Fighting Blind

Fighting cancer with surgery, radiation, chemo, etc is this whole lifestyle.  You put your head down with determination, you think positive, you deal with physical pain, exhaustion, you combat the side effects with medicine, home remedies, rest, prayer, massage, warm baths, lotions, creams, healing foods, tea.  You wish the bad days away and hold onto the good days, dreading the next chemo.  But basically, you’re getting through it.  You have a timeline.  You have a specific goal…get through the next chemo, and ultimately, get done with chemo.  You can’t wait to be done.  You’re jealous of those ahead of you – if someone has just one fewer treatment than you do, you are insanely envious of them.  Oh, to have just 3 instead of 4 left!!!

But then you get done.  And a few things happen.  The first is relief and celebration.  It is AMAZING to not have to schedule your life around chemo treatments and how your body will be handling them.  As the nausea, heartburn, neuropathy, cold sensitivity, joint pain, fatigue begin to subside, and as the nails, hair and taste buds start to grow back, you have a different feeling that can take hold.  Fear.

You’re done fighting.  Now we have to see if you’ve won or not.  And the enemy could show up again anytime, without much warning.  The future is filled with scans and blood tests and hyper vigilance.  Healthy, cancer fighting foods, exercise, stress reducing behaviors, avoiding exposure to nasty chemicals.  It’s easy to get swept away by the fear and the stress that every thing you do is either inching you toward or away from cancer.

This is the part I struggled with the hardest, mentally and emotionally the last time we crossed the chemo finish line.  Chemo – it takes quite a toll.  But the time after, it’s a different kind of challenge.

Primarily, it’s a challenge of faith.  This is where we have to just take God’s big, strong hand, and choose to let go of our fear.  All this time, we prayed and trusted Him we’d get through the chemo.  Now we have to trust that, no matter what, He’s got us.  He’s in control.  He’s all over this.  It doesn’t mean your cancer won’t come back.  Maybe it will and maybe it won’t.  But we’re called to a life of adventure, a life of uncertainty.  A wild ride of a life where we’ve handed the keys over the the Big Guy and believed this was the best way.  It is the best way.   We can’t control it anyhow, so why not just rest in the knowledge that the best possible tour guide, navigator, driver, event planner and travel companion is in charge.  Gratitude and trust can stamp out fear.  I’ve experienced it many times.  You simply can’t be thankful and afraid at the same moment.  One has to win out.  Light casts out darkness, not the other way around.


The Waiting.

I thought I would wait to update until my doctor called to
tell me what’s up with this biopsy.  But
I realized that this time, this waiting, is worth sharing about.  I get about 20 texts or Facebook messages a
day asking if I’ve heard anything, which tells me that people are just as
anxious to hear about this as I am.  We’re
all biting our nails and pacing.  Of
course I’m the only one with the phone practically sewn into my palm (those of
you with ongoing health issues know that missing a call from your doc and the
subsequent phone tag is a special flavor of suffering that can invoke everything
from a gnawing uneasiness that gets worse each second to sheer DEFCON 1 level
panic.)  We’re all wanting to know.  We all desperately long for that miraculous
good news, of course.  And we understand
how much more likely bad news is (or even some weird, inconclusive
report.)  We understand that this phone
call will point us in a particular direction. 
One very different from the other. If the news is to be bad, we ought to probably just get on with it, right? 

This is a lonely place. 
Even as much as people reach out and make great effort to be with me in the ways they can, and I understand we are in this
together, it’s often a solitary experience.  There
are so many moments I’m alone, or even when among others, I’m alone in my
thoughts.  And I turn many things over in
my brain.  But mostly I pray.  I commune with God.  I respond to the tugs toward the kind of relating
we are created for.  Our thankfulness and
God’s reassurance.  Over and over. 

My friend likes to talk about spiritual things like the
existence of God and such with the question: 
what is this….like what is ALL of this? 
Who are we and what is our purpose? 
How does it work?  Because – that’s
what it’s really all about, right?  What
IS this?  And who ARE we?  Who made us? 
And why?  And what happens
next?  We should really concern ourselves
with these questions – and circumstances such as these (waiting for the doc to
call about the maybe cancer) brings all of these rushing to the forefront.  If you don’t know – well, I don’t quite know
how I would approach all of this.  Whatever gets you through.  But
even when you feel you know, you have to really really really remind
yourself.  A coworker recently called the
Devil “the stranger who distracts you with lies”  – now I don’t spend a lot of time studying
the character of Satan in The Bible.  I
think because a lot of Christians talk about him in this super scary, unhelpful
way, and blame him for a lot of things that are really about choices of
humans.  Satan, in these days and times
is often just an excuse.  But really…if
he is the Father of Lies, and if he seeks to steal, kill and destroy, it makes
sense to me that he would whisper lies to me, to try to take me off track.  The thoughts that enter my head are dark and
full of fear.  They are sad.  They are hopeless.  They invoke anger and ultimately a deep sense
of mistrust toward God.  “He’s betrayed you” says the liar.  Sounds like
something Satan would do.  Or maybe it’s
my own laziness.  It’s hard work to fix
my eyes on Jesus.  When I’m doing it –
praying without ceasing, writing out prayers of thanksgiving, giving my heart
over to God, reading sound biblical interpretation, spending time in prayerful
meditation, talking with people who comfort and encourage – I’m in the
zone.  The waiting doesn’t bother


This is in God’s hands. 
It’s in His time.  All things,
even the waiting, are for my good.  This
has given me a unique time with Him – a time to seek Him in a particular
way.  It seems you  can’t have this kind of palatable closeness
with God unless you are running to Him, full speed, desperate, totally vulnerable.  Chased by terrifying beasts.  But up ahead is the castle, and the King stands at the ready.  The gates are open just for you, and His
sword slays all that dare to harm you. 

He sees fit for me to wait.  So I wait and when the waiting is hard, because the fear builds up, I run to Him.     

Post biopsy: shredded liver, heavy heart

My organs have been through the ringer! (Or is it the “wringer?”)

Yesterday’s biopsy was really difficult.  First, they wish they could put you under because the process is so invasive. But they can’t because they need you to hold your breath, which you cannot do if you are under anesthesia. So they poke you a bunch of times with a small needle to numb you up at the surface.  Which is nice of them.  But kind of just a formality. Because then they get out an enormous needle.  Over 12 inches long.  
My liver lesions (which sounds like a bad college band) are located in a remote area of the liver closest to my diaphragm. The first surgeon was actually not very experienced, and she was not having any luck getting anywhere near the area from which they needed to take a sample. While I was glad they brought in the seasoned surgeon whom they all referred to as “the expert”, I begin to feel discouraged, worried and afraid. Discouraged, that they might not be able to get what they needed, worried about what the alternative step might be, and afraid about how many times they might try before they decided to quit!  

Each attempt to access the liver involved this long needle. They would pierce through the skin, and slowly pop it through a space in my ribs, the lidocaine did not penetrate that deeply, so I could feel them slowly poking around.  I had to hold my breath for about 30 seconds at a time. 

It’s interesting how God has long-term plans. Who would have thought my mermaid like characteristics, developed 30 years ago, joyfully retrieving objects from the bottom of the deepest swimming pools, would come in handy at the age of 37 on an operating table?  The doctors and nurses in the room each commented on my breath holding skills in amazement. As one nurse said, “it’s one thing to hold your breath that long but another to do so while we’re putting the longest needle we have into your abdomen.” A sample was finally taken by the spring-loaded mechanism inside the needle, which makes a disturbing popping/cutting/snipping sound and corresponding sensation that could make you pass out if you dwell on it. And the doctor immediately said “dammit.”  Not the word you want to hear. The sample he got (a small worm-like piece of pink liver) was close to but not part of the lesion. He said defeatedly “I’m so sorry.  But that didn’t help us at all.”  But we were both determined.  He ended up jerry rigging the needle, removing the guide on its handle to give him three more centimeters to get further in.  He told me that at this point, we were facing significant risk of internal bleeding by going so deep, and risking piercing the diaphragm.  I asked him “if you mess up, and I start bleeding or something wrong gets poked, can you fix me?” He smiled and emphatically said “yes.”  And then he told me I would need to hold my breath and lay perfectly still for as long as he needed. I smiled, because I was built for this. I’m a swimmer. I’m an athlete.  I might not be the fastest anything, but these lungs are bad ass.

It was scary, and it hurt. It was hard to hold my breath and not react to the pressure, pushing, digging.  There is nothing like laying on a gurney, hearing uncertainty in the voices that are supposed to have everything under control.  It is truly the loneliest place I know. And I have been there a few times. These are my moments of “are you there God? It’s me, Jessi.” 

Those are the moments of discouragement. The moments of an uncertain or poor outlook. You’re walking the tight rope, and even though it’s dangerous and crazy: the whole thing is absurd!  But you’ve mastered this craziness…walking where few tread, and  you feel confident with each step, moving forward, each step sure, until a strong wind comes.  And as you start to wobble and then lean too far and struggle to bring it back to balance, you completely lose your focus.  You can barely remember five seconds ago when you felt certain.

Sometimes the wobbling lasts a moment. Sometimes it’s a whole day.  But, in my experience, it always stops. I’ve never fallen. And I know that the hundreds and hundreds of prayers of people who love me, and people who love people who love me has made all the difference. I don’t claim to know exactly how prayer works, but I can tell you that when people started praying for me in large numbers things changed. Last weekend, I was wobbling big time. And then I stopped. And I grew stronger, and I had the good sense to read what the Bible has to say about who I am and who God is. And I got stronger.  So I listened to some sermons (Tim Keller!) and read some books (Anne Lamott!  Max Lucado! Sarah Young!  And…Tim Keller!) and listened to some wise people (My dear friends who encourage me greatly) and I stopped wobbling.  

So yesterday, when I was wobbling a lot, I was able to believe that the wobbling would stop. I couldn’t stop it myself last night, because I was in pain and weak.  I got scared and cried.  But I knew that people were praying. And that it would get better. And it did. Last night was very difficult, because the pain was more than I expected. I felt discouraged and vulnerable. But I knew it would get better. The pain would subside, my perspective would improve. And it did! This morning, the pain is manageable. My outlook is sunnier. And I believe that people’s prayers played a significant role in that. 

When you see someone wobbling, pray for them.  Pray for people you love. Pray for people’s pain. Pray more than you think you should. I am understanding the power of it more than ever, and I am driven to pray more than I ever have been.  

We will have the results of this biopsy in a week or so. All signs point to cancer. Perhaps God will change the course. Please pray for that. But even if He does not, I will follow Him with joy. And pray without ceasing.  I hope you will, too. And please share this if you know someone who might be helped by this post.  

Biopsy: punching a hole in the ribs to grab a chunk of liver

Big day Thursday.  They will insert a very large needle into my abdomen, through my ribs, into my liver, to find out if these pesky spots they found on my most recent CT scan are cancer. Man, I hope they’re not.

Getting this news was pretty devastating. But I must tell you…I trust God.  I really do. I am aware now more than ever of his amazing love for me. His faithfulness. His goodness.
I know, it’s very easy to question God’s sovereignty and goodness and love when we get bad or potentially bad news. I totally get that. But here’s the thing. If you expect God to make sense, you’re nuts.
If you’re married, think about your spouse.  Do they always make sense to you? You always know what they are thinking? Do you always agree with everything they do??  Hahaha.  Now, I don’t know if your spouse is smarter than you, and we will bypass the debate on who is smarter in my marriage 🙂 but I know that God is smarter than me. He is glorious. The nature of his glory is such that we cannot understand Him or His ways.  If you can’t even understand another human in their entirety, how could you possibly expect to understand God, and be in a place to judge whether he is good or right?  I’m not into that. I’m into trusting Him.
Here are a couple of things I know:
God has been faithful in my own life. I have had several experiences that nearly brought me to death’s door. When I was nine, my house exploded about four minutes after walking outside. When I was 18, I stupidly went surfing during the very beginning of a hurricane, got sucked under in churning waves and just when I thought I was a goner, was basically spit out by the ocean.  When I was in college my house caught on fire with my roommate and I sleeping inside it. We awoke only because of an alarm we didn’t recall setting. When I had Cassidy, I suddenly hemorrhaged so bad I almost died.  Then there was the last bout of cancer.  God has had my six every time. Sure, this time could be different, but why assume that?
I experience tremendous growth through times of trial and suffering. I have learned that you really are not much use to other struggling people if you haven’t really struggled.  But people who have suffered? Especially people who have chosen to trust God during their suffering? They know things. They are wise.  They have perspective and patience.  They are Yoda. They are Wonder Woman.
I experience outrageous amounts of love during times like this. Already people are stepping up and reaching out. Everyone likes attention. We really need it when we are going through something hard.  It doesn’t fix it but it helps so much.  Team Jessi is the best!
I’m praying to be healed. In the past I have been hesitant to pray this boldly for healing. I think it is because I have been worried that God might not answer in the way I expect, and I might feel disappointed. I don’t do so well with disappointment.  I feel differently this time. I feel confident both in approaching the throne of God boldly, and knowing that I will trust him, be thankful, and follow him even if my prayers are not answered in the manner and timing I prefer.  I can ask plainly and rest in believing He will care for me perfectly, no matter what.  
We assume we know what is good news and what is bad news. Tim Keller calls this something funny like presumed omniscience.  Basically, it is outrageously arrogant to assume that we know if A happens it will mean B. So we freak the eff out.  But.  We don’t know! It might be Q or X.  Or 7. Or nothing.  Sure, I’d love a negative biopsy and no more chemo.  But God knows what is best.  Because He knows it all.  
Look at the cross.  Imagine what they saw that day, and how they despaired as Jesus died. 
Game over. 
But really, it was the beginning of the greatest thing that ever happened. Ever.
Right now, I can tell you in all honesty that I have peace about this. I am finding that it is possible to rise above the circumstances and operate out of a different perspective.  I really want to not have cancer. But I will go where God leads.  I will go with joy in my heart.  And I welcome you on this journey.  Let’s look forward with faith, curiosity, trust and hope.  Let’s see what God does.  

Cancer and Mom Jeans

Do you have any character flaws?

Hahahahahaha.  Of course you do.  Me too.  Lots!  Here are a few:
I enjoy being right a little more than I should
I am stingy toward people I think are foolish
I’m messy to a degree that is impolite
I have numerous double standards
I have the sense of humor of an 11 year old boy at times
I expect people to read my mind 
I often think people should just “suck it up”
I am stubborn and prideful
I buy too many black shirts
I care more about tasks than people when under pressure
I avoid disapproval of those I deeply respect
I am impatient with my daughter
I have a borderline unhealthy obsession with Bono from U2 
I judge you if you wear mom jeans

So, one of the things I am prayerful of during this wild ride of being a cancer patient is that these impurities will rise to the surface like those present in gold do, in the fire.  Cancer is the fire.  I’m the gold…granted, a sub-par, bargain basement variety, presently.  The intolerance for mom jeans, for example is the impurity that will rise to the surface to be burned off or scooped out and flung into the pile of arrogance, insecurity, rage, control, cowardice, vanity, etc.  
But how?  How can trials such as this make us better?  
I’m not entirely sure but I do know that knowing God in the midst of the suffering is the key.  Somehow our communion with Him is where it’s at.  
Not what He does or doesn’t do for us.  
Sometimes we think we’ll pray and He’ll answer in the exact way we want and that’s how we know and then our faith is strengthened.  That happens.  Now and again.  But that’s not the fullness of it.  We tend to think of God as this figure who either grants our wishes immediately and in a particular way like a genie or who doesn’t exist at all.  We come to the table with an agenda.  Heal the disease.  Keep me safe.  Free me from pain.  Give me the money.  Make him love me back.  
We can’t handle it that God is so much bigger and wiser and possesses much more full and accurate perspective than we do. Suffering in His presence, seeking to trust His ways, reaching out bit by bit in faith…that’s how it happens.  We see Him at work.  We feel more secure.  Our fears shrink.  Our hope grows.  Our eyes open more, our perspective shifts, our hearts grow bigger and softer.  We begin to desire His will more than our self-centered, immature, limited desires.  Because we begin to understand that even though it’s beyond our finite minds to fully grasp, that somehow, He is always hard at work for our good.