Thursday, July 2, 2015

Cancer Free

     My plan is for this blog to be my last. With great respect for all the cancer survivors out there, I am not going to say I feel great. I'm not ready to celebrate my freedom from cancer by going for  hike in the nearest park. That's not real. In reality my body is more like Europe after WWII. I won the war, but there's a lot of work to be done to be as I was before. My oncologist tells me I will feel well sometime next spring. In the meantime I do see small improvements everyday. I enjoy my daily nap and I pray that I will be one of the lucky ones whose side effects completely disappear. I will be on drugs to stop the proliferation of the cells that caused the cancer for five years. This means the possibility of new side effects. That's enough of the bad news. I just wanted everyone to know that when you see a posting on Facebook of a bald person saying they are cancer free, you shouldn't assume they feel great and just need to grow some hair! Chemotherapy damages your whole body and healing is slow.

     So the good news is I am truly cancer free. What a gift to be able to say that. Modern medicine is fascinating. I have another chance to make healthy choices for my life and see if I can achieve not being in this predicament again.  My faith has seen me through, but I still don't want to do it again!

     I believe there is resurrection after death. I believe that light follows darkness. I believe that evil can be overcome by goodness. Cancer is an evil and through advancements in medical science the cancer cells were killed. That would have been enough to rejoice in, but that evil of cancer also brought forth the most unbelievable flood of love and support. I was overwhelmed by your acts of kindness. I can't imagine anyone anywhere getting better care. I have kept a box of my cards and letters. How could I throw away such generous heartfelt words of support? I have the poster my daughters made in my office. I am so loved. Did I need to get cancer to figure that out? I hope not, and yet the multitude of people reaching out really surprised me and made me overwhelmed at times. You are really great and my life is awesome. Gratitude is the only word I can use to express how I feel.

     So here is how I was when I was diagnosed:

     And here's what I look like now. My daughter, Melanie, the photographer, likes to take this three generation shot when she comes to visit. This is the first time Isa isn't the one who changed the most!

     I remember learning in nursing school that there have been cases of a person's hair turning gray or white overnight by stress. I was intrigued by this thought. Add to that fact that I also always loved very curly hair. Well, though I did have to go hairless for 4+ months, I now have very curly gray hair. It's fun! I don't feel as if I'm looking at myself when I look in a mirror, but I suppose that will come with time.

     Since I have a larger audience than I've ever had in my life, I'd like to take the opportunity to tell you the main reason for my confidence and optimism as I live out my life. When I was a teenager, I managed to break most of the Ten Commandments. I didn't have an evil bone in my body. I just wanted to please people and one thing led to's not an uncommon story. Well, interestingly, when my sin ended up affecting those closest to me, I did not feel guilt or remorse. Instead, I felt anger at how others reacted to my sin. It wasn't until Walt and I were invited to a weekend retreat for renewal at the age of 27 that I saw how my sin put others in a place where they had to respond and that was an unloving thing to do because they were not equipped. Realizing that every sin, big and little, affects the lives around me brought me to true repentance. I had a deep sorrow for what I had done. I experienced real forgiveness from Jesus who wiped my sin away. All those years I tried to justify my sin and keep myself from experiencing guilt. Then I ended up with a new life by seeing my guilt and calling it what it was. If I could do anything with the rest of my life, it would be to invite everyone to that same place of forgiveness, healing, and new life. I have beaten cancer, but I know it was way easier than if I had to do it without the knowledge that the love of Christ was at my side. If you don't know Jesus and his love for you, I encourage you to search deeper. He's alive and well.

     Some final business notes: I was unable to keep 100% accuracy on my "gift tracking". If you gave me these items, would you let me know so I can properly thank you? I love them all.

    I finished radiation one week ago and in another week I'm hoping my burns will be healed over. One more week after that Walt and I will take our first real vacation since last August. For most people that's right on time, but for us it's feels like an eternity ago. Our nephew, Scott McCarthy, is getting married on August 1st in Pennsylvania and then we're headed for Long Island. We'll be there for the week, or at least most of the week. Contact me if you're reading this and you'll be around. One of my true supporters through this ordeal has been Anthony Nunziato from high school days. He has beaten cancer twice and tells me I have to get up every day and fight to be well. Imagine the connection through the years. I probably hadn't talked to Nunz (obviously a high school nickname) in 25 years, but the bonds of youth and cancer brought us together again. Thanks, Nunz, and hope you have a free night while we're in NY so I can share my gratitude in person.

     Thus ends my first experience of blogging. It's been great. You've been great. Now let's get out there and love one another while we can!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Two Weeks Out

I'm two weeks out from telling you there's no evidence of cancer in my body!  I am tired and itchy, but oh so much better than I was in March! I don't know what the pain of cancer feels like, but I can tell you the treatment is a real killer! As it should be, I suppose. As of now, that's the only way we can cure cancer. Kill it! 

I'm done with chemo and surgery. I have 21 out of 30 radiation treatments behind me. I feel like this marathon is in it's last couple of miles and I'm ready for it to be over! Here's what I've been busy doing since April: 

April 23rd

June 12th

Now don't anyone get funny and say I've been bending my glasses!  I don't know why that's a continual problem for me. I've been growing hair! I realize this isn't something I had to keep "busy" at, but it is nice to have a new "thick as before" crop of hair growing on my head. I've been told if I went to NYC, there'd probably be lots of women with this style. Well, maybe...but, I doubt it. But it's much improved from bald, so I'm happy. 

A Helen Keller quote that I haven't verified is, "Although the world is full of suffering, it's also full of the overcoming of it." I have a hard time putting myself into a group of "sufferers."  Jesus suffered. The Christians in Rome who were eaten by lions suffered. The Lost Boys of Sudan suffered. (If you haven't seen the movie "The Good Lie", it's a fictional story of these people and I highly recommend it). Those who saw battle in any war suffered. And any mother who has watched her child die has suffered much more than I. There has been, however, a definite bump in my easy life.  Maybe scripture said it best in John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” I have had some trouble, and the fact that the Lord reigns in spite of that fact, is a source of great peace. 

George MacDonald, a Christian minister of the 19th Century wrote, "the Son of God suffered unto this death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like his."  This puts a different angle on whatever we want to say it is that "we suffer" from.  Jesus' suffering was done autonomously, selflessly, and completely (unto his death). That's a lot to unpack. I can't claim autonomy. I did not want cancer. But then, Jesus didn't want to have the passion either. What was the agony in the garden about except Jesus saying, "Can't you think of some other plan?" But he struggled with it and finally owned the plan. He didn't say yes and then mutter under his breath that the Father made him do it. Autonomy is something I want for all of my life. Not just my journey through cancer. Secondly, Jesus' passion was totally selfless. There is no greater selfless act known to man. He's a sinless man taking on the sins of the world as his own. I can't even think of how I can take my cancer and even try to have it shadow such a feat. When I was offered to be in a clinical trial to help NIH learn more about the standards for treatment I said yes so my experience could in some way help those coming down the road. It's a very small thing, but there is no other way I have found my present predicament to be selfless. And, lastly, Jesus' suffering was complete unto his death. I hope Reverend MacDonald meant Jesus was a model for all those who need to endure. And that's where I am now. I need the grace to endure without whining and complaining. I really am much better than I was in March. Maybe that's why I have more energy to think about complaining! Lord, let me look to you and be revived! 

C.S. Lewis may have said what I need to hear most. In his book, The Problem of Pain, he writes, "...nor have I anything to offer my readers except my conviction that when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all." Walt continues to shine the love of Christ on me in his faithfulness in good times and in bad. I am surrounded by my blood family who call, text, and email faithfully. I have the People of Praise who live daily with me and help with the big decisions like when to remove my hat, and those at church and elsewhere. In other words, I am flooded with the love of God and so I have all I need to endure to the end. I just need a gentle reminder here and there. 

Thanks for sharing in this journey with me. I ask for prayers for my endurance, and a complete healing for my friend Geriann whose brain tumors are growing again. (January 27th post) She'll be retested in the fall, and I'd love to be the witness of her miracle. 

Love you all! 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Spring has Sprung!

For about a month now, upon arising from a chair, I walk a few minutes like Tim Conway playing an old lady. You older ones (like me) should remember this. It's quite disconcerting to actually feel like Tim Conway. I can not stand up straight because I am unconsciously trying not to put weight on my feet. I totter, I'm not sure why, but it seems that I can't put my feet out in front of one another. Again, this is all on the unconscious level. I noticed the longer I'm mobile, the more it corrects itself. So, there was good news this week. For the first time since my diagnosis I walked to Riley Hospital (about a mile) and had lunch with the fine lady above, Robin. We used to meet for lunch every other week, then cancer stopped it abruptly. After lunch, I went with two other sisters in Christ to visit a nursing home. Again, I hadn't done it since my diagnosis. It was a day of victory. The feeling of getting my life back. My feet hurt, but who cares. I can function and I'm getting out there. I'll tell you how it happened. 

To begin with, another secret: when someone compliments me, I am very likely to think, "They are so nice. I bet they say nice things to everyone. I should be more like that." Although not a horrible thing to think, it robs the person of conveying a message to me. Maybe they were really trying to tell me what virtue I hold. Or maybe, God was trying to use them to tell me what virtue I hold. And so, on thinking about this, I saw the whole problem. If I listen to compliments, I will get, as my culture growing up would say, "full of myself". This is not my desire. But if being a Christian means to be busy about doing what our Father wants done, I had better know what my gifts (or virtues) are, right?
Anyway, being a Christian I know that any quality I possess is only because it was given to me. So, I thought some more and decided to take your comments seriously. 

Well, I can't do much more than laugh at the comments of how great I look! I'm sorry. I'm just not there yet. But I remember how when my mother-in-law was dying of Alzheimer's some of the recreation staff would say she was "gorgeous". She sure did like that and I believed it. When you work in a nursing home, you see a lot of beauty. It's often in the eyes or the face. I can't always tell where, but there is an aura of beauty. And so I'll have to go along with all of you who think I look great. The thing I had to act on, though,  was strength. Several of you say I am such a strong woman. I sure don't feel like it! But I decided to take it seriously. I'm learning the answer to my own question about what it means to fight like a girl. I've been pushing myself everyday in exercise. I don't always like it, but I want to move forward. I was feeling like I was accomplishing much. Then the radiation schedule got put back another week and I felt desolate. I cried out to the God. The Father. Then the Son. Then the Holy Spirit. Then Mary. I kid you not. I have never done this before. I said, "Enough! You've got to do something to get me out of this!" It was the next day that I walked to the hospital and went to the nursing home. I suddenly didn't care if the radiation people ever got my paperwork in order. I'm fighting a disease one day at a time and pushing myself to have as much of my old life back as I can. I am being strong. It's a purposeful decision. I had a great week. I cooked, saw 2 movies with Walt, and only had to take 2 naps. They were less than 30 minutes each. I'm back! If strong is what I am, then I'll use it. 

Speaking of strong, my daughter Katie came to visit last weekend. She is the mother of 9 children. The youngest, Mary Kate, came with her. We had a delightful weekend and even got to play a little flute together. God is good! 

Have you heard of short timers? They are people in the military who are counting their days until discharge. Mostly, they are not into their job anymore.  In high school it's called senior-itis. Every school class gets spring fever. That's how I feel. I've got this radiation thing looming in my future, but I am so done with this experience! I will just keep remembering how the same power that conquered the grave lives in me, so I will be strong and get through what I need to. I will blog if I feel like it, but I hope in 7 weeks time to just tell you all that I am cancer free. Oh what a day! Enjoy the spring everyone. It has certainly sprung! 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Back In My Office

Here's me in my office. It's been a long time since I've spent a morning here. I have a story board behind me that was supposed to be my next nursing project. I don't know if that project will ever happen. It feels good to be in here, though, even if just to send emails and write my blog. I have accomplished a few victories over the last 2 weeks and getting into my office is one of them. Then there's exercise. I could not move any of my core muscles on demand a month ago. I started exercising two weeks ago and they have returned! Of course, they are mini-core muscles, but I can at least feel what it is I'm working on. I've been sleeping great and eating like it's Easter (candy). Ok, I'm not perfect and that needs to change. My stomach problems and fatigue are ancient history. I am opening my own jars again (muscle weakness is another side effect of chemo), and sound the trumpets! I have fuzzies under my turban. I should take a weekly picture. It's just wild to look at. I can't tell yet what color it will be when it gets longer.

One funny thing that happened to me this week was that my eyesight improved. This was another chemo side effect dissipating. The funny part was that I saw my eyebrows for the first time in more detail. I looked like a cancer patient! It's funny how the denial is slowly challenged. Having cancer is so surreal. By the time I finally accept it, I'll be cured. Praise God!

Another amusing thing is the change to spring. I had a regular head wardrobe figured out and it was working fine. As fun as the wig is, it's not comfortable, so I only wear it for big gatherings. I like the hats and scarves better. Well, spring has sprung and most of my regulars are now too hot to wear comfortably. I think I'll be wearing the baseball cap look for daily wear before too long. If you are one of the generous women who gave me a winter scarf and would like it back for next year, please let me know. They were all great and I loved having a scarf for each of my sweaters!

I am very grateful to God that we got to go to Easter Sunday festivities at James and Katie's house (my daughter and son-in-law). I had my mother, sister, nephew, 3 daughters and sons-in-laws, and 14 grandchildren there. My grandson, Michael, received First Communion at morning Mass. What a treasure and what a blast to be together for the day! My feet were hurting but it didn't distract me from the fun we all had! Here's my mom massaging my foot while my sister, mom, and I chat. What blessed time! Aren't moms great?

And here's Michael opening his gifts. 

As I said, I am so grateful I could be there. You just don't know how much I've been missing. So, I'm back home and ready to start radiation. I've got two weeks more to wait. I'm going to exercise and get stronger and probably grow some more hair. I'll enjoy spring. And I'll remember that the victory is already ours in Jesus Christ. It is true. He is risen. I wish all people would believe it. Last Sunday's gospel was the story of Thomas. Thomas wasn't there when the rest of the disciples saw the risen Jesus. Here's how it is written in John 20: 
But he said to them,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked, 
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”

A week later! Can you imagine being with the disciples the first week after being with the risen Christ and not believing?  To be in a room with people giddy with excitement over the the fact that the world had just changed for all eternity and not experience the joy is a bad experience at best. And so it was with Thomas. His best friends had just come to realize Jesus was the expected savior heralded by the Jewish people. But Thomas couldn't believe. He saw the world around him. Sin and suffering was everywhere. How could Jesus be the Christ? Poor Thomas. It must have been very frustrating and intensely isolating. It's no wonder Jesus' first words to Thomas were, "Peace be with you." He certainly needed peace! But note what else Thomas needed. He didn't just want to set eyes on the risen Lord, he wanted to put his finger into the nail marks and his hand into his side that was pierced. I hear him saying, "Are you kidding me? You who carried the cross and suffered excrutiating trials- you are the same person who stands here alive as Savior?" Or, "Is there really victory over the grave?" Or, "You mean, we really have nothing to be afraid of?" Or as the psalmist said, "Oh death where is your sting?" I am sure Thomas wasn't at Jesus' first visit after the resurrection for a good reason. People like me need to hear his story again and again. When I'm in pain I doubt there's a good reason for it. Even though I am surrounded by loved ones who pray for my healing, I don't see it happening and am frustrated by the things I can't do. But then I think about Thomas and Jesus. Jesus showed Thomas that the road of suffering was real and that the victory was his. He invites us to follow him. We are free to follow him. We can choose to give him our suffering - we can even ask him to use it for the benefit of someone else who is in trouble or suffering. We can do that and know that if we are united with Jesus in suffering, we will be united with him in the victory. The resurrection is ours to enjoy. It's the end of the story for all who believe. With Jesus living in me my feet are a little less a bother. With Jesus I have no fear of radiation. With Jesus I look forward to the time when I announce I am healed. It feels like a long road right now, but Jesus is with me and in me every step of the way. 

Thanks for listening to my rambling. If you have something you want me to pray for, please let me know. I'm bringing a lot up in prayer lately. I will make you my priority. Christ is risen! Alleluia! 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Happy Easter!

Thanks to Irene for the card. I'm knocked off my feet! You are prophetic! 

Those of you who are old enough will remember Gilda Radner. She's one of my favorite comedians. Her character Roseanne Rosannadanna (or however she spelled it), has come to mind often this week. "It's always something!" Well my something at the moment is: my feet are killing me! I have gotten quite a number of well wisher notes that sound so excited for me. I'm done with chemo. I got to go on a weekend trip. It sounds like all is well. But that's not how I'm feeling it. Maybe it's just what happens after surgery. I remember week 3 after my other big operations. I wanted to be normal again. I wanted everything to work so I can live my life without thinking about my body. I am getting short tempered about my deficits. My peripheral neuropathy - a side effect of chemo - is quite painful and I just didn't want to get out of bed yesterday. And that's the way it was. I had a great weekend seeing wonderful people but I couldn't dance like I like to at weddings and on Sunday my feet were bad enough that I felt bad for Walt who had to walk next to me. It's so humbling to hobble around.

Of course, I did get up yesterday because that's just me. I forced myself out the door and what do you think happened? I saw the glory of God everywhere I went. First was the mom with two little girls. The girls were awestruck at the display of Easter lilies.  "Mom, look! They are beautiful!" This girl, undistracted by pain, was able to point out the natural beauty before me. God's creation. Thank you. Then I went to Trader Joe's where we know the manager. I received a warm greeting and how was Walt and what were we doing for the weekend. Just hearing his interest and all that we were doing for the weekend (regardless of sore feet) was enough to lift my mood. Then there was Costco. Our Costco has the friendliest staff imaginable. After that I went to the cleaners where a woman asked the cashier to have a blessed day and her smile just beamed like the sun. God in his glory had brought me from darkness to light through everyday people and experiences. Thank God I didn't stay in bed!

So I've been thinking a lot about suffering. Catholics celebrate Holy Thursday today. Jesus is celebrating the Last Supper knowing his greatest suffering was close at hand. He is thinking of his disciples and what they will go through because of their faith in him, so he washes their feet in service to them. They will soon become the servant leaders who will give their lives for others. They have plenty of suffering in their future. Listen to this news about suffering from Hebrews 4:

Although he was the son of God, Christ learnt to obey through suffering, and he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.

If Christ can learn through suffering, than so will I. I don't understand it, but I know he is in me and shares his life with me, and so I believe I will grow in obedience. Obedience to the Father's will. Now that's exciting. And I will celebrate tonight regardless of pain, because Jesus did. I live my life intentionally to give praise, honor, and glory to God. If I can't find him when I have suffering, what is my faith worth? I look around me and I see lots of people suffering worse than I. Faith - not pain - makes the difference in life. I am going through a difficult time but I am not alone. My needs are always met. My God hears my prayers. He is my strength and my fortress. These are not just mere words from scripture. They are my experience.

I was thinking I have been acting like the Israelites. My surgery was like the parting of the Red Sea. I came out of captivity (almost all the cancer is gone) and into the desert (post surgery and chemo). It didn't take me long to forget how bad it was a month ago and start complaining about my neuropathy!  The Israelites said to God, "Why did you bring us out here to die in the desert?" I will not repeat history again. I know he has a plan and I am better off now than before. I will work on ending my complaining. May I never be found ungrateful. I've been given so much.

Then I was thinking about Easter. Easter is the biggest news ever. The death and rising of Our Lord has made a way for every person to live forever in the pain-free loving environment of heaven with him. It's the parting of the Red Sea that is for real taking us out of captivity. I don't know why the second coming is taking so long (I think it has something to do with God's love for us AND THE WORLD and our readiness), but it has created another desert like experience. We are not satisfied. We complain. We are redeemed people living in a world in desperate need of redeeming. But let's remember this Easter that the answer is already here. The love of God is alive and working in the world. He has given us his Holy Spirit to continue the work of renewal until he comes again. We don't have to give in to complaining! We have much proclaiming to do! You only have to look around you and you will find needs to be met in love!

Here is a blessing from Laura Brummer. She is a gifted artist and one of the Christians in Mission that we visited last weekend for John and Colleen Bowar's wedding. I "proclaim" these words to be true. Recognize the gift we have in an all loving God and have a Happy Easter everyone! If you aren't Christian and you are reading this, know God's love extends to all of us! He is there for us!

 We will celebrate Easter first with our campus team after Easter Vigil, then off to Michigan for family. Our grandson, Michael Fifelski, will make his First Communion Easter Sunday morning. What a rich life we have!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

For those of you waiting for an update - sorry about that. I never did ask Walt to post for me. Let me start where I left off:

From Ecclesiastes 4:9-10.

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.

I've been getting a lot of "help" this week. In the picture is my daughter, Melanie, and my Mom. They were here the day of surgery. I am constantly blessed beyond measure. For the record, my surgeon was correct. This surgery was a piece of cake compared to my earlier ones. I have two incisions on the side - under my arm - and they are healing well. My stomach is my biggest post op problem along with my emotions. I should have a lot of joy but it eludes me as of yet. More rest will help that I'm sure.

So the reason for the joy I should have is this: I received the best case scenario possible in my predicament. I was hoping for no cancer to be found. However, if that had been the case, I would have had a more radical surgery because that is the standard treatment given by the National Cancer Institute at this point in time. Instead, I had a teeny bit of cancer found in my second lymph node. This afforded me to become part of a research project to prove the radical surgery was no longer needed. This means I didn't have all my lymph nodes removed and I won't have shoulder and arm problems the rest of my life. Thank you Lord. The radiation that is planned for me should take care of the rest of the cancer - 90% chance. So I am grateful. Very grateful. But I'm also feeling like a marathoner who is only half way done with the course and I'm tired.  I have infusions to stop cancer growth every third week through December, and I start radiation for 4-6 weeks sometime next month.  The joyful emotions will come. I'm just focusing on the wrong things. I am, however, having fun times with friends and family.

Both Melanie and my Mom cook great so healthy and tasty meals are being consumed. My sister, Laurie, made it into town for the delayed St. Patrick's Day Feast on Thursday evening. The women's household made the cookies with Trish Olson helping out. The women's household and Cathy Schwab (Indy campus graduate '14 and leading a household in Minnesota) with her household joined us. It was a delightful evening. Here's a picture.

On Friday evening, we watched - third time for me and Walt - Dean Jones in "St. John in Exile."  If you haven't had the pleasure, it is worth finding a copy. It is distributed by Bridgestone Multimedia Group.  St. John, as an old man, tells his perspective of Jesus' life and passion. It is a wonderful reflection, including the fact that John himself is still working on getting his own emotions under control at the age of eighty something. Very encouraging! Reminds me of how we can not be the focus of our life while there's work to be done for the sake of the kingdom. If God is willing and desirous of using us as we are, then I want to be reading and active in spite of my shortcomings.

I am reminded of how many people are in need of prayer in this world. New situations come to me all the time. People are hurting and nations are in need. If you think of me, pray for good digestion and healing of peripheral neuropathy (caused by chemo). Other than that, thanks for all the flowers, cards, and prayers I have already received. And to my sister-in-law Marcella - thanks for the puzzle! It is complete and beautiful. It needed to be a group project, but it was totally enjoyable.

Bless you all for lifting me up!

Monday, March 9, 2015

St. Patrick's Day Surgery

Well it's been an interesting week and a half since my chemo ended. I have about two dozen side effects caused by chemo. None of them miraculously disappeared on the eighth day as I was hoping, but I have had one significant positive turn of events. The rash that's been on my legs since December is most definitely fading and not itching so much. Alas, my hope was not in vain. Things are changing for the positive. 

I received my call from the surgery scheduler. I will have my operation on March 17th around noon. Now I should tell you I've had four surgeries: an ectopic pregnancy, a C-section, Carpal Tunnel repair, and sinus "windows". The last two were much easier than the first two. Let's face it, though, paper cuts hurt and surgery is surgery, so there is pain involved. This fact tempts me to be anxious. That and the fact that we get the big news when I wake up: Did the chemo kill the cancer as we hoped? I think there's more to this anxiety and fear thing. I'll flesh it out a bit. 

My grandmother, whom we called "Nan" shortened from "Nanny" lived between my house and my Aunt Eileen's house my whole life growing up. She never lived alone after being widowed at an early age. Until I was 8 years old, we shared a bedroom. Anyway, she had certain instructions for me. They were seeped in Irish American culture which had more than a hint of superstition. She simply said, "Don't let them put you under the knife." She also said, "Don't walk under ladders, you'll have bad luck." As much as I can intellectually reject a lot of her teachings, I still don't walk under ladders and I prefer not to go under the knife. There's an influence our elders have on us that runs pretty deep. 

Here's a second point at hand. It is an interesting thing to ponder life itself and the time in history we live in. When I was 18 years old I spun out on black ice in my parents' new and beautiful Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. I totaled the car, moving the engine back a bit when a tree entered the area under the hood. The first thing I remember is a man telling a woman, "Don't come any closer. If they haven't been there, there can't be anyone alive in it." Well, I was alive, and I was also curious as ever so I tried to get up to see the excitement. My head was stuck in the Y of the padded steering wheel. I do believe that my height (relatively short) and the fact that steering wheels had started being padded saved my life that night. I got away with a concussion.  Several years later I had an emergency C-section to welcome my daughter Melanie into the world. Think about it. Modern day C-sections were first performed in the 1880's. Have you been to an old graveyard like in downtown Boston? Both Melanie and I would have been buried neatly beside each other and God knows who would have raised my other children. But it was 1978 so we both got to live. Progress. It works for the good and the bad. I'm in awe. I have been saved twice by the place in history I am part of. Now we can make that three. My oncologist told me that one of my infused drugs, Herceptin, has changed my prognosis from around 40% chance of survival to 90% chance. Just think about it. I have 2 friends that died of breast cancer 10 years ago. My knowledge was very lacking at the time, so I have no idea if they had my kind. I'm triple positive (positive being in this case what you don't want because it's more aggressive). But I could have the same kind and I may live because it's 2014 and they didn't because they were a couple of years to soon. Unbelievable, but this is the reality of time and progress. 

And so I approach my surgery with some level of temptation to be anxious. I want to believe the cancer is killed. Dead and gone. All the rest of the year's treatment is clean up and and preventive against recurrence. I want to believe the recuperation is a piece of cake as my surgeon claims even though she hasn't had surgery. I remember how Our Lord instructed against anxiety. It has never done anyone any good. That's the truth. I pray from Psalm 30, "I hope in the Lord, I trust in his word; with him there is kindness and plenteous redemption." He is my refuge and my solid rock. To strengthen me (yes, this is very self focused), I will tell you a more detailed story of why I hope in the Lord. He has been working in me all along. 

I think the year was 1982. I went on a Cursillo weekend. I listened to talks given by lay (everyday) people. When I went to bed that night, it occurred to me that there was a major difference between their faith and my faith. These people were outwardly loving God and others with their whole heart. It was palpable. You could argue their theology, but you could not deny that they loved God and his creation. It was just too real. My faith was more of an intellectual assent to the doctrines I learned as a child. I said a short prayer. Something like, "Lord, I want to have my faith be in my heart and not just in my head." There, in an upper bunk of a retreat house where I knew no one, I had the biggest faith experience in my life up to that point. It felt like the flint of a match was struck inside my brain and started to travel down to my heart. It went through my neck, across my chest, and planted itself and it's burning heat deep inside my heart. May I simply say that nothing in my life has every been the same. It was like a black and white movie changed to color. It was like the lights being turned on after struggling in a dark room. Actually, there are just no words to say about this event, other than I have loved Jesus ever since with my whole heart, mind, and strength. In that heat, there was a work of God happening. Decades later, I struggled for 9 months with a shoulder injury. I went through PT, had lots of medications, and very little improvement. One night at a prayer meeting, someone laid hands on me and prayed and I felt heat again. Just like that first night only it didn't travel. The hand was on my shoulder, the heat went into the area, and my pain was gone. I was healed. Now, I tell you this because lots of people have prayed over me in the last four months (I can't believe I've only been diagnosed for 4 months. It feels like eternity). Two of these times, when Fr. Michael, our pastor, and Walt prayed over me, and another time when David and Terri Porter and Walt prayed over me I felt heat entering my body. I wanted to get this documented before the surgery so we can rejoice if the tests all come back negative for cancer from the pathology lab. It is not crazy to have faith. God has done greater things than heal my cancer. Those without faith, I know our modern technology has a 90% chance of healing my cancer, but God can still want to make the road easier by taking it all early in the treatment. Anyway, I am turning my anxiety back to hope and spending this week trying to get stronger and visiting my daughter Mary and her family in South Bend. My life is very full. Full of wonderful people and full of joy. It's up to me to remember that!

My mom is flying from New York and Melanie is driving from Michigan to be with me post op. I look forward to their company. Bring it on! 

I'm counting on Walt giving the next update. I'll talk to you all after surgery and before radiation. Here is my gift to you. It is from Ecclesiastes 4:9-10.

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.

I want you to know how much I appreciate you all and how you have been literally "helped me up" these past 4 months. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Last Day of Chemo Notes

Forgive my frequency in posting, I just have to tell you about my day on Wednesday. I hope the executives at the hospital understand how important their "lower level" employees are to quality of care. I registered for my Echo test and the registrar was so kind, compassionate, and, well, fun. She encouraged me to try Candy Crunch on my iPhone. I told her I did not do any games on the iPhone. She said, "Oh, you don't have to worry about addiction. They shut you off after 5 minutes and won't let you on for another hour". I'm still not going to spend my time gaming, but her smile, enthusiasm, and joy made my day and I did not let her know that she hadn't sold me on the idea! Then, I went down to lab and my Echo technician was above and beyond. She couldn't seem to talk without smiling at the same time. Do you know people like this? Don't you want to be with them? I tell you her humble life builds me up. She has been a medical assistant (a 7 week course) for 22 years. She got certified as a cardiovascular technician giving her the ability to do Echos all day long. She taught me what she was going to do and what it would tell the doctor and it was better than most instructions I've gotten from the professionals. She was just in love with her job, and obviously put her whole self into it assuring my comfort by asking about the room temperature and other simple but patient focused questions all the way through.  No matter what the results of this test, they will be easier for the cardiologist to relay them because my experience was one good memory. It was the face of Christ meeting me along the journey. Both of these ladies. My blessings.

Then I went to my infusion. They have created such an environment of caring. Kindness and gentleness exudes. I decided that even though I'm coming in and getting care from these nice nurses through December, I would "ring the bell" since this was the last day of that nasty chemo. It is a tradition for the bell to be rung when you are finished with your chemo. Everyone in earshot gives their congratulations. I admit I worked too hard at shutting my floodgates. I could have made quite a scene with tears. I didn't fight my nature, though, I fought the tears, faced the wall, and put my coat on, having regained my composure enough to say goodbye and thank you to the nurse. I wish I'd let them out. I was full of joy to my inner core. It is done and I'll bet at least one of the patients would have identified with my release. Still working on losing the control.

Here's me a moment before ringing the bell. I'd noticed the heaviness of the metal and was a bit afraid of disturbing the quiet.

And me a moment later when it really did shake the infusion department!

Later that evening I checked my inbox and thanks to Susan Wilbacher, a sister in the People of Praise in Tampa, Florida, we have a link to the movie. Here's the secret I have to share: my memory stinks. It's been bad, but chemo made it worse...temporarily let's hope. So, Dom Deluise is in the movie, but it is Burt Reynolds who was saved after a threat of suicide. The movies name is "The End". Take a peak.

I also wanted to tell everyone that I have a new appreciation for the corporal work of mercy called "visiting the sick" since having a chance to see it from the other side. Last Friday Anne Brewer came over. We had such a nice time talking. It was so invigorating and we didn't talk much about cancer - well, not from my point of view anyway. I was so renewed that I was exhausted and slept for 2.5 hours when she left. It was well worth it! Thanks to all who have stopped by. I hope I take that lesson with me into the future.

For all those who fasted for me, I'm done with chemo so take a break! Everyone...take a break with me! I have this weekend to deal with but I am in the mood to celebrate! How you match this up to Lenten sacrifices, I'll have to announce in my next post. I just don't know quite yet. But I'm one celebratory girl right now.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hello friends and family! I've had an interesting week. We had a Come and See Weekend for Campus and I knew I would hate to miss any part of it. I made it through Thursday night and Friday night - which is common after my infusion. Then Saturday came and I felt bad. I felt bad all day. Then, 15 minutes before the start of dinner, just when I was prepared to give up attending, I asked Walt to pray over me. All my aches and pains stopped and didn't come back until Sunday morning. Thank you Jesus! That was above and beyond and I sure do appreciate it! We had a delightful time with three visiting students and Terry and Alicia Cassell, friends from our Northern Virginia days. It was delightful and fun even though my team didn't win the game. Apparently that was too much to ask.

People not interested in hearing medical talk don't read the next paragraph. You know who you are. (So do I.)

On Monday we met with the surgeon. She's a real scientist/researcher type. Between her and the research radiologist, we now have a headful of statistics. There's a 20% chance of mortality in 15 years, 30% recurrence rate, 20% chance of lymphedema for the rest of my life if I have a dissection of the axilla (armpit), something less than that for permanent impairment of the shoulder and permanent numbing of the armpit. There's a 7% chance of needing a second surgery because the margins weren't clear on post op pathology, and a 2% chance of needing a second surgery because the post op pathology found cancer in the axilla. These are the statistics I remember and might even have one of them wrong, but it shouted to me that this thing isn't over now, or after surgery, or in the summer when the radiation is over. Of course, I knew that follow up care was years out, but this made it all very real. So I quietly emoted for awhile. I talked to the Lord. Then I listened to Walt who can not contain his joy that today is my last chemo. And, of course, he's right. I know I don't like chemo and today will be the last round. I will rejoice! The statistics are good to know to be informed, but we are humans and need to live one day at a time. Today is a day to be thankful that one uncomfortable phase is ending.

Come on back you non-medical people!

This week I finished the best book I've read with cancer (thank you, Marge Connolly). It's called Lessons from the School of Suffering. Written by Rev. Jim Willig, it is his journey through cancer to the glory of heaven. Tammy Bundy wrote the last chapter after his death. This amazingly real account of a Christian dealing with pain and fear moved me. His diagnosis from the beginning was worse than mine - he had kidney cancer metastasized in the lung at first diagnosis.  He felt free to ask the Lord, "Why couldn't they have found this before it went to the lung?" This and, "I thought you needed priests? What could be the benefit of ending my life decades before I'm done with my ministry? How could this be your plan?" There is so much mystery in suffering and death. His ability to say exactly what he was thinking and feeling to the Lord was just what I needed to hear. He was a good holy priest, yet he struggled with the problem of suffering. He would never have chosen cancer, and yet it is how he gave his greatest testimony in the end of life. We don't believe God gives us these bad situations, but we know he could miraculously cure them if he so desired. I can only think that our death is so different than how most humans think of it. We should remember now and then that we move from the imperfect to the perfect. Enough with this resistance to change stuff! We need to trust that God's ways are perfect and they often are not our ways! Anyway, Fr. Willig said throughout his suffering he was never alone because Christ was there with him. I know that feeling. He felt he learned over and over again this lesson on how to live:

  • Be humble
  • Trust God completely
  • Surrender everything to God
We don't need cancer to learn this, but Fr. Willig admitted he was learning it more deeply because he was in "the school of suffering". During his two years of fighting cancer, he came up with three new goals on what he wanted to do with his life. I want to join him and use them seriously to evaluate my life into the future: 
  • Love God as much as possible
  • Help others love God as much as possible
  • Love others as much as possible
What could be better than this? I thank God for Fr. Willig's life and death that has brought me closer to the heart of the Father. It has given me encouragement to come forward with my fears and my questions so I can experience the real surrender of those things as I leave them at the foot of the cross.  Prayer really does change things, even when it isn't how we expect the change to be.  

And so today, I have decided to take all the statistics and summarize them into one sentence. Stuff happens. I have a life to live one day at a time and that includes the three goals above and I get there by living the three lessons above. Cancer or not, that's a great life in growing in unity with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  So, we leave for the hospital in a little while. I have an ECHO test this morning to see if the chemo has damaged my heart. I hope it hasn't. I don't want the breathlessness I have to be permanent. Come, Lord, hear my prayer! Then we'll go have my LAST CHEMO! Yay!

I remember a movie, some older person with a memory can comment and give me the name, where Dom DeLuise was almost drowned in the ocean. He starts out in the deep waters screaming, "Save me God and I'll give you all my money!" As he starts getting control of the situation he changes the prayer to a 50%, than a thousand, and then he is washed ashore and thanks God. I don't remember if he then takes credit for how he saves himself, but that is what a lot of us do, isn't it? Well, I pray this does not happen to me. I am ending chemo and it was brutal. Though there are pagans I'm sure who get chemo, I do not know how they endure it. I had God at my side every moment and I am eternally grateful. I know how time can erase the intensity of emotion. Oh Lord, let me never forget the loving way you brought me through this. I want to be forever grateful.  

So I should be feeling better and better for the next three weeks. Then, I get surgery on the 18th. I'll post before that. I have a lot of thoughts on surgery :  )

Have a good Lent. Lean in to Our Lord's great sacrifice. It is awesome that he suffered willingly out of love for us and obedience to the Father. A love we don't deserve has been given to us. Blessed be his name forever! 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Rom 5:3-4

I am counting on the verse on the title line being true. I always need to look at the benefits of what I'm doing. Of course, the main benefit of chemo is that it kills cancer. Da. I guess that would be a good thing to remember. I wish that was enough to help me out when I'm not liking the side effects. It somehow is not. So here's the verse from Romans and I'm leaning into it this week: "More than that we rejoice in our sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope." May it be done to me according to this word!

I am finishing up a week of praying for those who are suffering with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. You know I'm the lucky one. I have cancer. People hear it and get nervous. Compassionate. Maybe a little scared. Your love has been lavished on me with gifts and cards and more. But the fatigue I feel as a side effect of chemo makes me feel like this:

(Thanks Cousin Doris for the picture. I related to it immediately.) But I have a light at the end of this tunnel. I am going to be DONE with chemo in 2 more weeks - maybe a bit longer to rid myself of the side effects. But think of the poor women with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. (Yes, they are mostly women). They probably feel like this dog above while the doctors can't decide what it is. Does it belong in psychology or endocrinology or immunology? Now they are arguing over changing the name of the disease. Meanwhile the women are losing years of their life. I am relatively sure their kitchen wall isn't covered with cards or their houses with fresh flowers and candy. Here's two beautiful arrangements from the NOVA Service Project Team and the sisters' household in Allendale Christians in Mission this week:

I am so blessed. Thanks everyone. And these flowers do cheer me up. I want to see the same happening for those who have Chronic Fatigue. I prayed for the right researchers to be moved to conquer this thing. Moved to find the right answers and help those suffering to find their lives again. Please join me. It's a worthy cause. I'm sure of it. If you've ever felt fatigue, you know you can't just make this stuff up!

I am reading a cancer meditational (I may be making this term up). Several Christian authors who have been through cancer treatment wrote short daily meditations. One of my favorite authors, Barbara Johnson, wrote "In this life, pain is inevitable but misery is optional. Purposefully choose to be joyful." How wise is she? You go Barbara! I don't think Barbara's with us anymore, but I'll bet she was joy filled to the end. It is a purposeful choice and I choose it.

Tomorrow Lent starts. I have two books to read: one on suffering and one on healing. I look forward to a time of growing closer to the Lord and understanding better what I can learn from this experience. During Lent, I am always amazed to meditate on Christ's passion and death and consider the love he has for all of us. The ultimate sacrifice that brought us life.

Walt and I meet my radiologist tomorrow after my treatment and learn more about the radiation I will receive. Next Monday we will meet the surgeon and finalize all that. I get an ECHO that week to check to make sure my heart hasn't been damaged by the drugs being infused. That's kind of nice (tongue in cheek here). I'm moving forward in this treatment plan. I see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I do think about these next two infusions and the fatigue they will bring. Remember in Princess Bride when they propped Westley up in a wheel barrow to storm the castle because really he was "almost dead"? That's how I feel somedays. But God loves me through it and I will end up with character and hope (Romans 5). Thanks for loving me. Thanks for your cards, gifts, notes, messages, comments, and "likes". You will never know how much it means to me. You are all instruments of God's love to me. Glory!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Happy First Date Anniversary, Walt!

Just a little aside from cancer, because life does march on:

On February, 13, 1968, also a Friday, this man (then a boy) asked me to sit next to him at a high school basketball game. In 2011, Dorothy Ranaghan led a Women’s Retreat in Indianapolis for the People of Praise. She said married people would start to look more like each other as time went on and they shared more love together.  I’m sure she had no idea…

Thanks for that first date 47 years ago Walt! Grateful doesn’t begin to cover it! I love you!

And thanks to the NOVA (that's Northern Virginia branch of the People of Praise) men and women who are serving us in Indiana this week. Loved the reunion last night! Love gathering with my old and new friends!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

2/3 Done and Ready for Triple Dose

I’m writing now at 2am before I go in for the infusion so I won’t be side tracked from my duty of numbing myself before leaving for my appointment. I don’t want to be a slow learner and make the same mistake twice. I’m awake anyway, so it’s nice to do something. So, I had a bad night as I wrote last week. Then I slept awhile and awoke with a bounce in my step and no symptoms at all of being a cancer patient. That’s right. Zero side effects. Energy booming. It lasted for 18 hours. I was beside myself with joy. I exercised, Walt and I went out to lunch and I attended the campus team meeting with the ability to lean in to conversations instead of thinking the whole time, “Maybe I should just excuse myself and go to bed?” I tell you there is nothing in this world like feeling good and being healthy. And then I thought, could I be a quick learner in this area? When I’m done with treatment – healed of cancer – could I remember everyday when I wake up and feel good that it is a special gift? I want to start each day with, “Thank you Lord!” and then consider how I can use my time that day to make the world more the place God always meant it to be. There must be a grace for this and I want it. I never want to go back to the way I was. You’d think we deserved a healthy life as if we didn’t notice the human condition. Well, wake up and smell the coffee people!

The symptoms came back Thursday night, but the joy of having a reprieve lasted quite a bit longer. Then my sister Laurie arrived for the weekend. She’s become so dear to me this year. She visits often and distracts me so well. We walked through the Catholic bookstore and then Carson’s, the local department store. When checking out, the cashier told us about her and her husband’s 10 years of being cancer free. She was treated at the same place I’m being treated. This “club” I’ve joined is full of wonderful people who want to encourage you. I love it. Yes. I just said I love being in a cancer club. But, do you know what I mean? Without the cancer, I never would have known such people and such interactions were taking place.  I’m telling you, there is so much good in the world.

When Laurie went back home the start of the week went fast. On Monday, my hat-hair arrived. This is hair that is on a line of Velcro. It came with a headband that also has Velcro. I can wear it under any hat. Today I picked up my wig. The wig has a name (they all do it turns out). Mine is Barbie. Cute, right? So now I have scarves, turbins, hats, hats with hair, and a wig. Who needs hair anyway? I feel more creative with a head to dress everyday!

I am getting a drug reintroduced later today that I had with my first infusion that didn’t go so well. The doctor is thinking this drug is not the one I reacted negatively to. Let’s hope (and pray) she is right.  I am officially 2/3 of the way done with my chemo treatment and the surgeon and radiologist are setting up appointments to get the operation and radiation going. Come on folks. Let me enjoy the end of one phase, please? I don’t want to think about surgery and radiation quite yet! But time marches on. Today I’ll have three drugs: Taxol, Herceptin, and Perjeta. May they do what they were meant to do and not land me back in the hospital. Amen.

I want to end with a note of gratitude. This is a poem given to me by my sister-in-law, Gina. Gina’s a sweetheart. I thought I was Queen of Efficiency until Gina joined our family. She never forgets your birthday and gets her Christmas cards done by Thanksgiving. I think I’ve even received my Christmas card on Black Friday. It was not surprising, then, when hers was the first gift I received after my diagnosis. It was a wonderful box of necessities for chemo patients (like blanket, water bottle, and chap stick) and it came with this magnet. I have it on the refrigerator right over the water spout so I can read it often. Thanks Gina! I can tell you all now first hand: THESE WORDS ARE TRUE!

What Cancer Cannot Take From You

It cannot take away your faith,

Shatter your hope, or lessen your love.

It cannot destroy true friendship,

Invade the soul, or take away eternal life.

It cannot conquer your spirit.

So what’s the big threat anyway? Have a great week my loved ones. Thanks for walking through this with me.  By the way, grandchildren Darla and Mary are better. Ah, the blessings of a youthful body.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Powerful prayer for Action Summer

Well, each week I've prayed for a different intention as I offer up any negative effects of the cancer and its treatment. As always, children and grandchildren. The third intention is the only one that changes. This week it's the staff and interns for Summer Action. I'm predicting a great year. Here's why, and I don't really understand the power behind "offering things up", but I've seen the effects of it so I don't need to understand. I'm sure there's a plethora of books on the subject and someday I might read one. Right now, I just use the power.

So, the story is, that at 10am yesterday I thought to myself, "Ok, it's time to pack the bag for the treatment, have a light snack, and put the lidocaine on. Lidocaine is in the family of nocacaine that you get at the dentist. It's a topical analgesic - cream based. I rub it on my port and in 45 minutes I am NUMB. The nurse puts a needle into my tender chest wall and all I feel is a little pressure. As I've said before: I love my port. Unfortunately,  a three step instruction was too long for this 61 year old chemo brain! So I packed, had a piece of toast, looked at the computer, and said, "Good time to write a post." An hour later at the infusion center the registrar said, "Do you have a port?" Oh, darn! Yes, as a matter of fact I do. Breathe in. Good for my kids, my grandkids, and Action Summer. Bad for me. I just took a deep breath and knew there was nothing to do now. It was too late to even take 2 tylenol. I was going to feel what it's like to have a needle pushed into my chest at a 90 degree angle. And I will not flinch. Will not flinch or make facial contortions! And so I did. It stung. It radiated. It wasn't the end of the world, but I am sure it's worth one great staffer! Now it's 1:48am and I'm up with abdominal pain.  So, more medicine, small snack, and maybe another staffer. Think about it. You may be the one. Or your child. Great talk for the dinner table. If you are interested in working or serving for Action Summer (high school - 100+ yr old) - a great outward work for the People of Praise to the poor people on the Southside of Indianapolis, IN, and Allendale, LA, send Walt an email at  I've been praying for you! You can follow the planning at Indy Action Summer 2015 on Facebook. Allendale has last year's posts at  Allendale Action Summer 2014. In Indy, Staff and interns will arrive on June 8th and Team 1 arrives June 15th. Camp closes on July 24th and then we'll 
have several days of take down. Allendale leaders all work outside the POP, so I don't think their dates 
are set yet, but they usually start a wee bit later. It's going to be hard work and a blast!

Oh, and I didn't have time to edit yesterday morning's edition before posting, so it has a couple minor changes. I hadn't named my longest friend, Susan LoDestro Nelson, who used the word onerous in here latest email and I wanted to change that. It's really a blessing to have one friend who's kept in contact, who knows all the neighborhood and school people from the early years. And she was fun then, and she's fun now. A real keeper. My mother will probably read this so I can share one secret today: Susan had no "bed time" when I slept at her house. I'll bet I spent more nights there then we did at mine. We slept in the den and watched movies till we fell asleep. And, of course, ate whatever we wanted from the kitchen. At the time, I thought this was heaven. I'm a movie lover then and now!

One more thing. In praying for my grandchildren, I have 2 granddaughters sick this week. One bad cold and one pneumonia. That's half my granddaughters and it's the young half so being sick is not something you can rationalize! Pray for them. They are so adorable.

 Darla in Colorado Springs

Katie with Mary, from Dexter, MI

Going to go try sleeping again! Thanks for the prayers! 

On your mark, get ready, and go!

I come to write to you this morning at a low point. I leave in less than an hour for Taxol #6 and I'm still feeling #5. This must be what they mean by "accumulative effects". I'm tired. I couldn't exercise this morning. But I want to go and get my dose because I can put up with anything for ONE MORE MONTH and then I'll be through chemo. So praise the Lord I've only a month left! Praise the Lord you are going to pray for me today when you read this! Praise the Lord for my favorite scripture of the week, this time from Denise Hurley: Matt 28:20 "I am always with you". She's in the sisterhood of the People of Praise and a cancer survivor. She is becoming a close friend through her sharing with me during this time. Thank you Jesus. You willingly suffered. I can't get over it.

Let's see. Good things about this week. My dear husband, Walt, got his first break from serving me nonstop. He drove up to take Mary out for her birthday and had some George time. He was gone about a minute when I went to refill my water bottle and couldn't get the cap off. Weakness of the hands is a side effect of chemo and I thought, "Wow, what else am I going to learn about being alone for a day?" Well, it wasn't bad but I've never lived alone and hopefully won't ever. When I sat down to eat my dinner and prayed, "Bless us oh Lord..." I'm just born for household life. What can I say. Sharing bread is life-giving to me. I don't want to eat alone. So, Walt came back refreshed and I was so glad for him. Then, of course, the SuperBowl this year was quite the exciting finish and there was lots of screaming in our tv room. All Walt, but it filled the room. I'm not much on sports. I could appreciate the intensity of the situation, though.

Then a friend from the past, Jill Rolf, sent me a card with a horse on it! Now that's very upbuilding. Someone's reading and taking this stuff in. The horse is now proudly hung in the kitchen and if you don't know what I'm talking about, you'll have to go hit "previous posts". Thanks Jill.

One of my well educated friends, Susan Nelson who we think was in grammar school with me) sent her good thoughts to me as the chemo got more "onerous". I thought that is a really good word. If you can't hit define on this post, a good definition is "oppressively burdensome". Two cancer survivors just said to me, "It's hard, but you'll get through." Amen sisters! I will! Let's get on with it!

Before I leave, I was asked to do an exercise in gratitude this week. I put the timer on for 3 minutes and here's what I got: I am thankful for

  • seeing how easy it is to be loved when I needed it. 
  • learning how God is really there all the time. 
  • Walt and I'm amazed at how well he does my role! 
  • for my daughters: their unique and unrepeatable selves and how they reach out to me. 
  • that I don't have to worry anymore if I'll get cancer. I got it and it's not the end of the world! And, as Walt says, the end of the world will look very different. 
  • Extended family and how they support me. 
  • My friends and loved ones near and far. 
  • To God  who reigns over all things. 
  • all the people who chose to take care of cancer patients for their career!

That's it. Gotta go get loaded with poison to kill this cancer! 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Happy Birthday Mary!

Thanks for all the comments. You are keeping me encouraged. It's working. I'm fighting the fight. And now that I have a captive audience, I'd like to talk about something else today besides cancer. It's my daughter Mary's birthday, and I would like to honor her and tell of the Lord's great kindness to us.

Early in 1983 Walt and I attended a Life in the Spirit Seminar. Some of you who were there may be reading this. Praise God what beautiful memories we share! We were taught about the charismatic gifts, and were prepared to be prayed over for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. For the first time in my life, as I was praying, I heard the words I uttered come into my brain, "Baptize me in the Holy Spirit and give me a baby". Now what I mean is, I had no prior thought to saying the words "and give me a baby". I'd often said words without thinking, but I was usually mad and I definitely had the thought and just hadn't had the filter on to contain it! This was different. I verbally expressed a desire from deep in my heart and it bypassed my brain and came out of my mouth.  Then I heard it and processed it in my brain. That was cool to say the least.  But was I going to suffer for asking such a thing? In the past when  I made a goal that was hard to reach, it could bring a lot of stress. You know, like "I want to be the best mother in the world." Hopefully I didn't hold onto this idea for too long. The stress was terrible and the burden was all on me to make it happen. The beauty with my asking for a baby that night, was that the answer was "yes". It was given as a gift of faith. Somehow I just knew that God was going to make it happen and I could literally let go and let God! I never worried about how it would happen or when. I just knew from that moment on that it would. We looked into adoption. We went to doctors. We were given no encouragement and then Mary Virginia, named after her two grandmothers, was conceived anyway. And on January 30, 1985, in a horrible ice storm in the beautiful family centered city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Mary was born and her Dad swaddled her and her three big sisters left school to come meet her and my mother flew in from New York and it was a glorious time. (How's that for a long sentence?) I tell you this because I love telling of the kindnesses of the Lord. (Is 63:7) Mary was the miracle I asked for. Faith was the gift God gave with it. Both gifts are precious and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is the icing on the cake.

So Mary is 30. Yikes! She is more like me than my other three gems. It's scary, actually. She just posted on her blog this morning how she created a new system to make her menu planning quicker by putting all her meat in the freezer in a shoe box to make it easier to find. Wow. Honey, I know where you get this from and I think you just passed me up. I have shoe boxes in the closets and drawers, but so far not in the freezer. I like it though. Good organization means a lot to me and obviously Mary.

Mary was far enough behind the other girls to be kind of a family mascot. The older girls had started getting into their activities and Mary's younger years were spent in gymnasiums looking at Katie do gymnastics, or at the football game watching Katie and Bethanne in the band, or the basketball court watching Melanie play. I didn't realize how much she missed that we did with the older girls until she was almost grown. The poor thing didn't get to see any of the famous Disney movies. Apparently we viewed them in the couple of years before Mary was around or at least "up". You know we would put the baby "down" and have family time with the older kids. Oops. Sorry, Honey. But is was fun being the mascot, right?

By the time Mary was in the 7th grade she was the only one at home and I must say this must have made up for the years spent watching her sisters lives. We moved to Virginia and started life with the People of Praise (POP). There was so much culture in the DC area. There were many opportunities for museums and restaurants. The POP opened up Trinity Schools when Mary started 8th grade. It was a rich life and I can't imagine how different it would have been if we arrived in Virginia as empty nesters!  I would have missed out on hundreds of lunches out! Thanks Mary!

Mary lives life to the fullest, loves with all her heart, and has no fear in her when taking on a new challenge. I thank God for her everyday. In August she will have her second child and our 21st grandchild and all I can say is: Thank you Lord for letting that desire from my heart come out of my mouth in 1983. Your loving kindness is awesome! Happy Birthday Mary Virginia! You've added so much to our life! 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Good News!

If you prayed I could handle going out last night, thanks. Three of us had women's night out. We ate at a brewery and saw An American Sniper. Hard story but good conversation about the ethics and morals of war. Then today I crossed my halfway point of chemotherapy and neither the oncologist, surgeon, or I could palpate (feel) the tumor. This is the best 24 hours in months! I'm exhausted and have things in front of me that I won't like, but I'm rejoicing in this good time and good news. I am so grateful for my life and all who are in it. Happy Wednesday! It's our date night and we're going to watch a movie! Hoping your lives are also full of little and big pleasures.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Fighting Like a Girl

Bad week. Cancer stinks! I feel like a bloated balloon immediately after eating and get hungry 2 hours later anyway! I have what I call gasoline breath. My medical team politely calls it a “metallic taste side effect” and encourages me to only use plastic utensils. I feel like I’m sleeping half my life away. I hate greasing up my hands because they are so dry! 
These are only just some of the “side Effects” that don’t seem like a side issue to me at all. I never even felt what cancer feels like! It’s the treatment that is making me crazy!

Ok. I’m a girl who grew up in the 60’s. The above is my way of fighting for the day. It feels like handing me a foam bat to beat everything and everyone that’s annoying me. I found it therapeutic at one time in my life. Here’s a picture of it below.

It’s fun for a second, but ends up totally unsatisfying. The 1960’s are over  - at least for me. Thank God. So what do I do? Cancer treatment does stink and I am tired of rearranging my life to its beck and call. So how do I “fight like a girl” and come out victorious?

Well, I was talking to the Lord about it. Tomorrow at about 3pm I will be ½ infused of all the chemo planned for my “personalized fight against cancer”. They try to make it sound special, don’t they? One thing is thing for sure. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. So how does one get encouraged at the halfway mark? So…darn…that’s right. I forgot to run that marathon. I need to know:
What does the coach say to keep you going at the half way mark?

I thought of the Blessed Virgin Mary and how she “wonders” (ponders) at the hard words about her life given by Simeon. “He (Jesus) will stand as a sign of contradiction, while a sword will pierce your own soul”.  That wondering must have made her stronger. I thought of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta who fought everything by prayer and doing good to others. She certainly didn’t focus on herself! I’m having a hard time not focusing on myself. I remember when I was a grad student I decided I would not miss any community meetings because of deadlines. After all, it was only because of the goodness of the Lord that I had the opportunity to get my MSN. Wouldn’t it be foolish to become so study focused that I ignored worshipping the one who from all good things flow? This worked very well. I got my degree and even though the research could’ve been better, I learned enough and more and grew in my love for God at the same time.  But cancer treatment isn’t like that. I went to Mass on Sunday. With every change of position (I’m Roman Catholic. We sit, stand, and kneel alternatively. I think at one time we all had ADD and needed help to focus. This is a joke. Kind of.) Anyway, with each move I’m thinking will I make it? Am I shaking? Do I need to sit down? Maybe I could just wait in the car. It was totally useless for worship and so I’m going back to my “follow your body” instructions from the doctor. If I’m not feeling right, I’m staying home. This will probably mean missing more things in the second half of therapy. But maybe, just maybe, it will be a joy filled time alone with the Lord. I could certainly give him more of a chance in that area!

My dear daughter, Katie, started a Novena to St. Peregrine who was miraculously healed of cancer. Yesterday the Novena ended. Maybe that’s why I had the hardest of days. It could very well be a spiritual battle. Doing novenas is not my particular spiritual culture, but my parents did one for me as an infant and I have had asthma my whole life with no hospitalizations or big deal of any sort. Here’s the prayer for the novena. I thought praying the daily intentions would certainly arm me for a darn good battle against any attack!

Day 1 – Pray for us, that we will not let sickness bring us to despair
Day 2 – Pray for us, that we may persevere in hope
Day 3 – Pray for us, that we will have the courage to offer up our suffering in unity with the Cross
Day 4 – Pray for us, that the loneliness of our suffering will be consoled
Day 5 – Pray for us, that the fear of death will be replaced with the hope of everlasting life
Day 6 – Pray for us, that our suffering will not rob us of joy
Day 7 – Pray for us, that in our pain we will not become selfish but ever more selfless
Day 8 – Pray for us, that this sickness will teach me to depend more and more on God
Day 9 – Pray for us, that our lives will glorify God alone

After reading this and taking another three-hour nap some good news started to come in.
  •           If I’m not sick tonight I get to go out to dinner and a movie with Robin and Mary to celebrate our tap dance class run by none other than Grandma Birdie (Robin). How blessed am I to get to dance tap with them!
  •    George, my 20th grandchild, had his birthday video posted on facebook by his mom. What a great year of new life and this year will make him a big brother! Walt is calling the new baby Black Jack because he’s number 21 for us. Don’t worry. It won’t stick.
  •    One of my dear friends sent me a picture of her and 2 of her friends at a tea. One of them had made a floral hat with an old bra. Now that’s feminine creativity at it’s best and I’m about to have some used bras! Look out! (Sorry gentlemen who read this. It’s a girl thing. I’m getting over self pity here.)
  •           We have been trying to help an old man in the neighborhood who doesn’t live in a safe environment. More happened toward getting him a new home yesterday than all the days in the last 5 years combined. That’s a lot to rejoice over.
  •     And last but not least, I offered my sufferings 2 weeks ago for my family (always) and my friend Geriann who had surgery 12 days ago on a benign brain tumor. Like me, she had hundreds of people praying. The doctor came out of surgery and announced they were able to get “much more” than they expected. Go Geriann! Go doc! Go prayer! Now Geriann is free to go back to West St. Paul and continue to build a neighborhood where God is known and loved and neighbors and really neighbors. She is awesome! I’m so happy for her and her family! This week I will continue to pray for my family and focus on those who need healing from divorce. May God grant them (the whole family!) peace and a new start to move forward! 

And so, my anger is gone and I have won a battle. Probably not my last, but it’s won! Now help me out with some marathon coaching (you are very good at this), and I’ll continue to fight like a girl: I’ll listen to my body and go in for my halfway dose tomorrow and find out what more of the “accumulating effects” will hit me over the weekend. I will ponder the course of treatment along with the promises of the Lord. And when I’m feeling not so bad, I’ll find some way to reach out and do something good for another. I am happy I have you in my court. Oh, please say a prayer so I can get out with my friends. I’d be much obliged! 

My sister Laurie doing my wrap at my daughter Mary's house. she's the artsy-craftsy one. I'm her student.
                                   Thanks Laurie!