Thick Files

Lately quite a few medical folk are commenting how thick my file is. My first reaction is sadness: I’ve had so many appointments and tests that the paperwork is ridiculous. My second reaction is gratitude. I wish I’d never needed a cancer file, but now that I’ve got one I’m glad it keeps growing! While I wish we could close it down and file it away deep in the archives, the reality is that I’m still living – with cancer – but living!

Chart Thick File April 26, 2016

Part of my file: my oncology nurse leaves the rest in the office since it’s too heavy to carry!

Yesterday marks the one year anniversary since I started this clinical trial, and I’m thankful that the clinical trial nurses have run out of pages for my pharmacology file and had to make more copies to fill in my chart. I am currently in cycle 18 and my latest scans are still good. Praise God!

I am thankful for these pills I take every morning.

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I’m thankful that although I suffer side effects, they are manageable and the pills are effective. Many people can’t tolerate the side effects and have to discontinue this drug. I’m thankful that my numbers are good.

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blood pressure, pulse, blood oxygen%, temperature

I’m thankful that I don’t have to travel long distances for good medical care. (Some cancer patients travel hundreds of km, or even to a different continent for treatment.) I’m thankful to receive cancer medication free of charge – a benefit I receive from being on the clinical trial.

I’m thankful for Spring and the explosion of vibrantly colourful beauty! (Way too many photographs to post here!)

I’m thankful to have celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary last week, and for the friends who brought and ate yummy dessert with us.

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I’m thankful for field trips, music recitals, school bake sale fundraisers, and so many more moments that I get to share with family and friends … even ones that may seem mundane. I’m ridiculously thankful that I was able to bake four cakes for my kids’ school fundraisers this past month, and volunteer for a few different things. I keep praying for wisdom and trying to stretch myself further while asking the Lord for “daily bread”: everything I need for each day. He gives generously, pouring an abundance of grace over our lives.

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I’m speaking at the fundraiser for clinical trials next week – can’t believe it’s next week – and very grateful for the difference that generosity can make!

While I would love to be completely healed of this disease, in the meantime I am very thankful that my medical file keeps getting thicker!

Connecting

We were made for community, for connecting. The people in our community have made a huge difference for us, and not just through the challenges of the past couple of years. We all need people who love us, who are for us, who will help and support us … and to really flourish, we need to love and support others as well!

I’m no longer regularly relying on the generosity of others to help cook meals for our family. Most days I enjoy the opportunity to create something nutritious and delicious! We’ve been eating lots of soups and curries lately! We share great conversation and laughter around the table, and also in the preparation time. My 12yo especially loves to cook with me, and that is one of the great joys of my life! Anytime I get to hang out with my kids, teach them, listen to them, learn with them, laugh, read and pray with them … is a good gift!

The cold weather keeps me inside sometimes, since it can be hard to breathe, but I still get out a bit.

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9yo creating a snow sculpture with a friend 

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Night skating on our backyard rink

 

I continue to wonder what the terrain will be like on the other side of this valley. I am not the same person I used to be, and I’m trying to figure out what my strengths are now, and what I have to offer. Cancer slammed some doors shut on me, but it can’t shut them all, nor can it keep them all closed. I’m glad I’m not travelling this journey alone.

A weekly highlight is our “Women of the Word” group which has been together for six years. We study Scripture, share our lives and pray together. Not only have I learned loads as we’ve journeyed (at a snail’s pace) through Luke, Acts, Micah, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, and Galatians (as well as a number of other passages), but I’ve received more than I could imagine as our hearts have been knit together in love and trust. These women are tremendous, and I am blessed beyond words that we are part of each others’ lives. We could write a book about our experiences together, and another one about the prayers we’ve seen answered.

This past September I started a Bible study for my boys and a couple of their friends. We call it bob sos. I can’t remember exactly what that stands for, but it’s something about the Bible and ice cream sundaes. This group can be challenging: these youth do not have much experience participating in group discussions and I sometimes feel like I’m herding cats! I love it though! These youth ask amazing questions – some of the best I’ve ever heard – and their faces light up many times during each study. What a gift that I get to participate with them and my encouraging co-leader!  My 14yo said, “bob sos is really fun: we get to talk about the Bible with our friends and eat sundaes!” I guess that sums it up!

I continue to live a much more isolated life than I ever had previously. This can be hard for me, social extrovert that I am, but I don’t have the energy to spend as much time with people as I used to. I have been given more opportunities to pray for people, and to grow in learning to pray. This is a privilege, and a responsibility. It is also very encouraging to see prayer answered!

My voice continues to improve … but a long way to go still. Recently I was helping to lead singing at a local church where we know quite a few people, and many came over to tell me they are praying for me. How encouraging! I am so grateful!

Who are “your people”?  In what ways do you live interconnected lives? How intentional are you about growing deeper in community? Who are the people who encourage you, who speak truth in love and help you to grow? How are you encouraging, speaking truth in love and helping others to grow?

Have you tried connecting with God in prayer? How has it been going? Luke 11 tells us that Jesus’ followers asked him to teach them to pray. And he did. Years ago, I read “With Christ in the School of Prayer”. I’m grateful to still be a learner in that good school! Prayer is talking with God. There’s no magic formula, no special language or invitation needed. We are all welcome! Praise God!

It’s not all super-nutritious around here: above is proof of that! Some of this month’s treats are pictured, including happy hot chocolate! (Do you see the smiley face the marshmallows and spoon make in the mug?) We enjoyed crepes with yogurt and fruit for dinner tonight. Happy leap year day!

 

 

A few steps forward, a few steps backward …

HibiscusIn spite of the good work of my physiotherapist and all the stretches and exercises I’ve been doing, my shoulder is only a bit better. My physio said it would likely take six weeks, and I’m trying to be patient and disciplined!

I’m feeling more energetic at times, and at other times completely exhausted. I can’t find any patterns (apart from the fact I tend to feel more fatigue in the afternoons & evenings), so making plans is challenging and sometimes discouraging. On the upside, my 8yo and I enjoyed a long stroll together yesterday evening, and I felt up for another walk this morning. This is encouraging!

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I’ve now got this itchy rash on my arms & legs – mostly where my skin was tanned in the summer. My oncologist doesn’t know what causes it: possibly a combination of the meds and something else. A friend suggested putting aloe vera on it to help soothe the itchiness, so I tried it and it seems to make a big difference for a few hours. That made falling asleep last night easier than it’s been in a while!

Having a sore shoulder and being itchy isn’t so bad compared with not being able to breathe well. I’m trying to keep things in perspective. 🙂

Here’s an encouraging note:pollinators at work

Every three weeks I have two days with clinical trial appointments. Blood is drawn from my arm each of those days. Left arm on Mondays, right arm on Tuesdays. The Monday blood is sent to a local lab to make sure I’m healthy enough to continue treatment. The Tuesday blood marks the beginning of the next cycle of treatment, and is sent farther away to a lab for the clinical trial data.

Last month I started thinking about the process, and wondering why I had to have blood removed two days in a row. Couldn’t the procedure be changed so that I only had to be poked once every three weeks? (I also get poked whenever I have a CT scan, but that seems unavoidable.) As I thought it through, I couldn’t see any reason that would require blood being removed two different days, except that’s the way the trial was set up. I was open to the likelihood that I was missing something, since I have no background in medicine or pharmacology.

So, at my appointment last month, I raised the question with my oncologist and clinical trial administrator. They could understand my desire to avoid being unnecessarily poked with a needle, and promised to look into it.

When I received word of my appointments booked for this week, something was different! I went in to the clinical trial unit at the hospital, and they poked me once and filled up all the vials that were needed: two for the local lab and a bunch more to be sent away for the clinical trial lab. Only one poke this week! Yay! Then I went to see my oncologist, and he told me that several hours of discussion went into this decision. I’m so thankful! … and I hope that many future clinical trial patients will benefit from my raising the issue and the people in authority investing those hours.

Sometimes we feel powerless. From what I’ve observed, cancer patients tend to feel this quite a lot. Going though tests and treatments is really hard, and even before the diagnosis much of our power is stripped from us. It’s scary and stressful and painful and unpleasant.

I’m glad I was able to think about the blood work process, and felt empowered to ask the question. I’m thankful for those who were open to considering the possibility and willing to invest hours in wrestling with this question. I’m also grateful for the generous folks in the clinical trial section who now graciously welcome me there two days in a row instead of one. (I still have to have the other tests on the second day.) I know that makes extra work for them. Everyone is so busy. There are too many cancer patients.

Earlier this week I was thinking it would be nice to bake some muffins for our family, but I was too tired. Then a friend arrived at our door with homemade muffins she had baked for us! The next day another friend came with some more! Now we have two types of delicious muffins. We are so abundantly blessed!

Last week an envelope containing two gift cards for the grocery store arrived in our mailbox! Thank you, anonymous friend!

So that’s some of my news! … and I will also add that on my walk today I ran into three people who hadn’t seen me in a while (I haven’t been out and about much in the past two years), and they all commented on how good I’m looking. At least one didn’t recognize me at first. They all love my long curly dark hair, and one even said I look twenty years younger!

I’m thankful for these things and for so much more!

neighbourhood garden Fall flowers beauty

What to say?

When someone you know is going through a tough time, it’s hard to know what to say. Recently one of my facebook friends learned through the obituaries that the wife and receptionist of someone she was about to have an appointment with had died. She put out a poll on facebook, asking for wisdom on how to handle the situation. She wanted to say something, but thought that this grieving man might not want to talk about it at appointment after appointment all day. This friend has many wise friends, and I enjoyed reading their comments.

Sometime after my diagnosis, one of my good friends read a book about how to support a friend going through a difficult time. She asked me how I would feel about reading it and sharing my thoughts with her. She thought it might be helpful for our circle to have a conversation about how to support me. I assured her she and they were doing a marvellous job! I read the book and thought it offered some good wisdom. I really appreciate that my friend raised this question with me.

I’m a people person, and have spent my life interacting with people about deep and significant things. I have tried my best to not let fear (or other emotions) keep me from being present with people when they have gone through difficult times. Over the years I have learned a lot about how to care for people – both through trying to be a carer and from being the one cared for.

It’s not easy.

When I was in University, an older neighbour passed away. He was a fairly close family friend, and the next time I was home from school my Mom took me over to visit his widow and share my condolences. It was only to be a brief visit at the door – dropping something off, I believe. I planned out a brief phrase to say, but when she opened the door and I looked her in the eyes, my own filled with tears and we hugged. My Mom gently prompted me to speak, but I had no words. The lovely widow kindly told my Mom that I didn’t need to say anything, that she knew what I meant. What grace! She saw beyond my fumbling inability to speak: she received my presence and non-verbals as a message of love. I felt encouraged and blessed by her, and that has made a big difference to me. Not many people in pain have such love and grace to extend.

Sometimes words seem so inadequate.

Sometimes there is nothing to say.

I read an article about a series of greeting cards to send to people with cancer. It got me thinking: if I were to design a line of such cards, what would they say? (What would yours say?)

All my years of wading in with people in a variety of difficult life situations, and I’ve learned a lot… I’ve learned a lot about praying for guidance and help. I’ve learned a lot about using all the listening skills I’ve acquired over the years to try to hear what the person is saying – whether or not they are using words. I’ve learned a lot about speaking words and I’ve learned a lot about being a silent presence. I’ve learned a lot by trying. I’ve learned that it’s complicated and ever-changing.

Everyone is different. Every situation is different. Everything can change from moment to moment.

It’s not easy. Sometimes the hardest part is wrestling with our own fears, grief and feelings of inadequacy. It takes a lot of courage to try our best. It takes bravery to engage rather than avoid. I have been honoured to dive in and tried to swim these strange waters with friends. It hasn’t been pretty. It hasn’t been pleasant. But there’s depth and realness and overwhelming grace that is unspeakable gift. There is pain that comes with this profound privilege. It’s hard and it is worth it.

What to say?

There’s no one right answer, except to use all the wisdom you’ve been given, use all the skills you’ve acquired, use all the love you can muster … to intentionally listen as carefully as you can, to bravely be as present as you can, ask questions as appropriately as you can, and speak the truth in love as best as you can. (Some of you are probably thinking: she’s not going to go on and on about speaking the truth in love again! 😉 It’s a great biblical principle which I’ve spoken on many times! You can read about it in Ephesians 4:15, for example!)

Some of the things I’ve appreciated hearing at various times over the past year and a half (these are just a few off the top of my head and in no particular order):

You’re not alone. We’re with you.

We love you.

Waiting for the diagnosis is the hardest part. Once you’ve got the treatment plan it’s easier because you’ve got a plan.

Would you like me to give you a foot rub?

How can we help? (Often the person won’t know, and sometimes specific offers are more helpful.)

Would it be helpful if I _______________?

Our daughter is doing gymnastics on Mondays. How about we sign yours up too, and I can pick them up after school and take them together?

Can I pray for you? (Some people wrote out their prayers and sent them to me. Some sent encouraging Bible verses or songs. Some are posted where I can easily read them again and again.)

Can we bring you a meal this week? Any allergies?

I love cleaning! Would it be helpful for you if I come over for an hour on Thursday morning and do some cleaning for you? I could maybe do your bathrooms or vacuum or dust- what’s best for you?

I love doing jobs around the house. Do you have any small repairs I could do for you?

Yes, I’d love to help your husband install the dishwasher – thanks for asking!

Cancer sucks.

I’m so sorry.

I don’t know what to say.

Can I bring you some muffins? Would tomorrow afternoon be a good time to drop them off?

Let me know if you’d like me to take you to appointments or pick up your kids or get groceries for you. I’d love to help in any way that’s helpful for you. Please ask! (Repeat these offers because memory gets mushy in stressful times.)

I’d love to come over and help, but if that’s not helpful for you I completely understand.

I’d love to have coffee with you … are you up for it?

We’re praying for you.

… There are too many more ways to say how we’ve been blessed.

Obviously it depends on your relationship with the person, who they are, and how they are doing. If someone has recently been diagnosed, they are likely in a very different place than if treatments are going well. Even when they are doing really well, there are always good days and bad days, and in my experience sometimes it’s really unpredictable, even from one hour to the next. I’ve got to tell you I am so grateful for a friend who just yesterday graciously received the news that I was cancelling our plan for an afternoon walk with her for the second time in a week. In the morning we firmed up the plan, but two hours later I suddenly realized I wasn’t up for it. She extended so much grace to me and didn’t take it personally. I am blessed with so many good and generous friends!

Offer to help, but don’t push. Be as gracious as you possibly can. Listen hard. Try to be specific. Be flexible. Follow their lead. Don’t take it personally if they say no … some things can be surprisingly tiring! Don’t overstay. Even if you think you’re not overstaying, ask and listen for subtle responses. (Some people are too polite!) Ask questions, but not too many! Pay attention to non-verbals. Follow their cues. If you’re not sure, ask! If you’re visiting / talking, make it easy for them to tell you they’re getting tired and need to rest. If they say this, graciously go straight away!

There’s a principle regarding direction of support that I find helpful. Put the person going through the tough time at the centre and draw concentric circles around them, with the closest people who are most affected closer to the middle and acquaintances further out and strangers further out still. Support should always flow inwards. In other words, you support the people closer to the middle and you don’t look to them for support. You look to people who are farther out in the concentric circles for support. Ask the people who don’t know your sick / hurting friend as well for support, or maybe a counsellor. Does that make sense?

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to support the spouse (and/or others close to the centre)! Loads of people have been praying for me, encouraging me, sending me cards and flowers and all kinds of other gifts. Obviously our whole family benefits from much of that … but don’t forget to support them too! I am so grateful for those who ask my husband how he’s doing and invite him out for a beer, or care for our children in appropriate ways. It’s so hard for them too. It’s hard for them to see me unwell. They experience deep disappointment, fear and grief. There are so many more jobs for them to do around the house because I just can’t do many of the things I used to do. My brain is mushier, so I’m not there for them the way I used to be … the way I’d like to be. They have much more on their plates in so many ways, and life is much harder than it used to be. We are working at it and learning to adjust to a very different life. Please, pray for us all and support us all … that’s one of the best gifts you can give to me!

What to say? I don’t have a specific, clear, simple answer, but even though I haven’t spent a lot of time specifically thinking about or planning this post, I do apparently have a lot to say! 🙂 It’s hard to boil it down, but if I had to … I probably still couldn’t! I don’t think there is one right answer, but if there was, off the top of my head, I think it might go something like this:

Be bravely there for your friend: be as present and as sensitive and as gracious and as generous as you can. These things are communicated in many ways, and don’t necessarily require words. Being a humble, loving listener can go a lot farther than even the most eloquent of words.

What speaks to you?

“How are you doing?”

“How are you doing?” is a question that can be tricky to answer! Obviously the answer depends on a lot of things, including the context: the grocery store clerk will get a very different answer than my oncologist will! Close friends will likely get a much deeper answer than I would post publicly, but sometimes I just don’t feel like talking about it – even with the best of friends. I’m so thankful for all those who understand and encourage, who pray for us (if they’re the praying sort of people) and support us in many ways.

A lot of people are asking how I’m doing on these new meds. So far, this one seems better than the last one (which was much better than the IV chemo). I’m still puffy, but not ballooned-up like before! I’m hardly coughing, and can sing a bit most days! I love to sing, so this is both exciting and bittersweet because I can’t sing anywhere near the way I could before. The joint pain (from going off the previous drug) is diminishing. Nausea slows me down, but doesn’t usually stop me! My digestive track seems to be getting used to the meds, and tummy upsets are decreasing. I continue to experience painful intermittent stomach cramps from around 3:00pm until bedtime. It may be my imagination, but I think it’s better than it was a couple of weeks ago.

One thing that’s hard to figure out is the fatigue. I’ve always loved to push myself to the limits: to do as much as I can without overdoing it, endeavour to reach that line without crossing it! Now I know the line is in a completely different place than it used to be, and I feel grief about my significantly diminished capacity, but what’s tricky is that it feels like someone keeps sliding that line around with no discernible pattern! It’s impossible to know how much I can manage because it varies dramatically from day to day.

I pray and I pay attention, trying to find the sweet spot: the best rhythms of activity and rest. I wear a pedometer most days in case the measuring of my steps will help me find that balance. I know it’s not a precise science, but I often feel like it’s completely random and I have no wisdom at all about the abilities of my body.

Often I’m exhausted by dinner time, and if I can pull together the energy to cook dinner, then sometimes I need to rest before I can eat. Right now, that’s probably the hardest thing. If I get a second wind after eating, that is bliss – largely because it helps me interact better with my kids and supervise their music practices, homework and chores.

Then there are activities which energize me on some levels, but tire me on others. It’s hard to weigh out the cost-benefit ratios sometimes, but I tend to err on the “going for it” side of things!

I went for a little hike with friends, and that nourished me deeply … but if I recall correctly, the kids had “fend for yourself dinner” that night! I’m glad they’re old enough for this, and (generally) wise enough to (mostly) make nutritious choices!

Below are some pictures from my little morning hike. It’s amazing what there is to see and hear if we pause and open our eyes and ears. There is so much life, goodness and beauty to appreciate!

What about you? How are you doing? What are you thankful for? What are you grieving? Who encourages you? How are you doing with your various boundary lines? Do you have good, trusted friends with whom you can open your heart? With whom could you take appropriate steps to trust more deeply and grow closer? What nourishes you? How might you open your eyes and ears? Who will you bless today?

I pray a blessing on you, dear reader!

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Group selfie, strategically cropped for this public post! (I’m the one in the hat.) 

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Spot the owl! I love my little blue camera: it’s so easy to carry and takes great pictures, but – like all of us – it has limitations!

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Two ducklings with their mama

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Wood duck reflection

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beaver? muskrat? otter?

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“Night Heron”, is what some friendly strangers called this.

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Night Heron

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Too quick for my camera, but there’s beauty in the blurriness!

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I don’t have to go hiking to see beauty: this is my neighbour’s lovely garden:

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Rambling Thoughts and Reflections about Camp and this Past Year

Sittin’ on the Dock of the Camp

We came back about a week ago from a time at a Christian family camp. Jono did some music there, and I felt well enough to join him a bit, playing a borrowed flute and even singing a little. I still coughed, but my cough improved enough that I could use my windpipes to make music – something I hadn’t done in many months! (So thankful for the new meds, although the side effects are a bit rough.)

I love singing, but haven’t really been able to sing since last summer. This has been so hard for me. I’ve been standing with the congregation but unable to join in the singing without erupting in fits of coughing. This past week and a half my breathing and cough have improved so much that I can quietly sing a little bit here and there with only a bit of coughing. This is such a gift, but there is still grief as I can’t really belt it out freely. I yearn to be able to fully sing again, and I hope this time will come soon.

… but back to the camp …

The people were so lovely and encouraging. I was given the opportunity to tell a bit of my story to the 400+ people there one evening, and I’m so grateful for that. It was such a privilege to be able to speak to these dear folks, and in the following days, many of them introduced themselves to me and thanked me for what I said. Many of them told me they were praying for me and following this blog, and some even honoured me by telling me part of their story. I felt very blessed and surrounded with love and support.

One of the things I said is that all of us are touched by cancer, whether directly or indirectly, and if it’s not cancer then it’s something else: we all have something. We all can relate to each other. We all can help one another carry our loads. (Galatians 6) We all have the choice to be grateful or grumpy.

Some people have said to me that I’m so brave, so strong, but the truth is that I’m not! If ever I appear that way, it is the grace of God on display. I find reading Scripture and praying regularly to be a great source of comfort and encouragement, but sometimes it’s hard to focus. I’ve printed the words of Scripture and prayers on paper which I’ve taped inside my kitchen cupboard doors to help remind and encourage me. I have the privilege of being able to ask friends to pray for me and/or with me, and to have coffee with me, or go for walks with me when I’m up for it. My community is such a gift to me, and I’ve had opportunity to grow in humility and grace as friends have served us so generously in many ways, including cleaning our toilets… significant opportunity for me to grow in humility and grace!

I have found it frustrating to not be able to do the things I normally do. I’ve often wondered how to faithfully navigate this strange season of life. Months ago I asked my amazing small group for their thoughts on how I could live faithfully, and they reminded me that this is a great opportunity to focus on deepening my relationship with God. I can’t DO all that I’d like to do, but I can still BE in relationship, and it’s relationships that really matter the most.

I am so thankful for my support people who take such good care of us. I am thankful for the friends who let me cry with them, for those who bear with me in my limitations, for those who pray faithfully for me (many of which I’ve never met), those who’ve sent encouraging notes and gifts, and the many who have helped in other ways such as cooking and cleaning, childcare, transportation, … there are so many offers of help that we’ve not yet taken up! We feel very well cared-for and we are so grateful! In these (and other) tangible ways, God shows grace and love.

A year ago, I thought I had my plan for the next year pretty much figured out. Boy was I wrong! I never could have anticipated this. The Living God is the Lord of my life, and that includes my calendar (James 4). My plans changed. Though this has been a difficult year, there is so much for which I’m extremely grateful. The brief summary would be: God, family, friends, acquaintances and strangers. The many ways I’ve been deeply blessed are way too large to count.

… but back to the camp …

We are so grateful for a fun time away as a family, for lovely people who shared themselves so generously with us, for boat rides and hours at the beach, for delicious treats, for laughter, for great speakers, for encouragement and inspiration, for opportunities to watch our children have great fun and be blessed, and for so much more.

Sibling Rivalry?! ;)

Camp Fun: Sibling Rivalry?! 😉

Wagon ride

Camp Fun: Wagon ride

Postponed Pleasure

In the midst of our cold, long winter, we received a happy email from a dear friend. He and his family had been praying and felt God was telling them to use some cash they’d set aside to give us the gift of a Caribbean holiday at an all-inclusive with them. We felt overwhelmed with gratitude for this great offer, and really hoped we’d be able to go.

My oncologist said to wait until after the chemo was done and I’d had a bit of a chance to recover. There were delays to the chemo and uncertainty about how many rounds I’d go. Our generous friends were fine with the plans being delayed and the last-minute uncertainty. We waited…

Finally the decision was made regarding the end of chemo and the doctor gave us a date for booking the trip. Our friends were looking at the Dominican Republic, but my oncologist wasn’t keen since the medical care there is not as good as elsewhere. He would have preferred that we went somewhere safer.

Because it was so last-minute, there weren’t loads of options, and as we prayed about it we were ok with the risks of going to the DR. Our friend booked a great place with a water park nearby and a kids club – looked fantastic! We had our tickets and were ready to leave Easter Saturday.

Good Friday I awoke with a fever. If you read my previous post about chemo and fevers, you know that this meant an immediate trip to Emergency because chemo patients have compromised immune systems, so a fever can mean a life-threatening situation. A good friend drove me there and stayed with me throughout the day, while doctors and nurses came and went. She even read aloud to me, until my snoring drowned out her words! 🙂

Tests revealed I had pneumonia and ruled out any possibility of travel the next day. Cancer in my left lung, pneumonia in my right: no wonder I felt tired and my breathing was laboured! The doctor wanted me to stay in hospital overnight, but I insisted on going home. I really wanted the rest of my family to go on holiday the next day, and I didn’t want to miss out on time with them before they left.

Naturally I was disappointed to not be able to fly out with them, but all along I’d had the attitude that being offered the trip was a very real part of the gift, and I received that with joy and gratitude. I was hoping that I might be able to travel a few days later, but had no idea if I could get a flight, or how much it might cost, or if I’d be well enough …

Jono & the kids left, and I was so happy for them. I was also very happy to go back to bed! Friends brought food and checked in on me several times a day. I was in good hands, and grateful for the opportunity to be at home and sleep. People were praying, and every few hours I noticed that I felt considerably better than I had earlier. On Easter Sunday I wasn’t well enough to go to church in the morning, nor even across the street to the neighbours’ for brunch (they generously sent food over for me to enjoy at home!), but by dinner time I was up for dinner at other neighbours’, and stayed much longer than I’d planned since I continued to feel better throughout the evening. (Can any of you imagine me perking up during dinner conversation?)

On Easter Monday I felt well enough that I called the travel agent to inquire about flights. I learned that flying out on Tues. was quite pricey, but Wed. wasn’t so bad. I booked a flight for Wed. with hope and excitement, glad for an extra day of recovery. Other friends even gave us cash which covered the flight and a few other costs. We felt so blessed.

Snow still covered part of our backyard the day I left for the airport. The view of the DR from the plane was amazing: too bad I didn’t have a camera with me! (But I’m glad for the great photo’s Jono & the kids took before I arrived!)

I was so grateful to be able to go on this holiday – even if only for part of the week. It was relaxing to not have to think about cooking or homework or music practice. I enjoyed watching the kids play and reading and hanging out with everyone. Many smiles and much laughter! By the end of my time there, I was playing with the kids in the pool and feeling pretty well!

What a good gift from God and from our friends … and may I add that we are very thankful for the timing of my fever: had it occurred even the next day, while I was in the DR, that would have been at the very least a lot more complicated. Pneumonia can be so serious, and I am thankful for the good medical care I received here, including effective antibiotics.

I am also so grateful for the good gifts of friends who prayed and contributed together to care for me here and give us this great, relaxing trip. I can’t tell you how much that meant to us. What a beautiful grace-filled oasis in the midst of a long and difficult winter!

Watching peacocks and peahens

Great View from the shade!

Holding the Christ-Light

IMG_9415 - Cropped tighter

Back in December when I was about to share our sad and surprising news with a good friend via long-distance call, I had no idea that she would also be telling me of her own family’s challenging news. While her situation is vastly different from mine, we both felt surprised and confused.

It struck me powerfully that we both struggled in our own ways to hope for ourselves, but we also both felt tremendous hope for the other in her situation.  I could clearly see good ways forward for my friend, but was needing to “piggyback” on the faith and hope of friends for me.

IMG_9415My friend sent me this little statue soon after our conversation. In the note, she included a few verses from the Bible, including this prayer that St. Paul prayed almost two thousand years ago (and many people have prayed since): May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15)  I wrote it on a sticky note which I stuck on the side of the fridge to remind me of her prayer for me, and to remind me to keep praying it for myself. “The God of hope”, “all joy and peace in believing”, “abounding in hope” are such beautiful and full-bodied images. I know many people have been praying for me, and I’m thankful these prayers are being answered!

When I saw the statue, I immediately thought of a line from the song (that we used to occasionally sing in church) below: I will hold the Christ-light for you… and I realized with deep gratitude that is precisely what a number of my friends were doing for me, with their prayers, words and actions.

The Servant Song  by Richard Gillard

1.  Brother, sister, let me serve you; let me be as Christ to you

Pray that I might have the grace to let you be my servant too.

2.  We are pilgrims on a journey, we’re together on the road

We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.

3.  I will hold the Christ-light for you, in the night-time of your fear.

I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.

4.  I will weep when you are weeping; when you laugh, I’ll laugh with you.

I will share your joy and sorrow, till we’ve seen this journey through.

5. When we sing to God in heaven, we will find such harmony;

Born of all we’ve known together of Christ’s love and agony.

6.  Repeat v. 1, singing ‘Sister, brother…’

Copyright 1977 Scripture in Song.  Used by permission.

There are times when we need people to lend a hand to help us carry our load. Then there are times when we need people to simply carry it for us. That’s how I felt early on with my diagnosis. I needed people to hope for me and to help me to hope, because my hope was flickering dimly at that time.  I needed people to pray for me, because praying was very hard at that time. My prayers were often brief heart-felt cries, pleas, groans, wordless yearnings, tears.  I took comfort in the (sometimes brutally) honest prayers recorded in the Bible (e.g. Jeremiah, the Psalms). Knowing that friends were praying: not just for me, but actually on my behalf, made such a difference.

Here are a few lines from a Bruce Cockburn song that also speaks to the support of friends. How important it is to have friends who lovingly speak truth to us: who help us remember what is real and cling to what is true …

I’ve been scraping little shavings off my ration of light
And I’ve formed it into a ball, and each time I pack a bit more onto it
I make a bowl of my hands and I scoop it from its secret cache
Under a loose board in the floor
And I blow across it and I send it to you
Against those moments when
The darkness blows under your door

Isn’t that what friends are for?

– from Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu (1999)

A number of friends have helped bolster my hope in various ways. For this I am so grateful. My desire is that I will travel this journey through the valley not just with gratitude, but also with hopeful realism. Hope is a significant ingredient I’ve been reflecting on quite a bit lately, and may ramble about more later!