Putting a Face to the Stats

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I was diagnosed with the disease in 2001 and up until this year, I lived cancer-free. One thing I’ve learned from having cancer then and now is that once diagnosed, it is a life-sentence, but not necessarily a death sentence. You may be cancer-free for many years, only to be faced with another cancer diagnosis years later. I am reminded of the scripture, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8 I know it’s not the proper way to exegete this passage, but if I consider cancer as a demon that just waits for the opportunity to strike unexpectedly, this scripture is applicable.

The stats for breast cancer diagnoses here in Canada are staggering. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, it is estimated that in 2019, 26,900 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. This represents 25% of all new cancer cases in women in 2019. 5000 women will die from breast cancer. This represents 13% of all cancer deaths in women in 2019. On average, 74 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer every day, and 14 women will die from breast cancer every day. 230 men will be diagnosed and 55 will die from breast cancer. 1 in 8 Canadian women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime and 1 in 33 will die from it. One would think twenty years would have seen numbers of diagnoses decrease based on advances in research and treatment, but that is not the case. A Canadian Government report published in 2006 said 1 in 8.9 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. I heard that statistic 1 in 9 quite often after my diagnosis in 2001. True that screening has improved to detect the cancers earlier, and more women are surviving five years or longer due to advances in treatment, but it does not negate the fact that more Canadian women are being diagnosed with this insidious disease each year.

It makes me angry.

Yesterday, I spent a full day at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary learning about my upcoming radiation treatments. I did not have radiation in 2001, so I wanted to learn as much as possible about this treatment. I knew it would be a challenge to be out and about as I was still under the effects of chemo thunder. I managed to maintain focus through a two hour class on what I could expect during radiation treatments. Then I was scheduled to go through the simulator 3D “mapping” process to prepare for radiation three weeks from now. It’s a fairly simple process, but I’ve become accustomed that nothing is “simple” with me. A CT scan that should have taken minutes took hours to complete because my body simply would not cooperate. Chemo left me so dehydrated that doing the test with a full bladder, as they required, meant drinking more than 40 fluid ounces of water and waiting a lengthy time for it to go through my system. My scan for 12:30 finally was completed at 4 p.m. It was an exhausting day exasperated all the more with my still recovering from my last chemo treatment.

While I drank the copious amounts of water, other cancer patients with their loved ones for support beside them, waited with my husband and I in the small waiting room reserved for those who needed radiation treatments too. Unlike the large chemotherapy waiting room, where people did not talk much, in this smaller space, we soon got to know the people around us. An older couple sitting across from us held hands. When she was called in for treatment, they reluctantly unclasped their hands. Left behind to wait for his wife, the man looked at me, blinked and then unburdened himself by sharing their cancer story. This was his wife’s third battle with cancer. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, she had gone through surgery, chemo and radiation. Then in 2017, he noticed that she was slurring words and her balance was awry. She was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Surgery followed by radiation left her without much of her short-term memory. She seemed to be recovering well however, although she faced some challenges at home. Then a month or two ago she started to complain of headaches and her balance was way off. A new brain tumour was discovered. Doctors were giving her chemo to combat cancer spreading to other areas of her body, but radiation was needed for the tumour in her brain. The man sighed. It had been hard to share with us, two strangers he’d never met before, nor would likely ever see again, but he seemed to be comforted just in the telling. “Your wife is a fighter!” I said, and wanted desperately to take his hand and offer to pray with him, but I was called in for my appointment before I had the chance.

I share this story, dear readers, to ask you to pray diligently for this couple and for the thousand others who are battling cancer in all its ugly forms. Every cancer statistic represents a real person, who is battling, has battled, or will do battle in the future with cancer. Uterine cancer, like breast cancer is on the rise, as are most of the other cancers diagnosed this year. Pray for a cure…

…and pray it is found soon!

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I had an unexpected burst of energy yesterday morning and took full advantage of it by putting up my fall and thanksgiving decor around the house. I hadn’t planned on putting it up this year, bracing for chemo thunder to hit me over the weekend, but something inside of me was bound and determined to celebrate this Canadian Thanksgiving like no other. After all, I have so much to be thankful for!

Being thankful is a choice. It has little to do with circumstances, and everything to do with giving God all the praise and glory in the midst of any and all situations. I will praise Him for the mountaintop experiences as well as the valleys. In the storms and in the calm, gentle streams, I will remember His provision. I will seek and find Him, thanking Him for Who He is.

I know the Thanksgiving holiday in Canada has become yet another watered-down secular celebration without thought to our Lord’s provision around us. Families gather to watch football, and eat turkey dinners, and enjoy the day off. I don’t malign those activities. I can’t cook up a big meal this year, or even have family over because of my health, but next weekend, once I’m over the chemo side-effects, we all plan to gather over a take-out meal and enjoy one another’s company. There will be laughter and frivolity no doubt, but more than that, there will be a deep sense of gratefulness to God for his watch-care over us these many months.

It has been a hard year health wise for me. Each member of my family has not only journeyed this road with me, but have had their shares of personal challenges as well. Career changes, job lay-offs, grieving over a loved one passing,…if we focus on the hardships we have faced this year, we might become discouraged and embittered. I choose to be thankful. I read a cute meme the other day: “They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. At this point, I should be able to bench-press a Buick!” Yep, I can relate.

That said, I am glad I have a God Who gave me all the strength I needed this year to bench-press any “Buick” that got in my way!

My heart is full of thankfulness, and I am thrilled I was able to put up my fall decor, decorating my home with little offerings that honour this special season. As I look about me, I am constantly reminded to give God all the praise, glory and honour not only during this holiday season, but in all circumstances.

Being thankful is a choice!

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Last Chemo!!

How can one be so excited and yet have an overwhelming dread at the same time? That’s how I felt going into my sixth and final round of chemotherapy yesterday. I hadn’t slept in two nights in anticipation of finally wrapping up these particular treatments, hopefully to never undergo chemo in the future, while at the same time fully aware that chemo thunder awaited me midweek. It’s the expectation of better days ahead, but bracing myself for the final storm I still have to journey through.

After the welcome news of a clear CT scan for me last week, I learned of the passing of a sweet lady who had fought Stage IV ovarian cancer for several years. On Sunday my daughter-in-love lost her precious grandmother to kidney disease. We now rally around those two families in prayer, but rejoice too that both ladies loved the Lord and have received their crowns of glory! Mary and Leslie leave wonderful legacies for their children and grandchildren and in Leslie’s case, great grandbabies too. I am so thankful my son’s two boys were so well-loved by her and I know my son and daughter-in-law will keep her memory alive in their hearts.

It was also a couple of weeks of seeing God work in miraculous ways for our young friend, Sarah. She continues to fight Stage IV metastatic breast cancer with brave determination! It’s been a rough few weeks for her, so she needs continuous intercessory prayer as she undergoes more chemo treatments. Please add her to your prayer chains at your individual churches and to your personal prayer lists too.

I have been texting back and forth with a young dad, Michael, who finished his last chemo treatment last week. He was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Hodgkins lymphoma and his chemo has been absolutely brutal on him! He now awaits his scan results. Please pray it comes back clear!

Yesterday, as the nurses poked me three times to find a vein to put the IV in, I felt that under-current of trepidation of having to go through chemo thunder one more time, but tempered as well with sincere gratefulness for all those who have cared for me these many months. The nurses, doctors, and volunteers at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary are the very best! There is a tradition there for patients who have finished their last chemo treatment to ring a school bell to mark the occasion. I have been looking forward to getting to ring that bell since round one, and when I finally rang that bell with gusto, the whole department, patients and nurses together, applauded and cheered. I felt slightly embarrassed and like a rock star at the same time! When I passed the nurses desk to go home, my nurse called out to me, “Congratulations and good luck! I hope we never see you here again!” It was the nicest thing she could have said to me.

As I walked through the waiting room jam-packed with dear people of every nationality, and age waiting their turn for treatment, I purposefully smiled my widest smile to assure those who saw me come from the treatment room that their time for bell-ringing will come. We are all unified in our cancer journeys. We all share a common purpose. Our stories may be vastly different in getting to this point, but we travel similar paths in fighting cancer. I believe in the power of prayer. I hope many there do too. I couldn’t have gotten through these last few months without people encouraging me and praying for me. I start radiation treatments in a month. I will appreciate all the prayers as I finish up my second battle with cancer.

Last night my family gathered with me to celebrate. After each chemo treatment my husband would take me out for a “fish feed”. We did that when I battled breast cancer nineteen years ago and thought to keep that “tradition” this time too. My son and son-in-love cooked the fish feast last night and having my loved ones around me, laughing and toasting my “good health” just reinforced why I’ve fought so hard to beat cancer for the second time! While being fully aware that God has indeed numbered all of our days and for those who love and know the Hope that is only found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we do not fear death. However, until we are called Home as Mary and Leslie were, we battle on, fighting the good fight every step of the way! I posted this on my Facebook page and it encapsulates why cancer patients, survivors and thrivers do everything humanly possible to conquer cancer, the rest of course is up to God!

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