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Monday, October 22, 2007

Not How I Thought Life Would Be

I wrote this today on my Trio as I waited for Andrea to get out of Surgery.
Just some thoughts about life.

It is 7am, I'm sitting in the surgical waiting room at Wilford Hall. Andrea is having surgery to help strengthen her voice. Another procedure to fix something caused by some other procedure that I'm sure was supposed to make Andrea better. The reasons have been long forgotten, we just keep going down this road and do what we can to make life better. As I sit in this waiting room I have to admit I don't really know how we got here. It was just a small bump in Andrea's breast, like a pea. It was supposed to be nothing. Life was not supposed to be this way.

We had to arrive at 515am for the surgery. Crazy early but it always seems this way. We checked in and are shown to our room. The nurse is efficient, just another Monday morning for him. "Get undressed, gown on open in the back, there are socks for your feet. We will be back for you shortly." With that we are left alone.

Just another day in the hospital. We Pray together before they wheel her away. I really don't like these days. Andrea seems sick on days like today. I watched her in the bathroom sick but unable to vomit. There she stood in the hospital gown, "Property of the US Government" written across the back. All I could think is our life was not supposed to be this way. It was just a tiny lump.

Soon the nurse came in. Prayers are finished, questions asked to verify Andrea is Andrea and once more I watch someone wheel Andrea down the hall. We make small talk to avoid the seriousness of the situation but it is obvious to us all. We all know we won't ever meet again. The nurse seems aware of our fears and the fact that we are uncomfortable being here. Our private life suddenly shared with a stranger. We round the corner and it is time for me to say goodbye to Andrea. The nurse is kind enough to give us a moment to say goodbye. I kiss Andrea and they leave me standing there. I watch as they continue on still making small talk, Andrea's answers have that usual happy tone. I try to remember every detail of the moment for obvious reasons. Then I'm alone the waiting room is empty and I don't want to go in there. It is the loneliest of times when they take Andrea away. Time to sit alone and fight off thoughts I don't want to have. Was that the last time to kiss Andrea? Was that my last memory?

It was not supposed to be this way.

I just got the call they have started the procedure. Lord be with Andrea, give her peace and the Doctor skill.

Others have begun to join me in the waiting room. All of us trying to busy ourselves trying to pass the time. A doctor enters and talks to a woman. There are smiles and laughter. I'm glad things are working out for them.

I can't help but think about my wife laying on the table asleep with people busy all around her. Machines beeping and monitors displaying evidence of her life. I hope she is comfortable. I hope a lot of things right now. I hope the doctor is good. I hope this surgery works. I hope Andrea is not hurting. I hope the doctor brings good news.

I met an old friend last week he is my age and we talked and caught up on things. It turns out his wife died just a month ago after going in for surgery. He was still hurting, you could see it in his eyes. He told me, "It is the first thing you think about when you wake up and the last thing you think about when you fall asleep." I would have never guessed we would be at this point in our life having this conversation.

It was not supposed to be this way.

It has been 30 minutes since they called. That is about how long the procedure should take. Now I watch and listen for the door each time it opens.

Guess what the doctor walked in as I was typing the last sentence. Everything went well he was pleased with the procedure. Andrea should be out in 30 minutes. Another hospital visit under under our belt. I pray it is our last one. I pray Andrea will not have to go through this again. Like Dr Atkins told Andrea when she had gotten out of ICU, "Hospitals are for sick people, its time for you to go home."

I agree its time to leave here. Time to go see Andrea and kiss her once more. Andrea small but mighty. That's what I call her. She has more fight in her then I will ever have. Next time you are sick imagine feeling that way everyday for almost four years straight. I can hardly take it when I have the flu for three days. But when I do you know who is there still trying to take care of me? Andrea. What woman, what a wife, what a friend.

Well its time to get back to our life. Not the way it was supposed to be but the way it is.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hope or Denial

I wrote this on 27 Dec 2006. I guess I just forgot to post it. It is about a faithful God who cares as much about your smallest worry as He does about our struggle with cancer. It is about our choice to believe.

As I read this I think this blog encompasses what this is all about. It is "Our Journey to Healing" This is as much a spiritual journey as it is a physical one.

This is about having faith.
To have faith we must abandon ourselves, to abandon ourselves we have to trust Him, to trust Him we have to know Him, to Know Him we have to read His word, silence our life, and listen. When we listen He will be the lamp unto our feet. When he lights the path we must step out in faith and the cycle continues with each and every step we take.

By knowing Him, trusting Him and following Him we are able to look past this life, it's comforts, it's trials and the seemingly unfairness of this world, and live a life of joy.

Romans 15:13
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit

In the past month life has gotten pretty busy with Andrea getting pretty sick a visit by her family, and two visits from my family add on top of that the holidays and our change of command and you have a pretty busy month. Too busy in fact. So busy that I have found it hard to spend the time I was before in prayer and reading. Time I needed to give me strength, a habit grown out of the despair and struggle of dealing with cancer. It was not meant to be time spent to "buy" or "earn" Andrea's healing. It made me think am I trying to earn Andrea’s healing? Why do I feel that I’m not doing enough? What is the level of “spiritual” time I should have? How does this all fit together, my faith, and my study of God's word? Why does it seem to be an never ending process. In my type A mind I want to identify the problem, fix the problem and move on. Why do I feel like I'm resolving the same problems over and over, relearning the same lessons? Once I have faith is that not enough? I think not. Faith is not a one time installment in your life. I think it is more like a tank of gas, you only go so far then you need a refill. And sometimes life is more difficult and the tank empties much faster.

As we enter Andrea’s 19 month of chemo and her 40th month of dealing with cancer, I have found that time with the Lord and listening is what sustains me. And I started thinking about hope, my hope that Andrea will be healed, and hope is fueled by faith, faith that I know she will be healed. The two are tied together, faith and hope. Faith is the doorway we walk through that gives us hope. And as the Bible says hope does not disappoint. But how do we as believers fill our tanks with faith? How do we live a life of faith that produces hope in a circumstance that seems hopeless?

To an unbeliever hope can be misunderstood as denial, denial in the reality of the situation. Let me assure you that we are not in denial to the facts and reality of cancer. It only takes me or any of you five minutes on Google to understand the battle Andrea faces. When you hear about a new promising drug take, a minute and read what modern medicine offers, maybe five months before disease progression instead of three months. Don't be fooled that is the miracle medicine offers us.

Let me explain in this way. Andrea’s cancer is real, the seriousness is real, the odds are real, but so is faith and so is God. And through faith in God we have hope. Of course I can’t speak for God but I can speak to His character by reading His word, and the Bible revels God to us. Our hope is born from the faith we have in the character of the God we serve. But everyday we are reminded of the reality of cancer. I see it every day when I see my wife without hair, when I see the affects of chemo, when her jaw hurts from the bone dieing as a side effect of the chemo, when the joints ache, when she sleeps 12 hrs and wakes up exhausted, every time she struggles for breath, every time she speaks and her voice is horse, every time I see her scan and I see the tumors peppering her lungs and liver, when see wakes up with blood on her mouth from her skin being so dry it cracks and bleeds, every time we walk into the chemo room and I watch them stick Andrea, every time we walk into a doctors office and wait for test results, every time Andrea describes her latest symptoms to the doctor, every time we sit in the chemo room surrounded by cancer literature and the empty stares of those cleaning on to life.

Trust me you can’t live with cancer and not understand the reality of the disease. I don’t deny cancer existence but I do deny it the right to take my hope or faith from me. Meaning you live everyday with the reality of cancer but you live it with the hope. Hope of being cured, knowing the security we have in Christ. Of course I know the odds of healing cancer that is as extensive as Andrea’s but I also know the reality of the God I serve. There is no cancer, no problem, no trial that is bigger then God. People may call that living with my head in the sand; I call it living with my head in the clouds. It ‘s not that I don’t want to face cancer but I’m not going to give it power and authority that does not belong to it. And let me say this to those of you who think you can't mention a struggle in your life because it is so small compared to cancer, there is also no problem to small or insufficient for God either. That is what makes our God so great, He cares as much about our small difficulties as he does cancer.

Remember this, they are all small to God.

These trials whether big or small serve us and they serve our creator, we don’t serve them. Trials serve to form us into the person God intends us to be. I think that without trials we would settle back a life far below our potential and far below the purpose God has for us. Knowing that God can use this trial to form us into the people He intended makes this all easier. It has made the past 18 months the best I have lived. It makes the days joyful instead of fearful.

Unfortunately sometimes trials are all that wakes us up to the lack of faith in our life. They tend to force us to our knees when really we should be choosing to go there everyday. Ask yourself this. Does your bible study and prayer time seem to increase and decrease based on the circumstances of your life?

I do not want to walk away from this trial, no matter the outcome, and not be changed. There are many analogies to this, a furnace, a refining process, or the potters forming hands. All involve heat and pressure to exact a change, but the end product always has a higher value then the ingredients that went into it. I know God's hands our on us, and I have felt the pressure of His hands on my life as He molds me. I have felt the heat of the furnace as He refines me, and I know that He is molding me into something of far more value then what I began. That is exciting. But I have found you have to first offer yourself to the fire and you have to trust yourself in the hands of the potter. You can’t step into this as the clay and tell the potter how to do his work. You must abandon yourself and totally trust him.

Abandonment and trust are the key ingredients we bring to the process of living with faith. Abandoning requires us to let go of what we want or how we think it should turn out or the way we think it should go. It is one of the hardest things to do because we want to be in control and we do have desires. We have to know God may give us those desires or He may have something better for us. Maybe He needs us to be a witness in a trial. Are we willing? Will we follow Him when He leads us to places we don't want to go? Like the Bible says, “Be a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”

We walk it but He lights the way. He leads we follow. He is in charge and we trust. He speaks we listen. We ask and He answers. We seek and He opens the door. We walk through and He gives us a crown of life. You must trust the one you abandon yourself to.

To abandon yourself you must trust the one who is leading.

I can tell you that as a pilot, if I do not trust my flight lead I find myself starting to make decisions as a wingman that are the flight leads responsibility. This leads to confusion over who is in charge and who is leading and who is following. This breakdown of roles is born out of distrust and it leads to an ineffective flight. Our spiritual walk is no different. We have to trust the one we serve and follow.

To trust you must know the one you are following.

Just like when I fly if I know the flight lead I know his capabilities and when I see things going bad I know his character and I can trust my life in his hands. God is the same. We must know His character if we are to trust our life in His hands. And we learn of His character by reading His words and spending time with Him. The more we do this the more we will trust God. When you learn the heart of God and the depth of His love for you you will find your ability to trust Him will only increase. As your ability to trust increases so will your ability to abandon yourself. And as you trust God in bigger and bigger areas of your life and you see His faithfulness and you will soon find a desire to read and learn more about this God who has proven Himself worthy of your trust and deserving of even more.

Here is the hard part to accept when we are young in our faith and learning trust. When your faith and trust increases your desires will begin to mold to those of God's. You will become more Christ like. Don't fear that you will not get what you want because your desires will change as you grow in faith. As you learn about the God you serve things of this life will fade in importance and you will find joy beyond your circumstances. It is just that sometimes we fail to take those steps of faith because we think we won't get what we want. Or when life hands us what seems to be an unfair answer we walk away thinking we were somehow cheated. Let down by God because we saw Him as a genie in a bottle. Someone we beckon whose roll is to only give us what we want. In our immaturity we think our earthly desires alone will bring us joy. They may bring a temporary happiness but they won't bring joy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit and it comes from God. We falsely see God as our servant here to meet our needs to make our life easy instead of understanding we serve Him for the gift of salvation He first gave us.

Andrea’s cancer has been a fiery furnace that is purifying our life and our faith. And I know that God will not spare us from future trials but will continue this refining process. It is not a one time deal, but an ongoing process in our life. I would not run trying to find a trial but I also would not run from one. Because I know that my God will use it to draw me closer to the purpose He created me for. And fulfilling His purpose is really my life’s goal.
I have found God loves us far too much to allow our comfort to hinder His plan for our life.

No we are not denying we have cancer, but we are denying cancer the right to take our hope. We are denying cancer's the right to take our joy, and we are denying cancer's the right to take our life. We are denying cancer's right occupy God's place in our life. We are deciding to live in hope through a faith built upon abandoning to the one who is worthy, with a trust built upon the knowledge of the one we serve. A faith and hope that tells us our God has a purpose for our life and this cancer is part of that purpose. That life, true life, lies beyond the physical. True treasure lies in what we do for God, and not what God does for us. God has already done the toughest job, all we have to do is accept the gift He offers and keep our eyes on Him knowing He is in control, that there is a purpose and reason for all this. And if someone, somewhere is drawn closer to God because of this cancer then we are the victors.

And I can tell if no one else has been changed Andrea and I have.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Enough Time

Is there ever enough time? I wonder that sometimes. When we are at chemo I wonder if there is an age where you think, I have lived enough and it is fair that you are asked to die. Does someone who is 80 think I lived long enough, how about 70 or 60? Is it after you see your grandkids? Or do they need to get to 10 yrs old, maybe graduate High School. Is that when we say we are fair game for death to call on us. When does it become unfair? Surly 43 was unfair for Andrea. You can tell when you talk to people and they ask how old Andrea was when she got cancer. You answer 43 and then you hear it, the sucking in of air through closed teeth, the eyes squinted to signify the pain. The universal way to express, “Ouch, I’m sorry that happened to you.” But I have to think it is more than just a matter of enough time. It is what you do with your time. The examination of how we live our life should not be left for when death stands at your doorstep. Some of us will not be given the opportunity, if I can use that word, to examine our life and correct any wrong choices. You are not guaranteed time, it is all a gift. My advice, use it wisely and don't wait to live the life you always wanted. You could look at our four year struggle as a curse, but ask someone whose loved one was taken in a flash with no time for a goodbye.

Andrea and I have had the most blessed marriage and life together. I feel guilty at times even telling anyone. I told Andrea many years ago, “We have lived a thousand lifetimes. Most people wish for one month or one year of the happiness we have had for 24 years.” Truthfully sometimes I think if God was preparing me for this, when I had that thought. I know that what we have is beyond a good marriage, it is beyond a deep love, it is truly a miracle from God. We have never fought in 24 yrs of marriage, never raised our voice at each other or slammed a door on the other one. I don’t say this to brag at all, just to say God has already done a miracle in our life. This is nothing we do out of our own will power it is a gift from God. God brought us together and I know we met that night for a reason. You have heard me tell the story of our meeting at a red light. It really was love a first sight. It was as if all I could see that moment was Andrea, her eyes speaking to my very soul, “I am the one for you.” And my eyes saying the same thing back to her, our souls met first and fell in love. I loved her before I ever saw her get out of that car. I just knew she was for me. I really can’t explain that moment, but it brings a smile to me every time I think about it. To this day our love has been special, different than any I have ever seen. It is our gift. I still get butterflies thinking about her, then a nervousness in my stomach and my knees get weak. She is a part of me just as God intended for a man and a woman, and everyday we thank God for this gift. It never goes unappreciated.

Of course cancer inevitably makes you think of life and time leading to the question, have I had enough time with Andrea? Not if this life is all we have but I believe our life together will not end on this earth. I won’t try to explain what heaven will be like other than perfect, I just don’t know what perfect means outside of this human body, but I believe I will see and know Andrea there. And I look forward to see her beautiful smile, that smile that comes from her eyes as much as her mouth. It is the definition of a warm smile one that goes right through me and calms my every fear, answers my every question and lets me know it will all be okay.

Time, sure I wish we had more. I suspect I will always wish I had more time with Andrea. But now I wish we had more time to serve God together. That is one area I feel I have wasted time with Andrea. I spent many years hording Andrea and meeting my own desires. I did not see the real reason God gave me such an opportunity to live with a blessing like Andrea. It was not so my life would be easy, but it was to lead her into God’s will for her life. There we would find a greater joy than I ever imagined. Far beyond what I had when I monopolized her time. There was a day in 2006 I won’t ever forget. We had pulled into the driveway at our home in North Carolina. I put the car in park and just sat there. Then I felt God say to me “Let Andrea go.” I looked over at her and told her “Andrea I have to let you go.” At first I thought God was asking me to let her go as in life and death, to release her healing as the focus of my desire. But that was not it; it was let her go, release her to God. I had been holding her back in a selfish way. God had blessed Andrea with gifts He intended to use for His glory and I had kept them for myself. He was telling me let Him use his creation. Let her go and I will show you a love you have never dreamed of.

It was true; as I let Andrea go my love for her grew deeper. My pleasure in life increased, my joy and my fulfillment in my marriage was greater. My life was so much better. My relationship with my creator grew deeper as well. Everything about my life was better. Now I look back and regret that I wasted all though years trying to control what gave me happiness thinking if I released control somehow life would not be as good. What a lie. God’s way really is to bless us and not to harm us. If only we could really take that into our hearts we would find a joy beyond what we could ever think or imagine. My desire and prayer is that Andrea is given more time so she can serve her God as He intended and we could do this together. To live our life how God intended. To take this blessing of love we have and use it for God’s glory. Our gifts our talents and our blessings are not for us for we are the body of Christ, to be used for His glory. There you will find happiness far beyond any you have experienced before. I did.

Now my time might be limited; I pray God will use whatever time we have for His glory, and if possible grant us more time to live for Him. I have to say no matter how much time remains either for myself or Andrea we have lived a blessed life and these past two years have been more fulfilling than any other time in my life. I’m thankful to have been chosen and blessed in so many ways.

I want God to teach me to speak the words of Paul.

Philippians 1:20-21, 27,29

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.

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Good Day

I know some of you might ask how we live with cancer, with all this difficulty. My answer is God changes you. God gives you strength to appreciate your life. Not life compared to others but your own life. There are good times for us, although I know for most of you those days would be bad days for you, but for us they are good days. We still laugh, and enjoy each other, it is just different. Victories are relative. Andrea being able to walk to the kitchen and back without oxygen is a victory right now. That can be a good day, maybe not good to you or even to us one year ago but it is today. And we celebrate those days and accomplishments. Andrea did not throw up today, victory. Andrea did not need a pain pill today, good day. But no matter what lying down in bed at night and praying with Andrea equals a good day. Waking up in the middle of the night and being able to touch her, always a good day. Hearing her pray is always comforting, and always a good day. There is an intensity of living with death so close and I don’t expect this will continue for the rest of our life, but the appreciation of life will always be there, the ability to truly appreciate the blessing of another day and overlook things that do not deserve a second of my attention. I pray I never lose that.


I wrote this journal entry a while ago. It is about living a life surrendered to God. I find myself needing to read this over and over to remind myself God deserves my trust, my faith and my life.

We may spend our life believing in God but we tend put limits on Him, limits to His abilities, limits that allow us to control areas of our life. I think this can be a conscious decision but also a subconscious one made out of habits or just from a lack of need. Sometimes the limits are for our own convenience. There are times in our lives that we want to do things our own way, and truthfully I think there are times and places in our life where we don’t want God. It is the difference between living a fully surrendered life and living a partially surrendered life, one where we choose areas of our life we surrender and other areas where we maintain control. What leads us to live a partially surrendered life? There are many reasons we limit God, things like success, or the busyness of life, our jobs, a habit we can’t or don’t want to shake, maybe a sin we just don’t want to give up. Sometimes it can be from pride. A partially surrendered life is one where we serve a God of limits. Other times, we, society, or Satan tells us we serve a God with limits by convincing us we don't need God here. Satan wants us to be blinded to the truths of the God we serve. To stop us from being fully used by God, and living in God’s will. Unlike Adam and Eve, Satan now tries to get us to eat of the tree of “ignorance” so we will not know the God we serve. Serving a limited God is just another way of Satan’s original lie that we can be like God it is just packaged in a different form.

But when a trial comes we find ourselves wanting to believe in a God who is limitless. Suddenly life exceeds us and we look towards God to be a God without limits. We want a God who can do all things, who is capable of taking care of life's messes we create. But we find our faith is not prepared, we have sown seeds with limits and it does not reap a crop of faith. A faith we need when all else fails. Of course depending on the “crisis” we may find our way out without needing God to be God. That only builds upon a weak faith that keeps us from being more effective for God. It steals our blessings from us. Satan knows if he keeps us from being effective in our faith, especially when a trial hits, it not only affects us but others around us. Just as God uses our life to encourage others Satan tries to use it to discourage and distract others. To have others look at our trail and plant the seed that God has failed us, when in fact it is more often we ourselves who failed. God is faithful, but He works in areas where we surrender.

While times without trials tests the seeds of faith we plant, trials are when we harvest the crop of faith we have sowed. However, what we do when life is “easy” speaks just as loudly as how we react to a trial, it becomes the well we draw from when life inevitably asks us to walk by faith. Times of peace and rest in some ways can be more difficult then a trial. Having the discipline to surrender our life everyday, when life does not demand it is in itself a test of our faith. Because there is no outside pressure forcing our decisions, our choices revel what we really believe. When life is going as we want is when we form our habits of our faith. When we let go and abandon ourselves when life is quiet is what allows us to reap the peace of letting go in a trial.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Okay, it is October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, as if anyone who reads this blog needs to be made aware of breast cancer. But I know when you read about Andrea and her fight it might make you dread breast cancer so much you don't want to do your monthly check ups because you don't want to face all this. I hope that is not the case, I hope it makes you want to check, and be the first line of defense. Unfortunately beast cancer is far too common for woman today and even worse it seems in to affect younger and younger woman.

I want you to know not checking will not make it go away. The only way to fight this is to know and know as early as you can. God forbid any of you face this, I pray none of you will, but I also know the best thing you can do use a combination of screening starting with a monthly self exam. Don't let the fear that you may find something stop you. The odds really are that it is nothing, but if it is finding it only helps.

There are times when Andrea is feeling good and it is time for a CT scan or tumor marker and I would rather not do the test because I think the results will end our time of peace. There are times when I just don't want to know because I don't want to deal with it. In the end it is knowing, even the bad news, that allows the doctors to treat Andrea.

As you may know Andrea found her tumor by a self exam. The Mammogram did not show the tumor and only after Andrea's insistence did the doctor order a ultrasound and saw the tumor. I tell you this to remind you to be aggressive in checking, and listen to your body, no doctor knows you better than yourself.

Breast cancer is very very curable when found early and the first line of defense is you. The best way to avoid what Andrea is going through is not to be afraid of finding a lump and know your body by doing monthly checks, and if needed be assertive with your doctor. The American Cancer Society is a great source of information. www.cancer.org Here is a summary of their recommendations:

1. Breast self exam (BSE). Becomes an option for women starting in their 20s. Women who choose to do BSE should have their BSE technique reviewed during their physical exam by a health professional. It is okay for women to choose not to do BSE or not to do it on a regular schedule. However, by doing the exam regularly, you get to know how your breasts normally look and feel and you can more readily detect any signs or symptoms if a change occurs

2. Clinical breast exam (CBE). Breast exam by a health professional every year. Every three years for women age 20-30 and every year after age 40.

3. Mammogram. Current evidence supporting mammograms is even stronger than in the past. In particular, recent evidence has confirmed that mammograms offer substantial benefit for women in their 40s.

This combined approach is clearly better than any one exam or test alone. Without question, breast physical exam without a mammogram would miss the opportunity to detect many breast cancers that are too small for a woman or her doctor to feel but can be seen on mammograms. While mammograms are a sensitive screening method, a small percentage of breast cancers do not show up on mammograms but can be felt by a woman or her doctors. For women at high risk of breast cancer, such as those with BRCA gene mutations or a strong family history, both MRI and mammogram exams of the breast are recommended.

As aware all of you are to the horrors of breast cancer don't make it bigger then it is. I could give you facts like 1 in 8 of you will get breast cancer in their life, but 98% of breast cancer is curable when caught early. Remember 7 in 8 won't get breast cancer and there is a 97% chance breast cancer will not be the cause of your death.

I hope this reminder helps you. I feel it is part of our responsibility to raise awareness in the hopes one of you will benefit from all Andrea and I have gone through.

God bless each of you for all you do for us. Your prayers and encouragement are a big part of our ability to keep on fighting.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Lessons Learned

Yesterday Andrea went in for chemo and what should have been a 6 hour day turned into a 15 hour day. There were so many things that went wrong, so much frustration I really don't want to focus on that part of the day. I would rather tell you about three parts that will remain with me, Dora a friend, Baily a nurse, and a lesson in love thy neighbor.

I saw my friend Dora, (see my previous blog, A Friend in Need") a woman who is regrettable caught up in the net of cancer. I have found a unique bond with her as both our spouses are fighting stage IV cancer. We were both frustrated by not being allowed to sit with our spouses during treatment. As Dora said, "I need to be there to comfort him and feed him his soup." You see a woman who is scared like I am, a woman in love with her spouse like I am, and a woman who just wants to be beside her best friend, like I do. We spent a good two hours trying to find someone who would listen to our complaint. Trying to express the difficulty of being forbidden to sit with our spouse. It is leaving them in their time of need, we feel that we have abandoned them to face this horror alone. Do they think our spouses are simply getting medicine in that room? Asking them to sit alone for hours with no magazines nothing at all to distract their minds from the chemo room with the beeping pumps and the other patients sitting in silence staring into space. It is the most insensitive thing to tell someone, there is no room for you to sit with your loved on during chemo. No room? Is that all this is we don't have the space to give someone comfort in such a time of need. Have we lost sight of what is going on here? God forbid who ever made this rule has to ever sit alone in that chair, weak, sick, exhausted, scared, and alone staring at the walls for 5 hours waiting to go home and be sick, all because there is no room for their spouse to sit and hold their hand.

Since I was told I could not be in the chemo room and there was no room for a chair, I told them I would stand. Next to Andrea was an open chemo chair. Never offered to me, in fact the nurse subtly left some things on the chair as if to say, "This space is needed." As the day went on I knelt on the floor next to Andrea. The nurse decided to sit in the empty chemo chair to fill out some paperwork, leaving their own stool and desk empty. No problem I was not leaving, there was no amount of pain in my knees that would make me get up. I was with my wife who has endured more pain then I will ever know and I was not leaving her side. She would not sit alone in the chemo room. I made that vow a long time ago, and never has Andrea been alone. Either myself or a girlfriend has always been with her. In the end I guess the nurse had enough and he slide me a stool to sit on.

I want to share was our meeting with Baily, a wonderful nurse who showed me how cancer changes who you are forever.

As I have said before, one of the harder more subtle things about cancer is how it can control your life, and as much as I hate it, cancer is part of me. It consumes our life, there is no part of our daily life that cancer does not impact. It controls what we do and when we do it. Nothing rises above its importance. All plans are subject to change. That is how I would say life is with cancer. It takes the number one priority in your life and demands your full attention. We would love to go see Nic and Kate at Thanksgiving, but the decision is not ours, we have to see if cancer will allow us to go.

Baily, a nurse in the bone marrow transplant was assigned to care for Andrea until the night shift came in. A fantastic nurse who kindness and love melted away all the tension from the events of the chemo room. During one of her checks on Andrea we began to talk about our families. Turns out Baily has a daughter, 20, studying to be a nurse. Baily said, "She will make a good nurse, everyone says, just like her mother." She went on to say, "I hope she goes into Oncology nursing." Baily said she had lost her husband to cancer when her daughter was 14. I watched as she began to relive the pain, tears began to roll down her cheeks, as she remembered the loss, and the sadness was in her every word. I realized cancer forever changes who you are. I realized no matter what the outcome is I am forever changed by cancer. My hope that one day we will leave this all behind is a false hope. This experience is not something you leave, it becomes a part of you. There is no time or distance that can separate myself from this. It may lessen but just like Baily, in a instant to comes back and reminds you, we are still together.

In the tears on Baily's face I realized cancer will be with me the rest of my life. I was a little sad.

The final event of the long day was a lesson in love. Andrea and I are doing a Bible study on the fruit of the spirit. It has been our prayer over the past several weeks that God would fill us and lead us by His spirit. The study is based on

Gal 5:22-25

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. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

We were sent to the bone marrow transplant unit so she could get a blood transfusion to help boost her red blood cells to and hopefully boost her energy level. It is nothing more than trying manage her symptoms and make life more comfortable. We were there from 4:00-9:30 and we were alone. It turned out to be a very relaxing evening on a very hectic day. I got in the chair next to Andrea and we reclined together, we napped, we had dinner, and we talked about the day. What we realized was we failed to reacted to the days events with the fruit of the spirit, particularly love. I don't mean it was wrong for us to speak up when the nurses left Andrea waiting for three hours for her chemo drugs, nor was it wrong to fight them when them would not allow me to sit with Andrea during treatment. But God asks us to love them, not tolerate them but love them as He loves us. It was a realization that what we have been saying with our words had not become a part of our life. It was a lesson for both of us that the Bible is full of life changing verses but it takes more then just reading them, they must become a part of us, to change how we think and act.

I was reminded how I failed to live as God as called me. It reminded me of

1 Corinthians 1:1-3

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love,
I gain nothing.

I also was reminded again that this trail, this journey is about people. People I share a common experience with, people who are hurting, people who frustrate me, but all people God loves. People God calls me to love.

I realized that as I pray for the fruit of the Spirit God is going to answer that prayer by giving me opportunities to demonstrate them. If I ask to be lead by the Spirit, God will give me the opportunity to live what I'm asking. Am I ready to live a life that reflects what my heart is asking for? Today, I learned it is easier to show love to those I like, and my human emotions fight against God's command to love thy enemy.

Today I learned as always, I have more work to do.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Finding Rest When Life Seems out of Control

The LORD is my light and my salvation whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life of whom shall I be afraid?
Psalm 27:1

I have been thinking a lot this past week, especially about, my last blogs. Sometimes I worry how they were taken. It can be hard to know how the blog will come across. I know lately I have been thinking about this cancer and after four years it is hard for me to watch cancer beat up on Andrea. It is my protective side as her husband. It is a desperate feeling to see someone you love suffer and be helpless to stop the physical suffering. I have learned that being a caregiver is in itself a trial. I in no way want to appear to be saying my plight is greater than Andrea's nor do I deserve any consideration in this, it is just the other side of cancer.

This comparison came to me today as I thought about all this.

Cancer dangles you between life and death as if you are suspended by strings and seemingly helpless to control life's events. I think that is a good way to describe it. Like being swung to the point of death and then at the last moment you have a reprieve and swing back and the cycle continues, back and forth and back and forth.

You fight with all you have as you "swing" towards death. Then as you swing back you are given time, a time to rest and forget all the thoughts that you wished you did not think. Because your minds natural defense begins to prepare for your worst fear in a way to try to beat cancer to punch and to say in defiance "I go here of my own accord." When the threat is taken away and you swing back you force those thoughts and details from your mind. It seems as time goes on the rate you swing back and forth increases. The times of relief become shorter the times of dread grow greater. Cancer mocks you and toys with you as if cancer enjoys the pain and suffering as much as the final victory it knows is sure to come. Cancer mocks the doctors with their barbaric treatment and feeble attempts to stop it's progression. As a enemy, cancer does not value life. Its victory leads to its own ultimate demise. How do you fight something like this?

As this cycle continues you become exhausted from the fight. Each time you grow weaker and in each time of relief you try to regain as much strength as you can knowing this time of "rest" will not last. And it doesn't. Soon it is time to get back in the fight, like a boxer beaten swollen and exhausted he is forced off his stool when the bell rings. About round 15 you start to forget what you are fighting for and the breaks become far to short to allow sufficient rest. I can tell you there comes a time when the only relief you can see is the very thing you are fighting against. That is the mental battle you fight. This is the battle ground. This is where faith meets cancer.

When you fall on your face and ask God to give you what you do not have, to do what man cannot do, and to be everything that you are not. Never will I look at Andrea and I and say, "Look what we have done," or ever feel pride for what seems like great faith in an impossible situation because I know how desperate I have been. How utterly weak I am as I cried out to God in the night.

I see two choices in this storm, run from God or run towards Him. But in either case I'm still in the storm.

If I run from God having lost my faith in Him to be faithful to me and to His word, I will only find myself alone in the storm. Helpless against the elements with only my arms to protect me from the hail pounding down on me.

On the other hand if I run to God, I find shelter under His wings, He proves to be my refuge. I have chosen to run to God, and in the process I have met my Lord and found Him faithful. Not because He made the storm go away, but because He showed me I don't have to fear the storm. With Him I find rest. With Him I find peace.

If I had to paint a picture of this I would pick the Bible story of Jesus and the disciples in the storm at sea. Jesus sleeping as the disciples feared for their life. I have found that peace on this crazy swinging ride of back and forth of emotions. And it is not of my doing, it is a gift from the one who first gave to me my most precious gift, salvation and eternal security.

Mark 4:35-40

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along,
just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.
A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him,
"Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves,
"Quiet! Be still!"
Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples,
"Why are you so afraid?
Do you still have no faith?"