Saturday, August 22, 2015

Out of Control

A friend recently shared her thoughts on all my family and I have faced this year. She said from her viewpoint, looking in from the outside, it seems like what I’ve been going through (cancer, the move, the house, etc.) is essentially a stripping of all control in my life. (I probably butchered what she really said, but that’s what I took from it.) While I agreed that was possibly part of what God was doing, I really felt like that was something God accomplished already. I didn’t need any more surprises to make me realize I have no control over my life and circumstances. I had learned my lesson. He is in control; I am not. I’m all good with that. Ready to move to the next life lesson.

Evidently, I have more to learn. I discovered yesterday that I subconsciously thought things were getting back to normal, meaning I could have some say-so in what happens next and even into the future . . . aka, control. Nope!

I met my new Emory doctor yesterday. It was my consult with him for my follow-up care since my treatment is now over. While he was a very nice, compassionate, and knowledgeable man, he evidently didn’t understand that I had already learned my lesson and was back in some sort of control of where I was headed. It seemed that no one informed him that I was done with cancer and ready to get stronger and move on . . . that the worst was over, it’s only going to get better from here . . . so, he suggested I might not be finished with treatment.

Um, wait, what?

He referred to my cancer, because of its abnormal presentation and location, as a “bad actor.” He suggested that I might need more aggressive treatment . . . but wait, that was what the Methotrexate inpatient chemo was already! He said he agreed with what MUSC had prescribed, that I did need the Methotrexate in addition to the standard RCHOP regimen that I received. (He said some refer to what I got as "Mr. CHOP." Sounds friendlier that way, I guess.) But he informed us that we may ALSO need to do a stem cell transplant.

Ummm, excuse me . . . I’m done here! I’m on the road to recovery! Are you not aware that I’m here for POST-chemo care?!?! This was NOT on my agenda for the day or the rest of the year or the next . . . however long this will affect our lives!!!

I know very little about this procedure, but my understanding from our brief discussion yesterday is they would do something that would cause my bone to emit stem cells, which they would take and freeze. Then, they would give me very powerful chemo that would kill ALL of my red and white blood cells and my ability to make new ones but hopefully also any hidden cancer that might still be lurking. Then they would give me the stem cells they withdrew earlier that would rebuild my blood cells. This would require a two week (or more) hospital stay, and would be “the worst thing I’ve ever been through in my life.” 

Yep, that’s what he said. 

NOT what I was expecting for my initial post-chemo consult with my nice new doctor. He said that while it would be tough, they’d get me through it. (As you might imagine, my tear ducts had become quite active by this point.) Here’s a link to more of what I can expect if we have to do this:
(I haven't even fully read it, because it started looking worse than the doctors described it, and it is too much for me to handle emotionally right now.)

We won’t know if he will definitely recommend this treatment until after he sees my next MRI and PET scans, which are scheduled for four weeks from now (in the hospital where my mom passed away incidentally, yep . . . more tears). But the other doctor with him (a Fellow studying under him) referred to this as the best way to make sure I make it to my son’s wedding. So, it seems like they are really leaning towards this next step for me. Sigh . . . I thought I already did what was the best path to get me to my children’s weddings and to loving on their children and to growing old with Eric.

None of this was in my plan!!!! Ugh . . . .

That’s when, after talking and crying through this with Eric, I realized I evidently thought I was back in some place of power. Um, yeah . . . no. He said his fear is that I’ve been putting my hope in the wrong place. And it’s true. I’ve been hoping in prayers and procedures and doctors and medicines and encouragement and hope, etc. . . . rather than holding things loosely and truly trusting that God’s plan is good, whether He takes me on my preferred path or not.

His plan may or may not be to heal me. His plan may or may not be to get me to my children’s weddings. His plan may or may not be to smooth out my path, since we’ve had such a trying year. His plan IS for me to “Trust in the Lord with all [my] heart, and do not lean on [my] own understanding, but in all [my] ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make straight [my] paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) Not necessarily smooth, but straight. The straight path is trusting in Him, not the benefits I think He will or should provide. Historically, His followers haven’t led easy lives or even lives that just have one major bump in the road. He gives them strength to endure (“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13), but He does not promise an easy path. Instead, He tells us that we will have trouble in this world, but we are to take heart because He has overcome the world. (John 16:33)

My life is not and never can be about ease and comfort, if I am truly following Him.
  • I am to take up my cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24).
  • I am to trust that His way is righteous (Psalm 145:17), however difficult it might be.
  • I am to trust that He is working all of this for good and conforming me through this to be more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29).
  • I am to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10) . . . I am not.

He is in control . . . I am not.

So, I continue to learn and try to wait with open hands, not clenched fists about what the future may hold. Today, I must focus on who He is, regardless of my circumstances, and trust that His way is good. The only thing I have true control over is my response to His truth. I choose to believe He is good and His steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 136). Today, I will try to let go of my desire to control my life and pray I can rest in that.

If you are praying for me, I ask that you specifically pray that the scans will be encouraging enough that I won’t need this procedure and that if that is not the case, for me to have strength to get through this next unpleasant step. Please also continue to pray for my family. This is tough on all of us. Finally, pray that I will be content and at peace with whatever path God has chosen for me to walk, and that I will cling to Him and His love, not just the hope that He will make me better.

Thank you for your faithful prayers and encouragements!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"If you can't say something nice . . .

. . . don't say nothin' at all."

I decided to live by Thumper’s advice these last several weeks. Well, not around my family, unfortunately for them, but at least on social media. I wanted to spare you all from my impression of Sadness from the movie Inside Out, although I must say I have that character down pretty well! I decided that Savannah has been Joy, and I have been Sadness, and the poor thing has been stuck taking care of me for the last month. (If you haven’t seen Inside Out, you won’t get this at all. If you have, you’re feeling pretty sorry for Savannah right now.)

Yep, it’s been a tough month. Since I haven’t written in a while, I really wanted to have a light-hearted, uplifting, “God really showed me some neat stuff” sort of post. Instead, I think I’m just going to tell the pitiful truth.

I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so down in my life. The stress really peaked the last few weeks. If you are someone who wants to think I’m strong, you’re not going to want to read this. If you want to feel better about yourself, this is going to be your favorite blog post from me.

I have felt lousy physically, and I have struggled with an ongoing case of Optirectalitis (see earlier post for definition). I cannot think of a time where I have cried more tears of hopelessness than this past month.

Complaints of all that's going on:
  • knowing we are forcing the kids to start over at a new school (yet again) with them having no friends there and potentially losing some of the credit for the work they did in SC
  • knowing I have to find new doctors right away
  • thinking about Atlanta traffic and how my daughter is going to be driving in it soon and will have to start all over with her driving requirements 
  • not winning on the final house selection (we ended up with the boys’ favorite, which I was more unhappy with than I expected . . . see earlier post)
  • having to be out of our SC house by 7/31 while I was still in the hospital
  • stressing about the details and logistics of closings
  • worrying about transporting pets
  • fearing that I’m not really healing completely
  • getting the kids registered for school (which involved doctor appointments in GA, shopping, lots of communication with school counselors)
  • knowing we are going to be living out of boxes for months
  • etc. . . 
  • and just feeling useless . . . like I’m just here to be served and can’t contribute to anyone or anything . . . feeling like a patient -- nothing more -- just a patient -- who burdens others and can’t take care of herself 

. . . is what I would have written about.

I pouted, cried, whined, and complained my way through many of my days. Savannah was always there to listen to and encourage me. I dumped way more of my self-pitying thoughts on her than a teenager should have to endure from her mom. I’m so thankful God gifted her with such compassion and maturity to deal with my emotions, as Eric was working in Atlanta most of the time and wasn’t there to help her handle me most days.

I don’t say those things to bring you down or make you feel sorry for me. I only write about it now so you can know the dark pit I have been in and what my poor family has had to deal with. I’ve had some of those feelings throughout, but this past month, they stuck around and I wallowed in them. So, no . . . I wasn’t going to say something nice. It was best for me to say nothin’ at all.

However, I am thankfully coming out of my funk, and I can look back and see something nice to say . . . (and something that makes me laugh, although I shouldn’t).

God has answered so many prayers! First, the logistics worked out for everything! The appraisal came through fine for our SC house, and we closed without a hitch. Everything went smoothly for our close in Atlanta, and we are now in our house. Our movers were great and efficient. My lab numbers were good, and my doctor got me out of the hospital the morning of the 31st, so my sis-in-law was able to take Savannah and me to Atlanta at a reasonable time that day. Friends came over and cleaned our house and stocked it with food before I arrived. My brother and Austin made it safely to the house with the animals. (This is the part that I shouldn’t laugh at, but I do, because I wasn’t in the car. One of the cats pooped in the crate almost right away, so they had to ride with the windows down the whole way to Atlanta. Hey, at least the wind noise helped drown out the cats’ constant wailing for four hours! :-)) 

And this is just a sampling of the answered prayers we've experienced!

Oh, yeah, and my chemo treatments are officially over! That’s pretty exciting, when I stop to think about it. Of course, as I return to my Sadness character, I tend to be afraid that the cancer is not all gone. The doctor said we wouldn’t be able to use a word like “cure” for a couple of years. And we’re really not even ready to go there, because I haven’t had a PET scan to see if the cancer is gone from my spleen. So, I’m reservedly excited. I know many have prayed, and I believe God is healing me, but I also know He doesn’t guarantee that I will be physically healed. I hope that is His plan, but I am trying to rest in whatever each day brings. 

For now, I am feeling stronger almost every day. I don’t know how to describe it other than to tell you that I’m starting to feel like a real live person again, not just a patient, not just a body trudging through quicksand, but a real person. I’m weak and have to pace myself, but it’s like a huge cloud has been lifted.

And as I resurface into the land of the living, I’ve realized I still have something nice to say!

I have had so many people who have bombarded me with love through service, that when I am not being Sadness, I realize it's an amazing gift. Today, I am thankful, and I am hopeful, and God is good, and my friends and family are patient and loving and kind. All of this, in the midst of my self-pity is a gift I don’t deserve. That is something awfully nice!

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17).