Archive | December, 2010

Sisters

29 Dec

I never had a sister. But over the years, God has sent some pretty wonderful women into my life. Some of them I’ve known forever. Others not so long. Yet all of them have touched my life in extraordinary ways, and I will always be grateful for them.

A new friend recently became a special part of my life. Debbie knows a thing or two about breast cancer, having survived this horrible disease herself. For Christmas she sent me a sister ornament—my very first sister ornament ever. It’s an angel, and at the bottom is written “Sisters listen with their hearts and love with their souls.” That’s what sisters do. They listen and they love.

Awhile back, my friend Janet shared the following story with me. I wish I could give proper credit to the author, but I have no idea who she is. Here’s what she wrote about sisters.

A young wife sat visiting with her mother. They talked about life, about marriage, about the responsibilities and the obligations of adulthood.

“Don’t forget your sisters,” the mother advised. “They’ll be more important as you get older. No matter how much you love your husband, no matter how much you love the children you may have, you are still going to need sisters. Be sure to go places with them now and then, do things with them. All the women in your life are your sisters—your girlfriends, your daughters, and all your other women relatives too. You’ll need other women. Women always do.”

“What strange advice,” the young woman thought. “After all, I just joined the couple-world. I’m now a married woman, for goodness sake! Surely my husband and the family we may start will be all I need to make my life worthwhile.”

But she listened to her mother. She kept in touch with her sisters and made more women friends each year. As the years tumbled by, one after another, she gradually came to understand that her mom really knew what she was talking about.

As time and nature work their changes and their mysteries upon a woman, sisters are the mainstays of her life. Time passes. Life happens. Distance separates. Children grow up. Jobs come and go. Love waxes and wanes. Hearts break. Parents die. Careers end.

But sisters are there, no matter how much time and how many miles are between you. When you have to walk that lonesome valley and you have to walk it by yourself, the sisters in your life will be on the valley’s rim, cheering you on, praying for you, pulling for you, intervening on your behalf, and waiting with open arms at the valley’s end. Sometimes, they even break the rules and walk beside you. Or come in and carry you out.

Girlfriends, daughters, granddaughters, daughters-in-law, sisters, sisters-in-law, mothers, grandmothers, aunties, nieces, cousins, and extended family—they all bless our lives. When we began this adventure called womanhood, we had no idea of the incredible joys or sorrows that lay ahead. We didn’t know how much we would need each other.

Each day, we still need our wonderful sisters.

High Stakes

20 Dec

It seems to me that this whole oncology thing is a lot like taking a trip to Las Vegas. It’s all about playing the odds, watching the numbers, and trying to figure out numerical concepts like probability. Basically, oncology is a game of chance. Except we’re not playing with money. With oncology, the stakes are a bit higher.

Starting with my diagnosis, there was never a set procedure for me to follow. Each treatment option was laid out before me – surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation – and we considered the benefits versus the risks of each one. There were no definite answers. Decisions were based on what appeared to be my best chance at survival.

I have the greatest of respect and appreciation for the experts in the oncology field. But the truth is, when it comes to cancer, we just don’t know a whole lot. I mean, our treatment options include cutting, poisoning and burning. Seems like we could just as well throw in a few leeches, couldn’t we?

Last week I visited the oncology center. I’ve got the routine down pat. First the lab, then a physical exam, and then I meet with my oncologist and we talk numbers. We review my latest blood count. We consider the current breast cancer statistics. And we calculate my chances of having a recurrence. It’s no wonder I don’t like math.

Researchers now say that one in three women with estrogen-positive breast cancer will have a recurrence. My cancer was estrogen-positive. I don’t like those odds. I wouldn’t like them even if I were in Vegas.

But on the bright side, in the breast cancer survivor world, I am considered young and healthy – those factors are in my favor.

However, statistics show that when “young” breast cancer survivors do have a recurrence, the cancer returns with a vengeance. Not so good.

See how complicated this is? If only oncology came with a guarantee. It would be so much more reassuring than just rolling the dice and hoping for the best.

Doing Okay

17 Dec

Earlier this week I visited the oncology center for a check-up, which is pretty much my least favorite thing to do. The staff had decorated the place for Christmas. Sparkly snowflakes, red ribbons, and even a Christmas tree.

When I saw my oncologist, the first thing I told him was that it didn’t matter how many Christmas trees they put up in the waiting room – the oncology center would still be a scary place.

He smiled a little and nodded. He knows. He has seen much scarier things there at the center than I have.

He told me that I have only seven and a half more months left of treatment. So now we’re counting down months instead of years.

When I got home from my check up, my mom came over, helped make dinner, and sent me to bed early. Being a mom and all, she sees a part of me that I try to keep hidden from everyone else — the part of me that is tired and sick and scared.

She worries about me, as mothers tend to do. A while back, she asked “Why do you keep telling everyone you’re okay? You are not okay. Why do you keep saying you are?”

I tried to explain it to her. I told her that the reason I keep saying I’m okay is because I’m the one who needs to hear it.

I need to believe I’m doing okay.

Kindness and Compassion

14 Dec

One of the things that amazed me about having cancer is how people responded with such incredible kindness and compassion. It made the whole ordeal so much more bearable and touched my life in a special way.

A short time ago, as I shopped for groceries, a woman came up to me and greeted me by name. I didn’t recognize her at first. Then, as I studied her face, I remembered.

She was the pharmacy assistant who had dispensed medications to me for many years, starting with my prenatal vitamins and then onto all those sticky bubblegum-flavored antibiotics that my kids needed over the years. If anyone was ever sick in my family, she knew about it. When I got breast cancer, she knew that too.

Soon after I was diagnosed with cancer, I switched pharmacies. Since I was suddenly taking so many medications, it seemed like a good idea to have a pharmacy that was closer to home and open longer hours. So it had been a few years since I had seen her.

Back when I had known her, she had very long beautiful hair. The reason I didn’t immediately recognize her now was because her hair was cut short. Apparently, I was the cause of this new hairstyle.

She explained to me that when she found out I had cancer, she felt so filled with compassion for me, that she donated her hair to a charity organization that makes wigs for women who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy. All that beautiful hair donated because she felt compassion for me… Amazing, isn’t it? And if she hadn’t come up to me in the grocery store that day, I never would have known.

It happens to all of us, I believe. We are the recipients of incredible acts of kindness and compassion  and we may or may not ever know about them.

The kindness and compassion of others still amazes me. And it continues to touch my life in a way I never thought possible.

Silent Night

10 Dec

Sometimes when the doorbell rings, there’s just no telling who might be standing on the other side. This happened at our house last evening.

The doorbell rang. We weren’t expecting anyone. But usually when our doorbell rings, the visitor is David, my younger son’s friend who lives down the street.

Hearing the doorbell, my son jumped up to answer it, no doubt pleased to have an excuse to ditch his algebra homework. What a surprise he got when he opened the door, and instead of seeing David,  he found at least 15 teenage girls. In fact, he was so surprised, that he quickly shut the door and turned off the porch light and hid behind the couch.

Not exactly a warm welcome, right? Yet, those girls did not give up easily. Shivering in the darkness and facing a closed door, they still did what they had come to do.

From the kitchen, I thought I could hear voices singing the first few lines of Silent Night. Sure didn’t sound like David. Drying my hands, I went to investigate. I turned on the porch light and opened the door wide.

The lovely music flowed into our home. My husband and children soon gathered around me, captivated by the Christmas carolers’ song.

After they left, I thought of the first Christmas. “No room in the inn” probably meant a few closed doors. Yet, in the darkness of that stable, God still accomplished what he had come to do.

And the gift of His great love still flows into our homes and fills our hearts and lives with joy.

All I Need to Know

7 Dec

Everything I know about shopping, I learned from my mother. When it comes to shopping, she’s a pro. She studies ads, shops sales, finds the bargains and still makes shopping a fun experience for all who are involved. Yesterday we had a great day Christmas shopping together. We love the stores’ holiday decorations, their festive displays, and the Christmas music they play this time of year.

Shopping is not the true meaning of Christmas, of course, but it’s a fun part of celebrating the holidays. Baking, decorating, sending cards, giving gifts, building gingerbread houses, attending holiday musicals, singing carols – they’re all a part of the holiday fun that my family and I look forward to and enjoy each year.

Except for that first Christmas after I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

We were in desperate need of some tidings of comfort and joy that Christmas. Still recovering from my second surgery, I was scheduled to have a third one shortly after the New Year began. The thought of shopping, baking, decorating, and card-writing overwhelmed me. The last thing we needed in our home that Christmas was more stress. So instead of “making” Christmas happen, that year I decided to just let it happen.

In light of what we were going through, there was actually something pretty wonderful about celebrating Christmas without all the distractions. That year our focus was on the gifts of hope, love and peace — the hope for eternal life, the love of our Heavenly Father, and the incredible peace on earth that even cancer doesn’t dare touch.

Truth is, it was one of my most special Christmases ever. And, as it turned out, it was the very last Christmas I got to celebrate with my dad.

This year I’m looking forward to celebrating a fun-filled Christmas. I’ll do some decorating, some baking and some more shopping with my mom. And while I do these things, I will keep in mind that all I really need to know about Christmas is wrapped up in the gifts of hope, love and joy.

Too Much Snow

3 Dec

December made a grand entrance here in Idaho a few days ago with a near-record snowfall. Having grown up in Southern California, I’m not a huge fan of snow, especially when it lands on driveways, sidewalks and streets. Nor am I a fan of any temperature that drops below 65 degrees.

As my kids and I tried to shovel the driveway a few days ago, they reminded me of another time when there seemed to be too much snow. About 5 or 6 years ago, one of my husband’s friends offered us the use of his cabin for the Easter weekend. The cabin is located up in the mountains near Stanley, Idaho. You might have heard of Stanley. It has, on numerous occasions, been mentioned on the national news as being the coldest spot in the nation.

A weekend at the cabin sounded like fun, so we hauled the toboggan out of the garage, packed up the coats, boots, and mittens along with the Easter eggs and a ham, and headed for Stanley.

On Sunday morning, my husband decided to go steelhead fishing in the nearby Salmon River. Concerned for his safety, I suggested that instead of tromping alone through snowy riverbanks and fishing in an icy river, he would be way better off staying in the nice warm cabin with me and the children. He gave me a hug and assured me that he would be careful. Then he bundled up in his cold-weather gear, took his fishing pole, and drove away in our truck.

The kids and I were perfectly happy reading books, playing games and baking cookies in the cabin. After awhile, we thought it would be fun to sit outside in the hot tub. We all put on our swimsuits and grabbed a beach towel. I told the two younger kids to wait in the cabin while my oldest son and I went out on the deck to remove the cover from the hot tub. But they must have been too excited to wait, because a moment later they followed us outside. Turning, I yelled, “Don’t shut the–” but it was too late. They had already slammed the door behind them.

Now that particular door has an annoying thing about it in that it’s always unlocked from the inside, but when you try to open it from the outside, it’s locked. I yanked on the knob. Sure enough, it was locked. I pounded on it. Still locked. I ran around to the front door. It was locked too. I checked under the mat. No key.

Not only did I have no key, I had no phone, no vehicle, no boots, and, except for our swimsuits, no clothes. Definitely not good.

I wondered about breaking a window. But the cabin was surrounded by like 9 feet of snow. The only windows I could get to were huge picture windows. Trying to break one of them didn’t seem like a good idea.

I didn’t expect my husband to return for hours. The kids and I were already freezing. I had to do something. The town of Stanley was too far for us to walk, but there were 2 or 3 cabins down the road. I figured that was our best option.

Wrapped up in our beach towels, the kids and I trekked barefoot through the snow to the next cabin. As we got closer, I could see that it was unoccupied. We moved on to the next one. This one looked more promising. A path had been cleared to the door.

A man answered our knock and I was overjoyed to see him. He was not happy to see us. When I pointed to the children’s numb toes, he reluctantly let us step inside. Puzzled by our host’s strange behavior, I looked around. It appeared that our host had been engaged in some kind of disreputable behavior when we had knocked on his door. The thought occurred to me that perhaps the kids and I would be safer if we were back outside in the snow.

Teeth chattering, I quickly explained our situation and asked the man if I could use his phone. I had no idea who I would call. But I was starting to think that maybe calling the sheriff would be a good idea.

He shook his head. “No, no, no,” he said. “You gotta call the bar. That’s where everyone is.”

Oh, really? I never would have guessed that myself—seeing as how I have yet to spend an Easter Sunday sitting in a bar.

Rolling his eyes at me, he dialed the bar and relayed my predicament to the bartender. The bartender shared the story with the patrons. Amazingly, the caretaker of the cabin was there. She asked to speak directly to me. She told me where an extra cabin key was hidden. Things were looking up.

I hustled the kids out the door and we traipsed back to our cabin. The extra key was right where the caretaker had said it would be. I unlocked the door and we rushed inside, gratefully soaking in the warmth.

As we gathered near the fire, the kids started giggling. They thought it was awfully funny that I had been so concerned for their dad’s safety when we were the ones who nearly froze to death. Yeah, I thought that was real funny too.

I promised to make us all some hot chocolate with lots of extra marshmallows. But first, I ran back outside and returned the extra key to its hiding place. You know, just in case…