Thursday, September 27, 2012

v12 Battle of the Bulge

As you know, I've been battling Ryan's Cancer in my own life. Today, the enemy tried to hit me with some flaming arrows and I dodged most of them successfully as I retreated into the pantry. Just as I popped the first Oreo into my mouth, my sister-in-law called me to see how I was doing. I explained that I wasn't coping well, nor was I enjoying the Oreo cookies that much, either. "Well, aren't you dipping them into milk?" she asked. "No, I am lactose intolerant and I can't," I said. Just another way that life isn't as it should be!

"I'm worried about your diet," Ryan said to me the other day. Yeah, I know I cannot live on Cheerios, or Oreo cookies. And I know that it isn't the first time I've heard that, nor is he the only one concerned. My mother, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law have all recommended I take care of myself better, especially because I am breastfeeding the baby. But when my sensitive baby only allows me a very limited diet (the Oreo cookies don't count) then I am stuck in a difficult place. I can list the foods I am able to eat on a very small piece of paper, which makes cooking for Ryan with his chemo-induced deadened taste buds and a very  weak appetite a daunting task to someone who already isn't going to win any awards for cooking, ever. Back to the worry part.

"Well, you should know why I am not eating well, I suppose," I retort. I am not one to hide things from Ryan, but I felt strange telling him about my difficulty with eating. It all stemmed back from our night looking at family photos together.

We were making plans for Thanksgiving and reminiscing about last Thanksgiving. When I saw what he looked like in those photos that were taken not even a year ago, it almost made me cry. It was very different images than the man I saw standing across from me with his clothes hanging off his shrinking frame. "My clothes don't fit me anymore," he said the other day. He never had to say this out loud to me because I'd already noticed just how much he has started to look like a Cancer patient. I couldn't help but want to support him completely by losing weight myself. (I thank God he's already going bald and doesn't have chemo to blame for that problem otherwise I might have an easier time getting ready in the morning!)

Well, breastfeeding has it's benefits and I've lost over 50 pounds since Talitha was born. I'm still not back to my pre-pregnancy weight, so there is no need to fuss. Yet I cannot seem to steer clear of my desire to be a partner with Ryan in his Cancer journey in any way I can, especially in the weight loss department.

"I want to lose weight so that you aren't the only one going through that part of your illness," I said. He looked at me with a "C'mon, really?" sort of sympathetic look. "You're breastfeeding our kid and it's already taking a toll on your body. You have to promise me you won't just eat cereal anymore," he said. I promised, and I noticed how much I feel better physically when I add a number of fruits and vegetables to my small diet.

Even though most of the weight loss has been gradual, Ryan lost 10 pounds last week. I have to fight against the fear that is crouching at my door, ready to overtake me if I let it. I've seen pictures of Cancer patients who have lost too much weight, and we walk by some of those people in the hallways at City of Hope. I do not want Ryan to become one of them.

In the past seven months since Ryan's diagnosis, I've had cooking lessons from my friends and family, recipe swaps, and a new found desire to try a variety of foods to see if they will be appealing to Ryan. I've started looking through my cookbooks, asking others for ideas, and learning about myself as a chef. I know I can only work on two items on a stove top at once, but can prepare a third item ahead of time to be baked simultaneously (so long as I don't have to check on it or do anything to it). I have learned that cooking is a lot easier if I am done within a half hour because that is about how long the baby is entertained by her cooking Mommy. I've also learned it is dangerous to cook with an open bag of mini cream puffs close by.

As I watch Ryan fighting the Cancer enemy, I juggle caring for the baby, becoming a more supportive wife, and learning how to be a better chef. Frankly, in the past 24 hours I have become overwhelmed during Chemo Round Twelve. But I know there is a God who loves our family, who has a recipe that will satisfy all of us because He is the bread of life. Now I know what I'm going to have for my midnight snack!

Have you struggled with weight issues, especially those of you who have or had Cancer? How have you dealt with eating difficulties?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

v12 Battle Armor

Ryan and Talitha (Dr. Lim too) 9/25/12 Chemo 12

The Armor of God - Ephesians 6:10-17 NASB

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Today, I needed to put on the armor of God to fight against seeing Ryan in the hospital setting and being sad. As everyone filed into the small examination room, I heard him talk about his illness over the past week to Dr. Lim, after seeing the nurse (not Shavone) write down that he lost 10 pounds from the last time we were there. I attempted to soothe myself with my steamed soymilk and hazelnut, then realized after smelling it that they had added coffee (something I cannot have because of the baby). I should have put on the FULL armor of God instead of  falling back into old habits. There was a moment of happiness when all of his numbers were high enough to have chemo Round 12 today, but a definite displeasure at the fact that he was sick last week and had the back pain so severely that he is on morphine pills again.

This is what it will be like from now on, it seems. His back pain could be alleviated by a new chair at work, but is more likely a side effect of the Neulasta shot to increase his white blood cell count. His ANC was 4.8 today -- dramatically higher than it has been in a long time, and his red blood cell count was higher too. The side effects, Ryan says, are as though he has the flu and lasted for at least five days. This is not a good quality of life.

Many people say they cannot imagine what it is like to be going through this. I know one thing is certain - we could not do this without my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, especially when we have conversations like we do on a regular basis. I was struck by Ryan's comment after Dr. Lim left to write the orders for chemo, "If I die soon, Tayley won't even know me. That will make me sad," he said. "No, you won't be here anymore and I would be the sad one." I have made it a point when thoughts like these come up for me, that I push them away, because my bridegroom is still here. "Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as he is with them?" Jesus asked in the Bible. No, they cannot - therefore, I've decided to save mourning for later.

For now, I relish the moments we have together, even in times like these when I have to check myself when both of us get snippy on chemo days. "Are you grumpy?" I asked Ryan, feeling a little on edge myself. "Yep, I have a lot of work to do and I cannot ever seem to get ahead," he replied. I cannot imagine being in his shoes, trying to work every other week, feeling sick all the rest of the time, and now on his weeks "off," feeling like he has the flu all the time. I'm grumpy too, because we argued about his insistence that I stay home with the baby to make it "easier" on me. I know that staying home would be much more difficult but he is still somehow unconvinced.

Later, while we were waiting for Ryan to go to Phase 1 for his chemo treatment,  I recommended that he read his Bible instead of the Hospice literature in his hands. I'm all for being prepared, but I think it is more important to prepare for the time after this life because you want to be ready for when you get to your destination.

The next CT scan is in less than two weeks and we are both on edge about the potential results. Yet, we must prepare for the battle that is trying to take our minds to dark places and shine the light of the Lord instead. We must, as Ephesians says, "Be strong in the Lord" and forget about dwelling in the "what if" land. While Ryan gets his treatment and the baby continues napping, I am going to don my wartime regalia and fight against those spiritual forces that are trying to take my family and I down in the Cancer Battle.

Won't you join me in this war? I sure hope so because I read the end of the Book and I know we win!

Monday, September 24, 2012

"I'd Like Some Fresh, Clear, Well Seasoned Perspective"

"The odds are stacked against us," the men thought when they looked at Goliath as he taunted them for forty days and nights. Yet David didn't worry about the odds or how tall Goliath was - he just followed after God and knew He was with him. It took just one shot to the forehead of the giant to knock him down, and that shot struck him dead. There was no need for fancy fighting strategies or multiple meetings with bigwigs. David knew what he had to do and he just did it with the confidence of the Lord behind him. "...and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not deliver by sword or spear; for the battle is the Lord's and He will give [Goliath] into our hands" 1 Samuel 17:47.  David fought with the weapons that had delivered him from both a lion and a bear, and was not concerned about his young age or lack of war experience. He was focused solely on the Lord God of Israel and how his God would deliver him from seemingly insurmountable circumstances.

Likewise, the odds are stacked against the Waters family, but Ryan fights on with a clear focus. "I want to be here for you and Tayley," Ryan repeated to me this past weekend. Tomorrow will be chemo treatment 12 if all of his numbers are above the levels needed for the clinical trial. Ryan is focused on killing the Cancer and knocking this giant dead! Unfortunately it's taking a bit longer than the one shot required to kill the giant in David's life, but no matter. "If God is for us, who can be against us?" the Bible says.

Sometimes, like last week, Ryan is more like the children of Israel and looks at his circumstances, completely afraid of the many unknowns in the future. Ryan got the flu and was really ill for a few days, feeling more back pain and aches than he had in a long time. But after getting a little better, he went to work. Work always makes him feel more like he's David, attacking a problem like a bear that needs to be taken down. At those times, looking to God for strength makes the Cancer seem small, unlike how the army of Israel viewed Goliath when they focused just on the giant. Alternatively, Ryan sometimes feels like the army of Israel after David removed the big problem. When a CT scan shows the tumors are stable or shrinking (i.e. Goliath getting taken down) - it is so easy to focus on the fact that he is part of the army of the living God and to just go after getting better with all the gusto he has.

What it boils down to is a need to focus upon God, rather than the Cancer, in order to overcome in this fight.  The restaurant critic Anton Ego in the movie Ratatouille wanted to provide the perspective, which is the quote from the title today. But, God wants us to focus on Him, to see things from His perspective, so that we can handle any obstacles in our path.

How do you need to adjust your perspective in order to see that your problems are pretty small as compared to the Creator of the Universe?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Travelling on the Grapevine

There is a massive mountain pass between southern and northern California called the Grapevine. When coming back from trips to see my parents in San Jose, one of the markers that we are close to home is that part of the freeway. It has a really steep grade up one side of it and as you climb, like the time we were driving in Ryan's 1971 Datsun 510 station wagon to move me into Ryan's condo after we got married, you wonder if your car is going to overheat. It is an exciting mountain to climb in a car like that because you really appreciate the fact that you don't have to walk up it to get to where you are going. And the beauty at the top is breathtaking, especially when it is covered with snow.

Last night's marriage seminar at Calvary Chapel, Chino Hills was a good reminder of how to strengthen a marriage for  the better, of how to climb up huge mountains, even if you're in a classic car. The beginning of our marriage was like climbing the Grapevine in the Datsun and I am sad when I think back to those days. Of course having a baby recently caused a bit of drift, but lately we have been intentional about coming back together to work as a team and fight against apathy and not stall out on the mountain we're climbing together.

This road reminds me of the verse about abiding in Jesus: "I am the vine, you are the branches; He who abides in me and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing" John 15:5. The fruit of our coming back together with Jesus, and in turn with each other, has been very sweet. We have relished the "stay up until all hours talking" nights and the time spent in the car together to run errands. We pluck away at our credit card debt, say no to 'wants' and yes to our goal of becoming debt free, including Ryan's decision to keep driving his Datsun as his daily commuter car. We enjoy watching the baby grow up right before our eyes.  We laugh at the funny things that happen in our lives and cry when we are sad. We pray for others with difficult situations in their lives, especially when they have children with Cancer. Drawing close to Jesus has made the twists and turns in the road of life more full. We have a growing gratitude for every day Ryan is alive and an appreciation for the little things that we see and experience on our journey.

Driving up the Grapevine of a diagnosis with Stage 4 Stomach Cancer while travelling in the Datsun has been exciting, scary, sad, and fun. I thank God that He has given us yummy snacks, like grapes, some great tunes (e.g. Tenth Avenue North, Sidewalk Prophets, Matthew West, Toby MacKutless and Phillips, Craig and Dean, just to name a few), the excellent company of our family, our growing faith, and awesome people to go visit during Ryan's Cancer trip. I look forward to what lies ahead!

How have you seen fruit in your life when drawing closer to Jesus while travelling on your own Grapevine?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fruit is Tasty

I absolutely love fruit. I mean, if it were possible to just live on strawberries, I would! I think heaven is on Earth when I eat chocolate covered strawberries! When I was a young teenager my parents used to visit our family friends and they would love to play cards. I was not invited to play one night, so I sat, pouting, at the table next to a HUGE bowl of strawberries, eating as I was watching the game. Unfortunately I ate the ENTIRE bowl within the two hours they took to play and did not even realize it. When they came back to the kitchen in order to have dessert, it was gone. I felt guilty because I had eaten everything and we all laugh about that funny memory with that very important set of friends who are more like family.

I used to mindlessly eat "comfort foods" like this when I was upset, up until I had our baby this past February. Ironically, even though this is one of the toughest years of my life, I am losing weight. This is due to the fact that I am breastfeeding and she is a really sensitive baby when it comes to what I eat. Now that I am forced to think about what to eat (which doesn't include chocolate or caffeine for another six months), I will often turn to fruits as "dessert" but even have to be careful of avoiding the acidic fruits, like strawberries. Yet, I have found  another kind of fruit that I love but do not have to limit and that is the fruit of the Spirit.

Some days I feel the fruit of the Spirit covering me (e.g. love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control)-- mainly due to the prayers of many friends, family members, and my husband. I feel a peace about our situation and look at our lives as just chugging along like anyone else with a new baby and unfinished house projects. It becomes a lot easier to do this when we have many people surrounding us with words of encouragement to focus us on our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Ryan has a goal of living without chemo and getting healed, but always remaining close to God. Part of his fruit of the Spirit is patience during the process of God answering this prayer. We do not know how God will answer it in the future, but right now the answer to that prayer is that God is keeping Ryan here, to abide in Jesus.

I am grateful for the fruit in my life. But if you invite me over to your house, make sure you give me a separate bowl of strawberries!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Freshly Squeezed

Sadness. Despair. A crushed spirit. Downtrodden. Depressed. All of these words are found in the book of Psalms, but the book always points us back to God's goodness and graciousness. Yet there is a black cloud hanging over my family today as we mourn the loss of a fellow Cancer fighter, Aiden Ocker. He was a local sixth grade boy who liked baseball and Jesus Christ A LOT. I was sad when I heard about a family members' 24 year old friend who was recently diagnosed with Lymphoma and will be entering the hospital for some pretty hard-hitting treatment. My heart was very heavy hearing about a little boy who has tumors in his head and his heart from birth and cannot receive treatment until he turns three. Before Ryan got Cancer, I would have heard about these people and thought, "Wow that stinks!" and prayed for them once, maybe more, then gone about with my life. But now, I cannot just give them one minute of my day. I am captivated in heart and mind by their misery and I grieve for them. I walk alongside them as I pray for them throughout my day. I think of them and their families often and wonder how they are doing, even though I do not know them personally. I make phone calls even when I do not have the "proper" words to say because I know, from personal experience, that directly hearing from people that care means a lot.

Watching Ryan suffer with sadness from the thought of leaving his wife and his daughter here on Earth to fend for themselves in an unjust world is daunting. I walk the fine line between my own personal grief and my desire to comfort my grieving husband. I pour my heart out to God and ask about these injustices of people like my husband getting Cancer at such a young age! And I am brought back to God's Word, which says He draws near to those who draw near to Him. He is a just, kind, and loving God in a world that fraught by injustice and insane cruelty on many levels. The Bible says He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. He gives comfort to those who mourn and in turn asks those people to comfort others with what they were given. I find comfort in the fact that He knows all things and He will never leave me, nor forsake me, regardless of the outcome.

I do not know what will happen along Ryan's Cancer journey, only that through his suffering we have drawn closer to the Creator of the universe in ways I could have never previously imagined. This closeness makes our conversations sweeter, our lives more rich, our love more honest, and our Savior more known. Ryan says he feels like he is in a wine press, being squeezed. Instead of bitterness and anger about his situation coming out is a sweet love for the Lord and a desire to remain here to be with his family. And the more He squeezes, the more it comes out. "But He knows the way that I take, and when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold," says Job 23:10. The best part of the journey is that God knows what is ahead and is going to make us better rather than bitter through it all.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Follow the Recipe

I sat speaking with a longtime friend, staring at the perfectly formed banana bread she just made me. "So, if I was going to make some baked goodies like you do, please tell me the secret to how delicious your baked goods always come out!" I said. "Is it substituting applesauce for oil?" I asked. She smiled at me and simply said, "I follow the recipe." "There's no hidden ingredient or fancy way of doing things?" I wanted to know. She shook her head no.

I always look for complicated ways to find the secrets of life. How do I get a better marriage? Should I buy this book or follow this teaching? Ephesians 5 tells us that a good marriage has the husband loving his wife and the wife respecting her husband. "That's it, God?" I asked Him in prayer many years ago. "All I need to do is respect Ryan and I will have an awesome marriage?" The Scriptures gave me the recipe, but I still needed to follow it. That recipe is a lot harder than it looks and should not be filed under the "Easy" baking category.

"I haven't met anyone to be friends with since we moved," I told Ryan two years ago when we moved into our current home. "Well, maybe you need to learn about being a good friend before God will put one in your life, while you wait on God's timing," Ryan said. I searched the Scriptures and made adjustments to my friendship recipe. Later that summer I had a few people come into my life, and met more friends through those friends. Again, I had to follow the recipe of First Corinthians Thirteen.

What about the recipe for dealing with Ryan's Cancer and the uncertainty of the future? I looked to the Scripture for answers because of the hurt in my heart over potentially losing my husband soon. Just today I read about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying about the gruesome death He knew was coming very shortly. The Bible says, "And He (Jesus) said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will." " I know God can take the Cancer from Ryan if He wants to, and pray for that daily. But Jesus asks us to follow Him, and His example (or recipe). The Bible says, "Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." " As hard as this sounds, I must deny my rights to a future that I envisioned for myself and focus instead on the future (baking) in the way that God has laid out for me.

I do not know the outcome of the baking I will do on the path that leads to my future, nor am I guaranteed who will be in the kitchen with me, but I know the Person who wrote the recipe to my soul. Now all I need to do, in the wise words of the friend who led me to Christ, is follow the recipe.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

v11 Pump Photos

Today we woke up as though nothing happened yesterday, praise God. Maybe it was a cure from all the prayers and the soup and crackers at midnight?

The place where the pump meets the port.

I thought people might appreciate seeing pictures of the pump and how it connects to Ryan. We plan to go up to City of Hope after Talitha wakes up from her nap at 4 o'clock today. The first picture shows the bandages that cover the needle that goes into his port near his right shoulder. The second picture shows the pump itself. It has a strap so that he can wear it around his waist for the two days he has it every other week.   He wants to design something better, though, because he says it's not very comfortable to wear.
The pump Ryan has to wear when he gets his chemotherapy

Please continue to pray for Ryan. He gets the Neulasta shot tomorrow, so we hope that he has minimal side effects from that. God bless you!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

v11 No Matter What

I've been reading more of my Bible than I have in a long time as well as listening to sermons and talking to other people who love the Lord. I heard a sermon today, preached by Pastor James MacDonald, and he was talking about the need to stop hardening your heart, repent of your sins and listen to the voice of God. I have been so consumed by Ryan's treatment that I failed to listen to the very God I am praying to. My focus has centered on Ryan getting better )or the bleak alternative) and attempting to prepare for every possibility. Then I came to the realization that my mother-in-law is right and I need to just focus upon "one day at a time." It seems difficult to focus, however, especially when Ryan is on chemo.

People often ask me how Ryan is doing while he is getting treatment. I tell them, "He feels rotten. And he sleeps from Tuesday night through Sunday morning, often while eating very little." I usually follow up by saying that he is still very much alive, and that God is still on the throne. It is a very isolating and debilitating treatment that leaves the chemo patient exhausted, nauseated, and drained. But Ryan says it is a sacrifice he is willing to make if it means he will be able to spend more time with his family and friends.

I hear the stories while he is getting treatment - stories about others with Cancer that has spread everywhere or people given only months to live. Just today a friend was telling me how her uncle had Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer and lived only six months after being diagnosed. Usually you hear about people with Pancreatic Cancer and how much of a death sentence it is. Yet, yesterday when Ryan and I were at City of Hope we were in the elevator with a woman who "had no trace of Pancreatic Cancer" anymore and was officially in remission! Ryan met one other person with the same disease as this woman in the elevator, with the same result as her, even though it was Stage Four. And on some of the prayer pages I visit frequently, I have seen multiple people, including children, declared "Cancer Free!" I know miracles are still possible but it is hard to see them when the house is so still.

I asked Ryan yesterday if he thought all of this was any easier than when we started. "I don't think it's any easier at all," he said, "If anything, I've gotten used to the routine of coming here [to City of Hope] but even that isn't easy." This place in our lives parallels my Scripture reading. It hasn't been easy to pick up my Bible and read it for an extended period of time daily, especially because it does not focus upon giving me an easy life that is comfortable and safe. But I am getting used to the routine and am learning that this life is not all about my comfort and security in things here on Earth. My life is about living for the Lord and trusting Him with my future, no matter what.

What is stopping you from making the daily commitment to reading God's word, even for just five minutes? God's Word says, "To him who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin." If this is your particular sin like it was mine, then please join me in turning away from apathy and toward the living God who wants a deep and meaningful relationship with both you and me. Start today.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

v11 Eleven down, one to go

Ryan and Talitha Rose 9/11/12

I awoke this morning to the sound of Ryan's alarm after a restless night of sleep. I was anxious because I didn't know whether he would be continuing on the clinical trial he started on five months ago. Jesus tells us directly not to be anxious and yet here I was, violating what I knew to be true. I felt emotionally depleted in addition to my exhaustion and I just wanted to curl up and go back to bed.

Up and at 'em! I read my Bible while I ate my breakfast, then did a number of chores before Ryan got back from his meeting at work, including feeding the baby a few times before making the trek up to Duarte at 10 a.m. Although I was assured of God's promises repeatedly in the devotionals and the Scriptures I read, I was still playing the "what if..." game. "What if Ryan gets kicked off the clinical trial?" I asked God, in a prayer. "What will that mean for the future?" I prayed fervently for Ryan to remain on the clinical trial, and then started to pray for some new women I'd met the previous night in a Bible study that my mentor and another friend invited me to. If I had learned anything through the trial we were experiencing it was that I was definitely not alone in the trial category!

"What if you don't remain on the clinical trial?" I asked Ryan. "Then it was God's will," he said simply, pointing me back to where I needed to focus. "Do you need a hug?" he asked me before we got in the car. I don't know whether it was my slumped shoulders or the sadness written all over my face but he called it. I fell asleep on Ryan's arm as he drove, feeling guilty that I wasn't the one in the driver's seat.

Talitha the "movie star" and Mr. P
After we arrived at City of Hope, we were greeted warmly by Mr. P, a volunteer we frequently see on our Tuesday morning visits. He came over to say hi to Talitha, then quickly walked back over to the front where we saw him originally. As Ryan's name was called to get blood drawn, he returned with a cute stuffed dinosaur for Tayley (pictured below). "Have you been good?" he asked me with a twinkle in his eyes. I told him, "You'd better ask this guy!" and pointed to Ryan. Ryan just smiled as he walked to the lab. Talitha loved her new stuffed toy, but cried about a dirty diaper about a minute later. Mr. P asked us how things were going with treatment and I told him our recent dilemma with Ryan's white blood cell count. He winced as though he felt our pain, and the tears I'd been holding in all morning threatened to emerge. He said to me, "Tomorrow it will be 8 years since my wife died of Ovarian Cancer." He paused as I sucked in my breath, momentarily feeling his pain. "Then ten days later my oldest son died of Lymphoma." He looked at me and said, "Just keep at it" and excused himself.

I watched him walk away and didn't know what to say. My very worries about life were lived out in this man's existence and that harsh reality made me speechless. I got up and found him in an office, and just offered a hug. I told him I was very sorry for his losses. Ryan walked up and I asked if we could take his picture. So he posed with our "future movie star." He shook Ryan's hand as we left and said, "Just keep going."  I made it to the hallway behind the lab before I started sobbing, unashamed that the pain in my heart just could not be contained any longer. I told Ryan about Mr. P and we walked in silence for a while.
Valerie is always smiling!

We allowed ourselves a little treat from the coffee cart to soften the potential blow from the news from the doctor and as we got to the examination room, Valerie (pictured above) was unavailable. We did say hi, however. Diana (pictured below) was in the main waiting room and is always willing to change the channel for me. She joked with us, "I have the power here, but I definitely don't have it at home!" Everyone in the room laughed. Then, Shavone called Ryan's name in a singsong manner and had on purple nursing garb with butterflies, two of Talitha's favorite things. After the standard procedure of getting Ryan's weight then taking him to the room, Shavone (pictured below) brought her family photos and handed them to me as I handed her the baby. She looked so happy with her kids and her boyfriend! Her eldest son had a mischievous smile in one of the photos (a familiar look to a school teacher!) but she said he was a good boy. Eloise started clapping and I thought it was in reference to our conversation but she said, "It's 2.8! The ANC is 2.8!" Ryan said, "Praise God" and I was so thankful too.
Diana has CONTROL!

Shavone, Ryan and Baby T
(who is loving Shavone's nametag!)
Dr. Lim came in to our little party and as he was doing paperwork asked us if we had any questions. I asked him what would have happened if Ryan's white blood count was  not where it needed to be and he was kicked off the study. He replied, "Don't worry about that. We have plenty of studies here." I breathed a sigh of relief when he said that. Ryan asked about his increasingly noticeable peripheral neuropathy. Dr. Lim said he would lower the dose if it got to be too bad, but that it was currently only at a level one. As he left our room, he reassured Ryan and we just smiled at each other. Then Eloise wanted her turn to hold the baby (shown below).

Eloise and Baby T

On our way to lunch I spoke to Ryan's brother who is sick with the flu. He was relieved about the news about the chemo and remaining on the study. Later, as we ate, three well dressed women approached us and cooed over Talitha. One of them was Donna, who showed us around City of Hope the first day we were here. She asked me how old Talitha was that day and I said, "Talitha was one week old and now she is six months!" One of the other ladies offered to take our picture (shown below) and we were able to smile because of the good news today.
Donna, Tayley, Ryan and Anna 9/11/12

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Perfect Timing

When I was single, I read somewhere that the loneliest people were not single adults, but married women. I thought the person writing that was just plain crazy. I had the notion when I first met Ryan that he would fulfill all my social needs and prove that research wrong, especially if he married me. Then, when I learned about the nature of his work, I found myself pouting on a Friday or Saturday night because I was dating someone who was busy at a job site rather than by my side "dating" me. This was especially true when his company sent him to Kentucky for two and a half months within the first four months of knowing him! I was lonely even though I was in a relationship. And when I married him, his work became even more busy, and yes, I became even more lonely.

After we were married about a year, I learned to schedule time to hang out with girl friends or keep myself busy in other ways while he was busy working on a big project. I still found that I wanted to spend time with Ryan and hanging out with friends or doing my own projects never satisfied that desire to hang out with him. But when I did get to hang out with him, I would complain about the amount of time I did not get to spend with him, rather than enjoying the time we had together. He began to notice that no matter how much time I had with him, it was "never enough."

We started to talk about what would be "enough" time, and I soon realized that what I thought and what he thought were two totally different things. We reflected on my unrealistic expectations and how they needed to change in order for me to be content with the time I had with him.

When I knocked down my expectations and laid myself before the throne of Grace, I realized that keeping busy, going out with girl friends, and even spending quality time with Ryan would never satisfy the desire in my heart that stubbornly remained unsatisfied. Only spending time with the God of the universe, reading His word and praying to Him would do that. The more time I spent with God, the more I was able to enjoy time with Ryan, as well as the time I had getting to know friends or doing fun activities. I should have listened to the advice I got on my wedding day when my friends' Mom told us "Closer to God, closer to each other."

Seven years later I cannot say that I have arrived, but I can say that the more time I spend with God, the less it hurts on the days (like today) when Ryan needs to sleep the entire day through. I know Ryan having Cancer is a different situation than being at work for many long hours, but the propensity to feel lonely when the person you love the most is not emotionally available is equally opportune. It is on days like this that I run to the arms of Jesus, usually after exhausting my friends' ears with my grieving heart. If I ran to Him first it would be even better - but like I said, I haven't arrived yet.

Unfortunately, at the beginning of our marriage I found the research was correct in their assessment of the loneliest people, but what they failed to mention was that our awesome God is the cure for that difficulty in life. Spending time with God over the course of our twelve years together has taught me to use as many moments as possible being grateful for what I've got because life as I know it could end in the blink of an eye. And, of course, being flexible with scheduling regular date nights, even if it means driving to that work site late at night, together.

What are you most grateful for? How has God changed your expectations, perspective, or level of satisfaction?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Widgets and Cantaloupes

"Oh, it was so cool to use my friend's widget," I complained to Ryan without even realizing it. "It was so easy to use, so many of my friends have one and I just can't wait to get one of my own." Ryan looked at me with a hurt look on his face and I was wondering what I'd said wrong. "Well, now I feel like I need to work even harder so we can get you a widget and then you'll be happy," he said. Although when I made the comment I was just sharing my experience, I realized how it effected my husband and was kicking myself. 'My husband has Cancer and I'm grateful he's alive but I'm complaining to him about acquiring a widget - what is my problem?' I asked myself.

Well, when I prayed about it later, the answer came back - like it has more times than I can count recently - that I am discontented. 'But God,' I prayed, 'doesn't it say in Your word that I can ask for things and You will give them to me?' "God is NOT some cosmic genie," Pastor James MacDonald said in a sermon that came to my mind after I'd asked that question. Then, a passage of Scripture I have been convicted by so many times resurfaced in my thoughts: "Not that I speak in regard to need because I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content...I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength" (Phil. 4:11-13). And it was then that I let go of the idea of getting that widget that I'd had my eye on for so long because God asked me to be content in every circumstance. I made some instant changes in my thought patterns and decided to be happy with and grateful for the widgets I already had.

I wish that had been the case when Ryan and I were first married. Boy, we used to argue like there was no tomorrow! The funny part is that we would argue about silly things, like how to cut a cantaloupe. Can you imagine newlyweds, standing pressed together in a super small, white walled condo kitchen with knives in our hands, determined that each of us knew better than the other how to cut a cantaloupe? For four hours straight lots of tears and pleading were involved in that argument yet neither of us left our condo that day feeling heard, understood, grateful or complete. But fast forward twelve years later, and I'd learned to recognize when I hurt Ryan with my words and talk through what I had done wrong.

"I'm sorry I complained about not having a widget, can you please forgive me?" I asked. "Sure," he said flatly. "You're still mad at me, aren't you?" I asked. "Yes, I am," he said. About five minutes later, I repeated myself in apologizing and asking for forgiveness. "I already forgave you," he said. "Yeah, but you're still mad at me and I don't want you mad at me," I said. "Well then stop complaining about not having stuff because you know we are in debt and that is only going to make me feel bad," he said.

Twelve years ago I would not have been able to hear the blunt truth, but now I knew he was right. A husband is the provider and when a wife complains that she doesn't have something, a loving husband feels responsible for making her happy. I made a commitment to stop complaining about lacking stuff and start counting my blessings instead. As soon as I asked God to change my mind about it - POOF! - it disappeared and I really haven't felt the need to complain about not having a widget anymore. Instead, I've been focusing upon God's provision for our lives through Ryan and that change has instantly made me realized just how blessed I am, especially with a husband who knows how I like to cut the cantaloupe.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Better than a Batman Episode

There is a sadness that has settled into our hearts with the second week of Ryan's lack of treatment. Try as we might, we just cannot seem to shake the looming specter of Cancer and the treatment that has attacked Ryan's immune system to the point that it is now below normal levels. We were not able to travel up north to see my Grandma for her 90th birthday, along with my entire side of the family, and that was a pretty hard thing to say no to. In addition to passing up opportunities that we would normally enjoy, our recent conversations have been sprinkled with many stories we read about Cancer survivors and the multiple healings in the Bible. But over the past few days of Ryan becoming pretty fatigued from working a lot last week and losing his appetite from feeling ill, death, hospice, hospitalization, and Talitha growing up fatherless have come into plain view. Of course we do not want the latter to take place, but these are very real possibilities.

As I think about the grim reality of potentially becoming a young widow, I take comfort in the words of the Psalmist that says, "Yea though I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me." I've been thinking about the "rod" referred to in this passage of Scripture - how God has a big club and He will take on any "bad guys" that try anything naughty. I would say that includes any "bad thoughts" that attempt to steal my joy while my husband is still alive -- and the club God gives me to use at any time is His word.

  • "You'll be all alone soon." -- WHAM! "I will never leave you, nor forsake you" (Heb. 13:5; Deut. 31:6); 
  • "Nothing good will come if Ryan dies." -- BOOM! "All things work together for good for those who love the Lord, who are called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28); 
  • "You won't be loved anymore." -- CRACK! "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39).
  •  "You won't be able to handle it." -- SLAM! "I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength." (Phil. 4:12).
  •  "Your family members, friends and neighbors don't want to hear about what God has done to help you through all this." -- WHOOSH! "The not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9).
 I am glad I believe in a big God that has a big club to protect me! Reading Psalm 91 encouraged me.

How do you use the truths of the Bible to strike the negative thoughts from your life?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Mindful of the Things of God

As we took a drive to nowhere last night, I was lamenting about how I didn't want Ryan to have Cancer nor choose for things to go this way. "Are you mindful of the things of God or of the things of Anna?" Ryan asked me. I had to stop myself and really focus on that question. For the past weekend, as Ryan slept, I had a lot of thinking time and was so focused upon praying for what I wanted that I hadn't made time to think about what God wanted. "I want what God wants," I responded to Ryan, with a familiar ache in my chest that usually caused a flood of tears to follow. "How do you know God doesn't have something better planned for you than me?" he asked.

I thought back to Pastor Jack Hibbs' message at church earlier that day, where he talked about abiding in God during all of our circumstances and how in the Gospel of John it describes how God prunes us so that we produce more fruit in our lives. I told Ryan, "But I don't want God to prune our marriage branch!" Yet I felt the familiar tug of the Holy Spirit telling me to let it go and give it to Him. The fruit of our marriage has become so much sweeter as a result of Ryan's Cancer and yet I fear for its end. Fear grips me every time I have to check a box about my marital status because I am forced to see the word "widow" looming next to the box I check. I have often thought about the woman named Anna in the Bible whose husband only lived seven years, and when we passed that point in our marriage, I took a big sigh of relief. Ironically, the end of our seventh year of marriage is when the symptoms from Ryan's Cancer began to surface.  Even as Ryan and I talked about God pruning our lives, I became even more sad because I was still focusing on what I wanted in the future. "But what if God decides for me to live?" Ryan asked. "Then we can glorify God in it," he added. It is all, as Pastor Jack and Ryan reminded me, ultimately up to Him.

Abiding in God will allow me to ponder these questions without fear because I will be certain that He has a better plan than anything I could ever come up with. I read my Bible daily, but I know that abiding in Him through heartfelt prayers, reading my Bible with purpose, and spending time with people who encourage my walk with God, will, as Pastor Jack taught us, give me the tools I need in order to face whatever He has chosen. Even though I want Ryan to live and pray for it daily, I need to focus upon God's will (or plan) and not my own, just like it says in Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT):

                                       "Trust in the Lord with all your heart
                                        and do not depend on your own understanding.
                                        Seek His will in all you do
                                        and He will show you which path to take."

What are you planning in the future that God has asked you to trust Him about? What will you do if God has a different plan than yours?