In Sickness and in Health

Battling cancer with love, medicine, and the Giver of both.

Way Over Due Cont’d.

#2. Josh and I are planning to move to Jerusalem, Israel, this coming January.

#3. I’m not a liar!

Our decision has certainly not been as abrupt as this post.  It’s kind of a long story, so I will be brief.  Essentially, we were contacted by CAM (Christian Aid Ministries) earlier this summer.  They were wondering if Josh would be interested in filling an administrative assistant position.  Our initial reaction was uncertainty.  This was a ‘dream come true’ in many ways but the timing and various other factors did not seem quite right.  Josh has only one more year of online schooling and did not want to interrupt that too much.  I was enrolled and ready to go back for schooling myself.  I also wrestled a bit with the thing of “Am I strong enough?” and “Will I be able to be medically followed over there.”  Lots of questions and a few concerns, with a small amount of hope thrown in.

We were scheduled to have a meeting with CAM a few weeks later.  We were just praying that God would clearly direct us one way or the other through that meeting.  A few days before we met, I told Josh, “I really don’t think we will be going.”  I was sad but wanted whatever was best.

News Flash: Women’s intuitions are not always accurate!

And all the men said “Amen!”

And I say, “Thank God!”

It turned out to be a wonderful meeting.  All of the questions/concerns we brought to them were answered and allayed.  Needless to say, we were thrilled!  I don’t think we have run into one closed door yet.  Josh will need to slow down his schooling, but he should be able to finish it over there since it’s online.  I have had a lot of peace about not doing schooling myself at this time.  I had wanted to go for Early Childhood Education.  It sounds like I may be able to be involved in some kind of Day Care/Kindergarten over there.  And the medical system is quite advanced, so we are good on that count as well.  And everything else in between has fallen into place.  It all still seems very surreal.

We are not required to commit to any amount of time, so it’s rather indefinite.  This is how we want it!

Amidst all of the excitement, we obviously feel pain as well when we think of leaving family and community and friends!  It hits in waves.  And I’m sure the intensity will only increase as the time approaches.

I’ve also dealt with ‘what if’ fears over my health, afraid that something will prevent us from going.  But all of these fears are hushed when I recall that it’s in His good heart that I have come to rest.  Whatever He wills, it will be okay.

Again, I stand in awe of how He has “brought me out into a place of abundance.” Praise to His name!!

And so we journey on…….

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Way Over Due

I have two things to say that are way over due!  And only because of my sister’s prodding am I actually sitting down right now to write this.  Otherwise you might have waited for another month.  Don’t worry, she doesn’t have THAT much control over me.

… just a little.

So…

#1. On September 4th I rounded the corner and prepared myself to enter a fourth decade, or end a third one, whichever it technically is.  Surprisingly, it was not alarming.  I’ve been saying for awhile now that I feel every bit of thirty.  It just feels right.

Let me clarify the ‘not alarming’ phrase.  The actual process of changing my age digits from 29 to 30 was not alarming, but the surprises that surrounded that change were anything but boring.  My conniving man set about to make this a very memorable birthday.

He’s sneaky.

Well, technically he’s a liar, but we won’t go into that.

About a week before the day, he let me know I couldn’t plan anything for the evening of my birthday (Thursday) or for the weekend following, for that matter.

AND, he kept telling me, “Don’t expect too much, Jean.”  Hmmm….what was I supposed to do with that?  Sure, go ahead and surprise me and then tell me it’s not worth anticipating??  Whatever.  I’m a woman.  I have great expectations.  Regardless, I tried to obey and not become too excited.

Don’t tell him, but I kinda liked the idea of being surprised.

Well Thursday evening ‘dawned bright and early’.  I was to be ready a little after 6 pm.  I was instructed to wear casual.  I had assumed we would be going out for dinner until he loaded up our corn hole game.  Then I knew it wasn’t just us.  And when he turned south out of our lane, I had it figured out in two guesses.  Turns out my dear, dear friend, Delilah, had been up to some conniving herself.  She had a regular birthday feast all ready and waiting for us and a few other dear friends.  Now let me say, she has four wee little boys (only one in school) AND she had met me at a park that day to celebrate.  Hah!  So, do the math….not much time left to prepare, but it was a fantastic evening.  I think my favorite part was her outdoor dessert table.  Tastefully  decorated with candles, lights and flowers, it was quite the sight.  And mind you, not just one dessert, but THREE!  Creme brulee, peaches and cream cheesecake, and cream puffs.  We ate our dessert in style, and yes, I tried all three!  And yes, they were all three absolutely marvelous.  Thank-you again Delilah!

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Then…… I was told that I’d need to pack for the weekend, so I knew it involved going away.  Friday afternoon, I was out gathering my laundry in from off the line.  I heard a voice behind me say, “Do you need help with that?”  I whipped around to find my own dear mother standing a few yards behind me.  I don’t usually do this with surprises, but I screamed!  Like bloody murder!  I think probably every neighbor thought that’s what was happening.  As I was hugging her, my sister came sprinting around the house, and I screamed again.  Unfortunately, it was directly in my mother’s ear.  As I was recovering from that, or rather as my mother’s ears were recovering, my four year old niece came sprinting around the corner and yes, you guessed it….I screamed again.  Then I sat down in the grass all giggles and smiles, and I let the wonder of it all sink in.  You see, a couple weeks prior I had asked for them to come, but alas, their schedules were too busy.  Yeah right!  I didn’t know until later, but at the time that I asked, the weekend was already planned.  Well…… I’m not going to go into all the details of the marvelous weekend.  You can read about it on my sister’s blog: shari.zooks.us/gifts

Talk about a serendipitous birthday!  My husband is my new hero! :)

And in the glow of all this, I ask, “God, what right do I have to be restored to fullness and life?”  The fact is, I have no right.  It is a gift!  One of the best parts of the weekend was revisiting the stem cell transplant unit at UVA. As we entered the room where I spent three weeks of my life, it felt more like a bad dream from long ago, than a reality.  I stood there and looked around and remembered how I met my Maker and Healer in a new way!  AND, I got to share what Jesus had done with one of my least favorite nurses.  Why she of all people was the only one there that day, I don’t know, but I have this feeling that it was kinda planned that way.  I would not have chosen to talk with her, but as I shared with her my experiences and how Jesus has healed me and thanked her for her part in it all, she broke down.  Redemption….  Yes!

#2. Yes, I’m finally getting to number two.  Did you forget we are in a sequence here? :)  But this post hath made itself long enough, so you will have to wait for number two for another time.

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Feathers and Fluff Cont’d.

Well, it seems that I missed some key gifts very relevant to my fluff-ball mascots.

1. As Marie reminded me, my very dear and very wonderful man gave me a special gift during my transplant.  I have to disagree, Marie… I was not a beautiful bride at the time, at least outwardly, which makes my husband even nobler.  I was a hairless, puffy, drugged up woman.  He’s my hero for loving me through all that!!

Here it is — my precious bird cage:

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You may remember me talking about this picture holder.  Its the one given to me in my very spacy week in the hospital.  The one that a few days later had me stumped as to who gave it.  That one.  It is now hanging in my kitchen and is filled with all our nieces and nephews, minus one. :(  Josh and April’s Jackson is not present.  But believe me, he’s as cute as they come.

2. A very special gift from my favorite sister.

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This little guy with his important message sits in my living room.  He’s been there ever since I received him.  Shari gave this to me during my first rounds of treatment if I remember right.

These two gifts were given even before birds held special significance to me.  Funny how retroactive God can be sometimes.

This makes me think I’m probably missing some other very important gift, so if you are the giver, please enlighten me.

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Feathers and Fluff

I’d like to think it’s pretty common for God to give a ‘mascot’ (for lack of a better word) to someone in a time of sickness or difficulty.  A symbol.  Something physical that holds special significance.  For a friend of mine, it is sunshine.  For me, it is birds.

It all started about a year ago, several months after my transplant.  God began vying for my attention through those amazing little puff-balls.

I was wrestling that big beast called anxiety…yet again.  It was blowing it’s foul breath all over me.  I was weak and wasn’t winning too well.  Until… I looked outside and saw a flock of sparrows congregating outside my kitchen window.  They were feeding in the grass.

My thoughts went something like this:

Sparrows….

feeding on whatever they can find.

God is taking care of them like He promised.

YES, God, I get it!

Except it wasn’t a frustrated ‘I get it!’  It was a dawning, a realization, a ‘light-bulb’ moment.  “I GET IT!”  And it took only a nano-second to ‘get.’

One of those birds is a fraction of my own value!  But You feed them???  You know when they plummet from the sky on their last flight???

In that brief moment the message was so crystal clear that my beastly enemy had no choice but to grovel at my feet.  No pinning necessary.

More than once that image has been my weapon in the months that have followed.

 

Fast forward to this spring…

I have a hanging geranium on my front porch.  Two wrens decided it was an ideal spot for their nest.  So with much delight we watched the process.  They really did a phenomenal job, bringing grasses and twigs and all sorts of items until they had a secure little home.  Soon there were eggs and then came the ugly hairless stage…creatures always straining their beaks for a tasty worm.  I kept my plant watered during this time and it seemed not to disturb them too much.  From time to time, we would peek in to see how everything was getting along.

About a week ago, I was watering.  As I peaked in, low and behold, a black beady eye was staring back at me.  This little guy had hair!  And not just baby fuzz but actual feathers.  He watched me warily.  As I moved around to water the back of the plant, I began to express to the Lord how much I’d really like to see these creatures fly whenever the time comes.  I declare that message was only half-way to heaven before I heard a fluttering and was startled to see Junior exiting the nest.  He fluttered down to the grass and though I thought it quite graceful for a first flight, I was worried.  I wasn’t at all sure he was ready for this and I feared I had rushed him.

The mother was nowhere in sight…probably on vacation.  So, I stood back in awe as he wibbled and wobbled his way over to the concrete.  He had a very nimble little hop once he reached a hard surface, but talk about toothpick legs.  Actually ‘half a toothpick’ legs.

I debated settling him back in his nest, when mom finally showed up.  She was ?@*&#^%!  I have to use that word ’cause I can’t read bird brains.  I chose to believe she was overjoyed to see her young’un finally leave the nest.  But I declare, she threw a curse or two at me.

About this time, I noticed the two siblings had emerged from the nest and were finding footholds on the plant and the rim of the basket.  Incessant chirping ensued.  The babies, caught up in the excitement and terror of the moment.  And the mother, beside herself with what I’m sure is the biggest day of the year for her.  She had a particular chirp directed at them.  To my pea brain interpretation, it was an encouraging instruction to let go and FLY!!  At one point she even flew up to the nest and down to the ground to show them how simple flying was.  yeah right.  It was amazing to see her focused training.  Every now and then, a scold flew out of her beak if I so much as moved.  Believe me, I know what her scolding sounds like.  I had many opportunities to receive it throughout the prior weeks when I got too close to her brood.  So by now it was inscribed in my memory.  I’m sure I was a nuisance at this moment simply by watching, but I wasn’t going to miss this answer to prayer…not for anything.

As soon as each baby mustered it’s courage and found it’s wings (how cliche-ishly pun-ny) the mother herded them under our car.  Yeah, mighty safe place, Mom!  But she didn’t keep them there.  She exited out the other side and led them to a great big tree that happens to be right in front of the garage.  She then flew up to one of the lower branches, continuing her encouraging chirp.  This branch was maybe 10 feet off the ground.  I wondered how this was going to work.  The babies started to slowly climb the tree.  A little fluttering got them up a few inches where they clung to the bark with those ‘half a toothpick’ legs.  They repeated this until they reached the branch and received a rewarding bite or two from mom and dad. (he showed up late!  Musta been on an even longer vacation)  Sorry to say, Junior #3 had a rough go of it.  He was almost to the branch when for some unknown reason, he decided the garage roof was a reasonable destination.  He made it to the edge and hung on for dear life, but unfortunately he didn’t have a secure hold and he tumbled to the ground only feet away from me.  On his way down, he banged the side of the wall but somehow he managed to land right side up.  Or if not, he was on his feet in a second, flustered and trying to make sense of what just happened.  I could see his little chest fluttering.  Tough little guy.  He was soon hopping back to the base of the tree to attempt a second round of grueling climbing.  And finally, he made it.

I have not seen them since.  I hope and pray they are okay and enjoying their freedom.

I’m not going to end this with a cute little moral or application.  But somehow I believe all this has something to do with His ‘symbol’ to me.

Do you have a ‘mascot?’

 

 

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Clear Scan

We are again rejoicing in another clear scan!  The doctor said it is completely normal.

Thank-you Jesus!

Happy dance!

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Good-bye Medi-port

A little over a week ago Josh and I walked into the hospital for an appointment to remove my medi-port.

YAY!!!!!!

Before we went in, they told me I would receive only local anesthesia for the procedure.  I was a little leery of that idea.  When they put my port in they at least put me in twilight zone.  But it was actually fun being wheeled into an OR and being awake the whole time.  I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.  The procedure didn’t take long, maybe 20-30 minutes.  I felt him tugging and pushing and pulling.  At one point something squirted into the air but I have no idea what it was.  It didn’t seem like blood.

A year ago, a simple procedure like this would have had me in a panic.  I was so exhausted from transplant and things as simple as CT’s made me feel anxious.  No matter how unreasonable the anxiety was, it was real!  Anxiety has been an issue for me all my life and I learned to deal with it to some degree.  But when I hit rock bottom physically I no longer had the capacity to ‘deal with it.’  I won’t go into all the details here.  But I wanted to write this part of my story and share it with whoever might be helped or encouraged by it.  The long and the short is that for several months after the transplant, I had an ‘as needed’ anti-anxiety medication called Ativan.  It helped a lot for those times I was too weak to hold things together.  When that ran out last December, I was getting better but knew I still needed something.  Because Ativan is a narcotic they didn’t want me continuing on it.  I discussed with my doctor the possibility of going on a daily medication explaining that I think I need something more.  He agreed and started me on Paxil and I’ve been on it ever since.

It was a journey to adjust to the idea of being on an anti-anxiety medication.  Before deciding to go on it for sure, I was in a turmoil.  At times I wasn’t at all convinced I needed it.  I was getting better.  I thought I’d be fine.  I wasn’t suicidal for Pete’s sake.  Other times I saw how weak (physically and emotionally) I still was.  I sought the counsel of friends and family over this time.  I will never forget what one friend told me.  She said, “Jean, you don’t have to be a hero!”  Thanks to the advice of friends and the support and leading of my wonderful husband, who knows me best, I took the plunge and have been thankful ever since.  It was a slow change, but once my body was fully adjusted, I could tell a world of difference.  I was much more happy and peaceful, often catching myself singing around the house.  And guess what?  My white-coat problems are basically nil.  I can walk into a hospital and finally have a normal pulse.  I didn’t know if that was ever going to be possible.

I’m not one to enjoy cure-all proclamations and I don’t get excited when people start naming all the benefits of whatever they’re on (sorry, I guess I just did).  I have a lot of cynicism and can smell a placebo from a mile away. :)  Some of my own benefits from this medication may be in my head, but when things improve without me even thinking about it, I’m pretty convinced.

Believe me, I’m not proud to be on a medication like this.  Neither am I ashamed.  I needed it and I took it.  And that’s just the way it is.

8 Comments »

Living

Well!  As my husband alluded to in the last post, I am enjoying spring and absorbing it all I can.

I thank God over and over for what He has restored and the life I am able to live now, knowing I have no guarantee of the future.

I am living life fairly ‘normally’ at this point.  Gardening, landscaping, housekeeping, and even playing some church softball.  About that…

Softball was never my favorite sport or one I was very good at, but I used to be able to at least hit a pitched ball.  The other night I thoroughly embarrassed myself by playing with a bunch of men and one other lady (church people).  I stepped up to the plate, a little hesitant with it being several years since I played, but decently confident I could hit.  I struck out.  ‘Just a fluke,’ I thought.  ‘I’ll get it next time.’  I have no idea how many times I was up to bat, half a dozen?  I never even ticked the ball.  Not once.  I’m still mulling it over.  My husband graciously suggested it got to my head.  “Watch the ball all the way in,” was repeated numerous times by well-meaning advisers.  A kind gentleman suggested I try T-ball.  ‘In some ways it’s harder,’ he assured, ‘but it really helps with the hand-eye coordination.’  I died inside!  I wanted to tell him that my hands and eyes have always been pretty good buddies, just not tonight.  And I DON’T want to be treated like a kiddy beginner, thank-you very much.  I felt this strong compulsion to explain to everyone that I’m not usually this bad.  But you know how that goes.  It kind-of falls flat in the face of current reality.

I declare, chemo did a number to my brain.  Hah!  No one really fell for that either.

So…the conclusion of the matter is that sometime my husband and I are going to go to the field ALONE!  He will pitch to me and I WILL hit that ball.

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Memory and gratitude

jeanworking

A year ago she was languishing in a sterile hospital. Today she was playing in the sun, breathing true air, and rooting around in the dirt. Life is awesome.

12 Comments »

April 2

Today is my transplant birthday.

I am one year old.

Glory!…

Glory!…

and more Glory to the One who holds life and death.

 

13 Comments »

Hello…anybody home?

It’s been awhile.

We are home…

Although for all you know we’ve been visiting the moon.

Ever since yesterday afternoon, I’ve been longing to write this.  Earlier this week on Tuesday, I drug myself out of bed and headed off to do another routine PET Scan.  Just yesterday we heard from my doctor who reviewed it and said the scan is completely normal.

Completely normal.  Two incredible words!  They produced a string of “awesome’s” from my husband right there on the phone with the nurse.  I was in the neighboring room and felt a wave of relief wash over me.

We are thanking Jesus up and down.

I suppose I will always feel a nervous tension every time I do a scan, but it IS getting easier.  Thankfully!

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