Eucharisteo 2017

Thanksgiving reminds me to point my thoughts toward the practice of giving thanks.  Eucharisteo.  This idea that Jesus had this tendency to give thanks prior to asking The Father for something.  In her fine book, 1,000 Gifts, Ann Voskamp shares her story of an early life heartbreaking loss and how she went about the next couple of decades going through the motions of faith, but holding herself back, not really trusting this God she’d had decided was not trustworthy.  Eventually, she leans into her faith, deciding God may be worth trusting afterall, and she throws herself headfirst into this gratitude experiment.

I took that ride along with her as I read the book, dutifully making my list of things to be thankful for:  my exquisite, blue-eyed fairy daughter, the way sunlight beams in and makes rainbows just when I need to be reminded of my beautiful friend Laura who left this world way too soon, the nicest Malbec with a new friend, a Steelers last minute win, the way missing someone lets you know your heart still works, perfect black heels, feeling cozy and safe, laughing until I cry, not getting a parking ticket even though I totally deserve one, my pregnant friend’s pregnant lady glow, my hair growing back fuller and better than I ever thought it would.

Yo, I don’t have cancer right now.  (Or maybe ever again.)  How about that.

When I’m cranky and frowning and sniffing the air and crossing my arms and frustrated and disappointed…I think of Ann.  And I think of Jesus.  And I am reminded to give thanks.  Not just because that’s the example we have – but because this practice…this eucharisteo…it is a powerful force, infusing us with life and love.  It fights against fear.  It fights against apathy.  It helps you to decide not to give in to bitterness.  It keeps your heart soft and ready for whatever is next.

Q & A

I’ve been meaning to dust this old thing off for a while, and even more so wanting to switch the whole thing over to Word Press like the rest of the world, but until I get 10 free hours and 50 other things done first, here we are.

So a few months ago, my doc notified me of some funk in my lungs that he wasn’t sure was cancer.  So we kept an eye on it.  Eventually we decided we were tired of keeping an eye on it, and we thought we would crack me open and scoop that sucker out.

Lung surgery is about as icky and painful as you might imagine.  They put a camera down my throat and into my bronchial tubes and injected dye into the tumor.  Then they went in through my ribs on the left side and back.  They performed a lung resection, removing a portion around the mass and sewing it back together.  I woke up with a chest tube sucking blood and gunk out, snaking across the floor to a little plastic suitcase I had to carry with me to the bathroom.  I took one look at that thing and said “Leave the catheter in so I don’t have to go anywhere.  And can I have more pain medication, please?”

I left the hospital in a few days, stayed home recovering, staring at my cat and working from home.  Then I got a colonoscopy because, why not?  🙂  Three days later I headed to LA for a work trip and some fun catching up with friends who insist on living way out there.

I got home late last night and headed straight to the doc today to find out that the funk was, in fact, cancer.  Sigh.  This is my THIRD time having cancer.  Sometimes I honestly cannot believe this is my life.  On one hand, I can’t believe it’s my life because I’m 38 and super active and eat pretty healthy and I have cancer.  And not one of those “good” cancers that just needs to be treated and probably won’t come back.  One that keeps coming back and attacking different organs.  And on the other hand, I can’t believe it’s my life because I have persistent stage 4 cancer that keeps trying to kill me, and yet I just ran my fastest two miles of my life 2 weeks ago, had major surgery, got on a plane 13 days later, and the same day was swinging around my friend’s loft apartment on aerial silks like an acrobat.  An enthusiastic but mostly unsuccessful, hysterically laughing acrobat.

I stayed out until 1am in Hollywood at the coolest jazz club I’ve ever been to, and managed to get up the next day and make it through a full day of meetings that I actually fully enjoyed.

I’m three and a half years into this cancer experience.  (I will refrain from using the word “journey” because even though it totally makes sense and often it seems like the only apt word, I just really hate it.  You can totally use it if you want.  In fact, if you want to send me a card, good luck finding one that doesn’t have the word “journey” in it.)  Anyway 3+ years in and the third round is on.  Treatment for now is “watch and wait” but chemo may be in the future.  My goal is to get through the Spring and Summer without needing treatment and then, come September, if it’s back to the chemo bar, then back to the chemo bar we shall go.

People ask me the same few questions, so I will post them and the answers here for you:

Are you ok?  Yup.  I am.  I’m not thrilled.  I would plan things out differently if it were up to me, but that is God’s job.  Most of the amazing stuff in the Bible I would not have been able to plan out, so I leave that to Him.  I am not always happy.  I am not always filled to the brim with joy.  But I am definitely ok.  And even when I’m not, good, familiar company, delicious healthy food, a song I love, a trip to the beach or maybe a nice Malbec or Sauvignon Blanc cheer me right up.

Are you scared?  Generally, no.  Sometimes I get scared about a specific thing, like an aspect of surgery, recovery or a chemo side effect, but between prayer and bugging my nurse friends, I usually get over that stuff quickly.  As far as being scared to die, I want to live as long as I possibly can.  And I feel hopeful that it might be quite a long while.  But heaven awaits. Then the real adventure begins, I am very convinced.

Are you mad?  Nope.  Occasionally, I am mad if I have to miss something I want to do, but I have been fortunate to minimize that. I get upset if I feel like I’m letting everyone down because I can’t do as much as I am used to being able to do.  I get frustrated when I can’t be as productive as I would like to be.  I think you are only mad about this kind of thing if you somehow think that you don’t “deserve” what is happening to you.  I do not believe that challenging circumstances are punishment, and therefore the whole “deserve” it idea is very foreign to me.  No one deserves it, and yet we all do.  And, also…there is SIGNIFICANT growth and maturity and strength that comes only from suffering.  I basically don’t put a whole lot of weight to the words of those who have not truly suffered.  It’s the only way to show what you’re made of.  And it makes you tough as hell if you let it.  I don’t choose my suffering but the results of it, when faced with the proper attitude are a blessing you can’t get another way.

Do you need anything?  There is not anything specific that I need right now.  But occasionally, I let my friend, Kait, know if there is anything that would be helpful.  If you know me, you almost definitely know Kait.  🙂  For example, sometimes lending me a book is very welcome.   (I’m all set with books right now, fortunately, thanks to a few thoughtful friends.)  🙂

What is the hardest part?  Not knowing if or when it will hit again.  I struggle with long term planning.  Like…you should plan a vacation a year ahead.  That is stressful to me.  That’s when I know I’m in a different life than most people.  You don’t not plan a trip to Fiji because you MIGHT get hit by a bus.  But I honestly would not plan an expensive trip six months out.  More like…can we go next month?  Great, I’m in.  Long range planning makes me nervous.  The other hard part is people I love worrying about me.  This worrying business is endless.  They worry about me, so I worry that they’re worrying, then they feel bad that they’re making me worry.  Everyone stop worrying, ok?!  Just pray and trust God.  Seriously.
How do you do it?  I don’t know.  Focus on what’s right in front of me.  Appreciate each day.  Refuse to miss out on something amazing.  Buy every shade of red lipstick ever invented.  Basically I choose to throw myself into all that I do, reject fear, love as hard as I can and embrace the adventure. So, who’s with me?

From patient to survivor

This is going to be an interesting transition.  

For the past five months I have been a cancer patient.  I’ve been treated for advanced stage colon cancer with various heavy duty chemo drugs, been poked, prodded, squeezed, examined, had blood drawn about 20 times, been given steroids, various anti nausea meds, vitamins, etc.  I am currently  20 doses (10 days) of oral meds away from officially completing my chemo treatment.  I haven’t been deemed “in remission” yet.  But hopefully my scan a month from now will indicate that I am.  
Then what?

It’s easy to acquire an identity from something like this.  My oncologist calls me a trouper, says I’m tough.  My physician’s assistant calls me “the poster child.”  Cancer fighter, chemo girl, positive attitude lady, fearless patient, cancer “victim” etc.  So when you are in the formidable position to graduate to “remission” your identity may actually go through a crisis.
You may go through a crisis from the sudden lack of attention you became accustomed to.  Empty mail boxes suck!   
You may not remember how to tackle all of the responsibilities you have to re-encumber yourself with.  Hmmm, how does this here dishwasher work, again? 
You may have gotten used to playing “the cancer card.”  Best excuse ever for skipping the bane of my existence: baby/bridal showers and children’s birthday parties!  
You may feel lost without the constant stream of visitors and flowers.  Do people still love me?  Do they know it’s still hard and scary?  I’m not just suddenly magically better – these side effects linger like an unwanted guest, and might not ever leave!  
You may have become comfortable with living day to day and eschewed making long term future plans.  Maybe that 401k doesn’t look so useless all of a sudden.  You may balk at the idea that you have to think beyond life with cancer having a lead role.  You go from writing Wills and bucket lists to making grocery lists and weight loss goals.
Cancer can give you a strong identity and when cancer leaves, an identity crisis may present itself.  Who am I now, without the clear and present danger of cancer?  Do I go from being a cancer warrior to a cancer scout?  A hunter of sorts?  A constant fearer of its return? Do I think the best and believe it’s gone forever?  That God has healed me? That I kicked its ass for good?  Or watch for it at every turn? 
Do I freak at every twinge, bump, lump and pinch?  Do I live fully grateful for each moment?  Or fear the worst?  
Who am I after cancer?  Knowing it could come back?  Knowing I could have to do all of this again?  
An identity crisis seems nearly inevitable.  
Here’s why it isn’t.
I’ve approached this fight from a singular perspective – as a child of God, loved and accepted because of Christ’s sacrifice.  I’m God’s kid.  He works all things for my good.  The cancer.  The chemo.  The (hopefully) remission.  
My identity can’t be shaken because it is derived from my relationship to the one thing that is unchanging.  I can be beaten and blown by the wind, of course.  I can forget my identity at times.  But by reminding myself of who I really am, listening for the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit, and surrounding myself with mature, similarly weathered followers of Christ who remind me when I forget…that’s how I stay anchored.  That’s why I’m not confused about who I am now.  
I’m lying in bed, toughing out what I hope and pray will be the last day I ever have like this.  A tired, ouchie, prickly, lonely day where I both wish for company and cringe at the thought of it.  I’m over this crappy way of spending weekends.  And yet, I’m at peace.  I’m grateful.  I’m amazed at God’s mercies.  I’m smiling because Jesus has been in this fire with me the whole time.  We know, that those who follow Christ will suffer.  But we will never suffer alone.  Sometimes it’s been just me and Jesus.  But many times you’ve been his hands and feet.  I don’t have photos of nearly everyone who has helped me through.  But here’s a nice sample. 

Last chemo coming up

My last scheduled chemo is on Thursday.  I will have two weeks of chemo pills after that so we aren’t really done until about ten days into April.  But the end is near.  Mostly I’m excited.  And happy I’ve made it through with my hair and most of my sanity.  

I’m a little…cautious?  I guess because I know cancer can seem gone when it’s really not, and can come back unexpectedly with a vengeance.  I’m also concerned about this pesky neuropathy that doesn’t want to go away.  (It could take a while to disappear or it might not go away at all.)  
I’m grateful.  For what I’ve learned, how I’ve grown, how I’ve been loved and supported.  I have a little army of Team Jessi and man, are they good people.  The encouragers, the gift givers, the child watchers, the prayer warriors, the care givers, the make-me-laughers.  I’m grateful for the chance to know suffering can bend me but not break me, because I have Jesus.  For the wisdom that comes from having slugged one’s way through Real Problems.  For the experience of looking death straight in the eye and learning how to face the possibility with something besides straight up fear.  For the unique equipping to support others who are struggling with Real Problems.  For the natural correction of my perspective.  (Basically a crash course in Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.)  Cancer has made me braver.  You can’t buy that anywhere, you know.  
It’s not over yet.  In some ways, it will never be, because we can’t quite go back to life as we knew it before cancer.  I’m different now, life is different now.  But this particular chapter is coming to a close.  

I’m up for the next one, whatever it is.  I’m hoping it has more fun and fewer copays.  More calm and less medicine.  More energy and less nausea.  More levity and fewer tears.  
I’m not looking forward to this last treatment.  But it must be done.  Prayers for a quick recovery and clean scans from here on out are appreciated.  While the outcome of treatment will unfold over time, and there are still some unknowns, we have much to celebrate.  Much.