It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve written. I guess I just don’t want to write so much that it becomes a trivial reflection of my struggles. But, I don’t want to wait so long that some grow weary and forget to pray. We continue to need prayers as much as ever!
Not much has changed really in terms of my treatment. The third treatment was the hardest yet, as I suspected. I have moments when I wonder if my body can withstand much more. But I am past the half-way point for the Adriamycin (red stuff)/Cytoxan. I am told that that is the hardest chemotherapy agent to tolerate, and that the Taxotere, which is the last 4 cycles, will be easier. My hair remains absent from my head. The nausea is the worst the first few days, and gradually gets better. I tried all the medications for that, including the “Mercedes of anti-nausea medication”, but none seem to really make much difference, and most make me more lethargic than anything else. This last treatment I didn’t take anything except for one or two Kytril, and it didn’t make much difference. The pattern has definitely been established that my second week after treatment is the hardest in terms of my white blood count, and the third in terms of my red. My whites seem to dip down and recover by the third week. But even though they have gone below normal, they are still high, so give thanks to God for me. I also suspect this is in part due to my regular consumption of MGN-3. My reds just seem to go lower and lower each treatment. It’s been a gradual decline too, but one I have yet to recover from. I have started taking iron, but combating the fatigue and weakness is an increasing battle. The mouth sores have been at a minimum, and usually only occur at the second week. But lately, the swelling has been so bad that by the end of the day I can hardly walk. My feet look like little hot-dogs! I am told this is a reaction to the chemotherapy, and there isn’t a lot that can be done. Dr. prescribed a diuretic, but that doesn’t really work well. Other than the discomfort, the biggest concern with the swelling would be congestive heart failure. My youth guards me somewhat, but is not a guarantee. Adriamycin is one of the most toxic chemotherapies to the heart, and can result in permanent heart damage. I’ve been taking vitamin C and CQ-10 since before I started treatment. This is supposed to guard the heart too. One more treatment to go………..
Actually, things have been up in the air. Technically I do have one more cycle of chemo, followed by a modified radical mastectomy, followed by 4 cycles of Taxotere, followed by radiation (which would put me at or around December). But, as I wrote last letter, I am being referred to City of Hope. After jumping the hoops of an HMO, I am scheduled for an appointment there on 7/31. I will be seeing Dr. Somlo, who is an oncologist who has studied Inflammatory Breast Cancer. I’ve decided that I am going in knowing that my type of cancer is rare, and that his job is to recruit me for the trial, but also that my job is to make the best choices for me and my family. Please focus your prayers in this area, as it is a necessary, but difficult decision to make. If I proceed with City of Hope, I will be hospitalized for periods, and the treatment will be much harder than it already is. If I don’t proceed, I will continue to receive treatments here in Bakersfield as scheduled, with my next treatment set for 8/1. Dr. Patel examined me on 7/10, and at that time he thought that there was a sufficient clinical response (a decrease in outward signs of cancer) to the chemotherapy to proceed with mastectomy next. I don’t know. Perhaps it is because I live with it everyday, but Al and I both notice a slight difference, but not a complete response. I know that the last two treatments have resulted in a lot of pains in my lymph nodes. I am told not to worry about this- that it is a sign that the chemo is working. But, it’s hard not to wonder. I am also told that it is normal for cancer patients to wonder if every little ache or pain is evidence of the cancer spreading. The fear sure can be a dominant feature of the emotional component of this thing.
I think for me, fear and sadness has been the hardest part. We all have to face death. We all die. I don’t fear death. In fact, I can relate to the Apostle Paul’s words intimately: “Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me” (Philippians 1:19-26). I long to be with Jesus! But, I fear for my children and I feel saddened that there is so much I have yet to do in terms of ministry. Al and I took a train ride up to Stockton last weekend, and on the way up we passed a cemetery. Al was in the bathroom, and without his distraction, my mind wandered. I was filled with sadness, and began to cry. Poor Al came out of the bathroom wondering what had happened! I have moments like that, and it is difficult to talk about it, which makes it all the more sadder and lonelier. People don’t want to hear or think about death, and so the usual response I get is not very validating- I’m not going to die, I will survive this, think positive. The truth is, there’s far more to it than just the issues of physical health/death. There’s work (and death) going on in my spirit, and this is never an easy process for me. I have learned to embrace it- in fact, yesterday as I was driving I was overwhelmed with gratitude that the Lord has afflicted me with this. It is an experience not everyone has…….. and an opportunity for me that is unparalleled. Storms teach us how to sail our ships. He has entrusted it to me, and that is a blessing and honor! But even though I am blessed, that doesn’t mean it is easy. Dying is something our flesh wants to fight. Oswald again ministers to me in this regard, and reminds me that even in my ache for ministry it is about God, and not me:
The Death Side
In sanctification God has to deal with us on the death side as well as on the life side. Sanctification requires our coming to the place of death, but many of us spend so much time there that we become morbid. There is always a tremendous battle before sanctification is realized- something within us pushing with resentment against the demands of Christ. When the Holy Spirit begins to show us what sanctification means, the struggle starts immediately. Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate . . . his own life . . . he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26) In the process of sanctification, the Spirit of God will strip me down until there is nothing left but myself, and that is the place of death. Am I willing to be myself and nothing more? Am I willing to have no friends, no father, no brother, and no self-interest- simply to be ready for death? That is the condition required for sanctification.
No wonder Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace but a sword”
(Matthew 10:34). This is where the battle comes, and where so many of us
falter. We refuse to be identified with the death of Jesus Christ on this
point. We say, “But this is so strict. Surely He does not require that of
me.” Our Lord is strict, and He does require that of us. Am I willing to
reduce myself down to simply “me”? Am I determined enough to strip myself
of all that my friends think of me, and all that I think of myself? Am I
willing and determined to hand over my simple naked self to God? Once I
am, He will immediately sanctify me completely, and my life will be free
from being determined and persistent toward anything except God (see 1
Thessalonians 5:23-24). When I pray, “Lord, show me what sanctification
means for me,” He will show me. It means being made one with Jesus.
Sanctification is not something Jesus puts in me- it is Himself in me
(see 1 Corinthians 1:30).
And so, here I am…….sitting out in this vast sea. The past few weeks God has allowed me to swim out for brief moments so that I could be a lighthouse off the shore for others struggling out in the ravenous ocean waters. I am thankful for that too. He is so good to me! And, He’s also been trying to talk to me about my family. I don’t think I’ve been listening, because it seems like I’m back where I started with the heartaches and disappointments that come from turning to the world (mental health people) to resolve the issues that come up with family life. After all, we are entering the era of adolescence in our home, I have cancer, and Al is adopting the kids. Lots of grist for the mental health mill here! But after a swim with the sharks, we’ve resolved ourselves to batten down the hatches, pray more diligently, and to re-institute our weekly “family night” that had gone by the wayside. We’ve included a little ritual of putting all 5 of our names in a basket, and drawing one another for our mandatory prayer time before the fun begins. I am pretty sure we’ve also selected a boat (The Minnow to be exact) as our new family mascot. This seems rather silly, but is very important to me. I have seen so many families not withstand the storms of life, and I know that perspective is so important. We forget who we are, and what it means to be a family. Family is whatever you make it…..however you define it. We are resting on these verses to define our core family values: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22). “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 & 13). It’s more of a challenge than it seems…………….
I’ll write again after my appointment at City of Hope……..keep us all
(Me, Al, Justin, Amanda, and Jared) in your prayers!
One ship sails east and another sails west
With the self-same winds that blow.
Tis the set of the sail and not the gale
Which determines the way they go.
As the winds of the sea are the ways of fate
As we voyage along through life,
Tis the act of the soul that determines the goal,
And not the calm or the strife.
~ Ella Wheeler Wilcox