Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Flee or Face the Giant?

Flee or face the giant? That question has crossed my mind so many times this week.  I have to admit after my first round of Power Aid (aka chemo), I would love nothing more than to run for the hills, hide in a cave, cover my head, avoid further confrontation. This giant seems huge! How could anyone stand up to such a menace? This is no normal fee-fi-fo-fum  giant. Oh no, this particular giant is a master of disguise. At times he appears to be a disease I must conquer. Then his shape shifts, and it is my cure itself I must wrestle.  What is designed to heal me must first destroy me. My body says, "Run away!" What shall I do? Flee or face the giant?

How does one face the giants of the day? Each day I wonder how do I approach the fight? As a little girl, I remember witnessing a giant in the form of a big old bully. She was the meanest person I knew.  I never saw her be nice to another person--ever. Her face was hard and her words were mean.  I was afraid of her. On this particular day, she threatened to cut another little girl's ears off, and by my youthful estimation she could and would have. I remember my stomach being a wriggling bundle of nerves, my knees shaking and my voice quivering, but I knew I had to stand up to this giant. It took all my courage, but I looked at her and said, "Oh no, you won't."  I braced myself for the response, afraid that now I would reap the wrath. But you know what? She just looked at me, surprised and speechless. There was nothing else for her to say. She walked away. She didn't say another word. I beat the giant. I just had to muster some courage.

Sometimes you have to face the giant, but that doesn't mean you will always feel brave. Sometimes your stomach will wriggle, your knees will shake and your voice will quiver, but you know inside it is what you have to do. So you draw a deep breath, look at the giant who says it will defeat you, and say, "Oh no, you won't." 

My giant has made me want to flee the past few days (although Praise God, each day is getting better), but this is what I know. I am not alone. I have this promise: "For I am The Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, "Do not fear. I will help you." (Isaiah 41:13).  Therefore, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. (Phillipians 4:13). 

Tomorrow I will wake up and that giant will be back on the battleground, ready to intimidate me again. He will probably have a few new tricks up his sleeve. Tomorrow I will have to choose-- fight or flee? My puny self will want to run for my life --literally. But I don't have to fight this on my own. I do not face this giant alone.  You are not alone either!! We have one who stands up for us to face the fight. It is not my voice that says, "Oh no, you won't", but the voice of one with far greater power. And in the face of that voice, the giant will be surprised and speechless. What will it be? Fight or flee? Tomorrow I will fight. See you on the battlefield!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Power of Words

Tomorrow begins one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced. I begin CHEMO (cue the scary music). Chemo is a word than sends fear into most people's hearts. A word that makes us say, "Oh no1" when we discover a friend or loved one will have to endure it. I am getting CHEMO to treat CANCER.  My CANCER is THYMOMA. It is RARE and there is NO ONE I know that has ever had it. Look at all those words. Chemo, cancer, thymoma, rare, no one. Those are some pretty scary words. Can you feel the weight of them as you read?

You know what? You have scary words, too. Yours may be different. Maybe yours are lonely, scared about the future, in debt, conflicted with a loved one, unemployed, sad, failure, ill, lost, fill in the blank.

The impact that my  words have had on me, and others in my life, has led me to think a lot about the power of words. As a student of human behavior and the brain, I have long known, from multiple research studies, that what we think and do has a direct impact on how we feel and our physiology (how our body feels). Where we can control what we choose to think and what we do, it is more difficult to change our feelings and physiology. The only way we can change those areas, is by changing how we think and act.  Our emotions and our physical states follow our thoughts and actions. When we think our scary words,  it changes the chemistry of our brain. Our brain in turn sends signals to our body to react. Our body receives the message and responds accordingly. For example, I can sit here and think, "I have a headache." If I dwell on that message, my brain sends it to my body, my body reacts, and soon I will indeed have a headache. There is even research to indicate that people who smile, even though they are in an an unpleasant situation, actually experience more happiness and comfort than those who frown through the same situation. Our feelings follow our thoughts and actions.

The Bible talks about thoughts, too. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, "...We take captive of every thought to make it obedient to Christ." And how are we to do this? Many scriptures speak to this, but one that stands out to me is Phillipians 4:8 "Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-- think about these things."

My scary words don't meet those criteria. They are not true, noble, pure and lovely. They are not admirable, praiseworthy or excellent.  I am not alone. That is a lie. Cancer and chemo are not lovely. The fear they produce is not admirable or praiseworthy. The way they make me feel is not excellent. If I listen to those words, I am weakened. My brain becomes tuned in to the negative messages, on what seems to big to overcome.  My body will hear my brain, and believe it. It will begin to manifest the lies.  If you listen to your scary words, you are weakened, too. But if we hold our thoughts captive to what we are told to focus on, we unleash God's power in our lives. That is not to say our problems disappear. It doesn't mean we will walk around happy and strong all the time. This life isn't for sissies and the naive. What it does mean, is that as we walk the more challenging paths we will be able to do so more gracefully and will be able to see light in the darkness. The darkness may remain, but we have hope. And not only hope, we will also find joy. Joy endures when happiness fades.

I won't take on the personality of my scary words. I will not own cancer and thymoma. I have a "Nuisance" that I have to deal with so I can continue on my journey. Instead of seeing chemo as something that is going to make me ill and fatigued, and kill off cells in my body, I am choosing to see this healing treatment as "Power Aid".  What flows into my veins is going to make me stronger, not weaker. My rare "nuisance" does not make me alone. I am surrounded by people who love me and are lifting me up on prayer and daily thoughts. The fight does not disappear, but my strength for the fight greatly increases when I stay focused on the truth.

What about your scary words? What lies are hidden in them? How can you reframe those thoughts so that you hold them captive, rather than being held captive by them? I want to challenge your thoughts. Rather than focusing on what you don't want in your life, focus on what you do want. Rewrite your scary words. Let conflict become forgiveness; fear become hope; and failure become second chances. Don't focus on where you are, focus on where you want to be. Most importantly, never lose sight of the one who will take you there.

Let's revisit that first paragraph:
 Tomorrow begins one of the biggest opportunities for healing that I have ever had. I begin my healing treatment that I like to call "Power Aid". I am getting "Power Aid" to treat a little "Nuisance"  so that I will have a long, healthy and joyful future!  Those are some powerful words. Can you feel the strength of them as you read?

I challenge you. Rewrite the paragraphs of your life. And know this, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!" (John 16:33).

As you pray with me along this journey, I pray for you, too. We have different struggles, but we all struggle. Thanks for praying and cheering me on!! I am so blessed!! Now, we have to get back to marching around those walls of Jericho!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Life Lessons From A GPS

Rush hour traffic in Houston (or should I say Rush HOURS)--you have to be NUTS to try to travel during that insanity, but we had no choice. After a change of MD Anderson appointments and necessary cancellation of flights, we were faced with picking up a rental car in one part of town, driving to the airport to drop off another, then trekking all the way across town again.  In order to pull off this challenge, Rodney and I would have to travel in two cars. We were in unfamiliar territory, dependent on our GPSs for directions. We entered our location and began the slow moving, bumper-to-bumper excursion. It was far to crowded to glance down at my map and see where I needed to go. All I could do was listen and obey. If I was careful to listen, and do exactly as told, I would arrive at my destination (in a few, loooonnnggg hours). If I ignored instruction and took things into my own hands, I would soon be lost. Fortunately,  if I somehow got off track (which I did---the only way to change lanes in that traffic is to buy the car next to you)  all I had to do was slow down and listen for further input. My GPS would reroute me towards my original destination. The trip might be a little more complicated, and take a little longer, but I would safely arrive at point B.

I began to see a moral to this story. I realized God is like that GPS. If I will listen and respond to his instruction, I will safely arrive at my destination. Sometimes I don't do that. Sometimes I rush and miss my turn or decide I know a better way.  But because of mercy, God, like the GPS, is happy to reroute me when I mess up---if I will slow down, listen and obey. 

Today I am lost in the rush hour traffic of cancer. I am daily receiving input on the best way to arrive at healing. I have heard from surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, nutritionists, well-meaning strangers and a few cracked websites. Today I got directions to schedule a port placement so we can begin up to six rounds of chemo, one every three weeks. Then we are to travel to MD Anderson after two rounds to see how we are doing and decide on next steps. Looking at this "map" can be too distracting right now.  There is too much going on. Glancing down could easily lead to a crash. My best option is to follow my GPS--God Positioning System. I am counting on him to give me one instruction at a time, redirect me if I get lost, and safely deliver me to my destination . Although I feel stuck, he can see the big picture and knows just how to get me where I need to be. 

So buckle up my little prayer travelers, we are on our way. I may be the only person to ever be grateful for rush hour traffic but I am grateful for the lesson learned!  "Proceed on to your destination." 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

In the Details

Thursday was to be our last day at MD Anderson. We had been there for 9 days and were more than ready to return to our home and our family. It had been a week of anxiously waiting for answers, and never feeling like we had quite enough to know where we were heading. Our final scheduled appointments were with a series of doctors who would deliver the game plan---or so we thought.

As we arrived for the series of appointments, we were told that my oncologist, and lead doctor, had been called away for an emergency. I would have to see another physician. My heart dropped. The man who had requested all the tests, who promised all the answers, wasn't available. A week of waiting for this moment and we would not be seeing our primary caregiver. We would start from scratch with a new doctor. There was nothing to do but swallow and say, "Oh, okay."Dejected, we moved to the waiting area, but we quickly decided that God had been so faithful during this trip. He would be faithful in this as well.

After a time, we were called back to the exam room. As they tried to sort through who would see us, we got lost in the shuffle. As we waited for the new oncologist to be assigned, we fell off the radar of the radiologist. It took radiology awhile to realize we were there and had not missed our appointment. Nurses came in and out trying to figure out who would see us and how we would get everything done. They were diligently trying to sort things through.

Finally we were assigned to a new doctor. As we waited to meet her, the radiologist came in to see us. He had index cards on a book ring with information about my case. He was very knowledgeable and helpful. He answered our questions and offered information. His thoroughness was comforting.  As we sat with him, the newly assigned doctor popped in to meet us. We wrapped up with radiologist and began to visit with the her. She had to catch up on our case, but tried hard to do so. She tried to answer our questions to the best of her ability. Ultimately, these two decided that radiation was probably not our first line of defense as we had originally thought. It is important to know that when we originally began this journey, we were hopeful that radiation would be our source of treatment. We thought it had less side effects and didn't sounds as scary. What we didn't realize is that radiation would mean 4-6 weeks at MD Anderson---away from our family. What had seemed desirable was now amazingly frightening. We were thrilled that it would be a final option rather than the first. The doctors were in agreement on that point, but couldn't decide was what should happen next, chemo or more surgery. It was then decided that we should meet with a surgeon for his input. They asked if we could stay another day for an appointment. Doing so would mean missing our flight home, changing our travel plans, delaying hugging our sweet boys. I was so ready to be home, but Rodney quickly said we would stay. As the nurses went to make arrangements, they discovered that the surgeons were already gone for the day. They could not promise we would be seen or what doctor would be available. They would call us and let us know.

We left the office with that familiar feeling of uncertainty. As we sat in the cafeteria, eating and waiting for our shuttle, they called. We would be seen. We began to cancel flights, change rental arrangements and notify our family. Now this is where the story gets good!!

Friday we arrived for our appointment. After a lengthy wait, we were called back to the exam room. The surgeon finally came in and began our consultation. He explained in great depth, with vivid illustrations, what thymoma was and how it functioned. He described how it spread and how it responded to treatment. He began to talk about the two remaining tumors on my diaghram. These tumors were not removed in surgery because we didn't know about them until I was on the operating table. He said that in retrospect, the two remaining tumors could probably now be seen on the original CT scans since we knew what to look for. That was interesting. My surgeon in Lubbock said those exact words to me. I looked at him and said, "That is what Dr. Springer, my surgeon, told me." At this point he replied, "I know Bill well. I trained him. We have had several conversations about your case." My heart jumped in my chest. This doctor, who I wasn't supposed to see originally; who squeezed me in last minute; who was one of eight possible doctors I could have seen; who I might not have been referred to at all had my original doctor been there, had trained the surgeon who operated on me in Lubbock. He had conferred on my case long before we met. Weeks, no years, before this appointment, God had been ahead of me preparing for this moment. Preparing the men who would assist in my healing. Once again, I stood amazed.

We finished our barrage of questions and came to an understanding that surgery was probably not the best place to start. The surgeon was very certain that chemo, which of the three options could be done at home, was the place to begin. We wouldn't begin with weeks of radiation or surgery away from home. We would go to our boys and begin to heal.

 The appointment began to wrap up. The doctor leaned forward and tapped on the cross ring on my hand and said, "I like your ring." I replied, "It is a reminder". He referred back to my Lubbock surgeon, Dr. Springer, and their prior conversations about me.  I asked, "So how did I get up to you and you already know me? How did I randomly end up with the doctor who trained my surgeon and had prior knowledge of my case?" He looked at me and said, "I think you'd have to say it is a God thing." Tears filled my eyes as I replied, "I asked for that today."  He came and hugged me and said, "We'll take care of this." And you know what? I have full faith in that promise. God has been working since my surgeon was in medical school to take care of this. He has rearranged appointments, schedules and doctors to take care of this. God is in the details.

I would never wish this situation on anyone. I would never have chosen it for myself. I wouldn't choose it now given a choice, but I would not want to miss these moments for anything in the world. God has made himself so abundantly evident. Now I know, that I know, that I know that God is God.  My prayer comes from 1 Chronicles 16:11-12: Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. REMEMBER THE WONDERS HE HAS DONE, HIS MIRACLES, and the judgements he pronounced." I pray I never forget HIS wonders.