Saturday, May 11, 2013

Living with the Certainty of Uncertainties

I am a few days shy of the 3 month post-treatment mark. It feels wonderful to be putting more time and distance between chemo & radiation, and my daily experience. When I compare these photos, it is hard to connect with the first picture. I find myself asking "Did I really look like that?!" Of course I did; it just feels so foreign as compared to where I find myself now only 5 months after the final chemo treatment. My recovery is not completely in a forward motion, though, and I have to continue being patient with my body and its ssslllooooowww regeneration. I am still dealing with fatigue from the radiation therapy, and with the impact of peripheral neuropathy. My hands and feet are usually quite painful by the end of the day, but at least I am able to be up and around more. My recovery plan keeps getting modified as the nerve damage lingers, so I am learning to tune into what my body is telling me about my day-to-day activities, in order to prevent permanent damage. For now, I see enough forward motion that I feel optimistic about the healing process, and continue to anticipate a day when I am fully free of both the nerve damage and breast cancer. I will have a few detours along the way to putting this behind me, though. My oncologist suggested I complete genetic testing to ensure that I was not a carrier of the 2 known breast & ovarian cancer genetic mutations. If I carried them, I would have to make some decisions about surgery to prevent the likely return of breast cancer, and the onset of ovarian cancer.(There may be more mutations related to these cancers, but at this point, scientists can only clearly identify these 2). I received my results a few weeks ago, and it is a good news/uncertain news scenario. The good news is that I do not carry the specific mutations known to create breast and ovarian cancer. WHEW! The uncertain news is that a different rare mutation was discovered in those particular genes. It is so rare, that scientists have not found a large enough pool of patients to study it. At this point, it is assumed to be benign, and nothing to worry about. I must admit I felt unsettled by the discovery of a rare genetic mutation. What if it's not benign? What if, down the road, it is linked to cancer or other serious health issues? How do I make decisions with such weak data?? When faced with uncertainty, I have learned to pray, and to turn to Scripture. This passage from Psalm 139 has long been a favourite of mine, but in light of these test results, these verses are all the more precious to me: "O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them." (v. 1 - 5; 13 - 16) There is nothing in my circumstances that are a surprise to God. He has "hemmed" me in from the beginning of my life, and knows every detail of every cell and DNA pattern that I have. Because I can trust Him and his plans, I can rest in knowing He is with me, and has his hand on all aspects of my life. The uncertainties of life, including a rare genetic mutation, do not overcome God's faithfulness and his all encompassing grace He provides to live fully and abundantly. That is where peace is found (at least for me!) And then there are all the good people placed in my life that are cheering me on to the finish line. A wonderful friend and neighbour who has been on the same journey keeps encouraging me to look forward to a time when all this will be a distant memory, and all the details of treatment, side effects and cancer itself will be hard to recall. She inspires me and I am so appreciative of her support and example. I have so much for which I am thankful: a husband who supports and encourages and continues to love me through every moment of this experience. Family who are always at hand - sister, parents, children, nieces - even grandchildren who light up our days! Colleagues who continue to write, call and visit... Friends from all over the country who support us with love and food and listening ears. Life is rich and full, and I am so thankful for all the blessings that fill my life.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Signs of Spring

April 22. It is a whole 9 weeks post treatment, and SO MUCH has happened in our lives. As most of you know, Pete has made some big changes in his career path, having resigned from WMB. He is now working for Mennonite Central Committee, leading teams on mission trips to the urban landscape of Toronto, ON. He is also working at Integrity Home Services, doing residential construction & renovations, and landscape work. Both jobs pull at his passions: working with the poor and marginalized in our culture, and getting his hands dirty with active, hands on work. Many of you have asked me: How was Pete's first week? Busy, new and a bit strange. Transitioning from the comfort of the church community into such new roles has meant some hard things. Saying goodbye to colleagues and friends. Letting go of the comfortable, known routines and income. Getting used to a new rhythm, making new connections with strangers and hoping to make it all make sense. At one point, Pete turned to me and said "This feels a little weird, to be away from the church." Yes it does. But we are SO grateful for the fact that we have been able to stay in this community, and to stay planted in our little house beside the river. This means we can see people we love and miss. We look forward to reconnecting with friends along the way, and getting caught up on the story of your own journeys. This has already begun - yesterday I spent the afternoon with a good friend, Blythe, celebrating her upcoming marriage and seeing so many women from WMB who are dear to me. I felt so blessed to just be out in a social setting. I can't recall the last time I was able to do this, and it is nice to have the energy to go out for a few hours and visit! I take that as a sign of spring on its way in my body. Yes, I still have peripheral neuropathy & am dealing with pain, tingling, weakness and numbness in my hands and feet. This side effect from chemo is lingering and while I wish I could hurry it along, there is nothing to do but take the meds prescribed for the symptoms and simply wait it out. My hair is also returning quite quickly. At my last visit to the hospital, I was told that I don't look like a cancer patient only 2 months out of treatment, because of how much my hair had grown in. Yay hair! Hurray for eyebrows and eyelashes! Here's a few photos for comparison in various phases of the journey: (forgive my lousy self-portraits) Next steps are simply to focus on recovery, and take steps towards reclaiming our lives. Pete and I will be "doing church" in a different way, attending a small house fellowship. We are excited at this new opportunity to grow in our love for God and others in a more intimate setting. As we were sharing yesterday, I said that it feels like I am nearing the completion of this journey. Did I even say that out loud? There is a freedom in breathing deeply, knowing that in the midst of turmoil, & the uncertainty of change, we still follow a path marked out for us. A friend sent us this yesterday, and I found it moving and appropriate in light of the twist to our journey. It is called the Drake prayer: "Disturb us, Lord, when We are too pleased with ourselves,
 When our dreams have come true 
Because we dreamed too little, 
When we arrived safely 
Because we sailed too close to the shore. 

Disturb us, Lord, when
 With the abundance of things we possess 
We have lost our thirst
 For the waters of life; 
Having fallen in love with life,
 We have ceased to dream of eternity
 And in our efforts to build a new earth,
 We have allowed our vision 
Of the new Heaven to dim. 

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, 
To venture on wilder seas 
 Where storms will show Your mastery; 
Where losing sight of land,
 We shall find the stars. 

We ask you to push back 
The horizons of our hopes; 
And to push back the future
 In strength, courage, hope, and love. 

This we ask in the name of our Captain,
 Who is Jesus Christ." We happily anticipate a future where cancer is behind us - if this is the place Jesus leads us to. If not, then we anticipate finding continuing grace, courage and peace in the face of challenges. For now, I feel a quickening inside me as I ponder the new experiences before Pete in his new job, and the new energy that is building inside me as I continue to heal. New, new new - I love that word! Thank you for your continuing support, prayers and love as we take these steps. We could not have come this far without you.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Comfortable or Uncomfortable faith

This is my final week at WMB. It has been 3 weeks of saying goodbye and processing with hundreds of people. It has been a little harder yet a little better than I expected and I feel loved, that i will be missed, communicated with and affirmed in my decision to come here and work and my decision to move on and continue this journey. Yesterday we had a final youth service where youth, leaders and some parents came out to spend some time together for our last time. One cool thing we did was share communion together. Before we approached the table, we each were to write something we were grateful to God for or seeking forgiveness from God for and then stick those on a cross in the middle of the room. It was great to see all the notes stuck to the cross and littering the floor around the cross at the end of the indication of Him in our lives. A morning of lots of hugs. This morning I had breakfast with a young adult from the church who has grown up here through my time in the youth ministry. She is now a youth leader and devoted follower of Jesus. We spent time chatting about life and then she told me that I was the first person to truly make her feel uncomfortable in her faith lived out...she explained that I had challenged her and rattled her cage a bit asking her to consider and do things outside her comfort zone and for that she was grateful. I was grateful that she shared that with me. It meant a lot. Should our faith be comfortable or uncomfortable? Was Jesus teaching a life of comfort or something else? Not sure when He said ,"For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" that He meant there was no yoke and no burden and but that there was work to do and he would be there with us. You decide. Do not believe and live your live. Believe and do nothing for the Kingdom. Believe and follow in Jesus' dust picking up a cross and adventuring with Him into lonely places and frightening adventures. It truly is your choice. Good luck. Tough decisions can lead down unique paths...peace and grace to you.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

...the next leg of the journey...

The winds of change are blowing and it is both exhilarating and frightening at the same time. I have resigned from my position as Family Pastor at WMB. I have been in that role for almost 5 years and have grown and developed in the position here and within this community. It has been a journey exploring how God works through his church and in spite of us gets things done. There are so many people I will struggle with leaving behind but... the road is in front of me and I'm walking it. The future is somewhat planned out. Half of weeks will be spent working as the new coordinator of MCC TOOLS in Toronto This will entail hosting teams from various churches and organizations and connecting them with the various service agencies in downtown Toronto that serve the poor and marginalized. I am not exactly sure how that will unfold but I'm excited and ready to roll. the other half of my time will spent working in renovation/construction and landscaping with a good friend of mine from Guelph. This means that for now, Cindi and I will continue to live on the riverbank with our 4 dogs and chickens. Cindi continues to heal from the chemo damage at a slower rate than we would like but is beginning to turn and consider the journey back to work as a VP in the Waterloo school system next September. It has definitely been a year...looking forward to the next leg of the journey.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Looking Beyond

Today I am officially one month post-treatment! I think I am beginning to see some 'green shoots' of improvement: today I got up, and was able to walk with less pain. This is a first since the arrival of the neuropathy in December, so I was pretty excited this morning. I was even able to take all 4 dogs out for a long walk, and while my feet were pretty sore by the time I got back, it was worth it to enjoy the time outside again. My hands are still quite painful, but I am hopeful that the bursts of tingling and achy bones are signs that the nerves are beginning to regenerate. I still feel fatigued, but am able to cut back on the medications, so at least I am not quite as drugged. (Sixteen pills each day has proven a bit much, so I am relieved if I can get by with fewer meds to manage my symptoms). Small steps towards improvement have helped to keep things on a positive note, but it is a discipline to stay focussed on the improvements rather than getting impatient with the slow pace of recovery. As I was walking with the dogs, snow fell in large fluffy flakes around us, and it gave me time to contemplate the simple joy of being able to move more freely even for such a short distance. The stroll reminded me of the passage in Hebrews 12, where Paul compares our lives to the experience of running a race. His language in these chapters acknowledges that the race is sometimes hard; he speaks of persevering, of not growing "weary or faint-hearted." Instead of focussing on how hard the journey is, he exhorts his readers to remember they are surrounded by a "crowd of witnesses" - folks who have lived lives of faithful service and who have gone on to heaven. Paul draws a picture of those faithful saints, watching us as we tough it out here, and reminds us that we have a crowd cheering us on with each step. I began to think about the many friends and family who suffered hardship while they lived here, and then died - but were faithful despite the struggles and pain. As I walked my menagerie today, I recalled by name and face those who touched my life, and have passed away due to accident or illness. Relatives, friends, neighbours...Rather than feeling sorrowful, I actually enjoyed the memories of these dear ones, and considered the legacy they left with me. I could recount the suffering that each one experienced - whether from lung cancer, or leukaemia, or a host of various illnesses or accidents - or even political persecution of those overseas. Their own journeys provide examples of faithfulness in the midst of adversities of all kinds. It was humbling to consider these personal histories, and helps me to frame my own experience in a positive light. Someday, we will swap tales! We will remember together the challenges, and celebrate that in the midst of it all, none of us was ever alone, and that we experienced God's faithfulness with each faltering step along the way. Paul also reminds us that the key to completing the race is to look beyond: to see the rewards that await us, whether we stumble along, or run freely, on the path laid before us. Sometimes, I grow impatient and wonder why the neuropathy clings to my hands and feet - but my impatience is tempered when I look beyond this "momentary affliction" and consider the future. Somewhere, someday, I will be free of the pain and able to return to my life, fully healed. When I wonder why God has put my feet on a path called "cancer," I have to look beyond by trusting that He will equip me with the tools I need to make the journey. As I begin to look for His presence in the midst of the struggle, only then do I enjoy the grace and peace to be found in waiting on his healing touch. Until "then" - the end of this pathway through cancer - I can only give thanks, recalling with gratitude the blessings provided by so many faithful friends and family along the way! "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or faint-hearted....Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed." (Hebrews 12)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pathetic Fallacy

A "pathetic fallacy" is a literary device, whereby the author uses the weather to reflect the mood of the protagonist. My recovery has been very much reflected by the changes in weather as of late. Some days I feel brighter, a bit more energetic - like the sunny, crisp winter days we have had. On an "up" note, I am seeing my hair come back. Funny, I was more excited to see the return of my eyebrows than anything else. That little bit of definition on my face makes me feel less like a cancer patient, and more like myself! But the sunny days are often punctuated by grey weather and strong winds. As some of you know, my last day of treatment was overshadowed by a potential new lump. Talk about a swift moving storm! It took my breath away to realize how little control anyone really has over this situation. Thankfully, that gale blew over quickly, as the ultrasounds revealed nothing of concern. A more lingering shadow comes in the form of the peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) that continues to plague me. This is likely to fade over time... so it requires ongoing patience. I have not seen any significant improvement since it arrived 10 weeks ago. In order to help me with the pain/tingling/burning in my hands and feet, I have been prescribed a long list of medications: sixteen pills a day. So the February/March winter weather truly reflects the ups and downs of recovery. Lots of grey, cloudy skies, interrupted by sunshine at times. Getting through this period of recovery is tough slogging at times. I want to be back on my feet, to return to life as it was before cancer...but there is no rushing this process. All I can do is continue to wait for full healing and trust that the purposes set out for this time in my life will be achieved. The weather of my walk continues to be unpredictable, and I can only kneel in submission to the One who is the source of strength, step by step. "The Eternal should be honored and revered; He has heard my cries for help. The Eternal is the source of my strength and the shield that guards me. When I learn to rest and truly trust Him, He send His help. This is why my heart is singing! I open my mouth to praise Him, and thankfulness rises as song. The Eternal gives life and power to all His chosen ones; to his anointed He is a sturdy fortress. Rescue your people, and bring prosperity to your legacy, may they know you as a shepherd, carrying them at all times." (Psalm 28, 6 - 9, The Voice).

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Photos of our story

From Barbados to Nicaragua to New York to Algonquin to Kitchener-Waterloo the story continues with FAMLY and FRiENDS, PUPPiES and ADVENTURE!!!