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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Crashing Waves

I wrote this on Mar 4, 2006, it speaks about the struggle we faced and the source of our strength.

This past week we heard not so good news about Andrea's cancer. Her scan showed more cancer in her liver and something in her left lung. But we have also felt the Lord telling us to abandon ourselves. Abandon to His will; abandon our desires, to trust Him fully. That He knows the desires of our hearts.

The physical reality seemed to crash over me. Andrea’s pain in her back, shortness of breath, pain in her chest, constant cough, changes in her vision, all remind me of what we face. Yet God is giving us a peace that He is in control. We only need to trust Him and abandon ourselves to be used for His glory. Even typing those words makes me think; five months ago I would have been afraid to type those words. I would say I was giving in to Andrea’s death. And maybe it is the Lord preparing my heart. If it is, then there will be peace, grief but with peace. When I woke up this past Saturday this is what I felt:

This trial seems as if we are standing on a cliff, and before us is a valley, deep and wide. In the distance is a wall of water and it is headed our way. I can hear it, I can see it. I’m scared of it in a way, because it seems more powerful than me. There is nothing between us and the water but the valley and the ground we stand on. I wish it would turn away, or miss us but it won’t, it hasn’t. It is headed our way. Andrea and I are on the cliff, high above the valley floor, just holding each other. Then it hits, the first part of the water crashes into the cliff and shakes the ground under our feet, the water sprays in our face. It is scary and the physical impact of the water begins to erode the sides of the cliff. The water turns brown from the eroding soil. Chunks of the soil are washed away; it is amazing how easy some of the soil is taken away. There are waves of doubt, wonder, and worry. Are we really safe? Will this hold? Look at the power of the water! Maybe we should leave, abandon our stand and make a run for it, to higher ground behind us. No, this is our place, right here and here we will stay. As they say, “Come hell or high water.” The water settles into a constant flow, vice the initial impact that shook us so violently. There is some peace, as the water seems less threatening; it is just a steady flow. Yet when we look down we still see the soil being washed away. So it goes, periods of peace and confidence, and periods of doubt. Will it hold? The water is all around us, there is no escape now. The higher ground behind us has been washed away. What we thought was a safer place is now gone. Then when I look down, the soil is gone; the water has washed it all away, but now exposed beneath our feet is the solid rock that existed there all the time. The water now helplessly flows around the rock. It is powerless against the solid granite. We now feel safe amongst the water, it no longer threatens us. We stand on a single pillar of stone. What we had first placed our faith in, what seemed so safe turned out to be no match for the wall of water and its constant erosion.

Waves still come at times, as they did this past week when we got Andrea’s scans. We think, “Lord how much more can the ground take, should we just jump in and go with the water?” He says, “No, stand your ground, trust me.” “But Lord look, the water is flowing over our feet.” He says “I created the water; it does not flow without my approval. It only goes where I allow it.” I see our friends across the way standing on the opposite bank, wanting to help. I can see the desire in their faces, their anguish. They are asking, “God why are you doing this to them. It seems unfair.” He tells them the same “trust me. Trust me, and see my strength in Jim and Andrea’s weakness.”

But I’m afraid that we will let you, our friends, down. Part of my fear is that as you watch us and believe for us, that we will fail you, that we will let you down. That you will doubt the ground you stand on. If Andrea’s dies it will be seen as if we failed. This week was a pretty big wave, and I would think that if I was looking at our situation I would be worried. But, please do not doubt. Don’t doubt your prayers, don’t doubt in God. As much as you want to reach to us and help us, I want to reach to you and say its okay. We have grown stronger for having lost all that loose soil and exposed the solid rock underneath. You see it was always there. I had covered it with soil I packed with my own selfish hands. Although it was smooth and had the appearance of strength, it was a nothing more than sand. It had to be washed away for us to learn what is true. No matter how this ends, I pray that you will not feel sad for us, sad as if we have no hope, nor doubt your own faith, but see a faithful God. I don’t want you to see us and think how strong we must be to face this wall of water, rather that you would see the solid rock upon which we stand. It is not we that are strong but the rock on which we stand which gives us strength.

I have one quirk, actually this is one of many, but ever since I have flown the last thing I would say to Andrea whenever I left for work and the last thing I say to the crew chief before he unhooks his headset is, “See you in a little bit,” and Andrea and I adopted this instead of saying goodbye. Now when I think about this cancer, and if the worst should happen, I think what will be the last thing I would say to Andrea. It would be, “See you in a little bit.” Those words encompass the truth of our faith. This life is just a vapor, and we will spend eternity with God in the perfection of heaven. So, this goodbye, if necessary, is not forever, because I will see her in a little bit. That is why the Bible tells us not to grieve as those without hope. Not that we won’t grieve but we have an underlying hope that softens the grief to this lifetime. And no matter the amount or the ferocity of the water that is headed our way, if we stand on a foundation of faith in God and our assurance in Christ we are on solid ground. He is in fact the one who calmed the seas and spoke calm to the winds.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

New Recruits

These events occurred during Andrea's chemo treatment today, 19 April 2007 .
It's about watching two woman starting their chemo.

Today Andrea had her Chemo treatment, and today we saw two women enter the chemo room for their first time. One was elderly with her daughter crying by her side, as the nurse led her mom back to the Lazy Boy. The other was a young woman, and her husband was receiving her information packet before she starts chemo next week. As I sat there with Andrea and watched these two families, I could not help but think about the harshness of the chemo room. I told Andrea it is hard to watch someone start chemo. To know they are about to suffer. My thoughts went back to our first days. In a way I'm proud to be a veteran and want to offer support to the new recruits. God has given us the opportunity to still be here and even if we don't like it Andrea and I have a wealth of experience that few possess. God has given us a unique opportunity and we don't want to waste it. We know it is by the grace of God that we are still here, one of the few to survive this long and still be in the chemo room. I want to go to them and help, to encourage them to fight the good fight.

As the nurses lead them into the chemo room, we stop and offer a prayer for them knowing the pain, sickness, fatigue and struggle that lies ahead for them. Our hearts ache for them. I hope they know the Lord and have His grace and mercy to fall back on.

Many of us, if not all, will face very difficult times in our life, but there is something different about the chemo room. You are taken from a very private experience and suddenly thrown into a room of strangers to face life’s biggest fear. One moment you are alone with your doctor being told you have cancer and the next you are in a room full of people. When we first started this journey I wished they had private chemo rooms where you did not have to face this in public. But I have come to understand there is support in the openness of the chemo room. There, with you, are others who can relate to you like no one else. Suddenly strangers can be your closest confidante. You have a bond and camaraderie with those around you. You soon find out that those fears and questions you struggle with are common to the person next to you. There you see others dealing with the same doubts, fears and questions and you find a comfort being in the room. I cannot explain the feeling of dread and shock when you realize you are a cancer patient. I'm not a good enough writer to be able to express that feeling. It is sadness, disbelief, a heaviness that settles upon you, it is your cross to bear. I guess that best describes it, literally like a cross on your shoulders. Heavy, digging into your skin, painful and far more than you think you can bear. You have a sense of hopelessness as you feel the weight upon your back. "I can't do this, there is no way." Meanwhile the atmosphere of the chemo room shows you the harshness of what you face. You want to run and hide, to just make it all go away, but it won't, it can't. It is not a dream or nightmare as you wish. This is your life, a cruel mistake but yours.

These two women, one in her 60's the other far too young to be facing a life with cancer, neither deserving what they are about to go through, were both about to be challenged to their very core of who they are and what they believe. I want to take it away as much as they want it to be gone. The dread I see in each step they take, the slight tremble of their hands, the quiver of the mouth, and the tear in their eye, all speak to those already in the room. The thoughts and fears that are behind these signs, the unspoken words, are understood to those in the chairs. There is a silent communication that takes place between those new women and those in the chairs. There is no joy in gaining someone on the team, there is no comfort knowing what they are about to go through. It is a bond born in suffering, written in pain, and signed in fear. Everyone there knows exactly what these two new women are feeling. Their lives are suddenly shaken and turned upside down. Still trying to understand what is happening to them, they have no time to stop and think. The chemo must start and you are suddenly in a fight for your life and only later you will catch your breath and try to make sense of what is happening. That is why your foundation is key. Your faith, your beliefs, that is what catches your fall. God your creator, He is there. I close my eyes and imagine the angles in that room, unseen to us but there. They offer comfort, hope, and speak to the assurance that life and death are in God's hands. Though we face difficulties, thankfully, we have a loving God who is faithful. I love the way the Psalmist describes God's love, "Unfailing love." I just love that word unfailing; it is so not human, so fantastically wonderful and perfect. Along with the great difficulty of the chemo room comes the pure joy of drawing close to God, and finding out that the Bible is not a collection of nice stories or wise sayings, but it is life itself, and the truth we seek.

I'm comforted by these verses and I pray them for these two women. We may never meet again but today our lives were slammed together. May God strengthen them and comfort them. I pray they will experience a closeness to God and know He has never forsaken them. I pray God will give us the opportunity to offer them some encouragement and hope. Because as scary as cancer is it is not beyond God’s reach; it is not bigger than the God we serve, and that is the hope we use to get up each day and walk back into the chemo room.

Matthew 11:29-30

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Jeremiah 29:11-12

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Crossing over the Jordan

I wrote this in the summer of 2006
This is about handling God's promises and the Trials of Life

First, let me state that I have never been a great reader of the bible; I was never a tower of biblical knowledge, one who could recite chapter and verse. In fact I had not memorized a scripture until just recently. I don’t want you to think I’m some biblical giant and somehow above others. I’m nothing more then someone learning and growing in the Lord. Not because I’m something special, but more because I was unwilling to learn these things without the intense pressure of a battle with cancer. That in it self is a lesson I hope no one else has to learn.

It was last weekend. I arose early on Saturday, as I seem too lately. I think it is God’s prompting to speak to me in the silence of the morning. I arose that day, checked the weather, emails, and headlines. As if I was trying to avoid why I was up in the first place. I’m not sure why I feel I need to do those things first, other then it is my last way to say I’m in charge. To say, “I really got up to do these things and when I’m done I guess I could spend some time reading my bible.” We like to feel in charge don’t we, even if it is an illusion? Anyway, I finally got my bible out, organized my pens, paper, in my final attempt to be in control and start only when I had everything perfect, I opened the bible to Joshua. I not sure why but I felt I needed to read this book. I read Joshua 1: 1-9.
1 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, it came to pass that the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant saying: 2 Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them-the children of Israel. 3 Everyplace that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. 4 From the wilderness ad this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory. 5 No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and f good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give to them. 7 Only be strong and courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses, My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. 8 This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall mediate on it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have good success. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage, do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

I was struck by the verses I read, I felt the Lord tell me this is all you need to know to make it through this trial and through life. I saw that God had promised His people a land, a promise made long before Joshua showed up. Yet now was the time for God to provide His promise. Think back to Abraham, a 99-year-old man and a wife barren were told you would have a son. They believed but felt they needed to solve this obvious physical limitation of being too old to have a child by have Abraham sleep with another woman. But God was not concerned with the physical limitations of our earthly bodies; the laws of this life do not limit Him. He created it! No God had Sarah bear her own child, a son named Isaac. Now Abraham could see the beginning of the Lord’s promise that he would be the father of a great nation. But God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Abraham having learned God will provide, obeyed God and took Isaac, bound him, and was about to sacrifice him when God provided a substitute at the very last moment. Fast-forward to Isaac’s son, Jacob, and his son Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers. However God used this to bring Jacob and his family to Egypt, thus surviving the famine. Did Jacob wonder where was the land God promised my grandfather? Was this it? Was going to Egypt the Promised Land? No, Egypt was slavery. Fast-forward to Moses who was raised in the house of Pharaoh as a result of Pharaoh’s own decree to kill the Israel’s male children to keep Israel from becoming too powerful and a threat to Pharaoh. God used Pharaoh’s attempt to defeat the Israelites to make Pharaoh raise the man who would free the Israelites! Moses then leads Israel from Egypt into the desert only to wander for 40 years. Now we pick up with Joshua chapter 1, Moses has just died, the nation of Israel, now over 2 million people, is at the doorstep of the Promised Land, the land promised to Abraham. Now God is about to fulfill His promise. I was struck by the fact that God did not just give the land to Israel, why such a long route to the promise? Why so many struggles to get to here? But, here they stand, with just the Jordan River between them and God’s promise, it was time. And what did God tell them to do?
Joshua 1:2 Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them-the children of Israel.

There was still action required on Israel’s part. Now therefore, (God’s timing) Arise go over this Jordan (action on our part) to the land which I am giving to them the children of Israel. God was providing, all God asked Israel to do was to arise and cross over the Jordan. Our salvation is the same. God provides the salvation, but we must arise and accept the gift. The gift is a promise made long before but then there comes a time for us to accept the gift. “Now, arise,” implies there is a time when we are to accept God’s promises, whether that promise is salvation, healing or Israel’s entry into the promised land. And just like the promise land our salvation was always there, we only have to accept it. No matter how we try to force our way into God’s promises, it is on His time line that we receive them.
In Verses 3-4 God describes His promise.
3 Everyplace that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. 4 From the wilderness ad this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory.

When God makes a promise it has dimensions it has definition. When God delivers His promise it is not vague and He does leave us to wonder what He is giving us. Satan would like to mask the promises of God from our eyes, so we would never realize what we have and who we are in Christ. God on the other hand is specific but we have to listen. Believe me He will speak to you and you will know God’s will for your life when we quite the noises of life and the distractions Stan throws at us to keep us too busy, or too worried to listen. As it says in Isaiah 30:21 “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying This is the way, walk in it” Whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.”

Finally in versus 5-9 the Lord tells us how we should go about claiming His promises.
5 No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give to them. 7 Only be strong and courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses, My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. 8 This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall mediate on it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have good success. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage, do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

First we are promised that God will be with us. That when we are standing with God no man, no trouble, no problem will stand before us.
As it says in 1 John 4:4, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” Then as assurance, God tells us, “As I was with Moses I will be with you.” In life we face many challenges and each one builds upon the next, each one is an opportunity for God to revile Himself to us, and therefore allows us to remember what God had done for us and thus know what God will do for us. God never wastes a single hurt in your life. If we choose to rely on God then He is able to use any circumstance for His glory. If we choose to handle life trials on our own then we will quickly learn our inadequacies and miss out on opportunities for God to demonstrate His love for us.Romans 8:28, And we know that all things work together for good to those who love the God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

Finally, God instructs us on how we are to act based on the fact that God is with us. We are to be strong and courageous. And we are to be strong and courageous by obeying God’s law, and we do this so that we may prosper. As Israel was perched to cross over into the promised land to receive the promise God spoke generations before, God was ready to deliver their blessings, but there would still be challenges to conquer. Israel would still have to defeat the inhabitants of the land, much like we still face challenges after we accept Christ. God never told us life would be easy and without trials, in fact He told us exactly the opposite. In James 1:2-3 it says, My Brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that testing of you faith produces patience.” And James 1:12, Blessed is the man who endures temptation” Both of these verses speak to the fact that we will have trials and we will be tempted. But God promises us the way to overcome the trials we face in our Promise Land just as He promises’ us the Promised Land itself. We are to meditate on His word day and night, never letting it depart from our mouths and do not be afraid or dismayed, for our God is with us wherever we may go. That is a simple statement but once grasped in our minds and in our lifestyle we are forever changed.

I loved the way these verses spoke to me of how to handle promises and trials in life. By taking action based on god’s promises, by listening to God so we may know His will, then by staying in His word we can claim His promises and face the inevitable trails of life with courage knowing He is always with us, that He will never forsake us or leave us.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Playing the Numbers Game

I wrote this about a year ago. It is about going through the treatment decisions of Andrea's cancer and what I learned.

Cancer will drive you to face your life with an eternal view. I don’t just mean about life and death, although that of course happens. With cancer you are faced something that is so far beyond your own ability, and when it progresses to later stages even beyond the ability of your doctor. It brings a completely new reality to the journey when you are told there is no cure. Early stages of cancer are intimidating not because you have cancer, but because you fear the progression of the disease. No one dies of stage I cancer. You fear stage II, then stage III because they are one step closer to stage IV. When we were told Andrea had cancer in Sept 03, there was a growth in our faith and we relinquished some control in our lives to God as we asked Him to help us. But we still had areas of our life were we kept control. The medicine and science still offered us hope and thus we afforded it some of our faith. As we have progressed down this journey we have been force to move more and more of our faith and hope from ourselves, from modern medicine, to our creator, until now we see our only hope is God. When I look back I wonder why did I wait until all my human options failed until I trusted God? Why had I released portions of my faith to God only when I realised through failures that my faith was misplaced. You see as medicine failed us, as the trial vaccine proved inadequate, as everything proved inadequate for Andrea’s cancer we ended up in that small percentage of patients with stage IV breast cancer.

Really what are the odds we would end up here? When I remember the day Andrea drove to my office in Alaska and told me she found a lump but not to worry these almost always turn out to be nothing and the doctor said “you have a 90% chance this is not cancer.”

But it was cancer.

Luckily we found it early and we had “a 90% survival rate, unless it spread to her nodes. And the doctor said “don’t worry the tumor was so small the odds it spread to her nodes are very low.”

But it was in her nodes.

Then we found out the type of cancer, and the doctor said, “don’t worry only 30% of cancers are really aggressive.”

But Andrea’s was.

Then we finished treatment and the doctor said, “If it comes back, we will just try to make sure what time you have left has a good quality of life.” I won’t forget that day, and the feeling we had, like we had both been punched in the stomach. All of a sudden I was being told medicine and doctors had a limit, there could come a time when cancer exceeded our doctors abilities. It was not just that I was being told about facing death, but that I was being told what I had placed a part of my faith in was fallible. I found out I put some of my faith into something that could only provide us with the “best chance.” I felt let down. I felt abandoned. I felt tricked in a way.

Medicine could only tell us that the “odds were…” it could not tell us anything for certain. There was no guarantee. Sorry but we were part of the 10% group that turned out had cancer, and the 30% of those 10% who had the aggressive cancer, and the 30% of those 10% whose cancer spread to the nodes, and the small percentage of those whose cancer reaches stage IV. The question is, are we one of the ___ % live from stage IV breast cancer. I don’t know the percentage here because doctors stop telling you percentages when the percentages get this low.

All along the path to stage IV I know there are people who “made it.” Those who were told you are one of the “lucky ones.” Who sit across from a doctor and are told, “There is no sign of disease.” Do I envy them? Yes in a way. Here is an unfiltered statement, every time I hear someone made it I think there goes one more percentage against us. It is has if there are only so many tickets for this ride of life and for every survivor I think that is one less seat available for us. What feeds such a thought? I think in part it was my own mind. When I placed my faith in medicine I was placing my hopes on the odds, because that is what the doctors tell you…the odds. Cancer takes you into the world of percentages and odds so fast, before you know it feels like a gambling addiction. You just want to hear you have good odds; you want to believe you are one of the winners. I was pulling for Andrea to be a winner as if I was pulling for my favorite team in the playoffs. But what goes along with that mindset is the feeling of defeat and inadequacy when you lose. It is a form of embarrassment really when you find out you are on the losing side of the odds. When Andrea has to start a new chemo after a regression, there is a part of me that is embarrassed. Are people looking at us as failures? I think someone is looking at us with some pity but also with some relief it’s us and not them. Are the nurses looking at us and thinking Andrea and I lost another round in the “chemo tournament.” It’s hard when you see pity, sadness, or fear in someone’s eyes when they look at you. But you just move on to the looser bracket and you size up the competition and look at you odds in this new group and starts all over again. Until you either win, and are told you are cured, or end up in the final loser bracket, death. Like losing in sports you then begin to doubt your plan, your training, and your coach. What went wrong? Did we not do something the winners did? Was there a drug mixture they had that we did not know about? Are we even using the right chemo? Is our doctor smart enough? What is his winning record?

I remember when we found out Andrea had cancer we went to the bookstore that night and I sat on the floor and poured over cancer books. They were filled with percentages, charts and graphs. Oh it was impressive; I was finding security in the numbers. Things were looking better, the charts clearly showed this. But one day I was on the bed talking to Andrea and I was going over her options for treatment, lumpectomy, with radiation, remove one breast or both breasts to be safe, do we have implants or not. Every option had a percentage of success and you start feeling like you are picking your survival chances. Make a mistake here and it could cost you your life. Well, as I went around and around with the numbers I was starting to panic with the reality of what we were doing and that on the other side of every good percentage was a chance of failure. None of the odds were 100%, and all the options involved some percentage of failure. It is not that you are picking your best odds, although that is the way we try to spin it, what you are really doing is picking the side with the lowest poor odds. Because no matter how you say it or spin it you are trying to beat death. Well, Andrea being such a tower of strength and faith grabbed me and said, “You have to stop looking at statistics and numbers. Whether I live or die is not based on percentages or what option we choose, God is in control and He has my life in His hands. There is no treatment decision we will make that will tie God's hands.” I felt like a screaming woman in a movie that was slapped in the face. She was right; I was trying desperately to find hope in the percentages. I wanted to know it was going to be okay, I wanted factual data to tell me Andrea was not going to die. I instinctively reached out to the physical world around me for hope. But it would not be until June 2005 that I would truly learn what Andrea was trying to tell me that night. It would not be until we faced stage IV metastatic breast cancer in her bones, liver and lungs that I would really understand this is beyond us, beyond medicine and truly in God’s hands. It was not until then I would learn a deeper meaning of surrender.

You see in 2003 I did learn to surrender, but only to a point, only as far as I needed. I, like everyone, likes to hold onto some part of our life to control. We like to be in charge, to have an area of our life that we lock God out of, where we make the decisions. But be sure we are always ready to surrender that area when things go bad, then we cry out “God where are you?” As challenges in our life reach a point where they exceed our abilities or the abilities of the doctors that have our faith, we learn to let go and surrender to God, to His authority and trust Him. But that can be hard to do at times. To trust when your nature is to control, especially when the stakes become high, high in the sense that it is something that you really want. It may be a job, or a house, or life itself, but when you really want something you really want to control the situation. Human nature is to surrender only to the point that we feel necessary. We tend to abandon ourselves relative to our needs in our life. Forced by the situation I have learned some lessons I hope I won't forget.

I learned that man, medicine and even myself will eventually lead to disappointment but God is faithful and will never fail us.

I learned that God’s power and majesty are best displayed when we give Him control. (2 Corinthians 12:9 "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.")

I learned that I should not wait until I face a crisis to give my life totally to Christ.

I learned that I need to seek His will daily.

I learned that God is faithful and His words are true.

I learned that God cares about every part of my life and not just life and death.

I learned that God wanted me to trust him more, to let go and fall back into His arms. To experience the joy of being caught in the loving arms of my creator.
I learned that God is best at being God.

I learned and experienced the truth of Philippians 4: 6-7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I found myself in the most exciting, stressful, difficult, dark, and fearful time of my life and I would not trade a single day away.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

And or Death

These are my thoughts and memories of when we began chemo treatment in October 2003 in Anchorage Alaska.

After consulting friends and family we decided our treatment plan and we were back at the oncologist’s office for our pre-chemo briefing. As it turns out before the doctor gives you “medicine” that is going to bring you to the doorstep of death by killing nearly every cell in you body we had to watch an instructional video. I guess talking about cancer was just too difficult of a subject for someone to sit down with us. We were handed the VHS tape and shown a private room with a TV and VCR player. In hopes to break us in slowly the viewing room was adjacent to the chemo room, so as we walked in we had our first glance of what lay ahead for us. A large room with 15-20 big lazy boy recliners, all filled. The people had blank stares on their faces, all sitting in silence, some watching TV most just sitting alone, but all with an eerie blank stare on their face. I swore then Andrea would never be alone in that room. We went into our viewing room, as if it was a safe heaven from what lied beyond those doors, as if we would somehow escape what lied ahead. For the moment we were safe.

We put in the movie and hit play and we watched beautiful scenes of the countryside and smiling people with a narrator explaining with a clam soothing voice, the common side effects of chemo all the while beautiful music played in the background. The side effects seemed endless as the soft voice said, “Some people experience fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation.” While a couple rode horses laughing in the background. After watching this video you would think this can’t be too bad, like watching a video on a concentration camp stating “dieting is encouraged at the camp.” The video was the best spin you could put on chemo, and we were naive to the reality of the journey we about to embark on. We began to notice a disclaimer that was a pretty good indication that we were in for a little more then what this video was conveying. As the video covered the different chemo drugs and expounded on the various side effects the last one always seemed to be, “And or Death.” Wait just a minute did that just say one of the side effects may be death? It was like the last minute of a car commercial after they tell you how cheap you can buy the car but then announcer starts speaking at warp speed as if he suddenly realizes time is running out and rattles off all the restrictions at such a fast pace you can never understand what he is saying.

We knew Andrea would be sick, maybe tired at times but we had no idea the extent of pain she was about to endure I’m not sure how long the video was because we fast forwarded through most of it. I will never forget the one chemo nurse who saw us leaving our private theater and stopped us and said, “Honey did they tell you, you will lose your hair?” We said “Yes it said it was a possibility.” (We still were holding to the hope that “some” people lose their hair. That "some" turned out to be 1 in a million. Funny, in two years we would be clinging to those same odds as our best hope of living.) She said, “No honey you will lose your hair, not just the hair on your head dear you will lose ALL of your hair.” We walked away thinking, ummm I wonder what she meant by that. We would soon learn that this was no vacation club and there wasn’t going to be any pretty music in the background of our life for the next six months. It was going to be bad beyond anything we could imagine, and it all started so innocently.

Our first chemo was a little scary to say the least. We walked into the chemo room feeling totally out of place. I just wanted to shout to everyone, “We don’t belong here.” In the back of our minds we were waiting for the doctor to rush in and announce that there had been some mix up and Andrea’s tumor was not cancerous. You would be amazed how much hope you can build from such a sliver of a chance. It did not matter that the odds were 1 in 4 billion, if that is your only hope it suddenly seems possible. We like to quote the line from the movie Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.” Anyway the doctor did not rush in and announce her mistake, so the process began. Andrea found her chair and the IV stand was brought to her side. We remained upbeat even as we looked at the others in the room. They all seemed so close to death, so weak, with empty stares and hopeless eyes. I could not help but think “is that what we are going to look like?” Were they looking at us remembering their first day, when they had hope, and strength before the reality of chemo was hit them and the softness of that video was erased from their minds. They hooked Andrea up through her newly installed chemo port, a small device surgically implanted under her skin where the IV needle is inserted. The port has a long tube connected that runs directly into Andrea’s heart, so the drugs are quickly pumped throughout her body. As I write this I can't help but think this sounds like someone on death row. The nurse came by and hung Andrea’s first IV drip, an anti-nausea drug called Zofran. With in 2 minutes Andrea looked at me and said, “I don’t feel so good, and I’m starting to see double.” Hey, I don’t remember this on the video, there was no mention of double vision, and this is after two minutes! I called a nurse over and she calmly told us that is a normal reaction if the Zofran is dripped to fast. It turns out it should have taken 15 minutes to administer the Zofran and Andrea’s took two minutes. I remember being amazed at how quickly the drugs got into Andrea’s system and affected her body.

The nurse then brought out with Andrea’s first chemo, AC as it’s called. I like to refer to it as liquid death, deceptively cloaked in a pretty red Kool-Aid color. And when they hooked it up we watched it slowly flow down the IV tube inching ever closer to Andrea’s body. Andrea was scared, rightly so, she wanted to rip the IV out and run, knowing what it would do to her but also knowing this was her “cure.” The first treatment was not that bad and we went back in three weeks thinking this is going to be a piece of cake. Oh how naive we were. The second treatment hit Andrea with a vengeance and we soon learned this was no game. We left her second treatment and decided to go have one of Andrea’s favorite lunches. That was a mistake! Never eat any of your favorite meals while doing chemo. That was the last time Andrea has eaten that meal. With in five hours Andrea was throwing up and she continued to throw up for the next three days. She did not have the strength move, except top get out of bed craw on the sofa and try to make it till 8pm and craw back into bed. This went on for three days. Then like clock work at 10pm on Sunday she would walk into the kitchen and tell me she was hungry. From Thursday at 6pm until Sunday at 10pm Andrea did not talk, barely ate crackers, maybe some soup, only to throw it up in minutes. Anthony our 10 year old son at the time would read her the Bible because Andrea did not have the strength to lift her head. It was the most horrific 3 months we have ever spent, with her last AC treatment on Dec 31 2003. It was a quite New Years night for us.

Andrea went into her next round of Chemo, an easier drug compared to AC. But as the nurse said, “Every treatment will be easy compared to AC.” Not that the next six months would be easy, it was just easier. It was marked with extreme fatigue and body aches. Andrea was so fatigued, one day she was sitting on the floor in the kitchen next to the heater and did not have the strength to get up and walk across the room. She just could not move. The ten feet to the chair might as well been a thousand miles.

Her hair did fall out but it lasted longer then expected, about six weeks vice the three weeks predicted. It was hard to see her hair fallout in clumps. One of the surprises to Andrea was how much her head hurt just before her hair would fall out, as if her head had been burned. To make it easier we had cut her hair short before chemo started and donated it to Locks of Love, a company that makes wigs for children who loose their hair. I have learned that Andrea has a beauty and elegance that seems to shine no matter what stage her hair is in.

Looking back here is how that video should have described the effects of chemo. You will experience vomiting till you literary damage your esophagus; you will be so intimate with your toilet bowl that you may even give it a pet name. You will not be tired, because tired is when you need to take a nap and then your ready to go, no you will be so exhausted you won’t have the energy to move, except to make it to the bathroom to vomit the lining of your stomach. You will be so tired that the thought of moving from one side of a room to the other may as well be a thousand miles, you just can’t do it. You will be so sick that you don’t have the strength to talk and even if you did it hurts too bad to speak.

I began to think the purpose of the drugs was not to heal but to make you beg for death, to make death a more appealing option then life. We were in for a much tougher fight then we could ever have imagined, and we would need to fall back on our faith and our God and the help and prayers of friends to make it through this.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Looking Back

This is one of my first journal entries.
It is about looking back, and looking forward

Sometimes you don’t see how good things are when you have been in a struggle for a long time. In fact as I was writing this I noticed our old e-mail program and as I looked at the sent mail I found some of Andrea’s old emails from when this journey began in 2003. I read the first e-mail she sent when she found the lump…she wrote “not to worry there is only a small chance it is cancer.” Then I read the letter she wrote after her surgery, “the doctor was wrong, it is cancer, now it is decision time, lumpectomy and radiation or mastectomy.” Then I read her letters after chemo #2, and the violence of her vomiting, and the dreadfulness of chemo. Finally I read her letter about her thankfulness. Andrea was writing about being in church and feeling sick but thinking I have so much to be thankful for, “I found my tumor, I’m only stage II and not stage IV, I don’t have metastatic breast cancer, and I have all of your prayers.”

It made me think of all we have gone through, it was like reading a journal of a trip, after the fact, knowing the answers to the questions already asked. I’m reminded we are still on this journey, we are still writing our journal entries, and I will one day look back on this time with the clarity of hindsight. As with all journeys you are never the same at the end as when you began, and this journey is no exception. Due to the intensity of this journey, there has been an equally immense change in our lives. I have tried to capture some of these changes in my writings so that I will be able to look back and remember not just the highlights of this time but the emotions and most importantly the faithfulness of God. First, let me take you down the path of cancer treatment.

Tell Her What She’s Won Johnny

I wrote this journal entry as I thought back on the day we were told Andrea had Cancer and our first visit to the Oncologist in Alaska.
It's about adjusting to reality of cancer and the feelings Andrea and I had in those initial days.

I won’t ever forget hearing the doctor first tell us Andrea had "Invasive Ductal Carcinoma." When the doctor said those words it did not sound so bad in the medical lingo, as if the doctor did not want to say the word cancer. I guess the word cancer just has too much of a negative connotation. But I think it really began to sink in the day we went to the oncologist. That is when it gets serious, when you are handed off to a specialist, when you understand that your first doctor is no longer qualified to treat you, and you have to see someone trained in your "condition." The first visit I would call “formalities and fear.” Oh how I have come to hate waiting in those little rooms with Andrea on the table in her gown, “Open in the front please.” You just sit there and try to fight back the fears and reality of what is happening. Cancer is so close, it is hand-to-hand combat. It feels like the cancer will overwhelm you and you try to separate yourself from it. You try for some distance so you can catch your breath and figure out what is going on. Like any combat you need to survive the initial blow from your opponent. But you are a new recruit and inexperienced in the ways of the battle while cancer is a seasoned veteran. He strikes you with blow after blow and you fall to your knees just trying to block his attack, you are not even thinking of going on the offensive, just survival. Success would be to live the next few minutes, or hours, victory is not even part of your thoughts right now.

Then in walks the doctor, accompanied by her nurse. The doctor is just seeing another case of cancer; I’m sure her fiftieth patient in another crazy day. Her words are without feeling or emotion, never acknowledging what we are experiencing. This is just another case of Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, certainly not the first nor the last. We want to be told it will be okay, we want to hear the confidence of a seasoned veteran. We are hoping the Calvary has arrived just like the movies, at the last moment. We came in hoping to meet a strong leader the one who would lead us to victory but we found neither. I leave thinking it is still just Andrea and I. The doctor retires back to her normal life, where she can escape the thought of cancer. But for us, for the patient, there is no escape from cancer. Once it is in you, your life will never be the same. There will be life before and life after cancer and between the two is a very definite line which you can’t cross back over. Nope, it is yours forever.

It is an interesting contrast in the room; the methodical detached efficiency of the doctor and the mayhem and panic of the patient. We were nauseous from the nerves and the fear of what is happening to us. Our world has been turned upside down and in an instant we were thrown into an environment where we did not even understand the language, the terms or their meanings. And at the end the doctor offers you options and tells you, you have to decide how you want to be treated. I remember thinking, aren’t you the doctor here? You’re wearing the white robe you have the nice diploma on the wall and the stethoscope around your neck aren’t you the supposed to tell us what to do. I don’t ever remember going to a doctor and being given options. We have been at this for less then a week and you’re the doctor with all the schooling and experience, please tell me at least someone in this room knows what is going on and what we need to do to get past this. Everything was just crazy not only are we dealing with the diagnosis of cancer we also have to pick the treatment plan. Looking back I understand that for all research and money spent on cancer research there is more modern medicine does not know then what it knows about cancer. Suddenly doctors are timid to tell you what to do when life and death are on the line; all of a sudden our guess will be as good as theirs, as if they don’t want to be held accountable when things “don’t turn out.”

In the end we are left in the room, Andrea is told to get dressed, and as we leave we are handed a pretty pink box. When we get home we open it to find a video about dealing with breast cancer, a nice notebook and pin to write down your thoughts, a pink candle and a pink magnetic ribbon. We are now officially “breast cancer people”, pink is now our favorite color and hope and courage our favorite words. Andrea and I called the pink box “our consolation prize for playing the game of life.” Like the one you get on a game show after you loose. The winner is hugged by the host as he proudly announces the thousands of dollars he or she has won, and standing awkwardly next to them is the loser not sure how to fit in with those around her who only moments ago were her peers in the game, now there is definite separation between them. But the loser is consoled with some nice parting gifts. As the host says, “I want thank you for playing the game of life now tell her what she has won Johnny.”

Andrea and I look at the contents and try to understand what has happened to our lives, what we are doing with a pink candle and a pink ribbon…they seem out of place, but eerily ours to keep.