I’ve haven’t written in a while. I guess I haven’t felt like I’ve had anything particularly positive or inspirational to share. I’ve “been under” for a while now, and the novelty of the experience is wearing off. My oxygen is getting low, and at times God’s voice has seemed very muted within the dense mass of these deep waters. I mean, I know He’s there……how can one look around and observe the majesty of creation and NOT know He’s there? But isn’t that when our faith is tested the most- when we don’t “feel” His presence? I don’t know how people get through the ocean storms without faith!!?
This past few weeks has caused me to relate to Jacob (Israel)(Genesis 32:22-30). Did you know that Israel means “he struggles with God”? I think part of my struggle lately has been motivated by anger. I just keep thinking about my Mom telling me that my 30’s “will be the best years of my life”, and how much I was looking forward to this coming decade of change, growth….life-long met goals. And here I am just a few months after I turned 30, and I’m wondering if I will live to see another decade….and if I do….how much of it will be consumed by the emotional and physical drain of cancer? I hear of some women who get cancer and feel blessed that the changes it brought simplified and magnified their lives- it sifted out the important from the non, the trivial from the profound. I haven’t gotten to that point. I have to wonder if that isn’t because of my young age. My roommate at work regularly tells me as I leave the office, “do something fun today”. I mentioned to her that she always says that to me, and she replied that “life is short, you have to live each day like it’s your last”. I thought about that on my way to a meeting. And these intrusive and exciting thoughts came flooding in about what I would really do if I thought today was my last day on earth- quit my job, take out a huge loan, buy a motorcycle, take a drive up the coast with my husband! Immediately after that, other thoughts just as intrusive, yet somehow gentler, came rushing in, “what about all those talents God gave me, what about the hurting people out there who are lost, what about the passionate heart God gave me to serve Him with everything I have?” For a moment I felt guilty for having such selfish and fleshly thoughts. I mean, what if today really was my last day on earth? How would I really want to spend it? By no coincidence, I was on my way to my monthly Domestic Violence Advisory Council Faith Committee meeting (I chair this group as a voluntary effort to bring awareness to the faith community about family violence, and with hopes of bringing faith issues to the secular family service agencies). I was glad God spoke to me that I need to keep trucking on. The message by Oswald Chambers today (June 26) really hit home again…….
……in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors……” (2 Corinthians 6:5)- in all these things, display in your life a drawing on the grace of God, which will show evidence to yourself and to others that you are a miracle of His. Draw on His grace now, not later. The primary word in the spiritual vocabulary is now. Let circumstances take you where they will, but keep drawing on the grace of God in whatever condition you may find yourself. One of the greatest proofs that you are drawing on the grace of God is that you can be totally humiliated before others without displaying even the slightest trace of anything but His grace. “…having nothing…”
Never hold anything in reserve. Pour yourself out, giving the best that You have, and always be poor. Never be diplomatic and careful with the Treasure God gives you. “……and yet possessing all things”- this is poverty triumphant (2 Corinthians 6:10).
Being totally transparent in my struggles here, I think I have gone a long way in humiliating myself. My only hope is that through my own weakness and humanity, God’s Grace truly is apparent!
You know, I have passed by the large stained glass wall in the cancer center at least half a dozen times, and it wasn’t until this last treatment when my Mom pointed out that it is an ocean theme, that I even noticed that. Again, I have to wonder if that isn’t more than coincidence. Maybe a subliminal message? Even the physical experience of the chemotherapy has been like the huge waves in a distant stormy sea. Each treatment seems to get a little harder, as the toxicity builds and crashes down on me. My white blood cell count was below normal at the 14 day post-chemo point, as I suspected. But, for chemotherapy patients, being below normal IS normal. So, with that in mind, I’d have to say my count was actually pretty good. I haven’t reached danger zone yet. I’ve been bulking up on some immunotherapy stuff. If nothing else, it helps me psychologically feel better about being proactive. I’m half way through the “red stuff” now- 2 more treatments of that (with second chemo agent, Cytoxan). Al and I both agree that we notice a very slight change for the better in the outward appearance of the cancer. That’s definitely good, but not enough to make us feel confident that this cancer’s going to be eradicated from my body. With it being found in my blood vessels, the chance of micrometastism is 100% (which means it is in other places in my body, just not in amounts that are detectable by imaging yet). This is why reoccurrence is so high with IBC, and why we pray fervently each treatment that it is maximally effective in reaching every point of cancer.
We saw Dr. Patel briefly this time around too. I went in there with a research article preparing to defend my case for a mastectomy after I finish chemo (rather than in between), because it alludes to research that has shown the outcome is statistically better that way. We met with the Nurse Practitioner first, who didn’t even look at the article (which was dated April 2003), but insisted that the reported findings of the May 2003 ASCO meeting (annual research meeting of cancer docs) would be even more current, and that she would prepare Dr. Patel to come in a talk to me about ASCO. Well, he did. We really didn’t get a chance to talk about surgery, because his recommendation was to refer me to the City of Hope to see if I qualify for participation in their current trial with IBC Stage IIIb cancer. It is a high dose chemo (HDC), with stem cell rescue (SCR) protocol. I wrote about this before, but now that it’s more of a reality- I’ll briefly explain it……
Stem cells are the rudimentary cells in our bone marrow that end up becoming blood cells (white, red, etc.). This is where blood is “made”- in the bone marrow. Chemo agents are particularly toxic to the bone arrow. With current “standard” doses, this is managed usually without effect. In fact, the dosage of chemo is directly calculated by toxicity level to the blood cells. With dose intense protocols they “harvest” stem cells and freeze them, administer toxic (lethal) doses of the chemo agents over the course of a few days, and then reinfuse the stem cells to “rescue” the body from the effects of the toxicity. It’s a method to administer higher doses of the cancer-killing drug, which theoretically, should increase the effect. This technique has advanced tremendously over the last decade, and can be accomplished efficiently and with managed side effects. The death rate from the treatment is reassuringly not any higher than standard dose chemo. But it is a “harder” treatment. It would require me to be hospitalized during the treatment, and to spend some time in isolation, as I would have NO immune system. The side effects, while managed, would still be considerable, and the quality of life would be pretty low. At this point, it is still considered experimental, and is not proving to be curative, but is showing a longer period of time before relapse. Doctors don’t really know if more is better. Al and I talked last night about that- and even if I could “buy” 5 years of life, they might have more promising treatments in 5 years. I mean, 20 years ago HIV was a death sentence, and just 10 years later it was a manageable disease. Now I just heard they may have found a vaccine. But, we’re still not sure if this stem cell rescue is the right thing to do, and if I’ll even qualify to participate in the trial (there are guidelines). So once again, it seems we are pushed forward, and must trust God for even our very breath.
So, until we meet with the City of Hope team, I continue treatments here in Bakersfield. My next treatment is scheduled July 11th. My parents drove down for the last one, and I was so grateful for that. I really needed someone other than Al to see firsthand what the external world of cancer treatment was all about. It’s one thing to write or read about it, another to “see” it, and yet another to live it. I feel so blessed to have a husband and parents who are not afraid to be right by my side. It means a lot. Just yesterday I took Amanda and Jared with me to the cancer center to get blood drawn- I really wanted them to have a visual reference of where I go. We toured the chemo rooms and they handled it quite well.
I’ve attached some pictures, which was part of the reason for my delay in getting this sent. Al and I had fun decorating my head yesterday. Don’t worry- I never go out without something covering my head. But I figured my family would rather having something interesting to look at while I’m at home!