It’s true that life is a journey. God Our Creator walks with us through the valleys and onto the mountaintops, through our joys and our trials. I’ve had plenty of both in my 60 years. The joy of giving birth to four beautiful boys, now wonderful young men. The heartache of divorce and the mountaintop experience of finding a forever partner. I have walked near Jesus and turned down my own path. But “He who searches the hearts” (Rom. 8:27) never turned from me. He knows my shadows, but loves me still.
I’ve never felt God’s presence more than when I walked through a season of dealing with breast cancer. I was schedule for a mammogram in December 2012, right after Christmas. More tests over the next two weeks revealed that I had a small cancerous tumor that was growing quickly. The new year was ushered in with more tests, surgery and radiation. I was fortunate that the cancer was found early and my recovery was swift. Today I am cancer-free.
The word “cancer” stops even the strongest of us in our tracks. I felt so vulnerable, yet at the same time so safe. God provided a peace that sustained me through this season. During the weeks following the diagnosis, I shared some of my thoughts and prayers regarding this new reality in life’s landscape. Perhaps these reflections will ease the journey for others dealing with cancer.
The Answer to Anxiety
January 14, 2013
Today I must admit to being anxious. In the six days since I learned I have a cancerous tumor growing in my left breast, I have given myself just five minutes to cry and grieve over what might come of this. Behind a closed door, I questioned and wept, but then I walked out onto the path laid out before me. Conversations with doctors, with family, with dear friends fed the peace I pursued so doggedly, just as the estrogen is feeding my 1 centimeter tumor. And I’ve walked in that peace, saying what I believe: that God knows, that He’s known from the womb, and that He cares, and that He wastes nothing.
Good will come from this…..even this.
But today I am anxious. In two hours I will get in my car and travel to the hospital, where I’ll don that blue cape that opens in the front, and I’ll do exactly what they tell me, walk where they lead for tests in preparation for the surgeon’s knife. I’ll pray as I walk and wait, as others are praying for me, for a good outcome, for a simple, straight-forward removal of the cancer. For those words of comfort — “We got it all. That’s it. You can get on with your life.”
So today, as I’m anxious, and as only God could ordain, my devotional tells me this:
“The answer to anxiety is the adoration of Christ.”
Author Ann Voskamp quotes John Calvin and I am reminded that even in this, I can rejoice, I can adore, I can exalt Christ. I can thank Him for this trial, for the fear that has pulled me closer to Him and to those I love.
I trust Him for a right outcome, I really do. His “right” may not be mine, but I pledge to exalt Him in it, to give Him glory for healing, for the wisdom of doctors, for the faith of family and friends.
I can’t do much heavy lifting immediately after this surgery, but I can do a little dancing, a little lifting of hands in worship and praise. Were I a braver soul, I could be dancing down the hallways of the hospital in my silly blue cape, exalting and adoring Him who created me and has known me from the womb…….knows me even now.
At the very least, I can say “Thank you, God, for even this.”
Body on Loan from God
January 18, 2013
In the days since a cancerous tumor was lifted from my chest, I’ve thought a lot about this earthly body, the one God created for me nearly 60 years ago. These days, I am certainly aware that my body and I are on the downhill side of life.
If I’m lucky (or maybe not), I could spend another 20 years in this sack of bones, muscle and skin. No doubt this recent encounter with exploding cancer cells will not be my last health issue, nor was it my first. As a friend and I joked recently, we’ve all been dying since the day we were born.
It helps to remember that this body, this “temple” of heavenly design, is not my eternal vessel. It is a disposable wrapper, serving a purpose and giving a visible image to the soul God set inside when He first knew me in my mother’s womb. To borrow a notion from my husband’s favorite conservative radio personality, I have a body “on loan from God.”
A wise little girl awakened in me thoughts about our heavenly bodies years ago when she described the day she would be able to walk into Jesus’ arms. This little one, now a grown woman, hasn’t been able to walk or stand unassisted for more than a few seconds since birth. A neurological defect took that ability from her, but in its place God set a sweet spirit and blazing faith that have carried her more miles than I’ll ever walk. Brown eyes snapping, little Gertie told her mother’s friends that she couldn’t wait until she gets her new body in heaven, so that she can run with the other children…….and stand beside Jesus.
Yesterday, a dear friend who is walking his own journey with cancer asked me how I’m seeing life these days. “How has your perspective changed?” he said. I know that his has. A beloved husband, father to six and “Papa” to four grandchildren, he knows what he will leave behind should cancer take him from his earthly home. I’ve seen him cherishing each day with his family. And I’ve watched him grow closer to his Lord and Savior.
This friend pointed me to words of another who has tasted the word “cancer” on the tongue, and who is anointed by God to speak hard truths full of the Holy Spirit. In his book “Don’t Waste Your Cancer”, author and pastor John Piper says this:
“We will waste our cancer if we don’t hear in our own groanings the labor pains of the new creation.”
Piper points out that “glorious freedom is coming” — freedom from sin, from pain, from these earthly bodies that will fail us.
“Don’t misinterpret your own groanings. Don’t waste the witness of your own cancer,” says Piper. “The aim of God in our cancer (among a thousand other good things) is to knock props out from under our hearts so that we rely utterly on him.”
So, I’m reminded that God doesn’t waste anything, that this cancer is part of His plan for me, and that He will use it for good…..is using it even now. Today, that good is to draw me deeper into His Word, to cause me to lean into Him for strength, to turn toward those who love me enough to walk alongside in this journey. And, to set my eyes on the day I can stand perfect and whole beside my heavenly Father.
I got the answer I prayed for yesterday — the tumor is gone and no cancer cells were left behind. I will be writing my own answer to a bigger question in the days to come: How will I choose to spend the days I have left walking on this earth? If I take John Piper’s advice, I’ll choose not to waste this thing that God has allowed in my life.
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal
weight of glory beyond all comparison” 2 Corinthians 4:17
I’m counting on that “glory beyond all comparison.”
No “Muskrat Love” in My World
January 26, 2013
Taking stock recently of my body’s collision with breast cancer, I’m intrigued by how God has tucked so many life lessons into this natural world, almost as if He’s devised a sort of “treasure hunt” for us. It was with amusement that I stumbled upon a lesson in “Muskrat Love” buried for me in my own back yard.
One has taken up residence in our pond — a Muskrat, that is. I first spied him just after Christmas, before the ice, and while winter delayed its coming. Walking the pond’s sunlit edge, I heard a splash. A long, flat tail slithered behind a lump of fur below the glassy surface. I stood still, quiet, waiting, when a pointy nose pierced the surface, followed by beady eyes. A rippled wake marked Muskrat’s progress across the spring-fed pond. Just as suddenly, he was gone and the water calmed.
Since that first sighting, I’ve been able to watch him from my kitchen window or from a second-story bathroom. Some days, I miss his travels across the pond. The surface remains unbroken, no wake appears. Others, I spy his slick head or catch sight of the ripples his journey creates. I know from Husband who trapped as a boy that Muskrat is probably burrowing into the walls of the pond we dredged in the fall. No doubt, he’s creating a home for the family he hopes to breed come spring.
On these deep winter days, as I walk the edge of this pool of uncertainty and concern, I remind myself that I have owned the fact “cancer” is now part of my personal vocabulary, and there is acceptance of what must be done and what may come. I trust God “has this” and I’m leaning into Him for comfort, and into the love of those who surround me. Most days, there is calm, peace.
But then there are days when a churning begins beneath the surface and I sense some burrowing deep in the strong wall of faith I’ve built. A doubt, a tremble of fear, an essence of frustration — they break the surface and I dwell in them a bit. It feels good to vent a little, to stir the waters and examine what lies beneath. But before long, I see that they threaten to displace this peace I’ve worked to attain. And as I watch the ripples wash over my family, spill into my daily duties, I realize that if I don’t grab these feelings by the tail, they will set up housekeeping in my world, ready to burrow in and build a room for breeding.
Husband says the Muskrat must go. Where, I wonder? How? But, I know too well the plans he has for it, and I protest. Muskrats need a place to live, too, I say. Not here, he says. Where there’s one, there will soon be others, and they’ll wreck the foundation we worked to create in the depths of this peaceful pond.
I have to agree. There is no room for them…..for muskrats or doubts, frustrations or fears……not here, not in our world.
Reflecting on Lessons Learned
February 2, 2013
Lying on a gurney in the radiation room at my Cancer Treatment Center, I count up to 16.
“You’re Number 16,” I say to the kind fellow prepping me for my morning CAT scan — Number 16 in a long line of strangers to examine, poke, bandage or photograph this rather personal area of my body. He chuckles and pushes a button that slides me into the scanning tunnel. All in a day’s work.
Some journeys we plan, others are mapped out for us, and still others we just stumble upon. I certainly didn’t plan my journey through breast cancer, though I believe God knew all along that it would become part of His plan for me. I stumbled upon it through a routine mammogram. And now, it seems a new course is mapped out for me.
The ten radiation treatments I received over the past week were not on my original calendar for January 2013, but the appointments scribbled in the pages of my Day-Timer and on the refrigerator calendar represent sign-posts on this journey. And the diploma and mug I received from the hospital staff tell me I’ve turned a corner with some new life lessons under my belt.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far at this intersection with breast cancer:
- Expect the unexpected. At nearly 60 (and as the mom of four sons) you’d think I’d have learned that one by now, but cynicism has never been part of my make-up. I tend to live on the sunny side of life, which means I occasionally get blind-sided by reality. In this reality, I’m finding unexpected blessings — God speaking to me in nature, friendships that grow deeper through this shared experience, the pleasure of a warm blanket wrapped around my shoulders by a stranger doing her job with kindness.
- Lean on those who have traveled this path before you. I have never met author and pastor John Piper, but his thoughtful writings on the eve of his surgery for prostate cancer are like advice from a godly friend. In “Don’t Waste Your Cancer”, Piper reminds all of us walking through trial that illness or troubles of any kind are not a “curse”. Our lives have been “transformed from a punitive pathway to hell into a purifying pathway to heaven. We are not cursed. As hard as it is to feel this, we believe God is not withholding good. He is doing good.”
The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11)
- It’s not enough to just have a “positive attitude”. We need to walk the talk. In her book “There’s No Place Like Hope”, cancer survivor Vickie Girard said “You can’t just sit around and visualize your way to wellness with positive thoughts. I think it’s important that we connect our positive attitude to forward-moving action or activity.” Like “The Little Engine That Could”, we can say “I think I can, I think I can”, but then we’ve got to build up the steam to make it up that hill. For me, that means learning all I can about this “chronic disease”, building good nutrients into my diet, taking the right medication and making myself exercise every day. That last one will be the toughest — unless I reward it with dark, dark chocolate. (Yes, that’s in my new diet.)
- It’s okay to put yourself first once in awhile. I can be self-sacrificial to a fault. I’m realizing the good feeling I get from putting others first is really self-serving if in doing that I risk becoming a burden myself. We can not do for others if we do not do for ourselves. Whatever it is that we need for rejuvenation should be built into our days. And we shouldn’t ruin it by feeling guilty. Taking time for “self” is one of the best things we can do for those who share our days.
- Appreciate the world God has given to us. As I’ve been walking through Cancer the past several weeks, I have also been counting 21 days of “wonder” as I #LIVEWONDERSTRUCK. Today is a time to appreciate the people, places and events that are woven into my life.
- A sense of humor helps. (See the Number 16 observation above.) I intend to laugh a lot more in the days ahead.
I’m sure there’s much more to be learned in this experience and in life. These lessons are a good start — or maybe they should be called a “restart”, because as long as we’re breathing, we should be learning.