God’s Presence Is with You

gods-presence-regularYesterday was an extra, extra bad day for me.

It has been several months since I began my cancer treatment, with my first major surgery in December. And soon radiation begins.

Friday brought two appointments, both with my oncologists. I had been dreading this day as we would discuss the staging of the cancer as well as prognosis. And nervous? You betcha.

My anxiety had reached new heights, and I found myself crouched on the bathroom floor, sick and crying. I felt alone, so alone at that moment.

It can be difficult to believe that God is with us during these storms of life. So very, very hard sometimes.

I’m trying to hold on to the hope, though, that is stated by Craig Groeschel in his upcoming book, Divine Direction: 7 Decisions That Will Change Your Life:

“God’s presence is with you, no matter how alone you may feel.”

I don’t have any more wiser words for you than that.

If you do feel alone right now and the storm seems never ending, please know that you’re not alone. There are lots of us in the storm, right there with you. And there is  God, our shelter.

 

 

 

The Obsolete Woman

obsoleteAs I’ve grown older and reached middle age, some days I creep about, fully expecting someone to leap out of a dark corner, pointing their finger at me and yelling, “Obsolete!”

My particular skill set and education really are from a previous age, that time when our culture lay its emphasis on the power of the written word and the influence of authors. With the rise of Twitter, memes, and pithy quotes, I’ve watched as the necessity of masterful storytelling has faded even as the ability to manipulate and create multimedia–whether images, videos, gifs, or whatever–has taken precedence.

Also, much of my work history has been in libraries. Go figure.

I’ve attempted to roll with the course of culture and have learned how to create websites and fashion my own images. And, for awhile, I even gained income by working online. Lacking in education as far as these new skills were concerned, I pursued my own knowledge through research and trial–with lots and lots of error thrown in for good measure.

There is still that feeling of being obsolete, of having only “spindly limbs and a dream.” Such an apt description of me, even now.

When I found myself in the Cancer Center of Kansas yet again in July of last year, I was confused and upset. I was supposed to be done with all of this, wasn’t I? I had been a survivor for twelve years, and here I was again with a brand new breast cancer and a diagnosis of Cowden Syndrome. Spindly limbs indeed.

Looking in the mirror, I see a thinner, weakened woman who looks a bit like an old man. Sparse hair, large glasses, and no breasts just complete the image. All I need now are plaid shorts, black crew socks, and sandals.

Definitely obsolete as far as being “sexy” is concerned. I can’t remember now where I heard this, but in one movie–most likely a Lifetime movie–the middle-aged woman talks about being “invisible” to men. That certainly seems to be true in my own experience. No longer feminine…no longer working…and not yet at the “crone” stage of womanhood, although I seem to be reaching that at a far younger age than I ever expected due to the effects of cancer treatment.

“Past my prime” and unemployed, I seem to fit the description of “obsolete” more and more these days.

Our culture would echo that of The Chancellor, declaring, “You’re a bug…an ugly misformed little creature who has no purpose here, no meaning.” In the episode, refusing to be defined by the State and its culture, Romney Wordsworth responds, “I am a human being!”

And that, ultimately, is where his strength lies. The character of Wordsworth, filled with faith, refuses to be humiliated and denigrated. His trust remains with God and the power of the written word, even until the last.

In his upcoming book, Divine Direction: 7 Decisions That Will Change Your Life, Craig Groeschel says that God made us to “trust him to redeem your pain with his power.” No matter what has happened–or is happening–in my life, God can bring something good out of all of it.

My future is honestly up in the air right now. But there’s still hope. Groeschel goes on to say,

“Your story is not over….You have more chapters to write, more victories to win, more friends to meet, more of a difference to make, more of God’s goodness to experience. Even though you may not like the plot so far, with God’s help, you can transform your story into one you’re not ashamed to share. You can start something new.”

I’m trying to hang my hat on that hope for the moment.

As with the character of Wordsworth, I can declare that I won’t be defined by the “State” or our culture. Responding to a seemingly impossible situation with knowledge and faith, I can perhaps live to tell my own tale. And oddly, just like Wordsworth, I’ll bring my seemingly useless skills to our current technology and media to do so.

And I won’t forget that it was Wordsworth’s reaction to his impending death that makes the most impact in the end. His faith helps him to respond with strength and peace, as opposed to The Chancellor’s desperate appeal for escape from his untimely demise.

A Tail of Two Kitties

grant-and-ampere-for-blog
Grant (above) and Ampere (below)

(Yes, I did use “tail” intentionally.)

When we first rescued the kittens last year, I had just been diagnosed with cancer and was already overwhelmed. Taking in the two little street urchins–they had been abandoned in one of the parks here in our city–seemed too much at the time. But take them in we did, and they took over our hearts in the process.

We knew they would impact the already existing cat “culture” of our house, and it was certainly a long, extended introduction. There were many hissing fits at first, but with patience and time, those have lessened, with general acceptance and peace in the household.

One thing that was pleasantly surprising was the friendship between Grant and Ampere. Both are lovable and amiable, laid back in their approach to life. They just want to love and be loved.

And with each other they’ve found a kindred spirit of sorts, a haven from the bullying that they both receive from Ampere’s brother, Volta. (He has become the dominant cat even though he is the smallest of them all; he’s quite a force to be reckoned with.)

Even more happily, Ampere has brought out the kitten in Grant, who is about 5 years his senior. Grant and Ampere love to run and play together, creating quite a ruckus. Before Ampere, Grant had rarely played since his first year in our home, but now it’s a daily occurrence.

Both rescue kitties, Grant and Ampere have become fast friends, two kitties who have found happiness with each other.

Hopes and Dreams

hopes-and-dreamsJanuary 1st is a day for all of us to dream big.

Although many have no doubt listed their resolutions formally, I only have one resolution, that of surviving the year. Not your typical resolution, mind you, but one that is pretty common among those living with cancer.

But does that leave any room for hopes and dreams? You betcha.

You want to know what my greatest dream might be? I’ve always dreamt of being a writer. Actually getting paid to write! Yes indeed, that would be my dream job.

Well, other than getting paid to play with puppies and kittens all day…

Anyway, I love writing and reaching out to others through my articles and posts. My dream for the new year is that writing opportunities come my way. My path will just be strewn with possibility! Yes, I’m dreaming big now.

As a part of this dream and the realization that this latest cancer diagnosis is much more than a simple detour in my life, I created a new blog today that will focus on my two diagnoses of PTEN and cancer, PTEN, Cancer, and a Thing Called Hope. Hopefully this will help me reach out to others with Cowden Syndrome as well as raise awareness that genetic mutations other than BRCA can raise the risk of breast cancer.

Here’s to a 2017 that will be much better than 2016!

A New Year

new-yearA new year will soon be upon us.

To be honest, I’m hesitant to say, “Happy New Year!” It doesn’t seem appropriate at the moment. Celebrating during cancer? Perhaps some may wish to yell “Carpe Diem” tonight, but I’m sitting on the couch with one of my kittens and thinking about what lies ahead.

Doctor’s appointments, scans, surgeries, exams, treatment, pills, and possibly more. That is what the new year will certainly bring for me.

For some of us, our only New Year’s resolution is to survive the coming year. That’s about the only resolution on my list, but I suppose I’m hoping for more than that.

I’m hoping for new opportunities, new ways to reach others, new ways to give, and new ways to grow. Vague wishes and dreams, but they are there.

Can I be sure and say, “Yes, 2017 will bring me wonderful and exciting things!” No, I can’t. I suppose I’m more realist than otherwise, and I’ve been on the cancer merry-go-round before. Depending on the results of treatment, this could become an even more long and dragged out affair, lasting through the year and beyond.

Unlike my first experience with cancer, this may be more than a detour. This may be a new road. And I’m pretty certain that this new road will continue, just like those seemingly endless highways here in the Midwest.

I can’t go back. I can’t get my old body back. I don’t even know if I can find the exit back to my original path, back to my old life. That old me and my life–with all of its normalcy and quietude–are gone.

So no, I may not be celebrating tonight. But I’ll most likely wake up tomorrow and struggle onward. It can be challenging to accept a new path–especially one full of doctors and uncertainty–but maybe there will be some good in all of this. Something that can make all of this worthwhile.

Wishing you and your families a safe and meaningful night.

In the Mirror

in-the-mirrorHaving had many surgeries, I am familiar with the feeling of seeing scars for the first time. Whether it was the odd bulge of the port protruding from my chest or the strange caved-in area on my leg where a large tumor was removed, I knew that it could be difficult to assimilate these things into my idea of myself.

But this surgery, this has been something much different.

Although I had looked at plenty of pictures of women who had gone “flat,” I suppose I wasn’t really prepared for how I would look after my surgery. Looking at my newly flat chest, I don’t see me. It’s someone new in the mirror now.

Regarding my surgery, I have been told many things by other women, including:

Well, you weren’t using them [my breasts] anyway, so it doesn’t matter, right?

You should just be glad to be alive!

You’re almost through with all of this, and then you can move on with your life!

At least you won’t have to wear a bra any more!

Just think positively!

Hearing these statements, I didn’t feel consoled.

Going through cancer treatment involves a lot of loss. From the first diagnosis to the last treatment, patients like myself must confront the continuing changes in our bodies and our lives. Even after one loss is accepted, another lies ahead. And for many, this cycle of scan, treatment and more can last a lifetime.

I agree with Nancy’s Point that women are often made to feel guilty about grieving after their mastectomy.

The truth? I miss the old me. I miss having breasts. 

At this point, I don’t know who I am seeing in the mirror. My chest is mainly numb with some areas of shooting pain, neither of which helps to make a connection with the “new” me. There’s nothing I see in the mirror now that resembles myself.

Sparse hair sticking up out of my scalp, thinner after chemo, and a flat chest. That is what I see in the mirror. And there will be even more changes to come in the new year with radiation treatment, hysterectomy, and anti-estrogen therapy.

The rapid nature of diagnoses, scans, treatments, and surgeries provides little time to think about all of this. It often leaves you gasping for air, desperately searching for a break in the busy-ness of cancer. But there are always more doctor’s appointments, and always more shocks that must be quickly accepted, or more likely, pushed back into the darkness where they are often hidden behind a forced bravado.

The scars are beginning to heal, but it will be awhile before I can accept them as part of my new “normal.”

I don’t feel brave, and I’m not a warrior. Right now, I’m just tired.

Cancer and Family

cancer-and-familyBoth love and cancer have bound our family.

Cancer has often seemed like an unwanted and violent relative who continues to show up for dinner. Demanding everything and leaving nothing, he shakes our lives until very little remains.

As the dust settles from his appearance, we hug each other closer and breathe a sigh of relief, thinking this will be the final time. But no. We bury family members, struggle through holidays, and continue on. And still he returns.

I hear those who are newly diagnosed with cancer whisper sadly, “But I don’t have any family history! I never thought I’d have cancer.” Murmuring, “I’m so sorry,” I silently wonder if it is better to be thrown headlong into a cancer diagnosis or to have a family history full of cancer.

Is it better to have an unfamiliar enemy? Or to know intimately this ghastly disease?

When medical professionals ask about the history of cancer in my family, it usually takes about 5-10 minutes to discuss it fully. They take notes furiously and then look at me with glazed eyes. Their expressions seem to be a mix of sadness and disbelief.

Occasionally I’ll elicit some surprise, even from those who have experience with this sort of thing. When I spoke with the genetics counselor, she questioned me further about those family members with skin cancer. “When were they first diagnosed?” she asked. I gave her a guess as to dates but then explained that this cancer was ongoing. “You mean there has been more than one time?” she asked, shocked.

Yes, cancer keeps knocking at our door. Only two of us left now.

But then there are those who ask about my family history, specifically a history of breast cancer. Taking my vitals, a nurse in the hospital during my most recent visit asked me if any of my family members had had breast cancer. “My mother. She died in 1999,” I responded. The nurse nodded and then left my room.

Lying there in the darkness, I could guess as to why she had asked me that question. She wondered why someone my age had already had breast cancer twice. As I have a family history–plus the PTEN mutation–it’s explainable. And she could leave my room feeling a bit better about her own risk for cancer.

Our throw of the genetic dice resulted in snake eyes.

We’ve grown stronger, though, and appreciate each other a bit more after all of this. Those of us that remain are scarred and a bit hobbled, but we know well the fragility of life and that cancer can return at any moment. So we talk more, sharing stories from our lives and simple pleasures like reading and movies and good food.

And we do our best to kick that unwanted relative, cancer, to the curb for good.