LESSON LEARNED

My husband always cautions me that I don’t know when to “stop.” Oh, how I hate it when he is right! I must admit I do tend to overdo things – it’s part of my Obsessive Compulsive Personality. So, on the very next day after Chemo, after I went in the morning to the Cancer Center to get my Nuelasta Injection (it builds up white blood cell counts to fight off infection), I skipped lunch so I could meet with my two directees. Then I took my 1:00 p.m. allopurinol pill (this pill will stop me from getting Gout from the Chemo). By the grace of God, the sessions with the Directees went very well. But, I was beginning to get, as my mom would say “as sick as a dog” by the time they were over. I had a rough evening and night with painful heartburn that no amount of counteractions could fix. Thank the Lord that I woke up in the morning feeling a lot better. In hindsight, it was a little foolish of me to even think of scheduling anything at all on the day after Chemo. What was I thinking?! Well, what I was thinking was, “I’m not gonna let cancer change my life, I’m gonna do what I got to do.” But, I learned that I was wrong.

Lifting the experiences of the day before up for the Lord’s perusal in prayer the next morning as I thanked him for much improvement in feeling better, His word to me was, “Yes, Jeanne, cancer IS going to change things, but, don’t fret about it, I will be with you, ALL the way.” The Lord always knows just what to say to me to calm my spirit, to give me knowledge and insight. It is the knowledge that God is with me that gives me not only strength, but perseverance, courage, laughter and even joy at this time of not knowing, not knowing what’s next in my health care, or how cancer will effect the rest of my life. I have a peace about it; that, can only come from God.

HYPED UP AND FEELING GOOD

It’s a bright, new day today. 100mg of Prednisone must be some powerful stuff. For 4 days post Chemo, I have to take these pills every morning. It’s given to stop allergic reaction from Chemo and as an anti inflammatory. But, it’s a steroid and it really gets the heart beating fast and hypes a person up. So, I was feeling good today and full of amazing energy. I cleaned the entire house – for 7 hours! I tuned to my favorite country hymns station on Pandora – streaming from speakers in every room of the house – and sang along at the top of my voice as I worked. There is nothing like gospel music to lift your spirits. I pretty much turned the house upside down while the cleaning fit was on, which drove my husband out the door and into his barn for sanctuary. He peeked in later in the afternoon to make sure I was done and didn’t have any more jobs lined up for him to do.

I spent the rest of the afternoon learning how to use the Walmart app so I could order groceries online and my husband could go to the Walmart Pick Up Station to get them. What a great idea and just in time for my new issue. The doctor doesn’t want me to go to the grocery store because so many people have the flu this season. I love going to the grocery store. Something else I have to give up – for now – I tell myself it is just for now. Oh, and I must stay out of crowded restaurants, movie theaters, airplanes, hospitals, nursing homes, schools- well, you get the picture. And, no more hugging people or giving them the ‘handshake of peace’ at church. I’m a hugger, this new rule sucks big time for me, so I’ll just have to be satisfied with blowing kisses I suppose. According to the doctor, germs are pretty much everywhere, and I must avoid germs at all costs. So, now my OCD has a new project to obsess about – cleanliness. I’m already on it!

FIRST CHEMO TREATMENT

Wow, what a day! I got up bright and early, looking forward to the day and getting the lay of the infusion clinic where they would administer the Chemo for the next few months. I’ve been waiting for this day since I learned about the “mass” in my pelvic area. In my mind, the sooner the treatment begins, the sooner the cancer cells are destroyed, and my body will begin to heal.

So, my husband and I left early and arrived at the Cancer Center about 15 minutes ahead of time. We were taken to the infusion center where there are 34 comfortable recliners for cancer patients to get their infusions. I was put in recliner 18. It was a comfortable recliner. First, I got myself situated with all my stuff (Iphone, Ipad, & prayer material) set out around me within easy reach. Then, I covered myself with my mom’s favorite animal print throw she has used to cover herself for the last year of her life while I was caring for her. It brought back happy memories of our times together and gave me great comfort to know that something of my mom was here with me.

I had brought the Lidocaine cream that the doctor ordered for me, it is used to numb the area around the port so the needle stick for the Chemo doesn’t hurt. When I handed it to the nurse she said, “Oh, you were supposed to put that on 35-45 minutes before you got here, so that it has time to work.” She went on, “I don’t have time to wait that long, I have to access the port soon.” Looking at her with eyes as big as saucers, I said, “What, no one told me anything about putting it on early.” I guess she could tell I was freaked out because she graciously took the cream from me, put an ice pack on top of it and assured me it might just work and the “stick” wouldn’t be so bad. And, to my own amazement, I was feeling okay about it. My mother’s favorite prayer, the Serenity Prayer, runs through my mind at times like this, when there is nothing I can do to change a situation, “God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”. And the nurse was correct, it was not so bad.

Nurse Katie explained to me that they start by giving Benadryl because it lessens any allergic reactions from the Immunotherapy drug. She told me it would probably make me sleep. No WAY, I was not going to sleep through THIS day. I wanted to be aware of everything they were doing to me. Crazy as it seems, I wanted to remember this memorable day. So, I told her there was no way I was going to go to sleep. She smiled at me as if to say, “You poor silly woman, you don’t have a chance of staying awake” But, stay awake I did. Though it was not easy. When she pushed that Benadryl into the port I could feel it numbing my body and fogging my brain; even my lips didn’t move the way I wanted them to when I spoke. But, I didn’t go to sleep. I fought it and I won! So there you have it, nurse Katie, I WON.

Next came a combination of Prednisone and other stuff that would help to lessen the side effects of the Chemo drugs. I welcomed that drug with open arms, no problem.

Just then my best friend, Althea, and her husband walked in. Oh my gosh, I was so surprised and happy to see her. Her support through this health crisis has been indispensable to me. We walk the same spiritual journey, sharing our beliefs, our faith in Jesus and His promises. To have a faith companion is priceless.

She walked in and gave me a hug and said, “We came to pray with you before your Chemo starts.” I was thrilled! Her husband had even brought a relic of St. Margaret Mary that was handed down to him from his great grandmother to pray with over me. He said the most beautiful prayer asking Jesus for my healing, while he placed the relic on my forehead. It was a blessed moment and it gave me great peace. I knew in my heart that God had sent my friends to me, with words of comfort and hearts full of compassion and love for me. I said a quick prayer in my heart, “Thank you, God, for this wonderful surprise on this special day.”

When I had my chemo class, I had been warned that some people have a reaction to Rituximab. One of those “some” people was me! When the nurse pushed the Rituximab through the port it didn’t take long for me to feel the “burn.” The soft tissue of my mouth, and throat began to feel tender, then sore, and then it began to burn. I called the nurse over and she immediately stopped the Rituximab and gave me more Benadryl. Almost instantly as the Benadryl went into the port my symptoms got better. The nurse assured me that this would probably only happen this once. Next time, I should not have a reaction; “the body adapts.,” she said. Well, I sure hope that is true in my case. The other two chemos in the R-CHOP regimen, when pushed through the port, felt cool as they entered my blood, and I had no reactions to those. Praise God for that! We were there at the center from 9:30 a.m.until 5:30 p.m.

My husband, as usual, would not leave my side, even though he had to sit on a hard chair for 8 hours. His presence is always a comfort to me because I know he will always see to my needs. It was a very long day, but it sure felt like a blessed day to me. One treatment down and 5 more to go. WooHoo!

Tomorrow I have to go back to the infusion center to get a shot of Neulasta, a drug given the day after Chemo treatment to help reduce the risk of infection by raising the white blood cell count. Since I’m going to be in town anyway, I am going to continue my ministry as a Spiritual Director and have two spiritual direction sessions in the afternoon. I am not going to let cancer interfere with my life any more than it has to. When I can do, I will do.

As I think about this cancer journey there is only one word that comes to mind – blessed. I feel blessed! I am getting so many emails, cards, books, statues, and prayers sent to me from friends, people at church, schoolmates, and nuns who are friends. I feel love and compassion through all these people God sends to comfort me with words of concern, hope, with prayers and with unselfish offers to drive me, or even clean my house and cook if I need it. I am enveloped in LOVE! How can I be fearful when I am lifted up so high in prayer that I feel as if I’m grasping Jesus’ hands. I know, were it possible and Jesus was still alive, any one of them would be willing to climb up on a roof, make a hole in it, and drop me down to Jesus for healing. (Mark 2:4 The Healing of the Paralytic).

How blessed am I, and humbled in the face of such compassion and love.

The Lord has secured me in His love and I know that as long as “I keep the LORD always before me; with him at my right hand, I shall never be shaken.”(Psalm 16:8)

Heaven Paved the Way

It hardly seems like it has only been 6 weeks since my surgery and my cancer diagnosis. With all of the tests and doctors appointments, not to mention the time I’ve spent researching websites on the internet, it seems as if months have gone by, not weeks. I’m exhausted from researching, talking about it, praying about it, thinking about it.

But, God knew I needed a break from it all and opened a path for me to schedule a retreat between the time my tests were completed and when my chemo would start. I was able to fit in 5 whole days for a silent, directed retreat. It was just what I needed to fill myself up with God’s love and peace before all the craziness of these coming months of Chemo gets started.

Driving down winding country roads, gazing out at rolling hills and farmland dotted with cows and horses grazing in lush green winter grasses calmed my spirit even before I got to the beautiful retreat house of Our Lady of the Pines in Catawba, Mississippi. The retreat house was built in the late 1800’s and has been refurbished and modernized. My room on the 3rd floor was very spacious and comfortable. I even had my own bath.

My days were spent in prayer, strolling down the country road through the pine forests, sitting in the gazebo overlooking the lake, or meditating as I walked the Labyrinth. It was truly a blessed time. Jesus was my constant companion as I imagined His hand in mine and heard His voice in my heart assuring me that He was “here” for me. The scriptures that my spiritual director gave me for prayer each day spoke to my heart, filled me with peace in the knowledge that God has a plan for me and that His plan is perfect. My faith assures me that no matter what the outcome of the cancer treatment is for me that God has “got me” not just for now, here on earth, but for all of eternity. And, so, I place myself in His loving arms, surrender my life, my all to my sweet Lord, place one foot in front of the other and get ready to fight this disease – powered up with Divine love and a peace that does not come from this world, but only comes from knowing Jesus.

CHEMO DAY

Tomorrow is the day. I’m very excited about starting the chemo treatment and beginning the process of killing those evil little cancer cells that want to destroy me. Each day I ask the Lord to multiply my good blood cells and to start an army of killer blood cells of my own to fight the cancer “beasties.” It’s an image that makes me smile and reminds me that God is in my corner. “If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

Everything is prepared for my first day. I’ve got my ipad, iphone, charger, headphones, reading material, prayer material, lunch prepared, comfortable clothes, and will have my hubby in tow for support. What more could a girl ask for. I love meeting new people, so I look forward to meeting those patients at the infusion center who will be on a parallel journey with me. Hopefully, we will be able to lift one another up, or comfort one another along the way. I also look forward to meeting the health care workers who will be closely involved in my care and treatment. I hope to learn a lot from them about my cancer, the side effects of the chemo, and how to care for myself when things get rough. It’s a little crazy I know, but I am full of hopefulness and even joy, about the prospect of beginning treatment. God has given me joy of heart; I am claiming it, and prepared to spread it around as much as possible!

The Journey Begins

I just wanted to lose 5 more pounds before Christmas; that’s all, just five more pounds. Weight Watchers was working really well, but, my weight loss had stalled and I needed to try something new. Beans! Beans are zero points, and I happen to really like beans. Searching the internet for a good recipe I found one, the “best” black bean soup, ever. I ate the soup on and off for two weeks until I was pretty much sick all the time and really bloated. I convinced myself I had gallstones. Then, I convinced my doctor I had gallstones, and he ordered an Ultra Sound, as he said, “just to be on the safe side.” A few days before the Ultra Sound, I wised up and stopped eating the beans. I started feeling better, but that little voice inside me urged me to get the Ultra Sound anyway. As it turned out, there were no gallstones, but, there was a large mass in my pelvic area that the radiologist cited, “is very indicative of ovarian cancer.” Thus, the search for a diagnosis began.

Having already lived through a cancer diagnosis of endometrial cancer 20 years earlier, I was quite shocked by what the findings presented. Could it have come back after 20 years? Could the cancer have metastasized into the one ovary I had left after the partial hysterectomy from 20 years ago? Well, my gynecologist/oncologist certainly thought that was probably the case. Shocking! It came out of no where and it was shocking. “Lord,” I thought, “is this it?” “Well,” I thought to myself, “at least I’ve had 20 good years.” I was just grateful to God for giving me that. I was a little numb but not afraid, no fear. I attribute that to my faith. My belief that even if this cancer kills me, I’ll be with Jesus and with all my loved ones who have gone before me – and there are many more of them with Jesus than there are left here on earth. I couldn’t for the life of me be mad at God. He gave me a good life and a long one; 66 years is not bad. Actually, with all that had been going on with my family lately, Heaven seemed infinitely better than here in this earthly realm. Of course, then I started thinking of my family and friends and pets, and ministry and responsibilities and I realized, “Yes, I do want to live.” But, only if it is God’s will. And, that is what I’ve been praying ever since. “Lord, if it is your will, please heal me; and, if it is not your will that I be healed, give me the courage and strength to endure whatever it is that I will have to endure.” The Ultra Sound was done on December ll, 2018.

Here we are today, February 8, 2019, which happens to be my anniversary, and I am pondering all that has happened since that fateful day. God has been so present in each and every moment.

On January 7th, I had surgery to remove “the mass” and my remaining female organs. My doctor was wrong, the mass was an enlarged lymph node and the pathology report confirmed it to be Grade 3b Follicular Lymphoma. When I woke up and heard this surprising news, it was as if a great weight had been lifted off my chest. Though all cancer is bad, Lymphoma is a much better diagnosis than ovarian cancer or a return of the endometrial cancer. I didn’t know much about Lymphoma, but I was sure going to begin to learn all I could! I tend to struggle with OCD; so, of course, I got on the internet and read all about Lymphoma, incessantly, day and night, while I was recuperating from my surgery. Praying and reading, reading and praying, asking for God’s guidance in all my coming decisions. I talked about all I’d learned ad-nauseam with my poor husband, who was caring for me, and anyone else who would listen to me. But, for me, talking it out is good. It relieves stress and actually comforts me when I share with others. If there is nothing else you can do for someone, listening to them is such a wonderful gift to them. I have been truly blessed with so many family members, friends, and acquaintances who have comforted me and shown their love for me, just by listening.

I’ve had my ups and down these past five weeks. I can’t believe it’s only been five weeks; it seems like a lifetime. Prayer gives me solace.  I’ve been doing a lot of it.  There are moments during my prayer time when I talk to God and spill my guts to him, and I feel so close to Him and know He is really listening to me and loving me through this tough stuff.  Some days I am stronger than others, and I feel hopeful and grateful, and loved. And, other days, as my brother, Jerry, was want to say, “I’ve got the blues.”  It is all too much for me. I had one such day a few weeks ago when I wrote this in my journal:

It makes me angry that this cancer is going to dictate what is happening to my body for the next 4 – 6 months of chemo and Lord only knows how long it will take me to become whole again after that.  I feel so good now; I’m healthy and fit, how can anything be wrong with me?  How can there be these little cancer aliens running around inside of me trying to kill me!  I don’t feel them yet, they are not making me sick yet, but the doctor says they are there.  It seems so unreal!  I’ve tried all my life to take good care of myself and now this.  Now my body is betraying me and the medicine to annihilate the little cancer devils is going to almost kill me to cure me. THAT seems unreal too.  I don’t want to feel sick and tired and whatever else the stupid chemo is going to do to me.  I dread the cancer school where they are going to describe EVERYTHING to do with the chemo and its side effects.  I think I would rather not know.  Just let me be surprised so I don’t have to agonize about it before it happens for goodness sake! 

During those times, when I think to myself, “Oh, woe is me,” I can hear my mom saying to me, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  Mom was ever the motivator and such a bright light in my life.  I need her NOW!  When I was younger, I can remember my mom, whenever something reminded her of her mom saying, “Granny is flying low.”  There have been times since my mom died, like now, when I am going through some struggle in life, that I will find myself singing a song that mom used to sing to me, or hearing in my head words of wisdom she used to say to me and I think to myself, “Hi Mom, you must be flying low, please stay with me, I miss you so much.”

That is how God works too!  It never fails that just the right scripture passage will come to my mind, just when I need it; or I’ll be listening to gospel music and I’m suddenly filled with joy and peace; and, whatever troubles or concerns I had before, seem to fade away.

These past few weeks, during every step of my journey I have felt God’s guidance, moving me this way or that, sending prayerful friends to discern with me the most important aspects of my treatment options.  And, when that discernment is done and a decision is made, there is a peace that is beyond human understanding; a knowing that God just stepped into my life, in such a personal, intimate way because of His great love for me.  

Just this week, I was dreading having to get a Bone Marrow Biopsy; I had heard so many horror stories about how painful it was.  On Tuesday, I had an appointment with a surgeon about getting a port put in (for administering chemo).  During our conversation, I mentioned that I was having a Bone Marrow Biopsy done at the hospital the next day.  She said, “Really, oh, wait a minute let me check my schedule.”  Checking her computer she said, “I can’t believe it, I don’t have any surgeries tomorrow morning.” “I could call the doctor and see if we can piggy-back the surgeries and I’ll put the port in, and then he can do the Bone Marrow Biopsy.”  Now, they usually just give you a local anesthetic for the bone marrow, and she had told me that she would give me a “twilight” sleep where I would be sleeping during her procedure AND through the dreaded bone marrow biopsy, so, I was ecstatic.  

It all was worked out, and it was on.  When I got to the hospital they told me the doctor who was doing the Bone Marrow was delayed because there was fog on the Causeway and the police were convoying the traffic, very slowly.  My husband, the voice of doom, said to me, “Oh, I hope the doctor is not too angry and frustrated after being in that awful traffic this morning.”  Just what I wanted to hear, right?  So, when the doctor came in the room, I asked him if he was still feeling agitated from the drive and he said, “Oh no, I don’t mind the drive because I say my rosary when I’m on the Causeway and it relaxes me.”  A doctor who prays on his way to work? Praise God! I knew then that it was all going to go well.  And, it did!  I’m still just a little sore from the surgeries, but no big deal.  Isn’t God just SO amazing!

I had been considering getting a second opinion from the cancer center, MD Anderson, but after much prayer and discernment, and “listening” to medical specialists and prayerful friends, I have decided not to go for a second opinion. The discernment process left no doubt in my mind. I felt so so strongly led in this decision that my heart was filled with peace and tranquility. and a rightness that only comes from God when we follow His promptings.

So, now that I’m not waiting to get the second opinion, I can begin my chemo treatments on Monday, February 18, at 9:30 am.  I’m told it’s going to be an all day affair.  For those who “know” me they will understand when I say, “I am SO excited and looking forward to getting my first treatment and meeting all the health care workers and patients who will be journeying with me!”  I’ll just have to temper my enthusiasm when I meet people so they won’t think I am a little cuckoo to be happy on my first day of Chemo.  

And, to top off this fabulous week, I will have time to go on a short retreat for five days.  I’ve garnered a room at a retreat house and will make a silent, directed retreat in a lovely wooded setting where I can enjoy being in the outdoors and nature. My favorite place to be!  How awesome is that going to be, spending prayerful time with the Lord before the chemo regimen begins. I am looking forward to “resting” in the Divine presence and being filled with everything I need. 

I truly believe that everything has worked out just as our Lord has planned it for me. I’m feeling such peace and joy of heart at the moment, reveling in God’s love and the many graces He has bestowed on me.  I pray each day that God will give me “eyes that see” and “ears that hear” whatever it is that He wants me to do with the rest of my life, however long that will be. I ask Him to put me in the path of those who need to be ministered to BY me, or those he sends to minister TO me.

But, I’m not so foolish that I think I won’t be going through some struggles and dark times ahead as I go through the Chemo treatments.  It is at that time when I may need some assurance and a reminder of God’s love and constant presence.  And, I will depend on family members, faith-filled friends, and my spiritual director, to talk me through those tough times. 

I’m looking forward to having lunch with two of my favorite cousins tomorrow and then I’ll be off on retreat the next day. May God bless everyone who is willing to accompany me on this journey of healing. I’m certain God will teach me what I need to learn along the way.