Friday, July 31, 2009

"A beautiful day."

My Grandma will be 98 in a couple of weeks.  She is one of the most amazing, beautiful women who ever graced the face of the planet Earth! She has always been one of my role models for life. My Uncle always called me “Little Miss Grandma” because he thought I looked like my grandma.  Over the course of the years I have seen that I am very much like her in many ways. I am basically Grandma’s clone – “Mini Grandma”.

Grandma has inspired me, taught me, and led by example. She worked as a nurse until she was 75 years old, never missing a day of work, often working double shifts. She taught ladies Bible study classes for years. She took many mission trips to Mexico, inspiring the doctors in her church to go as well. She tended a huge vegetable garden and yard full of fruit trees, providing canned vegetables, fruit, and preserves to anyone who needed it. She made quilts and blankets for every baby born in her town, for every college graduate, and for every newly married couple! She did it all quietly and consistently my whole life.

Her life epitomizes the verse in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.”  Grandma’s light shines brightly to this day.

And Grandma is a writer! She has kept a journal, starting when she was recovering from the death of her first-born son during childbirth until just a couple of years ago. She wrote in her journal every day.

A couple of months ago we brought some of her journals home. She wrote simply of her days – work, grocery shopping, quilting, gardening and going to church. As I was reading through them I noticed something amazing. Nearly every entry in her journal began with the words, “It was a beautiful day.” She lived her life with that attitude.  I think she has discovered the secret to longevity!

One journal entry struck me as I was reading: 

“A beautiful day. I went to Sunday School and Church. Pastor preached on ‘The Real Thing’, Micah 6:8,  He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’”

That’s exactly how Grandma has lived her life. She’s the real thing! She has lived a beautiful life and I have been blessed because of it.  Happy 98th Birthday Grandma!  I love you very much!

“The light of the righteous shines brightly” Proverbs 13:9

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Just relax!

One of the things that I have been told repeatedly over the past nine weeks: "Just go home, relax, rest, you're going to be fine. We are taking care of you." 

There are a couple of strange things about that statement. 

1. Really? You think I'm going to relax? I have cancer! Obviously the speaker of those statements has not personally experienced this diagnosis.

2. They tell me to relax and then slowly every form of comfort and relaxation in my life is stripped away for one reason or another - reading (I can't concentrate anymore), comfort foods (can't eat them!), hot showers (radiated skin can't handle it), swimming (radiated skin can't take the chlorine), sitting in the sun (chemo prevents it), exercising (hand foot syndrome won't let me), walking (hand foot syndrome again).

Relax...right.

But the most amazing thing happened... even as everything was stripped away I found myself totally relaxed, completely at peace. With nothing left to hang on to, nothing left to depend on, God proved himself to be all I needed. How many times have I read that? How many times have I heard that? But now I know deep down inside. God IS enough. He IS all I need. He truly is El Shaddai, the all-sufficient one. 

God, please help me hang on to that truth as we walk through all that lies ahead. Thank you that you are and always will be all I need.

"My grace is enough; it's all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:9

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Planning ahead

I had an appointment with the Enterostomal Therapist today. I was a little nervous about going because I was afraid it might “dunk” me again... 

With my nursing background, I am familiar with ileostomy care. I have taken care of patients who had them, so it was not new information for me. The therapist was very sweet.  She has had an ileostomy since 1970, so, she knows what she’s talking about. She knows what works, and how to care for one. I know that they are manageable, and I know that it won’t keep me from living my life, and I know that the appliances and equipment have significantly improved since I was working in the nursing field, and I know it will only be temporary. But... 

When she began talking to me, it was as if she was speaking Chinese.  It was all so overwhelming. Everything has happened so fast that it still doesn’t seem real. I just kept smiling and nodding, thinking, “I’ll go home and try to make sense of what she is telling me later.” 

On the drive home I decided that I’d just like to cancel everything – cancel surgery, cancel the ileostomy, cancel cancer!!  Can we do that?  I’m still waiting for a response to my Craig’s List ad! 

I’m definitely going to call my friend who has her own personal ileostomy and pick her brain! Thank you, God, for providing the exact people I need in my life right now!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Heart full of joy

If you have been following my blog then you know that I had a couple of difficult, emotional days last week. I was reflecting back on those days today and thought I would share some of my thoughts with you.

When those dark moments come and fear creeps in, I certainly have the thoughts that you might imagine - concern for my family, for my friends, and for my church. But honestly, some of my thoughts might come as a surprise to you. In those moments of emotional breakdown my worries might not be what you think. Here are some of my typical thoughts:

1. Oh my gosh! I might die soon and I haven't even cleaned out my closet yet!
2. If I die, Mark will never find anything.
3. What about all the scrapbooks I was going to make and all the boxes of papers I have saved??
4. I can't die yet! I never finished (read "started") cross-stitching the Christmas stockings!

This explains the cleaning of my refrigerator on Saturday, and the great adventure of cleaning off my desk! I better get busy. I have a lot to do!

Radiation Recovery Update:
The fatigue is gone!
My feet don't hurt anymore unless I'm on them a lot.
The small wound I had has healed!
My stomach is pretty calm most days.
Still drinking room temperature water!

I appreciate all of you more than you know! Thank you for continuing to pray for me. I am praying for you too!

"Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. I always pray for you, and I make my request with a heart full of joy"  Philippians 1:3-4


Monday, July 27, 2009

"Who do you say that I am?"

A couple of weeks ago Mark was preaching a sermon called "Why Church?" asking the question why God established the church and why that is important to us today. One of the verses he used during that message stuck with me:


"But what about you?" he (Jesus) asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  Matthew 16:15-16


And I wondered, if Jesus had posed that question to me, what would my answer have been? And then I thought, Jesus is posing that question to me - every day.  And every day I have the chance to answer Him, not only with my words, but with my life. Who do I say that Jesus is? What does my life show that I believe? Is it showing that Jesus is the Son of the living God? 


Yesterday Mark talked about "Why Worship?" and the fact God created us to be worshippers. We will all worship something and it's up to us to choose what the object of our worship will be. This is so important because we will be transformed into the image of what we worship. So what will I choose? Do I want my life to be a reflection of God's incredible goodness, faithfulness, majesty and love? 


And then those two thoughts came together for me. If I want my life to show what I believe, then I need to focus all my worship on Him. As I do, I will be transformed and my life will proclaim, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."


I love the lyrics to the song, "I Know You're There", by Casting Crowns. It kind of sums it all up for me:


If all I had was one last breath, I'd spend it just to sing your praise, just to say your name. If all I had was one last prayer, I'd pray it 'cause I know you're always listening. If I could live a thousand lives, bind the hands of time, I would spend every moment by your side.


If all I had was one more song to sing, I would raise a noise to make the heavens ring. If all I had was one last chance I'd take it, I would stake it all on you. If I could rise up high and catch the glance of every eye, I would make them believe what I feel inside.


If I could live a thousand lives and bind the hands of time...If I could rise up high and catch the glance of every eye...


I know you're there, I know you see me. You're the air I breath, you are the ground beneath me. I know you're there, I know you hear me. I can find you anywhere. I know you're there.


So, who do YOU say that HE is?



Saturday, July 25, 2009

It's Magic!

Radiation  Recovery Update:  plenty of sleep + renewed energy = one clean refrigerator!

We have enjoyed having David and Sydneyann here this week! Those of you who have known David for a while, may remember that when he was about 12 years old he was a budding magician! Well, last night he pulled the box of magic tricks out of the garage and we were treated to an impromtu magic show.  Here are a few pictures of the show:





Thanks, David, for the memories and the laughs!! I love you and Sydneyann so much!



Friday, July 24, 2009

God wins!

Radiation Recovery Update:

Thursday: feeling tired + emotionally spent = rest on the couch, again

Friday: little fatigue + calm stomach = got my nails done!

Yesterday I went online to read about long term side effects of radiation. None of them are positive things, but nothing I read was new information for me. The thing that struck me again as I was reading was the fact that I have advanced rectal cancer.

I have ADVANCED rectal cancer. I have ADVANCED rectal cancer. I say it three times out loud. I am trying to get it through to my brain. This is the true situation for now. But my brain rejects it every time. “I feel fine,” my brain says, “I don’t even look sick. This can’t be true”

Then for a split second the reality comes through. For a brief two minutes I totally come unglued. I scare the dog. Thankfully no one else is at home.

Then God whispers, “I’m still here.” And He wraps His peace around me one more time.

Later I check my friend Jack’s blog and this is what I read: “God wins. Every time. There is nothing beyond His knowledge or His understanding or His resources.” Thanks, Jack!

God wins. Every time!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dunked again!

We met with the surgeon yesterday and now I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck, again. I thought the meeting would make me feel good. We could get the surgery on the calendar (August 25th), start making plans, etc. And there is some of that. I now know that I can take Ashley to college in August and I can go to my nephew’s wedding. I’m thankful for those things. But just talking about the next steps and beyond, the length of time this is really going to endure, has shaken me up just a little. OK, maybe a lot.

 

The doctor talked about the surgery and what part of the colon will be removed. It is a much larger portion than I anticipated. He also talked about the fact that a large number of lymph nodes are in this area, which is very close to my tumor, which freaked me out to know. The tumor is still there! Sitting by those lymph nodes. Is it spreading? He talked about the fact that he will create an temporary ileostomy for me. I totally understand and agree with the need to have it done, but it still is the source of so many questions and anxiety about the future. He also spoke of the probable need to have chemotherapy after surgery, for up to four months!! I knew this would most likely be something I would have to do, but I wasn’t prepared for four months. Of course, they won’t know that for sure until after the surgery and the pathology report comes back

 

I couldn’t sleep last night. Just like when they first diagnosed the cancer. I woke up at 4:00 am after a terrible few hours of restless sleep and I couldn’t go back to sleep. I tried to use that time to pray for so many others who are walking this same road, feeling these same things, like they’ve been hit by a truck. I woke up exhausted later. My body doesn’t want to move. I feel like weighted rubber. So, mentally, I am trying to readjust. All along I have been telling myself that one year out of my life is really nothing in the whole scheme of things. Lord, Help me to remember that! 

 

I remember as a kid I would go swimming with my friends and we would always end up in “dunk fights” where we would try to dunk each other under the water. And then as soon as someone came up for air they would be dunked again. Over and over. That’s what this feels like. I was just coming up for air and I got pushed back under. 

 

Lord, please give me strength for today. Give me wisdom to rest. Please heal my body and prepare it for surgery. Please ease my mind and all the spinning thoughts. Help me to walk with You today and not worry about tomorrow. Thank you!

 

Song in my head today: "Let my life be the proof of the hope found in You." Thanks Donald and Amos!

“So don't worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will have its own worries. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

New Normal

Radiation Recovery:
Monday - diarrhea + Imodium = all is well
Tuesday - woke up feeling good + end up feeling fatigue = frustration
Tuesday p.m. - Mark reminds me, "They said the effects of radiation would last 2-4 weeks." I am not good at waiting.
Wednesday - woke up feeling good + sent Ashley to Crimson Camp at OU = melancholy mom
And so it goes...

I find myself continually trying to keep things normal. It sounds almost funny when I say it out loud. Nothing is normal anymore. Everything changed on May 27th. We have a new normal now. It breaks my heart that I couldn't give Ashley a "normal" summer before she leaves for college. At least I gave her a memorable one! I was thinking about this as I fell asleep last night, wishing I could get in a Time Machine and go back to May 26th and somehow take a different path.

But when I woke up this morning I realized that I don't want to change a single thing! I would never go back! I wouldn't trade anything for what God has given me in the last 6 weeks. The intimacy I feel with Him, the amazing sense of peace that has overtaken my life, the first-hand knowledge I now have of His involvement in my life, the complete trust I have in Him. These are all things that I have struggled with in the past, and now they have become a part of me in a way I couldn't even have imagined before May 27th. I would not trade where I am right now for anything in the world, not even for a "normal" life. 

"But as for me, I trust in You." Psalm 55:23

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mind Control

I hate to be sick to my stomach. When I was first diagnosed with cancer and began to imagine all that I would experience, I was sure that I would spend some time dealing with nausea and vomiting. That was the picture I had in my mind of chemotherapy. Thankfully, with the type of chemotherapy I had, I did not experience any nausea at all! I was so happy!

However, one of the most interesting things that happened during my radiation therapy started about four weeks into my treatments. As soon as I got in the car to ride to the radiation center I would begin to feel nauseous. This would last through my time in the waiting room, through my treatment, all the way until I got in the car to ride home. Then, suddenly, it would be gone. 

It was an interesting phenomenon to experience, and very consistent. The radiation treatments did not make me sick to my stomach, the medication did not make me sick to my stomach. My brain made me sick to my stomach, my thoughts. I did not want to have radiation treatments, didn't want to be there, didn't want to have a reason to be there, didn't want to live with the side effects. Those thoughts would swirl around in my head and before I knew it I would feel nauseous. 

It's amazing the power our thoughts have. And if we're not careful, they will take control and very subtly begin to effect every area of our lives. I think that's why God tells us many times in his Word to be careful of our thoughts, to take control of them, and to direct them. My thoughts will either contribute to my healing or to my demise. And so will yours.

"For as he thinks in his heart, so is he" Proverbs 23:7

"We capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ." 2 Corinthians 10:5

"And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you." Philippians 4:8-9

Sunday, July 19, 2009

My Expert

Cancer is confusing. I'm sure this can be said of any serious medical diagnosis. Suddenly you are bombarded with a wealth of information, some asked for, much unsolicited. Even the doctors have differing opinions. It can be quite a challenge to wade through it all and make decisions. Don't get me wrong. I am grateful for the specialists who have expert training in their field of knowledge and years of experience. But it is confusing to have several doctors as part of your treatment team; and many other well-meaning friends, family members, even strangers telling you what is "best" for you.

I remember one day feeling particularly overwhelmed with decisions that had to be made and thinking, "I am thankful for the specialists, but I just wish I had someone who was a specialist in me, someone who was an expert in Laura Shook's cancer, someone who knew my history, who knew how my body was created and functioned, someone who knew exactly what was going on with my cancer, someone who had studied me for years, someone who could tell me what decision to make, what step to take, someone who was an expert in me."  

As soon as that thought passed through my brain, God whispered, "You do. I am that expert." And a flood of unbelievable joy and peace washed all over me. I can't even explain to you how it felt. I was laughing with the knowledge that God is a Laura specialist. He created me, He knows me inside and out. He is the one who prompted me to go to the doctor in the first place. He has watched this cancer form and grow across the years. He knew when it was time to begin treating it, and He knows exactly what I need to do each step of the way. He is even in control of all the other specialists! He is in charge of my case, not anyone else. How awesome is that! The God of the universe, my personal physician. Wow.

So no offense to any of my other doctors, they are the absolute best, but my hope rests in only One - Jehovah Rapha - the God who heals me.

"O LORD, you have searched me and you know me" Psalm 139:1.

"You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed." Psalm 139:13-16

"But the person who trusts in the Lord will be blessed. The Lord will show him that he can be trusted." Jeremiah 17:7

"Lord, heal me, and I will truly be healed. Save me, and I will truly be saved. You are the one I praise." Jeremiah 17:14

P.S. Happy 23rd Birthday to my David! I love you very much! XOXOXOXOXOXOX

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Next Steps...

Now that I am finished with radiation and this round of chemotherapy, several people have asked me, "What's next?" So here is the plan:

The next four to six weeks I am to rest and allow my body to heal from the radiation treatments. The effects of chemo and radiation will last for two to fours weeks after my last treatment. That means I will still have the same side effects: fatigue, cramping, diarrhea, hand foot syndrome, etc. for the next few weeks. 

I will see the medical oncologist in three weeks. He will be following my recovery and once he determines that my bowel is sufficiently healed, he will send me to the surgeon and we will schedule surgery. The bowel must be healed completely so that when surgery is performed it will be able to be reconnected at the surgery site without complications. Surgery is the main treatment for my cancer. All these preliminary treatments have been to prevent recurrence after the surgery. When the surgery is complete, and the pathology reports are complete, then the doctors will decide if I need further chemotherapy.

Although I will not be receiving daily treatments now, it is still critically important that you pray for healing. The whole pelvic area, not just the tumor, has been radiated to hopefully kill off any micro-metastases. That means that every organ and tissue in the pelvic area has been effected in some way and needs to rebuild healthy tissue and heal. In order for surgery to be successful, I need to go into it with healthy organs and tissues! 

Please pray for the following:
1. Pray for my body to rebuild healthy tissue and cells in the radiation area without any scarring.
2. I have a very small open wound due to the radiation.  Please pray that this wound will heal quickly without infection.
3. Please pray for my feet to heal quickly, they are very painful to walk on. In a few days the effects of the chemo on my feet should begin to diminish. Pray that there won't be any permanent damage to the nerves in my feet
4. Please pray that I will have the discipline to rest. I am not a good "rester"! 

All my kids are home this weekend! They have definitely lifted my spirits! I love you all and appreciate your caring, your prayers and  your encouragement. Please keep it up!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thank you!


Today I had my last radiation treatment!! When I was finished I got to ring the bell!  The whole place broke out in cheers and clapping! It felt awesome! These are the people who have helped save my life!  This is the staff at the radiation center.  They have been my cheerleaders and encouragers for the past six weeks. They have educated me, listened to me, comforted me, supported me, hugged me, and blessed me with their daily kindness and caring. Please join me in thanking God for their training and expertise, for their passion to help save lives, and for their compassion demonstrated to each person who comes through the radiation center. 

I've had mixed feelings this week knowing that I would be finishing radiation and chemotherapy. These are the people who I have seen on a daily basis.  These are the people who were there in the beginning as I had just begun to process the diagnosis of cancer. These are the people who told me that I could beat this. These are the people  who believed in me. What will I do without them? What a gift they have been to me. 

The cool thing is that I know as I take the next step in this journey God will continue to provide exactly the people, doctors, and caregivers that I need.  He is good like that.

So, THANK YOU to my sweet friends at the radiation center, and may God continue to use you all as you care for so many who are fighting for their lives. You are awesome!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Melt Down #263

Today was not such a good day. Don't get me wrong, I am still excited to be finished with my radiation treatments this week as well as chemotherapy for now. However, the reality of all that is still to come hit hard again today.  

I wake up not feeling well - tired, limping on sore feet. I know I need to eat, but nothing sounds good. And then the weight of the reality of cancer hits again. The tears start to flow and I can't seem to turn them off. I'm exhausted mentally, physically, spiritually. I want to go back to bed and start over again tomorrow. Maybe I'll feel better then.

The staff at the radiation center are amazing. And Nurse Rita always seems to know. I was walking out after my treatment today and she calls out to me, "Can I give you a hug?" She asks how I'm doing, and I start to cry. "I'm so emotional today," I tell her. "You know fatigue can do that to you." And then, as I'm leaving, she says, "We all love you." And I know that God is still here.

Later, I am taking a much needed nap and the door bell rings. It is a delivery from a sweet friend. Mark brings the bag to me and I pull out a big teddy bear - the "Prayer Bear".  The bear actually talks and one of the things it says is, "Sometimes the winds on your face are the kisses of God."  And I know that He is still here.

Thank you, God, that you always know exactly what I need and when I need it!  Thank you, Rita and Anita, for letting God use you!

"All I require of you is to take the next step, clinging to My hand for strength and direction... Stay on the path I have selected for you.  It is truly the Path of Life."  (Jesus Calling by Sarah Young)

"If I have asked you to step on and up firmly - then surely have I secured your ladder." (God Calling, edited by A.J. Russell)

"Never forget your promises to me your servant, for they are my only hope." Psalm 119:49

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Meet Stacey


I want you to meet my friend, Stacey. Stacey and her family are members of Community of Faith. Stacey and her husband, David, have two young sons. Stacey is a first grade teacher. And Stacey has breast cancer. Stacey was diagnosed with cancer several months ago. She will finish chemotherapy on Thursday, just like me!  She still has a long road ahead of her including radiation therapy and more surgery. Through all of her treatment Stacey has continued to teach in the classroom, and to work on her Master's degree! Mark and I had the privilege of seeing her two boys baptized a couple of weeks ago.  As you pray for me, please pray also for Stacey and her family. Pray that God would heal Stacey of cancer. Ask Him to give her strength for each new day and perseverance through all the stages of treatment. Thank you!

Update on Bruce: To those of you who have been praying for Bruce, thank you! I saw him on Sunday. He has completed two rounds of chemotherapy. He has five more months of treatments to go! I was encouraged by his positive outlook as I spoke with him last weekend. He is a fighter! I know he appreciates your prayers. Please pray that the chemotherapy will destroy the metastases in his liver and lungs.  Thank you!

Funny story: Almost two years ago I was diagnosed with an under active thyroid gland. One of the results of that diagnosis is that I gained about 12 pounds over that time frame. Hypothyroidism made it really difficult to shed the pounds. One of my prayers had been that God would help me to get back to my normal weight. Well, over the last six weeks I've lost about eight pounds, most of it during the first three days of a liquid diet during all my medical testing. Today I commented to Mark about how skinny I am now and he said, "Remember, you were praying about losing the weight. You way over-prayed!" This is why I married him.  He always makes me laugh!   

"Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, The LORD has done great things for them. The LORD has done great things for us,  and we are filled with joy."  Psalm 126:2-3


"A happy heart is like a continual feast."  Proverbs 15:15


Jack's Hope: Please check out a new blog, Jack's Hope, written from the perspective of a spouse of someone with cancer. Jack's wife is a sweet friend of mine from high school. I think you will be encouraged reading it. Just click on the link to the right.