Saturday, May 29, 2010

Down the drain!!!

David and Sydneyann couldn't be here to celebrate my first anniversary, but their presence was here in a special way. They recently sent me a very appropriate gift, a toilet trophy! In case you can't read it, the plaque says, "Laura Shook flushed rectal cancer down the drain in 2010!"  The only other trophy I ever won in my life was at a 7th grade speech and drama tournament. My best friend and I took second place for duet acting! That trophy is long gone, but this one will remain proudly on display for a long time!!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 27, 2010

I wake up today to praise music playing in my head. It's May 27th, 2010. One year from my cancer diagnosis. I immediately begin to pray, thanking God for this one year, thanking him for all he's taught me, and thanking him for allowing me to know him. 

I go jogging with Sarah today - because I can - and just to show cancer who is boss! I don't get very far, but I think I got my point across! 

I eat lunch at Escalante's with some of my family, thankful to have this day with them. Thankful for their love and support over the past year. 

Nothing can take my joy away today! I am alive and I am healthy! 

A year ago today I was laying on a stretcher, having a colonoscopy for what I thought was hemorrhoids. Wow! What a difference a day can make! I woke up from anesthesia to find myself on a new path. A journey that I thought would be frightening and horrible, a journey that I didn't choose, and didn't want to be on. But it has turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life! 

I have met the kindest, most compassionate people ever. I have seen the goodness of God's people around the world. I have seen actual miracles take place! I have developed deeper relationships with my family. I have found the peace of God's presence. I have learned that when I am weak, He is strong, every time. I have discovered the freedom of giving up control. I know the joy of trust. I have no doubts about God - who He is or His word. My fears have been replaced with knowledge that whatever comes my way will be OK. The intimacy I have with my savior is something I would never trade - not even for good health, as awesome as that is! 

Thank you, God, for one year. Thank you for where we've been and what you have been teaching me. Thank you for allowing me to know you like this, for knowing that I am safe in your arms, that you are totally and completely trustworthy. Thank you for showing me how strong I am and that we can do anything together. Thank you for all the new friends I have made along the way. Thank you for time alone together on the couch to pray! Thank you for teaching me to control my thinking and the power of my thoughts. Thank you for never leaving me, for walking with me every step of the way - every run to the bathroom, every tear-filled night, every screaming melt down, every doubt, every angry outburst, every ride on a stretcher, every retch of my stomach. Thank you for calming every fear, for holding me. 

There aren't enough words, so I'll stop here. Thank you for this year. I love you so much. Help me always to remember. Help me be as faithful as you are.

I know so many who never got to celebrate one year. Please wrap their families in your arms today.

"'Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,' says the LORD, who has compassion on you." Isaiah 54:10

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

More medical appointments

I went to the dentist today for the first time in over a year. Thankfully, my teeth and gums are healthy in spite of all the chemicals that were recently pumped through my body! When it was time to x-ray my teeth the dental hygienist grabbed the lead-lined apron and placed it on top of my body. It made me laugh! After all the radiation I have experienced in the last year, now they are protecting my body! It just seemed kind of ironic! 

Although I have not been to the oncologist's office lately, don't worry, I have had plenty of medical appointments, making up for lost time! I've been to the endocrinologist, the gynecologist, had a mammogram, and a bone density scan in addition to my trip to the dentist today.

The most frequent question I get is still, "How are you feeling?"  So, here's an update:  I feel great! I am sleeping well and eating well. I have even gained back a few of the pounds I lost during treatment. My hair loss has slowed down considerably and I have lots of new baby hairs growing in. The neuropathy in my fingers and feet is still there, but I think it is improving. 

My bowel system has settled into a new "normal" routine.  Many people who have been through the treatment I've had report that about every 6-8 weeks they still have a crazy bowel day; and my system seems to be doing the same thing. Last Saturday was one of those days; but, thankfully, I was able to go to church and make it home without any problems! 

Thank you for caring and for praying for me!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My Sanctuary

Psalm 15 “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends.Those who despise flagrant sinners, and honor the faithful followers of the Lord, and keep their promises even when it hurts.Those who lend money without charging interest, and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent. Such people will stand firm forever.”

I call this Psalm the pathway to intimacy. In these verses God gives us the steps to having an intimate relationship with him. Intimacy is defined as "being thoroughly acquainted through study or experience, in a close manner, touching, connected." My guess is that is the kind of relationship with God your heart longs to have. One where He knows you and loves you anyway, one where you know Him and are completely at home in His presence. 

The word “sanctuary” is used here. Sanctuary is defined as the “holiest part of a sacred place.” When you are invited into that place, that is intimacy. David is asking God in the Psalm, how do I get there with you? How do I develop intimacy with you? 

In the time of King David when this Psalm was written, the people understood the idea of sanctuary very well. No one was permitted to enter the sanctuary except for the high priest. And even he was only permitted inside once a year to make sacrifice and intercede for the people. The sanctuary was a holy and inviolable site.

Historically, a sanctuary was a place where fugitives were entitled to immunity from the law or from arrest. It is a place of refuge, a place of shelter, a place of protection. In the scientific world, a sanctuary is a place where predators are controlled, and hunting is illegal.

That’s what King David was asking God for in this Psalm – immunity from the law, refuge, shelter, protection from the enemy. He wanted to know how to get to that place of intimacy in his relationship with the Lord. I don’t know about you, but that’s the place I’d like to live too! 

“He is intimate with the upright.” Proverbs 3:32

Monday, May 24, 2010

Strange and Wonderful

I go to the gym today for the first time in a year. It feels strange and wonderful to actually be out in the world doing things that normal people do instead of sitting in hospital and doctor waiting rooms.  

Strange because it feels like I've been gone for a long time and the world went on without me! Strange because I don't have an answer for people who don't know where I've been this past year and innocently say to me, "I haven't seen you here in a while." 

Wonderful because I feel like I am finally emerging from a fog! Wonderful because I am alive! Wonderful because I am healthy. 

I actually do a Step class at the gym, followed by a little bit of weight lifting and yoga. As I sit on the weight bench testing my long dormant muscles, I marvel at the fact that I am there and I am healthy. I watch all the people exercising and wonder if any of them have cancer. I hope they are aware of the blessing of their health. 

I'm sure I will be sore tomorrow; but as I crawl out of bed in the morning and feel the ache of my muscles, I will praise God for every twinge, for He has been good to me and I know it!

"Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours!" 1 Samuel 25:6

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Blue Dress

I was ironing a dress today (Yes, you read that right! It doesn't happen often, but occasionally I do iron!) when I remembered - this is the dress I often wore to go to the radiation center. I wore it because it was easy to change in and out of making those appointments a little less complicated. I slowly ironed, remembering those early days of treatment - the shock, the uncertainty and fear, the anger, the grief, and finally the peace that came as I chose to trust my Savior's heart. 

So much has happened over these months, and it all happened so quickly, that it's hard to remember it all. And I desperately want to remember. I want to remember everything that happened, every thought, every feeling. And more than anything I want to remember all that God taught me. I want to be able to use these things to help someone else. So, that's my prayer. 

Lord, please keep this experience fresh in my mind. Please take this experience and use it for your Kingdom and your Glory. I am available to you.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Passport to Intimacy

I recently read a quote by Bruce Feiler, the author of "The Council of Dads." Mr. Feiler was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2008 at the age of 43. At the time, his twin daughters were 3 years old. As he contemplated the uncertainty of his future, Mr. Feiler created the "Council of Dads" to provide stability and support that his girls may need over the years. Thankfully, Mr. Feiler is alive and well today, and the relationships that have developed between him, his wife, his daughters, and this special group of friend dads has enriched all of their lives. Mr. Feiler said that "Cancer is a passport to intimacy." I smiled when I read his quote because it confirmed my thoughts exactly! 

One of the side effects of cancer has been a deepening of relationships all around - with Mark, with my kids, with my parents, my brothers, and my friends. Learning (or being forced!) to admit your weaknesses and fears goes a long way in forming strong bonds between two people. Asking for and accepting help from others establishes a sweet knowing and connection between two people. A diagnosis of cancer strips away all the shallow and superficial ways we relate to one another and provides the perfect canvas on which to build a foundation of intimacy. It causes you to see clearly what really matters in this life. I have loved and been loved like I never have before. 

I'm so glad God chose me to walk this path with Him!

Thank you to those who prayed for Jim Patterson's surgery today. The surgery was successful and Jim is now resting comfortably. Please pray for a quick recovery without complications.

Thanks, also, to those of you who are praying for Ellen and John. John had a good report from the oncologist today. It appears that his cancer is responding well to chemotherapy. He will have another CT scan next week. Please continue to pray for his complete healing.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Happy 22nd Birthday Sarah!

May 18, 1988
7:57 p.m.
Memorial Southeast Hospital
Houston, Texas

A beautiful baby girl made her grand entrance into the world and life has never been the same at our house! We gave her the name "Sarah" meaning "princess" because in our hearts that's exactly what she was. She brings so much love and laughter into our family! Her smile can light a room; her tender heart touches all who know her. Her intelligence makes her a force to be reckoned with; and her deep loyalty to her friends and family defines her. 

Thank you, God, for choosing me to be Sarah's mom! Thank you for loving me through her. Thank you for the crazy good plans you have for her! Please continue to teach her and shape her and use her for your kingdom and your glory. 

Happy Birthday Sarah! We love you so very much!!

Lesson Learned

Lesson Learned:  Don't go to a group fitness class on the same day that you have air pumped into your intestines. Your friends will thank you.

Monday, May 17, 2010

For the Record...

I had a post-surgery follow-up visit with the surgeon today. After filling my bowels with air and inserting various fun exam instruments, he told me that everything has healed well and looks good! Each time I hear a positive report my heart feels a little lighter!  I don't have to see the surgeon again for three months when we will schedule my next colonoscopy - always something fun with him! 

I also had blood drawn today to do genetic testing to see if I have a specific gene mutation that makes me more susceptible to colorectal cancer. This test will help determine how vigilant we need to be with future exams, and it will also determine if my children need to be tested for the same gene or not. Hopefully the test will be negative. We should have the results in 4-6 weeks.

Just for the record... as the doctor was examining my surgical site, he asked me to raise my head so that he could feel the muscle strength around the former ileostomy site. Then he said, and I quote, "Your muscles are strong." I started laughing, thinking he must be kidding. He assured me that he was serious, I have good abdominal strength. So, I just want everyone to know that it has been confirmed by a top notch, highly degreed medical professional that I have 6-pack abs!! OK, maybe that's not exactly what he said, but he might as well have said it that way because that's how I'm taking it! 

I hopped in the car to drive home from the doctor's office and the lyrics "Glory, Honor, and Power belong to You" were playing on the radio. It seemed so appropriate today and I sang praises and smiled all the way home!

As you are praying this week, please pray for a friend of ours, Jim Patterson. Jim has been fighting metastatic kidney cancer. He will be having surgery on Wednesday to remove a portion of his lung. The fact that he is able to have this surgery is good news. Please pray for successful surgery, that they will be able to remove all of the tumor, for pain relief, and a quick recovery. Please pray for strength and peace for his family. Thank you!

The doctor released me to exercise today too. I'm off to work those 6-pack abs!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Rear View

Mark and I have lived in 19 different homes in the 26 years that we've been married. In spite of that awesome number of moves, I have never driven a U-Haul truck. Until yesterday, that is! 

I am in Oklahoma this week helping our daughter, Sarah, move to her new apartment in Tulsa where she will begin her new job. When I arrived at her house in Norman it looked like one of the recent tornados had come through. Turns out, it was just Sarah and her roommate, Megan, cleaning out and packing up. I helped finish the packing and then several of Sarah's friends came and loaded her things in the U-Haul. Wednesday morning we hopped into the cab of the truck and headed to Tulsa. We had rented the smallest truck available, but still I felt like I was a bus driver. I just knew I was going to take someone out with the side mirrors! Thankfully we made it to Tulsa without any problems! 

One of the most interesting things about driving a U-Haul truck is that you can't see out the back of the truck. In fact, there isn't even a rear view mirror in the truck, because there is no view. While I was driving the truck I discovered that I have a well established habit of using my rear view mirror when I drive. I can't tell you how many times I tried to check the rear view mirror only to find that there was no mirror and no view. I tried to check the mirror every few seconds the whole drive to Tulsa. 

While I was driving and checking the non-existent mirror God whispered to my heart, "Don't look back." He caught me by surprise but I knew it was His voice. I still struggle at times focusing on cancer instead of living my life; wondering what I could have done to prevent this, or what I can do now to insure long-term survival. All these thoughts bring anxiety and I have been asking God to help me let it all go, to choose to continue to trust Him,  and to move on. The same way it was useless for me to try to look back while driving the truck, it is useless for me to look back at this point in my life. God wants me to look forward; and so He used my truck driving experience to bring it home to my heart. "Don't look back." 

Next up: packing and moving Ashley out of the dorm! 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

He binds us up!

Last weekend one of the verses that Mark used in his sermon was Isaiah 61:1.

"The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners."

He talked about the fact that there is only one who can heal a broken heart; and I started thinking about the word used in this passage. It says that Jesus will "bind up" the brokenhearted. 

We "bind" things for specific purposes:

  • We bind things to hold them together, to prevent all the pieces from falling apart
  • We bind things to keep them in order
  • We bind things to allow them to rest and heal
  • We bind things to provide strength and support to them
  • We bind things to shape and mold them
When Jesus binds up our broken hearts, those must be the things he is trying to do for us. What a comfort to know that whenever I find myself in the middle of heartbreaking circumstances Jesus is the one who will bind up my heart. He will use those situations to shape and mold me. 

"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." Psalm 147:3

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Relay for Life

Friday afternoon Mark and I hopped in the car and headed out to Waller, Texas. For those of you who have never been there, it is a small town outside of Houston with a very big heart! The Waller County Relay for Life is an annual event here. The whole town comes together to raise money for the American Cancer Society to fund research to find cures for cancer. 

This was the first time I had ever participated in such an event. I was given a purple t-shirt to wear with the word "SURVIVOR" in large white letters on the back. As soon as I arrived at the stadium people greeted me and congratulated me. It felt like we were family. I registered at the survivors table and was given a bag full of gifts. 

The Boy Scouts presented the colors, a local high school student sang the national anthem, and Mark prayed to begin the event.  All the survivors lined up at the 50 yard line to be recognized. I won the prize for "Most Recently Diagnosed" and was given a sash to wear, as if I were Miss America! And then, with the song "I'm a Survivor" blaring over the speakers, we made our way around the track. It was a surreal moment.  I was walking with the cancer survivors. It was hard to believe, especially since I still have a hard time believing I actually had cancer! People were standing around the track with balloons, cheering for us as we walked by. Luminaries lined the track in memory of those who have gone before us, and in honor of those who fought the battle and won.  

So many thoughts and emotions filled my heart and my head, but mostly I felt incredibly grateful. So grateful for God's faithfulness and his goodness. So grateful for amazing friends who have loved and supported me. So grateful for my family. So grateful to be alive. 

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Stand Firm

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is a story found in 2 Chronicles about King Jehoshaphat.  I have always loved this story because it is a story of God’s power at work in the life of his people.  Several armies had banded together and were coming against King Jehoshaphat.  Instead of running in fear, or surrendering to the enemy, listen to what Jehoshaphat chose to do:

“We will stand in your presence…and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us…For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you. 
And they stood there before the Lord.”

When I was first diagnosed with cancer it took my breath away. I didn’t know what to do, how to react, how to respond, how to move. And I remember praying that same prayer one day: I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on you.

One of the songs we sing at Community of Faith is called The Stand by Hillsong. The chorus of this song says this:

I'll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I'll stand
My soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

That became my battle cry. I’ll stand. No matter what happens, I will stand and declare that you are God. I might not be able to do anything else, but I’ll stand and declare that I am yours, come what may.

When Jehoshaphat and the people of Israel stood before the Lord listen to what God said to them:

“Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s… Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you.

Then Jehoshaphat bowed with his face to the ground and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the Lord.”

I love that! God's people focused their eyes on Him and they stood. They stood there and watched God perform a miracle. They stood there and watched God win the victory. And then they bowed to the ground to worship this great God! 

A beautiful story of an even more beautiful God. I hope you'll stand today. And I hope you'll worship. He is a God of victory!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tables Turned!

The tables have turned! On Monday night Mark started running a low fever and by 11:00 p.m. he was very sick with vomiting and diarrhea. Thankfully, it has proven to be a 24 hour thing and he is feeling better today. And, of course, having lived with vomiting and diarrhea for months, we were so prepared for these symptoms!!  I kindly offered him my disposable underwear, but he refused them. He did accept some of my jello stash late Wednesday evening, and he has been drinking his way through my stockpile of Gatorade. He slept good last night and is feeling better today. My only prayer now is that I don't get it! I will be so mad if I end up sick with diarrhea AGAIN!! LOL!!

Good News!!
Some of you have been praying for John and Ellen. John went to the oncologist this morning for his second chemo treatment. They found out today that his main tumor has already shrunk 2 cm and the tumors in his liver are responding to the chemotherapy! The doctor added a new chemo drug to his regimen today that will specifically target his type of tumor. Thank you for praying, and please keep it up. God is at work!

Relay for Life
I will be participating in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life this Friday night. The Relay For Life takes place in cities all across our nation and is one of the main fund raising events for the American Cancer Society. If you are interested in reading more about it, in participating, or in making a donation to our team you can visit the link below. Our team's name is "Laura's Symphony." Big thanks to Dana Cline for putting this team together and honoring me in this way. Love you!

Relay For Life

Monday, May 3, 2010

When everything changes...

I have been feeling really good lately in every way - physically, emotionally, spiritually - and that feels good! But every few days, at the most unexpected times, I have a mini meltdown. Unusual things will bring up grief and a longing for how things used to be. For all these months I have been hoping to "get my life back" and now I am discovering that that's not going to happen exactly. Yes, I will get my usual routines back, but they won't be the same anymore. Everything has changed. At times it feels like I am falling without a net, not sure where I will end up, and not sure how to stop the fall. Little things occasionally still overwhelm me. And so goes recovery from cancer. Moment by moment, day by day, seeking and trusting God to provide answers, direction, encouragement, and comfort.

I have been reading the book "When Everything Changes Change Everything" by Neale Donald Walsh. He defines change as "the shifting of any circumstance, situation, or condition, physical or nonphysical, in such a way that the original is rendered not merely different from what it was, but altered so radically as to make it utterly unrecognizable and impossible to return to anything resembling its former state."

Mr. Walsh states in his book that "Life is change." His point is that everything changes. Life is a series of changes. Moment by moment, day by day. When nothing is changing, there is nothing that is living. 

I like that thought. Change = Life. So I will choose to to live. 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

So Thankful!

I have been blessed with the world's best mother! I don't normally do much to celebrate my birthday, but my mother decided that we needed to celebrate this year! I think maybe she was just glad that I was having a birthday! She planned the whole thing and pulled it off without a hitch! So, thank you, Mom!

Thank you for my birthday party. Thank you for your excitement. Thank you for planning everything and putting it all together. Thank you for the thoughtfulness that went into every detail: baby pink roses, Bluebell ice cream, candy corn, Grandmother's punch bowl, flowers from Hawaii and California. 

Thank you for inviting your friends who have been praying for me these past eleven months and giving me the opportunity to thank them in person. I even got to celebrate the day with three other members of the "Cancer Survivors Club"! 

Baby Pink Roses



Cancer Survivors Club!

I love you mom!

A sweet friend sent me these words: 
"It is not just a birthday anymore, it is another day and year of life!" 

I have so much to be thankful for, but top of the list is my mom! 
Happy "birth" day to you!!