Last Saturday our son, David, graduated with a master's degree from Oxford University. He was at the top of his class! Mark and I had the privilege of attending the graduation with our daughter-in-law, Sydneyann. It was an exciting day! David and the other graduates put on their gowns and hoods and then, following hundreds of years of university tradition, we all marched through the streets of Oxford to the Examination Room where the graduation took place. The ceremony itself was performed completely in Latin. It was a very formal affair with lots of bowing and hat tipping. The Vice Chancellor granted each graduate their degree. It was incredible to think of all the graduates across hundreds and hundreds of years who stood in that place before David, and to know that he stands among them. To top it off, some of David's poems are being published in the Oxford Poetry Anthology that will be released in October. We are very proud of David and very grateful that God chose us to be his parents!
Last Friday I was invited to a VIP luncheon with Dr. Oz at the NBC studio, KPRC, in Houston. Community of Faith has partnered with KPRC in the past, and we were one of the advertisers for the first season during the Dr. Oz Show. Our KPRC contact, Marilyn, invited us to enjoy lunch with Dr. Oz and to tour their studio. My sweet friend, Becky, went with me.
The lunch was delicious! Dr. Oz was very gracious to everyone. He shared about his first season and he thanked all of his advertisers. Then he opened it up to questions from the audience. Immediately my hand shot up! I told Dr. Oz that I was a stage 3 rectal cancer survivor - the whole audience clapped for me! - and then I asked his opinion about beginning colonoscopy screening earlier than age fifty. He clearly explained the difficulty of medical screening and determining who should receive what tests and when. But in the end, he agreed with me that the colonoscopy is the best screening tool out there because it not only detects colorectal cancer but it can prevent it by the removal of polyps.
After the question and answer time, Dr. Oz autographed his new book for each of us and let us take pictures with him. I took the opportunity to tell him that he helped to save my life. His last appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show was the final encouragement I needed to follow through on my doctor appointment back in May 2009. He pulled me aside and asked me a few questions about my cancer diagnosis and journey, and then he asked me to email him my story.
We finished up our time at KPRC with a tour of the studio. It was really neat to see where the news happens!
I had an appointment with my oncologist on Monday (that still sounds weird, by the way, "my" oncologist... who would ever think they would have an oncologist??) I hadn't been to his office since June. It was so nice to see all the smiling faces and to receive hugs from everyone who works in his office. Mark asked me how I felt going in there, and I told him that I was just happy to be there as a "well" person and not as a "sick" person.
They weighed me, drew my blood, checked all my vital signs, and gave me a flu shot. The doctor did a thorough physical exam. And then he said to me, "Hit the road. I don't want to see you until December."
That is the third confirmation in a matter of days that I am healthy, I am healed! I feel such a profound joy, an indescribable lightness...
Later, when no one else was home, I went running, screaming, laughing, and dancing through the house! My God IS an awesome God!
"I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth."
Friday afternoon we received a phone call from the oncologist's office with the report of my six month PET scan - "All Clear!" That's exactly what I was expecting, but it sure was nice to hear them say it! I am six months removed from chemotherapy, and there is no evidence of disease in my body! I can't even put my feelings into words at this point!
Recently, I have been reading in the Old Testament, rereading some of the old familiar stories. I was studying the story of Noah the other day and read this verse:
"And God remembered Noah..." Genesis 8:1
Isn't that beautiful? God remembered Noah. He remembered. That would probably be a good memory verse for all of us! It’s pretty simple and we could change it to say, "And God remembered (insert your name)..."
"And God remembered Laura..."
That simple verse could change how we think about situations in our life, it could change our actions and responses to life. God remembers us! How amazing is that?!
And He sure remembered me this week! I'm pretty sure He was smiling, too, as the words "All Clear" rang out over the phone. He remembers me!
Thank you all for praying that we would hear those exact words!
Honesty has always been an important virtue to me. Some of the books that have most affected my life have been about honesty - honesty with God and honesty with myself. "Honest to God" by Bill Hybels, "The Lies We Believe" by Dr. Chris Thurman, "Codependent No More" by Melody Beattie, and "Feal the Fear and Do It Anyway" by Susan Jeffers are among those books. I daily work to make sure that I am communicating honestly with Mark and with others. So when someone speaks the truth to me, I take it to heart...
Tonight, after speaking to the Women of COF, a young girl approached me and said these words:
"Your hair looks really bad in front."
Then she turned and walked away. My friend, Samantha, and I watched her leave; and then we both fell out laughing. It was a true statement. I've told you before that my hair has a life of its own right now. Her honesty made me smile, and honestly, I love that she said it! Because the truth is, I love my crazy hair!
Since finishing treatment and surgery, it has been interesting to me how many people have made the following statements to me:
"I'm so glad you are finished with all of that!" "I'm glad it's all over!' "So glad you are done and you don't have to deal with that anymore."
And many other similar remarks.
I just smile and acknowledge their kind hearts, but the truth is, I'm not finished yet. Not even close. Yes, I am finished with immediate treatment. Yes, I am finished with surgery. But I'm not finished with cancer. In fact, it seems like just recently the stress of the past 15 months is beginning to surface in me, Mark, and our girls. My husband and my children have all been so strong, pushing their own feelings aside in order to carry me through treatment. Now that it looks like I am well, the defenses are dropping and the feelings are surfacing. We are all feeling a little fragile at this point.
I think about cancer every day. I have physical changes and new routines that remind me of where I've been on a daily basis. Although they are less frequent now, I still have regular doctor visits and medical tests. I still take multiple dietary supplements prescribed by my doctor to treat side-effects of chemotherapy. Cancer is still part of my daily life.
I had a PET scan today. I didn't feel nervous about the test or the results of the test at all. Mark took me to the radiology center and patiently waited two hours while I was injected with radioactive glucose, waited for it to make its way through my body, and then spent 30 minutes in the scanning machine. Afterward we stopped to pick up lunch on the way to our staff meeting. Returning to the car I suddenly felt extremely fatigued. I realized that although I hadn't felt it, I must have been stressed all along. Mark got in the car and told me that he was having a mini meltdown too. Even though we fully believe that I am cancer-free, the waiting, hoping, and wondering are heavy loads to carry. Hopefully, the doctor will call soon with the report.
In the meantime, we'll carry on, as survivors. Never forgetting where we've been, and ever look forward to God's continued grace and strength.
Thank you to all of you who have been praying that our insurance company would approve a PET scan for me in September! The scan was approved and I will have it done Tuesday morning! Of course, I am expecting a good report just like I had with the colonoscopy last week. It will take a few days to actually get the results, and I will let you know as soon as I do. Thank you so much for your faithful prayers!
After I was diagnosed with cancer, Mark and I seemed to miss summer, fall, winter, and spring. Cancer treatment was at the top of the priority list, and there was nothing else on the list. All the usual things fell by the wayside. Home maintenance, yard maintenance, cleaning, laundry, repairs - anything that wasn't directly related to cancer treatment just didn't happen in the last 15 months.
Now that treatment is behind us, it feels like we are beginning to emerge from the cocoon. Slowly, I am digging out from under the piles of paperwork that have been left to build over the past year. I have begun the unpleasant project of cleaning out the garage. You can imagine how fun that is after 15 months of not being swept or cleaned at all - lots of little critters are living there! I am getting rid of old clothes, and unused household items; cleaning out drawers and cabinets.
The funny thing is how good it feels! I actually have the strength and stamina to do these things! I can carry boxes! I can climb ladders! I can push and pull and sweep and scrub! And I am so happy to do so! Cancer definitely changes your perspective on things!
One of the projects that had been postponed was our yard. Sadly, we lost several palm trees and other plants during the past winter. And sadly for our neighbors, we hadn't done anything about the yard all this time! This past week, our good friend and landscaper, Fred, came to the rescue! His guys replaced our dead trees, brought new shrubs, trimmed and cleaned out the beds, planted seasonal flowers, checked the sprinkler system, and made our house look like someone lives in it again!
Fred spruced up the landscaping, but even more than that, he used his gifts and skills to touch my heart! In selecting new plants to put in our yard, Fred remembered my love for Latin America. When his crew arrived at our house they brought with them hibiscus, purple leaf banana, a tree from the Dominican Republic, a beautiful purple bougainvillea, and several other plants from Mexico. I was so touched that he would personalize my yard in this way, making it a special oasis for us!
Inspired by the new plants, I even decided to clean the back windows so we could actually look out and see them! I spent a couple of hours Saturday afternoon cleaning windows, cleaning patio furniture, and the back of the house. I woke up Sunday morning, sore all over, and loving it!
Every mundane task has new significance now. The ordinary chores of daily living bring joy. I feel like I am seeing things for the first time again, as if through the eyes of a child, full of wonder at the beauty of life. I am alive! Thank you God for new eyes to see the beauty of life!
One of the songs we sang at church today has the line, "I can't bow low enough..." And that's exactly how I feel now. I can't bow low enough. I can't begin to express my gratitude to God for what He's done in my life. For now, I'll just keep singing, and cleaning, smiling, and enjoying every new day.
Cielo by Phil Wickham I can't bow low enough
I can't bow low enough
at the vision of You my God
I can't hold it all inside
I'm reaching for the One who brought me out of death and into life
but I can't lift my hands high enough
lift my hands high enough
when I'm reaching for You my God
I can't lift my hands high enough
lift my hands high enough
when I'm reaching for You my God
oh I'm reaching for You my God
Today was the finale of the Labor Day Holiday Extravaganza. Teri and I both survived the colon prep on Monday. It really does get a little easier to drink each time you have a colonoscopy. I only actually gagged twice this time! You would think with all the technology in the world today that someone, anyone, could create something a little less disgusting... All you scientists out there, please get on this!
Both colonoscopies went off without a hitch. Afterward, the doctor came in smiling. He said everything looked good. My colon was clear - no polyps, no cancer, and the anastomosis (fancy word for the surgical site) looks great. He gave us pictures of my colon which look markedly different from last year's pictures. You can even see the staples from my surgery!
Then I read these words at the end of the report: "Normal Colon"
I can't even tell you the joy that flooded my heart! I have a normal colon! Wow! God has been good to me!
Teri had a tiny polyp removed, which makes me even more thankful that she had this done. That polyp had the potential to turn into cancer one day. Now, we have removed that possibility!!
32,000 Americans die of colorectal cancer every year because they don't get screened. Please don't be one of those people. Go get a colonoscopy! Colorectal cancer is preventable if detected and treated early. Trust me, you don't want to have cancer. Go get screened.
I have been drinking clear liquids today, getting ready for tomorrow's colonoscopy. The day brings with it lots of memories. Memories of that first colonoscopy in May 2009. Memories of the shock and chaos that ensued. I pull out the pictures of the tumor and still find it hard to believe it was living inside of me and I was unaware.
This colonoscopy will be the first one I've had since I was diagnosed with cancer. I am anxious to hear the doctor's report. Looking forward to hearing that the surgery site looks great; there are no polyps, no tumors, no inflamed lymph nodes; and that my colon is completely healthy.
I'm off to start drinking "Half-Lytely" and making runs to the bathroom! Yuck! I've already tried to convince Mark that this is the last colonoscopy I will ever need... he isn't going for it!
We will leave the house at 7:00 a.m. in the morning for a 9:00 a.m. colonoscopy. My sweet friend, Teri, will have hers done at 10:00 a.m. I'll let you know how it goes...
"There is no God like you in Heaven above or on earth below -
You who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue whole heartedly in your way."
Dan is one of the kindest, most humble men you will ever meet. He is married to Melissa, and the father of James, Emily, Callie, and Jacob. Mark and I have known Dan and Melissa for many years, since our children were very young. Dan and Melissa share a sweet love story of meeting and falling in love while working together at the YMCA. Dan and Melissa constantly open their home to friends and family, hosting game nights, sleep overs, backyard camping, and karaoke parties. They have a deep love for God and a strong faith in His goodness and His plans.
When we first started Community of Faith, Dan served at the leader of our "roadie" team. Every Sunday morning, before the sun was even up, Dan would be hitching up trailers full of equipment and transporting them to the school where we were meeting at the time. He quietly and faithfully made sure that everything arrived and was set up in time for Sunday services. He worked through all types of weather and never once voiced a complaint. At the end of the day, he was the one who made certain that everything was reloaded and stored in preparation for the following weekend. He organized and encouraged the whole volunteer team. He continued to serve in this capacity until we moved into our building; and then kept volunteering in any way he could. He served sacrificially and never expected any recognition.
Dan has been in the ICU for the past 25 days. He suffers from three different genetic blood disorders. His health has weakened over the last couple of years. At this point, the doctors are baffled. They have tried everything they know to help Dan recover. Will you please join me in praying for this family. They need a miracle. Please pray specifically that his body would create platelets, that his kidneys would start working again, and that his lung infection would be cleared up. Please pray for rest and strength for Melissa as she is daily by his side. And please pray for their children as they watch their daddy struggle.
So the Labor Day Holiday Extravaganza has begun! Thursday morning saw Teri and me start drinking Miralax twice a day to begin emptying the colon in preparation for Tuesday's colonoscopy. I know that seems early to start the colon prep, but my doctor has found that doing things this way makes Monday easier. On Monday, we will only have to use "Half-Lytely" instead of "Go-Lytely", meaning we will only have to drink half as much of the colon prep stuff. And believe me, this is a true blessing! It would be worth taking laxatives for a month to only have to drink half a gallon instead of a gallon! Trust me, I know!
Every time I go to the pharmacy to purchase the colon prep kit, I have to laugh. Whoever named the stuff "Go-Lytely" had to have had a sense of humor because there is no "going lightly" about it!! I'm sure the name refers to the fact that the product provides electrolytes, but it makes me laugh anyway!
Just drinking the Miralax is a struggle for me. It is tasteless, but after all I've been through, I seem to have a pretty well-developed gag reflex. I only mix it in four ounces of water and guzzle it as quickly as possible. Then I have to calm my brain and talk myself down for a couple of seconds in order not to gag. I've never had a sensitive gag reflex in my life. I guess it comes from living through chemo. Please pray that I will be able to drink the Half-lytely on Monday and keep it down!