Friday, June 30, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts (on a Friday)

Years ago, when I fell ill and was hospitalized, cancer appeared to be the culprit. It was a scary thought. Cancer would disrupt everything. My children were young. My husband needed me.

They ran a battery of tests and the night before my results were in, I awoke to beams of soft moonlight stretching across the room. It was late. The house was quiet. I grabbed my bible, lit a lamp, and randomly flipped to this verse:

No matter what happens, I will constantly praise the Lord.
Psalm 34:1

My head snapped to attention. No matter what? Really? What if this was cancer? That was asking a bit much, wasn't it?

As soon as the thought ran through my mind, however, an unexpected inner strength arose. My response came from deep within. It was automatic. It was resolute. It was filled with conviction. Absolutely...No matter what.

A wave of peace covered me as I realized that, no matter what, I would still praise the Lord.

The oncologist phoned the next morning. Surprisingly, I'd somehow escaped the bullet.
At least this time, it was not the cancer.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

After All, What's in a Sub Title?

Anger…it’s not an emotion I generally feel.

But lately, while battling cancer, I’ve had moments of anger…indeed, moments of outrage.

Fatigue has plagued me. My bones hurt, my muscles ache, my brain feels like a pincushion. Life before cancer treatments included fulltime work, daily Mass, and volunteering.  So far, I’m unable to resume any of that. 

These days I’m hanging close to home, requiring hours of rest to battle the relentless agonies.

Typically, I find peace by surrendering my will to God’s.  However, one recent day, that didn’t happen.  Forget God’s will. I wanted what I wanted.

Anger gained a foothold as I flung bullets of frustration at my dear husband, Joe. 

I wanted control. I wanted to drive. I wanted good health. I wanted to do something useful. 

Finally, trying to be helpful, Joe suggested I handle some banking for us.

I grabbed the paperwork, the car keys and headed out.  

Wrapped in frustration, I exited the neighborhood, glanced at the clock and realized I could make it to the noontime Mass at a neighboring church. It was, however, in the opposite direction of the bank.

I paused, but, still outraged, I kept heading to the bank.

As I drove, something nagged me to turn around and go to Mass. I resisted, but something, or was it Someone, persisted.

Finally, at the next traffic light, I made a U-turn.

Once inside the church, I chose a remote seat in the back pew.  I didn’t want to see anyone I knew. I wasn’t in the mood to talk or visit.

Anger possessed me. I felt like a kid throwing a temper tantrum. It felt like I was frowning…like my arms were crossed…my back turned. 

I was so mad. I was so mad at God.

It wasn’t the holiest stance before almighty God.

But I was there. I was there.

I remember little of the Mass, but after it ended, I lingered. Not because I felt pious. Not because the prayer melted my stubborn will.

I don’t know why I stayed. I still felt angry. I just stayed.

When I finally left the church, I noticed it was a beautiful sunny day. Not ready to go home yet, I decided to drive to the nearest Subway for lunch. I love their BMT sub. 

I still felt cranky. I still wanted to be alone.

God knows I love a good deal, and as I approached the sandwich shop there was a colorful poster advertising an extremely low price for the sub of the day.  The banner listed each day of the week and the partnering sub on sale that day.

My heart leapt as I scanned the list. Monday was tuna…ugh…don’t like that. Tuesday was honey ham….not my favorite…Today was Thursday….I shifted my gaze down the list…Thursday was…unbelievably…my favorite...the BMT.

The annoyed kid in me relaxed. A slight smile formed on my lips. I turned and looked upward.

In the very breath of my existence, despite my attitude, God reached out and touched me.  

“Don’t worry,” He seemed to whisper. “I know you inside and out.  I’ve got your back.”

Monday, June 26, 2017

Let's Shake, Rattle and Roll

"Debra Tomaselli?"

"Yes, that's me." I followed the nurse through long shiny hallways, beyond rooms with pristine medical equipment.  Finally she sat me down in a chair against a wall, facing a room with an MRI machine. She flipped through some papers, and, in medical jargon, explained what we'd be doing that day.

I remember only two things:
1.  I needed to drink a chalky substance.
2.  There'd be a two-hour break mid-day. Something about before-and-after scans.

Let's start with the chalky substance:

The nurse asked questions, checked my vitals, took blood, then disappeared.

Minutes later, she returned, shaking a jug of chalky substance, something I'd have to chug. 

"So," she said, looking to make a little small talk, "Have they started your chemotherapy yet?"

I froze.

What? Chemotherapy? Nobody said...what?

She stopped jiggling the potion and stared at me.

"I don't need chemotherapy..." I said, stammering. "Unless...unless you know something I don't know..."

Her eyes widened. She stepped backwards and began to explain.

"No, no," she said. "I don't know something you don't know. It's just that most patients they send to us are already in chemotherapy...."

Too late. The damage was done. Like tempered glass that had been smacked, I felt the network of cracks expanding within me. Moments later, I was in a heap, sobbing.

Until she said that, I really hadn't considered that this could have been cancer.

After that, everything felt surreal. 

Before you knew it, the initial testing was done. They ushered me off with instructions to return in two hours to complete the testing.

Head swirling, I followed the exit signs down the long shiny hallway and past the pristine medical machines. Finally, I saw a sign for the waiting room, quickened my steps and flung the door open.

I remembered how I'd almost come to this appointment alone and the divine whispers that prompted me to accept Rhonda's help.

And I thanked God she was there.   (Click here to read that part of the story.)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

Years ago, I fell ill. Before I was admitted into the hospital, I randomly flipped open my Bible to this verse.

What I tell you now in the gloom, shout abroad when daybreak comes.
What I whisper in your ears, proclaim from the housetops.  

Matthew 10:27

Immediately, I knew I'd recover. It said "when" daybreak comes, not "if." And my shouting abroad? That was my writing.

During that illness, I wrote a reflection about how difficult it was to wait for good health to return on God's timetable, not my own. It became my first published piece.

And yes, daybreak did come.  Good health returned, and I kept writing.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Singing In The Rain...Ta Da De Doe Doo!

There's so much I want to do. Goals to set. Ideas to grow. Places to see.

But these days, they are distant dreams. These days, my attempts to function are as successful as trying to carry water in my hands. Maybe I can pool a little functionality here and there, but it's quickly gone.

It's okay, I remind myself. Be still, and know that I am doing God's will.


After all, the Master Planner is at work.

You, too. Wherever you find yourself, whatever your situation, it's the same for you too, you know.

And with that, I believe, all is well.

Click here to listen to Still by Hillsong.
Please take time to listen to the end, Take time to listen with a prayerful heart. If you are facing a storm of your own, this song says it all. It helped me, I hope it helps you, my friend.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Help Me Rhonda....Help Help Me Rhonda

God is always with us, guiding us, leading us and helping us. His voice is a whisper, a still small voice that resides deep within. Sometimes, as in these continuing stories told in my Monday posts, we heed it, and we later find out why.

"No, no, I'll be fine," I said to Rhonda, a fellow parishioner and mom who, years ago, cleaned my house for extra cash. She'd called to set a day to come clean that week, but I suggested we wait, finally admitting that I'd be busy with medical testing ordered by an oncologist.

"Do you have someone to go with you?" she asked. "I'll go with you."

What? No. I didn't need someone to go with me. There was nothing wrong. I just needed some tests. My husband, a traveling salesperson, would be out-of-town, but I was okay with that. I was used to that. My independent nature shuddered at the thought of someone accompanying me. Especially someone, like Rhonda, who I hardly knew.

"Really," I said. "I'll be fine."

But she didn't quit. We talked a little more, about the kids, about our upcoming schedules, but the conversation wove around to the same thing:

"Wouldn't you like for me to go with you tomorrow," she repeated. "What time do you need to be there?"

"9 a.m.," I said. 

Rhonda thought for a moment. "I could come by and get you right after I drive my kids to school," she said.

Again, I declined.

"No, you don't need to do that," I said. I could handle this on my own. Having someone else come just seemed so unnecessary.  "I'll be fine."

Suddenly, from deep within, a message arose. The words were clear and distinct. I heard them as if someone were speaking them to me: This is the way God helps you. If you refuse the help, you are the fool.

"Are you sure," Rhonda asked. "I'd be happy to help you."

The haunting message suddenly caused me to reconsider. If you refuse the help...

"Well, maybe," I said. "Maybe it would be nice if you could bring me. Do you mind, really?"

Rhonda arrived early the next morning, drove me to the hospital and settled in with a magazine for the long wait after they called me back.

I had no idea what I was in for, but God knew.

Thank God Rhonda was there. Stay tuned for next Monday's post to find out why.. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

I look behind me and You're there,
then up ahead and You're there, too--
Your reassuring presence, coming and going...
This is too much, too wonderful--I can't take it all in! 

Psalm 139:5,6

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

8 Ways To Become a Better Patient

1. Choose a doctor you trust. My oncologist is known as the best, but more importantly, he's the best for me. I believe this is the medical team God has chosen for me. I have full confidence in my oncologist and every staff member. We all just click!

2. Be honest. Don't let pride get in the way. After I finished chemo, I wanted to be the poster patient... ...the one they applauded and said, "Look what we did!"  Instead, I was the one still struggling. So, at first, I kept quiet, hoping the problems would disappear. I didn't want to 'complain.'  However, you must provide useful information so your medical team has the tools they need to move forward.

3.  Keep a journal. Each day I'd write a few words on the calendar to describe my health.  Over time, I can finally see some vague patterns and be encouraged by the (slow) progress that is taking place. I don't think I'd recognize the progress without this journal.

4. Be an educated patient. I research every aspect of my particular cancer, the drugs I receive, and today's treatment plans.  So when my oncologist talks, it resonates. 

5. Make a goal for each physician visit. What do you want to accomplish with this precious time? Write it down. List your questions. Include information you want to convey. Be brief but thorough. I've referred to my list while speaking with the oncologist. That way, nothing gets forgotten.

6. Don't go this alone. Bring someone with you to medical appointments for another set of ears.  They will hear things you may have missed. Their job is simply to listen and discuss with you later.

7. Pray. Pray for yourself and those closest to you. Pray for your medical team. Recognize the fact that, ultimately, God, who loves you so very much, is in control. Be at peace.

8. Listen to this song.  It'll help you with #7.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Goldfish, Angels and Mail....Oh My!

I'll never forget what it was like to sit in an oncologist's waiting room as a patient for the first time. My husband was with me, the kids were in school, our youngest having just started kindergarten.

I remember there was a large fish tank. There were big orange fish with fat round cheeks lumbering alongside graceful angelfish with long, flowing fins. There was a school of tiny blue fish with neon yellow stripes darting from one end of the tank to the other. 

I remember the collection of angel statues housed on the receptionist's desk. There were small porcelain cherubs and several larger, brightly colored angelic figurines.

There was a coffee table covered in magazines. In addition to the usual Sports Illustrated and Good Housekeeping publications, there were lots of Guideposts magazines. I chose one and began reading it.

"Debra." An official looking nurse called my name.  I fumbled with the magazine, glanced at Joe, and we headed her way.

We met the oncologist, who was a tall, red-haired man around my age. He calmly explained the need for further testing. When he said I needed a bone marrow aspiration, I burst into tears, as I'd been warned by the referring doctor that this test would be 'excruciatingly painful.' 

When I told the oncologist that, he shook his head sadly. "He should have never told you that," he said. "It's not."

Within minutes, it was arranged for me to have the test done immediately. "Why not?" the oncologist asked. "If you wait a few days, you're going to worry the whole time. Let's just get it done."

So I agreed. And the oncologist was right. Thanks to gentle sedation, it didn't hurt at all. And I was glad to get it over with.

My husband and I left with a handful of instructions to pursue further testing at the hospital and return to the oncologist's office in a week. Since we had upcoming plans to travel with the kids, I remember Joe asking, "Will this interfere with our trip?"

I'll never forget the doctor's response: "This never happens at a convenient time," he said. "Let's just wait and see what the test results show."

Again, his response was so calm. So matter-of-fact. No cause for panic. It gave no reason to be alarmed, just prepared.

I liked this doctor. He exuded confidence. He was on our insurance plan.  My friend endorsed him. He was the physician God chose for my care. He was a good choice.

However, little did I know that a letter was in the mail, on it's way to me, advising that our health insurance carrier was changing. In fact, the change had already taken effect by the time I received the letter. The mail should have arrived before my oncologist's appointment, but since we had just moved into a new home, our mail had to be rerouted from our old address, causing a delay in delivery.

Good thing.

Because if the notice from the insurance company had arrived on time, things may have developed differently. It would have chartered a different course for my care.

But that's not the way it went.

The letter arrived after my initial appointment with this oncologist, after the tests were already ordered, after the wheels were set in motion.

There was a reason for that.

God knows, there's always a reason.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

As much as I share my present struggles, I'm keenly aware that we all face obstacles at one time or another. Each of you, my dear readers, is in my prayer for peace and strength.

Stay with God!
Take heart. Don't quit.
I'll say it again: Stay with God.
Psalm 27:14

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hope Hope Hooray!

At long last, enough time has lapsed for my medical team to be confident in the good blood counts that I've had since chemotherapy and the ongoing cancer treatments. They also realize I've been suffering with chronic debilitating symptoms for just as long. And, we've engaged other specialists and additional tests, eliminating the possibility of other causes.

So when last week's brain MRI came back normal, we focused our attention to the one probable cause of my debilitation - side effects of the treatment I'm receiving. The drugs are killing the cancer, which keeps trying to advance, but the crazy side effects are also debilitating me...leaving me incapacitated...ill...drained...

But, as a good friend said, I received the gift of hope.

As I was describing my symptoms, the bone pain, the muscle aches, the head pain, my oncologist looked at me and said..."You've had 3 of four treatments this time, right?" I nodded.  "Just don't come next week," he said, much to my surprise.

Was that an option? I knew we were going to consider that next year....but already? Yay!

I stopped talking mid-sentence and stared at him.

He suggested we end this round of treatments and, as long as my blood counts continue to look good, we try lesser doses of the drug.  Balance is what we're looking for...balance between the ugly side effects and the successful effectiveness of the treatments.

"I'm pumped," he said. "I think this will work."

Me too. I was thrilled.

"I feel like I'm jumping off the end of a high dive," I said, "but I'm willing to do that!"

The excitement wore off fast. I guess I thought I'd skip out of there feeling fine. I skipped out of there, but here I am, actually a couple of weeks later...not feeling so fine. I'm sinking.

Why did I think I'd be much better this week? Will I ever feel 'normal' again? Even in the best of days, I never have had one normal day yet. I've had some pumps of life here and there. Very unpredictable. Very random. Very rare.

And now I thought just because I missed one treatment, I'd be fine. Quickly. But that's not so.

I guess I forgot these powerful drugs work in your system for months...they build...most days are so debilitating still, although some days are better than others..

I'm still struggling through...but one thing's for sure: I'm struggling...with the gift of hope.

Gotta share a song! This is one of my favorites...Click here to listen to "One Thing Remains" 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Let's Do This!

I guess you're wondering how I became a Brownie leader.

After all, I'm not particularly crafty. I can't control a crowd of kids. And, well, it wasn't on my bucket list.

But sometimes, God opens a door before we even know we need it.

It happened years ago, when the leader of our daughter's third grade troop announced she was retiring. I stepped backwards, hoping another mom would volunteer. While Helen and Carol offered assistance, nobody wanted to assume leadership.

So I was shocked when, weeks later, I woke up one morning convinced I needed to be the leader.  Where is this coming from? I wondered.  I don’t want to be the leader. 

I suppressed the nagging inner voice for weeks, but it wouldn't stop. Something just told me I had to volunteer for the position. 

Finally, I told Helen and Carol: “I don't really want to do it, so I hope someone else offers," I said. "But if you’re willing to help, maybe I'll be the leader..."  I was swept in and inaugurated faster than I could finish the sentence. 

“We’ll work with you,” Helen assured me.  She advised the date of an already-scheduled event that I would have to oversee with them—a camping trip with our Brownie troop and Linda's Girl Scout troop.  The date was set. The older girls would earn a badge by hosting our Brownie campout.

I cringed. What had I done?  With a traveling husband, and two other children at home, this commitment was daunting.  Why was I doing this?  What had gotten into me?

Just weeks before the camping trip, I underwent a routine physical.  I felt annoyed when the lab asked me to repeat the bloodwork, apparently due to technical difficulties.

Days later, Linda, the other troop leader, phoned and invited me to grocery shop for the camping trip, but I declined.  The doctor’s office had scheduled yet a third lab session.

Linda began asking questions about my blood counts.

"Are you a nurse," I asked her.

"No," she said. She told me that years ago, she battled lymphoma. I never knew that.  

When we hung up, I was thankful that I didn’t have to deal with cancer, just incompetent medical equipment.

The weekend came and during the camping trip Linda and I became fast friends.  She shared stories about her cancer experience, her family life and her faith.

Days after returning home, the physician's assistant phoned again. This time the message left me reeling.

“Due to the abnormalities in your bloodwork, we’ve made an appointment for you with an oncologist," he said. "It appears to be cancer…”  

Everything felt surreal. I hung up, and, oblivious, drove straight to my daughters’ school, even though dismissal was nearly an hour away. My mind was spinning. My hands were shaking. I prayed the whole way:  “Please let Linda be there," I said. "Please let Linda be there.”  I knew she'd understand like no other. 

When I arrived at the school, one lone figure appeared in the breezeway: It was Linda. 

I jumped out of the car and told her my news. She asked questions. She cried with me. She spoke highly of the oncologist they were sending me to. She helped me regain composure before my kids got out of school.

Over the following weeks, I was diagnosed with cancer...a type of lymphoma.  How could I have known what a comfort Linda would be to me? Had it not been for the camping trip, I would never have known about Linda's experience with cancer or about her deep strong faith.  In the months ahead, she walked beside me, offering inspiration, faith, strength and hope. 

I stand in awe of our God. That nagging inner voice insisting I volunteer to be the Brownie leader was his voice.

He called me to lead the troop, not only for the children, but to show me that he’d be there for me every step of the way.

He encourages us to recognize his promptings, trust him, and follow his lead.

We can do this!

During the camping trip, Linda introduced us to this song. It says it all. Click here to listen.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me.
So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that he had to go to Jerusalem , and he told them what would happen to him there. He ...