Side Effects

The last couple of days I’ve been in the throes of battling a particularly nasty chemo side effect. I had expected nausea and vomiting but I hadn’t expected pain. I have a pretty high threshold for pain but this caught me completely off guard! Within an hour I went from being able to walk on my treadmill to incapable of walking at all without excruciating nerve and joint pain in both legs. My knees and ankles felt like they were exploding under the skin! After calling the triage nurse at the cancer centre, it was determined I was suffering from chemo-induced neuropathy, a particularly nasty side effect that can be quite intense in its severity. While I writhed in pain by the phone, the nurse consulted my oncologist and pharmacist, as to how they could help me battle through this. I know that any additional medication taken while I’m on chemotherapy must be approved by my oncologist to ensure that there are no other adverse or allergic reactions, but all I could focus on in the moment was doing whatever it took to make the pain go away! Time seemed to slog by while I waited for a call back from the cancer clinic. I reached out to our church’s prayer group to pray specifically for my current situation and need. My husband and children prayed and I prayed. When the phone call finally came back from my nurse and I was given clearance to take a strong over-the-counter pain pill, I didn’t hesitate to take it immediately. A few hours later, I was able to drift off to sleep and the next morning the pain was gone!

There is no greater relief after an episode like that to make me appreciate the difference between experiencing pain to being pain free. My Dad used to say it’s like banging your head against a wall just so you can enjoy what it feels like when you stop!

It brought to mind a memory of my father when I was a child. My Dad was busily working out in our garden one afternoon. Weeding was definitely not one of his favourite things to do but our mini orchard with about two dozen fruit trees was starting to be overrun with undergrowth. After a full day of clearing grass, mowing, trimming and picking up apples that were strewn haphazardly under the trees, my Dad was ready for a break. I was outside sitting in the hammock that he had strung between two cedar trees in the back yard. Too young to help him with the yard work, I was content just watching him and playing with my dolls. I heard the commotion before I saw what had set my father to do a hopping dance around me.

Growing like a sentinel in the middle of a stone patio overlooking our rows of apple trees was a small quince tree. The tiny, pear-shaped fruit it produced was extremely bitter to taste so we left the tree alone for the most part and at the end of the season when it dropped its fruit, we picked them up and pegged them like rocks into the forest. Today, however, Dad had noticed some wasps swarming around a rotting piece of fruit on the ground and rather than risk being stung, he decided to kick the fruit off the stone patio. It would have been a great soccer kick if he had managed to connect with the fruit rather than the tree root that he hit instead. As my Dad hopped around the yard on one leg, while holding his injured foot, cursing to the Viking gods of his ancestry, and weeping in pain, my mother came running. She shooed me into the house, trying to shield my young, sensitive ears from learning anymore Danish curse words spewing from my father’s lips.

It took several minutes, for my mother to calm him down, but finally my Dad limped into the house and took his shoe and sock off revealing the damage to his big toe. It was already swelling and turning blue and the nail was gone. He sat in his chair, whimpering bravely while I watched with great interest my mother clean and bandage his broken toe. When she was done, she brought over a footstool and told him to elevate his foot and not put any weight on it for the day. Practical advice my Dad had no problem adhering to.

My mother waited on my father throughout the rest of the day and brought him snacks and anything else that might distract him from his pain. My brother and I were sternly warned to give Dad some space and adequate time to regain his composure before we disturbed him.

He spent that day mostly confined to his chair but the next day he was moving gingerly about testing whether or not he could put more and more weight on the foot. It looked torturous whenever he tried to move but he persistently and purposefully flexed and stretched his foot despite the pain. I finally asked, “Dad, why do you even try to move your foot when it hurts so much?” He grimaced, “Because it hurts so bad when I move it but it feels so good when I stop moving it!” I suppose that was logical reasoning for my Dad, like his saying about banging his head against a wall, to experience pain to learn to how to appreciate life without pain.

I’m not a philosopher, like I thought my father was then, but there is Biblical precedence that states that pain and suffering are necessary components to fully appreciating a time when there will be no more pain or suffering. Christians fix their eyes on “future Glory” knowing that this present life is nothing compared to an eternal life we will spend with Jesus.

Romans 8:18; 26-28. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us...In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 5:1-4Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Revelation 21:1-5Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

My husband calls chemo “short term pain for long term gain”. That’s true, but isn’t that also true of our lives this side of heaven? I will remember Hebrews 12:1. I will continue to run the race set out for me fixing my eyes upon Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

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A Wedding Dress, A Rainbow, a Rose Garden and Chemo

Puzzled by the title?  Wondering how a wedding dress, a rainbow, a rose garden and finally chemo should be linked all together?  Well, it’s been an interesting few days for me and it started with wedding dress shopping with my youngest child, Carmen, Francesca her sister-in-law-to-be, and Lizzy, Carmen’s BFF.  Carmen is to be married July 18, 2020 and we had planned to go dress shopping in September but then all my health issues came up.  Carmen decided, quite spur of the moment, to book a few appointments at dress shops before my first round of chemo so I could immerse myself in the day without my health interfering with the enjoyment.  Also she knew that I’d be a bit self-conscious to shop AFTER chemo with no hair.  (She knows me too well.)  So on Saturday I accompanied her to a boutique in Calgary for her to try on a few gowns.

It was the first dress she tried on, and it just so happened to be the dress I had picked out for her that made us all gasp in unison.  I knew just by looking at her radiant face that this was THE dress.  Of course, she tried on about a half a dozen more gowns for comparison sake but her expression was not the same in those dresses.  Her comments were not as enthusiastic. “It’s a nice dress but…” she would say.  I could see that she was conflicted wondering how she could have fallen in love so quickly with the very first dress she had ever tried on.  I pointed out that her older sister had done the same thing, said, “Yes!” to the very first dress she tried on, and Francesca said she chose the first dress she tried on too.  (She will be married in August.)  I told Carmen to put on the first gown again and asked the consultant to put a veil on her.  We ALL knew the moment the veil was put on that this was THE dress.  My child stood regally in front of the mirror and I just stepped back with my mother’s heart bursting at the sight of her.  Floods of memories rained down on me, remembering her as a pixie child, constantly getting into scrapes, my free-spirited child with the sunshiny personality; wide smiles, a tender heart, and now a young woman standing there in the most perfect of wedding gowns, that seemed like it was made just for her!

What a perfect day!  I was so thankful I could be included and honoured she chose the dress I had picked out.  I will have those memories for a lifetime!  I spent the weekend pouring over the pictures we had snapped of Carmen in her wedding gown.  We will keep them secretly stored away so her handsome groom, Jack will only see her in the dress on their wedding day.  Still, going through the pictures kept me distracted from thinking about what awaited me on Monday.

Chemo Day.

I woke up early and before I got out of bed I prayed, “LORD, I’m not ready for this.  Would you just let me know You’re with me?  I can’t do this without You.”  I came downstairs and looked out the window and beheld the most glorious rainbow and sky I had ever seen!  Immediately Genesis 9:16 came to mind: “Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

I burst into tears at the sight.  I ran out and snapped these pictures and just knew in my heart that God put that rainbow in the sky to encourage me when I most needed it.  I praised Him and thanked Him for this visual reminder that He is ever present, He will never leave me or forsake me!

I purposefully dressed in chamo (or is it spelled camo?), anyway, I figured I should be in battle colours as I prepared myself for my battle with cancer once again.  I sent my kids the picture and my daughter, Laurelle responded by finding this image and posted it on her Facebook page.

I felt the prayers of so many as my husband and I drove to the Tom Baker Cancer Clinic for my six hour appointment.  Once again, it all came back to me.  The sights, the sounds, the smell.  I was even led to the same chair I had sat in so many years previous.  I had asked people to pray specifically that the nurse would find a vein easily for my IV because that was the one thing I dreaded the most on chemo day.  (I have actually made nurses cry trying to take blood from me or finding veins for IV’s.  My veins just don’t want to cooperate!)  God heard and answered our prayers and with one poke of the needle, which I didn’t even feel, the IV was in!  Then the chemical treatment began.

Six hours is a long time to sit in a chair, hooked up to an IV with life-changing drugs being pumped into my body but I felt at complete peace and with my husband by my side, we passed the time quite pleasantly.  My kids texted me throughout the process and it was during one of those texting conversations I discovered that a close friend at the seminary had decided to dedicate her peach-coloured Olds College roses in her newly-planted rose garden to me and to our family to support us through this new journey with cancer.  Peach is the symbolic colour that represents uterine cancer.  I was so overwhelmed by this loving gesture.  (Elaine, I know you read this, so plan on my coming up soon so we can get a picture together by the roses!)

In 2001, I was so blessed to have a great team of nurses minister to me throughout my treatments and I discovered quickly that this new team of caring nurses would be equally to the task of making these chemo treatments as pleasant as possible this go-round.  As Jill checked on my IV, I had a distinct feeling I recognized her.  I asked her if she had worked in the unit in 2001 and she said she had and then she said, “You know, you look familiar to me too!”  How cool is that?  That God would have us cross paths again!

After the chemo treatment, as we did in 2001, my husband took me for dinner to a seafood restaurant so I could fill up on a good meal before the effects of chemo prevents me from wanting to eat much.  We know what’s to come.  We pray the side-effects are minimal, all my prayer warriors are praying to that end.

Today, as I blog, I am feeling no ill effects.  Praise the Lord!

I read this Scripture verse this morning: “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.  Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.  Rescue me from my enemies, Lordfor I hide myself in you.  Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.  For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life; in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.  In your unfailing love, silence my enemies; destroy all my foes, for I am your servant.”  (Psalm 143:8-12)

I know when David penned those words he was facing many men who wanted him dead.  His enemies were men, my enemies are invading cancer cells in my body.  Just as David cried out to God to save him from his enemies, I cry out to God to preserve my life, to bring me out of trouble and destroy my cancer foes.  I look forward to the end of this cancer treatment, to declare I’m cancer-free AGAIN and to see my beautiful daughter radiant in her perfect dress on her wedding day. I continue to covet your prayers and your encouragement dear readers.  The battle has just started!

 

 

 

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There and Back Again

My husband and I came back from a wonderful week away taking in the Word Award Gala evening in Hamilton on June 14, as well as visiting family in Ottawa.  Although I did not win in the categories I was shortlisted in, I thoroughly enjoyed attending the Gala, just happy to be amongst such a wonderful group of writers.  Truly, I was made to feel like a star!

The highlight of the trip was a beautiful day spent exploring Niagara-on-the-Lake, and having a quiet lunch with my sweetie.  It wasn’t the 40th Anniversary Trip we had originally planned, but just being away together making memories was wonderful!  I was so grateful to my family doctor for giving his permission for me to travel even though I was still recovering from my surgery.

So it was there and back again.  New memories made, refreshed to return back home…to reality…

I met with my surgical oncologist yesterday to go over the latest pathology reports in depth.  I am even more grateful for my time away after the consultation yesterday because it looks like I won’t be taking any trips for a while.  I start chemotherapy on Monday.

I thought I had adequately prepared myself for this part of the battle. I had hoped, of course, that surgery was all that was needed, and I had convinced myself that I could avoid chemo because the surgery had removed the problematic organs. I had tried to decipher some of the medical jargon on an early pathology report I was given, but it was obvious I had totally misunderstood what I read in it and my amateurish internet research only exacerbated my misunderstanding. (Note to self: don’t use Google to self-diagnose.)

So, with an updated pathology report in her hand yesterday, when my oncologist spoke the words, their impact hit me like a sledgehammer to my gut.  “Endometrial cancer – Stage 3A.”  What I had mistakingly thought was early stage Ovarian Cancer was in fact Uterine Cancer.  The cancer had started in the uterus and spread into the ovaries with some indication it had invaded the lymphatic system as well.  Her recommendation: six rounds of chemotherapy followed by radiation.

I could see the news hit my sweet husband just as hard as it hit me. I had faced four rounds of chemo in 2001 with my breast cancer diagnosis.  I knew what lay ahead of me, but I knew what lay ahead for my husband too.  He practically had to rope and tie me to get me to my final treatment. I had been so sick I wasn’t sure I could face the last round.  To think I would have to face six rounds of chemo this go-round caught me totally off-guard.  It was all I could do to hold myself together and not crumple to the floor in despair.

“This might be a dumb question,” I blurted almost incoherently to my oncologist, “but if you had your druthers, which would you prefer to have – ovarian or uterine cancer?”  She did not hesitate, “Uterine, hands down.”  It was small comfort. I wondered if the doctor would have responded differently had I been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  Was that her standard response to say one cancer was “better” than another one in terms of survival? I suppose when you have any kind of cancer diagnosis you will grasp at anything that gives you some kind of encouragement for the battle ahead.  She continued, “You can beat this.  If we treat this aggressively, your prognosis is good.  The goal is for you never to have it (cancer) come back again.”

That’s what my oncologist had said nineteen years ago…and yet, here I was facing cancer again.

I knew I couldn’t dwell on that.  I turned to my husband and with more bravado than I felt said, “Okay, let’s get this done!”

The next few hours were filled with meeting with doctors and nurses to go over the “chemo cocktail” they were planning to pump into my body, and to pick up the other drugs I would need to cope with the side effects of chemo.  I had hoped they would tell me that things had much improved with chemotherapy from what I had experienced nineteen years earlier. No such luck.  As they listed each side effect, I could not stop the flow of unpleasant memories flooding back to me.

There and back again. History repeating itself.

A massive pity party was bubbling up threatening to overwhelm me. Why was God allowing this to happen to me again? I had been so positive before surgery, and had recovered so “remarkably well” according to the doctors. I knew God had answered prayer and His activity had been so evident around me before, during, and after surgery. Why was I freaking out now? Surely I had to believe that God was in as much control of this situation as He had been over the past few months, right? He had always been faithful in every circumstance I faced throughout my life! Why was I now questioning God’s goodness at this time? I remembered the scripture I had read during my devotions that morning:

“I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; before the “gods” I will sing your praise. I will bow down toward your holy temple
and will praise your name
for your unfailing love and your faithfulness, for you have so exalted your solemn decree that it surpasses your fame. When I called, you answered me; you greatly emboldened me. May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord, when they hear what you have decreed. May they sing of the ways of the Lord, for the glory of the Lord is great. Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, he sees them from afar. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand you save me. The Lord will vindicate me; your love, Lord, endures forever—do not abandon the works of your hands.” Psalm 138: 1-8

Though I walk in the midst of trouble…

His love endures forever…

God will not abandon me!

I ask for your prayers, dear readers, as I start chemo next week. I know it will be a tough journey but when I struggle in my weakness I will be strengthened by your prayers! God is good!

There and back again!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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