Peace, where did you go?

For those of you faithful prayer warriors, you may have noticed that I was supposed to get my test results last week and I never gave you any update. One of my goals during my bout with cancer, was that I would not succumb to fear of sharing of my story. I failed at my goal this week. There are particular people I do not want to know what is going on in my life right now. I just don’t. I want to curl up in a ball and take a really long nap. I don’t even really want to know my own story right now. Mainly, because I don’t know. Ultimately, this is NOT God’s best for me, so it is time to share.

Roy and I went in pretty blindly on Monday, March 17th to meet with my oncologist. I kept telling people leading up to my appointment that I wasn’t certain if what I was feeling was peace or apathy. I kept telling people apathy and they kept telling me peace. It was apathy. Unfortunately, we did not get the results we thought we would hear. The mass near my heart has grown. When I started chemo in February 2013 the lymph node near my heart was 5.4 cm wide. After chemo it shrunk to 3.0 cm and my oncologist was pleased with that result. He told us that scar tissue is normal following treatment. It is much like inflating a balloon. After you blow it up the first time, it just never really goes back to the same size. (That must explain what happened to my abdomen following two pregnancies.) My most recent PET scan shows that the mass/node has grown to 4.3 cm and is showing “low grade activity”. Dr. Stone gave me two options. 1) Wait 3 months and then do another PET scan. 2) Do a biopsy on the mass to see if it is lymphoma or scar tissue or some other anomaly. Seriously? Do you know me? Wait? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Wait to see if a mass near my heart continues to grow? Who chooses that? Clearly, I didn’t.

Once I chose door #2 we began asking some questions. What is the course of treatment if the lymphoma is back? Answer: A stronger, harsher chemo plus a bone marrow transplant. How would the transplant work? Answer: I would be my own donor. That was good news… That was all I really needed to know. My thoughts began racing. I just started growing my hair back. What will we tell the boys? How will this impact our daily life? God got us through this last time, He hasn’t changed, He will be faithful to do it again. Again? I don’t want to do it again! I don’t want to ask for help? I don’t want to drain my family, friends, and community. If it is not lymphoma, what is growing? Why couldn’t it be a mass somewhere other than near my heart?  On and on and on they went? ? ? ? ?

Now we play the ridiculously annoying waiting game. I am working with a cardiologist to schedule the biopsy. Despite amazing technological advances, the left hand refuses to speak to the right hand. I had my PET scan done with one business, I mean medical facility, and the cardiologists works for the other business, I mean health provider. I almost drove 2 hours to pick up my PET scan DVD to drive it to the cardiologist 45 minutes away to make life easier… Oh, I would then drive 2.5 hours home. Easier, I know… As I type this entry, it reminds me of my “Cancer Sucks” blog. I feel like I am whining and frustrated. I am. I am so frustrated. The “why?” doesn’t matter. If this is God’s plan, for me to re-enter this journey, then I will gladly go forth. I don’t mind for me. I just don’t want it for Roy. I don’t want it for Jake. I don’t want it for Matt. I don’t want it for anyone else who cares for me and my family. Roy said it perfectly, “Brandee, I just want to live life with you. I want to stop fighting death with you.” I melted.

Comeback

I have loved feeling the sun on my skin and not being worried that I would get a severe, instant sunburn from my chemo. I have loved playing with my boys. I have loved cooking meals and eating with my family. I have loved having enough energy to simply live. I have loved Jesus. I still do. That will not change. Why would it? He has been so incredibly faithful to me and my family. He deserves everything I can give Him, and what I cannot. There is more to my journey. There is more to your journey. Would you pray for peace during our time of waiting? “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” John 14:27

Tick Tock Goes the Clock

It has been 6 months since my last scan. I can’t hardly believe it. Tomorrow, Roy and I will head to Greeley for the follow-up PET scan that is required post-treatement. I am not worried about the results. Good, bad or ugly, God will take care of it. He did it before and He will do it again. We are hopeful for a clear scan, but it will be a week before we know the results. I still don’t like the actual scan – holding still while going into a tube is not my idea of fun. It makes me think of a coffin and I have a whole lot of life ahead of me.

The hard thing to bear is that this is taking such a toll on my little Jake. Jake falls asleep quickly and easily. After we shared with the boys that I would be headed into the doctor tomorrow, it simply put Jake in a tale spin. We are not sure why this is harder for him now. Is he more aware of what cancer did to our family? Is he scared of the results? Does he even understand what he has already faced? Is he worried we will face again? All I know is that I can love him despite his fear. I crawled (in a very ackward, very uncomfortable way) up onto his top bunk simply to hold him. We had laid the boys down, but he was upset and called me back downstairs. Jake couldn’t stop crying. He was trying to be strong, but he simply was “going to miss his mommy time.” He needed one last “big hug” before he said he could fall asleep. In tears I headed back upstairs. For the first time in his six little years of life, he cracked his door open an hour and a half past his bedtime so he could find me and crawl into my arms. On a different day I may have been annoyed or frustrated or worried that he wasn’t getting enough sleep. Tonight I wanted to hold him as much as he wanted to be held. I wanted to take away his pain and worry and tell him everything was going to be alright. Is it? Probably. But there is no guarantee. The one thing I know is that just as Jake found comfort in my arms, I find comfort in Jesus’ arms. He holds me in my sadness and fear with such peace and comfort that I too will sleep sound tonight.

Grocery List

Simply put I am a list maker. I am a task-oriented person. I have even written a “to-done” list to mark off the things I accomplished in a day purely for the gratification of scribbling out the task completed. With this idea in mind, I also make grocery lists. Even if you are not a regular to-do list maker, I think quite a few people make a grocery list, so hopefully you know a little of the language I am speaking. For the first time in 18 months I wrote down “conditioner” on my grocery list. Although this may seem like the most unnecessary news you have ever read (which it really is), it held much significance to me. I am a Sam’s Club shopper and had a large bottle of conditioner I had been using 6 months leading up to chemo. Pretty soon after my treatment began the hair loss commenced. I lost well over 90% of my hair during my six months of chemo and then trimmed off 8% more. As Jake would tell you, I have a bird nest on the back of my head. The little curly poof that remains is small indeed and on a windy day truly does resemble a birds nest. It doesn’t help that my once long hair, when short, is VERY curly. People often ask me if it is coming back in curly. Yes, but because it always was curly and it was too heavy and thick to note previously. My little stubbin’s are about 2″ long and I am so pleased with my curly fro that sits upon my head. If I maintain this rate of growth it will likely only take 6 years to grow my hair back to the pre-chemo length. That would mean not a single hair cut, so we are really looking realistically at 8 years. People often said, “it will grow back.” Yes that is true. But how often do we wait for 8 years for something to grow? (I think there are people who wait 20+ years for rare flowers to bloom…but that is not really my cup of tea.) I am in it for the long haul, so overall that will be just fine.

A year ago yesterday, I had my very first meeting with an oncologist. Still that idea shocks me. It sometimes seems as though it never even happened because the mere idea of fighting cancer is such a far reaching thought. I had cancer. Whaaaaattt? That seems so odd to say. I survived cancer. Now that has a much better ring to it. I feel like beating cancer should stand out as one of life’s great accomplishments. It does, but it doesn’t mean that there will be no more struggles or life battles. We know that from scripture. John 16:33 tell us “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” I recently went through one struggle in some relationships with people. People can be difficult. I can easily be stubborn. But it too was hard. At some moments I was certain it was even harder than cancer and that is saying quite a bit. By God’s grace there has been some peaceful resolution. I am not positive that if I had not gone through cancer would I be aware enough of the magnitude of God’s grace in a really tough situation. Isn’t God’s grace sufficient? Andrea’s words spoke so clearly to me today at Brown Bag Bible Study. She stated that unbelief is the underlying sin of all sin. We often don’t actually believe God will provide. Unbelief is an insult to God’s goodness… Can we get an, “AMEN!”? Just because I went through the waters of chemo, is does not guarantee an easy road from here on out. Does that mean that God is any less sovereign? No! Just because I fail in how to love people best, it does not make God any less of a loving and forgiving God. For these I am so thankful.

I recently was asked to write a letter to a man battling cancer. One of the things that my dear friend, Amy and I have discussed before is that we didn’t really like being called into action when someone lost a sibling. We didn’t like giving advice on ways to handle grief. We simply wished we had never gone through it so we wouldn’t know how to give the advice. I found myself feeling the same way about writing a letter for a fellow cancer battler. But God didn’t have me go through it to have no return on the gain. I was pushed further and I have an opportunity and responsibility to share the Gospel to this father fighting cancer. This is what I said to Eli, and what I would probably say to anyone:

“Dear Eli,

My name is Brandee and I am a recent cancer survivor. I am also a good friend of _____. She has shared with me that you are currently fighting cancer. One of the things that irritated me most was receiving unsolicited advice. It was hard enough to hear all of the awful things that the doctors told me, let alone all of the other suggestions everyone else made. It was exhausting to decipher truth from myth. I stuck with what my doctor told me, but I was blessed with a phenomenal oncologist. I also hope you have an excellent oncologist. Doesn’t that suck? To say you have an oncologist. I agree! Eli, the fight is hard. I am not sure of your treatment regiment. I received chemo for 6 months. I did learn that fighting and my mental state was half the challenge. After about my fourth round of treatment, depression started to take hold. Eli, I have no idea what your faith looks like and it is absolutely none of my business. I am a believer in Jesus Christ. As a result, I prayed. But I was also too exhausted, too mad, too frustrated and too sad to pray sometimes. Because of this I asked others to pray for me. As sure as I write this letter, there were many, many times that other peoples prayers helped life me up. Eli, I am so sorry if I am preaching to the choir and you already know of the power of prayer, but if you don’t I challenge you to at least consider it. It is a free gift I can give to you. I will be asking the Mighty Healer, Jesus to intervene on your behalf – to give you comfort, peace, rest, courage, boldness and a soft spirit to receive these gifts. Eli, cancer sucks! The journey is hard! There is such a burden to bear and it can certainly feel completely overwhelming. It is important to remember that there are people who love you and need you. Many prayers, Brandee”

"My grace is sufficient for you" 2 Cor. 12:9

“My grace is sufficient for you” 2 Cor. 12:9

How the West Was Won

You know how the west was won? The good guy shot the bad guy. Do you ever wonder what our crime rate would be like if we had good ol’ fashion public hangings still? Clearly we needed to “civilize” the west, but I am not certain everything shook out as it should.How the West Was Won

I have been in the middle of serious dilemmas lately. I have been struggling with the idea of making sure people see Jesus within me and my insatiable desire to chop block some jackholes (note the creative removal of the naughty word I am not suppose to say). We were in Wal-Mart and Roy, Jake and Matt were attempting to exit the boy’s clothing section, when an older, well-dressed, walking-with-a-purpose gentleman, who on the wrong side of traffic, came blazing past everyone nearly knocking one or two of my family out of the way. We had just left church and we had heard John Hackbarth speak an excellent message about Jesus calling the disciples. John spoke about the most important things we must do as Christians is to make sure we put people first. People matter. Then we go to Wal-mart and my next thought is that people also need punched in the nose…

How do we draw the line between grace and a swift kick in the pants?

Matt's pants

Matt’s pants

How do we handle situations with patience and still move forward in a timely manner? Jesus drew a line in the sand with his finger. When a line is that thin, you cannot stand on it – literally our feet are too wide to stand on a line drawn by a finger. I think that is the point. You either have to stand on one side or the other. For those of you trying to think outside of the box and wanting to straddle the line with both feet, the answer is a resounding NO. No you may not do that. We have to pick a side. Our real dilemma is our constant desire to exhibit grace when we are frustrated, patience when we are fed up with a situation, and love when we are mad at someone. I don’t think I am going to be able to finish figuring this out tonight. I hope not to punch anyone tomorrow though.

My family had a wonderful Christmas. A typical ranching Christmas. We soaked up presents from Santa and then Roy left to go do chores for a couple of hours. Upon his return the boys tore up the presents under the tree. We waltzed around the Christmas tree that evening and I got my very first cap gun! Being raised by “The Great American Hunter” I am sorely disappointed that I never experienced the sheer excitement of popping off a cap gun until I was 33. We were very fortunate that the smoke alarm didn’t go off. December 26 roared like a lion as I went to meet with a neurosurgeon. After my port was removed in late September, I woke up the next morning with the most irritatingly painful kink in my neck. That kink is still there and does not show any signs of letting up. I have had severe headaches and decreased mobility. I can’t even look in my own blind spot while driving. After my own 12 Days of Christmas… 5 chiropractic appointments, 2 massages and 1 physical therapist, I had an MRI done. Both my primary care physician and oncologist saw no red flags. My 2nd chiropractor on the other hand was highly alarmed by the presence of possible cysts along my spinal cord. It put us in a bit of a panic. I saw two very real possibilities: cancer again or dangerous surgery near my spinal cord. After the consultation on the 26th with the neurosurgeon he gave us both great and somewhat frustrating news. Good news: no cancer, no surgery. Frustrating news: no solution. We are still working through the idea of remedial care.

At this point, I am not sure it is safe for anyone to read this. I do not want to be responsible for a good black eye, but then again, maybe I do…

January 2014 are you here yet? I am incredibly thankful for all that I experienced in 2013, but I think a fresh start sounds pretty good right about now. I hope you had an incredibly Merry Christmas and that a superb New Year is around the corner for you and yours.

Thankfulness

I know Thanksgiving came and went, but as it did I found myself in tears thinking about the amazing blessings that came into our lives this year. There were so many things I was thankful for. Maybe more than ever before in my life. I mostly was thankful for people. For individuals who were willing to help us along one of life’s toughest journeys. These thank you’s are in no particular order, just as they come to my mind…

I am thankful for Roy. He had a horrible, awful job of driving me to chemo. He had to  watch me while I was sick and hurting. He saw me in my deepest lows, but because he promised to love me “in sickness and in health,” he persevered through this storm with me. I would not have made it without you Roy!

I am thankful for Mom. She was here with us during almost every single treatment of chemo. I think she may have come to the Cancer Center once with the boys, but her job, she was doing in my home was so important to me. She did the job I was suppose to be doing. She was raising my children. Caring for their needs. Thank you Mom!

I am thankful for Richard. He listened (and talked) to me daily. We often talked about life’s struggle of fighting cancer. He offered words of encouragement and made me laugh. His stories helped me forget for a little bit that I was in a battle. Richard you are one of my dearest friends!

I am thankful for Jessica. She listened to me on the phone almost every single day. She helped share the prayer burden with her church family who then in turn blessed my family abundantly. Thank you for all of the wonderful meals you helped coordinate as well. Jessica you bless me!

I am thankful for Nita. Thank you for having such kind words of encouragement. Thank you for praying fervently for our family. Thank you for all of the times you filled in the holes with the boys. I love you Nita!

I am thankful for Dad. Dad was great at playing with my boys and the boys love him for that. Immediately following my diagnosis I saw the most compassion and care (and stress and pain) I have ever experienced from my Dad. I will always cherish that time. Thank you Dad.

I am thankful for Danny and Sarah. Danny regularly checked in with Roy and their brotherly relationship fostered. Thank you for being the guy who checked up on my guy. It blessed is immensely. Sarah thank you for the wonderful meals and generous prayers.

I am thankful for Brittney. She kept life in perspective.

I am thankful for Heather. She worked diligently to line up meals for the better part of half of a year. I can’t imagine how much work that was, but she did such an excellent job. Thank you to the entire Forster family and the Crook Church for diligently praying for us. Heather thank you for your kind donation of time and resources!

I am thankful for Frank and Andrea Waitley. They graciously donated their time to lead a Prayer and Praise night right after my diagnosis. Andrea and Frank prayed for me faithfully. Daily. Diligently. Thank you for being our friends and mentor. Thank you for praying for me!

I am thankful for Carol. Thank you for sending a card every week!

I am thankful for Winona. Thank you for just showing up on my door step with food.

I am thankful for Aunt Linda. Thank you Aunt Linda for using up all of your annual vacation time to come take of me for an entire week. Thank you for making replacement heifer tags while you were  here. Thank you for playing with and spoiling my boys. I love you and sincerely thank you Aunt Linda.

I am thankful for Aunt Jane. You worked so hard in the heat of the summer taking care of me, my garden, my flowers, my boys, my home, my ironing. You are an amazing working woman. There is no keeping up with you. Thank you for helping with all of it and doing it so well. I love you Aunt Jane!

I am thankful for Earline. Thank you for your kind Facebook notes and wonderful meals. Roy will never forget about the peanut butter covered brownies. Now that sweets taste better I will try out that recipe. Thank you for your faithfulness during the duration of the journey.

I am thankful for Pam and Jack Harper. Your consistent and faithful Facebook posts constantly warmed my heart. You were so wonderful and kind. The encouragement you provided me and my spirit was phenomenal. Thank you two!

I am thankful for Kat. You called regularly and consistently checked up on me. Your willingness to fly out and work on the wig search was so kind. Roy and I cherish your friendship and constant cheerful disposition. You are so dear to me!

I am thankful for Laura Pfaltgraff sending numerous packages to my boys.

I am thankful for Amy’s generous monetary gift that made the medical bill burden so much lighter. Thank you also for the super cute sandals and beautiful Bible verse plaques.

I am thankful for Pastor’s Ben and Beth who checked in with us regularly. I am thankful for the steak Beth made.

I am thankful for Sam, who’s daughter was battling a neuroblastoma, taking time to talk with me.

I am thankful for my neighbor Jaci, who was so gentle in providing help and advice.

By no means, is it my goal to forget anyone. I was just bursting to tell people how thankful I was of them. I am so grateful to everyone who sent a card, picked up the phone, made a meal, prayed for us, and everything in between. If you did ANYTHING… Thank you!

I am so thankful I had cancer. Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am at. Thank you Jesus for the opportunity to be thankful.

Defend Your Faith

I had a very interesting experience last night. I had been contacted by one of the nurses who cared for me during my cancer treatment requesting I join a Cancer Support Group. Honestly, I wasn’t interested. I have about 15 million plates spinning and I didn’t really feel like talking about cancer. It is still pretty raw. Ultimately, I knew Dr. Lininger and Margy would be there and I knew we would talk about Jesus, so since I contribute my healing to those individuals I thought I would probably enjoy this outing. As I headed down Peetz plateau (which is really a small downhill decline, but for locals it REALLY is a serious drop in elevation) I began to pray. “Lord, please make this worth my while. I don’t want to be away from the boys right now, so please make it incredibly valuable.”

I got in to Sterling and could not find the location of the meeting. I ended up being 20 minutes late, which has happened very few times in my life. I walked in a little panicky, but soon calmed down with a hug from Dr.Lininger and Margy. I gathered from the conversations going on that the question was posed regarding how our faith changed as a result of a cancer diagnosis. After listening to others share, I willing spoke of the value of Roy building a vast prayer army at the beginning of my journey. I also clearly stated my believe in Jesus Christ as my Mighty Healer. I had an assumption that everyone there were believers. I was incorrect.

Dr. Lininger shared from 2 Corinthians 4:16 – 5:1. These verses speak of our momentary troubles being for an eternal glory. Doc clearly stated his belief in Jesus Christ and shared the gospel during our time together. A woman spoke up and said that she believed there was a God and that if we are good enough we would go to heaven. I found myself with the wheels spinning in my head. I teach youth about Jesus all the time, but can I defend my faith in this moment with this woman? Lord, please give me the right verse to speak. As we were winding up, Dr. Lininger asked if there was anything anyone else wanted to share. “YES! There is a verse pressing firmly on my heart that I must share with this group tonight. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” I know that this may be one of the most well know Bible verses for both believers and non-believers alike. There is a reason for that. It says it all in one complete statement. God is love. God gave us a gift in his Son, Jesus Christ. We must believe in Jesus. That faith will save us from the very real place of hell. Accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior is the only way to have eternal life.” This woman quickly refuted, “I don’t believe in the Bible.” My blood began to boil and I quickly prayed again for the right (and kind) words. The best that came out of my mouth was, “Well… We are going to have to work on that.” She again opposed me, “I guess we can agree to disagree.” I finished with, “Until I change your mind.” I was bold. I have a slight problem with that personality characteristic. I also was not ashamed. If she left there last night and I had not spoken the truth I would have really struggled forgiving myself.

As I processed with Roy after I got home we were talking about how knowing the Bible is similar to being an athlete. You have to practice. In order to quote scripture, you have to practice. Just as an athlete practices to get better at their particular sport, so much Christians. We need to be in the Word, so were are prepared for our event. Life. We have a gift to share and plenty of opportunities to compete. Are you ready to defend your faith?

What is great?

The word “great” according to Funk (wouldn’t that have been a great last name?) & Wagnalls  is defined many ways, but includes: adj. 1. Very large, immense; big; vast. 2 Being much more numerous than the average. 5 Of large or the largest importance; mighty; foremost. 8 Important, weighty; momentous. I have been pondering the word great lately. As I began down my road with cancer the first primary revelation was that this would be a journey for God’s glory (hence the title). One of the very next revelations was that something great would come from this journey. I am now one month post-remission, and I am wondering what will be good enough to be considered great

I have wondering if merely surviving chemo is great? I believe if one person is saved because of my testimony that would be great. Somehow, great seems larger than either of those, but there is nothing greater than souls be saved from the fiery pits of hell, so I am not certain where that leaves me. I do know that this revelation (of something great coming from my recent experience with cancer) has been confirmed by numerous Christian friends without me even mentioning it. My current prayer is that I would know clearly what that great thing was or is. I am so willing to be God’s vessel, and just wonder if I missed the great thing that was supposed to come out of this journey. What if God has something HUGE planned and I am missing it? Isn’t that a common concern we have? I am reminded of a Bible study Roy and I led in Wyoming called Love Works. It is based on 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, and one of things Wayman Howard states is that God will use us right where we are. We often search around to make sure we are exactly where we are supposed to be. Hello! God will use us in every situation, under every circumstance, and every single day. I am not concerned about NOT doing God’s work, I am just wondering if it is great? I believe that time I am investing in youth is great, but what if God is calling me to do more? I know my family will lynch me if I get involved in one more thing. I may go ahead and hang myself up by my toenails, just to ensure my brain is getting enough blood to think clearly again. There is a coming opportunity to get involved in a Cancer Support Group. I don’t want to. I don’t want to have been a person who survived cancer, because again, I wish I have never endured it. But I did. I cannot be an ostrich and stick my head in the sands of denial. The super cool thing about this opportunity is that my favorite oncologist of all time (which might be slightly unfair, because I have only had two), Dr. Lininger is coming back to northeast Colorado to lead this group. It will ONLY be to provide spiritual support for those battling cancer. How cool is my retired oncologist? When my childhood best friend, Michael, told me that I would be a “t-shirt wearer” following cancer, I abruptly told him “NO! I will not.” I may be about to make myself a liar. I cannot imagine how incredibly hard it would have been to battle cancer without Jesus and an outstanding prayer army. I remember going through tribulations without Jesus, and there is nothing scarier, darker or harder. What if there is an opportunity to speak words of life into people and really know what they are going through? Apparently, I am full of questions tonight… Time to pray and focus on hearing the magnificent voice of God. I certainly don’t want to miss out on something great!