Permission Granted…

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(Note:  This post is more of an update, a testimony, or a script of my thought process than one of my typical posts but I still wanted to share.)

The Heaven’s declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of His hands.

(Psalms 19:1)

I remembered the grueling day at the research hospital, shortly after my stage 4 diagnosis when I hadn’t yet grasped that I had a terminal illness. First, I saw a woman in charge of the financial end of clinical trials.  She asked if I’d consider foregoing traditional treatments to participate in a clinical trial because there wasn’t much hope for me. Once the cancer metastasized, there was no longer a cure and I could do something for the greater good and help the women coming behind me.  I was 42 at the time. I was diagnosed at 39.

Then, I saw the first doctor. She was distant and cold. I talked to her about my treatment. I was excited that my doctor prescribed a new oral chemo.  She told me if the medication worked, it would only work for a short while.  I swallowed that comment and said I was happy I would keep my hair because it would be easier on my kids.  With condescending pity in her eyes, she said I would eventually be on IV chemo and that I would lose my hair, “you know, in the end”.  I choked back tears and kept quiet.  When she finished the exam, she told me to get dressed and wait for the next doctor.  Before she left, I asked her about my prognosis. She took a deep breath, and without emotion, said that I would “be gone” in about 18 to 24 months.  She tucked my file under her arm and walked out.  I felt the air get sucked out of the room and out of my lungs as she shut the door behind her.  I didn’t know I was crying until I saw the tear drops land on my clothes as I changed.

My husband was allowed to join me and the next doctor came into the room.  She explained that stage 4 was incurable so the plan was to maintain quality of life as long as possible. A treatment plan would work for a small amount of time. When my cancer progressed, I would have surgery or radiation and my medication would change.  This cycle would continue until I succumbed to other medical issues caused by treatment or until I was out of options.  Then, I would be transferred to hospice until I died. She had no available clinical trials for me but recommended I follow my current doctor’s treatment plan.  She told me that my prognosis was about 2, maybe 3 years and cautioned me to use my time wisely.  Then she closed my file, wished me luck, and walked out.

My husband and I walked out of the room, out of the office, through the hospital and to the parking garage to the car.  During what felt like a ten-mile walk, we didn’t look at each other or speak a word.  When I got in the car and buckled my seat belt, I melted into a puddle on the front seat.  The words of the doctors echoed inside my head.

the greater good … terminal … 18 months … in the end 

I went to that doctor because my doctor referred me for a second opinion and to see if there were clinical trials available for me. I knew his intentions were good but my visit was devastating. I thought about all those other patients sitting in the waiting room.  Was this what they had to endure at every appointment, at every treatment? I knew that after I had a good cry, I was going back to see my doctor who would give me hope.  Did they know there was hope out there?  Did they know there were doctors that cared about their patients, who filled their patients’ hearts with hope and not dread? How could someone fight this disease with little support; manage the debilitating treatments, the painful side effects, the emotional strain without compassion; find the strength to keep going when they weren’t given the chance of a future?  How could someone deal with daily struggles without hope?

Without God?

On my last two scans, there was activity on my right femur and hip area.  The first time, the doctor called it ‘activity’.  The second time, he called it ‘increased activity’. He checked with the radiologists who said it was not cancer, but he was going to monitor it.  I usually had my petscans every 6 months but my next scan was in 4 months because with the increased activity, my doctor felt we should scan sooner.

The next two months, my tumor markers increased.  My rise in tumor markers was in line with the increased activity shown on my scan and increased pain I was having in that area.  I was nervous and I began to prepare myself for finding out that my cancer was progressing. I had been on the current treatment for 18 cycles.  Cancer finds a way around the medications eventually.  Last month, I held my breath when my tumor marker results came.   Would my tumor markers increase again?  Imagine my relief when I looked at my results and saw that my tumor markers decreased and were back within the normal range!

Tumor markers were only a part of the puzzle.  The scan told the real story.  My doctor scheduled the scan. I noticed more pain in my hip area over the last few months.  It bothered me when I stood up, when I sat for too long, and I was more aware of the pain, sitting still.  For a cancer patient, that was usually not a good sign.  I prepared myself for this to be ‘that scan’ that showed progression, propelling me into a whirlwind of treatment, new side effects, and the reminder that my cancer was never really going away.  I was more nervous about this petscan than ever before.  I prayed. I asked my friends to pray.  I had the scan and then waited for the results.

Tha night, I went out to dinner with my family.  It passed the time and gave me something else to focus on rather than waiting for my phone to ring.  I wasn’t sure when he would call.   Just as we were working on that ridiculously large plate of cheese fries, my phone lit up.  It was my doctor.  I ran out of the restaurant, not wanting to take the call in front of my family.  I walked outside to see a dark, cloudy sky overhead.  To escape the loud music playing from the speakers in front, I walked around the building to an empty bench.  I noticed the sun was shining on it.  I looked up and saw a patch of blue sky poking out from behind the thick clouds and the sunlight was shining through, sending rays down to that bench.

I held my breath as my doctor told me he got my scans and wanted to call right away.  I closed my eyes, felt that sun on my face, and held on to the bench. I had to ask him to repeat himself.

He said my scans looked great. No visible signs of cancer.  No progression.  Hallelujah!

The activity in my femur was stable.  I mentioned that I wished it was gone. He stopped me and said stable was best. If the area had gone away or gotten worse, he would have been inclined to think it was cancer; but since it was stable, he was sure it was arthritis, inflammation, or joint issues caused by my medications.

I sat back on that bench with relief and felt the sun warm my face. He admitted he was worried about this scan with the activity and increase in symptoms, but he couldn’t have been happier with the results.  My mind flashed back to the day in that office…

the greater good … terminal … 18 months … in the end 

Just as those words whispered in my ears, my doctor said he was excited I was proving that doctor wrong and asked if I remembered when the doctor told me that I would only make it another 18 months.  Yes, I remembered.  He was hopeful I would be stable for a long time.

There was that word again.

Hope.

According to statistics, I shouldn’t be living ‘normally’ right now.  I should be on a second or third round of treatment. I should be on IV chemo and long since said goodbye to my hair. According to that awful doctor, I shouldn’t even be here.

My prognosis wasn’t good.  The statistics weren’t encouraging.  But those research studies, those numbers, those doctors … they didn’t have a say.  They could pour over my charts and review research studies all day long.  They could dive deep into the science side of my case but their worldly knowledge was no match for God. I was not discounting the research or the work of those in the medical field.  They knew their stuff.  But they weren’t God. They could call these inexplicable medical occurrences ‘mysteries’ or ‘inconsistencies’; but I chose to call them ‘miracles’.

I considered my own circumstance a ‘miracle’ and firmly believed that God’s hands were all over my medical file.  When I was prescribed a medication to prepare my body for the chemo protocol; I was given a list of side effects I may suffer.  I never had any of them.  When they said I would have to wait months for the medications to work, they were shocked when the medication worked the first month.  When they said I could expect skin irritation from radiation to my shoulder, especially since it was my second round of radiation to the same general area, they were stunned when I had no skin irritation at all.  When my family was stricken with a very contagious virus last fall, my red and white blood cells were dangerously low and I was susceptible to infection; I never got sick.

God protected me.  God shielded me from those harsh side effects, the virus, and the progression.  God allowed me to spend more time with my family.  My heart ached for my fellow patients who endured so much pain.  It was difficult for me to wrap my head around that.  Why was I okay?  Why did I get good news on my scan when a friend of mine just found out her cancer spread?  Even though I got the best news ever, I can’t say that I wasn’t struggling with that.  Why was I okay when others weren’t?

Then, just as my thoughts began to spiral out of control, I talked with a friend and then stepped back, remembering that God’s plan was never going to make sense to me.  I only saw a small piece of a big picture.  It was not my responsibility to figure it out.  All I had to do was walk the path God laid out in front of me.  When I lifted that weight from my shoulders, my heart and mind filled with peace.

Since my diagnosis, I had ideas and goals.  Big ones….but something still held me back.  I was afraid to start something I may not finish.  I was afraid to dive in … all in. I was still hovering at the water’s edge, just dipping in my toes.  What if I couldn’t finish what I started? What if I got so sick that I couldn’t give it my all? I had to let that go and I did … right there on that bench as the sun shined on me like a spotlight.

When I received that good news, something inside me changed.  I felt like God was telling me it was going to be alright and that I should be open to opportunities that He set before me. I didn’t have to fear taking a leap. I was here for a reason.  I may not know that reason; but it didn’t matter.  God had a plan for me.  I had to trust in that. God was asking something of me.  I wasn’t sure what it was yet but I was going to be ready for it when it came.

In the meantime, I was going to praise God for his mercy.  God worked miracles in my life. Maybe someone was struggling with their faith.  Maybe someone was wondering if God was really there.  Maybe someone thought God didn’t care about them.  Maybe those people might open their eyes and open their hearts to Him if they heard how God worked in my life and maybe that could help in some way.

I was still here when a doctor told me I wouldn’t be. God had a purpose in everything He did.  I never signed up to get cancer but it was part of my story.  From the beginning, I refused to spend the time I had left being miserable, angry, or bitter.  How could I when God was always there to shine a light for me when I was lost in the dark? God brightened my path every step of the way. Now, I wanted to shine His light so others could see in their dark and I wasn’t going to hold back.

Not everyone had cancer but everyone had something.  I’ve learned through my experience that when I found myself lost in the dark, all I had to do was reach out to Him and He found me…

it may have been in the middle of the night …

or on a sun-soaked bench in the middle of a cloudy day.

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Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven.  (Matthew 5:16)

Like Wildflowers…

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I love wildflowers.  I remember looking out a backseat window as miles and miles of gray highway stretched out before me. I  was so excited when a patch of wildflowers appeared in the strips of grass in the median or on a hillside.  I loved the colors – red, yellow, orange, purple, pink – a rainbow of colors popping up out of nowhere.  It always brought a smile to my face and made that long, tiring road seem not so long and tiring.

Wildflowers are unique.  Each knows its beauty and knows its worth.  Each knows its important contribution, even as a single bloom in the middle of a vast field. What makes a field of wildflowers so beautiful is that the flowers are all different.  Purple and white striped, large-petaled flowers with a deep purple center growing in patches close to the ground. Yellow, rounded, full-petaled flowers perched on thick, green fuzzy stems growing in groups of three or four in an organized pattern. Red, small-petaled flowers growing in clusters, branching out in sporadic directions, tangling themselves in the others. Delicate balls of white flowers teetering on thin stems towering over the rest. Each one a part of the blanket bouquet but each one striking on its own.

I knew you before formed in your mother’s womb. Before you were born, I set you apart. (Jeremiah 1:5)

Wildflowers bring joy.  No matter how grey the skies, no matter how barren the landscape, wildflowers bring a bit of happiness.  Their colorful presence in the middle of an often barren place has the power to bring a smile and a little hope to the hearts of those blessed to stumble upon them.  In nature, wildflowers are a welcome surprise in the middle of a journey and a splash of color in the middle of the mundane.  A bouquet of wildflowers, unlike a bouquet of roses, is remarkable in that the assortment is not impersonal, structured, and formed; but beautiful and messy in its naturally haphazard design.  A bouquet of wildflowers is often a reflection of how the giver of the bouquet feels about the one who receives it. It says “I love you” just as you are.

This is the day the Lord has made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it.  (Psalms 118:24)

Wildflowers stand their ground.  Wildflowers take root where other flowers wither away. Even as a single scarlet flower in the middle of a sea of indigo blooms; a wildflower is not afraid to stand tall and command attention.  A wildflower speaks its truth in all circumstances. Each one plays its part in the natural bouquet.  Each one is carefully designed, beautifully created, and could perform a solo act in nature, but when viewed as an ensemble … that chaotic, yet gorgeous, mix of color and form, is simply breathtaking.  The beauty of any ‘whole’ is only exemplified when the power of ‘one’ is not diminished within the larger body.

Stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord. Because you know that your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Wildflowers pop up in unexpected places. Whether on a rocky ledge or the slightest strip of grass, wildflowers take root.  Wildflowers are unpredictable.  Wildflowers bypass the easy road and look for places left untouched.  Wildflowers seek out places in need of a fruitful harvest. I think God carries those wildflower seeds exactly where they need to be. Maybe He places them along those medians and hillsides to bring joy, like they did when I was a child.  Maybe He places them outside the office window of a stressed employee to remind her to stop and enjoy the moment.  Maybe He places them along the path through the cemetery so a grief-stricken passerby would remember to still look for beauty in this world.  Maybe He places them in the middle of a crack in the sidewalk so that a group of school children can examine the wonder of nature in the middle of the concrete jungle.

He makes beauty out of ashes. (Isaiah 61:3)

Wildflowers can change the landscape with a single seed.  Wildflowers spread quickly.  Some seeds drop to the earth from the flower’s petals. Some seeds are carried by the gentle breeze.  Near and far, they take root.  Then, the roots take hold.  The seedlings sprout.  The blossoms bloom.  More wildflowers grow and multiply.  More wildflowers spread and continue the chain reaction. Over and over and over again.  A single seed is capable of incredible change.

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

Wildflowers are amazing.

If you think about it, we should strive to be like wildflowers.  We should be confident in ourselves and happy just the way we are.  We should not change ourselves to be like those around us.  We should see the beauty in our uniqueness.  We should stand up for what we believe in. We should not be afraid to stand with others that do not think like us and raise our voices.  We should realize that we are stronger when we work together, despite our differences.  We should remember that we are all part of God’s wildflower bouquet and that we are more beautiful when we are gathered together. We should bring joy to those around us.  We should look for ways to lift the spirits of others.  Like the wildflowers bring color to barren places, we should spread joy by giving of ourselves to those in need.  We should show up when people need us most. We should stand by people when others do not.  We should help those who can’t help themselves.  We should understand the incredible power that God has given to us.  We may feel unworthy. We may feel weak.  We may feel like we are only one person and wonder what we could possibly do to make a difference in this great big world. When we feel that way, we should think about wildflowers…

Wildflowers are often overlooked.  Wildflowers are considered weeds by many and unwelcome in landscaped yards. Still, think about how strong and how capable they are, even if not appreciated and not noticed by others. Just like God chose Abraham, Jacob, and David, He has chosen you too.  Think about how one tiny seed can turn into a plant, then can turn into another plant, and then turn into a field of flowers.  Think about what that small act of compassion, that expression of kindness could do.  Think of the seeds that you can plant with the love with which God has filled your heart.  Think about the seeds that you plant and the seeds from those plants that God will carry through the wind to others.  Think about the power you have inside of you to change your life, the lives of those around you, and like that seed God carries with the wind; think about how you have the power to plant the seed of love that could change the world.

Think about it. Then, do it. Decide that you are going to plant a seed and start the change.

Remember, one simple act of love could change everything.

One simple act of love could spread, you know, like wildflowers. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pasta … with a Side of Patience

 

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Wait patiently for the Lord.

Be brave and courageous.  Yes, wait patiently for the Lord. 

(Psalm 27:14)

I was making spaghetti and meatballs the other day.  The meatballs were mixed and rolled, and baking in tomato sauce.  The garlic bread was prepared with butter, garlic, and seasonings.  It smelled like an Italian restaurant.  Everyone was hungry.  I filled the pot with water and set it on the stove top.  Once the water boiled, I could add the pasta and put the garlic bread in the oven to broil.

I turned on the stove and I waited.  I set out the plates and silverware.  I set out the glasses. I checked the water in the pot.

Nothing. Just water.

I looked through the mail.  I cleaned some items from the refrigerator.  I checked my phone messages. Then I checked the pot again.

Nothing. No bubbles. No steam.

What was taking so long? I needed to finish dinner.  I still had to help the kids finish homework and drive them to their evening activities. I didn’t have time to wait so long for the water to boil.  As I watched the clock, I thought about skipping the pasta and just throwing in the garlic bread and having meatball subs. I even thought about putting the spaghetti on hold and having a late dinner.  But everyone was hungry now. How was I going to get all this done?  The water wasn’t boiling fast enough … and I was tired of waiting.

Then, just as I was about to change my plan for the evening, … finally … the water was boiling.  It started out as little bubbles dancing around the bottom of the pot and then the bubbles got bigger, floated to the top, and soon, the whole pot of water erupted into a rolling boil that signaled it was time to add the spaghetti. I put the garlic bread in the oven and then a few minutes later, dinner was ready… just in time.

Funny how that happened.  I got anxious when I had to wait.  I got impatient.  I started to panic and thought about changing my plans.  Then, in the nick of time, the water boiled, dinner was cooked, and it all worked out fine.

When we find ourselves in a difficult situation and we pray to God for an answer, for relief, for change; sometimes, the answer to that prayer doesn’t come as quickly as we like.  Sometimes, the relief, the healing, or the solution doesn’t come in time.  Sometimes, what we ask for doesn’t come at all.

It was difficult when we were in that holding pattern.  Everyone struggled with something. Maybe they waited for someone to forgive them.  Maybe they tried to forgive themselves. Maybe they waited for the resolution to a personal problem, a new job, or a medical miracle. When they were left to wait, when they were left feeling lost, when they were left feeling desperate; they might have started to think God forgot about them, that He stopped listening, or that He didn’t care.

I have a dear friend who said something I always tried to remember in times like that…

“Don’t mistake God’s silence for His absence.”

That resonated with me the first time I heard him say it and it has stuck with me through the years.  Along with a cancer diagnosis, there are all kinds of ups and downs, twists and turns, and roads leading towards the unknown.  When I was first diagnosed, I had a lot of medical tests. I had to find out what type of cancer I had, what stage it was, and what my treatment options were.  I had to find out if my body could handle the harsh treatment that was prescribed. I had to spend days in the hospital and sleepless nights waiting for results.  I had to endure brutal chemotherapy treatments, surgeries, and procedures.  I had to suffer through excruciating pain, praying for the strength to keep going.  God was with me every step of the way. I knew that now and I knew that then, but there were many nights when the pain was unbearable and the tears wouldn’t stop, that I had to remind myself that God was still there.  I might have felt alone but He hadn’t left me. It may have been difficult to walk that path but God was holding me through it and leading me to where He wanted me to be.

I did it.  I made it through treatment and surgery and reconstruction. I made it through the sickness, the isolation, and the pain.  I was declared cancer free. I was slowly returning to my ‘normal’ routine and learning to navigate my life after cancer.  Things were going great. I was just about to hit my third year anniversary of being ‘cancer free’. Then, on that beautiful October day…

I heard my doctor say that my cancer had spread, there was no cure, and that my disease was now terminal.

Wait… What? How? Why?

Why would God allow this to happen to me again?  Why would God bring me through all those horrible things, give me hope for a brand new future…and then take it all away?

Had God forgotten about me?  Would He not keep those promises He put on my heart during those long nights while I was lying in silence and crying in pain?  Did I do something to deserve this?  Was I going to be okay?

I clung to my faith during that time … because that was all I could do. I didn’t hear any more messages from God. When I was first diagnosed, God sent an army of people to rally around me.  He made things happen.  He opened doors.  There were signs along the way that all was going to be okay… but now, there was only silence.  He was quiet.  There were times I prayed and checked in, hoping God would put something on my heart …

Nothing. Silence. An uncomfortable quiet.

But, I waited.  And I prayed.

I kept praying…because I knew that even though it seemed like nothing was happening, I knew that God was working.  He was working for me.  He was working for my good.

As my friend so perfectly explained…

It may have seemed that God was silent, but He was definitely not absent. 

Soon, my test results showed that my cancer was only in one bone and the spots in my lungs were small.  The test results showed that radiation to the bone lesion would bring good results. The test results showed that I was a candidate for a new drug that was proving successful for many patients.  I learned that my treatment was an oral drug, not an IV chemotherapy drug; and that I wasn’t going to have to lose my hair again.  I learned that there were so many people supporting me, praying for me, and willing to stand by me…for the long haul.  There might have been a period of uncertainty, confusion, fear…but God was there during that time. I just had to trust Him.

We can’t see what God is doing or how He is working.  We can’t know when He will act on our behalf.  He asks that we have patience.  He asks that we wait on Him.  He wants us to know that He will work behind the scenes and He will intervene on our behalf, but in His own time.

Remember that water that was sitting in the pot? No bubbles. No steam. Although the water was still and calm, its temperature was rising.  Unseen by my watchful eyes, that liquid was turning into vapor.  That vapor was forming tiny bubbles.  Those bubbles were growing bigger.  The water boiled.  That flame under the pot was working..not as quickly as I liked, but it was working…like God is always working in our lives.

It takes patience to wait for a pot of water to boil.  

It takes faith to know that it will. 

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Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”

(John 13:7)