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!

The Good, the Bad, and the Better

As usual, and as is the case lately, my brain was working overtime worrying about nothing. My doctor visit on Friday relieved my fears, all was well, there was no mistake in his diagnosis or in the Pet CT. Still Stage 2, Follicular Lymphoma with a good prognosis. Whew, what a relief, I guess I hadn’t really let that go after all. I could just imagine Jesus sitting in the chair across the waiting room with a serene look on His face, shaking his head back and forth at me as if to imply, “Why do you torture yourself when all you have to do is believe what I tell you and trust in me.” I know this to be true, I KNOW this. But, I cannot always stop the stinkin-thinkin. Aren’t we all like that sometimes? Hoping for the best, but the worst looms before us like a giant lighted billboard that blinks on and off – “What if?” Those darn “what if’s” can give us so many sleepless nights. To believe in the lies of the evil one is a temptation. The scriptures this week highlights Jesus encounter with the Devil in the desert (Luke 4:1-13). But, Jesus knew all his tricks, and stood his ground, and kept his faith. We too, need to learn to tell the difference between the Holy Spirit who guides us in right paths, and the Enemy’s enticements and lies as he tries to lead us away from God. We need God to fight the enemy, we cannot do it alone.

My husband and I arrived at the Cancer Center at 9:15 a.m., and I was feeling really good on my second Chemo Day. I had been feeling good since Friday, not even taking any more pain meds. Sitting there with all the hands my friends had made for me, with lovely scriptures on each one, I just knew it was going to be a great day.

I am really getting sick of being wrong all the time, and I was wrong that day – not much was good about it. Remember, I said I was going to let the Benadryl do its job and relax me to sleep this time? That didn’t happen. As soon as the nurse pushed the Benadryl into my port, I started feeling strange. After a few minutes, I started getting very anxious, my legs were getting uncontrollably restless, I threw the covers off because the weight of them was annoying me, and my heart was beating fast. I felt as if I just wanted to get up and run out of there! Only by the grace of God and by reading my friends scripture passages over and over again, did I stay in that seat. I’ve never, ever felt that way before; I knew it must be the Benadryl, because that is all the nurse had given to me so far. She was working on a high priority patient across the way from me in a private room and didn’t have much time for me, I could tell. Trying to get her attention was frustrating me, which called for more prayer. As my sainted mother would say, “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.” So, I calmly waited for her to finish “shooting the bull” with her other, more important patient, not screaming her name out, like I really wanted to do. That sounded ugly, didn’t it? But, I was so freaked out and she was taking so long! Finally, as she flitted by my bed on some mission for him, I called out to her (keeping my tone pleasant) and told her what my problem was. She said that she had pushed the Benadryl fast into my port and that was probably what caused my reaction. She said she would make a note on the chart that next time, that whoever was my nurse, should push it in slower. But, she said, “there is nothing I can do about it now, you will have to wait for the effects to settle down.”

About a half hour later she came by with my first chemo drug, Rituxan, the same drug I had an allergic reaction to the last time I had chemo. But, the nurse assured me the second time you get the drug, you don’t get a reaction because you body knows the drug now. Well, I guess my body is a slow learner, because it did not KNOW the Rituxan, and I had the same reaction, burning deep in the delicate tissues of my throat, mouth, and tongue. Again, she was with the man across the hall. I debated getting up and going over there. Just be patient, I told myself, she will come by. Once more, it took forever, and, as I waited, I could imagine all of the ulcers and blisters forming in my mouth. I just sucked on some ice chips hoping they would help. When she finally passed by, in a hurry as usual, I motioned to her that I needed her. After telling her my problem she stopped the Rituxan drip and called the Charge nurse who came over and gave me another large dose of Benadryl. “Oh no!” I said. She told me it was necessary to stop the allergic reaction. I didn’t think the day could get any worse! Thank God the charge nurse called my doctor’s office about the problems I was having. His nurse came down and when I told her how anxious and upset I was feeling she said, “No problem, we will give you some Ativan and you will rest and the anxious feelings will go away.” “Then,” she went on, “we will start the chemo again, your body should take it this time.” As for the Benadryl reaction, in the future we will put a note in your chart that the nurse has to give you Ativan if you ask for it.” YES! I was so happy to hear that. So, around 1:30 p.m., I finally got my Ativan and I slept through the chemo infusions until 5:30 p.m., when my husband woke me up to go home.

Now to the better part. My husband had gone to get a blood test of his own and wasn’t there during all the craziness. So, during this time of anxiety, stress and worry, I read my scriptures, talked to my God, and texted my friends for some encouragement. All of them came through for me. The scriptures lifted me up with hope, talking to Jesus always calms me down as I imagine him present and working on my situation, and my friends came through like gangbusters with encouraging text messages, funny pictures, prayers, and cyber kisses and hugs. Even another cancer patient, an elderly lady, as we passed one another clinging to our infusion “poles” while heading to the bathroom, took one look at me and asked me, “Are you okay?” I tried to smile and told her, “No, not really.” She said so sweetly to me, “Honey, you got this, we both have got this, stay strong.” I know she was sent from Heaven to give me courage. She smiled an encouraging smile at me, then slowly began walking back to her recliner. Cancer is not anything you can do on your own. It takes your church community, relatives, neighbors, friends, co-workers, medical staff, loving pets, and even, sometimes, strangers to get you through it.

This scripture is for all those wonderful people who are helping me along the way – their light shines brightly!

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Who knew that a sore head was a precursor of chemo hair loss? I certainly did not, and, my Chemo team at the cancer center never mentioned this side effect to me. When my scalp started hurting on Sunday night, I thought I had gotten a little too aggressive while washing my hair. Then, on Monday night after my shower, I looked down and there was a lot of hair stuck all over my skin. I reached up and tugged a little and, sure enough, more hair came out in my hand. It was exactly two weeks to the day after my first Chemo injection, which was a little surprising because they told me it might be two weeks after the second injection that I would lose my hair. As I stood there contemplating what to do, all I could think about was that I was shedding worse than my two dogs. Picturing my bed sheets covered in hair every morning, I thought, “This hair has got to go!” Once I make up my mind about something, I swing into action; later is not in my vocabulary.

My husband, nice and comfy in his recliner, engrossed in something on his iPad, looked up in surprise when I said, “I’m shaving my hair, come on, you may have to help.” Because he’s kind, because he loves me, and because he knows the futility of arguing with me about anything lately, he got up out of his chair, followed me into the bathroom and helped me hack off my hair with the dog clippers. I know that a lot of women have issues with losing their hair, but, it wasn’t very traumatic for me. It’s temporary, I’m not embarrassed to wear the chemo caps and I did buy a wig for special occasions. I don’t get embarrassed easily. When I was younger, as I was preparing to go out, I would ask my son, “how do I look?” His reply was always, “Mom, why do you care what you look like, you’re married.” He obviously had no idea what goes on in a woman’s mind about her physical appearance. But, as the years went by, I would repeat his little “words of wisdom” to myself whenever I was in too much of a hurry to put on makeup before I went out. I would think, “I’m married, who cares?” Living out here in the country, getting all dolled up to go out is NOT necessary; so, in my mind, losing my hair is the least of my problems. Though I do strive to look presentable and not like the hag who gave the apple to Sleeping Beauty.

I do, however, have a new issue that is extremely problematic. This started around the same time as my sore scalp. My left foot, at least three times a day, with no rhyme or reason as to when it is going to happen, feels as if I have a broken bone and I can’t put any pressure on it. It is so dangerous when I am walking and it happens, because it almost trips me up. But, after a few minutes of waiting for the pain to go away, it is gone just as abruptly as it first appears. This is so weird, like everything else that has been happening to me. As my Chemo nurse likes to tell me, “everyone’s symptoms are unique to them.” I don’t much care for this uniqueness stuff. I’ll have to ask the doctor what is up with that.

I’ve been making dog food for the past two days. It takes a while, cooking and de-boning the meat and cooking all the other good stuff that goes into it. Yes, I make my dog’s food, and it is a pain in the neck, but they are worth it. It’s the kind of job I love because you can do it on “auto pilot,” like folding clothes, washing dishes, or driving. If there is no noise in the background my thoughts just wander where they will and very often God speaks to me during those wanderings.  He is always there, listening and encouraging us to go “deeper” into our relationship with Him. We do that by sharing our deepest feelings, thoughts, and concerns. It doesn’t even have to be “out loud.” God knows our thoughts and enters into them.

As I mixed all the ingredients in the giant stainless steel bowl I use to make the dog food, I thought of the past two weeks, all the surprising side effects (well, surprising to me) and how I was finally learning to deal with them. Because I was able to figure out the meds and how to take them, I have been feeling pretty good these past few days. The nurse was really surprised that I haven’t had any nausea, thank the Lord for that. Thinking of all that has happened, I know it could have been much worse. All the people who have walked with me these past two weeks made the struggle bearable for me – without them, things would have seemed so much harder than they were. God bless them!

My doctor’s visit was also on my mind. Anyone who has had cancer, or has had a family member with cancer, would know that doctor’s visits are always stressful. What will the news be, something new, something worse, something wrong? I was beginning to stress about it. What if the doctor was wrong about the mistake in the Pet CT? What if there was no mistake and I did have cancer everywhere? I knew I was being ridiculous, but the thoughts were tormenting me. “Okay,” I said to myself , “get it together for goodness sake.” “These thoughts are NOT from God,” I mused, “God is an encourager, one who gives hope, who fills you with courage, spirit, and confidence.” One of my favorite scriptures came to mind, “…be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9). A scripture reading from my morning prayer also filled my heart, “Choose life, then, that your descendents may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

God is so present when we open ourselves up to Him, always ready to console us, and help us to discern truth, the truth that comes from God’s Holy Word. My little consultation with our Lord brought me peace once again, and strength for the journey and for my doctor’s visit. I will hold on to the Word whenever I am afraid, keep the faith, and trust that the Lord is always at my side.

Attitude is Everything

“Why do you have to make such a big deal out of every decision?” My husband has asked me this question a zillion times in our 48 years of marriage. “Because I need to know EVERYTHING in order to make a decision,” is always my answer. I’m a detail person; I need to know all the angles, the how, why, what, if, good and bad of every situation. So, you can imagine how I’m handling all the details in dealing with my cancer. I have lit-up the message board to my doctor’s office asking questions. I’ve never had cancer or chemo before, and even though I went to “Chemo School”, many of the issues I’m having weren’t addressed there. I have no idea what to expect from my body or from the meds. Many of the side effects and symptoms are worrisome, unexpected and scary to me, which is what I explained to the invisible “cyber” person at the other end of the message board when I insisted on speaking to a real, live person. I was tired of getting prescriptions sent to the pharmacy with little or no explanations of why I needed them or what was going on with my body. No one had even asked me what was hurting me when I complained of pain, they just ordered pain pills.

Part of my reluctance to taking the pain meds was that I didn’t know why I was hurting. Finally, on Thursday, the doctor’s assistance called me. Woo hoo, a real, live person! When I explained to her that my entire torso was in agony she said, “Well, that tells me two things, the first is that you are healthy and you already have a lot of white blood cells, so the Neulasta has overloaded your bone marrow with white blood cells and they are acting like a log jam in your bones and causing the pain; and, the second thing is that the cancer cells are dying, which also causes pain as your body gets rid of them.” Well, why didn’t they tell me that in the first place? So, now that I’m privy to all the information, I’m obediently taking the meds, every four hours as prescribed, and feeling better. They don’t take all the pain away, and by the third hour the pain amps up again, but it’s nothing I can’t live with. I’m simply thrilled that most of the pain is gone.

Standing in front of the mirror as I was getting dressed this morning, I was talking to Jesus about all of the stuff that has gone on these past few days that had me on edge or aggravated. On Friday morning, I woke up and discovered a tick embedded in my shoulder; yes, a tick – on my shoulder, ewww! Then, I somehow managed to break the hinge that connects my new iPad to its keyboard that I really, really, love. And, last night, just as I finished the final sentence of my new blog post, my computer’s hard drive died – for good. As I stood there, spouting my litany of complaints to Jesus, I happened to look in the mirror at the picture of Jesus I have on the wall just behind me. I placed it there a long time ago because I wanted Jesus’ face to be one of the first things I see in the morning when I stand in front of the mirror getting dressed. Jesus has such a loving, compassionate look of understanding on his face in that picture, I could almost hear him gently saying to me, “Jeanne, why don’t you tell me what you’re thankful for.” So, I resigned to do just that; but, before I could even speak a word of gratitude, here came another of my mom’s songs playing in my head, “Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your many blessings see what God has done.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the thought that Jesus and my mom were double-teaming me. In my heart, I knew that they were right, an attitude of gratitude was just what I needed to counter my “woe is me” gloomy mood.

Counting my blessings, there was a lot to be thankful for. I was definitely thankful to be learning more about how the Chemo works and to be in less pain. I received a special gift, when I was at my lowest point last week. A package came in the mail from members of our staff. Each of them had traced their hands on craft foam and written a scripture passage on the hands, a passage they had chosen especially for me. Entwined together in a long string, all the hands will be going with me to my next Chemo Day. My dear friends holy hands to lay across me with Sacred words of Scripture to heal me.

I was also able to spend some quality time with my son and his children this past weekend. Being surrounded by family makes me feel better and doing things with them gives me something to do besides worry about myself. My granddaughter and I love feeding the fish and the turtles that inhabit our 1 1/2 acre pond. We even spotted the elusive 2 1/2 foot long resident snapping turtle who came up from the depths to snag a slice of bread and some floating fish pellets. Now, that was an exciting sighting!

After watching boxing on television, my husband, son, and grandson were huddled over some kind of knife sharpening skills they were demonstrating to one another – not my thing, but just having them there together was a blessing to me. Not to mention, I now have the sharpest knives in town!

Each day comes with its challenges, but among those challenges there are so many blessings. Some of the blessings come in the form of lessons. So much still to learn in life. I have a feeling that cancer is going to teach me a lot of lessons about myself, about letting go and letting God, about not knowing, and not doing, about steadfast love, and faithful friends, about family, faith, courage and fear. Today, at this moment, I feel confident that, with God at my side, I can face the coming challenges. I am also confident that on those days when my spirit begins to dim and my inner peace is disturbed, our Lord will send earthly “angels” to brighten my day and give me new hope, whatever the circumstances may be.


ENDURANCE

These past three days have been a test, not only of my endurance, but, of my resolve to remain positive throughout this journey. Pain, can and does, dim our view of the positive aspects of life, where every molehill becomes a mountain we have to cross that seems insurmountable. This kind of thinking is so foreign to me. I have always tried to look for the blessings and the God given, sometimes supernatural grace that enters into even in the most difficult struggles of life. Gratitude can light up the darkness, when I have eyes that see through the spectrum of faith. Romans 8:28 is something I hold onto during those dark times, “We know that all things work for good, for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

It started, with my weakened condition from the weekend and my trip to the Infusion center for IV fluids on Monday. Yet, even in that place, blessings abounded. There was a woman in the infusion chair next to mine getting her Chemo cocktail of deadly poisons. She seemed so put together, she looked nice, and she was smiling and texting on her iphone, apparently in a very good mood. I lay there in my recliner feeling awful and wondering how she could possibly be so cheery in this place. After about an hour, I couldn’t take it any more and I questioned her, “You look entirely too happy to be here, what’s your secret?” She looked at me and smiled compassionately, “Well,” she said, “Last year at this time I thought I would be going out in a pine box.” “It gets better,” she went on. She continued, “It’s rough at first, but it gets better.” That’s all I needed, a spark of hope from a stranger, a stranger who had traveled the same road as I was on and who had come out strong and whole. I truly believe God sends us earthly, angel messengers, so often, at exactly the moment we most need them.

One of the things no one told me about was that Chemo causes temporary insanity – well, it did for me, and I’m sure it will happen again. On the way home from the Cancer Center I told my husband, “I can’t deal with my hair any longer, it’s got to go; I’m getting a haircut.” He looked at me sideways, “What?” he asked, “Isn’t your hair going to fall out soon?” “Not soon enough for me,” I exclaimed. “It’s got to go!” So I called my beautician and told her I was ready for that “pixie” cut she had told me about. The insanity part is that my hair was already relatively short and its never any trouble because I just wash it and let the curls take over. But, on this day, my hair was looming over me like one of those “mountains.” My beautician thought I was jumping the gun with the haircut too, but she gleefully started chopping it off until it was only about 1″ long all around my head. My husband, bless his heart, took one look at me when I got home and said, “I kinda like it.” He is such a sweet man!

Did I mention I was stubborn? The doctor had told me that some people have more trouble with the Neulasta injection than with the chemo. It can make your teeth hurt and all your bones ache unbearably. Well, I had the audacity to think that I was not going to be one of those “some” people. Hadn’t the doctor also said that he thought I may just sail through Chemo because I was so healthy to begin with and in great physical condition? I was wrong – again – I’m a “some” people! Let’s get back to the stubborn part; I refused to take pain meds, thinking I could tough it out. I didn’t want the side effects of painkillers. Even though my friends all advised me to “take the darn pills” I fought it until I could not bear it any longer.

My husband was upset with me because I would not sit and “rest,” which annoyed me because he didn’t understand that sitting only magnified the pain I was in and caused me to focus all my attention on it. At least, when I was walking around the house doing this or that, my mind wasn’t focused on the pain.

Determining not to take the pills was foolish, and I knew that. Growing up with three brothers had toughened me up. I can remember when my older brothers, after I had done something to annoy them, would twist my arm behind my back and tell me, “I’m not gonna let you go till you say uncle.” Well, that was a challenge I had to accept, even though I knew they were bigger and stronger than me and that eventually, I would have to say “uncle” or suffer the consequences of a sore arm. So, in my mind taking the pills was giving in to the bully of pain running through my body. I wanted to conquer it by sheer will. As with my brothers, I lost that battle. Finally, around 6 p.m., in tears and so angry that I had to say, “uncle” to taking the pills, I gave in and took one. It took a while, but I got blessed relief. I have a call in to the doctor’s office to see if there is anything I can take that is an alternative to the pain meds. We shall see what he has in mind.

Now, to the blessings of this journey. Each day, there are friends, I like to think of them as encouragers, who will call, text, or message me. They check up on me, always assuring me of their thoughts and prayers. Many of them send scriptures to me that are SO very helpful. We don’t always talk about my cancer, but about mundane, “what are you doing today stuff” which is fine with me. I love to hear about what is going on in other people’s lives. I am genuinely interested in what’s going on with them and it certainly makes my day more interesting

Yesterday evening, just when I was at my breaking point, a friend texted me this beautiful prayer that was right on point with how I was feeling. No one can tell me she was not a God sent angel for me! This is the prayer she sent:

Praise God for all the wonderful people He has sent into my life!

THE LEARNING CURVE

I knew it was coming, and thought I was prepared for the exhaustion and the chemo side effects I had side-stepped by taking mega doses of prednisone this past week. It started on Saturday morning when I woke up. My mouth was sore from the ulcers, my teeth hurt, my tongue felt weird, my body was radiating low-grade pain from one area to the next, and my bones ached, a lot.

I’ve never been a morning person, never. On school days, when I was a young girl, my mom would try to wake me up by singing her favorite morning song to me, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.” My momma loved to sing, she sang all the time. I used to love to sing along with her, belting out the old gospel hymns she taught me. But, on school mornings, I would stuff the pillow over my head and beg her, “Momma, please stop singing!” Should I be foolish enough not to get out of the bed after the first song, Momma would begin to sing, “Lazy Mary Will You Get Up,” incessantly, until I would, finally, throw the pillow to the floor, and petulantly stomp out of the room. Oh, if only I could have just one of those precious days back with my momma.

I think about and miss my mother even more so since my cancer diagnosis, than I did before. I know if she were here with me as I battle this disease, she would bring much needed sunshine into the difficult times ahead. But, I still carry her love in my heart, and her songs, and the many wise things she taught me.

Sorry, I digress; the topic of this post is supposed to be how I am dealing with the ever increasing side-effects of the Chemo and the Nuelasta Injection.. My usual morning blahs were nothing compared to these new feelings of being unwell.  It didn’t sit well with me and made me grumpy. Really, I had no idea how to deal with this new person I was becoming. Full of wandering aches and pains, what was I supposed to do with myself? Sit on the sofa and “rest” as my husband kept advising me to do.

“Morning prayer will get my head on straight,” I thought.  I grabbed my little book, Give Us This Day (Daily prayer readings) and went to sit in the recliner by the front window of my house which overlooks my porch and the Purple Martin gourd racks.  It is my prayer spot some days.  Opening the book to Saturday’s prayer, some of the lines from Psalm 3 jumped out at me. 
“…you, Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, who lift my head…I lie down, I sleep and I wake, for the Lord upholds me…I will not fear.”  Sitting there pondering those words of comfort, I heard the sound of birds singing near the porch, and glancing outside, I noticed the bright orange-red blooms of the azalea bush near the window.  Both made me smile and instantly cheered me.  I sat there for a moment listening to the birds and gazing outdoors.  “Thank you Lord,” I prayed, “In your Holy Word and in nature, that is where I find my peace.”  

I know that God loves me through nature; I am one with it.  It always connects me to God, leading me to prayer, praise and gratitude.  So this little hiccup in my prayer didn’t bother me.   I accepted what I call God’s “love tap,” my dose of nature love from the Heavenly Father, took it all in, and then asked Him to help me refocus on the rest of the readings.  My morning prayer time links me to God, in an intimate way, and helps me to become more aware of His presence and guidance as I face each new day and its mounting challenges. 

After prayer, I just really needed to be outdoors.

Overprotective Hubby, who seems to have appointed himself my guard, graciously acquiesced to my plea to be allowed to walk my dog. Of course, he insisted on accompanying me, as if I might try to make a break for it, escaping the bonds of cancer treatment by hiding out in a log cabin somewhere deep in the woods; hmmm, I kind of like that image.

Let’s just say we are both – not ourselves – at the moment.

Along with battling constipation from the meds, and the rest of the side effects, each time I eat, it feels as if a lump forms in my chest and it’s very uncomfortable for hours. It would probably be a good idea to follow the dietitian’s suggestion of eating 6 small meals a day. Stubborn person that I am, I like to try things my way first. When will I ever learn?

As I was preparing for bed, feeling pretty darn miserable and sick, an old time gospel song my momma used to sing started playing in my head. “You gotta walk, that lonesome valley, you gotta walk it by yourself, ain’t nobody else gonna walk it for you, you gotta walk it by yourself.” Momma had a song for every situation and I couldn’t help but think she sent this song to me – to let me know she was near, to bolster my flagging strength, and give me the courage to hold on to my faith and walk-the-walk, following in Jesus’ footsteps.

This Joan Baez Video of the song says it all:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ItVmpBr7KLE

It seems as if the song of last night was a harbinger of worse things to come. I woke up on Sunday, still feeling awful, but managed to pull myself together enough to walk the dogs.  If Rosie doesn’t have her walks and Frisbee fetching time, nobody gets any peace. I don’t want to think that there might be a day when I can’t force myself to get off the sofa.

After lunch, I fixed myself a bowl of cabbage and rice soup thinking this, along with the meds I’d been taking for it, would alleviate the constipation.  Wrong, I was so wrong.  All it did was add gas and bloating to an already bad situation.  After four hours of excruciating pain that I thought I would surely die from, I got some relief.  If I never have cabbage, ever again, it will be too soon for me! 

After getting very little sleep last night and having dropped six pounds since Friday, I was thoroughly exhausted, depleted and dehydrated.  This morning after speaking to the nurse, I went into the Cancer Center to get some much needed IV fluids.  My doctor did tell me that the first few weeks of Chemo were going to be a learning “curve” for me.  How right he was!

The one lesson I am going to take away from this past week is that I will never take good health for granted, ever again.  And, that I should never forget to offer up prayers for others who are suffering the effects of addictions, mental disorders, diseases, cancer, and poor health.  May God in His mercy have pity on them, console them, and give them courage, strength, and peace.