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!

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.