Monday, February 25, 2013

Our First Year Post-Diagnosis in Review

One year ago, Ryan was diagnosed with Stage 4 Stomach Cancer. Much like any major event in one's life, I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing.

I got the call from Ryan on my last day of work as a teacher, a half hour before the baby shower they were throwing for me after school. I was nine months pregnant at the time.

If I could have asked myself what I really needed to know about the first year of how Cancer would effect our lives, I would tell myself:


  1. Trust God, first and foremost. He is SO trustworthy and always there for you, even if it doesn't feel like it.
  2. Take one day at a time. Don't get overwhelmed worrying about the future. God says not to worry, anyway (Matt. 6:25-34).
  3. Have patience with the process and the people. All the pieces will unfold on God's time. The people involved in the process of helping Ryan heal are doing their job to the best of their ability. Pray for them daily, too!
  4. Accept help graciously by learning to say yes to the people who want to help you in their own way. God will put people to help you in your path at the right time, but don't expect it. As Ann Voskamp's Mom says, "Expectations kill relationships." 
  5. Learn to be grateful in all circumstances. This is a tough one - but it's much better to be thankful for the living husband you have, even if he's sick in bed half the year. Yes, he could live that way for the rest of his life, but he's still alive.
  6. Overlook the minor things more and more often, until it becomes a habit. Life is too short to spend it arguing over petty nuances.
  7. Love more - both God and others. So many people are effected by Cancer too - reaching out to them helps both of you to have hope in your eternal destination.
  8. Give yourself permission to grieve what's been lost. Learn to accept it, but then move forward and let go of "what could have been."
  9. Remember the good times. You will have good times, even though you go to the hospital every other week - this isn't what either of you envisioned during your 9th year of marriage, for sure!
  10. Have fun anyway. A small baby and a sick hubby are quite an adjustment - but life is what you make of the circumstances that you're in, so make the best of every day you have together as a family.


I never thought hundreds of people from all over the world would be praying for Ryan's healing but thankfully, that's what has happened. His sole desire has been for people to pray for him and he (and I) have never asked for anything but this.

But God has put it on the hearts of so many people to help us in so many practical ways, from help with Talitha's clothes, shoes, toys, diapers, starting a college fund, to meals, hugs, visits, notes of encouragement, paying for gardeners, gift cards, and our medical bills funded for two years in a row.

I am amazed by the body of Christ in our church, Calvary Chapel, Chino Hills blessing us by not only praying for us daily but also finishing our dream kitchen for us because Ryan got sick right in the middle of our remodel. God clearly works in the realm of both the "needs" and "wants" in life.

When I asked Ryan what this past year has taught him, he said, "To not take everything for granted." We were so blessed before Ryan had Cancer and him getting sick has just made those blessings that much more clear.

As I look toward the next year post-diagnosis, I don't have the fear-filled frantic feeling in my heart that I had this day last year. I used to worry about all those statistics that said he wouldn't be alive for more than 13 months on average. Instead, I trust the Author of my life's story with more fervency than I ever have before, but recognize that I still have a very long way to go. I know I can trust Him with everything, because He got us through our first year with our first child and Ryan's hospital stay, one transfusion, four endoscopies, seven CT scans, and 22 rounds of chemo.

Even if the next year entails all that and more, I know without a doubt God will be with me, with our whole family, and He won't abandon us.

Here's to our second year walking with God through this Cancer journey. God is bigger than Cancer!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Stolen Joy

"Stolen?" I asked Ryan. "Yes, it was stolen. I will be home in a half hour because it will take me a lot longer to get home now," he said.

He had just purchased a brand new yellow x-large GT mountain bike with full suspension and the first and only time he rode it to UC Irvine, someone took it while he was in his engineering class.

"I knew I should't have taken it to school," he said. I felt bad for him.

Newly married, we were just finding our way in the world when his bike was stolen.

Seven years later, I felt that our marriage had just gotten its second wind, with a new baby and the joy that having a baby brings, but our joy was stolen by Cancer. Then I read the Bible, and I found something different in James 1:2-4.

"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. "

I thought joy came from having wonderful circumstances, gliding through life flawlessly with a perpetual smile and a light heart. I thought I had it, and it was stolen away. Yet I read that joy comes from times like these.

Really?

Well, if I missed it that time, then when I read 2 Corinthians 7:4c (emphasis added), I saw it again:

"...I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation."

No, I didn't miss it in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 either:

"And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit,..."

Part of the whole fruit of the spirit is joy. Joy is something given from God. I have met truly joyful people, content in all their circumstances, seemingly unfazed by tribulations in their lives.

This isn't me. I want to be that way, though.

I want to look at painful circumstances like crucifixion and Cancer to see beyond them to the joy, as shown by my Lord in Hebrews 12:1-2.

"Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

Where is my joy? Why am I not running towards joy instead of attempting to run away from Cancer?

A quick search through the Psalms and I see where my joy comes from -- it comes from the Lord, who gave me salvation and everything I have, including my marriage and munchkin.

It is a work of the devil, the thief described in John 10:10 who comes "to steal, to kill and to destroy." But Jesus said he is here for a completely different reason. Jesus said, "I have come so that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly."

I can have life, abundant, joy-filled life. Unlike Ryan's bike which we never saw again (but I replaced a while later as a Christmas gift), joy can never be stolen from me, no matter what is happening in my life, unless I allow it to happen.

When have you chosen joy? Or have you felt like it was stolen from you? Share in a comment below.

Friday, February 15, 2013

v21 The Wall

I'm out of breath. I now know what marathon runners feel like when they hit "the wall." I slow down to a walk and cannot run anymore. I just can't do it anymore.

I look at Ryan and survey the damage this time. He says this round of chemo hasn't been that bad, but cumulatively they've taken their toll on his body. Perhaps his attitude at running the marathon has changed and he's gotten past the wall. Then he's left me here, passed me by.

I am barely able to walk now. The stress on my mind has caused my body aches that I never knew before. I feel old, tired, worn down.

Everything's changed physically. Physical touch in his hands registers as pain in his mind. Every time I hold his hand, even without rubbing it, causes him pain. He does this for my benefit alone. I cannot hug him how I used to because I will hit his port with my cheek. And those things you're wondering about, all those things have changed too.

He's lost so much weight and muscle tone. His hair has changed, his skin. The look of it and the feel. The poison is having its way with him.


Then, the bleeding. First it was internal. His stomach tumor was bleeding, which is one of the ways we found out about his cancer. Jet black stools.

Now it's his nose. A slight drip or a leaking faucet. It's always in varying degrees of blood loss. He still bleeds internally sometimes.

Will it end?


But our commitment to each other and God and our love for Him and each other, instead of waning like Ryan's physical body, keeps growing stronger. We are seeking after God more fervently. I am more committed to seeing this through than I ever was before. Ryan's tender care for me with his words and actions shows me daily just how much he really, really loves me.

I am loved. Deeply.

He says he feels like he's dying, slowly. But really, aren't we all? We just don't see it or feel it like he does.

The pain is there, constantly, too. But the blood reminds me because I see it, not just the effects from it. And I'm able to walk a little faster now to catch up because I see what Jesus did for us at the cross because of His blood.

"...and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross..." Colossians 1:20a

I am reminded that all of this physical suffering is temporary, but His blood means eternal life. Ryan has peace, even in the bleeding and I know I am not running alone. I catch up to Ryan and run alongside him again.

I can see the finish line in the distance. There, at the foot of the cross, is the entrance to heaven - our eternal destination.

Today I have scaled "the wall;" no small feat and impossible without Jesus.

When have you overcome your wall in life? Share in a comment below.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

v21 Looking Up

"There you are!" I said to the missing sock, hiding in the backseat of our silver Honda Civic SI. I dusted it off and tucked it away safely to deliver it to its intended place, next to its mate.

I am much like that sock, lately. My mate is hiding somewhere in bed, resting in hopes of becoming better before the next round of relentless chemotherapy. Today marks the third Thursday in a row, missing.

I've tried finding myself in conversations, but that never works. Talking to the arrogant, self-reliant, and rebellious man only made me realize that even though I'm admittedly one of those people who "needs church" (aside from the fact that God asks to go), I'm not someone clinging to wooden idols anymore, as he is.

At the end of it all, none of these earthly treasures matter.

Another conversation left me with more questions than answers. But the third one caused me to pause for the moment of relief I needed.

I was complaining to my sister-in-law on the phone, about the chaos in my life, from a sick husband and baby to the entire contents of my kitchen strewn about my house. She said, "Yes, but you forget that your ceilings are clean."

Then, I looked up.

"I'm worn," the lyrics sang in my mind. "My prayers are wearing thin," said the singer. "Even before the day begins... I'm worn... I've lost my will to fight. I'm worn, so heaven come and flood my eyes."

I hadn't been thinking about heaven, until that time. Heaven is coming soon and that's my only hope in the future of this mess.

I surveyed the last year of my life while looking at my second big red balloon since Ryan's been sick with Cancer that has spread. Before, I was wandering through life, fumbling through marriage and friendships, running scared. I would periodically drive away, a physical reminder of my wandering heart.

Then Ryan was diagnosed with Stage IV Stomach Cancer and our daughter was born, a leap year baby. The wandering ceased. I finally knew the home I was always searching for wasn't here after all.

Heaven.

Back to earth, I'm still angry, hurt, sad, apprehensive, and have wavering hope. I'm closer to heaven than I was 365 love days ago, yet I'm so far from it.

The lyrics continued...

"Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn."
Then, the tears. "I don't want to leave you two," Ryan said. "I feel like the next step is death."

Heaven.

What do you say to someone who has one foot on the threshold of heaven? What can you say?

Just this, a prayer from a man dodging death from his enemies, a man who knew how to get through the struggles in his life by crying out to God:


Psalm 25[a]

Of David.

In you, Lord my God,
    I put my trust.
I trust in you;
    do not let me be put to shame,
    nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in you
    will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
    who are treacherous without cause.
Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
    for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
    and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
    for you, Lord, are good.
Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
    and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
    toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
11 For the sake of your name, Lord,
    forgive my iniquity, though it is great.
12 Who, then, are those who fear the Lord?
    He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.[b]
13 They will spend their days in prosperity,
    and their descendants will inherit the land.
14 The Lord confides in those who fear him;
    he makes his covenant known to them.
15 My eyes are ever on the Lord,
    for only he will release my feet from the snare.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart
    and free me from my anguish.
18 Look on my affliction and my distress
    and take away all my sins.
19 See how numerous are my enemies
    and how fiercely they hate me!
20 Guard my life and rescue me;
    do not let me be put to shame,
    for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness protect me,
    because my hope, Lord,[c] is in you.
22 Deliver Israel, O God,
    from all their troubles!



Saturday, February 9, 2013

My Crumbling Life

I watch as our lives are crumbling before our eyes. I trip over pieces of Ryan in the hallway, in the kitchen, in the bedroom. I see remnants of who we used to be before this Cancer infected our lives, the whole, happy, thriving family we used to be before. I mourn our losses. I pity myself.

"You're only a year in, you can't give up," a friend said to me today. She and her husband fought Cancer for three years until he was cured. They are now an additional three years past his cure.

But where is ours?

Why can't I give up?

I sit quietly, listening to Ryan's breathing change to a heavy, repetitive cycle as he falls asleep, exhausted from eating out with Talitha and me. We exchanged a handful of words all day after another sleepless night for him; sleep briefly came when the birds started chirping. Sleep taunted me past the breaking of dawn, until the baby cried. It's not enough.

Little sleep and less food and I remained exhausted but busy, putting up plastic to cover the kitchen mess that spilled into every room in the downstairs of our home. The kitchen project is almost completed but unexpected problems creep into the fold.

I'm so tired.

I'm tired of feeling sorry for myself, wanting my life to be different and for Ryan to be fixed. I want to wrap up his cure like the kitchen remodel - start to finish.

Here are the healing blueprints that go along with our kitchen remodel -- "body, with Cancer" on page A2. Page A4 would read: "body, no evidence of disease." Why can't the Corona building division approve that in our permit, too?

Instead, as the kitchen project draws to a close and we sweep away the rubble and admire the new, I continue to trip on our old life. I do not want to box it up neatly to get it out of our way and store it in some distant closet to pull it out and look through it on a rainy day. I want it back, to use it daily, to feel its comforting warmth wrap around me like a cozy scarf on a windy day, hashtags and all.

I think back to my anger tonight, how it melted away from hearing the baby's laughter while in her Daddy's arms.

He's still here.

Every time I turn around I have to stop myself from grinding my teeth. The stress of a year of Cancer is too much for my jaw and soul. Ryan is losing too much weight and his Cancer is showing. I can't do this anymore.

God, if you're listening, please stop the crumbling mess of our lives from falling into tiny pieces that I can no longer hold onto. I'm too tired and the mess around me is too much!!!

Oh, I'm glad You are listening, Lord, Your word says so. Thank You for reassuring me.

As I lamented to a good friend about my aches and woes, I was reminded of a sermon from Pastor James MacDonald. At the end of the sermon titled "Get God's Best When Life is Hard," Pastor James quoted Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and said, "The cup which my Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?" Jesus endured the worst kind of death of anyone to give eternal life to everyone who wanted it.

He didn't walk away, even though He knew in advance what was coming.

If my God can do that for me, then I must keep going. I can't control my circumstances and it kills me that I cannot make Ryan feel any better, that I cannot take it away or alleviate it one bit.

But I can follow my Lord, and my God and allow Him to hold the pieces of my crumbling life in His hands to do as He pleases. Besides, His word says in Revelation 21:5:

"And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new... And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful."

I know He is going to make all things new and I press on, looking forward to that day.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Damage Control

I sat in my car, patiently waiting for the red light to change to green. It was raining outside, no slight drizzle but a torrent of water gushing from the heavens, drenching the roads and my car. As my thoughts wandered to things I had to do that day, I looked to my left and saw it coming.

The white BMW was breaking as it was travelling towards me, about to make a right turn, perpendicular to my car. But I saw that the wet roads combined with the speeds the driver was travelling added up to disaster.

My thoughts started tumbling through my mind, as I sat paralyzed, unable to move away from the impending disaster. The light in my direction was red and I was stuck, nailed down to the place that seemed to be directly in the pathway of doom. I was grateful I was the only one in the car.

I watched as the BMW came towards me, turning the corner in slow motion. Time seemed almost nonexistent and I was frozen. My body stiffened, ready for the impact, my jaw clenched tightly as I felt my muscles stiffen abruptly.

As the ghostly vehicle rounded the corner, I saw the back tires break loose, and the back end of the car swing around the corner before the front end did. As the back bumper swerved inches from my driver's side door, I panicked. But there was nothing I could do, nowhere to go.

Two outcomes were possible, much like Ryan and his Cancer: 1) I could die or be seriously hurt because of something out of my control or 2) I could live on without injury. Time stood still as I wondered which option would embrace me. I wanted the second, but the first one was coming dangerously close to my door.

As the apparition finished rounding the corner, I hoped it would disappear without harming me and it did. The driver deftly maneuvered his automobile, turning his wheel in the opposite direction of the spinning tires so that when they caught the pavement, they continued on the pathway correctly.

I studied his face as he drove because he came so close to my car. A white man in his late 20's, with a perfectly manicured full head of hair, gripping the wheel like an expert as he stared straight ahead, acting as if it were normal for his car to be spinning out of control.

A year into our Cancer journey and I still feel my stiffened muscles, my clenched jaw, the waiting to see whether it will crash into my life or miss me by inches.

Ryan has his doubts about the future, and so do I. As I was studying the Bible this week, I read Lamentation 3: 22-24, which says:

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”

I cling to this hope. I am waiting for the outcome of Ryan's Cancer treatments, suspended in time like I felt when the white BMW was coming towards me. There is an uncertainty that causes me to realize that I'm constantly clenching my teeth, tightening my neck muscles, physically acting like I'm waiting for an impact.

The prayer that relaxes my muscles and makes that tension go away is Proverbs 3:5-6.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

 I can do nothing more each day than rest in His promises and enjoy His presence, much in the same way that Britt Merrick speaks about regarding his eight year old daughter's fourth diagnosis of cancer in his recent sermon "When Sparrows Fall."

Some days are harder than others. But trusting Him and spending time in His presence, taking one day at a time, is all I can do to make it through the damage that Cancer threatens to do in our lives.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

v20 Waiting for Heaven

"I know I am waiting for something, I don't know what," I said to my Mom. I felt the urge to stay home and miss the picnic with my family, and I'm so glad I did.

"Anna, this is Jamie," the man said through our home phone. "Is you Father there?" he asked.

"No, they are out right now," I said. "But I can take a message," I told him.

"They need to call me right away," he said.

Even though they weren't home and didn't have a cell phone with them, I knew they wanted to talk to my grandfather's caregiver about any pressing issues right away because he was dying. I was seventeen.

I felt that urge to stay home - not a subtle feeling, but a restless, cannot shake it, won't let go of you until you acknowledge it feeling. I was pacing at home, waiting for that phone call, even though I didn't know what I was exactly waiting for.

It was 20 years ago, but I can still remember wringing my hands together, unsure of why I was so unsettled. I was uncomfortable sitting, but standing made me just as uneasy. When I got the call, all those feelings went away.

This feeling was very similar to the feelings I had when we were trying to find a diagnosis for what was wrong with Ryan. I had this urgent uneasiness that something was terribly wrong, but I didn't know what it was.

Added to that shifting uneasiness was a sense of urgency I find difficult to describe. Ryan was getting sicker by the minute and time seemed to zoom forward without my permission. I was losing ground, grasping at straws, grabbing the wind with both hands tightly.

The more days, make that minutes, that passed and Ryan didn't have a diagnosis, (which would in turn lead to him having some sort of treatment) I felt were useless and underutilized. I was angry that I had no power to speed any process up. I would have made people miserable with my incessant phone calls if I thought it would help expedite any of the steps but Ryan suggested I back off and I took his advice.

If there's ever a time I could look back on being hyper-impatient in my life, it was that two month time span, which is a very speedy time to diagnosis in most Cancer circles, and is especially true for many Gastric cancer patients.

I don't really have that sense of urgency anymore, except to say that I want others to know about Jesus and Ryan to be completely cured. I eagerly await the day I hear about him not having Cancer anymore because of his miraculous healing!

As I prayed to God for his healing earlier tonight, my feet starting sending pins and needles up my legs, and I thought to myself, "This must be what Ryan feels like every single day. He's enduring this, for us. He is living with that annoying and almost painful feeling in both his hands and his feet, day in and day out, for us." It just made me respect my husband and stand in awe of him that much more today, as we are waiting for heaven.