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.