Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Get-Away Days

This past weekend, my husband and I enjoyed a wonderful time traveling with another couple to Cape May, New Jersey. In the aftermath of the recent unusual and surreal natural disasters, namely the earthquake centered approximately 60 miles from our town which shook my house as well as thousands of others up and down the east coast, then Hurricane Irene whose gale-force winds caused mature sycamore trees to bend over like little daisies blowing in a field, followed by severe rains that dismantled nearby roads and washed over two huge bison in the Hershey Park zoo, ultimately leading to their demise, we needed this get-away.

This mini-vacation had been scheduled long before the earth quaked, before the rains and winds pounded around our home, and before I felt so vulnerable. The dates of this get-away had been marked off on my calendar for well over a month. As the days following the storms passed and we surveyed the damage either via television or through our own front windows, there were times when I hesitated about going away at all. There were moments when I questioned traveling more than 200 miles from home and leaving my two girls (who are very capable of taking care of themselves) alone.

What if something happens while we're away? What if we get into an accident while we are driving? Who will be there for my children if I die? Should we cancel the trip all together? The pricey hotel rooms had already been booked and carried a "no refund" policy. Am I overreacting? How can I possibly proceed with this?

Coupled with the approaching anniversary of the attacks on our country ten years ago, those questions brought a sense of angst and worry within me. Then I remembered particular scripture verses that spoke to me. One is Jeremiah 29:11, which states, "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." You see, during those days after the storms raged through my town as well as in my mind, I foolishly began focusing on my presence here on earth, and not on God's plans for me - as His child. I was stuck on the side of the storms and refused to see the blessings waiting on the other side.

God knew about those storms, and in His sovereignty He allowed them to happen. We don't always understand why events occur and why innocent people and animals have to suffer and die. We only know that God keeps all His promises, and that He gives us the hope that we need each day. Without hope, we're just those small daisies blowing in the wind. But with the promises of our Lord, the hope we have in Him allows us to see the real reason we're here at all: to press on and trust Him even through the storms of life.

Don't live life in fear of tomorrow. It only robs you of the joy of today. God has a plan for you. All you need to do is trust in Him to carry you through the storms to the blessings that await you on the other side.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Overnight Changes

Breast cancer is such an interesting ice breaker. It can bring women (and men) together in ways that might not have happened otherwise. I've found that having had breast cancer makes a woman an "expert" in so many areas of this disease, and almost overnight, it's as if others see her as someone packed with knowledge about it, simply because she's personally "gone through it." At least that's what I've noticed.

Tonight the phone rang and an acquaintance of mine from church informed me that she had recently been diagnosed with non-invasive breast cancer. She'd had a lumpectomy, and she's scheduled to undergo 30 radiation treatments. The woman had some questions about what to expect. You know, for a brief moment, I had to pause and think about the radiation treatments that I received more than five years ago. But my initial hazy recollection of the events suddenly became crystal clear in my mind's eye, as I spoke to her, and in an odd sense, I found myself reliving some of those moments all over again today.

I told her that compared to the chemotherapy, the radiation treatments were a piece of cake for me. Knowing that chemotherapy was not part of her protocol, in some ways I found if difficult to relay my experiences to her because the effects of the chemotherapy overshadowed nearly every other aspect of my care. In my experience, chemo. became the "thing" that led to virtually every negative side effect. While the radiation left visible purplish skin and itchy patches at the site under my armpit, the chemotherapy left much more inconspicuous - and permanent - marks within my body. I still find myself stumbling in its wake. The hot flashes. The difficulty remembering a phone number just seconds after hearing it. The weight gain. The loss of sex drive. Osteopenia, a precursor to osteoporosis, at age 44. And the feeling that some things just seem "different" in my body, but I can't really verbalize what they are. I just don't feel the same anymore.

Maybe I can attribute the "different" post cancer feelings to menopause, which was also brought on by the chemotherapy, almost overnight. But I firmly believe that there's more to it than that.

The phone call tonight was a difficult one, because it was hard for me to separate the side effects of chemotherapy from those of radiation. Who knows? Maybe the two treatments had a synergistic effect and actually made each one worse than either one would have been on its own. All I know is that after speaking with literally tens of women with breast cancer over the last five years since my diagnosis, no two women have had the exact experience.

However, there is one the that we do all share: we've learned to appreciate each day that we're here. Each new day is a bonus. We all remember the day and time that we heard the news that we had cancer, and our lives were changed dramatically from that point on. We know that each hug we give, every smile that we demonstrate to a stranger, and each silver-lined cloud are all so much more precious than ever. Because we've learned that things can change literally overnight, we don't want to waste one single day wishing things were as they used to be.