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Archive for the ‘Cancer’ Category

You might always wonder how you might feel or respond if some catastrophic event came into your life…until it actually happens and then you know. Yes, I had thyroid cancer five years ago, but hearing my doctor say that I probably had ovarian cancer now tops my list of personal high stress life experiences. Since I’d often wondered how I might react to such news, I’ve now settled that one. Here’s how it went…

  • First came disbelief…trying to make by brain accept what my ears had already processed.
  • The what ifs followed.  Lots of them.

 

  •  Then I resolved that I would not be overwhelmed.
  • Then I woke up at 2 am…overwhelmed.
  • So I prayed and prayed and cried myself back to sleep.
  • Friday morning began with sadness and a CT scan.

Gerry’s face has not looked so solemn in all of our 15 years. We talked and cried as we began to feel the crushing weight of it all while we made phone calls, rearranged a million plans and prayed that God would make a way for us to get into MD Anderson.

5:00 pm on Friday arrived with waves of relief. No answers and no changes but startling relief. For two days, every moment  and every thought was dedicated to finding the best possible surgeon, the best possible answers and thinking through every imaginable scenario. Adrenaline was our ammunition, and cancer was our enemy. But when the doctor’s offices closed, we could no longer pursue leads, request tests, ask questions or try to manage the crisis. Knowing there was nothing else to do but wait was the best thing that could have happened. That’s when I realized how stressful it is to try to control the uncontrollable.

Having the kids home over the weekend brought normalcy back to our lives and allowed me to step back and  see that my only option, the best option, was to trust God. So I asked Him to take over. I asked Him to order our steps. I read that He is my portion forever and decided that was enough. He mentioned that I am His portion too and reminded me that He’d do nothing less than His best on my behalf. What more could I ask for?

I slept better that night than I had in years. Truly, I did. Many of you know about the sleep issues I’ve had since my thyroid surgery five years ago. I had  not slept a full night since…until that night…the night I decided to believe that God really is enough. He is good enough. Great enough. Big enough. More than enough. My portion forever. And He grants sleep to those He loves. He was there, and that was all I really needed.

I’ve learned more than I ever cared to know about cancer in the past couple of months, and the lessons came complete with illustrations via the bare heads and shivering frames of men, women, teens and children who waited alongside of me for blood tests, CT scans and doctor’s visits. This classroom held its  lessons in shadowy places, yet it is here that I learned more about God than I did about cancer.

  • I learned that God doesn’t have to show up. He’s already there.
  • I learned that God doesn’t need to shout. He waits for us to be quiet.
  • I learned that God doesn’t have to be visible to give comfort that is as warm as a hug and as personal as a whisper.
  • I learned that God is more ready for us to hear Him than we are to listen.
  • Best of all, I learned that God really is enough for me.

Learning that I don’t have cancer has washed away a Niagra of fear, worry, doubt, stress, speculation and anxiety. You name it, I felt it. But all those subsided, and in their places stood faith. Strong and ready to fight, not so much against cancer but for me. Thank God, I’m not the woman I used to be.

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The Gift of Community

Visiting my grandmothers’ homes was filled with childhood novelties. My paternal grandmother lived in the mountains in West Virginia, and she had a cuckoo clock that captured my fascination. My maternal grandmother lived in Florida not too far from the beach, and she had a party line phone. Visits to her house created plenty of occasions for me to conjure up reasons to linger in the kitchen with the intent of listening in on the conversations of my grandmother’s neighbors. The juicy tidbits to which I was privy meant little to me, but such readily accessible eavesdropping was irresistible.

Snooping  on the Party

As often as I could, I’d invite myself to the party and pretend that I had a part in the story being told. I would imagine what I might add to the conversation if I ever dared to speak (which I never did). The snooping was fun for two reasons. First, it was something to get away with. And second, who could resist a party waiting at the other end of the phone?

For all the fun I had, I remember precious little about the particulars of those surreptitious phone calls. What I do recall, though, is that I felt like I had a part in the conversation even though I contributed nothing more than a listening ear. My intrusions on the party line only hinted at a need that has grown more profound in the passing years: We need each other.

A Word with a Story

When cancer alarms began ringing in our lives, we soon realized that our story and our lives belonged to a larger community. The remarkable response and involvement of hundreds of people in our journey through a cancer scare, surgery and recovery has been like an exclamation mark adding emphasis to our own need for others to walk through life with us. Now, with the precision of hindsight, I can see that the blessing of God came to us via the blessing of a community of people who chose to join our journey.

Since I love words, I couldn’t resist looking into the history behind the word community. I thought I had this one figured out before my search even began. The word community looks like this to me:

Common + Unity = Community

This makes perfect sense and fits with what I’ve always thought about living in community. If you had asked I would have defined it as a group of people unified to achieve a common goal. That isn’t a bad definition, but when I really began looking into the history of the word, I learned that it really means much more.

The Gift of Together

Community is the compounding of two Latin words. Cum and munus.

Cum + Munus = Community

We hear cum around graduation time as universities confer degrees with honors titled in Latin: cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude…with honor, with great honor and with highest honor. So the word community begins with cum, the Latin word for with or together.

The second half of the word is more unexpected. Instead, of being next of kin to the word unity, community is a descendant of the Latin word, munus, which means gift. It’s related to the unfamiliar English word munificence, meaning generous or bountiful. It’s also a close relative of the word meaning, which is defined as purpose or what is intended to be.

That’s quite a mouthful to say…

Together + Gift = Community

My mini investigation amounts to more than an unsolicited vocabulary lesson. It has helped me grasp a deeper understanding of what it means to live in community. It’s more significant than working toward a unified goal. True community is the gift of togetherness. This fits with God’s assessment, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” (Gen. 2:18) Scripture persists with this theme.

  • Two are better than one for they have a good return for their labor. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! (Ecc. 4:9, 10)
  • Wounds from a friend can be trusted. (Prov. 27:6)
  • My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (Jn. 15:12)
  • Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2)s

The Real Thing

The outcome of my surgery on December 21 became a miracle of good health, answered prayer and sweet relief. From the beginning, you have been our community in the truest sense of the word. You have cried with us, prayed with us, given to us, helped us, encouraged us, walked with us and celebrated with us. You have been together with us in every way sharing this journey as a community of friends, family, acquaintances and often the friend of a friend of a friend.

You have placed yourself in community with us much like the world’s first community of Father, Son and Spirit, and that has been the sweetest gift of all. It beats snooping on the party line any day.

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No Surprises

The month of December felt a lot like boot camp. I’ve never been to boot camp, but my man has, and as far as I can tell, it’s not so fun, but in the end, you’re better off for having been there. It wears you out but makes you stronger. It deprives you of sleep but brings focus. It stretches you to the limit and makes you leaner, more disciplined and leaves you with a mission. Yep, sounds a lot like last month around our house, which began with talk of cancer and ended with talk of Christmas and continues in our hearts even though our calendars have flipped to a whole new year.

Songs of the Season

The day after Thanksgiving kicks off the official Christmas music season in our house. Everything from carols and hymns to whatever category, I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas might fall into plays in the house, the car and on our iPods. We all love it, look forward to it and sing the songs of the season as loud and as long as we can for just a little more than a month every year. Except for this year.

Several weeks before the word “cancer” became part of our daily vocabulary, I bought Mark Harris’ new album and began listening away one morning while getting ready for the day. Before long, one song had captured my attention and stopped me in my tracks as I stared into the mirror and wondered, “Why?” The song began like this…

It may be a phone call that comes without warning
And suddenly my world is shaken
It may be headline I wake to one morning
And suddenly my heart is breaking
But every now and then when life fall’s apart
There’s a truth I trust that calms my heart

Nothing takes You by surprise
Here beneath these troubled skies
It’s a comfort just to realize
Nothing takes you by surprise.

I immediately realized that the song had particular significance for me, though I could never have predicted what that might mean. There were no visions, voices or bright lights. Nothing spooky. Just recognition. That’s all. Turns out, that was plenty. I finished listening to the song and  asked God  to remember mercy.

Within weeks, we received The Call. The call about cancer. 80% chance of malignancy. Surgery and treatment needed…asap. CT scan tomorrow. Appointment with a surgeon next week. In the blur, my first reaction was shock.

As the idea settled in, there was only one thing to do. Pray.

Gerry (aka my man) and I prayed together, and he mentioned that God had not been surprised by this news. Before long I was on the phone with my friend, Jennifer. She prayed too and remarked that God had known all along. One after another, friends began to pray for me and of those who prayed with me, most included the idea that God had not been caught off guard. That He was fully aware. That He has a plan, and that I’m in it. And with each mention, I replayed the words…

It’s a comfort just to realize
Nothing takes you by surprise.

It’s true. No surprise parties in heaven. No hide and seek. No lost keys. No blind sides. Knowing that God sees the end from the beginning is one of my most treasured comforts. He knows what I can’t. He sees what I don’t. His understanding no one can fathom. This is security at its very best. I don’t have to know everything because I know the One for whom there are no surprises.

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come , the Almighty. (Rev. 1:8)

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Best & Worst of Recovery

Perspective is everything. Tell the average woman that she needs to have a total hysterectomy, and she’ll brace herself for a daunting surgery, recovery and life change. Tell the average woman that she probably has cancer and will need major exploratory surgery and then wake her up from surgery and tell her there is no cancer and all she had was a hysterectomy, and she’ll think it’s a breeze!

At least this is true in my case. The recovery process has been so much less than I had anticipated when considering a much more significant surgery and potential outcome. Still, recovery has its ups and downs, and since so many of you have asked, I thought I’d share how things are going.

The Best Part of Recovery

  • I’m getting some much needed rest. This is what I do. I rest. I take it easy. I nap when I feel like it, read when I feel like it and do nothing I don’t much feel like doing. When does life ever afford that luxury?
  • I’m not freezing cold all the time. For those of you who have traveled with me on mission trips to tropical climates where I could still be quite comfortable in a sweater on a balmy day, you’ll be glad to know that my internal thermometer ain’t what it used to be. Someone has turned up the heat, and I’m determined to discover the culprit!
  • I have lots of help. My parents, sisters, children, husband and large network of friends and acquaintances have bent over backwards, jumped through hoops and gone the extra mile (and then some) to allow me time to recover and take care of my family. Thank you. You know who you are!!!

The Worst Part of Recovery

  • I’m getting some much needed rest. Okay, enough already. How many naps can a woman take? I can only make two trips up and down our stairs each day, and I’m ready to graduate to at least three.
  • I’m not freezing cold all the time. As much as I dislike being cold, the fluctuation of body temperature here is discomfiting. I move from the arctic to the equator within the confines of my own bedroom and within mere moments. No wonder I need a nap.
  • I have lots of help. I love and treasure and owe an incredible debt to every helper who has carted my children from place to place, carried meals up the stairs and my dirty dishes back down. But it will feel good to do something for myself again. I’m much better at giving help than receiving it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed your introduction to the real Karen True…the one who appreciates her blessings and then turns right around to find fault with them. The one who has received so much but is quite apt at looking a gift horse in the mouth. There’s really more to this story than I’d like to admit, but since this blog is meant to be a transparent look into this “True Story” of mine, I guess I’d better spill it.

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas Eve

On, Monday, December 21, I had surgery and woke up to the best possible news. No cancer. Delight and disbelief blended into a brew of utter wonder and awe. All I could speak or think were words of deepest gratitude. At least for three days.

By Thursday, I was ready to go home. The doctors had agreed with me on Wednesday and anticipated that I’d be dismissed early the next morning, which happened to be Christmas Eve. I longed to be home with my children and woke Thursday morning ready to put on some real clothes and be wheeled to the exit. I was more than happy to see the doctor on her early morning rounds until she announced that my hemoglobin levels were dangerously low and that I would need a transfusion before I could leave.

I managed to navigate this bump in the road until hours passed without a transfusion in sight. Six hours to be exact. The patient was losing patience as the hours ticked away. The transfusion didn’t arrive until 1 p.m.. My nurse hooked up the IV, and the vein almost immediately began swelling. Several veins had already blown from previous IV’s, so we couldn’t risk losing this one. The IV would have to be slowed to a trickle. The two hour transfusion turned into four, and there was no way I could muster the stamina for the four hour ride home.

So for two more hours, I sulked, cried and lamented the fact that I was stuck in the hosptial for Christmas Eve. Gerry brought up the live stream of our church’s Christmas Eve service, but I couldn’t muster up enough Christmas joy to engage. I received a couple of text messages from friends who were in the service and who were celebrating the incredible gift of healing I’d been given. They didn’t know that the Grinch was stealing my Christmas.

The Not so Pretty True Story

The IV bag was finally drained by 5 p.m. My dismissal papers were completed, and I was ready to go even though we’d be spending the night in a hotel rather than in our home. A nurse from the lab came to draw blood and informed me that she’d have the results of the hemoglobin test within two hours. TWO HOURS! I shot a not-so-Christmasy look at my poor husband who wisely said, “Let’s go for a walk.” I put on my real clothes just to show everyone that I was leaving this hospital on the night before Christmas. (Can I just say here that I’m not proud of this story?)

We walked downstairs to see a giant gingerbread house on display in the lobby. The place was nearly deserted. We passed only two people in the halls. One was a woman who was on the phone. I overheard a bit of her conversation in passing. “The cancer has spread to her brain. It’s everywhere. There’s nothing else they can do.” The next person whose path we crossed was a teenage girl. She exited a restroom and lowered her head in an attempt to hide her red and swollen eyes. With that, I lost all resolve to letting the Grinch have his way with my Christmas Eve.

I’d received all I had asked for this week and then some. I was one of a very few who would leave MD Anderson with a non-malignant diagnosis. I’d received the love, support and prayers of hundreds of people. More than 900 of you checked in on the blog in a single day to see how I was doing. You flooded every inbox we have with messages that overwhelmed us with blessing. No one had been given a better Christmas present than me, and you’d think that I’d have found something to on Christmas Eve besides throwing a pity party.

All things Bright & Beautiful

So there you have it. The “True Story.” It’s not pretty, but it is what it is. I hope you’ll leave a comment below to console me a little. Thankfully, God still “makes everything beautiful in His time,” and that’s not the end of the story.

God had met with me so many times in the halls at MD Anderson. He’d come with a clean bill of health earlier in the week. On Christmas Eve, He came as the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6) And right there, within the span of a handful of days, He reminded me again of what my story is all about.

Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases. (Ps. 103:1-3)

I”m grateful for the healing, but what I really need is the forgiveness. Forget not all His benefits indeed.

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Two Words

This is  a picture of the conference room where Gerry and I met with my doctor during our first visit to MD Anderson. She agreed with and elaborated on the assessment I’d received the week before from my OB-GYN, “Possibly cancer.” And as doctors do when sharing such heavy news, she asked, “Do you have any questions?” I wanted only to say, “Only if you have answers.”

I mean no sarcasm, but in the heaviness of the moment we already had far more questions than answers, and most of them began with these two words…

What If?

  • What if it is cancer?
  • What if I can’t handle treatments?
  • What if I lose my hair?
  • What if the doctors miss something crucial?
  • What if I have a PET Scan? What if I don’t?
  • What if I skip the chemo and eat raw food?
  • What if we have to tell the kids?
  • What if I don’t get the right surgeon?
  • What if the strain of disease becomes a strain on our marriage?
  • What if treatments destroy vital organs?
  • What if it drains our bank account?
  • What if all we ever talk about is cancer?
  • What if my fear is greater than my faith?
  • What if the surgery is as bad as they say?
  • What if we don’t ask the right questions?
  • What if I can’t take care of my family?
  • What if disease becomes our new normal?
  • What if it spreads?

Questions like these feel like the drawing a of a curtain on an already gloomy day. Darkness closes in and removes all glimmers of daylight. Such questions prove useful only when considered in light of far greater inquiries…

  • What if God really does care?
  • What if He heals?
  • What if human weakness is a platform for divine strength?
  • What if I accept even this as part of a greater story
  • What if pain is God’s megaphone?
  • What if He is working this out for good…somehow?
  • What if grace is sufficient?
  • What if God really is enough?

We’ve raised all these questions and so many more in recent weeks. It’s not been easy, but with every heart wrenching “what if,” we received just two words in response…

But God

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Ps. 73:26)

We’re not the first to hear such a response…

The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.
But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. (Gen. 7:24-8:1)


You intended to harm me,
but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Gen. 50:20)

“But God.” Only two words. Yet they make all the difference in the world.

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:7-8)

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Grace Notes

When we learned that I might have ovarian cancer several weeks ago, the universal recommendation was that we try to go to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. I called to make an appointment. No go. Six week wait.

A couple of friends had contacts there and began sending emails and making phone calls. We waited and prayed through a long weekend, and by Monday morning,  the six week wait was reduced to a handful of days. I would see a doctor in the department of gynecologic oncology later that very week.  We were elated and felt blessed, thankful and hopeful. Relief, even joy, followed. The promise of answers lifted our load for the next several days.

Until we arrived at MD Anderson on Thursday morning.

The massive buildings cast long shadows and were linked together by the common thread of cancer.  Such an awareness wasted no time in dimming my hopes. When I took a seat in the waiting room alongside women with wigs, hats and bare heads, I could not make my mind accept that we might share such a sisterhood.

The stack of paperwork that awaited my attention was a welcome diversion. The final page contained lines on which I was to provide a full listing of my family’s cancer history. My Mom. Me. Two aunts. Three uncles. Paternal grandmother. Maternal grandfather. Another aunt. You get the idea. I ran out lines before I ran out of family members.

Being at MD Anderson no longer felt hopeful. The realities of cancer were too heavy, too close for comfort.

I was ushered to an exam room, given a hospital gown and left alone. For a long time. Too long. Long enough to let my thoughts wander.  Long enough to be afraid. Long enough to feel more alone than I’d ever felt in my life. When I realized that my thoughts and I were no longer suitable companions, I decided to re-focus.

I grabbed my phone and discovered texts, facebook messages, emails and voicemails from friends and family who were praying for me. Some sent encouraging words. Others sent Scriptures. I reviewed and responded to each one and then began reading the Bible via a handy app.

I realized that I was not alone. I also recognized that the spot in which I sat was not one to be dreaded or feared. I remembered that earlier in the week I had viewed my appointment at MD Anderson as God’s provision. It still was. The wait lingered, and the scenery grew stale, but my thoughts had been dramatically transformed.

By day’s end I was tired and ready to leave but no longer afraid. No longer lonely. I felt as though I lived a psalm that day. You know the kind that starts off dark and despairing and ends with joy and gratitude. Even though my first day at MD Anderson was played out primarily in a minor key, I hear the flourish of grace notes of the Divine Composer who is still singing my song.

The LORD your God is with you,  he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. (Zep. 3:17)

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Recovery…in Progress

So many of you have checked in to see how the recovery process is going. You’ll be glad to know that Gerry is recovering just fine…as you can see in the picture here! I took this yesterday while he caught a nap in the middle of a bustling house. I know I’m the one who had the surgery, but this man of mine has earned some well deserved and much needed recovery time. He lost no small amount of sleep taking care of me and spending his nights in a hospital recliner. Our night shift nurse, Tamara, said he practically gave her the night off! Thank God for my man!

As for me, I’m doing well too. Thanks for asking.

It’s been 10 days since surgery. We returned home on Christmas day, and I’ve pretty much been waited on hand and foot ever since. I’ve taken a few walks in the sunshine and have gone downstairs only a handful of times since I’m only allowed one trip down per day. It’s hard work to rest this much! But, gratefully, I’m feeling well and healing nicely. I came home needing only ibuprofen and/or tylenol for pain and haven’t taken either in days. I’m enjoying the time I have for reading, writing, resting and being with my family. We love hearing from you and are especially grateful for your continued prayers.

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