious Jay stands silently beside my seat. One look tells me he's not ok. I wrap my arms around his thin waist and whisper it's ok to tell me what's wrong. His emotions spill out. Fear and anxiety roll down his cheeks and splash onto my shoulder. In his eyes, everything has been going so well. It's hard for him to understand why I have to leave for so long. And his words bring up the emotions I've been pushing aside. We cry together and I tell him I'll call and it won't be long, and it's this one more thing so I can be sure I'll be healthy. And I pray this is the end. I will never be the same inside. This journey has radically changed me. But my children need stability, so for them I pray for "normal" again.
Everyone tells me they are praying for me. I feel surrounded by support and love and faith. I didn't nap today, just enjoyed the feeling of my loved ones near me. I know I'll crash hard tomorrow, but I wonder if I will sleep at all tonight. My body is starting to get tired, but my emotions and mind are going full tilt. Cherishing every smile, holding each child a little longer. Reaching out to Brad just to touch him as he passes. Only 4 days. Not too long, in the grand scheme of things. But it's so odd for us to be apart that even I, as reclusive as I am, am dreading it.
I have had friends and family stop in to visit. It's been wonderful. It's been 4 hours since I started this blog, but each interruption has been a joy.
Now dinner is almost ready and kids are looking forward to full tummies and I revel in doing this simple, everyday task for my family. Others will step into my shoes over the next few days, but tonight my hands will bring them their plates. Thank you, Lord, for the joy of serving my family. Thank you for this day that has been so filled with love.
You know, it's so much easier for me to trust God with my own body than with my family. I have said several times that I'm ok with having cancer because I know that God knows what He's doing. I've even pointed out blessings that would have never happened if it weren't for this disease. But leaving my family...that's hard. Trusting that they will be just fine while I'm gone, that God will provide for them just as He always has...it's difficult to feel peaceful about that.
I'm sitting here, reading that last sentence again. That's my problem, isn't it? I have put myself in the role of provider instead of completely understanding that everything comes from God. I have called Him Jehovah Rapha (God my Healer), but I have not leaned on Him as Jehovah Jireh (God my Provider).
And now I see how foolish I am. Because He has already provided, and shown me that they were provided for and yet I insisted on worrying. He gave me Tosha to oversee my household. She is sweet, even-tempered, smart and patient. He gave me my dear sister, Renee, who has already organized meals being brought to our home while I'm gone and even a few after I get back. He has given me my mom and sister-in-law who can help Renee with a grocery store run if needed, and checking on everyone just to make sure they aren't going without. Just today I found out that my mother-in-law won't be going to Michigan as was planned, so she will take the boys for one night. That will help Mikey so much. I was glad when I heard, but now...now I can see that God was showing me His perfect provision for the very things I have been concerned about.
I am so unworthy of such a Savior. Who has anticipated my every thought, who has already conquered every obstacle. I keep trying to define and confine Him, and He keeps overflowing every box I create.
“Aslan" said Lucy "you're bigger"."That is because you are older, little one" answered he."Not because you are?""I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger."
― C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia
Oh, Lord; my Savior, my Healer, my perfect Provider...thank you for growing me tonight. I ask that You continue to purify and strengthen me. You know that I will miss my children and my wonderful husband while we are apart. Thank you for soothing this Mama with assurance of your protection and provision. Forgive me for my doubt, I pray!
Friday, November 2, 2012
I have told you about some of the wonderful things people have done for my family and myself, but in case you didn't read it before, I'll recap some (and please forgive me if I forget!). A neighbor mowed our lawn. Several people cooked...I think we had meals for about 2 and a half weeks back in July when I had my surgeries. Someone took our trash to the dump. A young lady from church served as a live-in nanny/maid while I was in the hospital and even for a week after I got out. She also has come to babysit several times while I have gone to various appointments and will be coming again next week while I'm gone. She has done it all for free. Emails, letters, verses of encouragement, notes about my blogs, questions about how my kids are doing...these things are constantly coming my way just when I need to be reminded that God sees every fear, even my unspoken ones. One friend even brought her kids hours from home to stay with me for a week so that I could rest while she cooked, cleaned, prepared extra meals for the future (my freezer didn't know what to do with all that food in it!) and even gave some excellent cooking lessons to my daughter.
After a while, the flow of gifts slowed. I expected that. People have to get on with thier own lives...and so do I. Cancer or not, each day comes and has with it it's own responsibilities. And it's hard to keep being concerned when nothing seems to change. Some people even thought that I was completely out of danger after the surgery was over and were surprised to hear that I still had treatment to go through. It's been almost 4 months since my surgeries, and that's a long time to just wait.
But tonight I want to share with you two very special gifts that have been given recently. One came from my mom. Just out of nowhere, she bought me a beautiful purse.
The second gift came from my "daughter;" a young lady from our church that we unofficially adopted. She too has given me 2 things that show the depth of her love. First of all, she lent me her Nook Color to take to the hospital next week so that I will have something to do while I'm there other than watch endless cooking shows on cable. lol. She downloaded an ebook with 25 stories from various authors...several of my favorite classics, and some that I've never had the chance to read. She worked hard to save up for that Nook, and it was sweet of her to offer it. But the depth of her gift didn't hit me until the Sunday she brought it to church for me. Someone was asking about what I would expect while I was in isolation, and I was telling all of the odd requirements and restrictions I needed to follow. My daughter mentioned that I was taking the Nook, and he asked if it would have to be thrown away after I used it. Before I could assure him that it wouldn't, she spoke up. "If it does, that's ok. It's an acceptable sacrifice." It's just an electronic board, I know. But to me it's her long hours at work and the times she didn't go out to eat in order to buy that for herself...and now she gives it to me with no concern over whether she will get it back or not. I am overwhelmed. A few weeks before, we had missed 2 Sundays in a row at our church. It doesn't happen very often, and I was so glad to come back. My beautiful girl, a gift disguised as someone in need, comes to stand next to me durring worship. She has done this ever since I lost my voice. She never used to sing. I know...I was on stage and could see her. :-) I'm not saying she didn't worship, just that she didn't sing. But now she stands by my side and sings and sings and sings. The church gathered around me and my family to pray for us the Sunday after we were back from our 2 weeks away. When we were done, she held me so tight. I whispered, "thank you for being my voice." And with tears from the girl who is as tough as nails, who would scream and fight before she would cry, she said, "then you have to be here. You're the reason I sing." Such selflessness is blossoming in her! What a giving spirit, from someone who was taught to look out for herself, because she thought no one else would. To even overcome the negative spirit that kept her silent...such a gift will always be treasured. These are things I will carry with me all of my life. These are things that are of infinate worth. Not the cloth and plastic and paper or food that will waste away, but the love and kindness and prayers and selflessness that came with them. This is being loved.
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
I had a friend who will always be to me the shining example of honest, open love and friendship. It was weird to others because this friend was a boy and, at our age, boys and girls weren't just friends. It was weird to me because he was so cool and so good looking and smart and popular that I didn't have any clue why he would spend a bit of attention on me. Talking in later years, my mom said once that maybe it was because he felt like he was safe with me. I didn't want anything from him, while every other girl (or so it seemed) wanted to date him. Someone asked me once if I would ever go out with him. That was easy to answer. "No way! Are you kidding me? He breaks up with someone every other week...why would I trade our friendship for something that I know won't last?" So we ignored his romantic roller coaster and just hung out. Sunday afternoons climbing trees and catching snakes and riding my dirt bike. Junior high was a rough time for me, but he made it bearable. It didn't matter that I didn't dress "right" or care about the latest band or think anyone was "to die for." It (usually) didn't bother me if I got made fun of for my bookwormishness or lack of interest in sports or parties or whatever else was supposed to be important. He made it possible for me to not change. Because he was my friend no matter who was around. He cared about what I liked. He never made me feel weird or uncool. He always smiled at me when he passed me in the hall. I will never forget the time he was in the middle of a big group of boys, laughing and cutting up...it had been a miserable day for me, and it must have shown. We were going opposite directions and he simply said, "I'll catch up," to his buddies, turned around and walked down the hall with me, arm draped over my shoulder, just cutting jokes until I smiled. No big deal for him. He was just being a friend. To me, he was a life preserver, tossed into the waters of conformism just as the circling sharks began to smell blood.
You never know what your kindness may do for someone. I couldn't have put it into words then. I just knew I was glad he was my friend. Now I can see that he showed me hope and gave me strength because he accepted me as I was. When girls mentioned things I could improve, things that guys would notice, I thought of him. He noticed me without any improvement. When a boy I didn't really know asked me out and people pressured me to accept because I'd never had a boyfriend (and how would I ever know what I wanted in a husband if I didn't date), I thought of him. We were friends and that was enough to show me things I liked and didn't like in a guy. I looked at him and saw someone who knew me and liked me. And if there was one in my small school, surely, someday when I was ready, out in that great big world somewhere, there would be another.
Then came high school. And things changed. He made some bad decisions. He started going down a path that made me afraid for him. We hung out less and less. The people he did spend time with changed. He still was my friend, but...so much more distant. I tried to talk to him. Smile, nod, pat my head and laugh off my concerns. But his eyes were different. The carefree boy was gone. Heaviness had settled in. Sin had taken root and there was nothing I could do to help, especially since he didn't want any help. Convincing himself that he was having the time of his life, he dug deeper and deeper. The last time I saw him...I remember...the smile was so familiar, but it didn't come from his heart anymore. And his eyes were nearly dead. It broke my heart.
Nearly 15 years have passed since that day. I've tried to stay in touch off and on, but (as you can imagine) my efforts have not been returned. Still, I have prayed. I did all that I could and nothing could stop my friend from the path he chose. But with God, all things are possible, and death and judgment have not yet come. My friend moved hours from his family, led his own life and made more decisions that ended poorly. Still, I prayed. Send a note, call on his birthday, pray every time his face comes to mind. Less and less news about him as the years go by, but enough to keep him in the back of my mind. Enough that every now and then, I was prompted to pray just for him.
Not long ago, he moved back home. Someone in his family is one of my many facebook friends. Then came the cancer. And this family member has followed my blog and told him my story. "...His heart is soft..." was part of what she told me. And everything fell into place. I needed it just then. Another moment when I wanted to ask God why, and He showed me. He can use all things for His glory and His purpose! I don't know my friend's spiritual state as I write this. But that family member will read it. And this message can be passed on: I love you, my dear brother. I pray for you still. God brought you into my life to shape me, to give me a way to resist the world at a time when it was pushing hard against me. I am willing to have this disease in exchange for the rescue of your precious soul. If cancer, treatments, fear, pain, loss...if these things that I am dealing with reach your heart and point you to Christ, it is a battle I am happy to fight. This time I have the life preserver that you need. I know the Life Preserver that you need, and He is with me every step of the way. Won't you run to Him now, cast yourself at His feet and be forgiven? I pray we meet again. I pray we will spend eternity as friends.
Let me begin by telling you about a friend of mine...well, he started out as a friend of my husband's. Today, I'm going to call him Dan. Here is a young man raised in a Godless home. He has had learning issues and attention issues his whole life. Dan is put on medication for ADHD at a young age. Later, he takes medication for schizophrenia. He sees things that aren't really there. He often cannot complete a thought without being distracted by another. He rocks back and forth when he sits, he paces when he stands. He is ostracized by his schoolmates. He is told he will never reach above a 6th grade level. He doesn't shower as often as he should. He is overweight. No one wants to bother with him.
But he has one good friend. One young man who loves Christ has sympathy on this wreck of a boy. One kind voice invites him to church. So Dan starts attending a men's Bible study.
It's been a year and a half since Brad met Dan. If you had known him before, you wouldn't know him now. He has gone from someone who was lost in every way possible to someone I love to have in my home. As the men of the church studied together, this young man who seemed so worthless to the world wormed his way into my husband's heart. As he has turned his life over to Christ, God has been faithful. Dan's mind truly has been renewed by the Word of God. He doesn't take his medicines anymore. And against all "knowledge" that the doctors have, his symptoms are gone. Brad has encouraged him and challenged him and taught him as they have spent more and more time together. He doesn't see things anymore. He can not only keep his own train of thought, but he can hold entire conversations with groups of people. He laughs, he jokes, he asks good questions, he even has good answers. He rarely rocks or paces. He takes care of himself. He has lost weight. He even is looking for a job. God has made this old, worthless soul new and beautiful! If that alone weren't enough, God has rewarded Dan's simple, pure, childlike faith with a pure understanding that others often overlook.
As I have mentioned, Brad and I have struggled with the loss of my voice. I will write more about this later in the week, but for now it's only a background for the particular conversation I want to tell you about. Someone, ages ago, had recorded a band practice...or maybe it was a worship service, I'm not sure which. Either way, there was a CD with about 5 songs with the full band, Brad singing lead and me singing harmony. Dan doesn't have much that he can call his own, and the movies and music that are in his home are not generally Godly. So when a friend (probably the same young man who invited him to church) lent him that CD, he went home and played it. Out loud. For his whole family to hear. This happened just a few weeks after my surgery. Dan had told his family all about the cancer and the surgery and the loss of my voice. His mom heard the CD and asked who it was. Dan told her it was the church praise band. She was impressed by the twist Brad had put on a hymn and she kept listening. Then she asked, "who is that girl singing with him?" Dan answered, "Mama, that's Miss Rachel, Brad's wife." And then came the question. It has been asked over and over and over throughout time in different forms. "Why?" she asked "Why would God let her have cancer that would take away her voice?"
When Dan was telling me the story later, I was asking the same thing. It was the first time I had heard a recording of us together since all of this happened. I was hurting, and so was Brad. It was one of those times when sorrow was blocking out everything else in my view. But Dan told me the answer, and it brings tears to my eyes even today. "Well, Mama, see, Miss Rachel's daddy and Mr. Brad don't get along. At all. But ever since Miss Rachel had surgery, they do."
Yes, God used my cancer to heal a greater illness...one that has been in my family for years. There have been other relationships restored because of this sickness as well. And there has been a softening all around me. Something as serious as cancer throws out the stupid, petty differences that we let get wedged between us. In the grand scheme of things, there are some that just aren't important. My entire family has felt this, and changed. I am so thankful. Thank You, Lord, for giving me this small illness to heal the larger one. Thank You for chastening my body in order to correct many hearts. Help me remember this lesson and never doubt Your plan!
Monday, October 29, 2012
Yet, you still pray for me. I know you do, because I've met so many of you in stores and had cards and emails and notes and phone calls and friends who you run into who you ask about me. Thank you. Those moments of pure love have been used by God to sustain me. I'm doing really well, and I know I have your prayers to thank for it.
There is a reason I haven't written recently. One is, there's simply not a lot to say. It's been a waiting game. A long, emotion-filled wait. Nothing big has happened, but a thousand tiny things have flooded me with emotions. Most of them are negative. Fear keeps trying to creep in. Anger, anxiety, confusion...they all take their turn. I don't deal well with reality, as some of you may know. I hibernate. Much reading has been accomplished in the past couple months (my most effective form of hibernation). I also don't want to be discouraging to anyone who may be about to travel in my footsteps down this same path of cancer...on top of all of that, I am tired. In preparation for the radiation treatment I'm going to take next Monday, I am starving my body of iodine. It's not a fun process, and each day I have less energy than the day before. In the past, I have used my smart phone to post (not a simple task)...the thought of "swyping" all my emotions has just been too much. But here we are, one week away from the day that has been looming as a dark spot on my horizon since July. And while I try to straighten my house so the babysitter will be able to find everything, I also need to straighten my emotions and priorities so that I go in as sound as possible; in spirit and mind, if not in body. Plus, we just had "real" internet hooked to our computer, and my feelings come out so much smoother on a keyboard than the tiny screen of that phone. :-D
If I've painted a gloomy picture of me over the last couple months, you only have part of the picture. Mostly, things have been good. And those good moments have been providentially timed to raise me from the bad ones. I have had a lot of time with my family. It has been so good for me. Holding my kids, cuddling with my husband, laughing with my sisters and talking (I mean really talking) with my mom for the first time in ages. I have lost a ton of weight. 27 lbs since July. Enough that someone sympathetically told me, "I can tell you've been sick!" The weight loss in someone else might have been scary, but for me it's been thrilling. I have struggled with losing my "baby weight" for a long time. I have been careful what I eat...until I give up in frustration because it doesn't seem to matter anyway. I have had spurts of exercise, but never the energy to stick with it. All of that can be traced back to the thyroid issue. I think it was working well enough sometimes, and not well enough others. Or maybe only half was working, and that half could only give enough for my whole body part of the time, but not most of the time. This would account for me losing weight and then gaining it back with no apparent change in lifestyle at all. Also, there have been all of those dear people who have taken time to stay in touch with me. Personal messages in one form or another that say they care. I'm not fighting alone. The faces that flash through my mind as I write this are enough to make me weep for joy. I do that a lot...the weeping part. Mostly for thankfulness, joy, love...when it hits me, it is so tangible that my only response is tears. The other tears, they come when I hold my children, or see pain in my husband's eyes. This is not an easy road for me, and even so, I often feel that my part in this story is so much more simple to play than his. I can feel the good changes, while he only sees me going through the hard things. The weight loss is hard for him to take, because it's happened so fast that I do look ill. My thyroid medicine helped my energy levels so much, and now I have gone these past few weeks without it, and he sees me getting worn out easier again. And maybe it's worse now, because I know the cause. I don't just push myself through like I did before I was diagnosed. Now I know I'm not going to have the energy, so I don't do as much. For him, I'm sure it's like watching me get sicker instead of better.
I'm trying not to be negative, but to still be honest and open with you. I have so many things to be thankful for. I really am thankful. But even while I'm thankful, I have a hard time dealing with some of this. It is so hard to have no control at all of your future. Do I trust God? Absolutely. Do I have to remind myself every single day that I believe He holds me perfectly in His hand? Yes, and often several times a day. The emotions hit me like waves. I rock and sway violently and get dunked in icy water as they come at me. I don't just hold onto God as my anchor; I cling to Him desperately, knowing not much more than that He holds me exactly where He wants me. I don't always have time to recover from one wave before the next one hits. The sea doesn't always calm between each dunk. Sometimes the sun stays mostly hidden for days. And then I feel guilty. Where is that perfect peace that I had early on? Has my faith grown weak? How can it have, when God is the only thing I know is sure? And just when I think I must be failing Him in my emotionalism, I remember that even Jesus knew sorrow. He knew anxiety. The very God-man sweat drops of blood because of His extreme distress. What a blessed savior! To endure such agony of mind and spirit as well as body. To be sure it was recorded so that one day I would read and know that He understands. Again a wave comes, but this one is warm and soothing and healing as I cling to my anchor. There are more cold, dark days to come. But I am not alone. He has given me people who love me, to cheer me, to hold me, to comfort me, to cry with me, to pray for me. And He himself has endured much so that I would be encouraged. And I am. I will try to post every night between now and when I go in to the hospital next Monday. I am going to count down this week with reflections of encouragements God has sent my way. Things I haven't had the emotional stamina to share with all of you until now. Now seems to be the time. Now He gives me more calm, more peace, more joy. I pray these posts will do the same for you.
Friday, September 28, 2012
I had 2 appointments yesterday. One was because I've had an earache off & on for years and no one ever saw anything wrong with my ear. Guess what? That's because there wasn't anything wrong with my ear! I have something not quite right with my jaw, which is causing pain in my ear. The remedy? Pain killers & a liquid diet. At least, that should help it recover from being so irritated. There really is no permanent cure. Mainly I'm just happy to finally know what's been going on.
The other appointment was with the radiation oncologist. Everything looks good, so we have scheduled the radiation. I have to stop taking my thyroid medicine on October 13th, and begin a low-iodine diet. On November 1, I will have my blood drawn to make sure my iodine levels are low enough for the RAI to be effective (basicly, as long as I don't cheat on my diet, that should be no problem). Then November 5th (a Monday) I will be admitted to the hospital for treatment. I'm receiving the highest dose they're allowed to give (it's double what most thyroid cancer patients get), so my doctor expects me to need isolation until Thursday. A couple weeks after that, they will do a full body scan to see if all the cancer was killed off.
So...now I have dates. It's a bit of a relief to know "for sure" when I'm going in. Also, I will be home to enjoy celebrating my anniversary on October 23. That was my biggest concern, so I'm greatful that my dates are set where they are.
There are lots of other things on my heart, but I seem to be short on time, so they will have to wait. I know so many of you are praying and waiting for updates. Thank you for loving so much!
Saturday, September 8, 2012
I had another check up with my surgen yesterday. I told him about the acid reflux medicine upsetting my stomach, so he switched me to something else. Hopefully I won't have to switch too many times before we find something that works. :-) He felt along my incision and said that everything in my throat is tight. I have scar tissue, of course, so that's thicker than normal tissue, therefore everything in that area is squeezed a little tighter together. He said that will improve with time. It's also probably making everything a bit more sensitive in my throat, and he said my cough will improve as I continue to heal.
I see the oncologist later this month. We will do blood work then to see if I'm ready for radiation. If my levels are right, I will be taken off my thyroid pill for 3 weeks in preparation for the treatment. This (being off the med) will make me miserable, according to everyone who's gone through it before. My surgen said sometimes, in cases as advanced as my cancer got, that additional radiation is needed after the RAI treatment has been done. The RAI is a pill, and one of the easiest and most effective radiation treatments available. But it's possible (actually, he said it's probable) that cancer was headed down from my that area into my chest. So sometimes traditional radiation (actual beams of radiation) is done in the chest area (just below my collarbone). No one is certain that this will be needed, but it's a possibility.
Things you can pray for: one, that the additional radiation will not be necessary. Two, that the new reflux medicine I'm on will both control my acid and not upset my stomach. Three, that I will get my household prepared (meals, babysitting schedule, etc) for my absence during RAI treatment. And last (and most selfish) that I will not be having my treatment or be sick because of it on our anniversary, which is October 23 (very close to the time I expect to be in isolation). Thank you for your prayers and support. I love you all.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
I had fun tonight. I haven't written in a while because I hate to feel like I have nothing both new and positive to write about. I know people want to be updated, and in that area, I'm sorry for not posting in a while...however, tonight was great, and I feel like sharing.
I mentioned before that a dear friend of mine spent a week at my house to help me out. While she was here, she cooked up a storm! She left several meals in my freezer (some are still there, but many were so good I didn't wait to eat them!), along with cookies and muffins and frozen veggies from the garden. Mostly what she left me with, however, was knowledge and encouragement. I watched her do way more than I had energy for, but she did it in an efficient way. I knew I could do more, if I followed her example.
So often I have thought of the Proverbs 31 woman and been humbled and discouraged. Where do you start so that in the end you can laugh at winter and not fear for your household? How does purchasing a field for profit translate into our non-agricultural life? I get so overwhelmed that I give up before I begin. But it doesn't have to be that hard, and the Word of God is not just true today, it is still relevant to our lives...even the passage, written thousands of years ago, about a woman of great value.
So back to the "doing" part of all of this. Tonight some friends and I planned for the future. It want much, but it was something. It was fun, it was economical, and it was beneficial. We made 3 meals for each household to be frozen for future use. Not a huge deal, but it has big potential. I'm planning for the days I will be away or not feel like cooking because of my radiation treatment. Other women are planning so they can have a homecooked meal even on super busy days. And how awesome would it be to always have something in the freezer that you could take to someone who is sick or had a death in the family? To be a blessing to someone without stressing out?!
So that's what I did tonight. Thank you, my dear Maggie, for the wonderful example you set and for all you have done for my family. For the rest of you, feel free to join us (the first Thursday of every month). And for those of you who want to know the latest health news, you'll have to wait until tomorrow after my appointment. As far as I know, things are going as well as I can hope. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for your encouragement. I do have things on my heart that I will share, but tonight I wanted to just tell you about this. I love you all and thank the Lord for you.
Saturday, August 11, 2012
I had another follow-up appointment on Friday. My incision is healing great. They drew blood to check my calcium, and I should know for sure how that is on Monday, but all indications say those levels are increasing like they should. This is all great news!
On the down side, I have an acid reflux problem now. :-( I have had a cough since the surgery. I was told this is normal, since fluids settle in the lungs while you're under anesthesia. So I didn't think much of it, except that it didn't go away.
Friday was a month exactly since my second surgery. I've come so far in such a short time that it feels wrong to complain. But my cough has been driving me nuts. So the first thing I asked was when it would go away. The doctor was surprised that it hadn't yet, so he looked (SO glad I was seeing the ENT specialist when this issue came up!) in my throat and said it was acid reflux. I learned 2 things at that appointment. 1) You don't always have discomfort and burning with acid reflux (I haven't) and 2) I CAN say, "eeeeee" while someone is holding my tongue with a piece of gauze and telling me to keep my mouth open wide. You should try it sometime, it's not easy.
So now I have a prescription for the reflux (which I haven't picked up yet...I'm annoyed at more medication, even though I know it's for my benefit. Unreasonable, I know, but it's just one of those things that get under my skin.) and a list of things I should and shouldn't do; don't eat less than 3 hours before bed time, sleep with my head elevated (one of those wedges would be nice, but I don't have one, so pillows are being manipulated), stay away from tomatoes and spicy foods (like that's going to happen!), take a tums after each meal (except breakfast, because I can't have calcium until at least 4 hours after I take my thyroid pill) and 2 right before bed, stay away from soft drinks (which I haven't really wanted since surgery anyway, for some unknown reason. At least that one is easy for me to follow)...there might be more, but I can't remember. He have me a list, which is good since I can't remember much of anything these days.
The reflux is related to the loss of the vocal nerve. Apparently now those muscles that held the acid down aren't working as well as normal, so I'm getting acid burns in my throat & on my vocal cords & that's what's irritating me enough to make me cough all the time. And I do mean all the time. When I wake up, when I lay down, when I talk for more than 3 or 4 sentences in a row (not exaggerating), when I yawn or breathe deeply...So. My first real side effect. Bummer. BUT...(deep breath, as I remember not to dwell on negative things), still a small price to pay. Even in the world of side effects that come from cancer and cancer treatment, this is so small. And hopefully between the medicine that I will take (even though I hate being dependant on pills) and whatever guidelines I can follow without going nuts, this will come under control. I asked if it would get better as my body heals more completely, and he said he didn't know. I'm glad he was honest with me. No false hopes...but we can pray, and that is better than any pill. Now I'm off to sleep, and looking forward to worshiping with my church family in the morning! I love you all. Thank you for your continued prayers. I hope tomorrow finds you joining a local church for worship as well.
Monday, August 6, 2012
It's been a little while since I've written, but that's not for lack of things to say. It's just...some of you will understand this, and some of you won't, but I'm just going to plow ahead regardless...a lot of people have a limit on how much they can care. Everyone asks, and everyone thinks they care...but really, what they want is good news. Now, in a way, that really is love. They're asking because they want me to be ok. And I'm ok with that. I have been given a gift in the form of friends who can handle the details, so I'm able to be ok with those who can't. And in this time of waiting and healing and adjusting, it's hard to know what to say to people. So we say, "things are going well." Or, "I'm healing, and the doctors are really pleased with my progress." Or, "I have a lot more energy than I did last week, and I'm thankful for that." And whoever we're taking to will smile and comment on how thankful they are and maybe give a hug or mention that they have been praying for me and they move on, very happy with the report. And it's a good, honest report...but the truth is also that I'm not out of the woods yet. And this waiting that we have to go through before my radiation is deceptive. I look fine, I'm feeling better every day. But in a couple months I'm going to feel like crap (from everything I've read on thyroid radiation treatment), and that will be before the treatment even begins. Not to mention all the information that I'm trying to process about cancer in general, and my cancer specifically. I received a packet in the mail from the American Cancer Society. My first thought was, "oh, good, now I will really be able to understand what happened to my body." No such luck. They don't know why most cancers grow, or how they start...cancer is almost as unique as the person who has it. Which makes sense, right? If your cells mutate, they're not going to be exactly like my mutated cells, because your healthy cells aren't exactly like my healthy cells.
I'm getting a little off-track here, which is what happens when I go too long without spilling my thoughts. :-)
All this to say, sometimes it's frustrating to talk to people, because there's so little new to say. And yet my household is still on high alert. My dear husband has the hardest time. Last week when someone asked him how I was doing, he said, "Well, she has cancer!" I laughed out loud when he told me. It probably confused whoever he was taking to, but it's the most honest thing he could say. So, yes, I'm doing well. But I haven't been given a clean bill of health. I still have steps to go through. And I don't know what the future holds. I have doubts that things will be "normal" (as in, how most other thyroid cancer patients progress). I'm not stressed over these things, but life is not (nor will it ever be) the same. And in times like these, we are motivated to act. So I wanted to share, not only how I have been feeling, but also what I have been doing. I hope you're getting used to my long-windedness, because I don't know any other way to write. :-D
In addition to what my doctors have me doing (surgery, thyroid med, calcium supplements, and eventually radiation), we have looked into "natural" healing. One of my readers commented on the benefits of juicing. At the time, I had too much going on to respond, but that is one thing we have been doing since the day I came home from the hospital. There will probably be no way of knowing if what we're doing actually makes a difference in ME or not, but there has been enough study done to convince me that it's worth the effort to try. So carrots and apples don't last long around here anymore. I've juiced all sorts of things, looking for great taste and health benefits specifically geared toward cancer fighting. Pineapple tastes wonderful, even when you toss in carrots and raw spinach. Just in case you were wondering. Also, we're drinking filtered water. Not bottled, and not your standard store-bought filter. There's a whole water filtration system that adds oxygen (a cancer killer) and raises the ph level of your water (another deterant to cancer growth). My parents "happened" (I love how God has paved my road ages ahead of the time for me to travel it!) to have bought this machine a while back, so Brad bought a water cooler with a 5 gallon jug and we fill it at my mom & dad's and drink very little other than that water. Soft drinks are only a special treat, and even iced tea hasn't been around for a while. The kids have milk and water. Brad and I have juice and water. These two things alone have helped my digestive system a lot. And I'm not nearly as hungry as I used to be. I know a lot of that is because of the surgery, but I also think part of it is because of the nutrients I'm getting from the juice. I don't have cravings anymore, and I don't have a desire to overeat. I've lost at least 12 pounds since surgery.
The last thing we've done is to go organic. Ok, I know I lost a lot of you with that word. But it's something I'm able to do right now, and because I'm able to, I feel like I should. There are so many things put into our food before it ever gets to the store, and that can't be good for us. So there's a company that provides organic food straight to your door, and we're taking advantage of the opportunity. There is no way I could afford to shop organic at a local grocery store, but this company created a plan that fits into the budget we already had for food, so (again) God supplied our need.
So there you are, slightly updated on my emotions and actions. I know people are reading this who are going through what I am going through, and probably more who will read it again when their time of difficulty comes. My prayer is that you are encouraged. It's ok to be frustrated and have "down" days (but don't live there!). And it's ok to take action and improve your lifestyle to give yourself the best chance at a recovery. I am open to comments and questions on the changes we've made. A discussion could be beneficial to many people.
And now that I've told you how I'm doing, you don't have to ask Brad...because there's no telling what he'll say next! I love that man for the way he makes me laugh. :-D
Monday, July 30, 2012
I've been learning a lot about love lately. It comes in so many forms. Dinners have been cooked, bathrooms cleaned, a lawn mowed, kids watched. I've been visited, given hugs, money, advice, encouragement, cards and personal care packages. A dear sister in Christ has helped me start my "survival pack" for when I go in for radiation. My dad paid for a manicure and pedicure. My sister let me borrow her Kindle. My mom and sister in law cleaned my house. I have never before even cared if I owned a scarf...now I have several in varied colors and styles to protect my healing skin from the sun. Those too far away to give physical gifts have written, sent scripture and prayed.
Each gift is as unique as the friend who has given it. A variety of blessings, for which I am greatful. Like a complex song, every person has added their own part, creating a masterpiece in my life. And I love to listen to it!
I'm seeing how I cannot expect every person to show love in the same way. In theory, I have known that for a long time. But in reality, I expect people to act the way I would. If they don't show me that they care the way I expect them to, sometimes I haven't recognized that they are showing me love. But now, as I am flooded with these expressions of concern and affection, I can hear the beautiful symphony of love that I was deaf to before. And I'm so glad for it! From now on, I am determined to recognize love as it is given instead of expecting them to act the way I would. Each person's tune is different, and I am learning to listen.
Sunday, July 29, 2012
So much happens in the little time we have. Yet we squander hours, days, even years. I'm writing for me tonight, because it's the only way I know to process my thoughts, to unburden my heart.
With all our household has been dealing with, I have had little time or energy to keep up with other people's lives. Facebook is a tool, but it can easily become a snare that creates bitterness and pain...I have backed away from peeking into the virtual windows like I used to, though I still love to see my friends with their growing families and hear the cute things kids say. So when I catch a picture that was just posted, it's great. But for months before I got sick, I had used it for little more than messaging people that I knew would be on.
But I woke up this morning too uncomfortable to roll over and go to sleep, so I started browsing. I haven't heard from one particular friend through this whole thing, which seemed odd, given her motherly personality.
Tonight I found out that she is gone. Just like that. I haven't seen her in years. It's been a few months since I even emailed her...but she has been one of my closest confidonts since before I was married. When things got rough, I could always cry to her. She is one of a very small handful of people who has loved me 100% as I came; never trying to change me or adjust my path for me.
We need people in our lives who mold us and push us out of our comfort zones...but just as much, we need people who love us as we are and don't care if we never change, but are always happy with who we are. Amanda was one of those gems for me.
Thank you, Lord, for tears! Until this moment, I could not weep for the loss of my friend.
I lived across the hall from her at college. We worked together at camp. We acted together on stage. We spent hours sitting on eachother's dorm room floor, talking, laughing, crying.
I was a brides maid and I sang in her wedding. It was a beautiful wedding, and she was so happy. At the reception the wedding party had these pretty blue glasses with pewter dragons on them (perfect for her personality). My glass broke years ago in a move, but I kept the dragon. As I write, it is within arm's reach, in my jewelry chest.
She never quit trying to improve herself. She wanted to help people. So she got all this schooling so she would know how, and then she went into social work instead of a job that would make big bucks.
She loved her daughter.
She loved her husband.
She never gave up on anyone.
She loved to laugh.
She was pregnant and excited about another baby.
She enjoyed theater, music, books, movies...
I miss my friend. I will miss the comfort of her answering email when I am down. I will miss the funny quips she always had when I was being a bit over emotional or unreasonable. I can't believe I'll never hear her laugh again. I'm so glad I told her often that I loved her. I hope she knew I meant it from the bottom of my heart.
Once again, I feel the frailty of our flesh. It has been so real to me since I got sick; that a disease could invade my body and turn my whole world upside down while I went day to day unsuspecting. And again in the early hours of this Sunday morning, I hear the difference one car trip makes. One wrong move, one careless moment and our fragile body is undone.
Don't waste your moments. You don't have a guarantee on the next one. Hold your family. Enjoy your little ones. Live as though today is the last day you can show them that you love them. Love your spouse, hug your best friend. Maybe you will have decades together, but maybe not. Pray for your family. Tell the unbelievers of God's love. Be a light for as long as God allows you to shine. And don't be afraid to say "I love you." Mean it. It's not hard, so tell them. Look right into your daughter's eyes and tell her. If it's the last thing you get to say to her, it will be the right last thing.
To Amanda's family and other friends, I am so sorry for your loss. Carl, I will be praying for you and your daughter. I will miss her terribly. Even states apart, I could always count on her...
Don't waste your moments.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
I have had so many people say what am encouragement it is to see how positive I have been through all of this. But I know it is not because of my own strength. So tonight I want to thank you. All of you who are praying for me. When I look through notes and emails and comments and see that hundreds of people are praying for me and my family, is it any wonder that we can carry on each day? You have no idea how many times just the right note has reached me at just the right time. And today, when I was expecting more of myself than I aught, God sent just the right friend with the perfect balance of love and chastisement to remind me that "doing great" 2 weeks after major surgery isn't the same as "back to normal." Those are your prayers for me being answered. My husband is handling all of the uncertainty and bombardment of new, difficult news with strength and steadiness not generally found in his nature. He has not been overwhelmed like I would expect him to be. He has been gentle and loving and sensitive even when he has no idea what to do next or how to help me. These are the effects of your prayers for him. My children have been wonderful. Not perfect, of course, but wonderful. My boys are more attentive to what I say (maybe because they have to listen harder to hear it!) and are obeying more quickly. They are trying to think of things for themselves so that I don't have to tell them everything that needs to be done. I have had back rubs, foot rubs, and more hugs and kisses than I ever would have expected. They are showing me love and respect in the best ways they know how. My daughter...my princess...she amazes me. She checks on me constantly. Am I comfortable, do I need anything, can she help me with whatever it is that I am doing. Let me tell you how your prayers have helped my daughter, because my heart is overflowing! Trin will be 12 on August 5th. Being the only girl, the planner of our family and the most particular of my children, she starts talking about her birthday slumber party ages before I'm ready to think about it. A couple days ago she said she had settled on who to invite and wanted to work on invitations. My stomach dropped. I'm doing great, that's true, but I just don't think I'm going to be up for 5 or 6 giggling girls less than a month after surgery. But with all of my appointments and being in the hospital, we really hadn't had time to talk about it. So, fearing tears and a broken heart, I gently asked if we could do something easier this year. "I don't want to ruin your day just because I'm not 100% yet, but I just don't think I can handle a party like that right now, baby." She didn't cry a bit, and I was so relieved. She doesn't generally deal well with plans being changed...she gets an idea in her head and disappointment just crushes her from head to toe if it doesn't work. We talked about a couple other options that night and ended with, "well, think about it and see if there is something you would enjoy that wouldn't be quite so hectic for me." Tonight she came up to me and have me a big hug. "Mama, do you think instead of a party, you and I could just spend a day together? Just the two of us?" I almost cried right then. Of course, my beautiful baby! 12 years old and a whole day with Mama is as good as a slumber party. How blessed am I!? See how your prayers have helped my children? They are seeing past themselves and into the needs of others...right now, obviously, those are mainly my needs. Oh, Lord, let it continue! May this be a beginning that doesn't end! Teach my children to be servant minded, sacrificial in their relationships and always gracious when faced with the needs of those around them.
And you, my dear reader, thank you so much for your prayers. I feel them daily; bolstering my faith, soothing my fears, easing my discomfort, changing me, changing my family. Maybe you and I have not met and will not meet face to face this side of heaven, but I want to thank you today for lifting my household up to the One we both serve. Some of you I do know personally. Some of you have joined hands with me and prayed. Your prayers are being answered, I assure you. Even the prayers for healing...maybe I am not being healed instantly as a divine gift, but I am healing with no unforseen consequences. And that is a gift in it's self. Be encouraged: God answers prayer!
Monday, July 23, 2012
So I saw the oncologist today. It will be a few months before I do the radiation. I'm really glad for the break. This should give me time to heal from surgery.
All together, I think I've had 3 CT scans done. Each of them was "with contrast," which is some stuff they put in my system to help them see what they were looking for. Apparently the contrast has high amounts of iodine in it. In order for the radiation to work, my body needs to be starved for iodine. So now I have to wait 2 months for that contrast to get out of my system. During those 2 months, I will be on thyroid replacement medicine. Once my levels are normal, I will be taken off the medicine for 3 weeks to let my iodine levels sink even lower, so that by the time my treatment comes, my body will suck the iodine up quickly, and with it, the radiation. The radiation will kill any microscopic cancer that's left, and that should be the end if the cancer.
I am so thankful that, since I have been afflicted with cancer, this is the type I have. The treatment is so precise and so effective that there is very little to fear. In addition, since I have little ones at home, and to make monitoring my radiation levels easier, I will spend my few days of radiation isolation in the hospital. It will be a very different stay from what I just left. I will be reading a lot, I'm sure. :-D Drinking lots of water is a must, and also sucking on lemon drops to keep the radiation from gathering in my saliva glands.
In the mean while, I get to be home with my babies and my husband. Lots of hugs and cuddles. The relief of not having to rush off again after being away so recently is wonderful. So tonight I thank the Lord for this gift of time. Time to heal, time to relax, time to love and to be loved.
Friday, July 20, 2012
I have been through a lot in the past few weeks. Through it all, I have been held close to my Creator. I have been granted a measure of peace that was never mine to this depth before. I have been shown the loving hand of God as he uses my ugly disease to create beautiful relationships. I have been showered with gifts (both physical and intangible) from the least expected places. I am blessed.
I am also recovering from 2 surgeries and dealing with very real consequences from those procedures. In addition, I still face radiation treatment. Not to mention that the knowledge that cancer has been in my body will hover forever in the back of my mind. It will tint decisions for my entire household. It will make previously ignored pains and aches something to think twice about. It has made me "grow up" in a very real way.
Even so, my God is good. Every new thing I face, I am given the strength for it. I am more sober, but I am not without joy. I am more aware of each moment, but I do not fear those moments passing away. I am able to love more deeply...and to realize the value of expressing that love. Most days (as long as I am not exhausted) I have more patience. I pray that will stay, even when my strength grows as I recover. I listen more. Really listen. I can hear heartaches better, and my hugs hold more real compassion. All of these personal gifts I thank my savior for. He has truly been refining me. It is not a pleasant process, but I am so thankful He found me ready to pass through the fire!
Part of a refiner's job is to remove impurities. A precious metal should not just be liquid ready to be reformed when it comes out, it should have had something removed that was less than absolutely perfect.
This part is not easy for me...forgive me if I stumble a bit.
In a previous post, I mentioned that I might lose something dear to me. And in one after that, I mentioned that my voice has changed. Now my desire is to be perfectly open and blunt about what was sacrificed in that second surgery. My voice has not just changed. It is almost gone. When I talk, I am recognizable...if you can hear me. My speech is low in volume and low in tone. I cannot reach the higher pitch people usually reserve for pets and babies. Since I usually speak in a lower tone anyway, volume is the most notable loss when you first speak to me. This is annoying, but not as bad as I thought it would be. I am incredibly greatful that my voice is not entirely different from what my husband and children are used to hearing, though they do notice a difference.
What is entirely gone is my singing voice. For me, this is huge. If you don't know me, if this blog has been passed on to you, you have no way of knowing...this is huge. My whole identity has been summed up in my voice and my hair: "Do you know Rachel?" "Who?" "You know, the girl in choir with the long hair." "Oh, the soprano? Yeah, I know who you mean..." From singing in school choirs to specials in front of the church, it's been part of my entire life. Then I met Brad. My wonderful husband, formed to be perfect for me. And one of those perfections was that he sang! Played guitar, wrote his own music...as I listened to him write, I would hear the harmony that would fill out his song. Before we were even married, I was singing with him. For thirteen years, we literally made music together.
Now, though...now that part of us is over. And it's sad. And we've cried a bit...maybe more than a bit. There is a feeling of lostness floating around that area of my heart.
I'm not telling you so you will feel sorry for me, though I assume you will. I want you to know that I have lost something. In case you have lost something too...so you will know it's ok to be sad. What do we do in these times colored by a "little" death?
We have faith. Faith that God knows what He is doing, even if we have no idea. But I've heard that word applied in other ways too, and it frustrates me. I have to share, lest you fall into this mindset.
Lots of people know by now that I've lost my voice. And I get so many responses...a very common one is, "Well, God can heal that...you just have to have faith." Or, "I just know God will restore your voice; you have so much faith!"
I do have faith. I could not endure what has happened if it weren't for my faith. I have faith in my Creator, that He can heal me. I have faith in my Savior, that He has a plan for me. I have faith in my heavenly Father, that He will protect me from what I cannot handle. But my faith does not obligate God to do anything.
You see, we've got it backward. We think of those who have faith as having this key to bending God's ear (and will) to their desires. But that's not what the Bible says about faith. Here is a brief overview from Hebrews 11 (ESV):
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God...
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain...
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death...
By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household...
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
By faith he went to live in the land of promise...
By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive...
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac...
By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.
By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.
By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents...
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter...
By faith he left Egypt...
By faith he kept the Passover...
By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land...
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.
By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies...
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
Do you see the pattern? God sets a plan in motion, and calls His faithful to execute that plan. Abraham didn't offer up Isaac just because he had faith that God would raise his son from the dead. He was told to offer Isaac, and the faith he had in the Almighty gave him the strength to obey. Noah didn't build an ark because he had faith that God would save him from a flood. God told him he would send a flood, and Noah's faith pushed him to build the ark in the midst of persecution and ridicule from everyone around him.
God will not heal my voice simply because I have faith that He can. Make no mistake, I do have faith that my God can heal me completely! I have been too well blessed in the past month alone to doubt Him one bit. Rather, my faith is giving me the strength to walk the path He has chosen for me.
I don't know why this thing that has been so dear to me is being asked for. But, unlike Abraham, I do not expect God to restore it to me. You see, Abraham had been told his descendents would be innumerable. Isaac was the only son, and if God were to keep His own promise, Isaac would have to be restored to Abraham. I have no such promise. God has never once in my life told me He was going to do great things with my voice. But He has been preparing me. I didn't know for what, I just knew I needed to be ready.
And I am. My faith has given me all that I need...and I find that what I need is not complete healing, but rather complete dependence on the wisdom of my heavenly Father.
If you find yourself without something you have held dear, have faith, my friend! Faith that God has a plan, that He is clearing the way for something greater, that He knows your hurts and counts your tears...that He will give you the strength (and even moments of pure joy) to survive this trial. This is faith. Knowing that you don't have all the answers, but He does, and choosing to trust Him when you cannot see the road.
I have faith...and because of it I offer my voice as a sacrifice to His perfect will. One day He will make me perfect, and I will sing before His throne. But while I wait here on earth, my faith eases my loss.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Encouragement comes at just the right time. My great aunt sent me a card (thank you, by the way, to everyone who has sent cards and emails. I read them and re-read them, and they constantly bring me joy). I thought this card was particularly appropriate, and so I am sharing it with you:
The Oak Tree
A mighty wind blew night and day.
It stole the oak tree's leaves away,
Then snapped its boughs and pulled its bark
Until the oak tree was tired and stark.
But still the oak tree held its ground
While other trees fell all around.
The weary wind gave up and spoke,
"How can you still be standing, Oak?"
The oak tree said, "I know that you
Can break each branch of mine in two,
Carry every leaf away,
Shake my limbs, and make me sway.
But I have roots stretched in the earth,
Growing stronger since my birth.
You'll never touch them, for you see,
They are the deepest part of me.
Until today, I wasn't sure
Of just how much I could endure.
But now I've found, with thanks to you,
I'm stronger than I ever knew."
Thank you, Lord, for being my roots, my rock, my foundation. I know I could never do this on my own. You have sent me people and songs and verses and letters that have given just the right encouragement and love and laughter at just the right times. You know me better than I know myself and You have prepared my way and provided for my weaknesses. I love You, Lord, and I pray I can glorify Your name no matter what I may face next.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. - Psalm 73:25-26
"I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages." ~Spurgeon
Thursday, July 12, 2012
My first surgery on Friday was a walk in the park. I was in church Sunday morning and felt great. I suppose I expected to bounce back from this one just as quickly, but it has not happened. Tuesday morning there were no delays getting started. I barely had time to say hello to our dear friends who had driven hours to sit with Brad. They called my name and whisked me off to the long, dreamless sleep. Surgery went well, but recovery is slow. They keep saying how well I am doing...I'm just taking their word for it because I am worn out!
I have had so many wonderful people visiting me and caring for me. It's been incredible to see the outpouring of love that has happened over the past week or so. It's Thursday evening now, and I'm alone for the moment. Brad is having a game night with the kids. Kay spent the afternoon with me (I mainly slept, which I think is exactly what she came here to make sure I did) and my mother will be here in a little while so I'm not alone all evening.
They disconnected my fluids a little while ago, so now I am able to move around quite a bit more easily. I still have an IV in, mainly "just in case," I think. I have 2 drainage tubes that well be removed in the morning. It's hard for me to breathe...but I am walking on my own, I don't need help in the bathroom and I had a really good nap this afternoon. For these things I am very thankful. We are hoping I will be able to go home on Saturday.
So much has happened in so little time. And now I have adjustments to make that will take quite a while. I am numb from my jawline to my collar bone. Moving my head, neck and shoulders requires some thought now. My breath is shallow and quick. My body only has 90% of the oxygen that it used to...it doesn't sound like a big difference, but I can feel it! The breathing will get better as long as I stay active (which I am). The nerves may take years to repair themselves, but there is hope that one day they too will be back to normal.
One of the two nerves that control my vocal chords is gone. This has changed my voice. For those of you who know me, you will understand how big this is for me. My voice isn't as different as I thought it would be. But I don't know if I will be able to sing again. And if I do, it will never be the same.
Even in this God is merciful. There is a raspy, breathy sound when I speak...but I can still tell it's me. The louder I try to talk, the worse the difference. Maybe this is just God's way of cultivating a meek and quiet spirit in me! :-) None of my kids mentioned a difference at all, and I am thankful that this hadn't changed beyond recognition.
I can already see good coming from my illness. God is allowing me to be a tool used to reconcile relationships, to encourage others and to show the love His people have for one another. So even though this recovery is going to be a long, slow road, I am choosing to enjoy the drive. Each new turn reveals something beautiful.
Monday, July 9, 2012
So far in my journey, I've only shared the good I've seen. And there is SO much good, SO MUCH that I am thankful for. It is my first reaction (and it is a proper reaction) for me to be thankful. But there are other emotions. I would be wrong to ignore them our pretend they don't exist. Jesus cried when He was here on earth. He knows what it is to feel loss and pain. He does not expect me (or anyone else) to be emotionless or only joyful no matter what comes our way. So, to be honest with you, today was hard.
There are circumstances that I'm not ready to share with the general public yet. What I will share is that today, the day before this second, more aggressive surgery, was a possible "last day" for me in some regards. The probability is that after tomorrow, one area is my life will never be the same. And it's so much smaller than facing death, so much less than it could be...at moments I feel silly for being sad. But I am sad. And I did cry. And I did do things once more, just in case it will be "never again." And I did my best to honor God while doing it.
Here's the thing...death comes to this fallen, sinful world. My cancer is a direct result of sin and the curse upon the earth because of sin. The Bible tells us that rain falls on the just and the unjust. So I don't expect to escape life unscathed. I have seen comments people I don't even know are making because they've read my blog. "Incredible faith," "amazing woman," "sweet christian..." I take those compliments as a reflection of the peace that God has given me. But I am not as perfect as this makes me sound...however, God IS growing my faith, and He is allowing you to see it. So there must be a purpose in all of this. Without the cancer, how would my faith be shown? If there were no trials, would you know I trusted God? No, of course not...there would be no way you could see it in my life. But today I cried. Today I felt loss. Today I said goodbye to something that has been part of my identity for my entire life.
And I can still tell you tonight that my God is good.
He is perfectly able to protect me from loss...but He may ask me to die this little death for Him.
To show His strength growing in me more perfectly.
Maybe to remove one thing in my life that generates personal pride.
To allow me to worship Him more perfectly.
Maybe so I can really identify with someone who has lost an important part of themselves.
Whatever His plan, I pray:
"Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone and live so all might see the strength to follow Your commands could never come from me. Oh, Father, use my ransomed life in any way you choose, and let my song forever be, "my only boast is You!" Hallelujah, all I have is Christ, hallelujah, Jesus is my life!"
"Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it." Matthew 16:24-25