Living on Borrowed Time

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Dancers. Police officers. Bus drivers. Students.

Teachers. Doctors. Accountants, and small children.

 

They all have one thing in common. 
They are all “living on borrowed time.” We all are. 

 

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Christian or not. It doesn’t matter if you know who God is and the beautiful gift that He gave us with Jesus. We are all “living on borrowed time.”

I didn’t really understand the weight of the phrase until last night. I was sitting in the shower, contemplating my fate after being told the cancer could be back in my brain. I knew that I probably wouldn’t know until today for sure.

I sat there, praying, but knowing… 

It doesn’t really matter if it is cancer or not. 

 

It doesn’t really matter if I get treatment or not.

It doesn’t really matter what I do

Because I’m “living on borrowed time.”

 

I am here because God gave me life

And only He decides when my time is done. 

 


“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.” Isaiah 53:4 

“For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” Romans 5:10

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” 1 Peter 3:18

 

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What Shingles Looks Like

My husband, Nick, mentioned that I forgot to add something to my last post. Pictures. You know, of what shingles looks like. Oops.

For those interested, here you go. This is how it looks when the rash first starts…

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It wrapped around my right side between my breasts to the middle of my back. It’s right under my bra line so wearing bras is completely out of the question until I’m healed.

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Of course, it’s gotten much worse. This is what it looks like when the blisters start bursting.

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I pray none of you have to deal with this, but even more, I pray that you know Jesus like I do. That you put your whole heart and your whole body at His feet. He truly can bring a peace that you will never quite understand.

May peace be with you.

Peace Can Only Come From Jesus

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I’ve been quiet lately. There’s always a reason.

I spend so much time just trying to be okay. Just trying to feel okay. You can’t really make your body feel better though even with the pain medicine and other things meant to help you feel better, to help you get through the day. Medicine is just not enough.

My battle lately? Shingles. Starts as a rash and then turns into a ton of blisters that burst and then crust over. It is extremely painful, stressful, and takes weeks to recover. You can learn more about it here. I had it for a good week before we knew what it was.

To make matters worse, I can’t have chemo while recovering from shingles. And with a fast moving cancer, I can feel the difference when I don’t have treatment for a week or two. I’m coughing a lot more which makes mobility difficult. Coughing more means throwing up more. I sat in the car yesterday puking after being stationary for a good thirty minutes. It’s not just moving that causes me to puke more. Needless to say, I am really hoping I am cleared to have chemo next Thursday when I see my doctor again.

But here’s the thing… in the midst of all this suffering, I have peace and am virtually pain free. I can’t explain it. I walked in the doctor’s office last Monday with level 8 pain, barely being able to move without screaming on the inside. I left with pain killers that only toned it down to a level 6-7. So how did I go from that level of pain, to virtually no pain the next day? To the point that I stopped taking pain medicine way too early. The blisters started bursting days later, and yet still no pain.

You have to understand the amount of stress, sorrow, and shock I was under when I found out I had shingles. That I couldn’t get the chemo I desperately need. I went to bed early. My husband went to bed early. It was just all too much for all of us. So what was the turning point?

I prayed that night, and something changed. I wrote that poem and just felt a great release. I felt at peace. That was at 2 o’clock in the morning, and I woke up pain-free. During this whole trial from the beginning of 2017 to now, I haven’t quite felt this level of peace since first getting diagnosed with cancer. It’s also the first time that I have been virtually pain free in an area that doesn’t make sense.

On my own, I can’t do anything. I can’t take away my own pain and I can’t take away my own stress. I just don’t have the power BUT I know the one that does. Peace can only come from Jesus.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

“The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace.” Psalm 29:11

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” 2 Thessalonians 3:16. 

One Year Later

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When I got diagnosed with cancer a year ago today, I didn’t think I would see the day when I had hope again. I didn’t think I would see the day when I believed I’d be okay again. I had spent so much time suffering up until the point I was diagnosed, and knew that having cancer meant suffering even more. But more than anything, it meant that I may be losing my life too. Losing everyone that I loved and everything that I had worked for. I can’t believe that I’m still here.

As much as I feared the end, I also knew that my life would never be the same. I was not prepared for the normal activities of life that I would no longer be able to do… like cooking, cleaning, taking a walk, or buying groceries. I was not prepared for the humility I would need in allowing others to care for me instead of me taking care of them.

I haven’t been able to serve others the way that I used to. I’ve spent my days just surviving, and trying to deal with everyday setbacks with my health because of treatment side effects. It’s taken a long time to get to a point where I can be a little more self-sufficient, like walking to the fridge on my own to get a drink without feeling like I’m going to pass out. And when I say a long time, I mean like I have only been able to do that in the last three weeks. My prayer is that I will get to a point where I’m able to start doing more for others, and give back to the heroes that have been there for me through this journey. In the meantime, I’m going to try to focus more on accepting the fact that I am a survivor instead of just merely surviving. I know that God will continue to lead the way.

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12

 

Mustard Seed Faith

I had a CT scan done last week, and got my results when I saw my oncologist on Wednesday. I was incredibly nervous to find out what was going on with the lesion in my left lung. Back when I was diagnosed last September, it measured approximately 6x6cm (about the size of an egg), and had only shrunk down to 4×4 cm after six rounds of standard chemotherapy.

By standard chemotherapy, I mean using one platinum-based IV drug called carboplatin combined with another kind of chemo called alimta once every three weeks. Carboplatin is very toxic so patients typically only do six rounds, but if you have advanced disease like myself, you may continue using the chemo drug alimta as maintenance therapy. Alimta takes only about 15-20 minutes to get in your system, and is not as harsh on your body.

I was concerned that my lesion wasn’t going to shrink anymore with just the maintenance therapy. All I could hope for was that it didn’t start growing because if that happened, I would move to my last line of defense and try immunotherapy. I technically had already tried one of these drugs (avastin prevents new blood vessels from forming) when I moved to maintenance therapy, but it caused me to be in more pain to the point I needed to start taking pain meds again so I stopped after only two rounds. Having five extra months to live (as the drug promised) was not worth the pain I was going through.

So here I was knowing that I had already said no to one drug that could help prevent any new growths, and I had to face the results of another scan. My husband was with me as he always is for dr visit/chemo days and I think he was a little nervous too. When my doctor came in the room, the first thing he addressed was the good report on the CT scan. No new growth! We were relieved, but as we were trying to find out how big the tumor was now, we were shocked to learn that it wasn’t there.

We didn’t understand what the doctor was saying, not sure we had heard him correctly. We were having him reiterate what he had just said while I was trying to study the report in my lap. He said “there is no measurable mass” in my left lung, the same thing staring back at me in black and white. It had only been six weeks since the last CT scan where the report clearly stated the tumor was 4×4 cm. Somehow, it went from being the size of a walnut to nothing in just two chemo cycles of maintenance therapy.

Now, I know that there is no way that a maintenance drug that only puts 15 minutes of chemo in my body for 2 rounds can make a tumor of that size just disappear when standard chemo with a much stronger drug couldn’t do that in 6 rounds. The math just doesn’t add up. Even the avastin can’t make tumors disappear like that. There was only one explanation. God did that.

I was in shock for quite a bit of that day, not because I didn’t believe God could do it, but because of the amount of favor He poured over me and my situation. Today, I found out that He has done the same thing for another person who had a 11 mm tumor in their left lung and theirs is completely gone now too!

God is definitely still in the business of doing miracles. Things can seem so bleak even when you have faith because you often still don’t know what God’s plan is for your life. We hold on to Him for dear life, praying and hoping that His plans for this life still include us a little bit longer, and it is just pure joy when we finally come to understand His plans for us.

I pray for anyone dealing with a long-term, debilitating illness. There are still plenty of reasons to hope, even if your faith is as small as a mustard seed.

He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20

The Need For Rest Will Just Have To Do For Now

The last time I was sick on Christmas was five years ago… before my life was drastically altered after meeting my husband and embracing the Christian faith wholeheartedly for the first time. I had traveled to Colorado via Greyhound to spend the holiday with my best friend and her kids. Taking the bus was a great way to get out of the city to venture the beaten path with my camera after the end of a six-year relationship I never should have been in, and the end of a disillusionment for an affair that would never be more than a roll in the hay. 

Yeah, I’d had better days and the opportunity to run away from home was enchanting. The road to freedom was a little more traveled than I wanted it to be though; it took three days to get to Colorado and five to get home. I remember getting stuck in the Dallas bus station for a day and a half while a snowstorm wrecked havoc just north of us. I was still trying to get to Colorado, and I was completely at the mercy of a storm I couldn’t even see. It wasn’t snowing in Dallas where I was, but all around me it was coming down so heavy that travel all the way up to Denver was at a halt. I just wanted to get where I was going, and I wanted answers. There was no way out and nowhere to feel safe. 

I think it took a good 12 hours before they finally brought a bus out for us weary-eyed travelers to sleep on. I was so thankful… all I wanted was answers and rest, but I would settle at the moment for just some rest. It’s how I’m feeling again after all these years.

Cancer has a way of eating away at your soul… if you’ll let it. Sometimes I do, I won’t lie. Sometimes, I give in and let the cancer take a bite or two out of me. Sometimes it takes a few days, weeks, or months for me to wake up out of the chokehold-slumber that cancer is and stumble again onto my faith. On Christmas Day, it was just a reminder staring back at me that reads “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Yesterday, it was a complete meltdown on the living room sofa where I begged God to help me over and over again. Today, it might look like something completely different but I’m not giving up. 

The answers may come another day but for today, I’m going to take the rest that comes with knowing Him. 

Tiptoe


Even when you’re going through it,

You’re not going through it;

You’re tiptoeing around,

Careful not to step on

Your own thoughts, your own feelings. 

You don’t really want to talk about it;

You don’t really want to write about it.

You only want to think about, write about 

Nothing at all.

The nothingness that stares you in the face,

The nothingness that will never be nothing again,

The life that will never be the same.

Putting The Thorn Before The Flower

As I sit here, I lay in a hospital bed. Alone. It’s 9pm on a Tuesday night, and my husband has to wake up early to get the kids to school. 

There are a myriad of emotions I’m experiencing right now. Lonely. Helpless. Emotionally drained and overwhelmed at the same time. I’m still in shock about how I have gotten to this point. If you read my last post, you will remember I was fearless then. That was before I met with the pulmonologist. 

I haven’t gotten any better. This is the stress I have been dealing with, the pain that has caused me to cry so much in the last week. But in the end, the consistent inability to breathe is what landed me in the emergency room. For months I’ve been wondering at what point someone would hospitalize me. After not being able to catch my breath for an hour and a half on Sunday, I made the decision myself. I asked my mother in law to drop me off at the hospital instead of church. I was admitted almost immediately. 

They have done extensive blood work and a bronchoscopy. I’m hoping to have the results tomorrow but so far I know there are no tumors and no blockages. That’s a good sign. I’ve been on fluids and two IV antibiotics since I got here, and everyone is taking my case very seriously. There is comfort in that. 

I’m a little less fearful and a lot more hopeful now thankfully. My husband came back from Miami yesterday where he had been helping with the hurricane relief. He surprised me outside my room when I got out of recovery from the bronchoscopy. I was so happy to see him, I cried out. Well, my hip was still hurting because the morphine hadn’t kicked in yet so that could have been part of it. 

He stayed with me quite awhile last night which I was thankful for, and then he switched off with my mother in law who stayed with me all night. I cannot explain the gratitude and comfort that comes from knowing someone is right next to you during an unexpected hospital stay, when you feel at your absolute worst. She had to go drive back home to SC today but my last words to her as she left this morning were “I’ll never forget.”

So where does this leave me now? Back to where I was when all of this started. When I first got sick, during every coughing spell, at each moment I threw up, at every moment I cried out in pain… there was only one left standing. Jesus. 

This is not to say that He is my last resort. When my family is here, of course I will make time to spend with my family. But I need my time with Him too. I was reading the Bible earlier and a food attendant came in whose name actually comes from the Bible. Elon. It means strong, like an oak tree. 

I had a great conversation with the the attendant, and I have a gift for her when I see her again tomorrow. I’m having encounters here at the hospital I would otherwise never have. Maybe this is about more than just me being sick. I believe God can use me anywhere, and I believe that He will. 

But right now… I’m going to turn my attention back to Him. I’m going to thank Him for the umpteenth time since I’ve been here, and delight in the grace He has bestowed upon me. 

I have learned to live with the thorn, and although it hurts, it has brought me closer to God than any flower ever could. Think about that for a minute. Would you trade in your flower for a thorn to get closer to God? 

Most will never do so willingly but He gives us all opportunities to know Him more intimately. I never asked to be so sick but I am grateful for the truths I could only know by allowing Him to walk with me on this journey. Only by succumbing to weakness could God’s strength and glory rise up in me when I had absolutely nothing left. 

I know I’m not really alone. I know He’s with me. He’s been with me all along. 

“Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me– to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” 2 Corinthians 7-9 

Fearless In The Midst of The Storm

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It seems like this year has been storm after another for me, and the one thing that always remains is pain. And sickness. And more pain. And more sickness. It’s enough to tire a person out.

I have talked about my struggles with chronic pain this year but then I fell silent. I’ve been quiet for quite some time for a very good reason. I was diagnosed with pneumonia in June, and still getting over it.

Coughing for three straight months will challenge anyone. Coughing to the point of vomiting and breathlessness is another thing entirely. I really thought I had whooping cough. I just couldn’t see how I could still have pneumonia after antibiotics and 2 rounds of prednisone.

I should say that I was quite surprised to learn I was so sick in the first place. I was weaning off all of my medications, something I knew God would call me to do at some point but six months into my chronic headache seemed to soon. Still, I went with it and put all of my trust in Him to get me through the pain. As my headache got worse and I started coughing non-stop, I knew something was terribly wrong. This couldn’t possibly be from weaning off of Lyrica and everything else that never helped anyway.

A month later when I was still very sick, I was told that I had bronchitis as well. Two weeks later as I struggled to take a painful deep breath, I was told I also had pleurisy. My painful ribs that had me struggling to walk were nothing more than the result of that and coughing so much. And as my breathing went from bad to worse, I had another chest x-ray done stat, only to find out the pneumonia was persistent after two months. Time for another round of antibiotics and a nebulizer for breathing treatments at home.

I finally have my appointment with a pulmonologist tomorrow, and I cannot wait. I doubt he will have special powers to make me better, but I do hope to find a regimen that will finally help me breathe easier because I’m not convinced the breathing treatments have helped me. Sometimes I think they actually make things worse.

I do the best I can dealing with all of this. I have a family to take care of, a job to hold down, and I have no more sick time left. All of my vacation time has been used up because of all of these things going on. Still, in the midst of everything that I have been through in the last 3 months, I have never felt closer to God. Never felt like He was there for me more than He is right now. It’s hard to explain but I’ve had to learn how to come to Him differently. I haven’t been able to sing in three months. I haven’t been able to work on music. There are days when I am so sick that all I can manage to do is cry out His name. He answers me every time.

Lately, in addition to helping me through this sickness, He is also giving me strength as I learn new ways to do simple things like breathing, talking, dressing myself, getting the dogs in and out of their cages, and doing a load of laundry. Did I mention that I can’t bend over? Yeah, haven’t been able to for at least a month and a half… basically after the pleurisy stopped being so bad, everything else started hurting. Coughing for so long is really bad for your back and hips so these days I use a crutch for walking and for bracing myself when trying to stand up. It has not been a fun ride but at the same time, my faith has grown stronger. I’ve surprised myself with a resilience that could only come from God as I continue to endure more and more pain. I was ready to call 911 the other night because I couldn’t get out of my bed after several hours, but instead I wound up talking to a friend of mine about God’s goodness. I went from crisis mode to a great level of peace so fast I didn’t even see it coming. Just talking about Jesus and sharing my experiences about how He has gotten me through tough times literally got me through the most excruciating pain I have endured in a very long time. Only Jesus can bring that kind of peace in the midst of pain that wasn’t going away any time soon.

Thankfully, I made it through the night and got a shot of toradol that helped some the next day. It’s amazing how thankful you are for level 8 pain after being at a 10 for so long. I’m  sure I will be just as thankful when I’m able to breathe normally again too. But regardless of how long that takes to improve, I know that God’s got His hand on my life, on my struggles, and on my perseverance to withstand these challenges. He is the difference between enduring pain and having peace in the midst of pain.

On another note, my family and I stayed home for Hurricane Irma, unlike Matthew when we evacuated to Alabama. Though we had damage like many families, what astounded me the most was my attitude change between the two storms. With Hurricane Matthew, I brought the storm with me in the form of anxiety, frustration, and emotional outbursts that wreaked havoc on my family. With Irma, I had a peace going into the storm that I’ve never had before. It didn’t make any sense, even while huddled in the bathroom with my family at 4 in the morning for a tornado in the area all the while knowing that a tornado warning is what sparked me to start having panic attacks years ago just from sheer fear. Instead of being swept up in the chaos of the storm this time, I remained rooted in the knowledge that it didn’t matter what happened; we were going to be okay. I have never felt such freedom and peace in my life, and I know it has to do with how much He has challenged me this year… to be fearless in the midst of the storm.

He’s challenging me and my family with new circumstances now. Nothing that I can discuss right now but an opportunity for the devil to try and stretch our faith even further. I hope he’s starting to figure out that we don’t give up that easily, that God is on our side, and that He WILL continue to fight for us. How sweet it is!

Lord Jesus, you are my rock and my salvation. You are the very breath that runs through my body and a beacon of hope on a cloudy day. I love you with all of my heart, and thank you for all that you continue to do for me, for all the ways you have shown up in my life, and for all that is yet to come. I pray that my story and my struggles can be used to show your love for your people, and to bring hope to the hopeless. May you be glorified every step of the way. In Jesus name, Amen.