Hit by a Wave

I feel like I got hit by a wave.

This past weekend, I led a breakout session at the Salt Company Spring Conference called “Cancer, Suffering, & the Gospel.” Preparing for it helped me to reflect on this past year and it yet again filled me with gratefulness – not for the trial, but for what God has done in me through it.

The first time the image of a wave caught my attention was through a metaphor Keller used in the book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering – “If you have ever been on a coast in a storm and seen the waves come in and hit the rocks, sometimes the waves are so large that they cover a particular rock, and you think, “That is the end of that rock.” But when the waves recede, there it is still. It hasn’t budged an inch.” -Keller

I often felt submerged in water. But in the middle, I knew that even if it took my life, I would be like that rock, secure and immovable. Later in the Fall, I saw this quote by Charles Spurgeon and the idea of cancer being a wave that slammed into me, but also the wave that slammed me into Jesus, the Rock of Ages, solidified deep in my soul.

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I got this ring for Christmas…

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… and then decided to be reminded forever!

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I don’t want to forget. As time continues to pass, I don’t want to forget that God healed my body of a deadly disease. I don’t want to forget what God did inside of me through the scariest trial I’ve yet to face. And I don’t want to forget the hope that I have in the future – not hope that I’ll be spared from pain & suffering – but hope that Jesus will walk with me & give me strength to face all that this life holds.

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Good News!

It’s been almost 6 months since I found out I have Lymphoma… so for 6 months, the anticipation for this day has been growing. I felt like a balloon about to pop.

But good news… I’m cancer free!!

My PET scan was scheduled for this morning and an appointment with my doctor late afternoon so he could deliver the news. The scan detected no lymphoma cells & my two knees looked the same in the images!

It feels surreal to reflect on the past 7 months, after being diagnosed with both Melanoma & Follicular Lymphoma. I could talk for days about what God’s taught me during this season and still know that I can only see a tiny sliver from my vantage point. But two things I know for sure He has been doing in me through this trial:

  1. Helping me to see the Jesus’ suffering a little more clearly. I don’t always remember just how much Jesus had to pay for my debt before God. It cost Him real, actual, physical suffering. He suffered ultimately so that I will only ever suffer temporarily. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, it just means it won’t hurt forever. (Romans 8:17-18, Colossians 1:24)
  2. Growing my love for Jesus – not just the good things He can do for me / give to me, but just loving Him. In “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering”, Keller articulates this better than I could:

“Let’s say you initially fall in love with a person, and, if you’re honest, it was partly because of some of the person’s “assets” – his or her looks or connections, for example. But as the relationship progresses, you begin to love the person for himself alone, and then when some of the assets go away, you don’t mind. We call that growth in love and character. Now, what if you grew in your love for God like that? What if you could grow in your love for him so that he became increasingly satisfying in himself to you? That would mean that circumstances wouldn’t rattle you as much, since you had God and his love enriching and nourishing you regardless of the circumstances of life.” (274)

It’s true: suffering has a refining influence on you if you know Jesus & walk with Him through it, which is why I wouldn’t trade the trial of cancer for what He’s done in me through it.

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  1 Peter 1:7


MOVING FORWARD:

I will have regular follow-up appointments with my doctor in Iowa City every 3 months, but not have another PET scan until a year from now.

HURTS
Celebration Donuts!

 

Recovering & Waiting

This is a long time coming, but better late than never I suppose!

I took my last dose of radiation on October 4th, which wrapped up my treatment. Since then, I’ve been recovering & waiting. RECOVERING from minor knee irritations from the radiation and fatigue. WAITING for the first week in December, when I’ll get a PET scan to detect what the treatment did to my cancer.

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My last day – behind is the radiation machine and the mold fit to secure my legs.

I had a great experience doing my radiation in Ames! I’m SO thankful that was able to happen so I could fully participate in my normal life, just slipping over to the hospital for 30 minutes every day. I had minor tightness / swelling in my knee during radiation, which was bearable, and fatigue. I can still feel something in my knee, and it gets irritated when I exercise, but it’s getting better!

Please pray that it would continue to heal – the swelling gone and strength back!

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Celebrating treatment being done with my family!

HOW I’M DOING  –  Well. I still have bad days, but far more good days than bad days! I’ve found that cancer does something to you mentally / emotionally that’s hard to explain. God has continued to meet all my needs and put people in my life to love and walk with me through this season. I literally feel like a sheep being led each day, through each decision, and in all my fears by my Shepherd. God is giving me exactly what I need for today, so I’m choosing to keep trusting that He will give me exactly what I need when I need it. I’ve also taken a turn for the better in terms of my energy. I had a hard time acknowledging that I was facing fatigue and didn’t realize how it was affecting me until it’s been gone! Very thankful for that!

WHAT’S NEXT  –  I have a PET scan scheduled the first week in December. That scan will show if there is remaining cancer. While other cancers have easier ways to detect it, mine unfortunately doesn’t. I’m exposed to radiation through this type of scan, so I won’t have one done very often. I’m trying to have appropriate expectations going into that day, but it’s hard to know what those are. My Iowa City Oncologist gave me a heads up that the PET scan could show a flash of light by my knee, which might not necessarily be cancer. My Radiation Oncologist agreed with that and even told me I should expect the scan to light up around my left knee because of how irritated it is after the last 3 months. But he is hopeful that the brightness of the light will be able to detect what is irritation and what is cancer (if any left). Because of the nature of my cancer and how it acts in my body, even if it is remaining in my knee, my doctor won’t move towards any further treatment until I would have additional side effects.

Please pray that the PET scan would be empty of any light and there would be no cancer remaining!


Psalm 112:6-8, “For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid”

 

 

Radiation Therapy

The finish line is in sight!

I got a call today that I will start radiation therapy tomorrow… which also means that there’s finally an end date on my calendar (October 2!!).

The Details:

  • I will have 15 sessions of radiation, so Monday-Friday for the next 3 weeks.
  • Side effects: Fatigue is always a possible side effect of radiation, but because of the placement of my cancer (left knee area), the most probable side effects will happen to the skin around that area: redness, dry/itchy skin, a burn, an achy knee, etc.
  • Who knew? They give you tiny little tattoos for location markers. Luckily they just look like moles, but I’m actually thankful for the strange little reminders of this trial. God’s been so good to me – I don’t want to forget.

I have continued to feel so loved & cared for by so many people – THANK YOU so much for your prayers, support, & encouragement. It’s been a challenging season, but as I look back with the little sliver of perspective I have now, I’m filled with gratitude. God has answered our prayers – He’s protected me, provided for me, comforted me – the list goes on & on. I feel like God has taught me a lifetime’s worth of lessons in the last 3 month & I love Him more because of it!

Treatment Update

It feels surreal that this week will be my last trip to Iowa City to receive my immunotherapy drug. Don’t get me wrong, I will still have plenty of trips to Iowa City for follow-up appointments & I also have a month of radiation left still before my treatment is finished, but that will happen here in Ames.

Lots of people have been asking how it’s going, so I figured it’s time for an update! If I had to describe the treatment phase of this whole journey it would be:

ANTICLIMACTIC

… and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The diagnosis period (June & July) was hands down the worst part & actually being treated for the cancer has been so much easier in comparison. I feel so thankful. So thankful that my doctor was determined to find the full diagnosis & not settle with treating the cancer as if it was aggressive because it was so hard to diagnose (which was a legit option). So thankful that fatigue is the only side effect to my treatment: no nausea, mouth sores, throwing up, I won’t lose my hair. I’m thankful for the lessons God has taught me & the perspective He’s given me so far. The promises of God to refine us in suffering are definitely happening in me!

To be honest, the hardest part of the last couple weeks has been looking at really sick people being treated & imagining what life would have been like. My heart sinks when I walk into the infusion center – people are so sick. When I’m in Ames & back to work, I sometimes forget that I’m sick. I forget there’s a deadly disease inside of me and it’s easy to go on with life, pretending like everything’s normal again. But walking into the infusion center reminds me I have cancer, which can be a helpful reminder sometimes.


W H A T ‘ S   N E X T :   After this final treatment, I will have 2-3 weeks off before starting radiation. For that, I’ll go in to the hospital everyday for 30-45 minutes to get radiation to my left leg. My radiation oncologist expects very minimal side effects because of the location we’ll be doing it {praise!}. It will last for the month of September & then everything’s done. 3 months after radiation is finished, I’ll have the first scan to see what the treatment did. Following that, I’ll have a scan every 6 months for 2 years & once a year after that.

Thank you for your prayers!!

 

This Week { & today’s thoughts }

Treatment begins on Tuesday.

It’s felt like such a long time coming, so it’s a little surreal that treatment is finally here. I will go to Iowa City once a week for the next 4 weeks and then begin radiation after that. Seriously thank you for your prayers – here are a couple requests for the week ahead:

  • No (or limited) side effects from the Immunotherapy.
  • That I’d continue processing well – as the shock wears off it’s a different kind of processing.
  • FULL recovery of my knee! With the help of physical therapy, it’s starting to bend so walking has been much easier. Still praying the swelling goes away and I get my full range of motion back before radiation starts!

Reflections from church this morning:

This summer at Cornerstone we’re studying the book of Galatians & today we arrived at the classic section in chapter 5 on the fruit of the spirit – traditionally referred to as “fruits” of the spirit – you know… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, & self-control. Mark pointed out that a common way this passage is misapplied is when we pluck one of them out & try to ‘work on’ that thing. Instead the list is describing what comes out of a person who has the Spirit of God in them. It’s the indicator of what’s inside – when you poke them, it’s what comes out.

Always formed in different ways, but the most common response people have to my cancer is of praising the ways in which I’ve responded to it, which has been so interesting to me because it feels unconscious to me. Something I’ve observed is that when you go through something so wacky as this last 2 months, you have zero time to pre-think anything. I don’t often have the luxury of considering how I want to respond, I just respond. I don’t have control over my emotions, I just feel things. For example, I’m not trying to feel peace, there’s just been a rest in my soul { even through lots of tears } knowing that God is completely sovereign over my life. But God’s been teaching me that in 100 different ways, through so many different avenues over the years.

I definitely don’t say that to self-praise my response to the last couple months, but to give praise where praise is due. Since Jesus saved me in 2005, He gave me His Spirit & has fought to keep me on the path of righteousness. He’s been pruning me, humbling me, & chipping away at parts of my character that don’t look like Jesus. So I know that anything “good” about my response to this suffering is actually just the fruit of the Spirit inside of me doing His thing. The longer He’s making me more like Jesus, the better & more honoring to God the fruit of my life will be { Lord, may it be so }.

All the more reason to take seriously the hard work of digging deep roots in Jesus – you’ll never know when you will need to be seriously supported by those roots.

What’s coming next in Galatians 6: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”


There’s always a song or two during worship these days that make the tears flow – this morning it was You Never Change, by Austin Stone (click here).

Oh may I run to no other refuge
No other rest for my soul
Oh may I drink from no other fountain
Where living waters will flow

Jesus, You’re all I need

You are my life, may You be lifted high
There is no other like Jesus Christ
You are my story, You’re my everything
You are my glory, my God, and my King
You are my rock, and You never change

No other power can break the darkness
No other hand that can save
Forever faithful, Your love is stronger
I trust in no other name

My strength to stand, all of my days are in Your hand
My light to see, Your glory goes before me
My King, You reign, My rock, and You never change
No, You never change

Treatment Plan

I met with my Lymphoma doctor this week & got more information about my treatment plan – I will have 1 month of immunotherapy and 1 month of radiation. The immunotherapy (called Rituximab) will start August 1 – I will go to Iowa City & receive it through an IV 1 day a week for 4 weeks. Following that will be radiation, which I’ve been told can be done in Ames. I’ll go in for radiation every day (Mon-Fri) for 4 weeks. All of that will wrap up towards the end of September. I’ll wait until December to have my first scan to see what the treatment did.

Never heard of Immunotherapy? I hadn’t either (along with a hundred other things along this journey), but what I’ve learned so far is pretty interesting. In simple terms, the cancer cells have changed / turned bad, but my body isn’t recognizing them as bad so it’s not doing anything to fight against them. Immunotherapy is a drug that targets the specific cancer cells (so it will zoom straight to my knee) & will attach to those cells, changing something about them so that my body will recognize them as bad & begin to fight against them. So, it’s boosting my own immune system to fight against the cancer – pretty amazing!

Thanks for praying for my knee! I’m off crutches but it’s still pretty swollen & not bending, so I’m headed to physical therapy next week. The goal is to get rid of the swelling & regain full range of motion by the time I start radiation, so you could pray for that!


I can’t say thank you enough for all the prayers, care, & encouraging words the last couple months. I feel so loved & am blown away by people’s generosity & concern. Nobody knows what to do / say in times like this (which I understand completely!), but I’m definitely learning some great tips from you guys along the way!