Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Question of Recurrence

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

This past July, I celebrated 7 years of survivorship.  I don't usually celebrate the anniversary of my diagnosis; not that there is anything wrong with that, I just prefer to distance myself from any identifying marks of cancer.  I didn't throw a bash this year either, but because "seven" is the biblical number for "perfection" or "completion", this one felt significant, emotional.  I did not sense the Lord saying anything new to me about my healing, as I believe He's already confirmed it to me, and I don't need to hear it again to believe it (1 Thessalonians 2:13).   Nonetheless, I took the opportunity to agree that my healing is complete, with thanks and praise to the One who healed me, and I sent notes of thanksgiving to a few significant people who encouraged me during my trial, blessing them and inviting them into my 7-year celebration.

And, wouldn't you know it, last week, one month after my 7-year cancerversary, I began having terrible bone pain in my back rib area.   I didn't immediately think of cancer, but it was a gnawing, constant, localized pain that woke me up at night, and since I had never felt anything like it before, my mind eventually went there.  Was it possible that metastatic breast cancer had invaded my bones?  I've never been one to jump to a conclusion of cancer and, in fact, this was only the 3rd time in my 7 years of survivorship where an unusual pain in my body caused me to even consider cancer recurrence.   But after a few sleepless nights (from pain, not worry), what else could it be?  I tried to think of all the possibilities, but nothing fit.  StillI had peace.  Distinct, inexplicable peace.   

I discussed the pain with my doctor hoping that it may be associated with the mononucleosis I had recently tested positive for (I don't have any symptoms of mono other than fatigue).  But he dashed my hopes.  Then, a rash broke out across my abdomen around to my back.  My husband did some research and found that rashes can be connected to mono.   I spoke with a nurse who convinced me I'd better come in. 

Turns out, I HAVE SHINGLES!!   Shingles?  Really?!  I haven't had as much as a cold in the past 5 years, and suddenly I have mono and shingles?!    I am too old for mono and too young for shingles, what's up with that?  Shingles is known to cause the type of significant pain I've been experiencing; in fact, my doctor told me a story of one of his patients who went to the emergency room with symptoms of a heart attack that turned out to be shingles!   Boy, did my husband and I celebrate!  Yes, we celebrated that I have shingles, ha!  (Life is all about perspective.) 

Never in a million years would I have guessed that the bone pain I was feeling was caused by a rejuvenated varicella-zoster virus lurking in my central nervous system.

And, so,  I want you to remember this story the next time you experience your own inexplicable symptoms that tempt you into fearing a cancer recurrence.   Yes, breast cancer can recur, and it is prudent to investigate the source of any pain.  But, let us not focus first on the work of the devil.  Rather, let us focus first on the promises of God and the heaven-sized portion of peace that is available to us daily from the hands of our Savior Jesus who is waiting to saturate us with His love!  Let us remember there could be one hundred explanations for our symptoms, most, like shingles, that will never cross our minds!  Let our hearts not be troubled and let us not be afraid!

God is Jehovah Shalom.   He IS the God of Peace.  There is no other God of Peace anywhere in all of creation.  Only Him.  Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior who is with us to the very end!  He is all we have.  He is everything we need.

Praise be to You, my Jehovah Shalom!  I thank you for keeping my heart from being troubled and afraid.  I rejoice in the promise You have spoken to me, that I am healed. Forgive me for doubting that promise.  Forgive me, Lord, for celebrating shingles or any sickness because I think it's better than the alternative.  Lord, I reject shingles and all sickness in Jesus' name.  Thank you for your forgiveness.  Thank you that when the enemy tempted me into considering a lie, You were there to protect me, to restrain me with Your jealous embrace from placing even my toe onto that wagon of fear.  I am filled with gratitude and thanksgiving for your devotion to me.  There is none like You.  You ARE the Most High God...  Thank you, Lord!  AMEN.



Saturday, July 6, 2013

Something Better!

"God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect".  Hebrews 11:40

In my previous post, I wrote about the conflicting decision I faced after ending hormonal therapy and considering an additional harsher treatment.   I sensed the Lord saying "NO"- (a hard word for us cancer survivors to hear).  Actively partnering with God through treatment strengthens the psyche by providing tangible hope that we are doing something, accomplishing something, fighting, and winning.   The end of treatment bears the tension of a harsh mental shift.  It requires acknowledgment that you've done everything you can do, and now the rest is up to God.   It's the ultimate relinquishment, my life is completely in Your hands now, Lord (as if it wasn't already...).   I obeyed what I heard and have spent the last year resting in my decision, trusting and believing that I heard Him correctly.

But God is good, and His goodness to me never seems to end!  He speaks to me in my spirit and comforts me with His strength and His peace, and even when I have stopped asking for more, when I have chosen to rest and place my tiny feeble hand into His big strong one, simply walking along together silently, even then, He decides to be the first one to speak, as if I deserve to be spoken to, and He doesn't just whisper, He clamors with affirmation, and wraps me with a depth of His love that I didn't have humility to swim in before, and He tells me that my faith did not go unnoticed, that my trust is worth gold to Him, that yes, I heard Him correctly because He helps His children hear, and just as He did to the ancients of old who believed without seeing what was promised to them (Hebrews 11), He gave me something better... 

He said "NO" to that other treatment because He knew a new study would soon be released, the ATLAS study, which showed that taking Tamoxifen for 10 years rather than 5 reduces cancer recurrence and mortality in ER+ women.   I am now back on Tamoxifen, and I'm telling you this in what may seem like an overly dramatic way, because, honestly, I am in awe.  God spoke to me, and I believed, and in all of His generous kindness and goodness, He blessed my faith and proved it genuine.  And to have this kind of confirmation from God is so extraordinary and special that it makes me feel incredibly loved.

So, how is taking Tamoxifen for 5 more years "something better"?   It's better than taking the crazy alternative regimen I may have signed up for had I not listened to His voice in my spirit.  And it's better than not taking anything at all because it gives me an extra measure of protection against an always-lurking enemy; a protection that comes from God Himself through the creative ways He cares for us including science and medicine.  And while I'm happy about this new unexpected development, the "something better" is not really about the drug at all.  The "something better" is the access I have gained into God's presence!  It's in His presence that I know I am loved and beautiful and significant.  It's in His presence that light defeats a dark enemy named cancer.  It's in His presence that hope casts out despair, and where His power is released and great new depths of healing are achieved.  And for this, I am profoundly grateful!  Thank you, Lord!  Thank you thank you thank you!



In difficult times, let us ask God to help us hear Him and trust Him and then let us walk it out with the relentless faith of our ancient forefathers who never even knew Jesus, the "something better" that God reserved for them (and us!).   AMEN!



Sunday, February 5, 2012

"Jump Off the Bridge"

"Yet You brought me out of the womb; You made me trust in You even at my mother's breast." Psalm 22:9
 
I have completed the recommended five years of hormonal treatment. A new course of hormonal treatment has been offered, but is not necessarily recommended. It is more involved with greater risk and ambiguous benefit. With no real data for women like me, the decision is all mine. How aggressive do I want to be?

Well, this is my life. So, pretty aggressive since I only have one.

And so I am willing to take risks, to do the hard thing, if that's what my healing partnership with God commands.  Being in the cancer clinic each month keeps cancer on my mind and catalyzes my intercession. God is looking for people to stand in the gap and so maybe this is my calling. Maybe further treatment is the Lord's way of keeping my attention on this beast that begs to be prayed against! And so I press in to Him seeking guidance and confirmation. I pray and search the scriptures and petition for peace.

It doesn't come.

There are no "steps" of faith when considering cancer - only "leaps" off bridges. I look down at the choppy waters and acknowledge the alternative. I consider the possibility that my part is complete. That I've done everything I can do and now it's time to simply rest and trust.

But resting feels the riskiest.

Still, I consider the possibility that God no longer wants me dwelling in the cancer community.  That He doesn't expect me to endure the emotional turmoil that comes every time I meet a dying patient in the waiting room.  I consider, rather, the possibility that God wants to bless me, that there will be other opportunities to carry out my compassion.  Is cancer a corner of the kingdom that He has assigned to me, or have I assigned it to myself?  I will always be burdened by cancer.  I will always be moved to pray for and minister to others who have it.  And maybe that's enough.  God is my Father, my Abba, and He cares for me, too.  Maybe anything more is more than He wants me to bear.

So, I strip my cloak of responsibility and consider how pleased God might be if I jump off the bridge, trusting Him alone without more questionable treatment.  From this perspective, the decision seems clear.  There is nothing I crave more than God's pleasure and blessing!

So, I pray.
I wait.
And confirmation comes...

At first, it tiptoes into my spirit with a settling effect that I misconstrue as denial.  After all, ignoring a decision is a strategy I've often employed.  Then, it wraps me with the smell of home and the softness of Nana's knitting.  I snuggle in and close my eyes and stretch my ears.  I'm not one to rely on the counsel of others, as I prefer to hear directly from God, but I can't ignore the whispers of the people who love me.  Whispers that propagate in phase at exact wavelengths and identical frequenciesHow odd is that?  And then there's the one who has loved me the most. The one who cups my heart in hers like no other could. It's that same mother's heart of Jesus that drew me in naked and fully exposed with the promise of sanctuary and freedom. Her whispers match theirs and sound more and more like His.

It's okay to feel safe.  I can trust. I will trust...

I grab a nerve
Plunge deep
Feel the cold on my skin.
It swirls over me
Washing through me
Until it becomes me... 





Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My Rainbow

I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  Genesis 9:13

Today Mike McKinniss gave a fresh message on Covenant.   In the scriptures, God sealed His promise to Abram by making a covenant with him  (Genesis 15:8-18).   God has also made a covenant with us, and so we can walk in confidence that He will indeed fulfill His promises to us, just as He fulfilled the seemingly impossible promise He made to Abram.  Mike also explained that through sacrifice of living creatures during the symbolic act of making covenant (e.g., Ge 15:9-10, 17-18), God is essentially saying, 'Let what has happened to these creatures happen to me if I do not keep my promise to you'.   This is a powerful word that touched me deeply on many levels.

I thought about the promises that God has spoken to me in my spirit.  Like the promise to Abram (Ge 15:5), some seem impossible.  I was tempted to question whether they are indeed promises from God or if, rather, I am really just delusional - but, no...  I stopped myself from going down that dead-end road that I've traveled already at least a zillion times.  Instead, I decided to believe.   When Abram believed it was credited to him as righteousness (Ge 15:6).   I decided that believing is worth the risk.

There are some promises that God has spoken to me that are not ready to be shared.  But there is one that I want to tell you about, it came to mind as Mike preached today.  After church, I went back into my journals to find the story of that day when God made a covenant with me.  It happened 2 years ago on January 12, 2009.  Here's what I wrote:

I have been battling lies from the evil one regarding my health.    Satan has been giving me vivid moving pictures and scenes of myself battling a recurrence of cancer.  The images include the pain and suffering that characterize cancer and the dreaded despair of having to watch my family watch me die a terrible death.  Whenever I catch myself thinking these things, I immediately try to take them captive and bind them in the name of Jesus, declaring life and health over myself. 

Today on my walk, I encountered one of these lies and I prayed against it until I returned home.  The Lord reminded me of Psalm 91 and His promise to me that I would be satisfied with long life.  As I approached my driveway, I noticed a strange light up in the sky.  The beautiful blue sky was perfectly clear that morning and the sun was shining brightly.  As I stared at the light trying to figure out what it was, I realized that it was a rainbow caught up in a single tiny cloud formation.  There was not another cloud anywhere in sight!   It was an amazing sight, one I had never witnessed before.  Immediately, I began to wonder if perhaps this was a sign to me from God, that the promise from Psalm 91 that had just entered into my mind was indeed a covenant between us.  Yesterday at church, Pastor Rick had spoken about covenant, and so the idea and example of the rainbow was fresh in my mind (Genesis 9:13).  I pondered this until the cloud dissipated and the rainbow disappeared.  I realized that the rainbow was fleeting and that I may have been the only person on earth who witnessed it.  Faith began to rise in me that, yes, perhaps this was a special sign just for me... 

Now, as I am writing about it, I am filled with confident faith that the tiny fleeting rainbow I saw was indeed a sign from God of a covenant promise He made to me - that cancer would not ever steal my life...  

I am extremely grateful that the Lord sealed my healing that day with a promise signed by His creative handiwork!   How blessed I am.  How wonderful to have this memory and be filled with a fresh, confident hope.   How wonderful is our God, how blessed and amazing are His works!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Endnote

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7
 
2011 has come and gone and I am on my way to Africa!  It has been healing to write my story here.  There are pieces I have left out and pieces that have yet to be written. This blog is only a snapshot, a slice, a segment of my journey, my heart. Oftentimes when I re-read it, it feels surreal.  Did I really have cancer? Did this really happen to me? I rejoice in such symptoms of healing and hope! Yeah, there are embers out the corner of my eye but their remnants are softened by the beauty and wonder and majesty of life.  I am watching my children turn into beautiful human beings.  Cancer has never been my identity and I have never asked 'why'.  Even the questions I once demanded are now crumpled and tossed among my mismatched socks. My spirit is on fire for my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and I am committed to living out of the freshness of each new day!


Uganda, Africa

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Day of Salvation!

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other... 1 Thessalonians 3:12a

After Hurricane Irene, I checked up on an old college friend who lived down south. She had not been affected by the storm, but during our correspondence she shared news of her recent separation from her husband. I was sad to hear the news and wanted to bless her with my love and support. My husband would be going away in two weeks, so I invited her to hop on a plane and come spend a girls weekend with me. I hadn't seen this friend in 22 years and we had only emailed occasionally, so when she said YES, I had a feeling that God was in it. I was so excited to see her! I asked the Lord to bless our time and to help me be a witness to her, but I did not have any grand expectations. She planned to visit family as well, so I would only have her for 24 hours and I had no idea how it would go.

She arrived late afternoon on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, a Sunday. She and my children immediately took to one another and it felt as if she was part of our family. I took her out to dinner and we talked about all she had been going through. Then, she asked me if I would be willing to share what I had gone through with cancer. I told her my story which, as you know from reading my blog, is a God story. When I finished, she said, "Wow, I want that kind of faith." At that moment, I knew that her heart was open and that the Lord was indeed in this! My spirit flipped into back handsprings!

Later that night we reminisced about our college days, and she went to bed exhausted from her travels. I stayed up for another hour or so praying and reading scripture, petitioning the Lord on her behalf. The next morning, I contacted four friends and asked them to pray for her. I truly believed that this would be the day of her salvation! When she awoke, our conversation naturally turned back to God, and we spent hours talking about Him. She said that she had been thinking in the past month about looking for a new church.  I smiled at God's perfect timing.  We had a great discussion as I shared scripture, my experiences and encounters with God, and the gospel message. And she invited the Lord into her life! I was amazed! Delighted! In awe of what God had done! I had invited this friend into my home with the simple desire to love her, but the Lord multiplied that love and breathed eternal life into it! I was in awe at how perfectly He orchestrated the moment...

As she left my house, she said that she felt more peaceful than usual - confirmation that a spiritual transaction had indeed been made and sealed in heaven!

I never anticipated that sharing my story about cancer would lead someone to receive Christ as Lord and Savior! What an unexpected but glorious gift from above!    I understand now that the test of my faith during cancer was vitally important to prove my faith genuine - to myself - so that I could boldly share it with others.   I do not know how God will continue to use my story, but I am filled with fresh hope and expectancy that others will come to know Him because of it!




Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Heart Scars

"Get up," Jesus told him, "pick up your bedroll and walk". Instantly the man got well, picked up his bedroll, and started to walk... John 5:8,9

Words are powerful.  They can bless and they can curse. Jesus healed people simply by speaking life and wholeness (e.g., Mt 8:3; Lk 4:35; Jn 5:8). Zechariah's words revealed his lack of faith and left him speechless (Luke 1:18-22).  On several occasions I was caught off guard by insensitive comments that called my healing into question. I wish I didn't have to reveal my cancer history to every medical professional that I visit, because they are always the worst culprits! A doctor once commented, “So the tamoxifen is keeping your cancer at bay?” (No! There is no cancer LEFT to be kept at bay!) Another doctor asked me if my cancer was in remission. (Remission? No way!! I am cured, baby. CURED, as in p-e-r-m-a-n-e-n-t-l-y healed!) Someone in my church asked me how I was doing, saying “I heard your cancer came back.” (What? It did? Oh my God! Oh my God!) My internal response to the latter really concerned me. For a brief moment, I thought this woman knew something that I didn’t. It really shook me.

As I pondered these experiences, I was struck by the vulnerability of my heart. I had been working hard to believe in my healing and was caught off guard every time someone's words questioned that healing. But the reality is that after a wounding like cancer, heart scars remain. And scars are tender. When they are touched a certain way, particularly with something sharp (like a tongue!) we feel pain. And so it’s not that my faith is weak or that my healing is incomplete. My scars are simply a consequence of the reality of my experience. They keep me in a place of humility, reminding me of my vulnerability and continued need of my Savior. There are times when I need Him to comfort me and fill me with a fresh dose of grace and assurance. Oftentimes He nudges me to remember all that He has spoken about my experience with cancer -- scriptures, promises, the prophetic -- powerful words that keep me in a place of confident hope.

So, I need not revisit the issue of my healing every time someone irritates my scars. Rather, I can reach for His hand, breathe in His peace and replay His voice in my heart that says this stuff does not apply to me. For, the Lord has already spoken. And His words are the most powerful of all.