Waiting for the Light

I was so hopeful that round 5 of chemo would go better than the previous rounds. I thought I was prepared. I had met with my doctor the week before and told him of my concerns about a repeat of my allergic reactions to the Rituxan chemo drug and to the Benadryl. He assured me he would give instructions to the chemo nurse who he would make sure had the Ativan at the ready just in case I needed it. He was doubtful that I would have another reaction to the Rituxan – he claimed most people’s body got used to it after the first chemo. But, not my body, so far at least. I wanted to believe he was right and this time, I would sail through the chemo infusion. Alas, my hopes were dashed.

I settled into the chemo chair, feeling pretty good. They had put me in my favorite chair by the window, where I could look out at the sky or watch the cars go by on the busy street. It was a lovely sun-filled morning and I lifted up a prayer that all would go well. I gathered all my things about me as I waited for the nurse to come connect my port to deliver the chemo. Before leaving the house, I had slathered my port with Lidocaine gel and covered it with saran wrap – this numbs the skin above the port so that it doesn’t hurt as much when they puncture it to connect the tubes. When he arrived the nurse praised my liberal use of the gel saying most patients don’t use enough. “Are you kidding?” I chuckled, “I learned that lesson the first time I came in for infusion and I’ll not make that mistake twice.” He started feeling around my port and looked a little puzzled, I could see that there was something he needed to tell me but didn’t want to because he sort of hemmed and hawed and then he said, “This is really rare, but sometimes, the port can flip over and I’m afraid that is what has happened to your port, it’s flipped.” What!! My heart skipped a beat and my eyes nearly popped out of my head. What!! So much for my hopes of a good day. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’ll call upstairs and see if one of the doctors can come down and try to flip it back over right side up.”

He left to go call the doctor and questions started running through my mind at lightening speed. Is this going to hurt? Are they going to numb the area? What if he can’t get it flipped? Will I be able to get my chemo and what happens if I can’t? I was frantic on the inside but trying to be calm on the outside. A few minutes later the nurse comes back with good news, my doctor’s partner, whom I have never seen before, will come down and flip the port; he assures me this doctor knows his stuff about flipping ports. This made me feel a little better.

The doctor’s assistant was the first to arrive, reassuring me that he would be along in just a minute. I had to do a double take when I saw the man walking up behind her, he had thick, long, dark hair that seemed to stand out around his head and a long beard that matched it, multi-colored print tennis shoes on his feet and fingernail polish on his nails. He looked like someone out of a movie scene that just might be the life of the party. But, he didn’t look like a doctor, which freaked me out! He WAS the doctor, though, and I remembered I had heard that he dressed in costumes to keep his patients at ease. “Okay then,” I thought to myself, “trust this doctor.” When he started poking around with the port I couldn’t even look, and I was sure that there would be a great deal of pain, but, within a minute or two he had flipped the port and gone on his merry way. Praise God for that!

At first, I was hoping against hope that I wouldn’t have a reaction to the Rituxan, but, I did and then when I was given the Benadryl, I had a reaction to that too. Thankfully, the doctor had instructed the nurse to give me Ativan as soon as it was needed, which he did, and I was able to rest comfortably for the rest of the hours of infusion. Five chemo sessions down and one more to go, whew!

With everything I’ve been obsessing about and everything my body has been going through during these chemo treatments, I haven’t even had time to think about my mortality or what happens next. I suppose that is a good thing. That will come after the treatments, I’m sure, beginning with the Pet Scan to see if the chemo has worked for me. God has given me the grace to learn to deal with one thing at a time, which lessens my worries about all those other things and people in my life that I was obsessing about before the cancer. Believe me, this has been a great blessing!

Speaking of blessings, my husband has stepped up to the plate big time. If you are reading my blog, you know that my garden is at the top of my list of my concerns since I can’t care for it like I normally do. Hubby has been working himself to a frazzle all month keeping up with not only his usual lawn work but with all those things that I used to do in the garden: pruning, weeding, spraying, trimming, etc It is way too much for one person but he is doing a good job. My son has also been helping when he comes on the weekends. They know how important my garden is to me, and their love for me shines through their work on my behalf. Having the love and support of family is so important when you are going through a debilitating illness. Their care and concern for me has bolstered my strength when it is flagging and lifted my spirits when I get depressed. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for those individuals who do not have a network of supporters to help them. One of the things I will be taking away from my own experience with this journey is that I want to be an advocate and supporter for other cancer patients by volunteering at the cancer center when I am well again.

Even though I have only planted a portion of the flowers I usually plant in the spring, with all my husband has done and the flowers I’ve managed to plant, the gardens are flourishing. Those times I was out planting, even if it were just for an hour or two,were the happiest of times. The entire process of loosening the soil, mixing in the nutrients, tenderly moving the plant from its confinement of the small seed pot and placing it in a larger pot or in a spot in my garden bed is such a nurturing experience. I know I’ve said it before, but it makes me feel as if I’m helping God to make the world a more beautiful place. And, if I can feel such joy in the growing and nurturing of plants, how much more does God’s love for us unfold as He continues to create and uphold all the people and living things in our universe? I ponder these things as I plant and feel God’s presence in those moments; it gives me great comfort.

There is the beginning of anticipation stirring in my heart as the weeks move forward to the time when chemo treatment will be over. Nothing has changed, things haven’t gotten any better, but I’m learning to deal with my issues better. For the most part, at least now I can pretty much anticipate what will happen to my body and when it will happen during the 21 days between each chemo treatment. I know what medicines to take for each ailment and what they will do to me and for me. So, I am not quite as frantic all the time as I used to be. This is another blessing that has come my way. As I write this I realize I’m in a good mood this morning! Woo Hoo! That is amazing!

I woke up at 4:00 a.m. this morning. In the past five nights, I’ve slept a grand total of 18 hours. Thanks for nothing, Prednisone! But, I’m not tired, yet. That will happen today, along with dehydration and exhaustion that will last until just before the next chemo. But, right now, this moment, I’m good. Praise God! When I feel bad in the next coming weeks, I’m going to drag myself up off the sofa, go outside and sit in my beautiful garden, watch my dogs chase squirrels, take it all in, count my blessings – and open my mind and heart to what God has to say to me. Of course, this reminds me of my mom’s favorite song, In The Garden – enjoy!

High Hopes

Day 10 of chemo round 4

Lying in bed this morning, exhausted from another night of broken sleep caused by pain throughout my torso, I happened to glance out my bedroom window at the bird bath that is usually filed with fresh, clean water. Empty, it was empty! At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes; had I been so sick that I forgot to clean and fill the bird bath? For anyone who knows me, they would be as shocked by this fact as I was. My duty to what I consider to be my animals: not only my pets but also those native creatures who happen to live or visit my property, is always one of my top priorities – no matter how sick I feel. Watching the birds splashing around in the bird bath first thing in the morning is the way I like to start my day. Seeing it devoid of water or birds spoke volumes to me about how low I had sunk since chemo day. Lying there I reflected on the past two weeks or so.

A few days before it’s time for the next chemo treatment, I finally start to feel better. I’m able to somewhat taste the food I eat, and I feel good enough to do a few things around the house. This is also the time when the dread of having to go to chemo for the next round begins. I don’t want to feel bad again. I get so anxious thinking about chemo day and how things will go and the things my body goes through in the aftermath. My mind replays every trauma my body has had to deal with over the last few months – I call it chemo PTSD. All I want to do is get in my car and run away so I don’t have to take any more chemo. But, there is no running away from this cancer or from the chemo treatment that will, hopefully, cure it.

The night before chemo I’m always in a dark mood, and this time was no different. Many times during the night, I was awake, thinking of what the poison would do to my body and all the ills I would experience for weeks, wondering if there would be yet another “surprise” complication or side effect.  Praying for courage, I managed to drift on and off, awakening every hour, looking at the clock, counting the minutes till I must leave to go to the cancer center.  By 5:30 a.m. I decided I might as well get up because I was not going to get any sleep. After getting dressed and packing a bag with all the stuff I need to bring to spend the day at the infusion center, I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat in my recliner. Looking out at the dawning of a beautiful day, the bright green color of the dewy grass, the budding leaves on the trees, and the colorful flowers, all I could think was that I didn’t want to go, I wanted to stay home. Panic and apprehension about the coming day overwhelmed me. I didn’t want to go to go to the cancer center or get my chemo treatment, but I knew I had no choice in this matter.

Resigned to do what I had to do, I picked up my Give Us This Day book and began reading  the scriptures of the day.  The readings were from the Acts of the Apostles 2:14,22-23. They were so poignant for me, giving me the nudge towards hopefulness and the determination to conquer my fears of chemo that I needed.  Reading the words of King David, “I saw the Lord ever before me, with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.  Therefore my heart has been glad and my tongue has exulted; my flesh too, will dwell in hope…you fill me with joy in your presence.” I felt propelled towards standing in faith, with renewed hope for a future that would be free of cancer. But, I knew that I had to do my part and conquer my fears. There was a song that my mom used to sing to me when I would say I couldn’t do something that began to play in my head. Frank Sinatra sang it in an old movie. The name of the song was “High Hopes.” It went like this, “Just what makes that little old ant think he can move a rubber tree plant, anyone knows an ant can’t move a rubber tree plant, but he has high hopes, he has high hopes…” That’s what I was feeling after I read the scriptures, I had “high” hopes.

Walking outside with the dogs before I left, I stood in the midst of my flowers, the cool spring breeze chilled me a little but I reveled in it, the birds seemed to be everywhere, singing to me in boisterous abandon, flitting here and there between the trees and to and from the bird feeders.  It was a glorious morning and I was not going to let cancer make me sad on a day like today.  I thanked God for opening my eyes to the beauty that was all around me and for helping me to overcome my fears once again.

Unfortunately, chemo day was not good. Following the advice of the doctor’s assistant, I took Benadryl before I left home, because in the past, I had such a bad reaction to it when they gave it to me through my port. But, the chemo nurse had no choice but too give it to me intravenously when I had another reaction to the Rituxan, just like the last three times.  My teeth started hurting and my gums and throat felt as if they were on fire.  As soon as the nurse pushed in the Benadryl, I felt anxious and my heart started beating a hundred miles an hour and my body started twitching like electric shocks going through it.  It is an awful feeling when you can’t control your body.  It seemed like forever that it took the nurse to get the okay to give me Ativan to control the reaction to the Benadryl.  It took a while, but I finally got some relief and managed to rest for the remainder of the time I was at the cancer center.

I have been sick with one thing or another since the day of chemo. I’m exhausted from not sleeping. I feel unwell in too many ways to name. Every effort I make to do anything causes my heart to beat erratically.  Going outdoors has been, more often than not, out of the question, because I feel as if I might pass out if I walk for more than 5 or 10 minutes. Not being able to walk my dogs on a regular basis as they are used to makes me feel so guilty. When I can, I walk them for just a few minutes at a time and stay close to home. It takes every ounce of determination and energy I have to do it.  Though the effort gives me a bit of energy because just being outdoors in nature – the spring weather, the sounds and colors, the birds and butterflies, everything about it speaks to me of God’s love and care of me and I find peace in His presence. 

The ups and downs of this illness is depressing me.  I have to be so in tune to my body’s functions, to the medicines I need to take for each new problem: the constipation, exhaustion, dizziness,  inability to sleep, anxiety, stomach problems, problems swallowing,  queasiness, nausea, just all around feeling sick ALL the time – takes a toll on my psyche. The picture below says it all. This has been my position for the past two weeks. There is no sugar coating what cancer does to you. No use trying to make yourself look pretty because you truly look and feel haggard and depleted. In the beginning, I used to try to at least paint my naked eyebrows on and put a little color on my lips when I went for my weekly blood work at the cancer center. But, lately, I’m too sick to care about how I look, as are most of the people who are as naked headed as me from chemo. Covering my head with the chemo cap is like wearing an electric heater on my scalp – unbearably hot even on a mild day! I asked my husband if he thought I could start a trend at the cancer center by taking the cap off and just going “au naturale” with my bald head – like I do at home. He didn’t answer – poor guy was probably considering which answer would be the right one. I might have the courage to flaunt my bald head if other ladies at the cancer center would do it; but so far, I haven’t seen any brave souls. Cancer takes so much away from a person, especially their dignity, I suppose a tiny bit of pride in oneself is all that we cancer patients have to cling to.

My faithful friend and comforter never leaves my side

It has become hard to properly think clearly or stay focused long enough even to watch television or read a book.  I’ve lost interest in pretty much everything except obsessing about my garden and the weeds that are growing astronomically each and every day – marring my landscape.  The fact that I’m too sick to do anything about it keeps me so distressed.  I WANT to go out and work in my garden.  I try, but I’m so weak that I can’t even pull a few weeds without getting light-headed and weak-kneed.  It’s so frustrating!!!  Now, when I take a walk, I very often focus on those weeds and how fast they are growing and I yearn for some energy, I want to dig in the mud (which the nurse tells me I am not allowed to do because of germs).  It makes me want to wail as loud as I can!  I used to be so strong and I’m feeling weak and useless.  In the past, I was able to work for hours in the heat, pruning and trimming, planting and watering – loving every minute of it.  This inaction is like being in prison – sitting around in the house is torture for me. The emotional toll is beginning to get to me.  It is even hard for me to pray some days.  I read the scriptures every morning, and though they may talk to me in the moment, the effects do not last as they usually do. There is no lasting peace amidst the turmoil of my weakened state.  The doctor says there is such a thing as chemo brain, and that must be true, because my focus is not as it should be and my short term memory is slipping.  I feel like such a whiner!!! This is NOT me.  Where is the positive, hopeful, always joyful person I used to be?????

Cancer has taken so much from me, but I’m fighting with all I have to stay strong.  It makes me so angry to think that this did not have to be, that my love of gardening may have caused this cancer because of all the Round-Up I’ve sprayed over the years.  If anyone reading this is still using Round-Up, my advice would be to you what my doctor said to me, “stop using it!”

How ironic that the one place that soothes my soul, my garden, and my desire to keep it free of weeds and make it a place of beauty by spraying the weeds with Round-Up would ultimately be harmful to me. Ever since I was a child the natural world has been a place of solace for me. Then, when my husband and I moved to the country, God spoke to me in nature and I met him on a more personal, intimate, spiritual level.  My garden is more than pretty flowers and shrubs to me, it is a doorway into that spiritual realm where the divine meets humanity, where God and I connect and where I feel as if I am working alongside Him in creation. And, in so doing, I am creating a place not just for me, but a place where others can meet God as I have, where there is  beauty, solitude, quiet and peace.  My garden is like a portal into another world where God is always waiting to spark a conversation with someone, where every person who enters is better able to hear His voice clearly, and feel God’s love more deeply. I cannot wait for the day when I ring the bell at the infusion center after my last treatment is over and done. My garden awaits my tender loving care and my soul longs to be in the midst of it.

Little Things

WISDOM

With each Chemo round I am gaining more knowledge about the ups and downs of getting through the treatment phases. There really is no way to predict what will or will not happen because; what I’ve learned, is to expect the unexpected. The same things that worked last treatment may not always work for the new round, which is so aggravating. Just when I think I have a handle on how to prepare and what to do, my body says, “Whoa, there girl, I don’t think so!” I’ve been pretty much down and out, so weak that I have to keep taking breaks as I try to sit up to write this blog. I’m light-headed, nauseated, constipated, hurting, and frustrated that all my efforts to “fix” myself are not working. Socrates once said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Ain’t that the truth!

This odyssey with the chemo is a progressive journey of enlightenment about the limits of what my heart, mind and soul can conform to when faced with physical and mental challenges; some are more difficult than others, especially when I am feeling depleted of all energy. I’d like to think I am acquiring some good judgment in my pursuit of balance with this illness, with what I can do and what I can’t. I’ve learned to set smaller goals on the days I’m not well. Accomplishing even a few things gives me purpose and keeps me from getting depressed. Yesterday, I managed to boil and debone 20 pounds of chicken parts I had in the freezer to make my dog’s food, even though the smell had me on the sofa nauseated for about an hour, and cleaning it all up was very tiring. I dusted all the fans in the house, cleaned the toilets, and made more bread and a pie for hubby. Little things, but for me, great accomplishments. So far today, I filled the outside bird feeders and made fresh sugar water for the hummingbirds. Being able to feed the birds who give me such joy as I sit by the window, watching them fly to and from the feeders, and listen to their lovely tweets and trills makes me so happy. These are some of the little goals I set for myself each day, and when I manage to get them done, I consider that a good day for me.

Good Friday
Praying with the Good Friday liturgy of the church this morning, going through the readings of the Passion, was so different this year. Entering into that passion with Jesus and seeing it through my own suffering has given me a better understanding of the sacrifice that Jesus made, willingly, for our redemption and salvation. Reflecting on these past 19 days since Chemo, I realized the gift to others that our suffering can be. Following Jesus’ example, when I was first diagnosed with cancer, I decided to offer up all my pain and suffering for the soul of my brother, Jerry, who passed away 2 years ago. As a Catholic, I believe in “offering up” prayers, struggles, suffering, etc. for the souls of those in purgatory. So, each morning when I pray, I offer my daily struggles up for my brother. When I began this daily ritual of praying for Jerry, it was, and still is, out of love for my brother and my concern for his immortal soul. Though, at the time, I had no idea that it would also be a gift for myself. On my worse days, when I am feeling so awful and sick, I remember that my pain is a gift to my brother, and, each time I remember that it cheers me up. Yes, even in the midst of suffering, I feel joy; and, my pain has a purpose and a meaning and THAT knowledge, makes whatever I have to go through on any given day, worth it. It changes my attitude to one of gratitude as I look up and say, “Brother, this is all for you, I can do this!” Love for humankind is what got Jesus through His suffering. It is what we are called to do for one another on a daily basis, to let love guide our hearts and our lives – sacrificing ourselves for those we love.

Though I’m happy that my brother is racking up lots of prayers for his soul, it doesn’t entirely ease my pain. The cumulative toll the chemo is having on my body zaps my strength, both physically and mentally. I have been able to plant some of my summer flowers but only by taking frequent breaks and pushing myself to the limit of my endurance. This past week, I helped my husband and son put up a fence – well, I held the string and the level; that was something! I really enjoyed being with them while they worked and being outside. Sometimes, I play mind games with myself, giving myself pep talks when I feel I haven’t the strength to do something. This often happens on days when I insist on walking the dog a mile down the road when I know I don’t feel well, and then, halfway home I can barely put one foot in front of the other. On those days, I assure Jesus that if he will just help me to get home I won’t be so foolish again. I wish I could say that I learn my lesson, but that would be lying. The book I used to read to my children, “The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper, with its message of “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can….” is the same messaging that rules my mind. My mother is to blame for teaching me that. She always assured me that I could do anything I put my mind to. Unfortunately, she wasn’t good at counseling me to know my own limits. I’d like to think I’m getting the tiniest bit better at that. My body is teaching me what my mother did not, refusing to listen to me when I foolishly get in that “I think I can” mode. I get as frustrated with this weak body as I get with my dog, Madeline, who never listens to me when I call her to come inside. And, that is a LOT of frustration, since I have to go out and hunt for Madeline on 14 acres of land – and the darn dog has learned to hide behind trees so I can’t find her!

I’ve always been a person who is positive and upbeat, but, being physically ill has started to depress me, which is so foreign to me! I suppose I want what I want – to feel good, even just to feel less sick would be an improvement. On top of everything else, I now have Esophagitis, caused by the chemo and other medicines I’m taking, It makes it hard for me to swallow, and causes me to have a consistent knot in my chest that is very painful. The constant battery of physical woes, especially being so weak that I have to spend more time in the house, gives me the blues. Watching television is not something I’ve ever done during the day and don’t want to start now. I have completely stopped watching the news if I can help it because it is so biased and mean-spirited and very often depressing. Anything I can do inside the house holds no interest for me anymore, I’m an outdoors person and I want to be outdoors. I never realized how difficult it can be to focus on anything, even something as simple as following a recipe, or paying your bills, when your body and your spirit is debilitated. My faith is the only thing that stirs my spirit. When I am feeling down, I turn to prayer for healing; it lifts me up, clears my mind of negative thinking and gives me hope that endures. Isn’t that the continuous circle of life for those of us who believe – enduring the trials of this world by clinging to our faith – over and over again in perpetuity?

My prayer for Easter is this: May Easter joy permeate the hearts of all my friends and family, and may the spirit of sacrifice that Jesus modeled for us, lead us to follow His example of faith, along with humility, generosity and love towards everyone we meet.

Counting My Blessings

I’m still feeling so blessed that my third chemo treatment went pretty well, much better than I had feared. I’ve always been a scary child, and many of my fears have carried into my adulthood. Isn’t it so often the case in life that when we are faced with trials or suffering, old wounds and negative voices from our past, wounds we thought had healed and scabbed over burst open again, and voices we thought had been silenced begin to torment us? We can even begin to ruminate upon bad memories we thought we had put behind us, they play over and over again in our thoughts and minds like video scenes from a bad movie. I’ve found these things happening to me on occasion, especially on my bad days when I am struggling, not just with the chemo and its effects but, with the way that I deal with them. Like everyone else, so much of how I “deal” not only with the cancer, but with all of life, was established and developed out of my childhood experiences. This cancer journey has taken me on quite a trip down memory lane and I do believe it is an absolute blessing, but, only because God is in the midst of it. On my own, it might not be a such a healing process but might deepen my fears and distress.

I always thought as a child that if I could control every situation then nothing bad would happen. I worried a lot. My brothers were always getting into trouble and no matter how hard I tried to convince them to “follow” the rules. or warn them that what they were doing would get them in trouble, they wouldn’t listen – well, boys will be boys, I suppose. I just hated controversy of any kind, and still do. I’m a rule follower first of all, a thinker, fixer and doer. Of course, I want things to go MY way, because my way is the best path to all that is good and peaceful, and right – therein lies the OCD personality. So, remember this week I had a plan, a plan to listen carefully to what the doctor and nurse told me about how they want me to “deal” when I have issues? I prayed about it a lot, asking God to give me the grace to let go of my stubbornness and help me to prayerfully listen to what the nurses advice was and what my body was telling me it needed.

The second day after chemo begins four days of taking a LOT of pills. I hate taking pills because I have trouble swallowing them, they always seem to get stuck in my throat. My mom used to complain about the same thing when I was caring for her. As I thought of all the pills my sweet mother had to take every day for years and years, I felt ashamed of myself for belly-aching about having to take a measly 11 pills – my mom took twice as many. Here’s where the stinking-thinking comes in. Now that I knew how bad I hated taking pills, I began to obsess that maybe I wasn’t compassionate or understanding enough when my mom complained about taking her pills – remembering all the times I had to talk her into taking them, sometimes sweet talking her into it, but sometimes, for her own good, fussing at her to take them. It made me feel so bad about myself, I had to take it to Jesus. “Lord,” I begged him, “help me to remember how it was with my mom and those pills.” I imagined Jesus holding my hand as I went back to those memories of my mom and I together. I gave mom her pills four times a day, every day. It wasn’t always a struggle, only when she was feeling extra poorly because mom always tried to please and be cooperative. She loved me that much! But, I loved her that much more and I wanted her to be well so she had to take her pills. It was a battle of the wills for sure! Momma was funny, she would think of all sorts of ways to make those darn pills go down. We made all sorts of concoctions – we wrapped some in butter, cream cheese, or cheeses; the ones that I had to grind up we put in pudding, ice cream, pie, or smoothies. As I remembered, I thought of how brave my mom was and how joyful, especially in the midst of her many painful falls she had with broken bones and horrifying skin tears and heart failure on top of all that. She was the most courageous and joyful person I’ve ever known and the most prayerful. God was her strength, Mother Mary was her best friend.

What began as stinking-thinking brought back some wonderful memories of caring for my mom. She knew how much I loved her, and knowing my mom, if she really wouldn’t have wanted to take those pills, there is no way in this world I could have convinced her to. But, just thinking of her and her resolve in taking those many pills has given me a new purpose – to take my pills without complaint or pouting about it because it is what I need at this time, and they will help make me well. Thank you Jesus, and thank you mom for that insight!

So, I’ve been taking my pills without all the angst; it is so much better that way. I did push myself to walk my dog when I knew I was feeling ill and nearly did not make it back home on that 1 1/2 mile trek. On the way back it felt as if I was walking through quicksand and the 20 minute walk turned into nearly 40 minutes. Feeling very contrite about that stupid idea, for the first time since chemo began, I willingly went to bed and took a three hour nap. I was surprised that I woke up feeling refreshed and quite a bit stronger. Who knew? Maybe naps are a good idea!

Yesterday was a good day, I was able to water my flowers and even planted 4 plants that were beginning to cry “uncle” because they were so pot bound. It felt so good to give them room to grow, I swear they perked up right away and stretched their little curled up leaves high towards the sun. I might have even heard them sigh, “thank you” to me. I walked my dog, Rosie, down the road and around the property as I watered the gardens and only had to sit down a few times. After my husband returned home and got on his zero turn mower (his favorite zen place), I even had some energy left to ride around on the John Deere Gator and pick up sticks and burn them in our fire pit, while playing fetch with Rosie. It was a blessed ending to a blessed day.

It’s day four after Chemo 3, and I’m still doing well. I’m learning to listen to my body and to those who are much smarter than me about this chemo stuff. It was a rainy day so hubby and I went to get my blood work done and spent the day doing errands, including bringing the dogs for their yearly vet check. It was so good to get out of the house. And, when I came back home, I made hubby some home made sweet bread rolls. Baking is my thing, and when I feel good, that’s what I do for fun.

I’m beginning to think the doctor might have been right when he said each chemo treatment would get easier for me. Hoping and praying that this will be the case. I’m a slow-learner apparently, but, I’m coming around by the grace of God.

Surrender

CHEMO DAY

Today, the 1st of April, was chemo infusion day 3. I had been having PTSD since last Wednesday, worrying myself sick and not sleeping. I simply could not stop thinking about all the trauma that happened to me on Chemo infusion day 2 and all that had happened in the weeks since then. It was like a video playing over and over in my head. I was making myself sick about it and dreading going to Chemo again.

I had a lovely weekend, my son and granddaughter, and her friend came over. On Saturday, I took the girls to The English Tea Room and we had scones, Cassie’s favorite chocolate chai tea, and a lovely English breakfast. I was so happy to be with the girls, we went to church together, and my granddaughter approved of me wearing my wig for the first time. She said it didn’t look too terrible. If you don’t want the truth, don’t ask a kid. It was my weekend to cantor and I was a little embarrassed wearing the wig but the parishioners were nice to me and said it looked good – they are so very kind. The rest of the weekend the girls played together and we watched movies, and took walks outside. And, best of all, I was feeling really well. But, I knew my feeling well days were going to come to an end soon and it bothered me.

It was in the middle of the night when I was praying (if I can’t sleep I always pray), I asked Jesus, “How in the world am I going to make myself go to the next treatment, I’m terrified of what will happen to me – and I don’t know if I can take two weeks of being so sick after the treatment again, I don’t want to go – this last session was so debilitating, Lord.” Then, I started thinking about Jesus’ Passion and how He knew how much pain He would have to endure and exactly what would happen to him. Yes, he was so scared he went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, asking His Father,

Jesus was willing to do the Father’s will, for love of humankind, for our redemption. Love brought Jesus to the cross and love kept Him hanging there until He died. As I lay there pondering Jesus Passion, I thought of each time He weakened along the way, when He was scourged, beaten, crowned with thorns, made to carry a cross that was so heavy He fell with it three times, then He was nailed to the cross, and hung on Calvary. What made Him keep going? Why did Jesus keep getting up, when most of us would have given up, just as soon dying where we lay. Jesus had a mission and that mission, fueled by love, that mission of redemption, gave Him the willpower and the courage to keep moving toward that cross of salvation.

I can’t tell you how many nights, just like Jesus, I prayed for the Father to take this cup of cancer away from me – and modeling myself after Jesus I always say, “not my will but yours be done.” I have had to fully surrender to God’s will so many times in my life, in whatever dire situation I was going through at the time, before I was prepared to face my “cross” with courage and strength. Surrender is not easy, but when we give the Lord our surrender, our gracious God gives us what we need in order to persevere and endure our circumstances. He loves us through it, guiding our way. So, determining to get my head on straight, I went into deep prayer, and self-reflection. I talked to some of my friends and the Doctor’s assistant, and met with my Spiritual Director (all those angels God was sending to give me strength). Prayer helped to lessen my fears, and assured me of God’s love and care of me, my friends were my cheerleaders and encouragers; the nurse gave instructions on taking my meds regularly and not skipping them like I had been doing. She also gave me more information on what to eat and drink that would help me not only on chemo day but through the weeks in between. My spiritual director, in her usual way, helped me to figure out, on my own. that God loves me and doesn’t want me to suffer any more than I have to. God got through to my stubbornness and opened my heart and mind until I was ready to listen to what the nurse said, and ready to follow her instructions. Once again, God’s grace gave me the gift of believing that “I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

I now had a plan for chemo day and for the weeks that followed and was prepared for anything that could go wrong. My husband got me up early, his presence is always a source of strength to me. Thankfully, there was only one minor glitch on chemo day, the nurse hadn’t put enough Lidocaine numbing cream on my port so when the chemo nurse punctured my skin over the port, it hurt, a lot. But, only for about 20 minutes and it was nothing I couldn’t take. Instead of letting the chemo nurse push the Benadryl, the doctor’s assistant told me to take 2 Benadryls before I left home, that way there would be no chance of the Benadryl causing me a reaction because it was pushed to fast, like last time. She also ordered Ativan for my anxiety, which helped immensely and kept me pretty much zonked out, only waking up when the nurse was putting in the last chemo drug as she said to me, “This will only take about 30 minutes and you are done.” That made me so happy! I was also surprised that I didn’t even have a bad reaction to the Rituxan chemo drug like I had on the last two treatment days. It was such a relief that all went well. God knows how stubborn I am, and it seems He lets me do things my way because of that darn ‘free‘ will (though I know He hates to see me suffer) until I finally come to the conclusion that I cannot do it alone, not without God’s help. Then, when I am ready to listen, He guides my path and the Holy Spirit gives me the gifts I need, courage, faith, knowledge, wisdom, counsel, understanding, and awe (fear) of the Lord. I am also blessed to live in what I call my “Garden of Eden.” This place of beauty where I can work in the garden with beauty that surrounds me, where I can play fetch with my dogs and take them on long lovely walks, where God speaks to my heart every day in the silence and in nature, where my husband of 48 years loves and cares for me. Those are the things I try to think of when I am feeling low and lonely. My husband always tells me that I must remember that this is just a “season” of my life, this trial will have an end in just a few months. Who knows where God will lead me when I am well again? Perhaps things I’m learning from having cancer will lead to new volunteer work, make me a better spiritual director, or open new ministry opportunities. These things I’m learning are changing me, helping me to see others like me, and what they are going through, teaching me the gift it is to others when I am compassionate and kind. Having cancer cannot help but change my heart; I pray a heart like Jesus’ heart is forming inside of me, and that His ways will always become my ways, more and more.

Keeping the faith when it seems as if your life is on a downward spiral, filled with worries, pain, and sorrow is very challenging, especially for people whose faith is shallow. But, Jesus says, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed…nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20). God is always present, offering His love and support – all we have to do is ask Him for it.

The Dark Valley

Day 5, second round of chemo is the last day I take 100 mg of Prednisone. The same Prednisone that gave me so much energy in Chemo round 1, has not helped me one bit this week. The only thing it has done for me is to keep me a little anxious and awake day and night. I don’t really feel tired, but I know my body needs rest and I would love to get even a couple of hours of uninterrupted sleep. Television seems to just get on my nerves; I’ve never been one to watch much TV. Last chemo round, I used the paint by number apps on my ipad a lot, painting pretty pictures made me happy, gave me something to do, and took my mind of whatever issue I was having. But, this time around, I can’t seem to focus on anything, everything annoys me, and I can’t concentrate on anything or even have the desire to do anything. I’m mad because I feel bad! I know that is silly, but I’m mad at myself. I thought I would do better, be stronger, which makes me want to just wail at this cancer, “Why did you choose me?” If only we knew the answer to that million dollar question. Why does cancer begin to grow inside the human body? So many people I know who have never smoked a day in their life have lung cancer. How unfair is that! And, the worse part is that cancer is so sneaky. It can hide in the body, growing undetected for years without any symptoms. We hear stories, seemingly every day, about people we know or celebrities who get diagnosed with stage 4 cancer with only weeks or months to live. It’s so disturbing, but, it’s becoming a common occurrence of 21st century life in this world.

I thought I was ready for the weekend “crash” that comes after stopping the Prednisone, but, I wasn’t ready for how low I crashed. The abrupt cessation of the steroids leaves me feeling very tired, a little down, and then I begin to feel the pain from the Neulasta. Luckily, my best friend came over to keep me company and give me something to do which helped me to stay positive. The weather was predicted to be cooler for the weekend, so I got up early to make a pot of veggie soup for our lunch. There is nothing like soup on a cold day, and it was cold. By the time my friend arrived, I was so excited. Being confined to the house most of the time is a challenge for me because I am a people person – I need people! I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time she was here. We had lunch together – she brought shrimp and avocado to add to our soup for lunch. We took the dogs for a walk, played a little scrabble, and went to church together. It was an awesome day. I did have to take my pain meds after lunch because the bone pain had started to move all around my body and intensify to beyond what I could bear. But, I didn’t really register how bad the pain was until my friend left. Just the presence of someone you know and love has the ability to make pain seem lighter and life seem brighter. Her visit was just what I needed and something to reminisce about when I begin to get the blues. My mother used to advise me on how to be a friend and how to choose my friends, she always told me that “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” I’ve learned how blessed I am to have so many true friends who are rallying around me in my need, and how important these friends are to my health and well-being.

Jesus, taught this same lesson to his disciples at the last supper when He told them, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Jesus knew how much the disciples would have to rely upon one another and gain strength from one another after He was gone from them. Jesus showed us how to love in a supernatural way. He was the truest of friends, loving everyone who crossed his path; touching the unclean, the untouchables, the afflicted, the sinners, the gentiles, even those who persecuted and tortured him. He treated them with kindness and mercy, loving them all, unconditionally. I pray that I will remember the importance of being a true friend to everyone who crosses my path in this life, even those people who I am loathe to touch.

The next two days was a blur of pain, constipation, and stomach upset. Nothing seemed to help any of my symptoms. By Tuesday, I had to message the doctors office and they doubled the pain meds. As usual, I was very resistant to them doing that. But, I had no choice, the pain had gotten unbearable and debilitating. The reason I don’t like pain meds is that they constipate you and they make you tired and sleepy. But, they do get rid of the pain which helps immensely in my attitude, in my ability to move around and take walks with my dogs, and in being able to get things done around the house when the sleepiness wears off. I’m still working on the constipation and what meds work and how much to take in order to fix that problem. I feel certain I’ll figure it out sooner or later. Like the doctor told me, “its a learning experience.” Like I’ve said before, I’m a stubborn person and I don’t like to admit when I need help – which is a pride thing I suppose. Humility is definitely something I need to pray about and work on. Thinking about humility, for some reason it reminded me of this funny country song by Mac Davis, “O Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble.” Music always filled our house when I was young, so nearly everything reminds me of a song I remember. You might get a laugh out of this one.

On day 12, after making the decision that the benefits of stopping the pain meds would outweigh the side effects they caused (it had begun to diminish considerably) I stopped all pain meds. So, I had a little pain for three days, but not too bad. Today is day 15, and I am truly exhausted in every way: physically, mentally, and spiritually. I’m sure you’ve noticed; I haven’t even had the energy to post on this blog. One night I wrote a post by the hardest and then erased it by mistake before I posted it. After that fiasco, I pretty much decided to wait until I was feeling better and had my mind on straight before I tried posting again.

This second round has brought me to my knees, literally. Prayer has been my only solace most days, my only source of strength that gives me the courage to endure when I want to give in to the despondency that comes with being sick and isolated. I never knew there were so many levels and different ways of feeling rotten. Each day is a new experience of discovering what hurts today, how much does it hurt, and can I lessen the pain in a way that won’t cause me even more aggravating issues. I am learning to weigh what level of nausea and pain I”m willing to put up with against taking meds that often compound the issues. It’s as if I’m in a strategic war between my physical self, my mental self, and my spiritual self. I’m in a constant balancing act between the three, trying to keep it together in a way that is beneficial to all. THAT is the exhausting part.

I’ve had three okay days during this cycle so far, one of them being the day my friend came over. The other one, was a day I spent spreading mud and planting a few shrubs on a hillside with my husband. God only knows where I got the strength to spread 6 tractor buckets of mud, but I did it, and it made me SO happy while I was working. Yes, I even enjoyed spreading the mud with the mud rake! Okay, so I’m weird, but I like mud and getting my hands dirty in the rich soil that brings bountiful life to my gardens. There is a sense of accomplishment in the hard work of readying and digging a garden spot; while, the actual planting, gives me a sense of nurturing and creating beauty where there was none before.

The third day was when my son came over and helped me plant two lemon trees, 2 satsuma trees, an avocado tree, and a blueberry bush. Well, actually, he did the digging and planting as I wasn’t feeling all too swift that day. But, I did manage to rake up some pine needles for the mulch and water what he planted. My son and I both enjoy gardening and working outdoors. He is always ready to lend a hand and has been such a huge help and support for me and my husband since my diagnosis. There is nothing like being with people who love you, even if it’s just watching them dig a hole, that gives you a sense of peace and is so comforting. Their presence keeps you focused on why you continue to fight the good fight each and every day.

Today has been a good day, and I think every day until Chemo will get better. I look forward to feeling better this week. I’ve got pallets of flowers outside my back door that are patiently waiting for me to plant them. This is the week those babies are going to be set free to grow and prosper! This is the week that I will feel like me. The week I will be able to go out in the garden where my God and I speak so intimately to one another, where he heals my soul and gives me everything I need for the journey. This is the week where I feel good enough to meet with my Directees and really listen to them with all of my mind and heart as the Holy Spirit guides our conversations. This is the week where I will reflect on the lessons I’ve learned in the past few weeks, and how I can better prepare for what will inevitably happen during Chemo round 3.

I am thankful for the lessons I’m learning, even though they require all my strength, and especially, because they require a deepening faith. The reading of today, March 25th, in the book by Sarah Young “Jesus Calling” points out that “Gratitude enables you to see the light of My presence shining on all your circumstances.” Sometimes, it is difficult to remain in that attitude of gratitude, but when we begin to list our blessings, it brings light to even the darkest of days.

Nausea knockout

Day 2, Chemo round 2, started out a little low key. As I slowly ambled into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door, I discovered the mere thought of eating my usual emulsified flax seed oil and cottage cheese mixture (the Budwig Protocol), for breakfast held no appeal for me. I was feeling a mite queasy, but, I just shrugged it off, and opted for a slice of toast with a little butter and jam. In hindsight, later in the day, I realized shrugging off nausea, is a huge mistake. I was determined to take my dog for a long walk, so hubby and I leashed up our two beasts and made it all the way to the end of our road and back. Whoopee, 3,000 steps, 1 1/2 miles. on my Fitbit app. We do the walk twice a day. I pushed myself to do the walk in the morning, even though I knew I shouldn’t, but, I was pleased with myself for completing it. In my family, you never give up, and you fight till you can’t stand anymore. That’s always been our way. When I feel like giving up, I can hear my brother Jerry telling me, “Come on girl, don’t be a wimp.” Lord, how I wish he were still alive and here with me. I miss him so much!

I was doing okay when I went off, though very reluctantly, to get my Neulasta injection at the Cancer Center. That job done, I went off to have a coffee with my best friend. We had a lovely visit and I was feeling pretty good, so when I passed by my favorite garden center, I could not stop myself from turning the wheel into the parking lot. The aisles under the arbors were filled with all manner of colorful blooms that drew me in like a magnet. Every kind of living, growing thing in that garden spot was like a healing tonic for me. I’m a nature lover and a gardener. Whether I’m planting, or weeding, or pruning, I feel as if I’m doing God’s work, cooperating with creation by making the world a more beautiful place. I was in my element, enjoying every minute and thanking God for this lovely respite where I could forget about my cancer and embrace the beauty that surrounded me. Of course, I went home with a truckload of flowers and shrubs that would need planting soon. But, no worries, I could do it, this was going to be my good week. Well, at least that is what the doctor implied when I asked him how the second chemo week goes. Perhaps, he didn’t want to scare me by telling me the truth?

After I got home I felt so energetic, I fertilized all my outdoor potted plants, took my dog for another walk, then went inside and fixed myself a simple salad for supper. It wasn’t until I finally sat down to watch a little TV around 9 p.m., after folding clothes and changing the sheets on my bed that I began to feel the beginnings of what I thought might be nausea. Nausea is not something I’m very familiar with, since before chemo I had rarely experienced it, so I wasn’t really sure if it was Neulasta pain in my ribs, or just plain old indigestion. But, as it progressively got worse, I thought to myself, “Yes, I’m nauseous, really nauseous.” It seems silly that it took me so long to figure out what was the matter with me, but, I tend to live in denial about my chemo symptoms. Then, I remembered that the chemo nurse told me to keep on top of nausea by taking my nausea meds at the first sign of it, otherwise, it would be more difficult to get rid of it. Turns out she was right, I waited too long.

Day 3, of Chemo round 2, and the nausea meds are keeping me from throwing up – that’s about it. It feels as if there is a horrible lump in my chest that hurts and burns all the time. So, I’m still nauseous, food turns me off – big time. It’s a fight, but, I force myself to eat a little of some things, even though everything tastes horrible, and I mean horrible. Each thing I do takes a huge amount of energy that I don’t have, but, I fight. I fight to keep walking because I don’t want to lose muscle, I fight to eat because I need to be strong to fight the cancer, I must drink to keep myself hydrated, I force myself to keep the flowers watered, and the bird feeders filled, and the house clean and the dishes washed and the clothes washed and folded because that is what I do – and I refuse to let cancer take what I do away from me. Well, until today that’s been the case, but today, I think I’m going to have to say, “uncle.” “Okay, big bad chemo,” I admitted, “you win, you won the day!”

Thinking a nice hot shower might help, I stepped into the steaming heat letting it do seep into my bones. Leaning against the wall of the shower, feeling so ill, tired, and defeated, I said to Jesus, “I don’t know how much longer I can fight this battle; how in the world will I get through another four-six rounds of Chemo, Lord.” There was no answer. “Lord,” I said to him, “While reading the scriptures today I know you spoke to me, but I can’t remember one thing you said.” Still no answer. I thought about what I could do different and didn’t really know where to start. When I sit around, it just makes me focus on how bad I feel. But, when I do too much, I’m not sure that is really helping either, though it does take my mind off the nausea and pain, which seems to lessen their effects. It’s a dilemma for sure. There is no NOT getting chemo, so I have to be in it to win it. I am in it to win it! Tomorrow is another day and I’m praying for a much better one.

After my shower, I sat down to unload my distress in this blog post when, out of the blue, one of my spiritual friends from our group text sent me a text asking me how I was doing. Then a few of the others chimed in with such love, compassion, wonderful scriptures, good advice, and sweet emojis. God did answer me! He showed His love for me through others, He spoke through them, and comforted and consoled me as He always does. Through those friends who listened to His promptings to reach out to me, God answered my prayer. I was so thankful to God and so grateful for these faith-filled friends. I no longer felt so alone in this battle.

I feel sorry for my poor husband who I know becomes upset when he sees me struggling and I won’t let him help me. At the end of the night I went into the TV room and told him, “Honey, I just feel like crying, so I am going to.” And, he consoled me a bit without interfering and let me have a good cry. I felt better after that. Sometimes, when so much gets you down, a good cry can be very beneficial.

During the night, I don’t sleep well, getting up every one or two hours, I’m always in sort of a semi-sleep. Around 4 in the morning, I woke up to a refrain from a song playing in my mind over and over. It’s a song I really love to sing and the verse is “I am not alone, I am not alone, you will go before me, you will never leave me,” – those words, spoken to me, were another gift from our Lord for sure, assuring me that He would never leave me. Jesus is always by my side, even when I am too fogged in by woes or fears or pain to feel His presence there. The song is by Kari Jobe, “I Am Not Alone.”

Day 4, of Chemo round 2, feeling a little better today, not great, but better. It is blood lab day, so off hubby and I went to my most unpopular place, to let them drain my blood. And, darn it if I didn’t get, I’m sorry to have to say this, the most unskilled blood draw-er in the place. She is the only one who has to stick me 2-4 times to find a vein. Uugghh! My husband just grinned at me when she came out of the door and called my name: I glared at him and made a face. But, I resignedly followed her into the lab. Whoo Hoo only 2 sticks to get it right today! Passing the flower store again, I convinced hubby to buy me 6 more fruit trees, even though he knew he would be the one having to plant them. We shopped a bit and visited with my son and was gone most of the day and it was okay. I made sure to take my nausea meds along they way and they were helping a little better. Being out and about is much better than staying home thinking about how miserable I am. I even met another cancer patient, a neighbor, who lived near my son’s house and we swapped information and she was very knowledgeable, giving me a lot of information I was not aware of.

All and all, I survived these four days with only one melt down. I think that is doing pretty good; 3 days won for Zoey, 1 days win for Chemo!