Perspective

So they are saying that 10,000 people died in the typhoon that hit the Philippines.  Can you even fathom that?  It’s a half full hockey area, roughly.  When I read numbers like that in the same sentence as the word “died” I kind of automatically shut down and decide to think about something else. My brain finds it difficult to compute.  My heart doesn’t have the capacity for the level of grief that such a situation requires.  My spirit rages at the seeming injustice.  I look heavenward and give God the stink eye.  

Seriously, what the hell?
One could say the same about cancer.  In fact many people have.  To me.  And I’ve thought it once or twice.  But here is what I’m coming to understand little by little.  God is going to bring about justice one day.  He is going to make right all that is wrong.  He is coming to rescue us.  Sometimes I question this as we all do.  Why not now?  Why not in this way or that?  Why does anyone have to suffer?  Why so much blood spilled?  Why can the bad people…the really bad ones triumph, ever?  Why does the weather get to take out thousands of people?  Why miscarriages?  Why devastating injuries?  Why cancer?  Just fix it.  God can fix it – why doesn’t He?  And quickly before the next terrible thing happens!!
If you think I have easy answers here, go read something else.  I’m just a person who frets and fumbles around like everyone does.  But I do have, for whatever reason, at this particular time, a surprisingly solid amount of hope and trust in God.  And, here’s what I think:  
-We can’t know the full truth, the full extent of the reasons for these things.  So don’t think you can grasp it fully.  I’m pretty sure we can’t.
-We do know that God is good.  One because scripture says so, but also from a logical perspective, we can conclude that if He created us and everything, He is the standard.  The creatED cannot judge the creatOR soundly.  He says He’s good.  He makes the “rules” if you will.  From our limited human perspective we cannot rightly approach the throne of God and say “You there, your plan doesn’t fit the Hallmark movie with the happy ending I imagined myself living so therefore 1. You are bad and maybe even 2. I no longer believe in you.”  That’s dumb, right?  I mean it just doesn’t make sense.  If you don’t want to believe in or follow God because you don’t like how things are going…it’s like saying soccer doesn’t exist because you didn’t win your game.  There are more logical reasons to not believe in God (I would argue that, ultimately, they don’t hold up logically, but if you’re going to quit believing or never start – come to the table with something a little more interesting than “I don’t like how things are going.”  Lame.)
-It’s possible that there is another belief system that is more representative of the absolute truth of the universe/life/etc.  But here’s why I don’t buy them.  They all either have 1. a relative truth like “my truth is x and yours is y and we’re all ok.” or 2. require us to follow particular rules to achieve some ultimately good thing: enlightenment, zen, heaven of some form, your own planet – yup, thats a thing.  On the first point, it does not resonate with me that what is true “for me” is not true “for you.”  We can perceive things differently and we might conclude certain things differently.  But one of us is right, or neither is.  If our views are diametrically opposed, we cannot both be correct.  If there is a group of goldfish, and I say there are 7 and you say there are 9, we can’t both be right – one of us counted wrong.  Or maybe we both did.  But there is a correct answer.  My thought is – lets try to find it and not be jerks to each other in the process.  Secondly, It does not resonate with me that we can earn our way to heaven.  Follow rules and receive X.  You know what people do with rules?  Figure out how to get whoever is charge to believe they are following the rules while bending or breaking them as much as we think we can, undetected.  I.e. it’s ok if you don’t get caught.  Or only do it on the weekends.  We manipulate our way around rules.  We do the bare minimum.  We don’t follow them full-heartedly rejoicing in the glory these wonderful rules bring us.  We plod along begrudgingly, hedging our bets on what we think we can reasonably get away with and then label ourselves a “basically good person” and hope that whoever is in charge…God, Buddha, Oprah…will agree.  You see how that’s kind of crazy, right?  It simply can’t be about rules.  God is smarter than that..  
-So what’s it about then, if not rules?  Well, I say it’s about trusting God.  And that’s about it.  He doesn’t want our thinly veiled good behavior.  He wants our authentic hearts – messy, broken and wounded as they may be – following after Him believing He’s got this figured out better than we do with our terribly limited perspective from our pinpoint on the globe and on the timeline of history.
Look, if The Bible is true, and I do think it is, ( it’s fine if you don’t) it tells us that God’s way of saving us from our selfish, messed up, manipulative selves is to lovingly sacrifice the greatest thing He had to give – His son.  (Are you tempted to quit reading here?  I would be.  I know it may have started to sound cliche and boring there if you’ve spent any time around weird Christians who spout the Jesus died for you stuff without warning.  But give me a chance here.)  
The Jesus died for you part…It’s Him saying “look how much I love you.”  
Do you have kids?  Would you ever send them to the cross for someone else?  Nope.  That’s crazy-level love.  Unfathomable.  Just like we don’t “get” the cancer, the typhoon, the unemployment, the pimple the day of the prom…we don’t get God’s ways. But we can be confident that in all things, He works for the good if those who love Him.  Because He gave His son.
A little preachy today, I know.  You don’t have to buy it.  It’s wrought with questions and “what about…”. It’s taken me about half my life thinking about these things to come to this particular place.  And its not even close to the whole truth.  The Bible says that we now see, but like we’re looking through a glass darkly.  We see some, clouded, but not all.  We squint, fumble for the light switch, ask our neighbor what they see.  We get frustrated and put the glass down.  We shut our eyes and are content to just listen instead thinking we’ll never see it right.  We give up.  But I say, keep squinting.  It’s worth the trouble.  

Cancer, nutrition and enough information to bury a small country…

In my fight against cancer, I have a few weapons. The first is God. It’s ok if you don’t believe that. I do, and I believe He is sovereign over all of this. Moreso than God being a weapon with which to fight, He is the overseer of the whole thing. And the One I can rely on to walk me through the fear and confusion. And that’s a good thing because man, is there a lot of confusion!

The second is my doctor and Western medicine. I’m a fan. Chemo brings dying people back from the brink (sometimes.) PET scans detect cancer early enough to do something about it. Pain killers help people fight through another day. I believe in all the wonders of the modern medical community. I believe God has given us knowledge and information and wisdom that can save lives through scalpels and pills and laser machines.

But I do NOT believe it is the end all, be all. Which brings me to my final weapon.

The growing (and holy moly is it confusing, inconsistent, conflicting and overwhelming) body of knowledge around nutrition, lifestyle and a more holistic view on the body and its systems. I am all for this. I am game for making big changes in what I eat and don’t eat, what products I use, what activities and technology I engage in, my sleep patterns, consumption of medications, exposure to potentially dangerous materials, etc. I am very willing to attack this beast with all available to me.

But.

Everything is in conflict with everything else. Paleo. Vegetarian. Vegan. Macrobiotic. Fasting. Supplements. No supplements. Vitamin D3. Vitamin B6. Dairy free. Organic only. Wheat free. Gluten free. Sugar free. No artificial sweeteners. No packaged/prepared foods. Not too much fruit. No fruit. No grains at all. No corn. Nothing genetically modified. No salt. No cheese. No red meat. Lots of red meat, but only if it’s lean and grass fed and grass finished. No cows, but goat products are ok. A little honey. No honey. Lots of honey. Potatoes. Only certain potatoes. Any vegetable. No tomatoes. Bottled water. Never bottled water. Only reverse-osmosis filtered water. Lemon water. No citrus. No pasta. Only rice pasta. Lots of beans. No legumes whatsoever.

This is the point where I begin to feel like the world is spinning. I can’t sort it all out. Who is right? Who can I trust? What if it’s different for everyone? How will I know? As a friend recently commented…I eat a bite of dairy and I’m like “great, I’m screwed.”

So on one hand, I want to say “Eh, I trust God, so whatever.” But no. I mean, I do. REALLY, I do. But I feel some responsibility to figure this out. To some extent. And when I get better, the fundraiser in me is going to turn into a dragon and out of sheer outrage is going to find the money to fund the research around this stuff so we can KNOW what we are supposed to eat!!!

Back to fighting traffic

In Pittsburgh and the surrounding vicinity, there are many neighborhoods to choose from.  My family recently moved from the South Hills to an area east of the city.  There are many good things about this location, but the biggest baddest thing is fighting the traffic at the Squirrel Hill tunnels every morning and evening.  Many writers before me have waxed philosophical about the lack of explanation of the origin of this nearly always present traffic – there is never an accident, roadblock or lane closure.  Just a strange phenomenon of people slowing down, quite abruptly, as if the tunnel has in some way startled them, as if there are not actual signs not only alerting us to their presence but actually instructing us to maintain our speed.  The part that really get me is that this happens each day during rush hour.  We must assume that the vast majority of these travelers embark on this westward journey regularly.  And still the tunnel scares them, and still they slow, and make us all late.

What does this have to do with cancer?  Not much, except that I am finding it stresses me out less.  When you get such a diagnosis, things become clear that were once less defined.  Being late is bad, but not, like catastrophically bad.  Sitting in traffic stinks, but compared to injections, blood draws, nausea and endless copays – meh.  Turn up the tunes and be glad you’re not in a CT scan machine, I say.  
Additionally, I’m in this traffic (no, not RIGHT now…) because I am going to work.  I am going to work because I feel good enough to work.  I get to make the choice to go to work or not.  I could be a lot sicker.  
So, instead, I’ll be grateful to drive a little slower through the hills and valleys of this beautiful place where we live and appreciate the fall foliage.  Unless you cut me off, ya jagoff! 

Chemo, my frenemy

Chemo is a funny thing.  It’s making me feel way worse than cancer has, and yet we have to assume it’s helping me.  It is difficult to willingly allow someone to put poison in your body.  One of my poisons is made of platinum.  I know, I’m fancy.  But that’s a metal.  And it’s in my blood.  That’s weird.

So far, chemo has made me tired, achy, irritable and nauseous.  It makes my hands and feet feel weird.  And I can’t drink or touch anything cold.  Most of the day, today, I was horizontal.  And it sucked.  My tummy is wonky.  I just don’t feel like myself.  So I did a lot of this.

But that wasn’t really working for me.  So I rallied.  And off we went.
We even rode a mini train.
I’m not saying that getting out and about is the right move every time.  It’s probably not.  But I felt I wanted to test my limits.  I wanted to see how much of this el-crappo feeling was real physical stuff and what was me just letting the cancer and chemo get me down.  It’s definitely some of both.  But it turns out, today, I had a little more gas in the tank than I felt like I did. So now I’m home and in need of rest.  Time to recharge the super powers!

Chemo Smackdown-O-Rama-Fest: Round 1

Morning of first chemo treatment.  Most people wear sweats.  I say, intimidate Stupid Cancer with fierce style.  It’s easier for me to stay upbeat and my usual charming self when I’m looking presentable.  Leopard print all the way.

We arrived at the treatment center and got hooked up via Mort the Port to an IV of pre-meds.  (Steroids and anti-nausea stuff.)  We then met with my doc, Dr. Mehta.  He gave us good news: my cancer has NOT spread.  They hadn’t assumed it had but its good to know concretely.  Also my blood work (white blood cells, etc. were all in normal ranges.)  **These are answers to prayer.**  When God answers our prayers so clearly – its worthy of a moment of our time and consideration.  We have to pause, acknowledge, give thanks.  He does not always answer with what we are looking for – sometimes the journey is longer than the one we planned for.  But sometimes we get a simple gift like this.  I am grateful.  I give thanks that this cancer hasn’t spiraled out of control.  There is an army in my body fighting it, and it’s doing an amazing job.  I’m thankful for my surgeon who did a difficult surgery well and removed what was visible.  Thank you, Lord for all of your provisions.  

So then we got hooked up to the real stuff.  Chemo.  Oxaliplatin is the big dog of chemo drugs that I’m taking.  So into Mort the Port it went.  It took about two hours.  It was uneventful.  During that time, I read funny texts from friends, watched videos on You Tube, ate some cheese and carrots and talked to Kevin.  They have a snack bar at the center.  It’s not very healthy which I think is weird.  A poor diet does not help in the cancer battle.  But I guess with chemo patients, whatever you can get down the hatch is good.  And sometimes that is Lance brand neon orange peanut butter crackers.  Blech. I tired to imagine how I could politely suggest some organic fruit or air popped non-GMO popcorn.  But…I want them to like me.  So I’ll bring my own snacks and Kevin can eat the cupcakes.
So they also gave me my oral pills.  I have to take five in the morning and five at night.  This drug is called Xeloda.  
Kevin meticulously filled my giant pill box for me.  He will almost certainly do this for me every week.  The fact is the man is significantly more responsible than I am in such matters.  That’s why he’s the precision baker and I’m the chef with full creative license.  Recipes, schmecipes.  So Kevin is the family pharmacist.
The infusion was complete and we left.  We were both hungry so we went to Mad Mex.  a friend’s response: did you really think Mexican was the best choice immediately following chemo?  Fair question.  First of all, I got black beans and rice and tofu in a dry tortilla so it wasn’t like I got the drippy, crazy meat-filled enchiladas.  I passed on the margaritas, too.  🙂  But I really haven’t felt super nauseous.  Just a little bit queasy.  So far, eating helps.  So bring on the tofu!
What I have had in terms of side effects in the past 24 hours have been with neuropathy/very high sensitivity to cold food/beverage and touching stuff that’s colder than room temp.  
The very bad thing that happened was when I took a huge swig of iced tea before I knew what would happen.  Awful. I felt like I drank Drano.  It scared me.  I had no idea what they meant when they said “cold sensitivity.”  It was pretty horrible.  Like trying to swallow a raisin that suddenly turned into a tiny porcupine.  All scratchy and spiky out of nowhere.  Also, strong tasting things like olives, vinegar and sharp cheeses do something weird to my mouth.  It feels like biting into a giant lemon.  That “sour” reflex is in overdrive somehow.
On the tactile front…touching something cold is like grabbing onto an electric fence.  It’s very strange to have your own body mess with you like that.  I’m so grateful to not be vomiting all day like some people do with chemo (fingers crossed on that one!)  But it’s weird and inconvenient to have to adjust what you eat, drink and touch.
Right now I’m feeling ok.  I’m a little bit apprehensive because I know that it gets worse before it gets better.  The last day has told me that I cannot predict what’s coming next and I don’t like that.  This may be the toughest one for me out of the 8 rounds, simply because its all a mystery.  Everything is fine and then my body betrays me.  I’ve spent 35 years in it.  It’s like if a good friend who has always been kind and dependable suddenly starts acting like a total bitch.  
So this is where we give ourselves a moment.  Acknowledge the difficulty.  Acknowledge the frustration.  Choose to accept it.  Then turn our thoughts and our hopes heaven-ward.  People say I’m strong.  I am.  It would be false humility to argue that.  I was raised to be strong.  I have experienced success that galvanizes my trust in my own abilities.  Whatever you’ve got, bring it.  I love a challenge and I plan to win.  It’s my job to get people to understand why they should give their hard earned dollars to help unemployed, homeless drug addicts.  I’m not selling sports cars to men in the midst of their mid-life crisis or pacifiers to desperate new moms.  Lets just say I’ve chosen a field where it’s not an easy sell.  A former supervisor once said about me “she could sell snow to the Eskimos.”  Well I’ve never tried.  But I would probably give it a shot.  
But I can’t do it all.  
I’ve gone as far as I can go on my own strength at the moment.  So “I lift my eyes up…up to the mountain.  Where does my help come from? My help comes from you – maker of heaven…creator of the earth.”  
So, I lean into God today.  Giving Him my anxieties and worries.  Believing He will provide whatever is needed at the most appropriate time.  Sometimes that comes in the form of a good test result, help from a loved one, a cheerful card, an unexpected moment of peace.