Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Normal is so Relative

  Part of the reason I write is for personal clarification.  It is so much easier to sort out what is going on in my heart and head when I put it on paper.  Another reason is so that my friends and family will be kept up to date with new information and know how best to pray for us.  The last reason I write and post these blogs is so that, in the future, maybe some dear soul who is dealing with the same thing I am dealing with now will know what to expect and will take comfort in knowing that someone has gone through it ahead of them.  This blog is especially for that last group; to let you know that in these situations, feeling out of control is pretty normal.
  It's been a crazy couple of weeks.  Beginning with the week leading up to my scans (I have a friend who calls it "scanxiety,").  On Thursday I went to the Dr. and was told to start the low iodine diet the next day.  Friday through Sunday were ok, but I kept forgetting that I was on that stupid diet.  I didn't eat anything I shouldn't, but I would be cooking and thinking, "Oh, this is going to taste so good!" and then suddenly remember that no matter how good it turned out, I couldn't eat it.  I think mostly this was because I didn't expect to jump into diets and scans so immediately after my appointment.  I thought I would have a couple weeks to prepare and plan my meals, but I didn't.  I am thankful that I had already found a staple meal that I enjoyed (when I was on the diet the first time), so I just went back to that for the week.  There was also a lot of explaining how my appointment went to tons of people.  And telling everyone that you've had an appointment and you're doing something new, but there really isn't any news yet is kind of frustrating.  Friends and family want progress, and the waiting can be as hard on them (though in a different way) as it is on me.  It's been almost a year since my surgeries, and that's a long time to have few "real" answers.
  By Monday I thought I had everything under control.  I had decided I was just going to get this week over and be done, and that I would be fine.  Funny thing is, you can't just decide stuff like that.  I still had anxiety. I just refused to think about it!  So I had to go get a shot on Monday.  I didn't think it would be a big deal, as often as I have had blood draws and IVs over the past year.  In my mind, I would sit in the little chair, lay my arm on the flat armrest and have it done.  I was a little nervous that the medicine might burn going in, but other than that, I was ok.  Then the nurse came in and told me the shot had to go in my backside.  Don't ask me why this freaked me out, but it did.  I don't think I've had a shot back there since I was a little girl getting tubes put in my ears.  I think mostly it was just that, once again, I was unprepared for what I had to do.  But I'm a big girl, and a little needle isn't  going to get the best of me!  So I forced my body to relax as I awkwardly waited for the shot.  The medicine didn't burn a bit.  And that's about the only thing I had time to think before I started to black out.  The room was spinning, everything was black, and, even though I could hear the nurse talking, I could not understand what she was saying, much less follow her instructions.  I was holding onto the table I had been leaning over for dear life.  She had to pull a chair up behind me and force me back into it.  Finally my head started to clear.  I felt foolish and weak and (as is normal for me when I pass out), I was very emotional.  I cried a little bit to the nurse.  Then on my way home I called my husband, my mom, and a couple of my closest friends and I cried then too.  Poor Caryn got the full deluge of my emotions.  Fears I didn't even know I had came pouring out and I cried and cried.
  I learned that day (once again) that it's ok to fear.  I know I cannot live in fear, but fear is very real, and needs to be faced.  I cannot overcome it on my own...but if I don't acknowledge it, then I cannot even allow the peace of God to cover it.  I found things I didn't know were hiding in my heart, and I'm thankful for that day.  I also had to promise everyone that I wouldn't go alone to the rest of my appointments that week!
  Tuesday, I had to get another shot and my sister-in-law went with me.  It was very uneventful (I knew what to expect this time!), but she and I had a very nice trip to Murfreesboro and back.  It gave us rare, kid-free conversation!  That night, I left work early.  I had started feeling dizzy after the second shot, and I was too weak to keep up with production.  I was hoping I would be able to come back after my scan Friday morning, since I would be able to take my medicine and eat "real food" once the scan was done.
  Wednesday, I had a few appointments.  I had to get blood drawn, register with the hospital for my scan at the end of the week, and meet with my surgeon for a check-up.  My mom and my daughter went with me.  We stopped to pick up my dad for lunch between appointments.  We went to IHOP and I had a bowl of  mixed fruit.  I don't like honeydew.
  The appointments were mostly, "hurry up and wait."  The actual "doing" didn't take long at all.  I did have an informative visit with my surgeon.  He confirmed that half of my vocal chords still have absolutely no movement, but that the other half is compensating well.  He said singers have the most success in this type of situation, so (once again) I am thankful for all the years of singing that have trained my vocal cords to stretch beyond what they would normally do.
  Thursday, I was able to just stay home.  I still wasn't back to work, and it was nice to have a day with my family where I didn't go anywhere at all.  But the next day I had my scan, and as much as I smiled and loved on my kids and just took time to be close to my family, underneath it all there was a little knot in my stomach over the upcoming scan.
  Friday came soon enough.  A dear friend was able to ride with me to the hospital.  The scan it's self was easy.  Lay on a table for about 20 minutes while you get moved slowly through a huge machine.  I think I dozed off for a few minutes somewhere in there (it's best to keep your eyes closed, since the machine is a very few inches from your face, which can make you feel claustrophobic).  Then they have the radiologist take a preliminary look at the results before they let you go.  Unfortunately for me, the radioactive iodine hadn't moved through my system as completely as they needed it to, so they asked me to come back the next morning for another scan.  So much for going in to work on Friday!
  Saturday came and my sister rode with me this time.  Since it was the weekend, the area of the hospital that we needed to go to was next to empty.  They didn't have to scan the lower third of my body this time, so that knocked a few minutes off of the time I was in the machine.  That day I was more nervous than the day before; having to come back for anther scan wasn't sitting well with me.  But finally we were done, and then my sister and I went out for a wonderful brunch!  I ate an omelet stuffed with all sorts of meat and cheese.  My stomach was upset later from the sudden change in diet after such bland food for a week, but it was SO worth it!
  Now all we had to do was wait for the results.  I went back to work on Monday.  My mom made arrangements to go with me for the results, which would be Thursday.  Brad and I didn't talk about it much that week, but it was weighing on both of us.  He would randomly ask me if I was ok.  And, slowly, I became ok.  As I prepared myself for Thursday, I was given a strength and peace that had been missing.  On Thursday I was ready for anything.  Brad called me before I left the house to pray with me.  We both began to cry, but I was able to honestly pray, "not my will, but Yours."  I cannot say that at that moment I knew that the cancer wasn't totally gone, but I can say that I was completely prepared for bad news.  There is a reason it's called, "peace that passes understanding."  I still don't understand how I can face this illness and not have constant worry or pain or anger or fear or sorrow.  But the peace is there.  I'm not saying the other feelings are never around, of course.  Just that...God wins.  I trust Him and whatever He has planned for me.
  So now we just have to decide what we're going to do about the remaining cancer.  I'm still up in the air about it.  At first, it made sense to go through with another round of radiation.  And maybe that IS the best course.  I'm just not as sure about it as I was.  The oncologist suggested that course, and it is the easiest, fasted route to take.  But I scheduled an appointment with my surgeon for the same day as I meet with my general practitioner, early next month.  I feel like I need perspectives from both of them before I decide for sure what to do.  My other option would be to have more scans done before we proceed with any treatment, just to be sure we know exactly where the cancer is, how big it is, and anything else that is currently unknown.  So please pray for wisdom in this area.
  After my results on Thursday, I wanted to be close to my family.  And my birthday was on Saturday.  So we went to a matinee showing of Man of Steel, then came home to a huge birthday party with my entire family at my house.  On Sunday we went to my parents' house after church for lunch and didn't end up coming home until around 10.  I loved spending time with everyone, but it made for a very busy weekend.  Monday was a more physical day at work than usual, and on Tuesday I finally crashed.  The heat and emotional roller coaster of the last two weeks, topped by the (wonderful, yet) busy weekend all finally caught up to me.  I didn't do much of anything yesterday, and the rest was very good for me.  Even now, I'm worn out, but I'm much better than I was yesterday.  Brad is in a very similar state.  This is another way you can pray for us; that we would get the rest we need and that we would recover quickly from this draining experience.
  I hope reading this is helpful to someone.  Even if what you're facing isn't cancer, there is a natural process to dealing with trauma, and it's fine to go through that process.  It's normal, and it doesn't mean you're weak or have no faith.  You need to mourn loss, you need to acknowledge fear.  But remember not to live in those low spots.  Pray for strength and peace, and share your concerns with someone who will pray for you and with you.  Then lean on the One who gives you every breath and know that He is in control.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Why we're ok

  Until you're where I am, you just don't know.  You can see how I feel, you can read how I feel, you can even hurt in similar ways.  But you simply cannot KNOW what it's like.  But I will keep trying to explain and do my best to lead by example so that when your trial comes, you do not feel overwhelmed by it.  So that you will be encouraged and lifted up, as I have been by so many people.  This weekend was everything I could ask for, especially following the news that there is still cancer in my body.  I wanted to be surrounded by everything that I love, and I was.  But I get that look from everyone.  The one that wonders if I'm really handling things, or if I'm just covering up so no one will worry about me.  So many of you have read my blogs and followed along with my ups and downs because you really do care how I'm doing.  And you really want to do whatever you can for my family and myself.  And I cannot tell you what that means to me.  In reality, how I'm doing changes from moment to moment.  I do sorrow, I do fear.  I don't want to think about going on the low iodine diet again.  It wasn't horrible, but it's not something I would choose to do on my own.  I don't want to think about being in isolation again.  Being away from my family was rough.  They are the "why" behind everything for me, and without them to take care of, I'm less "me."  I really don't want to think beyond the next treatment, to the tests again and the anxiety of waiting to find out if radiation worked completely this time.
  So I think about other things.  And I am learning a lot.  So are other people.  Here is what my incredible husband had to say this weekend:

  Why am I thankful that my wife still has cancer?  Because I'm so prone to wander.  I'm so prone to get tired.  I'm so prone to get stale and callused.  I'm so prone to run from relationships when it doesn't benefit me.  Because by my wife still having cancer, I'm reminded that I'm utterly hopeless and shipwrecked without my Lord and Savior.  I'm reminded that I'm broken and crooked inside.  I'm reminded that so is everybody else, no matter how they try to dress themselves up.  I'm reminded that I desperately need the Gospel.  The Gospel has saved me, but it's still walking with me and holding my hand and, praise the Lord, the Gospel will one day lead me to a place where there will be no more cancer!  I'm reminded this morning that I haven't communed with my Lord in a long time.  Not just reading and praying; I've done those beautiful things.  But I'm talking about just being quiet and thinking high thoughts of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  You see, cancer brought me to this place this morning.  I'm reminded of my children, who need a daddy that won't give them the world, but will give them Jesus.  I'm reminded that time is precious, and we don't have time to have unresolved conflicts with our brothers and sisters in Christ or our family.  I've come to realize that we only have this moment to reflect the Gospel, because we are not promised tomorrow.  I'm reminded that I love the Lord and need him desperately!  I'm reminded that though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil, the for the Lord is with me.  I'm reminded that the Lord gives and takes away; blessed be the the name of the Lord!  Oh yes, my friends  I pray that Mr. Cancer does not come for an extended stay.  I hope and pray that he is just passing through.  But no matter what He decides, I'm so thankful that the Lord has blessed us with his company.  You see, I'm just starting to understand something this morning:  That cancer has been the best pastor and teacher I've ever had.

Love Bradly Allen Swander

  With such a husband to lead me, is it any surprise that I continue to learn and grow?  Though we may weep together at times, we also draw from the same strength.  We place our trust in the Almighty together.  Not just my health, but US.  Our future, how much of it we have together, what we are to do with the time we are given.
  My thoughts have run close to Brad's over the past few days.  Time and relationships are no longer cheap.  The knowledge that we don't have forever is constantly in my mind.  Whoever said, "There's always tomorrow," lied.  Sometimes there's only today.  So use today!  Not only do you not have the promise of tomorrow, those around you don't either.  It could be cancer, or a car wreck, or old age, or a freak heart attack that takes your neighbor, child, brother, parent or cousin.  What regrets would you have?  What have you not said or done that you should?
  If you are close to me, you know that there have been several conflicts in my family over the years.  I will not get into details, but I will use my family as an example for you.  As I was working on Friday night, I was excited about my birthday party that was being planned for Saturday.  And I was thinking about the tension that comes and goes between family members.  I talked to them in my mind, and what I "said," I ask you to apply to your own life:
  What if this were my last birthday?  What if next year, I'm not here?  What would you do June 15th, 2014 if I'm gone?  I can imagine that there would be some sort of day of remembering.  My sister would probably spend months gathering pictures and stories about me and putting it all together.  Then she would start inviting people to come on my birthday to be together, to remember the time we spent together, to tell stories about me that my kids would remember, to watch the slide show that she had made.
  So, my sister, who would you invite?  Would you leave someone out because of a conflict?  Because it would make someone else uncomfortable to have them there?  Of course not.  You would want everyone who loved me to be there.  You would want to honor my memory this way.
  So, those of you who are invited, would you come?  Or would you wait to see who was coming before you decided?  Would you skip this opportunity to laugh and cry with my friends and family just because you might have gotten upset at someone else who would be there?  I would hope not.  I would hope that you could set these insignificant matters to the side, at least for a time.
  And if those things that you're upset about can be put aside for a moment, is it possible that maybe they're not all that important after all?  That maybe the biggest thing in the way of loving relationships is pride?  If you could set aside that pride for a day of peace spent together to love on my family and share the burden of loss, than do you think that maybe you could put things in perspective and do that now?
  Or do I have to die first?
  Because, my loved ones, I am willing to give whatever it takes to heal the hearts of those that I love.  I have seen God use this illness in me to do so much, and the fact that I am not healed yet tells me that He is not done using my sickness for His purposes.
  But if it takes that, then shame on you!  If a loss that great is the only thing that will cut past pride and selfishness, shame on you.  Not because I am not willing to be used, but because Christ has already died to show you how to love one another!  And in comparison to Him, my life is worth nothing.
  I know it's not as easy as just deciding to be done letting things bother you.  And yet, it actually is that easy in many ways.  When you are where I am, it's that easy.  When you really understand in your heart that you are not promised tomorrow, it's simple to forgive completely, to love deeply and to find joy where there was pain.  To allow Christ to change your heart in a way you've always been afraid to before.  To become so new that even if you live through the fire, the person who comes out of it will look totally different from the one who went in.
  This is why I am ok.  Why, even though I mourned and cried, I am fine right now.  It's why I can actually be thankful for cancer.  Because I have learned so much about what love is and how it really looks.  Our words are so insignificant and meaningless.  But God is teaching me to hold the truly precious things close.  And maybe because I am going through this, someone else will learn these lessons through my example instead of by trial.  Maybe it's you, my faithful reader.  Maybe I have cancer so that you will read this and your heart will be softened and you will restore a broken relationship.  Maybe it's so that you will seek the One who gives the peace and incomprehensible love that He is giving me.  I am humbled by the things that have happened around me this past year, and I looking forward to seeing what God will do next.  It makes my trials pale in significance.  He makes me ok.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I know...

  I know a man who is dying of cancer.  He has skin cancer, but it's growing inside his sinuses and there is no way to treat it.  He has a constant headache.  But he never complains about his illness.  He knows that he will be lucky to live another 5 years.  Yet he is at work every day.  He does his job as well as he ever did.  Most people don't have any clue that he is sick.  Once there were tears in his eyes when he talked to me about it, but most days he stops just to ask how I am doing.  He tells me not to worry about him:  "I wouldn't have much time left in this body anyway."
  I know a single mother who is spending this week changing her entire future.  She had the perfect job lined up in another town and was going to move next month.  But her sister passed away over the weekend and everything changed.  Now she won't move, but will change jobs; from an office to a factory for the pay raise.  Not moving because it would put her further from the three children her sister left behind.  Decisions about where she lives and how much money she makes now revolve around how she can help raise these precious, motherless innocents.
  I know men who work 8, 10, 12 hour days 5, 6, 7 days a week at jobs they hate for bosses who are unfair all so that they can provide for their families.  Keep mama home as much as possible.  Be able to put shoes on growing feet, food in young bellies and that special gift next to the birthday cake.
  I know a couple heartbroken over the loss of their unborn child.  But they continue to find ways to bring joy to those around them.
  I know a boy who has lost memory, sight, and the hope of a normal future to illness.  I know two girls who's parents dare not dream for more than seeing their daughter reach 25 years old.  These families will watch as their beautiful babies get older but do not develop properly.  They will watch these diseases cripple and finally kill.  Yet they use their trials to be a witness to others.
  I know a family who longs for a child that they may never be allowed to hold again, because of the actions of a selfish, prideful, greedy, evil person.  Yet they pray for the salvation of that very person.

  I know a God who has put these people in my path to encourage me as I see their grace and strength in the midst of the fire.
  I know He will carry me through whatever the future holds.
  I know His people are praying for me.
  I know He has written my story with the perfect ending, though I do not yet know what that end is.
  I know I am surrounded by His love.
  I know that I can face tomorrow.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

One Perfect Moment

  Tonight I sit on my front porch, with a cold glass of thirst-quenching yumminess beside me, a cloudy night sky above me and the cool summer night air wrapped around me.  The scents of fresh cut lawns and sweet hay drift to me from neighboring acres.  Crickets sing, a dog barks, and I even hear a bat as it searches for it's evening meal.  My children are all clean and tucked safely in bed.  All of their friends have gone home, leaving a cozy peacefulness in our house.  My husband entered the Sandman's arena an hour ago, but I know that (even after over 13 years together) when I come to bed he will reach for me in his sleep and hold me close.  There is a peace and gentleness in my soul that has not come from myself.  I look forward to the praise, worship and teaching that will come tomorrow.  Tonight is a perfect night.
  I am so thankful for this moment.  I am fixing it in my mind to remember.  Something to be thankful for no matter what.  That today, God gave me exactly what my heart desired.  It's not anything spectacular by the world's standards, but it is exactly what I was craving.  Just that moment where everything is still and right in this busy, broken world.
  In one week, I will turn 36.  And before that day, I should know whether my 37th year on this earth will be "normal" or filled with a fight for my life.
  It's a scary thing to think about.  As a matter of fact, I haven't let myself think about it much because of how scary it could be.  Even "normal" will never be the same for me as it was before.  Worse than this new normal is something I don't want to dwell on.
  Statistics say I shouldn't worry.  It's "just" thyroid cancer.  Possibly the most curable cancer we know of.  Nothing to get worked up about.  The Bible says I shouldn't worry.  Because even if I do, it can't cure me of cancer and add even an hour to the life that God has planned for me to live.
  I believe the Bible.  And I even believe the statistics.  So this concern has not wrapped me up and paralyzed me.  But there is a real fear.  Fear of the unknown, mostly.  How can I prepare for whatever the future holds while we wait to know at least what direction that future is headed?
  I am not going to complain.  And I'm not going to go into all of what a bad test result might mean for me.  I have spent this past week dealing with it personally and sharing with a very few close friends.  I didn't deal with it until this week because I didn't have to.  But now (finally), I have had the scans we've been waiting for since my surgery last July.  These scans will tell us if there are still thyroid cancer cells still in my body.  So I was forced to think about it all week long.  For a week, my life was focused on preparing for this scan...and that turned out to be a much more emotional thing than I had expected.
  But tonight...tonight I have a gift.  The gift of enjoying all of the good around me.  To accept the perfect things that God has provided in my life.  Maybe He gave me this moment as a balm for my weary heart after such a difficult week.  Or maybe He gave it to me so that I would have something peaceful to remember through the coming storm.  Either way, I am thankful.  And tomorrow I will join my brothers and sisters in Christ to worship Him and thank Him and glorify Him.  And if next week brings tears and sorrow...well, deep in my heart, anchored more surely than any fear I may have, is a peace that tells me that when the winds blow too strong for me to stand, I will be held.  It's not a promise of joy and ease and healing, but it is (and always will be) enough.  I have walked a different path than most because this is the path that Christ marked out for me.  I hold onto that knowledge.  It's not easy, and I don't want you to think that it's easy for me.  Let me say it again, it is not easy.  But neither is it too hard.  You think you could never endure such a thing...and then it happens, and God says, "I will give you the strength you need for this day.  You do not have enough of your own, but I have unending strength, and I give it to those who are mine."  So you live one day at a time.  And you deal with your illness (or poverty, or loss, or persecution) one event at a time.  And then you know, as you never knew before, that He is everything.  And if He chooses to ask of you everything, it is your honor to give it for His glory.
  This one perfect moment, I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt.  This moment, fear has been banished. It will creep back in, as it always does.  But I have been given a perfect moment and in that moment, I see how His grace abounds.  And there is nothing but gratitude left in me.
  Now as I head to join my faithful, loving husband for the night, I pray that your faith may be grown, as mine continues to be.