Monday, July 31, 2017

Scary Diagnosis? Kids to tell? Here's one way to make it work.

Some suggest shielding your kids from the truth of your scary diagnosis, but I chose to be straightforward and openly honest with them. It's just the way I roll. 

Not to say that this is the only way to handle tough news. What follows is simply my experience. Take from it what you will.

Our three daughters were 5, 9 and 12 years old when I first received the cancer diagnosis.
I gathered them around the dining room table. They climbed into the chairs and turned their faces my way, awaiting the news.

"You know I went to the doctor today," I began. "And they told me the results of all those tests."

I told them everything I'd been told; that I'd been diagnosed with cancer, that it was in its early stages, that I'd have to go to the doctor a lot while they wait and decide when to start chemotherapy. I told them nobody knew when that would be. It could be weeks, months or years. Nobody knew. But for now, we didn't have to do anything.

I chose a matter-of-fact approach, mirroring the same calm manner the oncologist used when he delivered the diagnosis to my husband and me. 

I'd been concerned about the kids' reaction, especially since my own mother had died of cancer. But my concerns were unfounded.

Before I finished the first sentence, my five-year-old slipped off her seat and was crawling under the table.

At the end of my talk, my nine-year-old asked, "Can I go next door and play with (my friend) Erin now?" 

Only the oldest remained, pondering the information. "Oh, I get it," she finally said. "It's like having the HIV virus but it's not really full blown AIDS yet." (That was headline news at the time. )

"Well, yes," I said. "It isn't HIV, but it is kind of like that."

And that was moved on.

I'm glad I told them everything. It was one of those teachable moments that showed them how to handle tough news. It developed a trustworthiness between us. After all, wouldn't I want them to be truthful and candid with me? Especially in tough situations?

Later, when they asked me if I was afraid and I admitted I was, I realized this gave them permission to talk to me when their own fears surfaced.

In our role as parents, our kids watch what we do. They learn from us and imitate us. 

Looking back, I realize my children, even the one crawling under the table, learned so much that day. They heard the tone of my voice. They understood the seriousness. They sensed the fear. They felt the camaraderie. 

However, a bigger message surfaced.

As I spoke, they detected my underlying faith. They learned that while scary things do happen, we can be upheld by a strength far greater than our own. 

Through the years, I've remained honest and straightforward. This diagnosis, scary as it was, helped me to grow in faith. There are many teachable moments, and they all point toward the overriding love of God.

I know this life isn't forever. I delight in each moment I've been given. I've grown in faith like never before. I cling to God, who loves us so very much, both now and to eternity.

We are here to do God's will, not our own. No matter what happens, it's all good. With God's help, we are posed for a win-win. Peace that surpasses all understanding is within our grasp.

My kids know that too.

For there is nothing hidden that can't be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.  Luke 8:17

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

Do not merely listen to the word,
and so deceive yourselves.
Do what it says.

James 1:22

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

When Life Hands You Lemons...You'll Need To Know This

Life isn't fair. It just isn't.

We all know that, of course.  But sometimes the ugly truth resurfaces and sucker punches you in the gut. 

Like the other day, when I was innocently reading an email forwarded to a group of women from my church. One of the members, someone I didn't know, was thanking us for our prayers.

She said she'd been diagnosed with cancer, and, fortunately, was eligible for the newest treatment available. All she had to do was take a pill each day. Side effects were minimal and things were going well. She was living her normal life, just a little slower pace.

Suddenly, an uncontrollable gut reaction struck me. Anger arose from deep within, fueled by my own longtime sufferings initiated by my ongoing battle with cancer treatments.

What? I thought. No trips to the chemo lab? No bone pain? No visits to the ER? No suffering? No rashes? No intestinal uproars? No brain pain? No fatigue that body-slams you to the ground?

I clenched my fists.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for her. I really am. Recent advancements in cancer treatments are racing toward a cure. It's all good.

But suddenly, without warning, I'm wondering why I didn't draw that lucky card...Did I do something wrong? Is this somehow my fault? Why is this so unfair?

Then I stopped.

Suddenly I remembered a 4 year-old-preschooler who's battling cancer. How fair is that? I recalled a friend who died of cancer last fall. How fair is that? I thought about the 20 years my cancer lay dormant, while another mom succumbed to the dreaded disease during that timeframe. How fair is that?

Life isn't fair... I'm sure you have your own situations where you can fill in the blanks... Life just isn't fair.

But, as I turn my thoughts heavenward, down falls peace. Quietly, I accept the fact...Life never was meant to be fair...No, it never was...All you have to do is look at the cross...there's power in the cross.

Yes, there's power in the cross...there's power in my cross...and...I daresay...there's power in your cross too.

All we have to do is look up and listen...listen to these mighty words:

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41:10

We pray that you'll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul...strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy.  Colossians 1:11,12

He gives power to the faint and weary, and to him who has no might He increases strength - causing it to multiply and making it abound.  Isaiah 40:29

So the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. Matthew 20:16

Doesn't that just put a smile on your face? With Christ, we can overcome anything!
How about a little music? Click here to listen to Lead Me To the Cross by Hillsong and have a fabulous day!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Show Me The Money!

So there's a backstory to the week or so that I went through testing and was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer.

By the time I finished testing and returned to the oncologist to hear the final results, my insurance plan changed. We had moved into a new home during all this, so our mail was rerouted and delayed causing me to find out after the fact that this oncologist was not on our new plan. I cringed at the thought.

So, at my next appointment, I tearfully explained the problem to the oncologist. I wanted to be fiscally responsible, so I felt I had to switch to an in-network doctor.

I'll never forget the oncologist's response, as he gently slipped the paperwork from my hands: "You shouldn't have to worry about money at a time like this," he said. "We'll take whatever your insurance pays. My office will not send you a bill."

I couldn't imagine being the receiver of such generosity. It wasn't what I'd expected. I really didn't want to switch doctors. I liked his manner and felt confident in his care. 

But three months later, as I began scheduling the unending rounds of follow-up appointments,  it didn't seem fair to anyone to start a relationship with an out-of-network oncologist. I felt I had to switch now.

So I did.

I made an appointment with an oncologist covered by my plan, gathered my records and went to see him.

In a business-like approach, the new specialist said he agreed with the diagnosis and the wait-and-see approach to treatment. 

"We can only attack this once," he said. Then, what he said caused me to catch my breath. "When it comes back, and it always does, there's nothing we can do for you."

He seemed baffled that my test results didn't match my good health. "You ought to go to MD Anderson Cancer Institute in Dallas," he said. "They'd love to get their hands on you, because you're healthy."

I left his office in tears.

I returned to the original oncologist. "I told you not to worry about the money," he said. "I'll take whatever your insurance pays."

So began my routine appointments. His office didn't bill me. But each quarter, I'd study the Explanation of Benefits from my insurance company and pay whatever amounts they didn't. 

I figured if this oncologist was doing this for me, he's doing it for others. I wanted to help in whatever way possible.

Besides, I knew if I went into chemotherapy, I'd have to accept the offer. But for now, if I remained healthy, I'd gladly write those checks. 

It was, in a sense, my thank you to God.

God didn't let me down then, and little did I know, God had a plan for my future as well. You'll see, as you keep reading my Monday posts. Thanks for being here. May God bless you today!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Publix...Where Shopping Really Is A Pleasure

I was standing in the butter aisle of our local grocery store when a rush of happiness welled up within me. I looked around, and, eyes sparkling with delight, offered a prayer of thanks.

Yep, right there in the refrigerated aisle of Publix.

(Cancer has taught me not to take anything for granted.)

First of all, I couldn't believe I was in the grocery store (it's been awhile.. a long while..).
Do you know how good it is to glimpse life out from under a blanket of suffering?

I was captivated by the beauty of the colorful butter and yogurt options. Have you ever really seen the splendor in those cases?

Additionally, the blast of refreshing cool air that washed over me from the refrigerator case was delightful. How many times have I taken for granted such simple pleasures?

I chose a tub of Fleishman's and watched my husband, a few feet ahead, reach for a container of milk. A chill ran through me, knowing how blessed I was to be here with him... that we could be here together...(Cancer has also taught me not to take anyone for granted.)

As we walked to our car, grocery bags in hand, I marveled at the goodness of God. I'm keenly aware of the gift of these moments, aren't you?

I was filled with joy and laughed, thinking of the store's motto...and how, thanks be to God, this shopping trip was, as they say, truly a pleasure!

Monday, July 17, 2017

What's That You Said???

I'll never forget the day I received the results of the extensive cancer testing that had been done. My husband went with me to the appointment and our kids were in school. 

The oncologist walked into the room, welcomed us, and took a seat on a little round stool that swiveled. He asked how we were doing, flipped through charts, then grew serious.

"We've got the results of all your tests back," he said. He drew close to both of us and looked at me. "I'm sorry to report that you have a blood disease," he said, "called Waldentrom's Macroglobulinemia."

My mother had died of cancer, and my dreaded fear was that this would be cancer, so I relaxed a bit when I didn't hear that word.

Hmmm.....I thought. That didn't sound too bad. A blood disease...not cancer? But he did say sorry...why did he say he's sorry?

"The way we treat it today, in 1995," he continued, "is you take a handful of pills once a month...."

Pills. No big deal. Easy. I can do that. 

He continued..."called chemotherapy...."

I caught my breath. What? Chemotherapy? Was this cancer? It was just a blood disease, right?

The oncologist presented the information in such a calm manner. It felt like there was no reason to I didn't.

Joe and I clung to his every word.

"However," the oncologist said. "In your case, it is in it's early stages and it isn't causing damage to your system, so we are going to wait to treat you. We have one bullet to attack it with, and we want to wait to use it when it's most effective."

He waited for us to digest those words before continuing.

"We'll need you to come back on a regular basis," he said. "We will monitor your condition by routine blood work and office visits to see how you are doing and decide when to administer treatment."

Relief washed over me! He made it sound so simple! I'm pretty much a spontaneous, live-in-the-moment kind of person, so this sounded like great news! I didn't have to do anything but return in three months? No treatments now to interrupt my life? Happy dance!

Besides that, I had been leaning into my faith since my brother's death in recent years. I'd learned that, while things don't always go my way, God is trustworthy, not matter what happens, even in the event of death.

As Joe and I walked to our car, we were joking and laughing. We were so relieved. Just before we exited the parking garage, I looked at my beloved husband and my voice grew serious. "Do you realize what he just told us?"

Joe paused, then nodded. "Yes," he said. "Yes, I do."

We both fell silent.

Within moments, however, we were laughing again. With a flip of the wrist, I talked about buying groceries for our upcoming trip. We had plans to travel out-of-state the following week with the kids to visit family for Thanksgiving. Happily, our plans wouldn't change.

Suddenly, I remembered the prophetic thought that popped into my head that very morning at Mass: God, are you trying to tell me that the diagnosis won’t be good news, but that everything is going to be okay?

Amazing, isn't it? That message was right on.

It wasn't the best of news, but, at least for now, it would be alright.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Roll Out Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer...

"You've got to come over Wednesday morning," Cathy, my neighbor, said. "I met someone who is a fan of your writing. She can't believe you live across the street from me."

I felt like a kid. Here I was, on a hot summer day, walking to a friend's house to play. I love meeting new people. Especially new people with a common interest in the Lord.
I knew the conversation would be rich.

It was a pleasure to meet Mary, a former resident of Indianapolis, where my Emmaus Walk column runs. She'd been reading it for years. Last year, following what she described as God's calling, she decided to leave everything behind and go on 'pilgrimage'. She ended up settling, at least for now, in Florida. Since then, she's discovered a talent for art and photography that brings the scriptures to life. Where did this come from?

As the conversation continued, we realized that, like Mary, each of us was on the cusp of something new...something different...something exciting and scary all at the same time.

For instance, I've been battling cancer since 2015. Now, as my strength slowly returns, it's obvious to me that life as I once knew it, has changed. It's like I'm emerging from a deep, dark forest and approaching the edge of a clearing. Up ahead, I can only see open ground. There's no track to run on. No worn paths. No familiar routines. Nor do I yet have the ability to create least not yet...and when I do, it probably won't look anything like it did before. What will that look like? What does the future hold?

In Cathy's case, she and her husband also faced uncertainty. In anticipation of fulfilling a longtime dream of taking a yearlong sabbatical to travel, they'd recently bought a Winnebago. As soon as they did, however, doubts arose. Was this the right decision? What if something went wrong? How do you change the tire on a 40' vehicle? 

In the end, we all agreed that uncertainty wouldn't stop us. We each felt that God was leading us and calling us to a deeper trust in Him.  We believed that whatever the future holds, we wouldn't be stepping into it alone.

We knew Someone would be with us every step of the way.

You have not handed me over to my enemy, but have given me open ground in which to maneuver.  Psalm 31:8

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

How wonderful
that no one need wait a single moment
before starting to change the world.  
---Anne Frank

Monday, July 10, 2017

Be Still...and know...

God is always speaking to us. We need simply to recognize the whisperings of his still, small voice.  

After completing all the lab and hospital testing ordered by the oncologist, today was the day I'd meet with him to discuss the results. I woke up feeling a little nervous.

It was Tuesday. I drove my kids to St. Mary Magdalen school, parked my car, and headed straight into the church, where Mass would soon begin. I needed to find peace.

What if this was cancer? My mom died of cancer. Hers was a quick downhill slide. Experimental surgery and chemotherapy did nothing but make her ill.  Would I repeat her experience? Would I soon die? How would my husband and young children cope?

Little did I know, but God already knew my questions. He'd already prepared an answer. The question is: would I recognize it?

I'd come to the right place.

Upon entering the church, I slipped into a back pew. I bowed my head and prayed for most of the Mass, but when we stood and lined up for communion, I spotted a couple of moms from our school.

I didn't know Mary personally, but everyone knew she'd recently battled brain cancer and won the war. She was once bald, but today, I was struck by her short, thick brown hair, straight as stick, growing back in. It was a sign of health.

Next, I spotted Linda, the Girl Scout leader who befriended me when my troop and hers happened to go on a weekend camping trip together. She'd shared with me that, as a young adult, she'd battled lymphoma. Her doctors advised the treatments would render her infertile, yet, she'd married and given birth to a son and a daughter. She was a sign of hope.

Both women, faith-filled as they are, were walking miracles.

My heart leapt.

I'll never forget my exact thought: “God, are you trying to tell me that the diagnosis won’t be good news, but that everything is going to be okay?”  

The answer would come later that day.

Please tune in next Monday to see what happens next. See you then!

In the meantime, here's a song for you! Click here for Be Still, by Don Moen.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts (and a song!)

...but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles,
they will run and not grow weary;
they will walk and not be faint. 
Isaiah 40:31

Click here for Oh My Soul by Don Moen and may God bless you!

Monday, July 3, 2017

A Hop, A Skip and a Jump!

The events of some days just stand out in your mind forever. This is one of them:

In a daze, I followed the slick hospital hallway to the exit sign, pushed open the door, and entered the waiting room. I quickly spotted Rhonda, who put her magazine down, grabbed her purse, and stood up.

"You ready to go?" she asked.

"Yes, yes I am," I said. I didn't break stride as we headed to the parking lot.

When we arrived at her car, I climbed into the front seat, sat down and put my head in my hands. Although yesterday I'd resisted her offer to drive me to this appointment, now I was incredibly thankful she was here.

I told her about the unsettling experience. I told her how disgusting the chalky substance tasted. I told her about the nurse's frightful assumption that I was in chemotherapy. I told her I had to return in two hours for more testing.

Apologetically, I burst into tears.

Rhonda reached for a tissue and handed it to me.

"I'm surprised you held it together this long," she said. "We have two hours?"  She motioned toward the mall across the street. "How about we go to lunch?"

I nodded, drying my tears. There was no refusing help today. I knew I needed a friend. Thank God I didn't have to go this alone, as I originally planned.

By the time we reached the shopping center, I was composed but unnerved. I really didn't want to talk to anyone else.

And I didn't have to...I'll never forget what happened next.

Upon entering the mall, I saw, in the distance, someone dear to me. I once worked for Mr. McLeod, and he was like a father to me; even offering to walk me down the aisle when Joe and I married.  He was across the mall, headed in the opposite direction, so he never saw me.  We didn’t exchange a word, but I'll never forget the comfort his mere presence delivered.

Likewise, as Rhonda and I walked past stores, I noticed several familiar faces from our parish. I didn’t know any of them well enough to greet, but merely seeing them provided strength in a powerful way.

Even as we ate lunch, a couple of fellow parishioners were seated at a table behind Rhonda. Their presence was like a billboard from God, letting me know I wasn't alone.

I was relieved that nobody required even a brief exchange. If anyone had asked me how I was doing, I would have burst into tears, and, honestly, I didn't want that.

Yet, I was strengthened by their presence. 

These people didn't realize they were doing God's work that day. They had no idea what their presence meant to me. But I'll never forget.

Amazing, isn't it? God knew what I needed...he addressed every detail. And he does the same for you...each day...every minute...every second...

There were no tears as Rhonda and I got into the car and headed back to the hospital to finish the tests.

In fact, I remember nothing more of the day...I remember only the fact that God showed me he'd never leave me alone...he's providing and caring for every every instance....

Our God really is an awesome God!

You can find Part I of backstory, Help Me Rhonda (click here) and  Part II, Shake, Rattle and Roll (click here.)

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 ...