Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Chapter Fifteen

Our married life has been like a Charles Dickens novel. The opening paragraph of Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities begins:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

The two cities referred to are London and Paris during the turmoil of the French Revolution. There have been periods of turmoil in our marriage. Indeed, the best of times and the worst of times, belief and unbelief, Light and Darkness, hope and despair, seasons of plenty and the lean seasons.

Times as described above are common to everyone and anyone in a relationship. The question is, how do you deal with the changing times? How do you deal with different personalities and traits? How do you determine to stick it out “for better or for worse” portion of the vows? How do you “stay” when our society so easily allows us to become disillusioned, unsatisfied and then grants us a judicial writ for dissolution of marriage?

I am not saying that divorce is the unforgivable sin. Indeed not. Sometimes when something is broken it is time to “discard” it. By all means, if you are in an abusive relationship – get out. Get out now. This is my second marriage. The first one lasted four and half years. This one has managed to survive thirty-six years. How did that happen? Especially when evaluating life, we are basically selfish human beings who prefer to have it “our” way. Yes...the Burger King mentality.

We have our moments! We discuss (that’s code for debate… argue…) issues. Sometimes that ends with me establishing the right to “remain silent.” Yes, the silent treatment and eyes that can roll expressively. Fortunately, we don’t become violent but we do have great discussions! We don’t always agree on issues. In fact when it comes to politics we generally cancel each other’s vote out! We also agree to disagree agreeably.

What we do have is respect for each other and a strong abiding faith in Jesus Christ. But that hasn’t always been so.

This life, not unlike your life, has not been a ‘happily ever after’ event. It has been one of blood, sweat and tears. Yes, tears, lots of tears.

Tears are magnificent. They have a baptismal quality.

Tears can miraculously transform into the oil of joy, and wash away the ashes of mourning. 

Words that comfort me are these from Psalm 56:8, via the Message - 
"You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, Each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book."

I have cried. He has cried.

We have cried individually. We have cried corporately.

We have cried in anger. We have cried in love.

We have cried through prayer.

We have cried in pain and sickness.

We have cried through the pain of loved ones making catastrophic choices.

What we have determined is this: Life is tough.

I want the light to overcome the darkness and some days are very dark.

We have determined that love is a choice.

When I open my eyes from sleep, I roll over and look at him sleeping. I make an active decision to love him this day. And only for this day. Tomorrow, I will do this again. And the next day, and the one after that, too.

We don’t always agree. Our lives combine and run over each other and we have debates that spill over at our dinner table. We both believe that even with God’s Word as the final authority, our individual thoughts and beliefs are wholly sanctified, even if not holy.

I believe in Eucharist Theology.

I believe like the Eucharist, our hearts, like the bread are made to be broken and yet loved in all that brokenness.

We should live our lives as the spilled wine, allowing ourselves and our lives to overflow, spill out and come into contact with those who desperately are thirsting.

I feel the pull, an actual pull to become involved in community justice issues. To pour the oil, to bind up the wounds. To quell the brokenness of community, of our community.

Yes… brokenness… and still I am so filled with broken hallelujahs.

Life can be gritty. Life can be dirty. So can love. And love is a choice. It is a tangible act of volition. It has been said that “love covers a multitude of sin’ but as I see it, grace covers the many pitfalls of love.

Yes, grace. That unmerited favor we don’t deserve but is granted. In my faith tradition, grace is threefold – not unlike the Godhead.

My health is good. I am currently cancer free. I will be having PET scans and appointments with my oncologist every three months for a while. I did have a questionable sleep study so another has been approved by my insurance carrier and I will have that in December. My daughter and SIL will be coming to visit then, too. I am very excited about that!

I have a new great grandson! He is beautiful and perfect. My arms ache to hold him. He is my first great grandchild. I am so proud of his Momma, my granddaughter. She did everything right during her pregnancy. My daughter says that he (her grand, my great grand) is “an old soul” who quietly observes his environment. Welcome into the world, sweet baby boy, welcome into the world.

I love how life continues on even though we have cause for concern about the state of current events in our world. It provides a glimpse of hope for the future.

Until the next post, I remain,


Tamara

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Chapter Fourteen

During the course of my Christian walk, God has been faithful to introduce women into my life. These women have served as role models and persons whose lives I would hope to emulate.

One such woman was a “back door” neighbor, advanced in years and she lived behind us in our small Home Town Community in Ohio. Oh, we didn’t attend the same church, but we found our common thread in our faith. I would be outside working in the garden and here she would come bearing gifts of vegetables or flowers from her own garden along with pearls of wisdom and home-spun humor.

Her husband had owned the “mom & pop” hardware store in the community until his retirement. As the years progressed, so did his Alzheimer’s. He often wandered off from home and “lost his way”. She would notify the police department and being it was a small community, they would locate him and bring him home. Truly, it was like reading the Nicholas Sparks novel, “The Notebook.”

Even when he no longer recognized her, she faithfully administered the vows of their marriage; in sickness or in health. Her love and dedication to this man ministered to my heart in a way that only could be done through her living witness.

One day while working in the yard, here comes my neighbor. I meet her at the half way point. After our perfunctory greetings, she explained that their home has been sold and in three weeks’ time there would be an auction of their household items. I’m sure the shocked expression on my face spoke volumes as she continued on. They were moving into a residential care facility where her husband could get the care he needed as she could no longer do this alone. We hugged and cried, and cried together.

Three weeks later I registered for the auction at their home. I cried through most of it. When a box of items was being auctioned off together, I bid on it. I had to have something of hers, other than the memories. It turned out to be some Bible study items in which she had hand written notes.

All this happened over 30-years ago now. I no longer have the items from all the moving that has transpired since that time, yet I retain the memories in my heart and mind.

More recently, I was honored to observe another woman from our church. She was the primary caregiver to her husband. He was stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. This dear woman cared for the love of her life through the horrible stages of the disease. She eventually had to feed him, learn to lift and move him into his wheelchair, and seek to patiently try to understand him when his speech declined to the point where no one else could make out what he was saying. She was his advocate at medical appointments. She became his voice as well as his transportation.

Then I had the opportunity to witness yet another caregiver. That would be my husband. During this chapter of medical appointments, testing, surgery, and chemotherapy in our lives, he has driven me to medical appointments, sat with me through numerous doctor visits. He has asked questions I could not think of as an ever present advocate. At home he took care of the everyday household chores of cleaning, laundry and meal preparation when I was too tired to even try. He never, never said a disparaging thing or complained about his lot. What I remember most is the day after surgery he held my hand and through tears said, “It’s not supposed to be like this. I was supposed to die first. You were not supposed to get sick like this.” To which I replied, “It’s not over yet!”

I have a very good prognosis. The cancer was stage 1B, and there was NO cancer in any of the 13-lymph nodes that were examined. As a preemptive strike, it was recommended and I agreed to four chemotherapy treatments. More recent, I had a colonoscopy and a polyp was removed. It was pre-cancerous and had the same family of cells as the lung cancer. It could have developed into colon cancer. I am now on the every three year plan for colonoscopies. The prep is the worst part of this process. I am confident I can do this without too much whining.

As I look at all that has transpired since January, I realize even more how blessed I am. I prayed throughout this excursion that God would use it for His glory and for His good – no matter what the outcome.

A quote I have come to love and use a lot is from Sara Miles. Simply stated it reads “prayer is one of the deepest forms of relationship with God…and through relationship there can be healing in the absence of cure.” What this translates to me is that cure is a medical term and healing is a spiritual term. They are two separate actions that can co-exist…or not.

I have taken a Spiritual Gifts survey. Actually, I’ve taken it several times hoping my gift was something else other than what the survey shows. Isn’t that rich? Arguing with God that, “no, I don’t think that is my gift… surely it must be something else!” Yes, of course… one body many parts.

Romans 12:3-8 (NIV) reads:
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 12:4-31 (NIV) reads:
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” 
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. 
But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.”

So? What did the Spiritual Types survey indicate was my gift? That of being a prophet. As I understand it, being a prophet by today’s standard means to rightly divide the Word of God. Why does it disturb me? I am afraid of being a poor witness, a poor ambassador of Christ. What if I offend someone and they totally turn from away from Christianity because of me? Ahhh, the old “shoulda, coulda, woulda” paralysis.

I am more than sure I am to be considering what my gift is AND more importantly to act upon it only because it was pointed out in a devotional I was reading. The article said to ask someone whose opinion you respected. So I asked a dear Sister in Christ what she might think my "God given gift" may be? She agreed to having this discussion and we will be pursuing this together! Then this past Sunday, our Pastor's sermon was about the very same subject! Yes, God has my attention. 

Indeed, it is not enough to “know” what the gift is, but the key to the gift is action. And what might that entail? The saga continues…

Yours, because we’re His,


Tamara

Friday, September 4, 2015

Chapter Thirteen

It has been over 30-days since the last chemotherapy. 

It was the fourth and final treatment. As with all the previous ones, the side effects were more intense. I kept reassuring myself that I could do this, that with the medication I could survive the nausea, the debilitating tiredness and two naps a day. Naps? They were more like lapsing into a coma as I would sleep for at least two hours at a time.

I wanted to wait until I had the PET scan and met with the oncologist, Dr. Garland, before writing. This past Monday I met with the Dr. Garland. Everything looks good. There are still two areas – one in what remains of my left lung and another in the right lung, but she feels they will not evolve into anything else as they have remained constant for two years of CT, PET scans and MRIs.

I wonder how many procedures it takes to begin glowing in the dark?

Dr. Garland asked about the tiredness and I admitted that I still had bouts of tiredness, but not as bad as they were while having chemo. She said I would feel even better by the time I see her next, in three months after having yet another PET scan. 

A colonoscopy is not my most favorite medical procedure, if there is such a thing. It ranks right up there with a spinal tap. It is the preparation for the procedure that is the absolute worst and I had NO sleep the night before the procedure. Fortunately it was an early morning procedure. During the course of the “scope” a 15 mm polyp found and removed. I was blessed to be able to sleep through the procedure and did not recall a thing about it.

What I did learn was that adenocarcinoma lung cancer cells can present in the colon. During a previous CT scan, the colon did "light up" which usually means cancer. The pathology report showed that the polyp was a tubular adenoma, which is a pre-cancerous polyp. I am most definitely on the "every third year" colonoscopy plan.

An adenocarcinoma is a type of lung cancer that begins in the glandular cells of the lungs. These cells create and release fluids like as mucus. About 40 percent of all lung cancers are non-small cell adenocarcinomas.

The two other main types of lung cancer are squamous cell carcinoma and large cell carcinoma. The majority of cancers that begin in the breast, pancreas, and prostate also are adenocarcinomas.

Smoking is the main cause of non-small cell adenocarcinoma, but other risk factors can contribute to your likelihood of developing the disease. I am a former smoker. I knew when I quit smoking there would be no guarantee I would never experience the effects of the diseases caused by smoking.

Breathing polluted air can raises your risk of lung cancer. Chemicals found in diesel exhaust, coal products, gasoline, chloride, and formaldehyde may be dangerous too.

Over a long period of time, radiation therapy of the lungs may raise the risk of lung cancer. Drinking water that contains arsenic is also a risk factor for non-small cell lung cancer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Non-small cell adenocarcinomas can develop in non-smokers too, according to the American Cancer Society.

Women may be more at risk than men for this type of lung disease. Also, younger lung cancer patients are more likely to have non-small cell adenocarcinoma, compared with other forms of lung cancer.

Early on, a person with non-small cell lung cancer may not experience symptoms. Once symptoms appear, they usually include a cough that doesn’t go away. Taking a deep breath, coughing, or laughing can cause chest pain in people with lung cancer. Other symptoms include the following:

  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • wheezing
  • coughing up blood
  • a brownish color in your phlegm

The first three are the symptoms I had. Since I was also having cardiac issues, it was difficult to discern what the actual problem was. I guess that is where the CT, PET and MRI’s are most valuable – to help diagnose without having to dissect, so to speak.

Yes, I would have been happier if there had been no polyp found during the course of the colonoscopy. Yet I know that God's got this. As much as I dislike the prep for the colonoscopy, I will be diligent in following up.

I am ever grateful for all your prayers, thank you so much.

I learned last Sunday that two women in our congregation have been diagnosed with lung cancer. I believe this may be an opportunity to minister to them.

I have been blessed by early diagnosis, wonderful medical professionals, a husband who had been a most amazing caregiver and the prayers of many saints around this nation. Indeed, even if the outcome were at the other end of the spectrum, I would still say I am blessed. I believe with all my heart the Sara Miles quote that “Prayer is one of the deepest forms of relationship with God… and through relationship there can be healing in the absence of cure.”

Meanwhile, I will be having regular medical evaluations every three months for the first year. I can live with that.

That’s it for this installment of Love In the Time of Chemo. Until next time-

Tamara

Psalm 63:4   The New Living Translation
I will praise you as long as I live,
    lifting up my hands to you in prayer.


Chapter Twenty-Two

I began attending a weekly Cancer Support Group. I don't always make the meeting, but I am generally blessed when I do attend. I hav...

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