Thursday, December 23, 2010

Part 29: Changing Seasons

The newly fallen snow crunched beneath their feet as the woman and her husband briskly crossed the street under the evening glow of the street lamps. She usually went to her appointments alone, but considering the road conditions that day, he volunteered to drive. Her mind flashed back. The last time he had accompanied her to an appointment, autumn leaves had just started falling off the trees and coats were still optional. It was hard to believe how much time had actually passed since then.

They sat in the waiting room together. The warm reality of it was enough to take her lingering chill off. She was glad he was with her again. For the last two months she'd been living in her own little world, one that could only be somewhat understood through her retelling to him upon her arrival home. It was true he didn't miss much, but something about his presence put her at ease. When he was with her, she didn't feel so alone.

Soon they were called back to the appointment room where they were shortly thereafter joined by the oncologist, who carried with her a calming radiancesomething that wasn't learned in med school, but rather was an innate gift. Bi-weekly it instilled confidence in the woman; she could trust that every word from her doctor's lips was sincere, honest, and true.

"You need to drink more water," the doctor said.

The woman had no argument to that fact. She had no excuse either.

The doctor continued, "And your levels this week are at 2.0. This is very good! We will wait and see how things go in two weeks."

The woman was a bit discouraged. She was hoping for an early Christmas present, but according to the test, her value had to be less than 0.8 to be considered negative. Another round of chemo shots were in her immediate future. Count it all joy, she told herself. And she could. She was blessed to be following what the doctor said to be the textbook case. Her numbers had been dropping consistently every time. She knew others weren't as lucky.

"There is a saying in french," the doctor began, "'Patience et longueur de temps font plus que force ni que rage.'"

"Ummm...all I got out of that was patience. Patience what?" the woman replied.

The doctor chuckled and then translated: "Patience and time do more than strength or fury."

The woman had plenty of strength, fury, and certainly time. She would trek through all four seasons at least twice before she realized her dream. Patience, unfortunately, was harder to come by.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Part 28: Routines

It was the start of the woman's third month of treatment, her fourth oncologist appointment. By now, she had the routine down:
  • Check in
  • Verify her med list
  • Take a pain survey
  • Wait
  • Get called in
  • Get weighed
  • Have blood pressure and temperature taken
  • Wait some more
  • Talk to the doctor
  • Hear that she needs more chemo
  • Walk over to the infusion therapy center
  • Wait some more
  • Get called in
  • Have blood pressure and temperature taken
  • Wait some more
  • Get a shot
  • Leave
The woman felt good about this appointment and was already prepared to hear whatever news came her way, be it good, bad, or less good than her expectation. Whatever the outcome, she knew even before meeting with the doctor she would still need to get another round of chemo. The doctor had said that once her values hit negative, she would need to do one last run. So, either her values were negative this week or they weren't. She hoped for the former.

"Your value is 8.9," said the oncologist.

It was a 55 percent drop from two weeks before—still good, because it was dropping, but not yet negative, so it meant at least two more rounds of chemo. Luckily, by this point the injection schedule had worked itself out to be after she got off work, so she wouldn't have to make up time.

"I'm hoping for an early Christmas present next time," the woman said.

"Well, I can't make any promises," the oncologist replied. "When is your birthday?"

"February third."

"We might be able to make that happen."

It wasn't the best news, but it was good. The woman resolved to keep her hopes up for next time. She made her way over to her next stop to get her shot.

Count it all joy, she thought.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Part 27: Nonsense

The woman sat in the front seat passenger side and gazed out the window at the clear blue sky. Random thoughts flowed through her mind like the leafless trees passing through her line of vision, leaving as quickly as they came. It had been a good time with family. She looked down at the soft-covered book resting on her lap. Right before she left, her aunt had given it to her. The timing of the gift was all to coincidental. Just days before, the woman had thought to herself how she needed to find a book to read that would help her gain perspective as she walked through this season of her life, something to help her deal.

She sensed a still, small voice had been trying to send her a message. The doctor's words, her father's counsel, her grandfather's story, her aunt's bookthese had all happened within a weeks time and each instance built off a similar theme: attitude. This combined with her own conviction was enough to get her attention. If someone was making an effort to tell her something, she was going to make her best effort to listen.

She picked up the book admiring its newness as she flipped through the crisp pages and opened to the first chapter. A sobering emotional sting took her by surprise upon reading the chapter title: "Accepting the Truth." She stopped there. It was a loaded phrase, one that had been haunting her daily since the very beginning of this ordeal. Just when she thought she had gotten to a point of acceptance, something would happen and she'd have to do it all over again. Initially she had viewed acceptance like painting a spherethere was one surface to cover and then it's done. But it was more like painting a polyhedronthere were multiple faces that needed painting, and each had to be done one at a time. And so it was with the woman, each aspect and each residual effect had to be accepted. Some were easier than others.

As she continued to read, it talked about expecting trials and troubles as a norm of life. That part seemed true enough to her and explained why this situation had been such a jolt to her system. The past few years had been easy; everything she had reached for, she had accomplished. She hadn't experienced any major disappointments, and while she knew she that was a blessing (for she was no stranger to hardship), she had lost sight of the inevitability of trials.

She read on: "Count it all joy when you when you fall into various trials." She stopped again. She knew those words, but knowing and doing are two very different things. She had read and heard them many times before, but never had she realized how ridiculous they sounded. Consider it a pain in the neck? Yes. Count it an emotional blow? Yes. Consider it a reason to feel angry and sorry for yourself? Yes. Count it as joy? What? Wait a minute here. Now that makes no sense. Apparently the author thought so, too, but that did not negate the advice. As the woman understood, to count suffering as joy was an act of the will, not the emotion, and it was not a senseless choice. Patience, perseverance, character, and hope were the fruits of that decision, things that she could use a little more of.

Not knowing exactly what she was doing, she decided to give it a shot. It wasn't going to be easy, and it wasn't going to be a one time decision, but at least it was something to help combat her misery. That day, contrary to her feelings, she decided she would try to count her situation as joy.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Part 26: Circle of Thanks

The woman held the white styrofoam cup with two hands and looked down at the red sparkling grape juice inside. The fizz was drowned out by the sound of her little niece and nephew playing on the floor. She sat beside her husband, amongst her family who had gathered together in the living room forming a large, not quite-so-perfect circle. It was time for the Thanksgiving tradition where everyone would go around and take turns sharing what they were thankful for. After each monologue, the group would raise their cups saying "Here, here!" and "Praise the Lord!" This year, the woman didn't want to be thankful. She wanted to disappear. Unfortunately, her absence would most definitely be noticed, so she had no choice but to stay and participate.

Her grandfather opened the ceremony with a story. Eighty years of wisdom colored each spoken word as he shared a testament of God's faithfulness to him over the past year. "A year ago I was told that I needed to get a new roof," he began. "It was going to cost 7000 dollars. I had no idea who would help me do the work or how I would get the money to pay for it, so I prayed."

He continued by telling how he diligently saved a little each month in preparation for the expense and kept on praying over the course of the year. Fall came around and he managed to find eight people who were willing to help with the project. A few weeks before they started, he received an unexpected letter in the mail stating he had 3500 dollars worth of stock, which he cashed in to help pay for the expense. When it was all said and done, the entire project cost came out to 3500 dollars--half of what the original cost was supposed to be and exactly the worth of the stock he had just sold!

"The point is," he said, "God answers prayer. He doesn't always do it when we want it or how we might expect, but He always answers. Sometimes we have to just be patient and wait on His perfect timing."

The words "patient" and "wait" resonated in her mind as if someone had just hit a gong. She reflected on her situation. She desperately wanted to accept the message and believe she was experiencing perfect timingno matter how imperfect it feltbut pain from the past few months had jaded her perspective. It coated the truth of her grandfather's words with a shell of bitterness. The truth was in her mind, but she would have to crack through the shell in order to truly receive it.

And so the circle of thanks began. One by one family members listed off the many things they were grateful for. Closer and closer her turn approached. She tried to think of what she could say. Everything she thought of only reminded her of what she couldn't be thankful fora baby on the way. The cold fact was further etched in the stone of her mind as her brother-in-laws relayed how thankful they were for their children. Her husband's turn soon followed. I guess I'm thankful he gets to go first, she thought to herself.

"As you all know, we've had some trying times come our way recently, but through it all we still have things to be thankful for," he began. "None the least being that we live in Rochester, home of the Mayo Clinic..."

He began to choke up. Her stubbornness held on as she fought back tears, but his warm, genuine words were quickly thawing her frozen heart. She grabbed his hand.

"...and they've been doing their best to get her better..."

His composure was quickly failing, as was the woman's ability to control her tears, and no one said a word. In attempt to contain the situation, divert attention elsewhere, and fill awkward silence, she held up her styrofoam cup and said, "Praise the Lord!"

"Praise the Lord!" the room responded.

It was now her turn. She opened her mouth, ready to quickly recite her pre-planned statement and pass the baton, but she couldn't speak. The dam holding back her emotions had been cracked during her husband's speech and by now it had lost its integrity. Tears rolled down her cheeks. She apologized for crying and as she regained her composure, she noticed the room was no longer quiet. Others had started to cry and sniffles came from all sides. It was then that she realized she was not alone in her pain. Her burden had been spread across the shoulders of those she loved most and they were walking alongside her every step of the way. How could I have been so blind, so foolishly hard-hearted? she thought. Thank you, God, for my loving husband and loving family.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Part 25: X-ray Vision

The woman stood outside the elevator catching her breath. Being fifteen minutes late on her end, she only hoped the doctor's office was maintaining their status quo. The arrival to the tenth floor couldn't come soon enough. She turned the corner. Luckily there wasn't a line. Her transition from the check-in desk to her appointment room was practically seamlessa first in her experience. Unfortunately, the woman still had to pass the time.

"I haven't as much seen the whites of the doctor's eyes yet today," said the clinical assistant.

Relieved to finally receive an honest estimate, the woman sat and waited, wondering what kind of news she would find out that day. It had been two weeks since her last appointment. The chemo treatments were pretty predictable and low key for her by now. Sure, she wasn't recovering back to her normal self as quickly, but she was making progress, and that's really all that mattered to her. Knowing her tendency to worry, she took some time to pray to calm her nerves. Then, she grabbed her cell phone and started reading through three years worth of text messages. I really need to bring a book next time, she regretted.

Just as she finished reading the last text, the oncologist apologetically entered the room, noticeably out of breath.

Like doctor like patient, the woman thought to herself.

There wasn't much to talk about considering her HCG results had not yet come back, but even if the levels hit zero, the woman discovered would still need to go through at least one more round of chemotherapy. The woman felt a bit discouraged. She was ready to move on to the next phase.

As if cued, the oncologist looked through the woman's eyes into her soul and said, "There is a light at the end of this tunnel. This is a bump in the roada big one for youbut I am confident that you will be cured of this disease and you will go on to have more babies. I recently lost a patient to ovarian cancer. And do you know what she said of her situation? She said that it was a gift from God. I encourage you to think about how you might view what you're going through."

The woman swore this doctor had some kind of x-ray vision into her mind because the words pierced her heart. How does she know I've been feeling depressed about this the last few days and have been nursing a sour attitude? She was pretty sure she hadn't said or done anything incriminating, but somehow, the doctor knew.

The woman left the doctor's office in a contemplative mood and headed down to receive her first chemo shot of round four. She had plenty of time to think on the doctor's wordstwo hours twenty minutes, to be exact. She called her parents to kill some time.

"Your life experiences are a stewardship," her dad said. "Just like your time and your talents. What are you going to do with them?"

As she hung up the phone a nurse escorted her to her room. Her father's words still hung in the air. She had never thought of life that way. Sure, she was responsible to do good things with money, time, and talents, but life experiences? One cannot control life. Life just happens. But the more she thought about it, the more she realized either she could try to control her experiences, inevitably harboring anger and bitterness from her inability to do so, or she could let the Holy Spirit work through her, conforming her attitude to that of Christ, allowing Him to reveal His glory through her story of brokenness. If it were only that easy, she thought.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. A nurse entered the room handing her a piece of paper with a yellow Post-It note stuck to it upon which was written: "Beta HCG is Ok. Value is 20." Initially her lucky digit "0" was overshadowed by the "2" proceeding it. However, she caught herself before she went too far down that road. She reminded herself that it was an 83% drop from two weeks prior and the first time she had been in the two digits. Thank you, Lord, for six straight weeks of good news.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Part 24: Piece of Cake

"You are a piece of cake!" the oncologist said, her French-Canadian accent shining through. "You are a tree in a forest. You see the tree and I see the forest. My job is to get you through the forest."

The woman could not help but smile. She loved this doctor. There was always some kind of positive spin rolling off her tongue, a language the woman was not always the most fluent in.

The oncologist continued, "Not to minimize what you are going through. You have been through a lot, but I see the forest. Other trees are not as easy as you."

It was the prologue to one of the woman's most encouraging appointments yet. She sat in anticipation as the doctor turned the computer monitor in her direction. Her eyes locked in on the screen that posted her multiple weeks worth of lab results.

"Blood levels are good. Hemoglobin still a bit low, but going up. Liver function good. Creatinine still normal, but you need to drink more water," the oncologist reported.

They had gone through everything on the screen. What about my hormone levels? the woman thought. She looked at the doctor whose face wore an eager smile, like she had been saving the best news for last. The doctor scrolled down the screen while the woman leaned in for a better look.


"This is very good!" the oncologist affirmed.

And it was good news. Prior to walking into that room, the woman had prepared herself for the worst—a rise in the levels marking the need to switch to a stronger, more aggressive chemo drug—and hoped for the best—levels to zero. The 95% drop to 119 from two weeks prior was really, really good news. She would still need at least another round of treatment since the weren't at zero, but these were the lowest levels yet, which was a great encouragement.

It's amazing what a good doctor and good news does to a person's patience. The woman left and settled in the waiting room once again, waiting for the assistant to bring her a new appointment schedule. Upon receipt of it began another series of unfortunate going-to-the-doctor annoyances. The scheduler had scheduled the appointments all wrong, the doctor had forgotten to write up her new prescription, the chemo shot took forever to get ready, and the pharmacy caught an inconsistency in the prescription which lengthened the ready time. Had it all happened at the last appointment, the woman would have for sure been annoyed, but oddly enough this time around she wasn't bothered a bit.

She walked down the corridor towards the parking garage elevator. Tears of joy stirred within her.
While they never made it to her eyes, they filled her heart with hope of the weeks to come. She had come so far, and for that she was thankful.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Part 23: Triggers

As time went on, the woman settled into this new chapter in her journey. Life went on just like it used to.  In the beginning, she worried that seeing pregnant ladies might be the most difficult for her. They were everywhere. Her sister was pregnant. Her close friends were pregnant. Gals at work were pregnant. Ladies at church were pregnant. Her facebook friends were pregnant. Oddly enough these reminders in and of themselves were not as discouraging as she had originally thoughtas long as she stuck to her mental attack plan. She reasoned with herself that had her circumstances been any different, she would still be happy and excited for all these women. Why should it be any different now?, she thought. Sometimes she was successful, other times she wasn't, but at least she was ready. Every once in awhile, however, when she least expected it, something would happen that triggered a memory or resurfaced a feeling reminding her of her loss.

The couple had been finishing their basement that fall, one of her necessities on their life plan before starting a family. As they gave a tour to their friends of the recently drywalled space, the woman started sharing her plans for the living areas.

"We'll put the futon right here. The desk from upstairs will go in this corner. We'll move the bed from the upstairs office to one down here..." But then it hit her. They were going to move all the stuff out of the extra room upstairs to make room for a nurserya nursery that was no longer needed. The thought saddened her for a moment, but then she was just perplexed. She hadn't even thought about what now to use the room for instead.

One time she went to the fridge looking for something to snack on. She spotted some olives, took them out and dished them onto her plate. The savory flavor filled her mouth. But then it hit her. She was eating the same olives that she had eaten during that first and only normal week of her pregnancy.

Another time she was talking to her pregnant sister.

"Do you want me to save some of my maternity clothes that are too big for me?" her sister asked.

"Sure! That would be wonderful!" she thankfully replied thinking how great it was to get some free clothes, even if it she didn't need them right now. But then it hit her. She began to cry. She would have needed them in a few months, but now it would be a long while before they'd be useful.

Yet another time she was writing on an online message board to encourage another gal who was experiencing the same disease on a time-line similar to hers. She pulled up a calendar to see which exact day she had first learned of her pregnancy. It was the last Friday in July. She looked at the number thirty. And then it hit her. At one point in time she was pregnant and happy about it, naive to the risks of it all, but that was a long time ago.

In the midst of these moments, she was at peace. As sad as the triggers were, they were comforts along her road to recovery. Their presence signified the passing of time, the acceptance of her lot, and the healing of her broken heart.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Part 22: Anxious Thoughts

The woman watched as the nurse attached the needle to the syringe filled with chemo. The transparent yellow liquid glistened inside its plastic shell. It was the woman's second injection in her second round of chemotherapy and she was grateful that aside from some fatigue, watery eyes, muscle cramps, and occasional mild nausea, she had not experienced any overbearing physical side effects from the treatment thus far. Mentally, however, the anxiety of her last appointment still plagued her because the syringe in the nurse's hand seemed wider that day.

"Are you sure that is the same dose as last week?" the woman asked delving into the details of her traumatic experience from two days prior. "That syringe looks different from what I remember."

"Yeah. It's the same," said the nurse. The husband peered over to look the computer screen and concurred.

"Okay," replied the woman, still in need of convincing. 

She stood up and turned her back towards the nurse who, shortly thereafter, slowly dispensed the yellow liquid into the woman's backside—so slowly, in fact, that it caused the woman internal alarm. 

It's never taken this long for them to give me the shot. What's she doing?

"Um...are you almost done back there?" asked the woman, starting to become anxious while the needle held its ground. "This seems to be taking awhile."

"Almost, I'm just doing it slowly so that it doesn't sting."

“It usually hasn't taken this long, so I'm just trying not to..." The woman didn't finish her sentence. A tingling sensation began to flood her body and she fought the urge to close her eyes. "Umm...I feel weird."

"Just a second," said the nurse. "I'm almost done."

"I...I think I need to sit down or something," the woman replied trying to remain calm. 

Instinctively she began to sit back down the the chair, the nurse scrambling to get a band-aid over the injection site. She turned pale and her skin became clammy. She felt like she was going to pass out. The nurse quickly closed a blood pressure cuff around her upper right arm and began to get a reading. The woman's blood pressure had dropped in half. She breathed deep, trying her best not to freak out, but she was scared. Luckily, in a few minutes, she was back to normal, though noticeably shaken up from the experience. The nurse ensured that her vitals remained stable and then freed the couple to go on their way. 

It had been a shaky start to chemo round two, but on the bright side, her HCG levels had dropped by 90% since her first round—down to 2400! Prayers being offered up from around the country and around the world were notably gaining momentum. She only hoped that these next two weeks held similar results.