A SEASON OF LEARNING

Nature is a wonderful teacher, and I’ve learned many life lessons by spending time in the garden. At times my garden seems like a metaphor of my life. Both of us have been struggling this seemingly endless season of our lives. Me with my cancer and chemo and everything that goes with it, and my garden with the lack of rain and the sweltering heat of a Louisiana summer. In my fragile state, at times, I haven’t been able to take the best care of my plants and flowers, and they have suffered for it. Nothing stirs me to move more than when I look out the window at my garden and see leaves drooping and flowers dropping petals. They look so sad, lonely, and neglected. In my mind I hear them crying out to me, “How could you!” “Look at what’s happening to me!” “I’m in pain!” “Where are you?” “I need you!” There were times when I had neglected them for so long and they seemed so far gone that I doubted that even a drink of water would bring them back. But, thankfully, I was wrong. Even as I stood next to them apologizing, with the watering hose in my hand, promising that I would not forsake them again, almost immediately I could see life flowing back into the stems and leaves. I could see the strength returning as very slowly, the flowers raised their heads towards the heavens in thanksgiving. Pruning off the dead buds and cutting back the too far gone branches, their tenacity amazes me. Compassion fills my heart as I imagine them sitting in their pots, dying a little each day, waiting for me to come with life-giving water. I know, it’s a plant, it doesn’t have a brain. But, to me, I have a responsibility to nurture and care for every living thing that God has created. I love my plants and I know it may sound silly to some people, but I am filled with compassion for them when they are visibly in distress. Their strife makes me sad.

In comparison to my love and care of my flower garden, I know that God cares so much more abundantly for me. I empathize with nature so much because those very same questions and reproach that I have perceived directed toward me from the flowers in my garden, I have at one time or another directed toward my God. Just as the garden depends on me, I depend on God. He is my sustenance. Without Him, all hope would be lost and I, like my flowers, would wither away and die. Like them, so many times this summer, I have wilted under a burden of suffering. But, God in his mercy, looked on me with eyes of compassion and healed me with His love. Healing comes in so many ways. It is not always in the form of physical healing, but can be a healing of the heart and spirit, the courage to face whatever life brings, a supernatural strength to get through the dark valleys or bare the heaviest burdens, and, most importantly, the gift of knowing that we are never alone – even on our darkest days.

Like the watered flowers, life is beginning to flow back into me. I’m feeling better, and more like my old self, every day. I may wilt a little in fatigue or in the night when I can’t sleep because of the joint and nerve pain in my legs, but, I’m learning to deal with it. Like those flowers, I’m holding on. I’m learning how to deal with the new “normal” that is my life with this disease. I, too, am tenacious.

Even the insects in my garden have something to teach me. Just observing them in their environment brings me so much joy. One of the lessons I learned from the bees is – get up early. If you want to water in the morning, do it before the bees wake up. They do NOT like to be disturbed when they are having breakfast. And, even though it seems you have won a battle as, in their frustration, they fly away from the plant you are watering – they will get their revenge. I learned this the hard way as one of the little buggers laid in wait for me outside my back door yesterday afternoon. I was all prepared to take Rosie for a short walk and just as we stepped out the door, WHAM, a bee stung me on my leg. Oh well, I’m not going to hold it against him. After all, the poor bee gave up his life in his pursuit to protect and feed the hive. I suppose it got tired of me invading its territory. Even insects are capable of self-sacrifice!

Patience is a virtue that the Hummingbirds model all too well. Whenever I remove their feeders to wash and refill them with fresh sugar water, they patiently sit on the clothesline under my arbor or flutter among the flowers close to their perch watching and waiting for me to come outside with the delicious nectar they love so much. They have learned that I will provide for them, just as I have learned that God will provide for me. If I am patient, God always gives me just what I need; it may not be exactly what I want or expect, but it is what I need.

I don’t know how many times this “season” the birds who inhabit my yard have waited in vain for me to fill the bird feeders when, at times, I was too sick to notice they were empty. And, yet, they showed up every day, checking to see if their favorite meal, black oil sunflower seed, had arrived. There have been times when I saw them congregating on the bar above the feeders and I just couldn’t make it out there to fill them. Still, they trusted that I would eventually come. Their conversation might have gone like this, “Where is she?” “Doesn’t she know we’re hungry?” “Just wait, she’ll come.” “Nope, I’m going to find my own food.” “No, we need her, she has food that we can’t get on our own.” “Don’t give up!” Their plight and their perseverance in the face of seeming abandonment resembles my own inner battle, and strengthens my resolve to fight on, to never give up. I depend on God to feed me, to give me food that nourishes my soul and gives me the strength and vigor to withstand those days when my “plate” seems empty. His food fills me with hope for a healthy future and the determination to never give up.

Truly, the things one can learn while spending time in a garden is invaluable! Gardening is, undeniably, an instrument of God’s grace. But, the most important garden we can tend is the garden of our soul. If you work with God to nourish the condition of your soul, growth will follow, and the harvest will be magnificent.

Take Things As They Come

Mid July
Waiting for the results of my Pet Scan seemed like an eternity. When the day finally came, I was anxious but hopeful, but – anxious! My husband and I passed the time in the waiting room playing word games and solitaire on our ipads and discussing which shade of purple my doc would be wearing that day. He always wears purple shirts in every shade you can imagine. I like that about him because I, too, LOVE the color purple. It was my grandmother’s favorite color. I’ll never forget when she passed away my lovely grandmother was lying in her coffin wearing the most beautiful purple flowing lingerie robe. She would have loved it! Anyway, I digress, sorry. As the doctor walked in, I noticed he had on a deep purple plum colored shirt (cute) and a serious look on his face. He is always serious. But, then he smiled a little and said, “The Pet Scan came in clear, no sign of cancer.” My husband was thrilled. I felt relief in that moment, remission is awesome, but yet, I did not feel overly joyful. I peppered the doctor with all my questions about my coming 2 year maintenance regimen on Rituxan, and asked about my recovery going forward. He said not to expect to be feeling myself for another 6 months at least because the chemo has gravely injured my body and it has to heal. Not what I wanted to hear. I’m so impatient to be well again.

My port has been flipping over and I cannot flip it back myself. This has been going on for months and if it isn’t flipped correctly on infusion day, I can’t have my infusion. It’s a little painful to have it flipped and it just flips right back over by the next day anyway, which is so frustrating. I really like having the port, it is so convenient for the infusions. But, after discussing it with my doctor, I am going to have it removed permanently and just have my maintenance Rituxan infused through my veins. This is a concern (I have so many, right?) because my veins are always hard to find for the nurses and they usually have to do multiple sticks to make it work. (Big Sigh) My worries consume me sometimes. I’ve read too much about this disease, chatted with too many patients in the Follicular Lymphoma chat rooms. I may have won the first round with this disease, but it is only the first round, there will most probably be more to come, and the hard part is not knowing how long I will be in remission. It could be forever, or 2, 5, or 10 years who knows? It’s that fear of the unknown that catches me every time. I tend to project what “could” happen and start worrying about it ahead of time. I understand perfectly well that I should live for today, enjoy each moment, and wait until something happens to worry about it. I know that, and some days I’m good with it, but other days I’m so down. So, I’m praying and trying to live the Serenity Prayer each day. I cannot wish away this cancer and my body’s propensity for having it.

My outlook might be more hopeful if I were not still dealing with the after effects of Chemo. Just when I begin to hope for better days, that hope is fleeting. Maybe it’s me, maybe I’m trying too hard. When I feel the least amount of energy returning , I lose my mind and overdo. Like yesterday, it felt so good to be out and about doing errands that I stayed out and shopped most of the day and wore myself out. Last night and today I’m paying for it. Radiating pain in my legs kept me awake all night. I’m not sure whether it was neuropathy or dehydration causing it, but this morning, when I got out of bed, I could hardly walk. Mad as a hornet with this new development, I decided if I forced myself to walk at a fast clip, it might help my circulation and the pain would go away. It didn’t. It just exhausted me so much that the sofa became my best friend again. It’s that worry, that I may not have the energy that I used to have ever again, that disturbs me. What will my new normal be? I won’t know that for quite some time so I really do have to stop freaking out when my body needs to rest.

I’m in physical therapy, hoping to get my strength back so I can get back to playing pickleball. At least that will get me out of this house and with people who are all about having fun. I love being around happy, energetic people because it helps to invigorate me. You can’t help but catch those positive vibes when you are around them.

July 28, 2019
I’m happy to report that I’m feeling SO much better. There are more good days than bad days as long as I behave myself and don’t try to do too much. Well, I must admit, that part is a struggle. I get so much joy out of working in my garden, though it would be much more enjoyable if it were not so hot. Yet, even dealing with the heat cannot dampen my spirits when I see the aesthetic results that my weeding, pruning, and watering give to my lovely garden. My joy is magnified even more when I sit on the patio and watch the bees, butterflies, dragonflies, hummingbirds, and flying insects of all sorts, merrily flitting and flying around the yard, tasting the flowers and communing with one another.

I have been more in touch with God this past month. This journey has put me on a little roller-coaster of a faith ride. At times it’s been a battle to get to prayer, though my struggles eventually always bring me to Jesus’ feet where He consoles and comforts me. We never really have it “all” on our spiritual journey. We may, at times, think to ourselves, “Yes, I’m on the right path; I’m praying, listening, trusting, believing, surrendering to God’s will…” Then, life happens and our faith wavers and God may seem far away. But, He isn’t. God is always there. It is our changing circumstances, our struggles, our emotions, our fears that can cause an imagined disconnect. Thankfully, when this happens to me, the Holy Spirit persists in calling me back into communion with the Trinity. He prays for me when I cannot, He touches my heart with His love, even when I am unaware. The Father never stops reaching out with mercy, love, and comfort that is always available – all we have to do is turn toward it. When I can do that, when I lay my burdens down at our Lord’s feet, I feel a lightness of spirit and a sense of being loved that is indescribable.

Mind Over Matter

6/20/19
The end of chemo is not the end, it’s just the beginning of the next phase of your cancer diagnosis. While I was going through chemo, I was too sick to even think very much about what came next. When I did think about it, I would put it out of my mind. But, now that chemo is over my mind has gone into overdrive, worrying, studying about my cancer, reading about the long term and late effects that going through chemo does to your body. It is way too much information! In preparation for my doctor’s visit this week I wanted to be prepared so as I studied, I made a list of questions I wanted to ask him. A long list. After a few days of this insanity and many sleepless nights, I woke up one morning and picked up my 365 day devotional book “Jesus Calling.” I can’t say that I read the entries for every day of the year, but on those days that I pick up the book there is always something that applies to what is going on in my life and this day was no different. The word of the day from Jesus was “Relax and know that I am God with you…Stop trying to monitor MY responsibilities – things that are beyond your control. Find freedom by accepting the boundaries of your domain.”

When the “word” speaks to my heart it is as if it is dancing off the page and coming right towards me in all caps with the preface that screams, “Hey, this is specifically for you!” Of course, it is often something I know in my heart already, but I need reminders, especially when I get obsessive about something. God is so good to me, always leading me where I need to go to get enlightened and comforted when I need His wisdom. That’s all I needed to stop the madness, to chill, to let go and let God. The truth is, worrying will not help because this cancer is out of my control, whatever may happen in the future cannot be predicted by me or even by my doctor. It is the unknown variable. I hate the unknown, it has always scared me. But, I have to live with it because I have no choice. I can either let fear define me or I can live my life being grateful for each day, and making the most of the time I have left on this earth. No one really knows how much time there is left in life, so I chose to live without fear! And, when I forget that, I trust that God will find a way to remind me that He is the one who is in control. “Don’t be afraid; just believe” (Luke 8:50).

The doctor ordered my Pet Scan which will happen sometime in the next week or two. I’m praying that it will be free of cancer so I don’t have to have any radiation – we shall see. In answer to my question of when I will begin to get my strength back, he told me that the chemo was an assault on my body, big time, and that it would take at least 6 months for me to feel like my old self – though there may be some lingering side effects. Well, that was something I didn’t want to hear. I want to be well, like NOW.

6/24/19
Each morning I wake up, expecting to feel a little better, a little more energized and sometimes, I do. But, it never lasts. Getting dressed, a short walk, picking up around the house, watering the flowers, driving the car, going to church – those small efforts leave me exhausted and in the need of rest. I have no choice. This past weekend, nearly 3 weeks since chemo, I was expecting to feel a lot better. Instead, I was still confined to the sofa most of day with low blood pressure because of dehydration. I had gone out just for about 30 minutes to work in my garden but it was too much for me. Dehydration causes me to feel so awful, almost as if I am too drugged to move my body, while at the same time my head feels weird, foggy, and aching. I really should have gone in for fluids. The doctor had told me to listen to my body. Well, that was good advice, though I don’t like it. This body is such a nag, it won’t let me do anything I want to do, and it won’t take “no” for an answer. It pretty much downright refuses to listen to me when I try to tell it what to do. So, I rest a lot, nap a lot, and bemoan my weakened state a lot. My husband keeps telling me, “it’s temporary,” but that doesn’t make me feel any better.

Even though most of the hair on my body is gone, there are a few broken stubs of hair here and there. But, with each chemo round there were fewer and fewer stubs left. After this past chemo my body is pretty much like a cue ball, smooth and devoid of all hair. My scalp gets really tender about two weeks after chemo which, I’ve learned from experience, is a sign that it is destroying hair follicles. I’ve read that my hair will start to grow, though sporadically, about two months after my last chemo, though it may look “different.” Apparently the chemo damages the follicles so that the hair doesn’t grow back normal and full until about 6 months after chemo. Now THAT gives me the blues because I cannot take wearing hot chemo caps or my wig. I only wear those when I have to go out in public. My neighbors have gotten used to seeing my bald head. The only reason I wear it in public is because I don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable around me. I can tell they are because even just seeing the chemo cap makes them turn their head away; they don’t know what to say to me. I cannot wait until I have at least a few stubs growing so that I can go out in public without any headgear.

BALD IS BEAUTIFUL

Tomorrow is the day I get my Pet Scan. Yes, I am a little anxious, but also full of hope. I’ve come a long way these past few months and gone through a lot of pain and suffering, but it has made me stronger and, I hope, wiser. Life is precious. Each day is a blessing from God, and each person who loves us a gift that must be treasured. I worry that I may have been a “Debbie Downer” during those times when I have complained on this blog about all my issues. I certainly didn’t mean to make anyone sad on my account. My desire is to be a light that always reflects my faith and love for Jesus, whether I’m on the mountaintop or in the dark valleys of life.

I WILL SURVIVE!

Hope Takes Flight

A mother’s love

I don’t believe in luck or coincidence, flukes or karma. I believe in Divine Providence. I believe in a God who is not a spectator in our lives, but one who is intimately involved in each and every moment that we live and breathe. God has plans for us, plans for our good (Jeremiah 29:11). This God who loves us with a love that our puny, human minds cannot even imagine or perceive, is constantly using opportunities in our everyday life to enter into our minds and hearts, in order to make us aware of His presence and love.

This morning, I was feeling pretty good as I grabbed a cup of coffee and my prayer materials, looking forward to what God may have to say to me while I relaxed and, hopefully, found some peace in His holy presence. As I read through the scriptures of the day, I was a little distracted by the concerns of family and friends, and couldn’t stop myself from interspersing prayers for them in the midst of my contemplation. It was all good; I felt God understood and was listening attentively to my intercession for their needs.

As I sat, quiet and still on this lovely morning, in company with the Creator, watching my English bull dog chase the shadows of the birds at the feeders, and petting my sweet rescue, Rosie, who was lying by my side, I heard the sound of the Purple Martins calling to one another and glanced up to see a group of about 12 of them soaring and gliding high above the tall trees near my Gazebo. I manage 26 nesting gourds for the Martins who return every year to raise their young. The month of June is the time when all of the fledglings from the gourds are at different stages of learning to fly and hunt from their doting parents. It is so wonderful to witness new life unfolding in the natural world.

Joy filled my heart as I watched the parents place the fledglings in the tallest tree tops, where they would be safe. The fledglings watched mom and dad soaring and gliding, coming back to them every now and then with a tasty tidbit to share. All the while, as they watched, the babies were being trained in the art of how to hunt for bugs, (Martins only eat on the fly-no seeds for them), and the proper way to fly. Gratitude filled my heart as I watched the show, knowing that it was presented by a loving God, just for me. No, I don’t believe that it was luck that the Martins chose the two trees within my personal viewing area from the patio, out of all the trees on my 14 acres and the 80 acres of forest behind me, to feed their young. This extraordinary occasion was an embrace, an invisible kiss, an “I love you,” from my personal savior. Hope and love soared in my heart and I felt as if I was flying just as high as the birds in the sky. That is the way the touch of Heaven, a special moment of recognition of God’s love for me, always makes me feel.

At long last I am beginning to feel better, and with the end of chemo for now, the expectation is that brighter days are on the horizon. It’s amazing the change that feeling better does for one’s psyche and outlook on life. Looking back, I don’t know how I maneuvered through the challenges of the last five and a half months and still remain relatively sane and whole in body and spirit. No, that’s not true, it was my faith and the support of loving friends and family that gave me the strength to power through the most difficult of times.

My frame of mind is righting itself. As my body heals from the onslaught of poisons it has endured, so my outlook on the future is improving. I think it began yesterday as I wearily drove to get my weekly blood test at the cancer center. I was listening to the country gospel hymns station on Pandora when “Tomorrow” came on the playlist. What?! I’ve listened to this station for years and NEVER heard this song on it before. Grumpy and miserable from a week and a half of chemo trauma, it was just what I needed to hear. Yep, I think you may have guessed what I was thinking – it was a God-send. Singing along with the song, hope took flight!

TOMORROW

I am blessed to have had many God moments in my life. Remembering those moments bolsters my lagging faith when the going gets rough. They are undeniable testaments to a loving God whose existence, companionship, and omnipresence is a certainty to me – no matter my circumstances.

My first encounters with God sparked a need within me to try to put to words how they made me feel. This is a poem I wrote after a moonlit walk with my now deceased basset hound on a freezing winter night when the sight of the star-studded night sky touched my soul.

THE TOUCH OF HEAVEN
The touch of Heaven comes to us in silence
So fleeting that we may not notice it
But it’s there despite our imperception
That feeling of complete and utter bliss

It comes upon us in a millisecond
When we kiss our precious ones hello
And other times when Heaven seems to beckon
The sun and sky put on a dazzling show

In the moment, we may hardly notice
Our spirit’s grasping for the world unseen
Its reaching and its yearning and its hoping
To be touched by that great Godly Being

When recognition slowly dawns upon us
Our eyes are opened to the one above
The knowledge that we’ve always been together
And that feeling of completeness is His love

Waiting for the Light

It seems ironic that when I am so close to the finish line my strength and determination have weakened, just like my body. This last chemo has done a number on me for sure. Each chemo, with all the issues I’ve had, has been worse than the one before so it should have been no surprise that this last one was going to test me beyond my endurance. Maybe I’m just tired of fighting to stay strong, to stay positive, to keep hope in my heart. But, when you feel so horrible that living is like slogging through a quicksand mine field with a hundred pound back pack on your back, it saps your desire to fight, even though you know you WILL feel better, eventually. But, eventually is not now, I want to feel well now. I cannot even begin to describe how I felt yesterday, but, I’ll try. The weekend after I finish taking prednisone is always awful. Each part of my body feels as if its weighted down with thousand pound weights. My head and brain are the heaviest, I cannot seem to think straight and I have no desire to think about anything. The weight of my head makes it difficult to keep it from listing on my shoulders when I stand up. The only thing I can do is lie down. It’s either lie down or fall down – that’s my choice.

The fluid is pouring out of my body so I must gather enough strength to get up to go to the bathroom. I drag myself back and forth. I’m stubborn so every now and then on my bathroom walk, I force myself to walk out to the patio and sit there for a few minutes, hoping to cheer myself up. I can’t sit for long and instead of cheering me it depresses me – I want to walk around my yard! Back to the sofa where nothing interests me whatsoever. Everything on TV seems so silly and shallow, or nasty, or hate-filled, or just a waste of time to even contemplate. Books take brain power in order to keep up with the story line – so reading frustrates me. Though I do try to read – but nothing too heavy. I have a few cancer books and articles people have given me, and I’m sure they are filled with great information but I cannot even coerce myself into opening the first page of those books. Maybe I’m not ready yet? I don’t know when I will be.

Last night, as on many nights when I’m in the shower, feeling drained and depleted, weeping in despair, I spoke to my God as I let the hot water pour over me, praying for relief of my bodily ills, praying for courage, strength, and a deeper faith that cannot be shaken by the physical, mental, and emotional challenges I’m experiencing. God is with me during those times, I sense His presence and His love for me, even when He doesn’t seem to be communicating to me. And, that is enough, it’s enough. It’s all I have to hold onto that gives me strength to carry on when I just want to lie down and never get up again.

These are the real moments of the cancer journey. They can’t be sugarcoated or glossed over. They come and they go. They come when I’m weak and tired or sad and lonely, or irritable or mad. When you feel bad or your emotions are twisted up in knots, the world seems gray, as does everything and everyone in it.

Trying to think positive is sometimes elusive. There is so much that is unknown about my future. There are no guarantees in life and certainly not with this disease. Taking it one day at a time is the only way to survive it. When I get too far ahead of myself, fear and worry set in.

It’s been a downer week for me and I’m not going to put a happy face on it. Sometimes, you just have to admit what IS.

But, I won’t be down for long I hope. Soon as I start feeling better and begin getting out and about more, all will be well. I hope, I pray, I cling to Jesus, I surrender to His holy will.

So Close and Yet So Far

The anxiety of getting through my last chemo was tempered by the knowledge that this was going to be my last chemo! Yay! Gearing up for chemo day is always so stressful but I was eager to get it over with, and sort of excited about “ringing the bell.” On two of my other infusion days, I had heard the claps and cheers when some lucky cancer patient got to “ring the bell” which signaled their last day of chemo. So, I started out in a good mood and I was ready: lidocaine numbing my port – check, port not flipped over – check, mom’s lucky blanket covering me – check, hubby by my side – check; all systems GO. After I was settled in, I sent a picture of myself in the chemo chair to all my supporters who lovingly texted me best wishes and words of encouragement.

Reaching out to others during cancer treatment is the most important thing a person can do for themselves. Actually, whenever someone is going through any kind of crisis it is crucial to reach out to others. There is no need to go it alone. People want to be there for you, but sometimes, they are hesitant to “intrude” or “bother” you, thinking you may need space, or they just don’t know what to say. Reach out. Reach out when you feel low, or lonely, or sad, or hurting. Talk it out with a friend. Let them love you, let them make you laugh, let them tell you their troubles, let them console you, ask them to listen without fixing you, ask them to listen to you cry and rant and rave. Then, thank them for being there for you and for being your friend. And, if you don’t have a friend, go out and make a new friend. I find that most people are naturally kind. When I can go out and about, I meet the nicest people everywhere I go. I smile a lot and talk about my bald head (which is the elephant in the room) and my chemo brain which usually breaks the ice and starts some very interesting conversations, some of which very often lead to some deep sharing by complete strangers. The point is that being around others is healing to both body and soul. Don’t try to go it alone. People do have their own lives, so as your treatment goes on they may seem to have forgotten about you. Don’t let it hurt your feelings – they may have a busy life and concerns of their own. But, don’t let it stop you from reaching out to them – it’s a win-win for everyone.

Back to chemo day, which unfortunately, did not go well. I had my usual reaction to the Rituxan and all that comes with it – you’ve heard it all before. But, my friends were there for me, which made all the difference. I texted them all my woes and they commiserated with me. Their presence, even by phone, lifted me up and gave me strength. One of them even made me chuckle. I was texting our group, complaining that the Ativan had not kicked in to mellow me out when one of my friends texted me, “Laughing out loud at your writings.” I looked back at my texts and they were jibberish. I was so “out of it” I didn’t even know it. Then, I had to laugh at myself. Having people you can count on – priceless! My only disappointment that day – I didn’t get to ring the darn bell. By the time I was ready to leave, after all the drama I gave the poor nurse, I suppose she forgot about me ringing the bell. I remembered on my way out the door, and for just a second I thought about going back in, but I was so ready to get out of there, I told my husband, “Oh, let’s just forget it!” It had been a rough day.

It seems like forever, but it’s only been four days since chemo. This is the week the Prednisone does crazy things to me. Monday was chemo day, by Wednesday I was truly manic. Having gotten very little sleep on Monday and Tuesday night, I woke up like a house afire on Wednesday morning, feeling mad as hell. Why? I have no clue! I was mad because I couldn’t sleep, because I have cancer, because I haven’t been able to clean my house like I want, or take a walk, or work in my garden, or play Pickleball with my friends, or sing at church, etc. I hated my puffy, steroid, moon face; my eyebrows and eyelashes which are non-existent, my bald head with it’s few broken hairs sticking out here and there that make me look like a sickly cancer patient – which I am! I looked at my husband who was sitting at the counter, calmly drinking his coffee and scrolling on his Ipad and I didn’t like him either. I made a very firm statement to him that I was going to eat an egg and then take the hated Prednisone pills – along with the 8 other pills I despised having to take. Sensing my mood, he quickly finished up his coffee and retreated to the barn for the rest of the day, which was probably a very good idea on his part.

Downing the egg and the pills my irritability level was at its peak. Looking around, I noticed all the things in my house that I hadn’t been able to do these past few months and decided I HAD to clean it – ALL of it!  I cleaned from 9 a.m. until nearly 7:30 pm.  The entire time I was cleaning, I was furious.  Looking back on it, I was a little crazed if I must say so myself.  It was as if the dirt was my enemy.   In the three bathrooms, I used a toothbrush on the grout and got on my hands and knees to scrub the floors, I vacuumed all the carpets and spot cleaned where it was needed, dusted all the furniture in the house including the fans and light fixtures, cleaned all the floor moldings before I mopped the tile floors, then wiped down all the doors in the house. 

I did stop for 30 minutes around lunch time, in the middle of my house cleaning – to join the online Lymphoma midday chat group. I was hoping the other cancer patients in the group could calm me down.  But, the chat only made me more nervous.  Most of them have the same cancer I have and they talked about relapses and how the chemo didn’t work for them and how they were on new trials – then I started stressing about my upcoming pet scan and what was in MY future.  I left the chatroom early and got back to my cleaning. They were NOT helping.

Every now and then when I was working I just wanted to scream and cry, thinking about my cancer and what was to come next. The doctor had told me I may have to have radiation if my Pet Scan still showed cancer, and that regardless, I would have to have two years of chemo every two months for maintenance with Rituxan – the very same immunotherapy drug that I am allergic to. I managed to pray my way through those worrisome thoughts and gather myself together, using physical labor to block out the negativity. It felt almost like I was having a nervous breakdown at times!  Maybe I was. Praying as I worked calmed me down and got me through whatever that manic “episode” was.  Praise God for that!  Still wired at 2 a.m. I finally had to take a Valium to get to sleep. That was yesterday.

I slept for 6 hours which is a good night’s sleep for Prednisone week. Thank God I woke up feeling pretty normal. I took the dreaded pills again, then waited for the impact. Nothing happened. In fact I was tired. I did manage to play fetch with Rosie for about 10 minutes which made her very happy, then we sat on the sofa together for prayer time. I felt so weak and tired I could not keep my eyes open. Thinking I would rest for just a few minutes I closed my eyes and woke up six hours later. I suppose the mania of the day before had taken a toll on me. Truth is, I just never know how I am going to feel from day to day. The medicines can’t always be counted on to have a certain effect on my body, mind or emotions – I have no clue why this is. You just never know what each day will bring, which infuriates me. I like to have all my ducks in a row. I do not like surprises. I wonder, “What is God teaching me in this experience?” “What am I supposed to learn from all this uncertainty?”

As I sit here and ponder those questions, I realize that actually, my situation does have a lot of clarity. After all, I know that I have cancer, and that there is a plan in motion to stop its progress. Most people in the busyness of their lives never think about or plan for the tragedies of life that can happen unexpectedly. But, I have a diagnosis, I have time to think and plan and make changes in life for the better. First, I have to trust my doctor, follow his advice and go with the flow of this disease, wherever it takes me, for however long I have. I’ll keep living, looking for the blessings in life; I’ll keep fighting, even though it’s often painful; I’ll keep planning, enjoying my family, friends, and ministry; I’ll keep praying, trusting in God’s love and mercy; I’ll keep trying to be a better person, following in the ways of Jesus so that one day, I will meet Him face to face in all His glory and be with Him forever.

At this moment in time, I feel blessed to be in the Potter’s hand, waiting to be molded and melded into something new. There is comfort in knowing that loving hands are shaping me. I’m looking forward to a new beginning, wherever this journey takes me. I am ready to downsize the stuff in my life and increase those moments of tending to nature, giving of myself, sharing the things I have, and loving to the fullest.

Down with negativity!

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

This trek through cancer treatment is like a nightmare expedition that won’t end, filled with unwelcome surprises and unexpected pitfalls. I have to keep reminding myself that I am almost at the finish line, at least for this leg of the journey. But, I can’t help looking back at all I’ve gone through, and looking forward to the obstacles that stand between me and the elusive beginnings of better health and wellness. The downward spiral I have experienced over the last few months has debilitated me in mind, body, and spirit. At the beginning of my cancer treatment I was able to push myself beyond my limits by sheer determination and will. But, as time has gone on, my body has steadily grown weaker and it refuses to obey my commands, overruling me on all accounts when I try to force it to do what it doesn’t want to. I’ve gotten so used to losing this battle of wills that it frightens me.

This morning, for the first time in over six weeks, I decided that enough was enough and I was going to take my dog for a walk to the end of our road, even if it killed me. Walking Rosie down the road, taking in the sights and sounds and nature, has always been the highlight of my day. Well, it didn’t quite kill me; but, I only made it halfway down the road before I came to my senses and turned around. I wasn’t even able to enjoy the walk because I was too focused on putting one foot in front of the other, convincing myself with each step not to give up, that I could make it to the end. I couldn’t – my body said, “No!”. When I turned around and started home, Rosie looked at me as if to say, “What is wrong with you, you used to be so much fun?”

The frightening part is that I am losing the desire to do things because I have no energy. I am giving in to my body’s weakness and accepting its dictates all too often. I’ve learned from past experiences that when I try to overrule it, it doesn’t go well for me. I think I understand now why people give up on cancer treatment. If I had more than one more treatment to go, I don’t know how I would convince myself to do it. I suppose I could if I had to, but, only by the grace of God and His strength to uphold me. I tell myself this journey is a marathon, not a sprint. When my spirits flag, God speaks to my heart with words of scripture that give me courage, and help me to keep going.

This past week I had guests at Serenity House. Just knowing that they were staying there and seeing them every now and then walking in the gardens lifted my spirits. It brought to light how much I miss being around people. This forced isolation is another part of treatment that is difficult to endure. Especially if you are a people person like I am. People need people! Community is so important. Just the few times that I met up with my guests and talked and laughed was a healing experience for me. It makes me think of all the shut-ins, elderly, and people who are ill that have no one to visit them, no one who even calls them. The texts, calls, and visits I get from my family and friends mean so to me, especially on those days when I am sick, lonely, or depressed. When I get better, I am definitely going to make a special effort to reach out to those people, to volunteer my time to be there for those who need someone to listen to them, someone who cares.

After I came in from my failed walk this morning, I sat in my recliner, dejected and feeling sorry for myself. The window where I was sitting overlooks my back patio. There is an abundance of flowers I’ve managed to plant over the past few months. Just a few every now and then when I’ve felt well enough, and now, they are blooming profusely. Gazing out the window, I noticed a lizard scurrying from one potted plant to the next; then, it hoped off and ran all the way across the patio and up a post to reach the tall heights of the wisteria filled arbor. It seemed to be on a mission of sorts. I had to smile at its antics. My many colorful garden wind spinners were gaily twirling in the morning breeze. The long, delicate fronds of the hanging ferns were also swaying gently in the wind. Here and there bees and butterflies were sampling the nectar of the penta and lantana flowers; they seemed inclined to eat on the run, hopping from flower to flower. In the distance, I could see the blooming magnolias and Crape Myrtles, and the day lilies and fragrant gardenias in the gardens around the gazebo.

The garden setting soothed me, and as I sat there I felt a sense of peace wash over me, a calming of my spirit. Sitting in the silence and the stillness, looking out at the beauty of nature opened my heart to how blessed I am. Even cancer has, in some ways, been a blessing. It has certainly opened my eyes to what is most important to me in this life – my family, my friends, and my ministry. It has helped me to be thankful for the little things in life. Just the other day I was so happy that I was actually able to vacuum for 10 whole minutes without getting tired or my heart racing. Each chore is a victory when I can get it done! Planting one plant, pulling a couple of weeds, taking short walks, cooking a meal, changing the sheets on my bed – I’m so grateful when I can do these things. I’ll never see life the same again. I’ll never take my health or anything else for granted ever again.

It is in those quiet, still moments when God is able to reach into our heart and mind and help us to discern life in a new light, giving us insights that melt and mold us – transforming and creating us anew. That is why making time for prayer or just turning off the noise and opening our hearts to listen to God in the silence, even if just for a few minutes, is SO important. I’m reminded of a poem I wrote many, many years ago on my first directed retreat, when I was new to sitting in the silence with our Lord. It was a life-changing experience for me. This is the poem I wrote after one profound day with Him on that blessed retreat.

SANCTUARY
Time alone to sit and pray
To listen to what God will say
No words are whispered in my ear
Only words my heart can hear
I breathe in God and breathe out me
It isn’t something you can see
The comfort, the peace, I can’t explain
I feel uplifted to another plain
Where God is waiting to fulfill
My hopes, my dreams, if it’s His will
No matter what His answer may be
I know He wants the best for me
He lights my path with His Word and His Spirit
I hear His call as He urges me near it
Embraced by love, I have to go
God waits at the end
Where the path starts to glow