Tuesday, June 28, 2011

longterm plans

it wasn't that i didn't feel like a cancer patient when i first met with the surgeons back in april. i did.  and certainly when i came out of my 7 hour operation on that saturday evening in may, it was pretty clear things had radically changed for me.  a few weeks ago when my name was added to a prayer list in our church bulletin...that all felt kind of cancer-patient-ish too.  for goodness sake,  i feel like a cancer patient even when i select my lettuce and purchase my milk at the market!  everything has changed in some way.  but it was only last week when i walked into the cancer center for the first time that it truly all took hold.  it felt different.  more real.  more serious.  more hushed.  as if the shades of taupe and grey and cream decor were carefully chosen for those unable to bear bright and vibrant.  carefully selected for those already living in harsh and more in need of calm.  serene.  cool.   as rick and i navigated the quiet hallways of the building, i realized every office and each suite had one thing in common:  cancer treatment.  this was a new building for us and this was a place which was completely dedicated to the long haul.  this was about the ongoing.  this was about treatment.  this was different.

a week ago, when i first visited my oncologist here in this cancer center, we didn't have my test results back yet.  we sat down with dr. ballard and tossed around a lot of hypotheticals.  without that oncotype answer, we just didn't know exactly what i would need.  would it be only medication or would i be scheduling chemotherapy sessions?  we couldn't know for sure.  regardless, it felt different than an operation or a recovery.  it reminded me that cancer was something you managed.  something you lived with.  it was something that could be cut out or even cut off, but that was only part of the process.  it wasn't just about removal, it was about the rest of my life.   and more would be needed.

how do i explain that?  i am not sure.  i am a woman who likes immediate answers and quick results:. paint the room.  clean the fridge.  change the curtains.  tear out the shrubs.  whatever it is, i like to just do it.  get it done.  complete the task and then move on.  one of the frustrating things about cancer has been learning how it is not like that.  even with an aggressive surgery there would be lifetime management.   i was having difficulty thinking past the day's end, let alone a lifetime.  one of my hardest weeks after diagnosis was when i realized i would be in this game for a while.  maybe forever. there were no shortcuts. and so much of it was about choice and choosing and changing.  cut out sugar and fats.  limit red meat and alcohol.  increase exercise and and vegetables and fruits.  choose multi-grains and anti-oxidants.  the lists seemed endless.   i was completely overwhelmed for awhile with the enormity.  all of a sudden i felt like a young woman battling an eating disorder.  i couldn't put a bite of food into my mouth without questioning if i was starving the cancer or feeding the cancer.  talk about an immediate weight loss program!  i moved past that initial shock and have tempered the food thing a bit,  but i am still the woman painstakingly peering at labels in the grocery store.  my kids are doing their best to wait out my health food kick, hoping daily to find that cheetos and poptarts have reappeared in the pantry.  but i buy spinach and blueberries and avocados and organic milk and quietly repeat my mantra:  a lifetime kids.  a lifetime.

today i headed back to the cancer center.  this week we have results.  this week we entered dr. ballard's office with oncotype securely in hand.  i held my number 15.  i held my low risk number tightly and i wasn't letting go easily.   this week my friend, meritt, walked in with me. she and i had been lighthearted and chatty all the way there, but just before seeing dr. ballard i began to panic a little.  what if i was wrong.  what if he knew something else...something new...what if he had changed his mind and decided at 15 he would recommend chemo.  what then?  i had already brought home the cake and lemonade.  we had already celebrated.  i had even posted a picture on facebook - it had 53 comments and 111 "likes" for heaven's sake!  i began to doubt my premature celebration.  i began to doubt my confidence. i began to doubt.

after a few minutes more of quiet panic, in came dr. ballard.  dr. ballard has a wonderful presence.  he is the epitome of a southern gentleman, soft spoken and unhurried.  both times meeting with him i felt more like we were sipping lemonade on a front porch, then discussing cancer in an examining room.  i knew immediately from his smile, he hadn't changed his mind.  he kept repeating over and over again, "you've got a good score, jody...you've got a fine number. a fine number."  he brought out the graph from genomic health and he showed me my percentages and he circled my spot on it all.  all the while he nodded his head approvingly and clucked a bit like a proud mother hen.  he was pleased.  he explained some of the information and even explained some of the risks.  he sadly told us how just a few years ago he was still giving women in my very situation high doses of chemo.  they didn't have the oncotype test back then.  he didn't know better.  he was thrilled that today he could cross chemo off my list.  i was in a low risk of recurrence and i would not benefit even 1% from chemo.  that was it.  he was sure.

after the assurance of good news, we talked about how we would manage my health.  i will be on a daily medication called tamoxifen for the next five years.   every 3 months i will see dr. ballard and have lab work completed and some tests run.  yes, this is treatment, but it is do-able.  i will happily take the medication and visit doctor ballard and drink my green tea and eat my blueberries and exercise regularly.  i am thankful to do so. i am grateful.

just before leaving his office dr. ballard sat back in his chair.  he paused a second, looking me in the eye, and then in his soft, southern way he said , "jody mcnatt, i have a good feeling about you dear.  i think you are going to grow up to be a nice, little old lady. yes, yes, indeed."
i like this part of the longterm plan.  yes, yes i do, indeed.

Friday, June 24, 2011


we ate dinner backwards last night.  dessert first.  it was that kind of a day.  i could not wait to unveil the cake lighted and displayed behind the dining room doors.  it boasted an important message for my family: a chocolate frosting 15.   that was my number.  i had gotten the long-awaited call from my surgeon's office.  the oncotype was in and my number was low.  15.  anything under 18 meant i could be ruled out of chemotherapy.  i was ecstatic.  i started to dial my family immediately...but in a moment of great, and uncharacteristic restraint, i stopped.  i was pulling into the parking lot of whole foods.  i would order a cake instead.  oh, i can't explain how my mind works at times.  i don't understand it myself.  but a cake it would be.  and a bottle of sparkling-but-too-expensive-lemonade.  i put them both in my basket and headed for the checkout.  i don't remember the steps.  i am sure, however, i floated from bakery to register.  the cake wasn't especially pretty and the lemonade wasn't exactly sparkling, but it didn't matter.  i had discovered that very same hour i was skipping a summer of chemo.  you don't get news like that everyday.  we certainly don't get to celebrate like this just any old day.

at the checkout, the gal behind the register saw my cake and politely asked if i had a child turning fifteen.  "i have one of those, i do," i told her.  but this cake is not about birthdays.  birthdays are wonderful, but life days are precious.  i didn't tell her all that.  i simply told her the story:  my oncotype (i explained the odd word) came back today and it was a low number and this was good and i wouldn't need chemo and i was going to surprise my family and this cake and this lemonade were all part of my plan. i finally stopped rambling.  she looked at me,  brown eyes steady on my blue.  "that's amazing," she said.  and then her brown eyes began to fill.  she said, "that's beautiful and i'm so glad you are telling me."  she said she understood my joy because she, too, had a run-in with cancer.  it was her little girl.  her daughter turning nine this october was diagnosed a few years back with choroidal melanoma (eye cancer).  the eye was removed and it was sad.  heartbreaking and hard. but when the test results came back and they had discovered her daughter's cancer had not spread to her brain, there was great rejoicing in their home too.  a wonderful and wild celebration.  you learn to take the news of something good when you are living under the diagnosis of something bad.  she bagged my small cake and expensive lemonade and then she stepped around the counter.  in her sweet, and somewhat shy manner, she asked hesitantly if she could hug me.  "of course!" i exclaimed, grabbing this stranger in my careful-post-surgery-hug.  we stood there hugging in the middle of whole foods.  she, this complete stranger, was the first person i told and the first person i embraced in celebration of my news.  and somehow it felt right.

i am sure, more than ever, we all have stories.  this woman in whole foods affirmed it.  we tend to look at someone else's cake and make narrow assumptions, don't we?  this woman is happy and throwing a splendid birthday party for her lovely daughter turning 15, and all is well...we think. we are so sure in our thoughts and in our presumptuous ideas.  would anyone ever have guessed differently?  would anyone ever have guessed this was about chemotherapy results not a birthday party?  no.  absolutely not.   but the difference was, this woman asked.  she asked and i told. and then she told.  and we connected.  sometimes it can actually be that simple.  but someone has to stop assuming and start asking. i would like to be more this kind of person.

cancer has taught me so many things. i am not sure where to start in the listing of lessons.  but last night,  when the celebration had ended  and the children were tucked in bed and i was alone with my evening thoughts, i could not help but think of the woman working in whole foods.  how is it we, two cancer-stained women, could stand their smiling?  she, with a daughter, less one eye.  me, with my own kind of amputation.  i laid in my bed and marveled at it all.  i know there are so many of us suffering with stories, sad and full of sheer hopelessness.  i know this.  and it is incredible to me to believe we could ever find joy again in things like cake and lemonade and grocery store hugs.  sometimes when you are under the blanket of something so heavy you believe...you really, truly believe... you'll never, again, know something sweet and sparkling and kind.  but you do.

my onctotype came back at 15.  it will be my magical number for days to come.  but what if it had been 51?  that happens, you know.  would i be able to rush out for a cake and a sparkling drink?  probably not.  but would we have gotten through it?  i am guessing, yes. because i have learned in these months to accept the good and the bad.  i have, by no means, learned it perfectly.  but i am learning to trust God with my story. i am learning about stories.  i am learning we all have them. i am learning about the need to tell them.  by God's grace, i may not need chemo this summer, but i am, more than ever,  in need of Him.  and regardless of my number, that is my story.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

breathing. seeing. counting.

just a month before cancer my sweet friend, karen, made me aware of a significant book - One Thousand Gifts.  i was taken with it.  head over heels.  completely smitten.  so much so,  i even wrote a review type piece in my Being Still blog, because it seemed one of those treasures i just had to share.  i couldn't help myself.  i bought copies and mailed them off across the country to the females in my family...i left copies on the doorsteps of friends... i cornered anyone i could about this book....i even convinced a group of women to take it on as our next bible study.  and we did.  in fact, we meet again tonight.

i read a lot of books each year.  it is just what i do.  i am pretty sure God isn't thrilled with every novel i pick up or every non-fiction piece i add to my bedside pile.  but i have this hunch He made certain this book was securely in my hands one month before my diagnosis.  ann voskamp is not only brilliant and eloquent, but she's encouraging.  i connected with her writing immediately.  she is a farmer's wife, a mother of six and a lover of beauty. all wonderful things to be sure.  but as much as i like her and think we'd be fast friends, it is the task she set before me which has been most inspiring.  she was dared by a friend to assemble a list of 1000 gifts:  simple blessings she found in the context of her day -- her daily day.  yes, even in her farm-and-mother-life drudgery.  she bought a journal and took the dare and with pen in hand, went hunting through her ordinary moments -  recording the treasures she came across -- one word, one image, one gift at a time.   they weren't all pollyanna-perfect, some of the things she put down on paper were hard.  hard and hurtful,  but this gal named ann deemed them blessing still.   i was wooed with her writing and challenged by this thinking.  i certainly had been taught to count my blessings - even to, as the sunday school song suggested, name them one by one.  and i did.  i do.  but there was something more in this task.  there was the chance to see all the way through to the beauty of things.  things which at first blush were anything but beautiful.

and then there was the listing.  writing things down takes effort.  it is easy to stand in the midst of my disorderly days and nod my head approvingly at things i like....at trinkets which catch my fancy and baubles which win my womanly affection.  that is nice and good and sweet.  but what about holding a pen in my hand and a journal on my lap and bending the back in effort to put ink hard to the paper?  what about pausing the great rush long enough to accomplish this treasure-recording? what about the muscle required to do this day after day, moment after moment, gift after gift? that doesn't sound hard at first.  but what about when the novelty wears off and the three year old hangs on and the journal goes missing and the ink pen dries up and the dinner is burning.  what about then?  you know what i mean.  we've all started lists and resolutions and goals only to find ourselves waning and weighted with the sag of routine.   when the shine dulls and the spark dims the quest takes on a different monotony.   a burdensome doing.  this has been the story of my life.  it is, in fact,  the story of life.

so i write all this tonight to tell you i have a journal.  it is blue.  it goes with me most places.  though i have to confess, i am not quite so picky about my writing instrument.  living in a household of seven, i am often challenged to come up with any instrument of writing.   admittedly, i am a mother who has scribbled out many a grocery list or school note or birthday card in orange crayon -- i use what i find.  and there's blessing in the finding of even an orange crayon.  anyway, i too,  have a list going of 1000 gifts.  i discover them in my day.  they are scattered across the cluttered rooms of our home and in the piles of stuff all around our life.  i find them better each day because i am willing to search.  i am looking.  i find them in the chaos and confusion, as much as i find them in the quiet and the calm.

i started my list on march 22.  i have to say, it was going quite well for me.  i was kind of proud of my ambitious hunting.  even kind of proud of myself.  i took great delight in the way it was coming along, all the while enjoying the challenge and encouraging others.  i was writing easily.  deliberately.  vehemently.   and then on april 19th i heard the word cancer.  cancer brought quite a bit in my household to a halt.  i mean we all kind of Just Stopped.  we couldn't progress any further in anything, it seemed.  not in our laundry or lunch dates or laughter or even in our lists.   we were stuck.  i was stuck.  stuck right there under the frightening and forceful thumb of cancer and no wiggling or will was allowing us breath or escape.  at least not for while.  that is how it felt.  i had stacks of things on my desk...piles of things in my life to address.  a long list of items carefully written under the title To Do.  but there was nothing To Do and nothing got done.  and when i looked at my pretty blue journal sitting neglected on my counter, it made me want to weep.  i finally placed it in a drawer.  i could stand it not one minute more.  i had fallen under the crush of cancer and there seemed to be no possibility for the recording of blessing.

but then something happened.  it wasn't all of a sudden.   just small things....  glimpse of baby girl's brown eyes.  unexpected hug from teenage son.  bird song.  lavender. friend at back door with a meal.  perfect blue of hydrangea.  pink morning light framed in window above dish-dirty sink.  medication.   praying doctor.  gentle husband.  teen girl clearing dinner plates.  fingers deep in spring soil.  rain.  bandaid's calm on angry stubbed toe.  notes and cards arriving daily. my sister's long distance voice. thunder at three am....and there was the old breathing again.  i began to breath and then i began to look.   and when i began to look, i began to see.  and the listing came next.  i felt the cloud lifting.  slowly.  like morning fog which hangs around until well past noon.  little by little the gray was traded for blue.  i peeked into that closed drawer of my desk.  my heart.  my soul.  ever so slightly. and i picked up that journal again and i held it in my hands and i read the things already written and the fog moved even further.  i watched its leaving.  and then finally i began to write.  i began my gift-hunting and the old delight rose up in me.  the cancer wasn't gone, but the blessings were found.

i have continued to write and record.  not everyday do i list.  because somedays i can't.  there are certainly days when my eyes won't meet those of my waiting, blue journal.  i find myself at times stuck and stopped and blank. because that is how life comes in hard times...in hard places.  we walk through and climb over in tiny steps.  steps which require pausing and stopping.  there is breath to catch and muscle to flex.  we are often lightheaded and weary.  and we need our moments.  but i am finding even these interruptions can allow for some seeing.  we need only be willing.  this has not been a time for me of great leaping.  i am a woman taking small steps these days.  something new.  but in this smallness i find myself even more apt to see.  we see when we slow.  and i have slowed.

God is good.  He encourages me in the very grand and the most minute.  and both are needed.  perfect fingerprint of my 8 year old on a window pane to our deck.  almost wiped away with a spray of windex and a swoosh of efficient towel.  but i stop.  i see. design of sand on our deck from little girl sandbox.  mother-on-mission ready to spray it fast and furious...but first stopping and seeing and thanking and yes, even recording.  i can give thanks for the gift of small child from china in our sandbox this june.  she is here.  it may be a small scattering of sand but a very large blessing when i truly look.  when i take time to see.  and living is about seeing.  we forget that sometimes.  even in our health and our wealth and our continual comforts.  maybe you don't require a blue journal and an orange crayon...maybe you stop all on your own accord.  i applaud you if this is possible. but for this slowed woman i find myself dependent.  i find myself in need.  and i can find myself thankful.  but only if i look.

that is my encouragement this evening: take time to see.  go hunting.  journal in pocket and pencil in hand.  maybe.  but clear eyes of the mind and the heart and the will.  even when we find ourselves bent double in the hard grip of life, there is something to see.  sometimes it is in the glorious looking up.  and sometimes it is in the desperate looking down.   there is seeing in both.  we need only be willing to look.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

some things

cancer has helped me get away with a lot these past couple of months.  it's been a pretty good excuse.  i mean i've gotten out of dishes and laundry and carpools and appointments.  and i guess i have to admit, i've even gotten out of being nice every now and then.  i have said some things i probably shouldn't have - this part, unfortunately, is nothing really new for miss-speak-her-mind-too-often.  but let's just say, no one has been especially willing to call me on it lately.

cancer has also helped me get into some things.  well, to be honest, it helped my friend, cheryl, get into something.  a couple of weeks ago a group of girlfriends decided to "get me out of the house" and take me to a chick-flick.  everyone arrived at once, bought tickets and grabbed their seats.   everyone except cheryl.  by the time cheryl got to the ticket window the show was sold out.  she called us on our cell phones and told us the disappointing news.  we told her we had a seat saved and to check again.  the next thing we knew cheryl was in - standing right there before us with a big smile on her face.  she had explained to the manager that this was a special night out.  "one of my dear friends has breast cancer and we are all taking her out to cheer her up. please can you make an exception?"  it worked.  how could the man possibly say no?  voila!  cheryl had a seat and a ticket!  i realize this sounds a bit sketchy to some of you.  and you're probably right.  this is not the kind of thing which should be used...or manipulated.  except that in some strange way, even using it a little, has helped it all feel somehow lighter.  better.  at least we've had some laughs.  and laughter is incredibly important right now.  recently, i had a friend's young son tell me i could probably use my cancer to get myself some free groceries and my own son announced once that he thought perhaps i might get a free dessert or two out of the deal.    i even heard one of my daughters say to her sister, not too long ago, "you'd better be nice to mom, she has breast cancer."  so you can see, clearly, there have been a few perks along the dark way.

but i think, for the moment, the charm just might be wearing off a little.  it might have something to do with the fact that i am at least looking a lot more like the normal jody.   thursday my doctor gave me the "all clear."  lifting, reaching, carrying, holding, pulling, pushing, moving, driving.... it was all a go.  he gave me the green light to get back into life.  and if you know me, you know i did exactly that.  i couldn't even wait to go home and wipe down my kitchen countertops and windex my glass porch table and grab items off high shelves.  no, seriously, i couldn't wait to go home and pick up my three year old.  and i did.  oh, how i did!  and it was the most wonderful picking up of a three year old ever.  one month without my bella in arms was a long time.  too long for this mama.

so this weekend my parents arrived in town.  i guess i would say they were surprised to find me tan and clothed and picking up things.  even though i told them i was healing every day... they just couldn't believe and couldn't know until they laid their very own parental eyes on me.  they both seemed to give an audible sigh of relief within the first ten minutes.  it wouldn't have surprised me to hear my mom lean over and say to my dad, "look larry, she's even wearing lipstick." so there i was this weekend with my sister, nicole, visiting from oregon and my parents in town from ohio.  i think i worried them all a bit as i zipped around the house, determined i could handle it.  whatever "it" was.   i wasn't trying to prove anything to anyone. i promise.   i truly am feeling so much better.  i turned a huge recovery corner last week.  of course, i have to admit, there is something in me that wants my parents to see me doing well.  i hate for them to worry.  but the bottom line is i love handling life on my own terms.  call it pride.  we've discussed this in multiple posts.  i know. it is usually in the mix somewhere.

okay, so back to that excuse thing not working so well.  saturday afternoon my husband and dad and sons all loaded up and took off for a man's trip to bass pro shops. they took rick's vehicle.  the women folk...well, we all loaded into my gigantic SUV with plans to head out shopping for some father's day goodies.  (how ironic).  the next thing i know, miss i-can-do-it has plowed into her dad's car.  my SUV and my dad's SUV collided definitively in one destructive blow right there on my driveway.  suffice it to say, it looked as if i was going about 45 MPH.  i had only put my car in reverse and my foot on the gas.  a little.  i am still amazed at how a small smash could do all that damage.  i had no pain medication to blame it on.  i had no dazed and confused to pull out of my bag of tricks.  i had very little recovery left to attribute it to. i, basically, had nothing.  just me and my middle-aged-distractedness.  it was stupid.  i just plain forgot about my dad's car parked behind me.  that's it.  that's all.   my girls immediately went to the recent and, usually successful, stand by, "mom, you need to remind dad and grandpa about your breast cancer."   even my mom and sister thought it worth a try.  i, however, have been my dad's daughter for 42 years and my husband's wife for 21 years...i know these two men well and i also know when enough is enough.   i wasn't getting out of this easily.  in the meantime, we decided there was nothing to do but to go shopping and have our lunch.  the cars were drive-able. at least. and though all the females sympathized greatly, my mom and sister and newly-driving-daughter were all just deliriously happy that it was me and not them doing the most disasterous deed.  i have to say though, it is pretty impressive smashing up both my dad's car and my husband's car in one fell swoop...not to mention doing it on father's day weekend.

like any woman, i spent some considerable time figuring out exactly the best moment and the best way to break the news.  after all, i didn't want to steal the joy from their bass pro shop trip.  i really was trying to be thoughtful.  i settled on a well timed phone call.  quite brave of me, i know.   there were some exasperated sighs and a few frustrated comments and more than a couple pointed questions, but for the most part we got through it.  i didn't get out of it, but i got through it.  not too long afterwards my dad hugged me and told me it was okay and there were bigger things in life.  he's right.  i know this by now.  my husband, he too, eventually hugged me.  since he has to pay for it all, it took him a tiny bit longer to say, "honey, let's move on."  but he did.  and we did. and that's what we do.  no one was hurt.  and cars can be fixed.  and "i'm sorry's" can be said.  and tears, well, those can be wiped away.  because that's how life works.  i know this today better than ever.  cancer has gotten me out of some things.  it has gotten me around some things.  it has even gotten me into some things.  but mostly, it has taught us all some things.  yes, it has taught us some very big things.

Monday, June 13, 2011

the ocean and nothing

do you remember that word i used in my last post,  end of second paragraph in my "plan c" piece?  the word i said which seems to be thematic to this blog ...our journey... my life.  the lesson i supposedly keep failing to learn.  the thing which i can't ever seem to grasp.  yeah, that word.  waiting.  w-a-i-t-i-n-g.  waiting.  guess what i found out earlier today?   more waiting.

we are at the beach this week.  just for a few days.  rick has a conference and it happens to be at the ritz on amelia island.  how lovely, "well, of course honey, we'll come!"  so this morning with suits on and sunscreen applied we were heading out the door for some time on the beach.  just the youngest three and me. rick is in meetings and the older two are in guatemala on a mission trip. (yes, the irony hasn't escaped me:  some of us at the ritz and some of us on a mission trip).   i am fine managing the littlest three, but find myself wondering what we can "do without" at the beach today.  i can still carry pretty much nothing...like a sand shovel. maybe.  bella carries less and, in fact,  sometimes needs herself to be carried.  which leaves a slightly scrawny 11 year old girl and her 8 year old brother to do the heavy work.   so there we are with our great, heaping piles of beach stuff when my phone rings.  i recognize the number immediately. it is jennifer,  my surgeon's assistant.  when going through cancer you quickly learn the numbers of your different doctors.

i tell the kids to hold tight and i take the call.  all beating heart and pounding pulse.  my stomach is flipping and my knees are weak.   it feels somewhat similar to that call i took on april 19th.  that one which started this whole ugly ball rolling.  i know she is calling with my oncotype results, but have absolutely no guess at what she will say.  wildly good news or wildly bad.  but i just want to know.  dr. barber's nurse, jennifer, begins with morning pleasantries and it is all i can do to not scream, "just tell me, already!" i am prepared for the good and i am even kind of prepared for the bad, but i am not prepared for what she tells me.  "jody, we got your oncotype back, and i am so sorry, but the results are inconclusive."  it seems the tumor sample they sent to the genomic lab in california does not contain enough genetic information to provide an accurate number.  i am stunned.  i didn't know this was a possible outcome.  i hadn't prepared for it.  i wasn't expecting it.  i am not sure what to think.  immediately i have a million questions in my head but find myself stuttering over the words necessary for the asking.  she tells me that only one other time has this happened in these past few years of running this test.  this just never happens.  she is surprised and she is sorry.  she is sorry and i am unsure.   unsure what to do with this inconclusive news. the no-answer.  she talks about sending another sample of the tissue.  i tell her to send the whole insane tumor for goodness sake.  whatever.  just let's move on.  i feel patience bleeding out of me.  it takes with it my breath, my energy and my calm.  i am still holding that sand shovel.  and i finally let go.  i am hiding in the master bath of our suite and only the marble is cool.  everything around me and in me seems suddenly hot.  boiling.  i am not sure how to walk out of this room and answer the questioning eyes of my children.  they know i am on an important phone call.  i wouldn't normally answer the phone with beach things heavy in our hands and feet already in flip flops.  i am a mother of five and i know better than to halt a beach bound train of children already in motion.

it isn't the worst news.  i realize that.  it isn't even bad news.  it is no news.  that's what it is.  no news.   no answer.  and i just can't quite seem to process this nothingness.   but somehow i make it out of the bathroom and we make it down to the beach.  we put our feet in the ocean and our bottoms in the sand and though the day is sweltering the boil inside me ceases.  a little.  the ocean helps.  i watch my three small ones dance in the whirl of sand and surf.  splashes of bright swimsuit and childhood light against the muted,  gray-blue atlantic.  they are tiny.  it is large.  so very large.  the largeness of it all helps in some strange way. spreads it thinner.  shrinks the size.  it is good to feel small in the midst of something so big.   i have been consumed with this cancer.  it has taken big bites out of my days and nights and self.  and i am tired of its taking.  i am tired and i want desperately to toss it into the water and watch it float far away.  but i can't toss this nothingness.  it is too empty.   light, like sand flung in the sky, and surely it will come right back at me.  i will end up with eyes full of sting and grit.  and so i fling nothing.  i toss nothing.  i hold nothing.  i, perhaps, even feel nothing.

and now it is later-afternoon and i sit here typing.  further quiet.  finally cool.  rick's meetings have ended and he has scooped up our three and taken them for a pre-dinner swim.   i pull out my no news and i have the chance to look it all over more closely now.  all scrutiny and examination, i am.   and it is now i remember my words in the previous post.  my words about waiting.  and i almost laugh.  almost.  "oh Lord, what are you up to?  what are you teaching me?  you aren't cruel.  you're always good.  so good.  only good.  where are we going with this?  and why?" always, like a petulant child with her never-ending-whys, i am.   i can't understand. and i can't pretend. and i am tired of trying.  from my balcony i can see the same muted ocean.  i am close enough to hear its water-rhythm:  the sound of the surf and the calm of the waves crashing.   loud and quiet all wrapped up in vast measure.  even larger now from my end-of-the-day place.  and there steady above is the horizon.  a two-toned line running as far as forever.   as far as my eyes can see.  and i want to see.  i am even more certain i won't fling or toss away what i am given.  even this nothingness.  nothing in me wants to be left with sand-scratched eyes.  i want to see.  i want to see where God is leading.  and even when i cannot see with my own eyes i want to see with the eyes of trust.  and isn't this faith? "now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (hebrews 11:1).    i do not see.  i cannot.  but i want to see with the eyes of faith.  i want to trust in His seeing.  His knowing. His holding. 

God who formed land and formed waters and formed me,  He knows.  He formed all of this from nothing.   He spoke it all into being.   this ocean before me and the shore kneeling low and solid at its side, He spoke.   He spoke the firmament into place and then called it good.
 "and God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” and it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.  ~ genesis 1:9
and even though it began as nothing my God called it good.  He thought it and He named it and He saw it and He called it.  because my God is that big. and He is that good.  and i can know that  even this nothing-kind-of-news today is safe in His  grasp.  He is bigger than it.   bigger than my cancer.  bigger than this vast ocean.  and if He holds this wind and water, He holds me and my nothingness.  and i sit and stare a few minutes more.  closer to seeing.  i hear the children coming.  running down the hall.  heavy footsteps for such light bodies.  and i type one  last sentence and i take one more look and i though i seem to know nothing, i am certain of this:  God holds it all.  the ocean beyond my balcony proclaims it is so and the clear eyes of my heart know it so.  He holds.
  "Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
 Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands?
 Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak?
 Who has established all the ends of the earth? 
What is his name, and the name of his son? Tell me if you know!" ~ proverbs 30:4  

Friday, June 10, 2011

plan c

friday june 10th.  this day already feels like a strange one.  it is one of those days which had all kinds of plans penciled in.   plans which have changed - more than once.  if you looked on my calendar it would tell you today i was supposed to board a plane for guatemala. this was Plan A.  emily and i were joining with a medical mission's team from our church.  we had both been wanting to go on this particular journey for quite some time.   but then cancer came along and i found myself in the middle of a different mission.  my son, tyler, took my place.  i was thrilled to know he could.  he will be a wonderful asset to this team.  he is a kid who can contribute beautifully.  and my mother-heart feels calmer knowing my kids will have each other in this land foreign and far.  they left this morning.  all suitcases and smiles and eager spirit.  i wanted to grab them both close.  i did the best i could to hold them tightly, considering my present condition.  it wasn't tight enough, however,  for this mama.  my tears came after the car doors closed.  i will miss them.  but it is only a week, and i am filled with the thrill of what this week holds.  my oldest children going to a place full with need.  my children with open hands and open hearts and open eyes.   i cannot wait to see what God will pour into all this openness.  for surely He will.   this was His plan all along.  these two young teens to travel without parent, but with great enthusiasm for the things of God.  i wanted to be there to drink in and dig deep and capture it all with them.   i wanted to work, side by side, with my tall girl.  i longed for the chance to pull guatemalan children onto my lap and sing songs and tell stories and hug tight and smile into their sweet, brown faces.   i wanted to help them find shoes in a bin for their bare feet and food on a plate for their hungry tummies and comfort in a touch for their little hearts.    i wanted to hold hands with women and pray while they waited for medicine or a meal or, maybe even,  a miracle.  oh, how i wanted.  but plans have changed and i am home, still in pajamas, although almost noon.   i cannot kneel before a guatemalan child, but i can kneel, this week, before my God.  and i will. that i can do.

underneath my crossed out guatemala trip you will find another appointment on this friday,  june 10th.  this appointment read's oncologist 9:15 am.   Plan B for today was my first meeting with the oncologist, dr. ballard.  we had serious plans to discuss my oncotype dx results.  my post surgery treatment:  medication.  chemotherapy.  the next step.  whatever.  but this appointment also has a line drawn through it.   though we were expecting the results from the oncotype test to be back yesterday,  that didn't happen.  we found out there was a delay and we will not have the information until next tuesday.  it made no sense to go to an appointment without the results.  we could only make guesses about the treatment plan.  so my appointment was also cancelled and rescheduled.  i found myself disappointed again.  it's crazy:  i want these results and yet,  i don't want them.  if you've been following along in my blog,  you know this score will help decide if chemotherapy is necessary.  i'd like to avoid that discussion altogether, but know i cannot.  i cannot duck out of this one and so with that i am at the point of just wanting to know.  regardless of result, i have to move on mentally.  the waiting has been hard.  we've cleared more than a few hurdles.  but in my mind, the largest one still looms out ahead.  and now i am facing another weekend of waiting.  why does everything seem to come back to that word:  waiting.  it may very well be the entire theme of this almost two year old blog.  is that it Lord?  is that what you really want me to get? is this the lesson i can't seem to grasp completely?  considering how i am feeling this morning, i suppose it is.  my life has been marked by impatience....maybe even scarred a bit by it.

so those were my plans.  from a medical mission's trip to a medical oncologist appointment.  those are a couple of the things which i thought might be happening on this summer day.  instead, my younger children are off at a park with our babysitter and i am in a strangely quiet house.  a few minutes ago my mother-in-law, marilyn,  left me a phone message.  her words were so kind.  she said she was thinking of me and praying for me because she knew today would be bittersweet.  she is right.  her words were encouraging because she understands the pain of other plans.  she understood how mixed up and out of sorts i might feel on this Plan C kind of day.   this day with no real plan. 

i fear this post sounds like a pity party.  i sure hope not.  it wasn't my intention. i am just rambling from my Plan C heart.  the day is beautiful.  the children are gone.  the house is quiet.  i have a book and some sunshine and every need met.  i have children flying across the sky, this very minute, rushing headlong into an experience which will soften their hearts and grow their character and weed out their wants.  i have other, smaller children, healthy and playing wildly in a park.   i have cancer, but i have treatment.  i have a day, and that, alone, is a gift.   i have an impatient heart, but i have a God who hasn't given up on me. and most of all, i have a God, and my God has a plan.  

"for I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans
 to prosper you and not to harm you,
 plans to give you hope and a future." ~ jeremiah 29:11

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

a bicycle gone missing

the suitcases were latched and the car almost loaded when we realized - one of the bikes from our rental house had gone missing.  

it was nowhere to be found. we were in the midst of our leaving. vacation was ending and a six hour drive home was about to begin. 

and there was nothing to do but go searching.  

yep, parental frustration at its very best, i tell you. you'll require little effort to imagine our tone: "how did this happen? who is at fault? why aren't we more careful?" 
surely some child was to blame. 
we eyeballed all five. 
not one came clean.  
they stood there in their shrugging and shifting selves. careful looks of cluelessness creeping across their tan faces. there was no time to draw out a confession and no desire to demand guilt in these final minutes of precious vacation. hopping on the golf cart, my teenage son and i offered to take on the task and begin the search.

high and low and nothing.  
the mist heavy and the rain on its way. but we searched the quiet resort in all of its morning hush.  he felt responsible. because he is eldest boy and he always does. it is his nature.  

responsible, but also my child of optimism - all the while assuring me, "mom, we'll find it.  it's gotta show up somewhere." 

i love this about him.  and as we scurried around the sleepy streets, i could not help but be thankful for this stolen time alone with my growing-up-son. he is tender with me when he doesn't have to pretend, telling me things he'd never tell before others. i knew it was a gift for us to have these few minutes -- just a boy and his mom. even if it is for a task such as this --- a bicycle gone missing.

we stop at the boardwalk and silently agreed, it wouldn't hurt to walk down to the ocean. one last time.
both of us knew the bike wouldn't be there.  but it gave us an excuse ... a chance ... a one last look. and, oh how we both wanted that one last look. 

and in our unspoken agreement we walked the weathered wood toward the ocean's soft hum. 

a gray morning.  silver with last night's whisper of rain. a fairytale setting this ramble back to the sea. we talked of small things --- nothing much. he and i can be quiet together and it never feels strange. we are cut from a similar cloth, this boy and me.  

this boy with his mother's green-blue eyes.
of course, i carried my camera. yes, even on a bicycle hunt. 

we reached the boardwalk's end and there was no bike to be seen, but plenty of seeing.  

i have never experienced the ocean not beautiful. every glance different. each color new. and always, always breathtaking. i wanted nothing more than to plop down on the sugar sand and breath deeply in these final ticks of vacation. 
linger a little.  
but i knew back at the beach house stood a man with four antsy children, closed suitcases and a six hour drive ahead. 
not to mention we did have a search to continue.  

the grown up responsible part of me knew that my desire to sit awhile in the ocean mist might not sit too well with that suitcase loading, child juggling, husband of mine.

and so we turn back.

heading back up the boardwalk we could not help but notice in the lifting mist, other treasures appearing.

still no bike.  
but other things.  
more beauty.
silver web after web crocheted across the dune grass. 
pure and delicate.  beach foliage, names unknown, but shimmering in droplets.  everywhere.  
both sides of the walkway covered in the sparkly gems of our Creator.

i could hardly move myself along.  

camera in hand, we stopped. my lens captured these bits of fairy-spun beauty.
my son is patient. 
he doesn't rush me.  

both soundless in our exclamations. hearts beating hard. eyes holding the fantastical images spread at our feet. 

passing through one of nature's treasure troves all because of a bike forgotten. 

and, the mother's pleasure to know, we felt the same way. how blessed to have a boy who can stop and see. a boy who wasn't pulling me down the boardwalk and whining for his breakfast or begging me to put away my camera. but a boy who was seeing what his mama was seeing. it doesn't happen all that often.

he may not even have known it in words and thoughts...but i was sure he knew it in his heart. i could tell by his looking. he has always been a boy who can see beauty. of course, as he continues to grow into his teenage skin, that is beginning to change some. trust me, i have heard him tsk-tsk at my stoppings and i have watched his eyes roll at my pausings.   

but i am this boy's mother and i know he sees beauty. at least he did in this moment.

and then it was time. we knew we must go. there was a hunt to continue.
i snapped picture after picture. delighted. he pointed out a few items of interest and we stood side by side in our amazement at God's genius. 
everything draped in iridescent swagger. 

a pause of quiet before we remembered our mission. 
hurrying back to the golf cart we climbed in without looking back --- there was a mislaid bicycle to be found.

and we found it.
just moments later, at a friend's beach house nearby. resting, neglected and  unsuspecting. covered also in raindrops. tyler hopped on and we both traveled back victorious. 

he, with found bicycle. me, with found moment. both, full with beauty. and i couldn't help but be thankful for things gone missing.

* from our spring break - april 2011 - watersound, fl

2012 -- we are trying to do better... masking tape and names on each bike this year -- so far so good -- guess who's bicycle went missing? =)

Monday, June 6, 2011


i wake this morning with the taste of dread thick in my mouth.  swallow hard.  lay still.  eyes close fast and heart opens slow.  "Lord, it is monday and this week brings too much and i am not nearly enough." small shift right and my body reminds me of the time.  i am in need of, at the very least, advil.  but a few minutes more i lay.   just still and quiet.  alone in my thoughts.  my prayer continues soft and desperate.  pleading for strength in this week stretched with heavy.  and as i lay hushed and listen close i can't miss the voice - not audible, but clear.  ever so clear:  "look for the blessings,  jody. just look."  it is sort of a "if you build it, they will come," kind of moment.  i believed in that movie.  i certainly believe more in this small, still voice.  i have heard.  i believe in it more today with my stitches of cancer than ever before.  cancer brought the storm.  loud and devastating.  unexpected.  but still... there is the low, sure hum in the midst.   calm.  constant.  and it whispers blessing.  and i believe.  and i get up and know today i will find it.

because each day finds it, if we dare to look.  somedays require looking harder and longer and closer.  somedays it falls at our feet.  pure gift.  i get that.   how many cold mornings have i held hot coffee watching  the pink and orange of  new day wash woods out back.  blessing.  how many evenings have i rubbed the tummies and heads of sleepy-eyed babies and heard breathing slow, then steady.  blessing.  how many meals have been prepared in my kitchen with plenty.  blessing.  how many nights have we all snuggled down deep and slept uninterrupted in seemless peace.  blessing.   how many days has the sun been hot and the laughter been loud and the children been spent.  blessing.   it follows us everywhere.  even in our illness and hunger and cold and pain and poverty and loneliness and depression and failure.  for these are the days and the times which require true looking.  the dare to look closer.  deeper.

this day, as in all days,  i have choice.   i can choose a cloak of heavy or a garment of praise.  i dress carefully.   and i walk down into my morning.  light.  the taste of dread replaced with words for small girl following mama into her kitchen.  babe of my heart.  barefoot in pink pajamas.   she comes to me ready for waffle and fruit and her cartoons.  she knows i still cannot pick her up.  she is as light as a feather, but too heavy on this day.  and so we sit together on wooden floor in our still sleeping house and begin our day down low.  sunlight streaming in through smudged window and the fine coat of our family dirt catches my eye.  and though i sigh and think first of broom and dust pan,  i am quickly reminded, yes,  blessing.  because i have chosen a garment of praise.  i will dare to look. and  i will seek to find.  

it will be that kind of day.  

and then later in day,  after a much needed bath,  i find her wrapped up in blue towel.  still and quiet and calm.  and i run for the camera.   blessing.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

with flying colors

"test me, o Lord, and try me, examine my
 heart and my mind." ~ psalm 26:2

test results have never bothered me much.  i was one of those strange kind of kids who really liked school.  didn't mind studying.  was usually prepared.   my mother always told me i would grow up to someday become a teacher.  she was absolutely certain of her prediction when in 5th grade i started creating pre-tests and study guides for my classmates - just for fun.   i probably could have made a few dollars off this peer tutoring,  but i never thought about it,  i truly just loved doing it.  i remember the next year when my 6th grade teacher, mr. devantier, introduced me to mimeograph paper and allowed me to duplicate my study guides.  what power. what privilege.  in my own little world i was now published.  at age 12, i was reproducing my work and feeling kind of clever and cool about it.   from kindergarten to graduate school i have been receiving marks...waiting on results...anticipating test outcomes.  it has always been something i have, in a strangely competitive way,  enjoyed.  it is good to be graded when good grades come somewhat naturally.  i have never worried too much about assessment because of one thing:  i was in control.  i was usually in control of how much preparing and how much studying i had done.  most of my results had something to do with me.  had something to do with what i put into it.   i liked that. it made sense.  as long as i was in charge, i felt confident.  (there were some exceptions, of course).  and by the way, my mother was right, a teacher i did become.

this next week we wait on big results.  long gone is that industrious, little school girl.  long gone is her confidence. long gone is her feeling of control.    there is absolutely nothing competitive or thrilling about the results arriving this week.  i, honestly, feel kind of fearful.  there was nothing i could do to prepare or study for this next week's news...i can't predict the outcome and i don't want to anticipate the answers.  in fact,  i'd kind of like to just skip right over these next seven days.  but i can't.  i am getting a couple of phone calls regardless of whether or not i want to pick up the phone.    the answers will be in. the grades will be posted.  the evaluation complete.

we will know this week more information about my BRCA gene.  do i carry it?  are my children at risk for this mutation breeding ugliness?  what will it mean to me, to them, to us?  how will it change the face of our future?  we are hoping and praying for a negative result.  we wouldn't be any closer to understanding why i have breast cancer at 42, but at least we would know it is not genetic.  in addition, i am also waiting for my oncotype dx to come back from some lab somewhere.  right now, perhaps this very minute, some pathologist is studying all of my information and laying out my genetic blah-blah and deciding my grade. my number.  my next few months.  i've copied a description from one of the zillion's of websites which can better explain the oncotype dx:

"The Oncotype DX is a diagnostic test that assesses the tumor tissue and estimates the likelihood that invasive breast cancer will return, or recur after treatment. By analyzing the expression pattern of certain genes in breast tumors, the Oncotype DX test can more precisely estimate a woman's risk of cancer recurrence when compared with the standard assessments doctors normally use to evaluate the risk of cancer returning.
The Oncotype DX screening test is performed on each tumor sample to get the Recurrence Score. The Oncotype DX test scores the breast tumor on 21 different genes involved in breast cancer and gives a Recurrence Score, or a number between zero and 100 that shows the chance of the breast cancer returning within 10 years of the original diagnosis."

so basically what we will find out next week is a number which will tell me if chemotherapy would be in any way beneficial for me.  chemotherapy is obviously not a fabulous decision for anyone unless they are seriously in need.   there are too many risks and side effects and issues for it to be used as a "just to be sure" kind of thing.  my genes will have to line up in a way which offers proof that i could benefit before we travel down this poison heavy road.  bottom line:  i will have to be under the number 18 to even consider not doing chemo.  i'll do it.  don't get me wrong.  i'll take it willingly, not happily, but willingly, if my results show i could benefit.  i've told you from the beginning:  i am all in.  100%.  we are fighting this with everything and anything and then some.

but as i entertain the oh-so-unsettling "what ifs" again...i am back at that sick-stomach-place.  that place of disbelief and incredulity.  really?  is this really happening?  am i really waiting to hear about the need to pour poison into my body?  can it not be enough that i have sacrificed my breasts, must i sacrifice my energy? my summer? my health? my hair?  Lord, when will all this stop? Lord, will it ever stop?   i sit here typing this morning, feeling just barely recovered from my surgery.   as i am trying to ween myself off pain medication,  i am tender.  my body is sore.  sensitive.  hurting.  i can't imagine right now dealing with this next thing.  this next level.  i don't want it for me...i don't want it for my husband and kids.  we have already been through so much.  you've heard me write about God's provision...and i am still 100% in complete belief and fully reliant...but. but. but.  but it is not easy every day.  that is what i want to tell you truthfully.  i am believing and trusting and resting...but some days are harder than others.  and today as i think about the next few months i just want normal.  i want quiet and calm and easy.  i don't feel like battling anything, not mosquitos or heat or teenagers or sunburn or cancer.  i just want the cool and gentle.  i want it so badly i can taste it. i want it so badly my hands shake typing.

so i wait for results.  i am more patient than normal.  patient only because of the tinny taste of fear on my tongue.   i am scared. i mean, really, flat out afraid.   it is temporary,  i know that.  all of this is.  even our lives are.   i have been learning that lesson well.  and remember, i am typically a pretty good student.  a quick learner.  a good study.  but these lessons are hard. these grades are heavy.  these tests are bigger and more frightening than anything i ever encountered in college.  i can't do much to prepare for them.  i can't even guess at predictions.  but i know God is preparing me for the answers.  regardless.  i know He has been preparing me for quite some time.   when He entered my life years ago, He removed the label of failure and replaced it with His stamp of approval.  His stamp of promotion.  His stamp of salvation.  His stamp of passing-with-flying-colors.   and no matter what.  no matter even if i am physically scared to hear what they say, my future already has His mark on it and nothing can change that.  not even chemotherapy.  my body my fail.  actually i am certain my body will fail.  someday.  none of us will make it through unscathed...unmarked...untouched by life's hardness. 

"lift up your eyes to the heavens,
look at the earth beneath;
the heavens will VANISH like smoke,
the earth will WEAR OUT like a garment
and its inhabitants DIE like flies.
but my salvation will last forever,
my righteousness will NEVER FAIL."
~ isaiah 51:6

did you read those words?  vanish. wear out. die like flies.  yep, that's us.  cancer or no cancer, we are all prey to ultimate deterioration.  sounds pretty serious.  and it is, except  we aren't without hope.  that's it.  that's everything.  God's salvation lasts forever and HIS righteousness will never fail.  i may fail. my test results may fail.  my strength may fail.  my courage may fail.  my body may fail.  but my God will not. 
 "do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. 
 He will be with you; He will neither fail you nor abandon you."  (deuteronomy 31:8).