Six Month Check-up

Last time I saw my oncologist was on a warm, sunny day—or at least it should have been, being in July. I don’t really remember. Last Friday I was scheduled to see him again. Because the only opening that worked for me did not work for my husband, and because I would be travelling at rush hour, I chose to take the light rail, just as I did for those two months of radiation.

I sat in my usual place; how easy to fall back into old patterns. I remembered to run once I got off the first train—down the sidewalk, across two streets to the train platform where I caught my second ride. I made it with a minute to spare. Which put me at the medical clinic well ahead of my appointment time, since I had allowed for the possibility of missing that connection.

In the waiting room I watched people come and go. An elderly woman, face pale and drawn, passed me with slow, unsteady steps. I said a silent prayer for her. A middle-aged man with balding head and expanding midsection greeted the receptionist cheerfully. She called him by name and seemed to know him well; this was apparently not his first visit. A young couple, baby in stroller, entered with a middle-aged woman. None had any obvious signs of illness, and I wondered which was the cancer patient. They, too, seemed quite familiar to the woman behind the desk.

I waited again in the examining room. Friday afternoon is not the best time for an appointment. Especially when it’s the day before your doctor goes on vacation. He walked into the room, sat down, and asked how I was. “Doing well,” I answered.

“Well, good. See you in six months,” he said, getting up and opening the door. We both laughed as he sat back down. We talked about upcoming trips, both his and mine. We talked about minor aches and pains, and how to deal with them. Eat more bananas for those toe cramps, he said. He examined me and proclaimed all to be well.

I rode light rail home in the evening darkness, feeling grateful for modern medicine, for caring doctors, and for a God who is with me, no matter what.

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When Fog Rolls In

The sun shone brightly this afternoon as I climbed into the truck to go mail a package. Just another Christmastime errand. The warmth felt good on my skin on a cool almost-winter day. However, barely a quarter of a mile down the road, I drove into a fog bank. The day turned suddenly gray and gloomy, so very different from the bright day I had left behind. That in itself wasn’t too unusual. Many times I have left my house in sunshine to find the rest of the town locked in fog.

 The strangeness came less than half a mile farther down the road, when the fog melted away, and the day turned light and cheerful again.

 I wondered if the fog had been there all day. Had people living in the fogged-in area realized that blue skies reigned only blocks away? Or had it seemed to them that the whole world was lost in the grayness?

 I’ve been through a few fog banks this year—when I had my cancer, of course, and when my aunt went through her health challenges and eventually died. When trials like these come, it can seem like the whole world is gray and bereft of joy. It truly can feel like being lost in the fog in some unknown territory. And yet, if we can see ahead—and trust the Lord who leads us—there will be sunshine coming, sometimes just a short distance down the road. We have only to keep on moving to reach it.

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Worse than Having Cancer

I always thought having cancer or some life-threatening disease would be about the worst thing that could happen to a person. To face surgery, the pain of recovery, the danger of complications, the fear that they couldn’t get it all—it’s a scary situation. And it can definitely be an ordeal. I was fortunate in that my cancer did not have complications and did not put me in much pain. Others are not so lucky.

 However, in recent months I have come to believe that there may be one thing worse than going through cancer or some such disease: watching a loved one go through it. In my dear aunt’s case, cancer was not the culprit. Several months ago she suffered a stroke. After almost three months of hospital, nursing home, and assisted living, she finally made it back home. Gradually she regained strength and mobility. She proudly informed me that she had walked to the end of her street and back, several blocks total.

 Then, the day after that walk, illness struck again, this time in the form of an intestinal blockage. Back to the hospital, where they first tried non-surgical methods, then operated. The surgery went well; the recovery did not. Her heartbeat was irregular, and they couldn’t seem to get it stabilized. Then pneumonia moved in. I watched my sweet aunt struggle for breath, saw the pain in her face as the breathing machine pushed air into her lungs. I heard her say, beneath the breathing mask, “I just want to die.”

 We agreed to let them remove all the tubes and needles, waited for her to go. Instead she started growing stronger. We began to hope that she would recover yet again. She moved to an assisted living home, where she oh-so-slowly worked on rebuilding her strength. But it was not to be. One day, after her caretaker helped her walk down the hall and back, her body suddenly gave out. She left this world as I was telling her, over the phone, that I loved her.

 Now I sort through her things—boxes of paperwork, family pictures, records of a life—and tears come from time to time. I used to talk with her frequently, sharing family news, hearing about her neighbors, commiserating over politics. I miss those talks. Yet I had a vision of sorts the other day, a picture in my mind that reassured. For those who have seen “Return of the Jedi,” remember the scene at the end where Luke looks up to see a ghostly image of his Jedi teachers, Yoda and Obi Wan? And there, too, is his father, smiling and at peace. I saw a similar picture of my aunt having a joyous reunion in heaven with my mother (her sister) and their parents. Someday I believe I will see them again, all of them. It will be a wonderful day!

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Normal

Normal. It has such a nice ring to it.

“Your recent mammogram was normal,” the letter from my health provider stated. I read the sentence a couple more times to make sure I got it right. Normal. How comforting, how safe-sounding.

My husband and I had just returned from a camping trip to a beautiful and peaceful place. Last year at this time we returned from a different camping trip to discover I had breast cancer. As a person who tends to look for patterns in life, I couldn’t help being a bit nervous. On the way home I thought about how I might react if I was once again called in for a recheck. I think it would be harder this time than the last. Going through cancer once is scary, but having it return? I think that would be much worse, because the fear would arise that this cancer was never going to go away, that life would never be ordinary and safe again.

But the letter said I was normal–or at least, one part of my anatomy was. My husband gave me a high five, and we both grinned. The sun was shining, we were home from a wonderful trip, and we could go on living each day and planning for the future. There will be unexpected challenges to come–that is a given for all of us–but for now, life is good.

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Not in this Fight Alone: Guest Post by David Haas

An uphill climb

One very important aspect of cancer recovery is being able to express your fears, pains and anxiety. Going through cancer is no easy task, but it definitely helps to have someone who understands what you are going through to talk with.

Cancer survivor networks and other groups are perfect for people who are going through cancer treatment, as well as in remission. Actually, there are reasons why cancer survivor networks are important and why they are effective.

They help ease anxiety

Discussing your fears and anxiety with other people who understand how you feel is therapeutic. In fact, after group sessions, many people feel less anxious about their condition. Physically, being less anxious helps the body’s immune system to be more effective in fighting the disease. Being at ease, the brain sends neurological signals to other body parts that help the parts do their job.

It helps patients learn about treatment

While talking to doctors, some patients feel nervous, inhibiting their ability to understand everything the doctor tries to explain to them. However, cancer network groups are typically a relaxed setting, helping patients to better understand treatment methods, options and alternatives.

A place to relax

Additionally, people feel more comfortable about certain situations when they understand, at least to a certain extent, the overview of their situation. Therefore, understanding how treatment works, the side effects to popular treatments and the consequences of not having certain treatments will help patients feel more comfortable and relaxed about their condition.

This is important for patients with all types of cancers, including but not limited to breast cancer, colon cancer and even rare cancers like mesothelioma. This is even more important when encountering rare cancers because a lot of them are extremely unknown and the stigma behind them can be devastating. For Example, patients with a mesothelioma prognosis typically don’t understand their condition in comparison to other cancer patients and need reassurance and understanding of their disease.

It is therapeutic for cancer survivors

Not alone on the trail

Having gone through cancer treatment and recovery, cancer survivors feel that they have an obligation to help other people who are going through the same thing they went through. It is encouraging for patients to hear from survivors and how they handled their battle with cancer; it gives patients hope for themselves, which is important to have positive state-of-mind.

Conclusion

There is no substitute for conventional and orthodox treatment, but therapeutic group sessions can greatly aid a patient mentally, helping their body physically. Many doctors recommend their patients attend sessions when they can to get a better understanding of cancer, as well as support from their peers.  Here are some great online groups that you may want to check out:

 Inspire.com

Caringbridge.org

David Haas is a cancer patient advocate who wants to make a difference for people who have been diagnosed with this deadly disease. You can check out his blog at http://haasblaag.blogspot.com/

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Moving on…Kind of

My main cancer treatment is over, and I’m glad to be finished with it. Life has kept me busy with other things since then, everyday things like work and family. I don’t think about cancer much any more–well, except when I take that little Tamoxifen pill every evening…or when I get dressed and glimpse the faded scar from surgery…or when I lift my arm and feel a twinge in the arm pit where muscles and nerves are still repairing themselves…or when anyone mentions cancer in any context…

Maybe I just dont want to think about cancer. When someone posts that thing on Facebook about “if you know someone with cancer, etc., etc., post this,” I never post it. When someone “likes” a cancer site or organization, I don’t “like” it. I don’t even wear the nice Susan G. Komen sweatshirt my husband gave me for Christmas. (I do plan to wear it once I actually walk in the Race for the Cure. There it would fit right in.) I guess I just don’t want to be associated with cancer any more. I just want to live a regular life and move on. And for the most part, I do and I have. But there will always be that little niggling uncertainty.

“I was so nervous the first time I had a mammogram after having breast cancer,” a friend at church told me. I wonder how I will feel when that time arrives. Will I be scared that something will show up? Or will I be able to keep trusting in God who has seen me through so far? Or will I be scared, but still trusting?–I suppose one doesn’t necessarily negate the other.

Life is full of uncertainties, and that will never change. I am just more aware of them now. Still, whatever happens, I refuse to be defined by my cancer. I am not a “cancer victim.” “Cancer survivor”–yeah, I can handle that. Person who had cancer–even better. Just plain me, with all the complexity that being human includes–best of all.

Have a great day! I plan to.

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Easter

Today is Easter, my favorite day of the year. Easter, or more precisely, the Resurrection, is the event that gives me hope, the center of a faith I could not live without.

It’s kind of like reading a really good book for the second time. Say, The Lord of the Rings, one of my all-time favorites. (I’ve read it way more than two times.) As I read about Frodo and Sam, Aragorn and Faramir, and the other protagonists facing impossible odds and incredible hardships, I want to keep reading because I know the good part is coming. Sauron will be defeated, the Fellowship will be reunited, good will triumph over evil. Although I get caught up in their trials, I can always remind myself, “I know how it ends, and it’s good.”

In life, we may also face hardships and what seem to be impossible odds. Cancer is one of those hardships, but there are many, many more. In the midst of this, it can be easy to lose hope and give in to fear. Sometimes it may seem like too much to bear. But, as a Christian, I know how the story ends. Joyful reunions will occur, and good will triumph over evil. And it will be wonderful beyond words.

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