Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Endoscopy - Like Going to the Spa

Maybe in a few months, I may look back and think I was just crazy. At the moment, it seems like the most natural thing to me that today I enjoyed having an endoscopy.

About six months ago my new allergist did a blood test to find out if I'm allergic to gluten and wheat, in order to determine if that was the source of my life-long struggles with eczema. Some people are only allergic, and if you completely exclude gluten from your diet for a few years, there is the possibility of getting rid of the allergy. On the other hand, there are those with a gluten-intolerance that actually have something called "celiac's disease," a life-long intolerance in which gluten can destroy the villi in your stomach, causing you to be unable to absorb nutrients, resulting in weight loss, lack of energy, and many other problems. Once you find out you have a gluten allergy, which I do, the only way to diagnose if you actually have celiac's disease is to have a biopsy done via endoscopy. An endoscopy is when they stick a tube down your throat until it reaches your stomach. I guess there's a camera attached and they look around with a monitor while they take samples from your esophogus, intestines, and stomoach. Andrew wanted me to get this done while his mom is still staying with us before she leaves mid-June.

When I first arrived at the hospital, they put me on a bed and two really nice nurses attended to me. They pampered me with so many questions about me: "Are you allergic to latex? Do you have diabetes? Is it difficult to find your vein whenever they put an IV in you?" I liked all the attention. As they left the room, they stuck a clipboard at the base of my bed, brushing past my feet. Are they going to give me a foot massage too?

When they wheeled me into the room where they perform the ten minute endoscopy, I was met by another really friendly, warm nurse. She told me that they were going to put a sedative in through my IV. I might start feeling 'out of it' within a minute, some people feel it in 15 seconds. They said I might not fall asleep, but I would probably forget the whole thing.

The next thing I know, the really nice nurses are wheeling me out of the room. The procedure is done. I felt like I was a child again and had three moms taking care of me. Childhood memories in New Jersey flickered through my mind, the summer sun glaring through my windows, as I lay cacooned in my bed. The shrill, vibrating of the cicadas stirring me further from my sleep. "I feel so happy," I said to the nurse. "Is that just the medicine?"

As they transferred me into a wheelchair, they said I needed to go home and take a two hour nap and relax for the rest of the evening. Life could not have gotten better at that moment. The only thing I remember saying in my delirium was, "Wow, everyone's so nice to me, taking care of me, I feel like I've just been to a spa."

Friday, May 25, 2007

Why Cancer Has Been Worthwhile

They warned us that his sores would get worse after radiation ended. A few days after he finished radiation, Andrew's sores began to continue past his mouth down into his throat. His neck started peeling, as if he had 2nd or 3rd degree burns. Thankfully, he wears two "pain patches" now, stickers he wears that provide a constant flow of pain meds, double what he had before. So, as bad as it looked, his body was numb to just about everything, including most of the pain.

Andrew had his last chemo on Tuesday. We were expecting this to be the worst one, but he said that he doesn't feel half as bad as last time. There's probably a number of factors why this one is better, but one of the reasons we suspect he has improved, ironically, is because he took only two of the four anti-nausea drugs. Andrew refused the two that keep him from sleeping at night. As a result, he basically slept 72 hours straight and he seems only to be continuing in the same pattern. He only awoke when I had to feed him or maybe to switch to another room to go back to sleep. So the nausea is much less, and any nausea he does have, he mostly sleeps through. This is just what we were hoping for.

Andrew said, 'If this is how much I actually need to sleep, you wonder why they gave me stimulants. One of the worst forms of torture has got to be forcing someone to stay awake when they're so exhausted.' The Lord really answered our prayers that he wouldn't feel so sick and unbearably nauseous this time.

Preparing before Cancer

A few months before Andrew's cancer diagnosis, it was as if the Lord was preparing me for this. A couple of times, I had this vague image flash through my mind of Andrew being totally bedridden, unable to even open his mouth to talk to me. I remember weighing it in my mind for a moment. What would I do in such a situarion? I would have to choose to love him with all my heart and take care of him, though maybe all the things I love about him might not even show through if he was terribly ill. It would be hard to not even be able to converse. I shrugged it off as fear and thinking on what's untrue. And even if there was any truth to it, I thought, it was probably not something to worry about for another forty years or more. Twenty years at the least. Hopefully.

Then, after we found out Andrew had cancer, as I begged the Lord that he wouldn't have to go through radiation and chemo, it kept coming to mind that the Lord wanted to bring us to complete weakness. He wanted to press us. He wanted me to take care of my husband, in the way I had pictured, for more than just a few days after surgery. He wanted me to practice it so that it was like doing scales on the piano day after day.

Being Stuffed into a Play-doh Press

The past few months remind me of A.J.'s play-doh press. You stuff the play-doh into the contraption. The play-doh puts up a lot of resistance, so you gradually push the handle down. When the play-doh is as compressed as it can get, the pressure becomes so great that it finally squeezes the play-doh out of the hole. I feel as if that is what the Lord has been doing to me. Andrew's second chemo, when it was so awful, was like the period when the pressure on the play-doh is the greatest, when the handle is pushed all the way down, and finally all the junk comes squeezing out. The Lord showed me what I was really made out of. Where my hope really lay. Was my hope in Him, was it eternal, or was it for here and now? Was sunshine, comfort, and ease all I am living for? Have I bought in to the American dream that much?

One of the blessings of this trial, as all the junk is being exposed, is that Andrew and I are taking turns holding each other up. "Two are better than one...If one falls down, his friend can help him up...Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken" (Eccl.4:10,12). I've never thought of myself as a particularly envious person before. Yet as this trial has worn on, I find myself struggling with envy towards nearly everyone, anyone younger, prettier, living where the sun actually shines. Andrew reminded me, I've been told a lie all my life. For all of history, life has not been easy for people. Yet only now, in modern America, where our country is so prosperous, do we expect life to be easy. Then, when it's not, we're confused and frustrated. He reminded me that I was not thinking on what's eternal, but on what's visible.

When Andrew is feeling so discouraged by his discomfort, and fears a future of continual struggles with cancer, I remind him that tomorrow is too big of a burden for us to carry. Today has enough trouble of its own. The Lord has not provided the grace yet for the unknown future, only for right now. We have to live by faith, not by sight.

But as we confess our struggles to one another and try to help each other with the truths of God's Word, true fellowship occurs. Then praise God! Let us glory in God's promises and His Word together, and if trials are what drives us to those, then thank the Lord for those trials. Because nothing is sweeter and more satisfying than God, talking about Him, what He says and does.

The Depths that Lead to Heights

After Andrew's second chemo, laying in the dark as he heaved repeatedly with nothing coming out, I thought, We are in the depths. We are finally here. Where the Lord wanted to take us. Since then, my times alone with the Lord in the morning, when I can read His Word and pray, have been what they should be, sweet, rich, preparing me for what the day has ahead, leaving my heart filled with peace so that I can approach my day undistracted by anxieties. I find contentment not in whether things are going well or not, but in my time alone with the Lord. I'm able to lay all my burdens upon Him and cry out for wisdom about all the things I'm perplexed about. And He quiets me, bringing to mind answers to my cries, correcting me and reassuring me with His Word. "Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us" (Psalm 62:8)

Prior to Andrew's second chemo, I still felt a little cold in my heart, independent, self-reliant. But at the end of myself, the Lord drew me to Him each morning, and gradually turned my heart towards Him again. And now I long to flee to Him each day, unable to face the day without first carrying all my anxieties before Him. It's a life-long battle to not become cold. But in weakness, when we can no longer depend upon ourselves but on Him, He is our strength.

When I shared all these things with Andrew, he said, "Then I'm happy, now, that I had to go through that."

"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body" (2 Cor. 4:7-10).

In so many ways, we feel like we could not have done without this trial. We see His mercy in being so jealous for His glory that He would be willing to do this in order for us to grow. While we pray that these radiation and chemo treatments are effective and that the Lord in His mercy and compassion heals Andrew, we do not feel bitter for these sufferings, we feel grateful.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Update 5/16/07


Hi everybody! I had my last day of radiation today!

Thanks so much for helping me make it through radiation and my first two chemo treatments. I couldn't have done it without all the encouragement and help from you all. I still have one more chemo treatment left on Thursday 5/24. After that, the radiation and chemo will continue to kill cells in my body for up to a month. Then I should start my recovery mid-June. My doctor doesn't expect me to be able to return to work until the end of July.

It has been so hard on my body, and each day is different. I'm so thankful that though the outer body is decaying, the inner man is renewed daily. The Lord has been faithful to me, as His child. Please pray for physical and spiritual strength to make it through the next month. This will be the hardest part of my treatment.

Here's a short video.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Steadfastness of the Lord

The Lord knows the weakness of my frame and I have seen Him carrying me through this even though I have often failed to cling to Him. In those times of greatest weakness, where I was too faint-hearted and cold-hearted to flee to Him, still He carried me. He is showing me how much more tender-hearted, compassionate, and gentle He is. How, now that I am His child, He does not condemn me. I keep thinking that this situation isn't so bad, that I should be stronger, yet still He treats me with such compassion. He is opening my eyes to how compassionate and gentle He is in new ways. Rereading Mark, suddenly I see as if I had been blind to how often it says Jesus had compassion. He is not like us. He is so gentle.

For instance, last night, I felt myself sinking into loneliness again. I laid down on my bed, not sure why I felt so drained. I wondered how I could be sinking again. I thought I was through this. I talked to God. I cried out to Him to help me. Just then, the phone rang. My friend, Jaime, was calling to wish me a happy birthday. It was so good to talk to her. I cried a bit when she asked me how I was doing. We talked briefly about that, but I find nowadays, when I talk to people it's not that I need to talk about how I'm feeling necessarily. More than that, I like to travel into their world. Find out funny things that have happened to them or even if things aren't going so well for them, I still want to hear about it. Sometimes, when I feel so weak, the Lord uses another believer to encourage me. How we truly need the brethren.

I'm thankful for the fellowship God provides over the phone. How hungry I am to hear what the Lord is doing in other people's hearts, to find encouragement in that. To hear what God is teaching them, thus reminding me of truths about the Lord. And to hear that, yes, God is at work. To be reminded how powerful He is as He does miracles in people's hearts to grow them more into His image.

It was really encouraging to receive a card from our Sunday School last Sunday. Nearly everyone who signed the card said that they were either praying for us daily or multiple times throughout the day every day. When I saw so many people saying that and all on the same card, it helped me to see more clearly that God truly is at work through this trial. That if He is getting so many people to be so prayerful, to feel so burdened for another brother, then He is definitely at work. It is one thing to know that during a trial, God is making you more holy. But it seems so much more necessary to go through it when the Lord is also using it to make many others more holy. Then, the trial really seems to have purpose. Then, we really feel like we have to go through this, for others' sake.

A.J.'s Prayer

This week, I've been helping A.J. learn how to pray before bed at night. At first, I told him just to repeat after me. We thanked the Lord for each person in the house and then prayed for Papa's healing. By Wednesday, when A.J. got in bed, I told him again that we were going to pray. Before I could start, he suddenly said, "Dear Lor, Papa? feel better?"

When I see the children, I just can't get away from the fact that they are sooo wonderful and so enjoyable. I cannot get away from the fact that the Lord has so blessed us with them. And then the Lord brings to mind so many of the ways He continues to be faithful and gentle with us. I mean, with Job, not merely did he suffer physically. All of his numerous children died along with all his livestock, his riches. Then, his wife, the one he was most vulnerable to, was the most discouraging of all, telling him to curse God and die. And as if that were not enough, his friends would not stop railing about how all of his misfortune was his own fault. It was one unimaginable horror after the next.

And yet, really, all that we have to deal with is only one of the miseries of job - his physical pain. Yet, in everything else, the Lord continues to pour out such sweetness. In every way, the Lord continues to be faithful. Faithful by pouring out good things and faithful by blessing us with the suffering He promises His children will go though. "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." James 1:3-4.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Second Chemo

Well, for us, no news is usually not good news.

Last Thursday, Andrew had his second dose of chemo. We thought the first dose was bad; Andrew said this was much worse. He was incredibly nauseous, despite how they had lowered the chemo dosage and given him additional anti-nausea medicine on top of the super heavy-duty ones he was already taking. (Just to give you an idea how heavy-duty, Emend, a pill he has to take the first three days when he gets chemo, would cost $100 per pill without insurance. He takes three other pills on top of that.)

In the evening, Andrew would awaken me with his dry heaves. It continued throughout the night. The drugs keep him from actually vomiting so that he doesn't get dehydrated. His saliva has turned into a thick, viscous substance more like flem, causing him to gag every few minutes. He also feeds himself purely through the feeding tube.

On Saturday, he was so worn out, he didn't even have the strength to go to the sink to feed himself his formula. Even water makes him nauseous. And since the only taste he can taste is bitterness, the only thing he can drink is orange-strawberry Gatorade. But at this point, he was mostly getting his fluids through the tube. The next day, Sunday, I was hoping he might start feeling better like last time. He said, he felt even worse. The nausea finally began to improve Tuesday, although he continues to be still nauseous today (Wednesday).

Watching your husband suffer, you suffer as well, but not in the same way. I believe that as close of a view of his suffering you may see, no one truly knows what the depths of physical suffering is except for those who have passed through it themselves. I cannot truly know what my husband is feeling, even if he had the strength to talk (which he doesn't). And if the medicines don't give him relief, if I go for a walk or leave the house, I enjoy a relief he is unable to. He continues to writhe. My distress is in watching my beloved in so much pain. My distress is when he walks up the stairs as pale as a corpse and images of him leaving us rush in.

I used to worry that if things do not go as we desire, where will we live? How can I raise our children without Papa? How will I manage everything without him? How will I sell the house on my own, etc. One night early on, I pictured building an apartment for the kids and myself in my sister's laundry room in her basement. Somehow, that lonely image is comforting to me. It's not exactly thinking on what's untrue, just as life-insurance or savings for an unexpected set-back isn't. It's not what I place my hope in, just like I don't place my hope in savings. It's just an image, a quick answer instead of questions.

The Week in Solitude

Last week was a bad week.

All the grandmas had left, leaving me with no one to talk to. On top of that, nearly everyone we knew was either sick themselves or had been in contact with a sick family member. In the push to protect Andrew from picking up any cold germs, which could turn into deathly pneumonia, we had self-inflicted isolation.

Normally, I would have at least gone to church alone on Sunday, but since I had a cold, I missed that too. Andrew was also too worn-out for us to go anywhere. And the grey skies and heavy clouds continued to mark the 10-day weather forcast. People here say that every two years, the sun only lasts from July 4th until September. I feared that the spring I was pressing on for might never come. I was so discontent, unable even to listen to light, happy music and had to change the station if a Christion song came on that college roommates used to play, because it made me so covetous for sunny and carefree days.

Talking with my friend on the phone, whose husband also had been very sick a few years ago, was the first step in helping me out of my misery. She shared with me the feelings she had gone through and the sinful responses she sometimes had. She kept reminding me of the gospel though, that the Lord wipes away our sin, and we can leave the guilt behind and start anew. It also helped just to hear someone validate my feelings, so I could sift through them and identify them so I could know how to respond to them.

It has been so long since Andrew has been available to talk much or even go for a walk that my loneliness morphed into something nearly unrecognizable for me to realize what I was feeling. Without anyone staying with us, I had no one to distract me from my lonliness for Andrew. And so, next thing I knew, I felt desperately old and ugly. I felt like I was having a mid-life crisis a few years early.

An author writing about cancer once wrote that when he was in his hospital room, looking out the window, he saw a happy couple walking into a Starbucks, and he longed to be them. I have Starbucks moments all the time. At church this Sunday, I saw a young woman walking past her husband with a pretty, new outfit on. An image of her shopping in the sun, holding hands with her husband at an outdoor mall flashed through my eyes. I had to compose myself. I had to hold in the tears. I longed to walk in the sun with my husband.

I wondered if I'm wasting away what's left of my youth in a dungeon of sunlessness. But Satan would have me complain and be discontent. But what do I want most in life? Isn't it to glorify God? And the only way to do that is to grow in godliness? And has not the Lord matured us most here? The fast track to maturity in misery. Let the Lord do as He pleases. The clouds often come before the sunshine. David was not left in the mountains forever, nor were the Israelites left in the wilderness forever. Learn the lessons, then perhaps the Lord will bring the desires of your heart. When I was single, I was not left to long for a husband forever. Then the Lord blessed me with Andrew and two children on top of that.

"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life." (Proverbs 13:12)

And then, yesterday, was a gloriously sunny day. I was unexpectedly awakened an hour and-a-half early, so I started on my routine early. Later, I checked online and the store I had a gift card for was having a sale. After the children had breakfast, my neighbor called, who I was supposed to go on a walk with, canceling. Since I had had a headstart earlier, our morning was free. The sunshine helped Andrew, and he was beginning to feel better. He sent my mother-in-law and I and the kids off to the outdoor mall.

It was so good to feel the warm sun against my skin as we walked past the stores! It was exactly how I had pictured it, minus my husband. But the Lord provided some new clothes for me, making me feel pretty, not so old and ugly anymore. It was so kind of the Lord to provide the perfect morning for me, attending to little desires like that. The Lord truly withholds no good thing from us, even the little things. He knows our hearts and treats us so tenderly, like a husband. The Lord truly is our Everything - our Friend, our Brother, our Savior, our Husband.

For Thou has been my
And a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my strength, I will sing praises to Thee,
For God is my stronghold, the God who shows me

Psalm 59:16-17

Wednesday, May 02, 2007



Hi everybody. Here's another update video. I'm feeling a lot better this week as I started on some better pain medications and I have gotten over the cold I had last week. My next chemo treatment is this Thursday, May 3rd. Please pray for me, the chemo is really hard on my body. I'm not really looking forward to it, but I just have to do it.

I've completed 18 radiation treatments, so I only have 12 more to go. My last chemo is scheduled for May 24th. The doctors say that the effects will worsen for about a month after that. So I basically have 7 weeks left before my body will start to recover.

In the video below I'm having lunch through a tube. I get all of my nutrition from two types of formula. It took some getting used to, but now it feels pretty normal to inject fluids into my stomach. The taste function in my mouth doesn't really work anymore, but my smell does. If I'm lucky the closest I get to tasting food is injecting some tasty soup into the tube, burping and smelling it. Nice, huh?