Thursday, May 30, 2013

v28 Eternity Eyes

"Why are you looking at me that way?" I asked Ryan the other day. I seriously thought I was looking into eternity within his chocolate brown eyes.

"I don't want to leave you and Talitha," he replied. I don't want him to leave us either.

I was thinking about his eternity eyes last night as I was picking plump peaches off of our peach tree. The tree was ripe with fruit and Ryan requested, as he did last year, for me to make peach pie. I got to work last night and it took almost two hours for me to pick all the small but succulent peaches off our tree.

It's hard not to think about being alone or whether he will be here next year to request peach pie again. I used to take all the fun things we look forward to each year like peach pie, for granted.

Now I try to be grateful that we experience the fun experiences we do, but see how Ryan's depression effects him. His Mom visited over the past week and before he left, he was worried it was the last time he would see her. I saw the little black cloud hanging over him and have tried to persistently chase it away.

It's not working.

"I can't do this anymore" is a thought that plagues me continually in my mind, lately. I chase that one away too. But I figured out yesterday, the thought was incomplete and that's why it depressed me. It finally resolved when I thought:

"I can't do this anymore... without God."

I have been trying to do all my spending time with family and friends, house cleaning, cooking, thinking, raising the baby, going to church, running errands, and gardening on my own strength. I cannot do any of it without Him.

What is the fruit that comes from doing life without God? Weariness and a downcast soul.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

So, if I want the fruit of my life to double in the next year, as the fruit on our peach tree did and I want the branches of my life to grow so big I need a ladder to get to the fruit, I must abide in His word and presence. I can't just run around keeping myself busy and chasing after unimportant tasks.

I've been hosting a women's Bible study at our house based on Elizabeth George's A Woman's Walk with God - Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit. I am encouraged to hear about the fruit I should have, and wish I was able to point to more of it in my life. I love seeing the fruit in the other women's lives too.

I am thankful I have another day, to pray to God and ask Him to fill me with His fruit!

And when Ryan looks at me with those eternity eyes, I know that the only thing he'll see when we're in heaven together is that fruit.

I'm off to go pray for more fruit.

Share a time when God gifted you with fruit in your life in a comment below.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Cancer Bugs Me

One night when I was 12, I was very tired. I knew my parents would ask if I'd brushed my teeth, so I made sure to go into the bathroom and brush the obligatory 2 minutes I had to in order to make my parents happy.

I was lost in my thoughts, just about to raise my cup to my lips when a huge black spider was scrambling to get away from the water at the bottom of the cup - racing towards my opened, foamy mouth. This spider was so big it almost enveloped the bottom of the cup and even though it seemed like the biggest spider I'd ever seen, I'm sure it was probably more scared of seeing me than vice versa.

I couldn't scream with foam in my mouth and I couldn't kill the spider because we all know how good they are for the garden. Instead I hastily put the cup down, rinsed out my mouth from water made from a hand-made cup and called for my Dad.

I knew he would come to the rescue and transport the spider safely to our garden, like he always did for our family when we found a spider in the house. Our family was very fond of the children's story Charlotte's Web and I always appreciated this quality about my Dad.

Having Cancer enter our lives is like what I experienced with that spider in my cup. How many times had I just raised that cup to my mouth to rinse after brushing two times a day during my lifetime? How many times had I raised a cup to drink something?

And never, before or since, has a spider been in my cup before I went to drink something.

People ask me what having Cancer in your family is like, sometimes asking with a certain look on their faces. Well, just like going about your normal routine, raising that glass to your lips for the millionth time expecting to see nothing but water and instead seeing a huge, ugly, potentially poisonous dark spider - the shock of something so scary staring at you so closely and moving towards you is horrifying! Your heart races and you want to scream for it to get away.

Then, after those few moments, you realize just how much bigger you are than that spider that could kill you. You make a plan to get rid of it as best you know how. But then you realize just how much bigger your Daddy is than that spider, and how he's an expert at taking care of you when you're involved in a dangerous circumstance.

That's where Ryan and I were at the beginning, when he was getting diagnosed. We were so shocked and bewildered at first that Cancer was "in Ryan's cup" (or his life, really) and was racing towards him.

Then we stepped back, and realized we had some choices given the situation Ryan was in. We could be paralyzed with fear and let it race towards us and do nothing. We could scream and cry and pout. We could tell everyone about how unfair it was that the Cancer was here with us. We could just rely on our own ideas and strength to tackle the problem. We could allow other people's opinions to sway us into trying different avenues to make it go away.

Instead we called our Daddy, that is our Heavenly Father. We asked God to come take the Cancer away (outside of our house, please!) and we are still asking him to do that. We asked Him what direction to take, and we feel He led us to the excellent care Ryan receives at City of Hope from Dr. Lim and Ryan's nurses Shavone and Eloise, as well as the many other nurses in Phase 1 and staff members who care for Ryan.

We also feel that we were led to all the wonderful people at our church, Calvary Chapel, Chino Hills. Pastor Jack Hibbs and his wife Lisa, as well as Pastor Lynn and many others on staff and part of the congregation have just surrounded us with love in many, many ways. We also get love through meals made for our family weekly with the volunteers at Soup's On.

God has arrived at our sides after we called Him, talking with us through His word and through other people who read His word faithfully. But for reasons we don't know, He has left the spider, er I mean Cancer, in Ryan's body.

People often wonder why Ryan has the Cancer. Some people have asked us if we're actively sinning, and say we should stop sinning because they speculate that's what caused the Cancer. Well, when the Pharisees asked who had sinned to cause blindness in the man who was blind his whole life, Jesus answered them in John 9:3 and said, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him." 

Ryan and I don't know why he has Stage 4 Stomach Cancer. But one thing is certain. We must trust the One who allowed it in our lives for whatever reason He did, running to Him who can take it away. Besides, His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (see Isaiah 55:8-9).

Although it makes us a bit sad, Ryan and I are both at peace with this because He sees the big picture and we cannot. We are at peace with it because it isn't random and it isn't chance. And now we are focused on what's important.

Our purpose in life, just like yours, is to give God the glory in all we say, think, and do, allowing those works of God to shine through us by loving those around us. We don't know the outcome and we can't predict the future, much like those who are well, living without Cancer, are in the same boat.

We all have a purpose in life, with or without Cancer: to glorify God.

When were you startled by the circumstances in your life, only to run to your Heavenly Father to ask Him to take it away? Share in a comment below.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Five Senses: Taste and See

"DON'T DO THAT!" I exclaimed as Ryan went to take a drink of a large Arnold Palmer at The Cheesecake Factory. We were celebrating a really good scan result after a CT scan and chemo infusion last summer and he ordered a cold drink.

"Your doctor told you that one of the side effects of the Oxaliplatin chemo drug you just had in your infusion was that your throat would feel like it is closing and it would really negatively effect you," I repeated from the day's earlier conversation.

As I finished my sentence, Ryan had a defiant gleam in his eye and drank deeply.

"What is it like?" I asked, timidly. I remembered that one of the reason I fell in love with him is because he likes to test things out for himself and doesn't always take ideas at face value.

"It feels like gritty sand going down my throat," he said. "Maybe I should just ask for one without ice, but still cold?"

I said nothing because I knew he would do what he wanted to. And I knew he wouldn't do anything detrimental, either.

He tested it without ice and said it didn't bother him. But because his Oxaliplatin dose was much higher than it is now, over the past six months he frequently gets Oreo cookie shakes at Jack-in-the-Box after coming home from his IV chemo infusion while wearing his pump.

I would have been a chicken if it were me and I never would have tried it, but then again I never would have eaten a whole quarter of home-made peach pie with stage 3 mouth sores either.

"You made me a whole peach pie from the peaches on our peach tree and it was the only thing that sounded good," Ryan said last June. I'll admit I was proud of myself for baking something that I had never made before and even looked up a recipe on the internet to make it happen for Ryan's craving. But watching the pain etched on his face with every bite he took was almost more than I could bear. He said it was worth it.

About two months ago I asked him what food tasted like when he was on chemo.

"Phlegm or cardboard," Ryan responded.

"Wow, that stinks!" I said.

He and I love to eat and we definitely love tasty food. The thought that what he and I are both eating at the same time tastes that bad to him is downright depressing. But he told me it goes away after about four or five days.

That's when we started experimenting with different foods that would combat that taste and phlegmy feeling when he's eating (and often when he's not).

Some of the foods that work for him are a few fast food items, like the shakes, Pop Tarts and Minestrone soup that is brought to us by one of the kind people who learned about our story on Facebook. We still try different foods, and find that sometimes food that bothered him on previous rounds actually tastes pretty good during a current round.

That is pretty encouraging because he is willing to keep trying! But even more exciting is thinking of what our Lord says about taste.

"Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man who trusts in Him," says Psalm 34:8. It's a simple, yet familiar passage of scripture that reminds us of the simple truth that we are to eat the bread of the word and taste His goodness.

Yes, some foods and drinks may taste and feel yucky when he eats while he is on chemo, (much in the same way he won't get blood drawn from his port because he can taste it when they flush it and wishes it tasted more like bananas) but when Ryan eats from the bread of the Word of God, He can taste the goodness of the Lord. And when Ryan drinks the living water, he, like the woman at the well, will never thirst again!

The Lord says He is the bread of life in John 6. His bread never goes stale, nor does it change flavor. His word is always tasty and always good.

So when Ryan eats this bread, even when on chemo, it will never taste bad nor lose its flavor.

If you are on chemo and you are struggling with foods tasting bad, just remember the easiest recipe in the world, open your Bible and start reading. One of our favorites is found in Psalm 34:8:

"Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man who trusts in Him."

Share your favorite recipes of scripture or food that help Cancer patients to enjoy food while on treatment in a comment below. Thanks!

Friday, May 17, 2013

v27 The Five Senses: It's the Smell

It's difficult to talk about Cancer without talking about the smell of it. The hospital has a certain smell, especially from the antibacterial soap found in every bathroom. When you leave the bathroom after you wash your hands, it clings to you.

Ryan says that the chemo is very similar to how I describe the hand soap. It's a "metallic-y and nasty smell that you cannot get out of you," in his own words.

The smell of the clinical environment comes home with us when Ryan gets treated.

Ryan cannot escape the smell when he leaves the hospital because the chemo pump is inserting the smell into him continually for 46 hours. Then, as it leaves his body through his pores and otherwise, he can still smell it.

It is there, days later, an assault on all of our senses, especially our sniffing sense.

As everything fades from the chemical warfare that God is using to keep Ryan alive, his normal smell returns. And I am almost intoxicated because of it.

I receive hugs from Ryan and he smells of a mix of good soap, clean clothes, and excellent hygiene. I drink it in. And I am grateful to God he is still here today because we are not promised tomorrow. Just as James 4:14 says:

"...whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and vanishes away."

I am further comforted by the smell of the leather cover on my Bible when I read its precious words. Our home smells amazing when each of the people from Soup's On bring us a warm meal out of the kindness of their hearts twice a week. And I love smelling the roses at both the amazing City of Hope rose garden, as well as the much smaller one in front of our home.

Ryan wants nothing more than to feel (and smell) normal all the time. Unfortunately, right now that isn't part of God's plan. But it sure makes both us grateful for the moments when he does.

Please share a time when you didn't take your sense of smell for granted in a comment below.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

v27 The Five Senses: Cancer Touches Lives

I watched as his eyes lit up when he saw the helicopter rise. He looked at me with "that look" again. It made my heart smile.

We spent Mother's Day weekend being pampered by my aunt up in the Seattle area, including a date night where she and my uncle watched the baby for a few hours and put her to bed. It was unusual to go on a date, holding hands across the table while eating our yummy sushi, but even more so to walk outside in daylight at 9 p.m.

We survived four flights with the baby too. She barely made a fuss until the very last flight and even then it wasn't that bad. I noticed something about Ryan during those flights though.

He changed.

His proximity to his daughter for so long on the airplane caused him to interact with her for hours. Ryan has always been a deeply appreciative man, grateful for the good in his life. But he repeatedly thanked me for taking care of the baby because he saw firsthand for hours just how much work it takes. And I was grateful for his help during that exhausting but exciting adventure.

He touched my heart.

I watched as he played with her, turning on and off the overhead lights, ripping the airplane napkins for fun and putting blocks into the cup given by the stewardess (after it was empty, of course).

He was touching her life in so many meaningful ways, from educating her to just spending fun quality time playing. They were having so much fun that when I scooped her up to take her on a "walk" down the aisle she cried for her "Da da" really loudly. She definitely loves her daddy!

Handing out my prayer cards on the trip and while Ryan received chemo yesterday led to some amazing conversations with people. The back half of our first flight was full of students and chaperones from a Catholic school who publicly prayed for Ryan before leaving for their field trip to our state capital.

We also met some amazing patients and staff members at City of Hope who just renewed our sense of excitement in seeing what God is going to do in the future. One patient in particular, named Javit also has Stage 4 Stomach Cancer, like Ryan, who shared a positive, uplifting attitude toward his cancer.

Javit spoke to Ryan while they were both getting chemo on Tuesday and I really think it helped to lift Ryan's spirits. Javit has lived with the same diagnosis for three years but is full of life and vitality. He works full time and drives from northern California to City of Hope every other week for treatment! We are going to be praying for him, and he said he's going to pray for Ryan too.

If neither of them ever got Cancer, we never would have met. It's amazing how Ryan's diagnosis has introduced us to a number of people we would not cross paths with otherwise.

Cancer touches our lives and brings people together.

How has your life been changed because Cancer touched your life? Share in a comment below.