Brief Relief

I got great news on Thursday.  My cancer has not, thus far, found another place to take up residence in my body.  Put another way, no new tumors.  This is a huge relief and cause for celebration.  I am so grateful.  

But I’m also dealing with my worst post-chemo side effects so far.  This time it really wiped me out.  I slept at least half of the weekend and today, Monday, I am searching hard for some energy because I have a work related obligation this afternoon that cannot be missed.  Unfortunate timing.    
So my thoughts and feelings are this crazy jumble of gratitude and deep annoyance.  I’m so glad the cancer hasn’t spread.  And I’m so sick of going through this crap.  
When I start to feel sorry for myself, I know I need to get my head screwed back on straight.  So here’s what I do:
Give myself permission to vent or whine just a little bit to someone who can handle it and isn’t going to give me advice.  It might just be a couple very honest texts to someone who will welcome my transparency.  But I get it out in a way that I feel heard.
Stop the whining.  It’s ok for a little bit but I’m not into say, a whining lifestyle.  You can easily become a whiner without even realizing it, so, reel it in.  
Pinpoint the problem.  What is really getting to me?  Nausea? Cabin fever? Aches and pains? The frustration of only being able to drink warm beverages when all I want is icy cold ginger ale.  Identify the problem and address it if possible.  
Once earthly measures have been taken, I sit quietly before God and complain to Him.  Sometimes I am more polite and thank Him for some things first and note His holiness and such.  Other times I just let it out.  And I ask for help.  
This is not like submitting a request and having it fulfilled right away in the particular manner I prefer.  We do get tempted to think of our relationship with God as rather transactional, don’t we?  Behave, ask nicely, and get what you asked for.  My experience is that this is not typically how it works because we are not always asking for the best things.  It’s ok for me to ask God to relieve my nausea.  Maybe He will, but if He doesn’t, it’s because there is a purpose in this that I’m not privy to.   
The Bible is full of stories of suffering turning to glory.  Joseph, Job, Jesus.  It’s a perpetual theme.  There is purpose in our suffering.  So when the suffering does not subside upon our request, we have to be content that God is with us, and this will be worked out for our good. And that some glory lies on the other side. 


Tomorrow is round 5 of chemo.  That’s not what’s on my mind, though.  Tomorrow I get the results of my CT scan.  Basically we’ll find out if my cancer is spreading or not.  It feels big.  Like I might be plunged into a scarier place than I already am.  

But a good scan this month doesn’t mean I’ll never have a bad one.  People get cancer, get better, and then get it again.  Two years later or ten years later.  Some people have 20 cancer free years and then have a stroke.  Some perfectly healthy person is going to get hit by the bus.  Or bitten by the snake.  Or choke on some Skittles.  
What I’m saying is while I am praying and hoping for good news tomorrow, I’m not putting my hope in scans or news from a doctor.  They matter, of course.  But they aren’t final.  There is always something dreadful to fear if you don’t put your hope and faith in something bigger and better and more significant than any earthly thing.  
I’m tempted to put my hope in the scan results.  I know I’ll feel relieved by good news and scared of bad news.  But I choose to trust God no matter what lies ahead.  I’m not all that good at it, mind you.  My emotions can flail in the wind like anyone’s.  But I come back to the truth that God is worthy of our trust and works all things for our good no matter how outrageously crazy and unfair some things may feel.  He knows more.  He knows better. I’m in His capable hands.  
In the Scriptures He promises “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you.”  That’s better than the admittedly sought after good news of a clean scan.  Way better.  I want that good news.  I really do.  But what I want more is unshakable faith – to understand who God is so much that no news can undermine my trust in Him.  I’m not there yet, but I’m moving in the right direction.  Are you?

The best book I've read in a long time

I know I’ve mentioned this book before.  But here is a full review.

Tim Keller, in this hefty, somewhat scholarly book, thick with Scripture references, personal stories and C.S. Lewis-level logical arguments, discusses how our culture tells us that adversity, suffering and struggle are bad – they are something to get past so we can get on with real life. Suffering, such as dealing with cancer (or job loss, infidelity, serious injury, loss of a loved one) is a life disruption, a snag, an interruption from our regularly scheduled programming. But, as Dr. Keller poses, what about the biblical view?  It says this is IMPORTANT.  It’s allowed by God, by design.  It’s not retaliation for that time you missed church or lied about being stuck in traffic or even that time you stole, cheated or deeply betrayed a close friend.  The justice for all of the dumb stuff you do was satisfied, paid in full on the cross.  So, while it’s possible that your suffering may be a direct consequence of sin, ignore the temptation of yourself and others to ponder whether you “deserve” the suffering or not.  It’s irrelevant.  Additionally, depending on how you approach it, this suffering you’re experiencing can be used by you and God to galvanize your faith, to deepen your intimacy with God, to strengthen your relationships and bless you with greater wisdom, compassion and patience. 

Put another way, whatever suffering you’re going through, it’s not an accident, it’s not punishment and it’s not to be squandered.

Here is an excerpt that really challenged and encouraged me:

“If you believe in Jesus and you rest in Him, then suffering will relate to your character like fire relates to gold. Do you want to know who you are—your strengths and weaknesses? Do you want to be a compassionate person who skillfully helps people who are hurting? Do you want to have such a profound trust in God that you are fortified against the disappointments of life? Do you want simply to be wise about how life goes?

Those are four crucial things to have—but none of them are readily achievable without suffering. There is no way to know who you really are until you are tested. There is no way to really empathize and sympathize with other suffering people unless you have suffered yourself. There is no way to really learn how to trust in God until you are drowning.”

One of the most challenging aspects of this book is how Dr. Keller boldly confronts the reader with this question:  Are you in this (the Christian faith) to truly serve God, or are you in it to see how you can get God to serve you?  Oof.  That’s a rough question. Our response to suffering gives us the answer.  If we kick and scream and whine and cry and demand to be released from the suffering, we’re not approaching it with a trusting attitude toward God.  We’re basically saying “Well, I was ok with this until physical pain came up on me.”  Or “Hey, I was willing to go along until you let that man break my heart.”  If we really believe that this God loves us enough to send his son to the cross to save us from all of our terrible decisions, moral failures and selfish choices, then how can we not trust Him to be with us in the midst of of the suffering?

This book is for people who are experiencing serious suffering, or people who want to be prepared for when it comes their way.  Dr. Keller has published a gift here – a guide to having a Biblical, Christ-centered response when your world comes crashing down.  If you want to take your faith-journey to the next level, read it.

Nonprofits, homelessness, panhandlers, oh my.

This post isn’t about cancer, but approximately, in one way or another, the last 30 entries are, so just click backwards if that’s what you’re looking for.

The reason I’m writing this post is because I’m raising money for charity – it happens to be the charity I work for – as I train for the 5K of the Pittsburgh Marathon while fighting cancer and undergoing chemo. Sometimes, in working in the nonprofit world (as I have for 14 years) I come across some interesting, as well as (what feel, to me, like) strange questions and comments. I thought I would take the opportunity to address some of them since I have a nice, growing little audience here.


Do not do this. Typically, pan handlers are soliciting your hard earned money for drugs or alcohol. That is the honest truth. These people know about the nearby shelters and soup kitchen – which they may or may not need. They sometimes are part of larger, more sophisticated operation, too. You run the risk of funding a criminal operation or someone’s individual drug habit (as one former addict told me “you can be the person who gives them the money for the hit that kills them.” Think about THAT next time you want to hand someone a five dollar bill.) What to do instead? I recommend steering clear, just for safety reasons – you don’t want to get entangled in someone’s need for a drug fix or their mental illness if you aren’t experienced in relating to people who are living on the street. But if you feel confident engaging, just talk to them, offer to buy them a sandwich, give them a granola bar or a bottle of water. Let them know about local shelters, even though they probably already do. I think treating these people as human beings even though they might be trying to scam you is really important. As a side-note, I feel totally different about busking (someone playing music for money.) I almost always toss whatever is in my pocket in their container. Especially if it’s any good. Hey, at least they’re providing a service of some kind. But keep this in mind regarding pan handling and busking – these aren’t the official opinion of anyone but myself. BOTTOM LINE: If you want to give, give to a charity you trust that helps these people. That will do the MOST good.


This one is amazing to me. Occasionally people ask me if I get paid a salary. In my organization, we serve over 120,000 meals a year, assist over 1,000 individuals in need of food, shelter, counseling, education assistance, job training and mental health supports. This stuff does not get done when a couple of volunteers feel like showing up and giving a few hours of their time. While our volunteers who serve food, mentor clients and process our donations are invaluable and deeply appreciated, this is a 24-hour per day operation that requires professional counselors, case managers, pastors, experienced fundraisers, an accountant, an HR professional, administrative staff, maintenance staff, experienced front desk staff who put themselves at risk to keep the rest of us safe, chefs, child care providers to spend quality time with recently homeless children, a PR professional, a database manager, etc. It really is an involved operation to bring in enough revenue to keep the lights on and the cupboards full, to respond to emergencies, to welcome hungry, cold people day or night, to answer the phones, run the events that bring in needed revenue, fix the computers and help volunteers get plugged in. For the most part, these are professional individuals who could work elsewhere for more money. But we believe that this work is worth our full-time, fully comitted efforts. No one is getting rich here, believe me. But we care enough to do it anyway.

Sure, some of them are. But some of them are incredible, interesting, funny, smart, caring people who have sustained significant trauma and/or made some big mistakes. Let’s talk about how a homeless person gets to be homeless. Typically, people who end up homeless are either addicted to drugs and alcohol or are quite mentally ill. The mentally ill are people who are generally in need of medication, but for a variety of reasons cannot or do not maintain their medication schedule and cycle through a variety of mental struggles that lead to socially unacceptable behavior or debilitating fears and paranoia. They obviously are not able to maintain employment and housing and since there are almost no resources in institutional settings (i.e. being “committed”) they are often left to themselves once family cannot or will not care for them, and the individual may feel safest away from other people. They may stay in a rural area like a tent in the woods or they may end up in an urban setting under a bridge. They maintain survival that is acceptable to them. It is hard to reach these people and build trust, but sometimes we can and it’s a win if we can get them into temporary housing and eventually set up with (typically government provided) housing and care.

Addiction is a different story. Often, this begins early in life with trauma. Abuse, neglect, abandonment are major triggers. These inflict pain. Pain is avoided by dabbling in drugs and alcohol. Some people have a greater propensity toward addiction than others (I believe it’s always a choice to some degree, but that some have a bend toward uncontrollable addiction than others do) and down the rabbit hole, they go. Employment can be difficult to maintain. Eventually family relationships deteriorate and friendships do too, besides those “friendships” that center around the addiction. People can live this way for a surprisingly long time. When they do find their way to a place like Light of Life where they can be helped, they are taking a big step – choosing to make an effort at totally redefining their lives. These people are anything but lazy. They are beginning the hard work of dismantling a network of walls they’ve built in the name of self-preservation and tackling the mental, emotional and spiritual work needed for healing and restoration. It’s not easy. They are basically turning over control to people they don’t know, in the hopes we will lovingly walk them through what will be one of the most challenging things they will ever go through. Not only do we care for them – we care for their children in many cases. These are kids who have come home to Mom overdosing on the couch, or waiting for Dad to come home for three days.

It’s not easy work to walk alongside these men and women who are rebuilding their lives, and I give all the credit in the world to our staff who do this. I have done it myself in positions I have held in other organizations and it is challenging, rewarding but draining work. You give much of yourself each day and it can take a toll. Please pray for our staff who give so much of themselves over to our ministry.

More than you can handle

Seriously? What jagoff with a cushy life made that crap up?  I’ve heard that a few times lately and it’s just so silly.  It’s not in The Bible (I can wait if you wanna look it up.)  But if you know how to look stuff up in the good book you probably knew already that it doesn’t say that.  Also? It doesn’t say that money is the root of all evil – it says it is THE LOVE OF money is A root of all kinds of evil.  And, while we’re clearing stuff up, it also does not say “hate the sin, love the sinner.”   So quit saying those things – they’re dumb.  

Well, anyway, who came up with this whole “as much as you can handle” stuff?  There is a verse in 1st Corinthians that talks about us not being tempted beyond our ability, but that’s not about handling suffering – it’s about us being responsible for our sin.  But maybe that’s where this “handling it” business originated – a poor interpretation.  
Because from where I’m standing, it’s just not consistent with God’s character to, like, make us handle weighty things with will power, gumption and pulling ourselves up by our boot straps.  Grin and bear it.  Nose to the grindstone.  Nope.  I don’t see that.  Besides, who are these people who are “handling it” when a child dies, cancer strikes and tsunamis wipe out entire villages? No one is handling that! Those are devastating. Plain and simple. And I don’t see God with His holy arms crossed saying “Now, I am only giving you the exact amount you can handle, and I expect you to do it or there will be locusts and frogs and boils and such!” What I do see, in the scriptures and in my life is a God who mysteriously allows all kinds of troubles to come our way, and offers to not necessarily rescue us immediately from all harm, but to be with us in our suffering.  To never abandon us.  To ultimately in the present and the future, work the evil in the world for our GOOD.  
As far as us handling it…I don’t think that’s what God is looking for.  He’s not walking around with a clipboard giving us points for acting like we’re not in pain, not scared, not overwhelmed.  What good does that do anyone?
What I do think God is looking for is our honesty.  Our authentic, unmasked selves, broken, exhausted, spent, overrun and empty coming to Him for comfort, healing and guidance.  I know I’ve dragged myself into His presence with nothing but fear and discouragement in my heart more than a few times recently.  And The King has restored me each time.  I know He doesn’t mind that at times I’m seriously mad and tired and sick of cancer.  Sick of nausea and neuropathy.  Sick of Mort the Port getting jabbed all the time.  Sick of a mile run seeming impossible.  Sick of fearing cold weather.  Sick of copays and pills and not being able to care for my family at my best.  
In times such as this, what’s happening? I’m unraveling.  I’m breaking under immense pressure and as a result, I stop thinking correctly or clearly.  Pain and fear paralyze us and send us into irrational thinking patterns.  What we know to be true (that God is good and in control) fades and all kinds of twisted ideas wreck our minds.
So we have to run to God.  Because He can restore us to right thinking.  
So, there, in God’s presence, as I let it all out – somehow, He meets me there, in my weakness.  In my brokenness.  It’s not some bursting sunlight with an angel choir or anything.  Usually it’s a reminder of something I know to be true.  That I’m loved beyond my imagination’s capacity to conjure.  That God is eternal and He knows best.  That there is significant purpose in my suffering.  That He is working ALL things for my good.  
So while it may look like it, I’m not always “handling” it – I’m going through it honestly and relying on Him for restoration to right thinking when it all starts falling apart.  
When you start to fall apart, don’t muster up more willpower.  Don’t grit your teeth and “stay strong.”  Just take it to God, and let Him restore your right thinking and “renew a right spirit within you.”  

The world is amazing. People are awesome.

It’s true that there are some real jerks out there. The guy who cuts you off in traffic. The jagoff who doesn’t hold the door for you when you have your arms full and a four year old in tow. The cashier who seemingly joyfully closes her lane just as you walk up to the register. That Succop kicker guy who single handedly ruined the Steelers chances at the playoffs (ok, ok, it was their own doing, I know.)

But let me tell ya something. People are also really awesome. Here are some examples:

The nurse who jokes around with me when she pokes through my skin to access the port in my chest to administer poison and steal samples of my blood to the extent that I look forward to seeing her.

My mother who helps take my mind off the icky stuff going into my veins by chatting, letting me teach her stuff about her iPhone and playing games like Scrabble.

My dad who reads my mind and makes homemade, ridiculously good chicken soup.

My husband who plays pharmacist (did you take your pills?) housekeeper, chef and World’s Best Dad while I’m out of commission.

The owners of this place and the owner of these places and this web site who all donated to my crazy 5K fundraising project, which you can learn about here Seriously, go learn about it and donate. I am the number one fundraiser of the WHOLE MARATHON right now. Go look now before someone ousts me (which is definitely going to happen.)

This lady. She is ridiculously awesome. Excellent writer. Funny as all get out. Lover of Pittsburgh. Friend of the homeless and sick children. Generous beyond measure.

Also tons of individual friends have donated, bringing me significant joy. (and a sense of “oh crap, I really need to run this race to avoid public shame!”)

My friend who I haven’t seen in about 15 years, who made me two handmade hats for the cold weather!

The friends who have sent me tea – the only thing I can drink during Chemo Weekend. We are having The Pittsburgh Tea Party when this crap is over and done with.

The friends who have given me cool scarves to wear because the cold air just is horrible.

The staff on my team who have sailed the ship beautifully while the captain is barfing below deck.

Senders of cards and packages – you have no idea how this brightens my day!! Mail time (Blues Clues reference for the parents out there) is the best!

The friend who sent me the GREATEST LOTION KNOWN TO MAN that is keeping my hands and feet from horrific side effects from one of my chemo meds. This lotion is magical. So is this friend.

The friend who has three biological kids, five adopted kids and a full time job who cooked me freezer meals and got me a Wonder Woman snuggie – this woman deserves an award!!!

The friends who have whisked my child away to do fun stuff.

People who read and share my blog. I am still blown away that anyone besides my mom reads this.

So, you…I say to you…

Fighting cancer and homelessness

Running has always been this elusive sport for me.  I’ve always been reasonably competent at any sport I’ve spent time playing.  I can hit the occasional 3 pointer in basketball and I can probably beat most of you in a swimming race.  But this body just isn’t designed for running.  Which is what makes me want to run.

I started running 5k races about two years ago.  I trained with an iPhone app and did ok.  I completed 5 races in about 18 months.  Some of them, I walked some of the way.  Those hills just kill me!!  

When my health problems became apparent, I backed off of the running.  When the surgeries began, I had to quit entirely.  I spent the whole autumn season retired from anything more than a walk around the block here and there.  When the chemo began, even that became impossible, partly due to fatigue and partly due to the cold becoming totally intolerable. So I’ve shifted from running to chemo treatments, lounging and cat snuggling.


I started to get really sick of this crap.  So I set a goal.  I would, come hell or high water, do the 5k of the Pittsburgh Marathon.  
The race commences four weeks after my (hopefully) final IV infusion and  two weeks after my (hopefully) final dose of chemo pills are swallowed.  This means I have to train while I’m getting chemo.
This is both exhilarating and terrifying.  What a badass thing to do!  What if I fail?  What if I have to crawl across the finish line?  
You know what, though?  I choose to reject fear and live out of hope.  The belief that by God’s grace and my determination and the support of those who love me, I WILL DO THIS.
I’m determined.  Look how fiercely determined my eye is.

Here’s the other cool part.  You can help in a big way.  By making a donation to my fundraising page you will 1. Motivate and encourage me.  And 2. Support my cause of choice – Light of Life Rescue Mission where lives of poor and homeless men, women and children are turned around daily.  
Here is the link.  If you can’t click it, just copy and paste into your browser.
I am asking for your support.  It’s a good cause.
Also?  At this moment I am the TOP fundraiser for the entire marathon!!  Let’s see how long I can hold the title!!


I had chemo today.  So I’m suffering.  My body feels weird. Tired.  Achy.  Queasy.  Uncomfortable.  The cold bothers me in weird ways.  My hands and feet feel stung, or electrified and then go numb. My eyes sting. Sneezing is horrifically painful.  

I walked for ten minutes for the health benefits that movement can provide.  It was hard.  Icky and sweaty and not fun.  
I feel bored at the prospect of being confined to my home until the toxins dissipate or the weather warms.  I feel a little isolated at the moment.  I want soft, warm things around me.  I want to sleep for four days.  I want quiet.  But I want company.  Friends.  I want macaroni and cheese and good bread even though they aren’t really in my self-imposed whole food, semi vegan, semi paleo diet.  I wish I could drink something besides the thousand varieties of tea I have.  I miss sugar.  I miss ice cold drinks.  I feel like crying but tears physically hurt my eyes.  
So, that’s the real deal of how this point in the cycle feels.  I want to experience my suffering in a particular way.  I want it to be characterized by three things:
1. Authenticity.  I want to be honest.  I want to share the truth of my heart.  I want to live out loud and let you see.  We can benefit from each other when we are authentic about our fears, anger, frustrations, limitations, failures and need for one another.  A falsely positive person is a fraud and of use to no one.  I want to be as transparent as I can, especially about the rough stuff.  
2.  Hope.  Yes, I suffer and experience fear.  But.  I have significant hope.  Hope that I will grow old.  Hope that this will become a significant chapter in a long, dynamic, adventurous life.  Hope that others will glean important truths from my experience.  Hope, because God’s ultimately got me.  I am loved.  I matter.  I bask in the glory of hope.  No matter what, I have hope.
3. Wisdom.  I intend to become wiser…deeply wiser…through this.  I don’t want to miss a single lesson.  I’m paying attention to how I operate, how I think, how I love, and how I can grow.  I’m watching for how God moves and how He answers prayers and when He seems silent.  
So, in the name of authenticity,  I’m suffering.  And it sucks.  In the name of Hope, it will be better in 5 or 6 days, thankfully.  In the name of wisdom, I trust God with my suffering.  He is down here in the midst of it with me.  What a blessing.