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)


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.

This is truly habit forming. Especially when served with homemade tortilla chips (recipe below)  and guacamole. The bonus is that it’s truly good for you.

Black Bean Corn Salsa

1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 c. sweet corn
1 c. tomatoes, chopped
1/4 c. red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 T. cilantro, chopped
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1/2 t. cumin
1 T. lime juice, fresh squeezed

Stir all ingredients together. Munch. Doesn’t get much easier than that, does it? And you can adjust any of the flavors to suit your taste. I’m happy to slap some of this into a corn tortilla and call it lunch. I hope you will be too.

Homemade Tortilla Chips

White Corn Tortillas
Olive Oil
Sea Salt

Lightly brush both sides of a corn tortilla with olive oil. Bake at 350 until lightly browned and crisp. Remove from oven and sprinkle lightly with salt. Dip your heart out.

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)

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)

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.

We are making some big changes to our diet in the True household, and I thought I’d share some of the best recipes we’ve discovered during our menu makeover. Check back each week for our latest and greatest.

This one is super easy and super good. You pretty much cook the onions, add the garlic and then most everything else and let it simmer for a bit. Then voila…delicious!

Pasta Fagioli Soup

1 med. onion, diced
3 T. extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (29 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
5 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. red wine
1 15 oz. can cannellini beans
1 (15 oz.) can navy beans
1/2 fresh parmesan, grated
1 T. dried parsley
1 1/2 t. dried basil
1 1/2 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. salt
1/2 lb. ditalini or small shell pasta
2 T. fresh basil, (optional)
2 T. fresh Italian flat leaf parsley (optional)

  1. In a large pot over medium heat, cook onions in olive oil until lightly browned and carmelized.
  2. Stir in garlic, and cook until tender (one minute or less).
  3. Add all remaining ingredients except for pasta and fresh herbs.
  4. Simmer over medium heat for one hour.
  5. Cook pasta in separate pot until al dente. Drain.
  6. If desired, stir fresh herbs into soup.
  7. Add spoonful of pasta to soup bowls. Add soup.
  8. Garnish with slices of parmesan and fresh herbs.

This is our newest family favorite and has been quite a big hit. I think it’s even better the next day. Personally, I can’t stand mushy pasta, so I store any leftover pasta separately from the soup and stir it in when I’m ready to eat. Add a warm piece of crusty bread rubbed with the cut edge of a piece of garlic, and you’re set. So good and so perfect for a chilly day.

We had this for dinner last night and then again today for lunch. I hope you’ll make it and let me know how it turns out. The SECRET is to carmelize the onions until they are good and brown and then to let the whole thing simmer for a good long time. It gets better every day, and to make sure we have some extra around, we have to double the recipe.