Saturday, January 29, 2011

Psalm 15

Lord, who may enter your Holy Tent? 
Who may live on your holy mountain?

Only those who are innocent and who do what is right.
Such people speak the truth from their hearts and do not tell lies about others.
They do no wrong to their neighbors and do not gossip.
They do not respect hateful people but honor those who honor the Lord.
They keep their promises to their neighbors, even when it hurts.
They do not charge interest on money they lend and do not take money to hurt innocent people.

Whoever does all these things will never be destroyed.

Lord, help me to be that person in 2011.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


The other day Ashley asked me, "Is this how life is?" referring to the overload of stressful events that we have experienced since May 2009. After careful thought, I replied, "Well, all of these things are part of life, but they don't always all happen so close together." 

That conversation made me think about all the high-stress events that have happened in a few short months in our family:

I am diagnosed with stage 3 rectal cancer
Ashley graduates from high school
My mother falls and breaks her arm
All my life and work plans are put on hold
I begin radiation and oral chemotherapy
Ashley moves away to college out of state
I have major abdominal surgery
I learn to live with an ileostomy
My grandmother passes away
I begin IV chemotherapy
Sarah graduates from college
I bury 8 friends who die from cancer
I have major abdominal surgery again
We lose two great friends who worked with us
We move Ashley from Norman to Austin
We move Sarah from Norman to Tulsa
Mark's mother is diagnosed with cancer
Mark's mother has surgery
Mark's mother has a stroke and spends 2 weeks in ICU
Mark's dad spends 24 hours in the hospital
Mark spends 24 hours in the hospital
We move Ashley back to Norman 
Our dog, Biscuit, passes away
Everyone I know is diagnosed with cancer, or at least it seems that way!

All of that on top of the ordinary stresses of life and ministry... No wonder I am feeling a little out of sorts! 

At my last appointment with the oncologist, he asked how I was feeling. I told him that physically, I feel great; but emotionally, I am struggling.  He assured me that this is normal. He said that this is the time frame when many cancer survivors experience a lot of tears. He said that I am suffering from "post traumatic stress."  No surprise there!  He also told me that it's OK not to be OK right now. Somehow those words bring relief to me - I'm right where I am expected to be. 

Post Traumatic Stress:  "A common anxiety disorder that develops after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened."

I have read that because we have better treatments for many cancers now, more patients go on to live many years post treatment. While this is good news, it has also led to an increase in the number of cancer survivors experiencing post-traumatic stress and anxiety disorders. It has been reported that up to 32% of people will develop post-traumatic stress as a result of cancer diagnosis and treatment.

For me, it has led to moments of high anxiety where my body is physically shaking, days when I am very easily overwhelmed by life, feelings of anger that appear out of nowhere, and a heaviness that weighs on my heart from time to time. 

I read these words this week:

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit." Jeremiah 17:7-8

I am reminded to reach deep, to soak in Him, to let his living water refresh me. I can never be overwhelmed - He is with me. He can't be overwhelmed. 

Once again, His peace fills my soul, and I keep moving forward. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

New Pastime

Cancer produces a lot of side effects, and cancer treatment produces even more. Most of the side effects are  short lasting or limited by the duration of treatment. However, there are some that are long term and require adjustments to be made as you live with them.

One of the most frustrating long term side effects for me has been the loss of short term memory. I recently read the following on my oncologist's website:

"Research has demonstrated that chemotherapy can have a negative impact on cognitive functioning. Long-term (5-year) cancer survivors who had received chemotherapy scored significantly lower on neuropsychologic tests, particularly in the area of verbal memory, compared with those treated with local therapy only (i.e. surgery). The patients who received chemotherapy also reported greater problems with working memory and were more likely to score among the lowest on the Neuropsychological Performance Index. Furthermore, some survivors may experience long-term cognitive deficits associated with systemic chemotherapy."

Not very encouraging. And on top of that, researchers are not really sure the actual cause of the memory loss and therefore have no helpful ways to treat it! 

I recently asked my oncologist if there was anything I could do to help with the memory loss. He looked at me with his familiar shy smile and said, "I usually hand my patients a pad and a pen...  but you are young, you can most likely re-train your brain." (I feel hopeful...) He recommended a trip to Target to pick up my new favorite pastime...

Doctor's Orders:  Play the Memory Game twice a day. Every day. This will help re-train the neurons responsible for short term memory. In the meantime, write everything down!

Things I have learned in dealing with memory loss:

1. Yes, Mark already told you that... you just didn't remember.
2. Make a list of the Christmas gifts you receive because you won't remember what you received or who you received it from when you sit down to write thank you notes.
3. No, you won't remember, even when you think "I'll remember this", write it down!!
4. When a "good idea" comes to you, write it down immediately. Good ideas are fleeting and they may not come back!
5. When speaking, always have notes... you won't remember what you were planning to say.
6. .... oops... sorry, I forgot what #6 was...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Normal Colon"

If you've ever had a colonoscopy, the words "Normal Colon" sound pretty good coming from your doctor after the procedure is finished. If you've ever had colorectal cancer, the words "Normal Colon" following a colonoscopy are nothing short of a miracle!!

Many of you have been praying for my friends, John and Ellen, throughout John's battle with colon cancer. Yesterday, following a colonoscopy, those were the words the doctor said! He told them that the site of the original tumor is barely visible any more! There may be a few abnormal cells in the area, but visual exam of the site looks "normal"!! The power of two words - normal colon - can bring such joy, excitement, peace, and hope! 

John is still fighting metastatic tumors in his liver. He is on strong, regular chemotherapy. His spirit is strong, his attitude is positive, his belief is unwavering. He is dealing with the many uncomfortable side-effects of his treatment with grace. 

Thank you for your part in this unfolding miracle! Please continue to pray for wisdom for John's doctors, for strength and endurance for John and Ellen, and for complete healing of John's liver.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Day 1 without Biscuit - 1/4/11

There is no reason to get up. No one is prancing around wanting to eat breakfast and go outside. No one impatiently waiting for me. There is no one to eat Demitri’s left-over food, or at least try to! There is no puppy to sit beside me on the couch as I journal and pray. Everywhere I turn I miss him. I keep looking for him in his kennel, but it’s empty. The house is so quiet, no barking, no “old man” moaning, no clicking of his nails on the tile floor. His water bowl still sits in the bathroom. Sometimes I think I see him walk by. I feel like my heart will burst with sadness.  I put his food bowl in the dishwasher… remembering how he wouldn’t eat yesterday morning, and how he licked Ashley’s soup bowl the night before. Life is no good without him. If I could have just held on to him for one more day…  Biscuit’s pill bottle is sitting in the kitchen  - the medicine that couldn’t save him.  His reindeer toy is on the kitchen floor. I hug it to my chest. What do I do with all his things? His bed is no longer beside mine. I finally fall asleep holding Biscuit's sweater close to my broken heart.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Biscuit Shook
World's Greatest Dog
July 1, 1996 - January 3, 2011

Sorrow fills a barren space;

you close your eyes and see my face

and think of times I made you laugh,
the love we shared, the bond we had, 

the special way I needed you - 

the friendship shared by just we two.
The day's too quiet, the world seems older,

the wind blows now a little colder.

You gaze into the empty air

and look for me, but I'm not there...
- by Caro Schubert-James -

"The one best place to bury a good 
dog is in the heart of his master."
Ben Hur Lampman ---
from the Portland Oregonian Sept. 11, 1925