Saturday, August 31, 2013

v34 Grace Covers User-Error

"It's NOT working!" I said to Ryan about the air conditioner in my 1991 green Honda Accord years ago. I was upset because the air conditioner was blowing hot air instead of cold.

I was frustrated. Very frustrated.

I don't know the first thing about mechanical items the way my husband does. He was caught on photo looking at something so intently, like he was trying to figure out how it worked, at the tender age of two and even his Mom calling his name wouldn't make him look up.

I love that picture!

Ryan is truly "Mr. Fix-It." Yes, he even has the t-shirt to prove it.

Ryan told me to calm down and give him a minute to look at the broken air conditioning. While he did that, I was sighing and huffing and puffing because I was late and I wanted to leave, not sit there patiently.

"Relax," he said.

Instead of relaxing, I crossed my arms while sitting in the driver's seat in the driveway of our rented condo. Then I began to complain internally and throw a world-class fit externally.

"It's never going to be fixed and I'll have to drive around without air conditioning!"

 "I'm never going to be comfortable again!"

 "Why doesn't stuff just work?"

Then Ryan pulled the lever from the "hot" air to the "cold" side. You should have seen the smile on his face as he "fixed" my problem. More importantly, you should have seen the smile on MY face as I ate a nice big slice of humble pie.

I was upset over NOTHING but "user-error," something I could have done something about if I had taken the time to slow down and inspect it myself. Even though I'm mechanically challenged, with that particular issue I could have fixed my own problem if I had some patience.

And so it is with Cancer. Ryan's last scan results on Thursday showed that he has "fatty" spots detected on his liver. As soon as I had the opportunity I went to the Biller Center at City of Hope to use their computers in order to research solutions.

There were none!

When I got home and Ryan went to bed, I freaked out. I cried. I prayed. I went down the "what if..." pathways. I called a friend who had liver failure and had to have a liver transplant 16 years ago, even though he wasn't an alcoholic.

He said, "Sometimes it just happens and there's nothing you can do about it."

But as I was talking to Ryan's Mom about it yesterday, I realized that all along the scans have noted "a shadow of something" on his liver, just like the spots on his lungs.

We just never had a name for them but those spots have been there all along.

And then it occurred to me, during that conversation, that WebMD also stated that sometimes people have fatty spots on their liver that are just there and never change. They just show up and are there.

His Mom diagnosed it and said the fat in his liver was due to his "cookie dough, chocolate, and ice cream sandwich intake."

Other times these spots can turn into scarring, which can lead to cirrhosis or cancer. But that's not what the report said.

"Relax," God said to me. Actually -- it was more like a command in Psalm 37:8:

"Do not fret—it only causes harm."

I didn't need to get all worked up over something that was easily fixed if I had taken the time initially to slow down and relax, much like how Ryan fixed my air conditioning. In this case, I needed to slow down and change my perspective.

In addition to my mechanical inaptitude, I am also spiritually challenged, but I am glad to know God has massive amounts of grace for each time I experience "user error" in life, especially during the cancer journey.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

v33 Crisis Intervention

I watched as the jet black Cadillac SRX moved from the carpool lane, very quickly to the right. The driver moved the steering wheel too fast and went over two lanes, cutting me off and grabbing my attention. I slowed down to watch the car lurching from all the fast movements, but then time seemed to stand still as he pulled the steering wheel of the Cadillac back towards the carpool lane, although by then it was too late.

One... Two... Three... Four... I remember the car hitting the ground four times as it rolled over in front of us on the 55 North freeway, near the Highway 5 on-ramp in Tustin, California. It was a grey, overcast Sunday morning, right before church and I was awestruck by what was taking place before my eyes.

I turned to look at Ryan and he was just as surprised as me. As we came to a stop, my mind raced to think about what needed to happen next. "Call 911," I told Ryan as I got out of our 1991 green Honda Accord. I checked behind me to make sure it was safe to walk next to our car, and then proceeded to the Cadillac.

I had no idea what to expect, but my training in TIP (Trauma Intervention Program) proved handy that day. I saw a man pop out of the back right side passenger door of the mangled Cadillac, and walk around the car from front to back, over and over again. I engaged him in conversation, telling him that it was safer for him to be inside the car, rather than wandering around it. He didn't listen to me, and kept saying something about needing to get somewhere, but at least didn't wander into the traffic that was whizzing quickly past us.

The back right side passenger window had shattered from the impact, and it was there that I stuck my head in to talk to the three remaining people in the car. The driver, a man in his mid-fifties, had a fair amount of blood gushing out of an open wound in his head. He was holding his head and was obviously trying to stop the bleeding, to no avail.

There was shattered glass everywhere inside the car. Everywhere.

I asked if everyone was ok. The woman sitting in the front passenger seat kept saying, "We need a blanket for my husband, something to stop the bleeding." I told her I would go to our car and see if we had a blanket. The passenger in the back seat sat staring forward with a blank stare on her face. I told everyone to stay put and that we were calling for help, and would try to get a blanket.

I ran back to our stopped car, looking up at the traffic that parted around our Honda like when Moses parted the Red Sea. It was six lanes wide and packed with cars streaming past me quickly. It was then that I realized where I was in that sea of cars and that I needed to be careful for my own safety. I started praying.

When I got back to the car, I was shouting, "They need a blanket!" at Ryan. I knew in my mind that Ryan and I didn't have a blanket in our trunk, but I needed to do something. I looked in the trunk after he pulled the trunk lever for me and after fumbling around with the few items that were not blankets, I realized that I needed to calm down.

When I went back to Ryan in our Honda Accord and talked to him through the window, he told me to calm down. Immediately, I did. I took a deep breath and realized I needed to stop shouting. I had been shouting at the poor people in the Cadillac, too, and I was fighting against the adrenaline coursing through my veins.

After I felt defeated that we didn't have a blanket and couldn't help the man with the gushing head wound, or really any of the other passengers, I realized they needed help beyond what we could give. It was then that I saw an ambulance that was just "randomly" driving on the freeway at that moment pull up behind us.

I felt a flood of relief when I saw them, then went back to them and told them what had happened. I gave the ambulance driver our contact information, said a quick prayer for everyone to be safe and get the help they needed and we left.

Some people say that during a crisis, you can respond one of two ways, with either panic or prudence. But according to an article on WebMD, prudence during a crisis doesn't happen by itself. It happens because you are trained to know what to do when everything in your life is out of control, how to think in the moment, and not to worry about "what if...."

I look at Ryan's and my response to his Cancer diagnosis, the largest crisis we've had to face to date, and I feel as though we've been "trained" somehow to respond in a way that's different - not filled with fear, but instead with hope. But we didn't receive any training in a classroom; instead we received it from our interactions with others.

So many people who have walked in our shoes have come around us and supported us with their love and prayers. Even those who haven't walked the cancer road in their immediate family, but who have received grace upon grace from our Lord Jesus Christ in their own type of sufferings, have given us comfort.  We have learned how to talk to others who are, many times, in much more difficult circumstances than our own, through what others have shared with us during the last 17 months of Ryan's journey with Cancer.

And so I leave you with this, from 2 Corinthians 1: 3-5:

God of All Comfort

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

Friday, August 2, 2013

v32 Spinning Round and Round

The car in front of us was swerving out of control and I couldn't believe my eyes. The two dark-haired men were weaving back and forth on all lanes of the 101 North freeway just south of the San Francisco airport and I thought I was imagining all of it.

As I slowed our car to a stop in the middle of the freeway, the men in the dark brown 1991 Honda Accord did a doughnut right in front of our car and came to a complete stop, perpendicular to my 1991 green Honda Accord. Then I saw their faces.

They were laughing.

I was stunned. I thought about the possibility of an accident and how negligent these two young men were. I studied the face of the younger, curly haired man in the passenger seat.

I also saw fear.

When I looked in my rear view mirror, I was afraid too. I told Ryan to brace himself because we were about to get hit from behind by a very large moving truck.

At the last minute, the truck moved over into the lane to our right and hit the car next to us. I will never know why the truck driver did that for us. But I am thankful that he did.

As I watched the brown car speed off the freeway in a hurry and the traffic not involved in the accident rush back into their daily lives, I was angry. I was mad that the truck driver had to make that split-second decision about who to hit with his truck because he couldn't slow down fast enough. I was angry about the driver in the brown car who got away, without consequences for his negligent actions.

But I was touched that God allowed us to be spared the difficulty and injury that would have been caused if the truck driver had hit us instead. I had no formal person to go thank or complain to because it just wasn't possible. I was left empty-handed with the spectrum of my emotions tucked away, seemingly without an outlet.

That experience reminded me of what it's like for our family to deal with an ongoing Cancer diagnosis. Everything around us seemed to spin around in circles, then grind to an agonizing, painful halt, only to begin our lives afterwards with this pit-in-my-stomach feeling that I cannot change what just happened and have no control over any of it. I cannot touch it or talk to it and seem unable to do anything with the range of emotions I feel.

Which reminded me of when my daughter Talitha handed a woman I'd just met a peach pit (dry and clean, just so you know) after we were done eating lunch at City of Hope yesterday, just before Ryan got his chemo infusion.

The woman said to Talitha, "Thank you."

I replied, "It's kind of like life. It looks really good on the outside, but then it hands you the pits!"

We laughed together. Then she asked aloud, "What am I going to do with this?"

I asked myself the same question at that moment: What am I going to do with this cancer in our lives?

Sometimes I think my daughter's talking toys have all the answers. She has a brightly colored helicopter that randomly announces, "Spinning round and round -- Fasten your seat belts, let's go!"

Yep, that's exactly how I feel. The cancer has spun me round and round. But I need to fasten my seat belt (i.e. get in the word of God) and then go.

Go do what, you might ask?

  • Go pray for Ryan, that God takes his cancer away, if it's His will. 
  • Go talk about my feelings to others who are going through their own cancer journey and pray for them too. 
  • Go spend time with my family.. 
  • Go to bed when I need to take a nap during the baby's nap time. 
  • Go read my Bible some more, especially when I'm spiritually dry. 
  • Go to the Coffee Bean, Corner Bakery, or Chick-Fil A for a fun time with friends.
  • Go on a date with my husband. 
  • Go set up a "play date" for Talitha (but really, for me to hang out with other Moms).
  • Go finish those thank you notes for all the nice things people have done for me since Talitha's birthday, even though that was six months ago (they're coming soon, I promise!)
  • Go clean and organize my house.

Okay, I really didn't mean that last one. But it needs to be done and I should do it. After I write the thank you notes.

Tonight before I put the baby to bed, I heard her little helicopter. It just reminded me that when Cancer or crazy drivers have my life spinning round and round -- I need to remember to fasten my Bible to my lap and go read it.

v32 Four Months and Counting... Blessings

"I just blew a tire!" Ryan exclaimed as I saw him turning the car toward the right shoulder.

We were coming back home from a fun date after we had first met where Ryan had to go on a field trip to a zoo for his Anthropology class. He needed to look at primates ("Gibbons are not monkeys!") and write a research paper on what he saw.

It was actually a private zoo that housed many different types of primates in a number of cages throughout a sprawling property near Los Angeles. We spent an hour walking around in the hot summer sun, looking at what I mistakenly thought were just a bunch of monkeys.

Don't say "monkey" to an Anthropology teacher unless you want to get the lecture of a lifetime! I learned this the hard way.

After walking away with my tail between my legs, I looked forward to the fun drive home in Ryan's 1971 Datsun 510 Station Wagon. We were not even 10 minutes away from the monkey - er, primate zoo when his tire blew.

It's bad enough to get a flat on a busy street, but being stuck on the side of a freeway in southern California is a nightmare. Add that to the fact that Ryan had just given up drinking and we were stuck in front a brewery. Without a cell phone, air conditioning, or AAA in the heat. During summer.

Did I mention it was hot?

I thought all hope was lost when a freeway tow truck showed up to tow us to the nearest tire store. A freeway tow truck who would tow us within five miles for free? Thank you Lord! I sent up a silent prayer of gratitude amidst all of my complaints about the heat ruining my attitude and my date.

But Ryan was fine with the whole experience. He calmly thought of options after the tire blew, while we stood on the side of the freeway and he realized he couldn't fix it. He didn't worry about the time it would take after we got the tow, nor about the expense of the tire because he had money to pay for it in his bank account.

This is why people marry their opposites. That day, Ryan was my hero and he taught me a thing or two about patience.Even though I was always bragging about being the most patient person, ever. Oh, and just so you know -- don't ever pray about "becoming more patient" because then flat tires on the side of the freeway happen. Or worse.

Ironically, we pass a brewery every single time we go to Ryan's Cancer treatments at City of Hope. Yes he still drives that Datsun 510 as his daily driver (and needs a car with air conditioning, but we're working on saving up for that at the moment) but we thankfully have a car that gets us there and back without hot air and with air bags.

Well, unless I get mad at the drivers in front of me, or behind. Then, there's some hot air. But I was talking about the car, not the driver.

Anyway, we've passed that brewery over 100 times (200 if you count going and coming) and I have only just recently thanked God for getting us to treatment and back home again without a flat tire once in the past 17 months.

It felt good to acknowledge that I am not perfect and haven't become perfect from the first time I saw and remember the brewery from our traumatizing experience. Yet there are some things that have changed over the course of the past 13 years that I am grateful for.

I am grateful that some close family friends gave us the Dave Ramsey CD's, which taught us about the merits of getting out of debt and saving up for a rainy day. Because there will be plenty of those. Like Peter says in 1 Peter 4:12-13:

12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.

Didn't my Mom tell me that? Why yes she did tell me to prepare (in more ways than one) for a rainy day -- however, I didn't think she knew anything until I turned 25 so it took me quite a while to catch up to all the wisdom she's tried to share with me over the years.

But it thankfully sunk in because in four months we will be completely debt free (except for the house). I cannot wait to scream it on the Dave Ramsey show. I hope he takes our call so we can thank him personally.

I am also grateful for the word of God. When our journey started with Ryan's diagnosis 17 months ago, we didn't know what to expect.

We read grim statistics on the internet (only 2% of patients live to 5 years and the average patient lifespan with his cancer lives 13 months with chemo, 11 months without) and tried to forget the poor prognosis of only months to live out of our minds from the surgical oncologist from Ryan's first oncology appointment at a different hospital.

 But we started to read God's word and understand what He was saying during the tough times. He says to trust Him, no matter what. He says He will be there for us and move close to us if we run to Him. So run we did.

And we made decisions about the future.

"I'm not finishing my college degree, FOR SURE, now. I am never going back to college," Ryan told me when he first got diagnosed. Inside I was fuming! How would I convince our daughter of the merits of going to college if he wasn't going to finish his degree, cancer or not? I was sad too. But it was an argument that had lasted as long as I knew him.

"Well, you don't need a college degree to get into heaven," he said. Smugly. Because he had won the argument, once and for all.

For the record, he only has 12 classes (1 year) left in order to finish his bachelor's degree at UC Irvine. But I told him I would drop the issue and wouldn't talk about it anymore.

Does it count if I write about it here because technically I'm writing, and not talking? I still think he should finish, even if it's just for the sake of finishing. Or for the argument my daughter might put up at a later time. Or because he only has 12 short classes, like 3 quarters, and then he will be DONE! Then we can argue about graduate school!

Okay, I digress.

But I still think I'm right. Is anybody with me? Anyone?

Lastly, I'm grateful that we finally decided to focus upon what was important to do in our lives and forget about the rest of it. (But please ignore how that fits in with his argument against going back to school because he doesn't find school fun like I do and enjoys working at his company tremendously.) This is much easier said than done. And I think this is different for every family.

But one thing is certain, something written in Philippians 3:14:

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

For us, the priorities became a focus on our future with the Lord (distant future, as in going to heaven after we die), getting our financial house in order, and having fun (where did that stunt kite end up after we moved from our Irvine condo five years ago and why can I only find the string for it?)

Okay, and maybe some organizing and house projects too.

But Ryan said I'm not allowed to give him anymore house projects. Unless I'm turning into Sarah Winchester's (of the Winchester Mystery House) clone . Which I'm not - for the record. But I did grow up in San Jose.

The house projects are coming to a close.Which is why I'm looking at other people's house projects on Facebook, now.

And the fun is about to begin. 17 months later. At least it's on the list of things to do, right?

We've been counting the months that Ryan has been alive post-diagnosis, and now we're counting our blessings alongside his cancer journey. It's the 32nd time he's gotten chemo and honestly, it was harder today than when we first started.

But Ryan is certain of his future destination after he dies. He knows I'll be okay if God takes him home and I'm here without him. I mean, come on, I've finally identified that it's eating raisins in my favorite foods that makes me happy and it took his cancer to figure that out. Plus, God says he will take care of me no matter what the circumstances are in my life.

God has made some promises. And I trust Him. Especially when He sends people to our home with raisin bread. Or oatmeal raisin cookies. (But Ryan likes chocolate chip and those are a close second.)

Ryan and I have come a long, long way from that day we had a flat tire on the side of the road until now. The journey has taken some unexpected scenic routes and we've been stuck in some pretty difficult circumstances with bad weather.

But God has been with us through it all, making His presence known and showing us we're not alone. We just need to trust Him and keep counting our blessings no matter what the road trip of life brings.