Healing from the Heart-side Out

I have been slowly, but surely recovering from my last chemo treatment.  I have discovered that with each round, it’s taken a little bit longer to come out of the “fog”, and I have been impatient and frustrated I haven’t bounced back as quickly as I had hoped.  Part of the frustration, is the very real fear of having another cancer reoccurrence.  Admittedly, there have been times I have listened to that inner, pessimistic voice (the enemy) who discourages rather than encourages me.  It’s a very real battle, that affects me in some ways more than any chemo side effects do.  It becomes a heart issue of questioning what I believe about God and what I believe He can or cannot do.

Mark 9:23-25  ““‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”  Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”  When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

It is normal for all cancer patients after diagnosis to be somewhat hyper-sensitive to any new or lingering symptom after treatment fearing that it might be cancer making a comeback.  Any ache or pain, or tummy upset or ANY bodily discomfort is cause for worry.  Even though I’ve heard from two doctors now that I am cancer-free, the fear of reoccurrence has been something I’ve thought a lot about.  I’ve said it before, but I am sure I have a form of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) to some extent.  The thought of going through more chemo, nearly paralyzes me with fear.  Apparently, I’m not alone.  Fear of a cancer reoccurrence  is something I must acknowledge and recognize, and give completely over to the Lord to deal with in order for me to fully recover.  I need to heal from the inside out, and allow God to heal me from the “heart-side out”.

Leading up to my doctor’s appointment yesterday with my surgical oncologist, I fretted over a few nagging discomforts that haven’t dissipated, but have grown worse with each round of chemo. I haven’t taken my own advice to stop “Googling” my symptoms, so prior to my appointment, I had worked myself up into quite a frenzy.  When the nurse took my blood pressure, it showed on the outside, my fears on the inside.  She asked if I took my blood pressure medication that morning.  I had, but my BP was still through the roof! Thankfully, the good folks at the Tom Baker Cancer Center in Calgary, understand their patients, and when I met with the doctor, she patiently listened to all my concerns and addressed each of them in turn, especially reassuring me that none of them indicated a cancer return.  “You are cancer free!” she said again, so I felt encouraged and more than a little relieved, and my blood pressure went down…considerably.  Then she gave me some practical suggestions how to handle some of those nagging aches I was experiencing, so I would be better able to cope with the side effects that still lingered, without immediately jumping to the conclusion that my cancer was back.

My husband reminded me on the way home from the appointment that I went through much the same thing of doubting myself being cancer-free in 2001.  In fact, for several months I wondered what to do with myself after my cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatments in 2001.  I had fully expected to die and the thought of a life after cancer actually had me quite baffled.  What eventually put me on the road to full recovery was engaging in new challenges that took the focus off of me and my circumstances, to allowing myself to open God-sized doors of opportunities, I never thought to open before.  I wrote a book, that led to two more.  I started blogging.  I got my Masters degree, and I took on new ministry roles at my church.

I start radiation treatments on Monday.  In about a month, I will be finished with all my cancer treatments.  I can’t continue to focus on the years ahead with negativity and wonder when or if I will ever get cancer again.  That’s out of my control and I can’t dwell on that.  Instead, I would like to expectantly wait for God to open some doors for me that I’ve never considered walking through before.  I know that being fully healed and recovering will require some heart changes in me too.

My husband grinned and jokingly suggested, “Maybe this time, you should think about getting a Ph.D.”  I don’t know if he saw the change in my expression or not.  He had to have noticed that familiar glint in my eye, as I pondered the possibilities.

If God calls me to it, why not?

 

 

 

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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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Thankful

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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