A Good and Perfect Gift

James 1:17 ~ “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” I always found great meaning in this verse when I discovered I was pregnant with my children. Babies seem like a perfect gift. When I held my children for the first time, I KNEW I was not cool enough to have created that little miracle all myself. There was an awesome God with an awesome design who created him from his innermost being. I cherish my children as little gifts. They are perfect reminders right now that life is very much normal. They cried just this morning when we ran out of Mickey Mouse pancakes = perfect reminder of normal.

James 1:17 scrolled through my mind yesterday morning as I met my oncologist, Dr. Lininger. What a perfect gift! He is kind, compassionate and brilliant. He wanted to know about me and my husband and our life. He answered our questions with compassion and understanding with years of experience to back up his wisdom. He provided encouragement and guidance. He asked us if we were spiritual. I simply stated, “I love Jesus. We are a praying people and believe that you are going to be tool in His grand plan.” Dr. Lininger chuckled and immediately quoted scripture. Yeah! He loves Jesus, too. What an answer to prayer ūüôā He spoke of Paul’s trails and tribulations and his great faith during it all. He also reminded us the Paul stumbled some and struggled with affliction, similar to the road ahead of me. Boy,¬†Dr.Lininger¬†was a perfect gift! Roy asked Dr. Lininger how we (and the prayer army, as I like to call you) could be praying for him. His prayer requests were:

  • Wisdom – He said this is a constant prayer request, but in his profession especially, he desires to be wise and provide the best possible treatment¬†for each patient.
  • Having the right words – He is clearly compassionate, but He strongly desires to be uplifting and encouraging to his patients and wants to have the right words at the right time.

On the medical side of things, I was diagnosed as Stage II Рwoo hoo! Stage I is the least advanced and Stage IV is the most advanced. The PET scan confirmed I had no masses below my diagraphm (the muscle at the bottom of your rib cage that helps with breathing), which is another praise report. The chemotherapy plan is set. I will receive my infusions every other Monday for 12 sessions, approximately 6 months. I had Roy count it out for me (Feb.25, Mar.11, Mar.24, Apr.8, Apr.22,May 6 [half way there], May 20, [then comes Branding weekend Рwoo hoo!], June 3, June 17, July 1, July 15, July 29 [Roy and I will celebrate 10 years of marriage on July 25 and then finish up my last round of chemo on the 29th Рyippee!]. Before you go add permanent marker to your calendar, even though I already have, these dates are subject to change. My white blood cell counts have to stay high in order to proceed on schedule. No infections, especially the viral type, can be present.

My first round of chemo yesterday was not so bad…I have heard that from other cancer patients. The nurses do a good job with super power anti-nausea medications. Dr. Lininger’s wife, Margy is one of my oncology nurses = super cool. She said she prides herself on the fact that not one of her patients has ever used the trash can on her watch. I was impressed and did NOT want to change her statistics, despite some early queasiness. They finally removed the dressing from my port and I got to really see that for the first time. I think it might have been a little more interesting to be abducted by aliens and have a strange device that was still in my body. Unfortunately, I do not believe in aliens so that theory was out. Margy gave me some super fantastic Ativan/Lorazepan¬†– it is a relaxer, and I was relaxeddddddd. If it says on the label “may cause drowsiness” I approach narcoleptic-like¬†symptoms. Then she pumped me with her special no-throw-up-drugs: Aloxi, Decadron, and Emend (this last one has a 5 day titrating¬†down effect and is simply a little longer lasting). Then some yummy Benadryl was added to my concoction – this helps prevent reactions and makes me sleeeeeeepy¬†ūüėČ Then I got my ABVD¬†(Adriamycin¬†– the nurse does an IV push, Bleomycin¬†– 10 minute infusion, Velban¬†– 10 minute infusion or IV push, Dacarbazine – 2 hour infusion). We got to the doctor’s office about 9:10 and left a little after 4:00 p.m., but that included great conversation with Dr. Lininger, visits from family and friends,¬†and my first round of chemo. It will be more like 4 hours in the future.

Mom and Dad are here to help with the little squirts and they truly have been a blessing. I always believed that once parent’s became grandparent there was a new neurotransmitter that was submitted into the brain that made grandparent’s make completely illogical choices. i.e. Letting the grandkids eat candy and cookies all the time, especially before meals, jump on the couch, yell like banchy¬†roosters, and run around like crazy children if they feel like it. I think that neurotransmitter has been put to sleep this week. Mom and Dad have been a kind, compassionate and respectful support system. They rank up there with my husband. My primary job as a housewife is to raise my children, and I have struggled to do that job this week. The struggle was less because my parent’s were here to fill in that gap. I am thankful for the support system I have in place – a friend willing to set up meals, a friend willing to do wig research and make that shopping experience fun, a sister who is a powerful prayer partner, a sister who reminds me to be mad if I want to, a husband who is will to give me a massage at 4 a.m. to calm down a panic attack and has built the most amazing prayer army I have ever experienced, and my little boys who know mom is sick but really want to remind me that my job as mom is nowhere near finished.

Our God is great and gives us “good and perfect gifts”. He provided an excellent medical team yesterday, great chemists who created good anti-nausea drugs for today and promises of a “hope and a future.” Our family verse for this week is the famous Jeremiah 29:11 ~ “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” What a sound promise! I pray that as you read this blog you are blessed, encouraged and occassionally surprised ūüôā May Gods’ richest blessing pour down on you today!

Normal or Abnormal?

As we waited to hear the results of my biopsy, I sat there praying, “Lord, please use this for Your glory.” I now felt it was selfish to pray to not have cancer. I knew that I was willing to be His tool. This is how the journey began…

I remember waking up on September 7, 2012 and looking in the mirror to find the lump on the left side of my neck. My first thought was, “Wow! That would suck to have cancer.”¬†My second thought was, “It would suck to lose my hair.” I never would have imagined those would become true statements. I went to the doctor that day and I tested positive for mononucleosis. Whew, good news. The doctor started me on an antibiotic because my white blood cell count was elevated and said that if my lymph node didn’t go down in a few weeks to look at scheduling an ultrasound. Life continued as normal for a few weeks – I did a huge Pampered Chef booth at Sugar Beet¬†Days, went to Keystone for my in-laws’ 40th wedding¬†anniversary¬†celebration, watched my best friends gain full custody of their foster child…¬†and then I went in for the ultrasound on September 25th. The technician found a lymph node that was 5.4 cm in width.¬†That is about the size of an egg. No wonder I was uncomfortable. I was referred to an ENT (ear, nose and throat specialist) and met him on October 3rd – He refused to do much because the ultrasound results stated that I had a mass in my abdomen… I wasted some time getting that straightened out ūüôā Again, life continued on as normal… I got to start my dream job of travelling around the United States teaching anatomy, I continued with Bulldog Ministry Youth Group, I continued working with the Logan County Fair Board, Royalty Program and Rodeo Committee…and then I went to meet my new ENT in Greeley on October 29th. Before we headed home we went over to the hospital in Greeley and I had a fine-needle aspiration. That is where they suck out “stuff” from the lymph node and test it. The results stated, “The fine needle aspirate is from a lymph node and shows scattered large atypical Reed-Sternberg-like cells. This type of cell is often encountered in the lymph node from a patient with infectious mononucleosis.” = YEAH! “However, they may also be seen in cases of Hodgkin’s disease.” What is Hodgkin’s disease? Again, life continued as normal – I got to go to Atlanta to teach Anatomy and I celebrated my second son’s third birthday. I met with my physician on November 7th and we went over the results of the aspiration. He thought it would be best just to wait it out a bit longer – some people have lymph nodes that stay enlarged for months following a mono diagnosis.

Life became abnormal as Jake (our oldest son) was hospitalized for pneumonia. He started a vicious coughing fit on November 15th that we could not get under control. We laid hands on him and pleaded with God. Ultimately, we rushed him into the emergency room and after four days we were released. Jake had received healing from the Great Physician and we were incredibly thankful.

We know that the devil knows that we are doing God’s work. We have a youth ministry that meets in our home every other week. We have kids that are giving their life to Christ. We became keenly aware that the devil had been working hard to take a foothold in our home. Roy became the spiritual leader I always knew he could become¬†and the Lord led us out of that fire.

Life seemed to go back to normal. We celebrated Thanksgiving with family. I had a few more Pampered Chef shows. Roy and I were doing incredibly well. We drove over to Greeley on December 5th and my doctor gave me some steroids to get started. They worked! The lymph nodes went down and we were all really excited. We rejoiced with the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior. Christmas was such a joyous time. With two little boys, Jake, 4 and Matt, 3, we had lots of laughter and smiles. We baked Christmas cookies and delivered them to our neighbors while singing Christmas carols.

We followed up with my physician on January 15th because I was no longer simply “uncomfortable” but had actually started to experience pain.¬†He mentioned the word “lymphoma” and¬†I tucked it away into the far creases of my brain. We did another round of steroids, but they didn’t seem to be as effective this time, maybe because I had a cold? We celebrated Jake’s 5th birthday on January 16th, his actual birthday and again on 19th for the birthday party. We had a bit of a mess that day which resulted in a fire starting across our yard.¬†The fire trucks really did arrive for his fire truck themed birthday. Ultimately, we headed¬†back to the doctor in Greeley on January 31st and we scheduled a biopsy for February 8th. It seemed like a long time to wait, but God knows best and I needed that time to be drenched in His peace. I REALLY needed that time. God’s peace is rooted in my papillary muscle (muscles at the bottom of my heart) [You will learn a little anatomy from this blog ;)] After a ridiculous customer service experience, I finally got my appointment to go over the results of my biopsy on February 13th, 2013. I remember…small talk…small talk… “It is Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.” I was rooted in His peace. I knew God would be glorified. I knew I would be a tool He would use to increase His kingdom. I was willing.

I want desperately for life to be normal…Last week seemed unbearable¬†– I was diagnosed with lymphoma on Wednesday,¬†I think Valentine’s Day was on Thursday, but that is up for debate,¬†Roy¬†was diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday and¬†our horses’ respiratory infection got out of hand on Saturday. Seriously? I KNOW that the Lord does not give us more than we can bear, but holy shmoly, that seemed like a lot.

I don’t know what you do when you find out you have cancer.¬†I prayed.¬†After a lot of tears and processing with family, I got to meet an oncologist in Greeley¬†on February 19th. Whew – that was a yucky experience! After two and a half hours my question became, “What is NOT a side effect of chemo?” We stayed in Greeley that night and my family all mobilized north to stay with us. Roy and I thought we should really explain all of¬†the information¬†in person and I couldn’t possibly repeat it over and over again on the phone. Now we¬†shifted gears¬†into light speed. I had a PET/CT scan on Wednesday morning. I continued to meditate on Philippians 4:6. It was the Bible verse I was working with the boys on memorizing during the week of my diagnosis. “Do NOT be ANXIOUS about ANYthing, but in EVERYthing,¬†by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests TO GOD.” [The inflection is the way Matt would say it, and it is how I heard it over and over again during the scan]. Thank God for little boys! Wednesday afternoon we travelled back toward home to Sterling and I met with the surgeon who would put in my chemo port. “What is a chemo port?” was my question.¬†Thursday at noon I had surgery to get my chemo port installed. Is that what it is called – installed? implanted? marked? My thoughts seemed to wander.¬†Anyhow, I had severe pain after the surgery and we finally got that under control yesterday with some better pain meds. I have been sleeping a lot just trying to prepare for the next part of the journey. I start chemo tomorrow. This is my new normal.

I am thankful. I am thankful that I have a God who is big enough to handle this. I am thankful to have a family support system. I am thankful that my husband is the man of God he has always been destined to become. I am thankful to have two beautiful boys that remind me that I am not dying of cancer but living with it. I am thankful for the people I will meet along this journey. I am thankful for the opportunity to share the love and joy of Jesus Christ. I am thankful!