On Health, Perseverance and Triumph, Part I

(As I said in my former entry, there are things that have come up over the last few months that I just didn’t blog about, but these ones just keep coming back to me as life lessons to draw from.)

One life story sharing:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney published a book a few months back titled Heart.  It is the story of his life as a heart patient. He had his first massive coronary when he was in the prime of his life, age 37. That would place it sometime in the early 1970’s. I have listened to a number of interviews about his experiences while he’s been on a book tour, and it is truly a story of perseverance, and I would add, God’s sovereign hand; because as Cheney puts it, “it was the times in which I lived” that actually made it possible for him to eek out more life from his heart each year.

He was the first who had a stent placed in his heart. Yes, the first. As time went on, he took advantage of all of the latest technologies that would allow him more life. Most often, the technology was developed just in time for his need. The last contraption he had place was a pump of sorts that literally kept his heart beating and blood flowing. As with the stent, this was brand new technology. It was meant to only last a few months while patients waited for a transplant, but he made it about 20 months. His body grew weak during the wait, and at the last possible moment he received word that he could have a heart transplant.

Today he is full of life. He proudly states that he can throw 50 pound bags of manure into the back of a pickup truck, and his life is full. The only thing he can’t do is ski anymore–he says his knees can’t handle it!

As I listened to him speak about his life journey, how technology was developed in time for his life situation, it has made me think about my own situation. It seems the 13 years or so that I lived disease-free gave time for the medical field to develop many more targeted drugs and treatments for breast cancer. Bone marrow transplants are no longer done on people with late stage breast cancer; doctors can administer chemo just as effectively. One of the drugs I am on today was approved by the FDA less than 2 years ago. I have been on it almost that length of time. Two more drugs have come on the market since that would replace the other drug that I am on if it begins to lose its effectiveness.

Cheney’s life also teaches me about living life without being focused on obstacles. He continued to move on in Washington politics, which I can imagine is very stressful. That is surprising for me to see, since it seems he would have avoided stress. Apparently, being in the thick of things gave him purpose. He was Secretary of Defense during the first Iraq war (1991) and then Vice President when the Towers were hit in 2001, two critical times in our nation’s history.

Dick Cheney persevered and lived to see a triumph over a deadly disease. His life is a lesson for us all.

 

Expiration Dates

It’s been a long time since I clicked away at the keyboard to write an entry. There have been so many blog posts forming in my mind over the last few months, but for one reason or another, I haven’t taken action on them.

But when I opened my refrigerator door yesterday and began reshuffling the food in my fridge to make room for the massive tray of lasagna I had prepared, I was faced with one item in particular that had a story to tell—it was a leftover package of my Neupogen pre-filled syringes from December 2011.

Neupogen shot package

Neupogen is the drug used to help raise the white blood counts of chemo patients following the strong doses of chemo that all but obliterate the immune system.  I have had a number of practitioners become very concerned about the extent and duration of my low “WBC”, and the delayed response to the booster that Neupogen is supposed to provide. So, needless to say, the package of vials in themselves tell a story.

So, what is so significant about this? It’s been 2 years. Two years since I was told to “hang on to them because you might need them later.” (At $500 a shot and the rising cost of medicine, I listened) Well, after two years, these things expire! It looks like I’ve outlived the expiration date. At my next appointment in January I will be able to return these to my doctor for disposal.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

 

 

This is the sign of Christianity

This is the sign of Christianity. However much man should do and how many justifying works he should perform, he should feel that he has accomplished nothing. And when he fasts, he should say, “I have not fasted.” When he prays, let him think, “I have not prayed.” Persevering in prayer he should say, “I have not persevered. I have only begun to practice asceticism and to labor.” And even if he is righteous before God he should say, “I am not righteous. I am not working, but begin each day.” He ought every day to have the hope and joy and confidence in the future kingdom and in redemption and say, “If today I have not been delivered, tomorrow I will be.”

St. Macarius the Great points to the sign of Christianity, i.e., humility.

What a Difference a Year Makes

I haven’t been writing much lately. Instead of reflecting with paper and pen, I am finally at a point where I can do more and move into some areas that I’ve been prayerfully considering. I’m happy to be alive, with such a great quality of life besides.

Just one year ago, on August 25th, I was undergoing a blood transfusion. I was waiting for chemo treatment to begin, and had been told about my diagnosis: metastatic breast cancer in the bones and marrow. The doctor wouldn’t even venture a guess at a prognosis. He just said, “I’ll have to see how you respond.”

I’m so very grateful, that one year later I have far more energy than last year. I’m back to my old walking speed, and at times I just want to keep walking. I enjoy it so much.

I’ve changed doctors in the last few months. Since things have stabilized and a treatment plan has been established, I felt it would be a good idea to look outside the confines of the doctor who had treated me. At the encouragement of an old friend I looked into hospitals that specialize in cancer. When I began investigating, I realized that I was not only close to City of Hope, but UCLA as well. UCLA is considered the best in the State, and ranks 10th in the nation. I chose UCLA, and was scheduled for an appointment the same week! It was amazing that I could get in as early as I did, with an MD who does research in breast cancer and teaches at the medical school.

She confirmed that my treatment plan was appropriate, but did have other options outside of chemo if my body did not respond. Since I’ve been feeling so good, I thought it was best to make a change to a new doctor so he/she could get to know me as a patient.  Late last year UCLA opened up a satellite office in Irvine, only 20 minutes from my house! So, I am getting the benefit of UCLA research and knowledge without the major trip into LA. I believe God opened the doors to make this change.

My new doctor has a different demeanor and it has been quite an adjustment for me. I’ve gone from a blood test every 2 weeks, to a blood test every other month. I’m still trying to get used to it. She assures me that more frequent blood tests are not necessary at this time,  that the blood does not change that quickly. About 2/3 of her patients are breast cancer patients and she came highly recommended by her colleague that I met with in LA, so I think this must be okay. She has also allowed me to have the chest port removed, which is used for easy access to my arteries. Since other drugs would be used before chemo, she says that it is not necessary. This has been an especially welcome change of course. The port itself was painless, but tubing did run up my neck and that was very uncomfortable.

I praise God for all of these changes. I don’t have the constant sense that I am a sick person, which the repeated blood draws and accompanying doctor appointments did do. As long as I feel fine I don’t have to have this cloud hanging over me. My new doctor even remarked that this seemed like it would not be good for one’s mental well-being to be under such close supervision (and in her opinion, so unnecessarily.)

You can pray for God to give me wisdom and discernment with this new “approach.” I liken it to going from a 20 foot tether, to be pushed off a plane without a parachute. It is that shocking to my psyche. On one hand it gives me a better sense of well-being, but after so many months with no relief from blood tests and appointments, it is d i f f e r e n t.

On another subject…

With the passing of the famed astronaut Neil Armstrong, I’ve done some news searches on his life and the lives of other astronauts. This led me to a news conference with the Apollo 13 astronauts, and their firsthand account of their flight in space and miraculous trip back to earth. I googled the astronauts and read something that really hit home for me. Jack Swigert died early in life of cancer. The account I read stated that he was diagnosed with cancer in a nasal passage sometime during his political campaign for Congress. He won the election, but he was never sworn in. In December of that year they discovered that the cancer had spread to his bone marrow and his lungs. He died before the end of December.

It went to his marrow and within a very short time he had died. I think about that. Cancer in the bone marrow was an automatic death sentence in 1982. Last year cancer had overtaken my bone marrow almost to completion, and here I am today. It gives me pause; and it makes me glad that I am busy living life one year later.

It’s a lot to take in.

Psalm 118:24
This is the day the LORD has made; We [I] will rejoice and be glad in it.

A Good Report

Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression,
But a good word makes it glad.  Proverbs 12:25

The Proverbs are so full of wisdom and give us understanding in the very basics of life. I was reminded of the impact of “a good word” this last week.

I have been blessed with phone calls and other acts of kindness, and I can’t quite describe the value this has to a person in my situation. Frank sees my reaction many times. I usually can’t finish the sentence without tearing up. Some friends recently toured Italy, and when they told me they visited all of the churches there and took time to pray for ME in each one I was overwhelmed! I can’t imagine someone taking time out of their vacation to pray for me, to have my situation be so present with them when they were so far away—that they would PRAY for me!  That is a good report. That makes my heart glad. The Scriptures tell us what their report brought to me was healing to my bones. I can’t thank them enough.

In August, 2011, when arriving at the doctor’s office to find out what course of treatment I would need for my diagnosis of cancer in the bones and marrow. I had prepared myself for the worst. But before that, I had come across a similar verse:  The light of the eyes rejoices the heart, And a good report makes the bones healthy. (Prov. 15:30)  I remembered going in to the appointment thinking that a good report would be nice. I wanted healthy bones! To be quite frank, I think the doctor was a little surprised at my reaction when he told me that they no longer do bone marrow transplants for breast cancer patients; chemotherapy has proven to be just as effective.  For me, that was a good report. I told him so.

Instead of walking out of his office downcast about the return of breast cancer, I walked out with a little relief in my heart and a lightness in my step. As Proverbs 12:25 states, a good word had made my heart glad. I had prepared myself for the worst possible course of treatment, and I had had a good report. My prayer was that would then be healing to my bones as well.

Most recently, my MRI results showed nothing going on in my ear (which still remains clogged.) It’s not any fun having a clogged ear, but the results were another good report. I had just started realizing how the uncertainty of this was keeping me from moving forward with some volunteer work that I wanted to pursue. I didn’t want to commit to something when things were still up in the air on this. The good report was a relief to me, and I noticed that my sleep immediately improved. This had weighed more heavily on my mind than I had even realized.

I know it sounds kind of odd to take this Scripture so literally, but I’ve begun to see that some of the stuff we used to think as symbolic, has actually been proven out in modern medicine. One’s state of mind is brought up time and again in reports of success rates. The ancient manuscripts of the Bible were ahead of the game on this one too.

I want to praise the Lord for my growing strength, despite the recent setback (May) of a new diagnosis. I am back to walking my old route in my neighborhood, at Balboa/Newport pier, and Downtown Disney. I thank God for this energy, for this renewed strength.  Your prayers and acts of kindness are helping. Thanks!

Study in 2 Corinthians

17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-19

I’ve been doing an overview study of the New Testament, and have been especially blessed with some truths in 2 Corinthians.  The apostle Paul talks a lot about his trials and persecutions, and has put some great thoughts on paper for me to contemplate.

He gives some reasons for suffering in chapter 1. I have always looked to one verse in particular, that states we go through sufferings so we can comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (v. 4).  Another reason is so we can trust in God—who raises the dead—rather than ourselves (v. 9). This goes to the root of why we even bother to hope—it is because we can pray to God Who does raise the dead!

Yet another reason that has come out is the benefit that all the believers get when they walk through the trial with you.  Allowing others to participate in your season of trial not only lightens the load during the trial (my benefit, indeed;) but  they also  get to praise God right alongside you when He gets you through the affliction. So our trials are not only for our sake, they are for the sake of the body of believers. This is Paul’s point in verse 11. I know I am not going through this affliction by myself. I have people praying for me, and it is the only reason I can be at peace.

I also like this section of Scripture, though being persecuted for my faith to the degree that Paul and many believers go through is not in my experience, I believe it does qualify for my present trial. God gives us the strength despite setbacks, not to despair.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed… 2 Cor. 4:7-9

In closing, I like the following illustration on suffering that was shared  from this study  in 2 Corinthians.  Credit to M.R. De Haan, from his book Broken Things.
A little piece of wood once complained bitterly because its owner kept whittling away at it, cutting it and filling it with holes. But the one doing the cutting paid no attention to its complaining. He was making a flute out of the piece of ebony, and he was too wise to desist from doing so, even though the wood complained bitterly. He seemed to say, “Little piece of wood, without these holes, and all this cutting, you would be a black stick forever – just a useless piece of ebony. What I am doing now may make you think that I am destroying you, but, instead, I will change you into a flute, and your sweet music will charm the souls of men and comfort many a sorrowing heart. My cutting you is the making of you, for only thus can you be a blessing in the world.”

Wow!

 

 

 

He Was Waiting

A wonderful assurance that God is helping me through this, ready and waiting with all that I need has come to my attention the last few days.

When I went to see my oncologist on Friday morning, we were told that we needed pre-approval on the new drug before they could administer it, and since it was Friday, maybe they could get an answer by the following Tuesday—at best. They would then call and set up an appointment for later in the week. So we were hoping I could start the new drug by late this week, if things fell into place.

At 5:30 late Friday afternoon, I received a phone call from the doctor’s nurse practitioner, and she was floored—the approval came back the same day. Not only that, it took maybe 10 minutes or so! She was flabbergasted, and said that just never happens.

It just made me think of Jesus words about the Father, that He knows  what we need before we even ask (Matt 6:8.)  On Friday, it was almost like He was at the other end of that FAX machine, approval in hand—waiting—we just needed to get the request to Him!

Thank You, Lord, for this sweet affirmation of Your presence and provision.

Yesterday I had my first dose of the new drug. Tuesday. Pray for it to be effective without negative side effects. Thanks.

from Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 6

And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

“Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

 

Job Part II: God’s Boasting

It has been my good fortune that I have not been able to commit to much of anything while I am recovering from chemo. So, I’ve participated in what I can hope to complete, and thus have engaged in a great Bible study, some ministry training, and a financial workshop! No, I normally don’t do this on top of my weekly commitments at church, but they all “landed” in the same time frame, so there you have it! I take each a week at a time, though, and am grateful for each one I can complete. They are working a good purpose in my life.

My weekly women’s Bible study in the book of James has  been great. We’ve had time to really dig in to the book and to minister to others throughout the time. This last week, though, hit me so hard between the eyes, I was just overwhelmed—in a good way! In James 5:11 James refers back to Job, the book that gave me so much encouragement early on in this trial. The focus was this:  “…and you have heard the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord.” 

Beth Moore’s study brought out a harvest of spiritual fruit as we went back and considered  Job, but the best part was what I had overlooked way back then: God’s boasting (1:8.) I had seen God’s sovereignty in Job—that He knows the end before the beginning, that NOTHING can touch us without His permission—but  I had not considered the point that He was boasting. I love Beth Moore’s commentary here, and it is awash with hope and with our Abba Father’s personal love for His children ( I apologize that this is not in proper format, but I have limitations on this blog):

“The Lord boasting in any mortal is almost unthinkable. We feel like our feet of clay mainly just leave muddy footprints. Consider the even wilder part: God can’t lie (see Num. 23:19), so His boasts are always based on truth. He permits and sometimes even dictates difficulty for those in whom He boasts so that they will prove what He already knows is true. The Lord does not put us to tests that He knows in advance we don’t have the wherewithal to pass. He boasts in His faithful followers then lets them prove Him right. Sometimes the person most shocked by the proof is the human put to the test.”

This is a taste of how I processed this: Can you imagine? The Creator of the universe bragging about His creation? Could He possibly ever boast about me, a little servant here, muddling her way through—would He actually  boast? Could it be that God wanted to not only demonstrate to the “accuser” what He had already been working out in me all of these years, but to show what He would perform in me (i.e. an even greater resolve to trust Him and turn to Him, to praise Him for all the years He had given me, to praise Him despite the trouble, and  yes, even witness His mighty Hand at work in my body as an encouragement for me to pray in faith for healing.) Yes, He does know the end before the beginning.

Then, some more thoughts: I know very well that He has complete control over this, but can it mean something bigger, like He wants to demonstrate what He can do with a believer who has given this situation over to Him? This goes to His glory, when the trials that come to His children aren’t “just for those involved, but for those who hear and see” what He is doing. (Moore 167) Job said He had always heard of God, but now He had seen Him (42:5) (as did his family, friends,and neighbors;) and James tells us to look back at Job because we heard of his perseverance and have seen what God had intended (5:11).  May You be glorified in this situation, Lord, has a totally new dimension here. It’s for all of us to hear and see.

This trial makes me feel so special. Oh, what God-colored lenses can do for a situation.  This (me, my reaction) most certainly has to confound the wise. (I Cor. 1:27)

 

4.5 is not my GPA

…but it is my white blood count number! More to rejoice over! This puts it in the normal range, along with all of my other readings. Even more testimony to the good, no, the GREAT work, God is doing in my body. When I went through chemo 14 years ago, it took over 2 1/2 years to get close to a 4, and most of my readings ranged from 3.5 to 4.1 over the last decade. So this, 4.5, is GREAT!

I had an MRI on Thursday afternoon to try to figure out the lingering problem of my ear. No pain at all, just a nuisance, because it feels clogged and stuffy, but no signs of infection. It has been this way since late May of last year, but it took second place to the cancer treatment for obvious reasons.

I was very distracted and did not remember to post the coming MRI, although I had my church praying. Those who missed out on the prayer for this can pray that the problem in my ear is easily resolved and made evident  to the doctors.

On another note, I have been remembering the crucifixion on this Good Friday, and have been reading a book on the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, a picture of the sacrifice Christ made on our behalf. Lately, I’ve pondered the Crucifixion in a fresh way, in terms of the stripes (beatings he took) by which we are healed. This passage talks about Him taking on our iniquities/transgressions, which I have laid hold of every day since becoming a Christian; but the healing is just as much a part of the work of Christ as the salvation of our souls.I wonder why it is that we emphasize one, but not the other work of the cross. Then I think of all the miracles/healings Jesus performed while He walked the earth. He even said that we would do even greater works (Jn. 14:12).

I have personally experienced unequivocal, non-medical interventional healings in my life at least 4 times that I can point to, because there was an outward sign that came with it. My experience on August 1 accounts for two healings that were visible. I can’t help but wonder what else God has for us to experience personally as Christians. I think there could have been even more healed in my body on August 1 that was not visible to the naked eye. To me, there is no explanation, with tumor cells having almost completely overtaken my marrow, for me not to have my organs involved.  I wonder if God took care of those organs also that night, and left me with the cancer in the bones so I had something to watch and record. In His grace, He had left enough for the doctors to work with that they didn’t just send me home to get my things in order.

Then, I think of another facet of one of His miracles (it seems I keep returning to this, with different insights each time.) When some men tore off a roof to a house to lower their paralytic friend in so he could be healed by Jesus, the first thing Jesus did was forgive this man of  his sins. This was considered blasphemy, because only God can forgive sins; He knew what this crowd was thinking and said, “to show that the Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins, (to the paralytic) ‘Rise, take up your pallet and go home.’” (Mark 2:1-12  paraphrased)  Oddly (to the current day Christian) we accept Jesus forgiveness of sins so readily (while the Jews were more cautious), yet we miss out on the other part of His ministry, which He probably did far more often to prove who He was—supernatural events, like healings.  I have been blessed with a Catholic mother who NEVER doubted God’s ability to heal, and that has been instrumental in my going to Him to heal the BIG things. It’s great to see this intrinsic belief in God Almighty coming together with passages of Scripture in such a vivid way.

The Christian walk is full of growth when we continue walking in it. What was once theoretical has become so much more concrete to me. When I see Him face to face someday, I want to have known I realized His Fullness here and didn’t short-change myself on all that He had done for me on the Cross.

Until His return,

Eileen

 

Buca di Birthday

My birthday was full of FOOD from start to finish. It took til lunch before I remembered that a photo might be nice (I’m NOT a morning person.)

My day started out with one of my longest-known friends, Beverly. We had a great breakfast and blabbed til almost lunch! Then, a lunch (fortunately LATE!) with one of my newest friends, Joy, who has been such an encouragement to me and my family as we’ve gone through the last few months. I like how she reminds me that this life is all a vapor, and then there is forever! It helps put a reality-check on what we can become so encumbered with in this lifetime. Thank God that trials have a time limit. We always seem so preoccupied with what we will miss—anyone up for no sadness or tears? 

After recovering from all that eating, I was wondering if Frank and I could still pull off the Buca di Beppo dinner we decided on…well, what Italian guy is going to forego an Italian dinner? We pulled it together (VERY LATE) and had a great time. We even got a photo for the evening.

 

Frank is my friend for a lifetime, and I thank God for the deep friendship that comes with years, but is magnified by a devotion to God. I’m sure that all of it is for “such a time as this.” (Esther 4: 13-14)

Thank you, Father, for my times and the wonderful place I am in.