Monday, July 12, 2021

On this day, 7 years ago...

 


I was just 3 days out from surgery to remove both my breasts when a stranger came to visit me. We'd "found" each other through a Facebook breast cancer group and she'd been a wealth of information so when she offered to come see me, I hesitantly agreed. I wanted a new friend, but I was scared. Although Karen was also a breast cancer patient, she was six months ahead of me in her treatment. She'd already been through everything I was going to face and she wanted to help ease my fears. I didn't realize it then, but that gift was one of the biggest blessings I'd ever receive. 

When I heard the gentle knock on my front door, I was nervous. I didn't feel well and was in a good deal of pain. My husband opened the door and greeted Karen, my new friend and pink sister. As he welcomed her in, she immediately came over to my chair and gave me a gentle hug. She made a joke about the way we looked, laughing and pointing to her practically bald head as she exclaimed, "We're quite the pair!" That ice breaker was perfect.

I was embarrassed to be wearing a surgical compression top underneath my blouse. There was no way to fully hide the dangling JP drains, or the bloody fluid they contained, but Karen didn't mind. She'd already been there and done that. She didn't see all that surgical stuff. Her eyes were fixed on mine. She saw me for me. 

We sat and talked for hours. It felt like we'd known each other forever. No question was off limits, she told me, and she even offered to let me see her new breast prostheses if I wanted to, but I wasn't quite ready for that. 

Karen gave me hope as she explained what lay ahead of me. Knowing what to expect made things more bearable. 

I don't know what I would have done if Karen hadn't come to see me that day. She went out of her way to help me and I'll never forget it. 

That's one thing about the breast cancer community - we're all about helping each other. Whether it's sharing helpful hints and tricks or just offering a listening ear, the compassion between pink sisters is real.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Tomorrow is the big day


Tomorrow is the big day, the day I celebrate 7 years of being cancer free. 

As I think back on all God's brought me through, I can't believe I've made it this far. 

A friend I met through an online breast cancer site and I share the exact same diagnosis and we were diagnosed just a few months apart from each other. She's not doing well at all and is about to enter hospice. I can't help but wonder why God's allowing me to live on while she is facing the end of her life. It hurts my heart and while I can't quite understand it, I have to remember God is God and I am not. He and He alone has numbered our days. My only hope is that my friend will know she was well loved and she will certainly be missed when she goes home to meet the Lord. I'm so thankful for her faithful witness, her strength and her resilience. Though she chose a different treatment path than I, I can't help but wonder if perhaps the chemotherapy and all of the other medications she endured during treatment may have contributed to her ill health. 

When I first began fighting cancer, I chose to go the natural route. The only conventional treatment I agreed to was surgery and radiation therapy. I felt those were the best choices for me and for the most part, I've been happy. Other than the burns I suffered and the cording, I think I've done quite well. It hasn't been a bed of roses though, by any means. And the side effect of lymphedema in both arms sucks, but I'm still here, so how can I complain? 

Everyone has to make their own decisions in the fight against cancer and we can never fault someone for choosing a treatment plan that differs from our own. We all want to live and we'll do anything possible to gain better odds toward that end goal, but sometimes, we react from fear and don't always make the best decisions. 

It would be nice if doctors would present all choices and allow the patient to make an informed decision, but that isn't usually the case. Most doctors steer patients toward conventional therapies and those usually involve severe life altering remedies. Chemotherapy and radiation both kill the good and bad cells in our bodies. There's no way to only target the cancer cells. If there were, we'd have so many more survivors than we currently have. 

I've always wondered why doctors don't help their patients discover natural, less invasive solutions to fighting cancer. Their Hippocratic oath of "Do no harm" should be all encompassing, but there are big bucks in big pharma and many doctors are all about the dollar signs. 

Seven years seems like a lifetime ago. It's hard to remember what life was like B.C. (before cancer) but I try. Some of the things I do remember and miss terribly are my physical stamina and my body image. I used to have so much energy I could go for days, now, I'm lucky if I make it to 9:00 p.m. without flopping into bed exhausted. I used to look in the mirror and think, "Hey, you're one hot chick!" But now, I can't help but look at my body with sadness and disgust. 

God has been faithful and I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, He understands all of the emotions I've faced throughout these past 7 years. He's watched me cry tears of heartbreak and joy. He's held me tight when I felt I was unloved and unlovely. He's comforted me and given me strength on days I never thought I'd make it. I am so grateful He's deemed me fit to continue on. I know He still has work for me to do. 

Throughout my 63 years on Earth, I've learned, over and over again, through every trial I've ever faced that God is loving and kind. He has a good plan for me, a plan to prosper me and not to harm me. A plan to give me a future and a hope. 

And so, I press on. 

Now instead of watching the clock, I move through life minute by minute trusting God for the next step along the way. Jesus is my portion. He is my one true love. He is my everything. His eye is on the sparrow And I know He watches me


Wednesday, June 30, 2021

7 Years is a Long Time to be Cancer Free

Seven years ago, I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Stage 2B with Metastasis to the lymph glands. When I heard the words, 2 jumped out at me – carcinoma and metastasis. I knew those words and knew they were bad. I didn’t pay much attention to the stage or the type of cancer. The only thing that concerned me was whether I was going to live or die. 

The first year was tough. Being thrust into the world of breast cancer is challenging. There were so many experiences I never dreamed I’d face, from surgery to treatment and then, learning to live life after those were through. 

It took time to learn to cope. Most days, I felt alone and helpless like I’d gone to sleep and had woken up in a bad dream, a dream that seemed as if it would never end. But as I fought through each challenge that came my way, I found myself becoming stronger. I was determined to live, no matter what the cost.

 As a person of faith, I found myself relying on God for each minute of the day. Whenever I was discouraged, felt unlovely, or like I didn’t matter, I turned to the Bible and found solace there. 

My family and friends were also a source of strength. They offered their love and understanding when I needed it most. Without them, I don’t think I would have made it. 

Learning to live as a breastless woman, I had to conquer the feelings of self-loathing and learn to extend myself grace. When I finally learned to accept my appearance, I found others did, too. 

I look back now and it seems a lifetime ago that my life was turned upside down, but it’s only been 7 years. 

 Seven, in Biblical gematria (the study of the significance of the usage of numbers in Scripture) has great significance. It’s the number of completion. That makes this cancerversary ominous for me. With cancer, a fear of recurrence is normal, but sometimes, especially in instances like this, the fear seems to loom and a sense of foreboding engulfs me. 

 I wonder how to shake the feeling that maybe, just maybe, my time of being cancer free is over. I can’t help but question, what I’d do if the cancer returned. 

I’d like to hope I’d fight with the same determination and resilience I did when I was first diagnosed but it might come back with a vengeance. If that happened, I might choose to do chemotherapy instead of refusing it, like I did 7 years ago. I might choose to take drastic measures to fight the cancer, instead of doing everything I could to fight it naturally like I’ve been doing for the past 7 years, or maybe not. Perhaps I’d just give in and give up…who knows. 

I don’t like to wonder and worry about something over which I have no control. That’s no way to live! I think I’ll make a conscious effort to stay in the zone of positivity. If I’ve survived for the past 7 years, chances are, the cancer won’t return. More than likely, at the age of 63, I’ll die of something else, right? And then I think of my dear friend who also suffered from breast cancer. She was diagnosed over 22 years ago and then, when she least expected it, her cancer returned and took her life. When that happened, I was devastated and even more afraid than ever. But if you give fear the power, you lose. 

Once I read an acronym for the word fear. It said, “Fear: False Evidence Appearing Real. And that’s the truth, isn’t it? Fear causes us to accept the thing that appears to be true even if there’s no substantial evidence to prove otherwise. 

I can’t live that way. 

So today, and every day forward, no matter how many days I have left, I choose to live like it could be the last day of my life. None of us are ever promised tomorrow anyway. And if we choose to live like we’re dying, the choices we make will be profound.

I am not going to let go of my survivorship crown, the one I’ve been wearing for the past 7 years. I earned it and I’m going to trust God to give me many more years of life to live, love, and enjoy.

This survivor is grateful for every minute of life and I won’t let fear scare me any longer. I. AM. A. SURVIVOR, today and forever. 

Amen.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Power to Forgive

I'm a writer. I write all the time. I was probably born with a pen in hand. My mother used to get so mad at me because I was constantly writing. Every slip of paper in our house was fair game for me. I'd write on scraps, napkins, even toilet paper! As far as I know, I never wrote on anything other than paper but I could be mistaken. There were always so many thoughts running through my head I just had to record them. Usually I'd write with a pencil but every now and then, I'd write with a pen. The only problem was, when you write in pen, it's not easy to erase. As I grew older, I gave up the pen and pencil opting for the ease and speed of a typewriter. Whiteout became my best friend until I learned to type quickly and efficiently. My first typewriter was a manual Royal, a heavy machine, from the 1950s. I loved that typewriter and still have it to this day. When computers came along, I was in heaven. Not only could I record thoughts quickly, I could store them easily on disks or hard drives for posterity's sake. But, there was one key on the keyboard that gave me absolute power - the delete key. In an instant, I could wipe out everything. I loved depressing the delete key and seeing the words permanently gone. I could start over with a clean slate and if I didn't like the words I'd written, I could delete them and start over again. Thinking about the delete key, I wished we had one for life. A few weeks ago, one of my family members hurt me. In a volatile situation, words had been shouted and the wounds cut deep. I stood in shock as I listened to venom spew from that person's mouth. It was evil and ugly. I cried myself to sleep that night wondering where the poison had come from and why it had poured forth so easily, but deep down, I knew. When we walk in the flesh, things can get nasty in a hurry. My heart had been hurt. I loved this person. And I knew, Satan wanted me to allow a root of bitterness to grow up in my heart. He wanted me to be angry and for our relationship to be strained and broken. But God wanted restoration. I wished we could delete the incident and start over. That's when God reminded me of the delete key. He spoke to my heart and said forgiveness is like the delete key on a computer. When we choose to forgive, it's like giving a promise - the promise that we'll never bring up the offense commited against us again. Forgiveness gives us the power to delete the mental record of the pain of our hurt. We eliminate it. It's as if the sin never occured. And isn't that exactly what God does for us? When we ask Jesus to forgive us, when we repent of our sin, He doesn't say, "Oh, no... you owe me." No. His arms open wide and He says, "Yes, beloved! I forgive you." And not only does He forgive us, the Bible says He forgives us as far as the East is from the West. And He remembers our sin no more. Now if God can do that, why can't we? Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves. Why hold onto an offense that will constantly remind us of an unhealed wound? The power to forgive is a gift from the Father. I hope you use it and use it often.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Don't Waste Any Time

Frances McDormand as Fern
Today I finally watched the acclaimed movie, Nomadland. I'm always a day late and a dollar short, it seems, when trying to stay up on the most recent social media items, but I try. I'd heard about it from my youngest daughter and made a note to watch as soon as possible. 

The movie won best picture in the 2021 Oscars and Frances McDormand did an excellent job in her role as lead character, Fern. Following the economic collapse of Empire, a small town in rural Nevada, Fern (Frances McDormand) packs her van and sets off exploring life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad.

I found myself in a pensive and introspective mood as I watched. This hard working woman, recently widowed, left everything she knew and loved due to circumstances beyond her control. She was a seeker on a journey to find herself. 

As I watched, I immediately became entrenched. As an avid camper, hiker, and backpacker, I loved all the beautiful scenery in the movie and paired with beautiful music, it really touched my heart. 

Watching as Frances/Fern traveled in her van from place to place, I was reminded, the Earth is not our home. We're all just wandering here on this planet and the majority of us have an inner sense that we don't really belong here - that's because God has placed the desire for eternity in our hearts. 

Throughout the movie, Fern meets one person after another on her life's path. Some become good friends and others are just casual acquaintances. But in every instance, each person was meant to touch her life in some small way or, vice versa. 

There was one particular scene where Fern and another woman are talking. The woman tells Fern about her husband buying a beautiful sailboat and how he couldn't wait to retire so he could enjoy it, but ten days before he retired, he died. The woman admonished Fern saying, "Don't waste any time." And when she said that, I felt an arrow pierce my heart. 

Time. So valuable and so precious. Yet, every single day, we waste it. Why? With such a priceless commodity, we should be wise about our expenditures. 

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I stopped wearing a watch. I didn't want to know what time it was any more. I wanted to focus on being present in the moment. In the past, I'd let time slip away but from that day forward, I resolved, no more. 

Daily, I push myself to the limit, often to my detriment. In fact, my husband and children often tell me I don't know how to rest. My husband, Phil, is always encouraging me to partake of Dolce Far Niente, the art of doing nothing. He says it's okay, but I feel if I do, I'm wasting precious time. Only those who've gone through cancer can truly grasp that concept. 

A Facebook friend send me a beautiful painting the other day. At the bottom of the painting are the words, "Sometimes you have to rest. The world can wait!" It's a reminder that sometimes I need to slow down. The Bible reminds me, too, "Be still...and know that He is God." Being still is hard for me, but I'm trying. 

There's a big difference between resting and wasting time, between being still and frittering away the moments. 

It can be difficult to find a balance, but we must. 

Oh to be a nomad, wandering from place to place, with no responsibilities or encumbrances! 

Though we're tethered to this Earth right now, there's a constant tugging at our hearts for home. That's why we can't waste even a second. We must use our stories to point others to Christ and that way, we won't have wasted any time.

Monday, April 12, 2021

The Little Things

The day started out bright and early, earlier than I'd intended. 5 a.m. isn't my idea of a "normal" wake time, but today, it happened that way. So I jumped out of bed, put my phone on speaker so I could listen to a sermon, and hopped into the shower. (I'm a multi-tasker,  a vice I've had since birth - typical type A, you know the drill.)

After showering, I stood, wrapped in a towel, staring at myself in the mirror. "Who are you and what are you doing here" I asked myself. Analyzing my face, I realized the number of wrinkles there had multiplied. No doubt about it, I was getting old. 

63, by most standards, isn't really old, but some mornings, I beg to differ. Bones creak and muscles ache and yet, I'm thankful to be able to feel them. And as we age, body parts start to need special attention, most recently my left eye.

Around 2008, I began to notice cloudiness in that eye. It grew more and more bothersome until I went to see the ophthalmologist who said I'd developed cataracts in both eyes. In 2011, I had surgery to remove the cataract in my left eye and insert an artificial lens. In 2012, I had the same done for my right eye. Then, in early 2020, the outer edge of the left eye became clouded and I thought another cataract had formed. Once again, I made a trip to the doctor and he told me I had been leaking vitreous fluid. I'd need another surgery called YAG. That surgery would involve a laser and I was assured it wouldn't hurt, so I had it done. For a couple of months, it seemed to have cleared things up and then, I began to have eye pain and loss of vision. Another trip to the doctor revealed I'd continued to have issues with leaking vitreous fluid and needed another surgery called an Anterior Vitrectomy. In March 2021, I had that done and have been recovering from it since. 

Months before the YAG surgery, during my prayer time, I felt the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart. He whispered, "You're going to lose the sight in your eye, but don't be afraid." When I heard that message, I questioned whether or not I was actually hearing from God or if, perhaps, I had some underlying fear that was expressing itself. Pushing the thought to the back of my mind, I'd almost forgotten about it, until 2 days after the anterior vitrectomy when everything went pitch black in that eye. Instead of freaking out, which I would have normally done, I remembered the word I'd received. I chose not to be afraid but to wait and see what happened. Gradually, over the next week, my eyesight got a little better each day. First it was like looking through a thick, dark curtain. Then, it was like the curtain had been changed to a sheer brown one. A day or two later, it was like looking through a hazy, gold curtain and then, everything was just fuzzy but noticeably clearer. I was so thankful! The doctor had warned, before I was sedated for surgery, that there was a small possibility that I could lose vision in that eye but he hoped that wouldn't be the case.

Since eye surgery, I've had to shield my eye from bright light and foreign objects. Daily, I've followed the medication regimen of 4 different eye drops four times a day. It's been tedious and frustrating, but anything to protect my eyesight is worthwhile.

I stare at myself In the bathroom mirror. Leaning in close, I notice my eyes look weak partially from the bright light and partially from the lack of makeup. It's been over a month since I've been able to wear eye makeup. That may not seem like a big deal to some, but for the woman with sparse lashes, mascara can be a lifesaver. 

Today was the day I was going to try it. At my appointment last week, I'd asked the doctor if it was okay to resume using eye makeup and he assured me it would be fine, so why was I hesitant to bring the mascara wand close to my eyeball? 

Fear paralyzed me for a few moments before I had enough courage to move the mascara wand lightly across the lashes of my left eye. Slowly and methodically, I applied a light coat of black mascara. I'd made sure to purchase a new tube at the drugstore in anticipation of this day. (They say you're supposed to discard mascara every 3 months, so I even took a Sharpie marker and wrote the date on the tube so I'd know when to ditch it.)

When I'd completed my makeup regimen, I looked in the mirror and smiled.

There I was! I'd missed mascara more than I realized. 

Isn't it funny how the little things in our lives seem to matter so much? The things we can control seem to help us understand who we are and why. But there are so many things we can't control, and those things tend to make us wonder and worry. God doesn't want us to worry, even over the little things. 

In the Bible, we're told many, many times not to worry or be afraid. Why? I think God wanted to emphasize that worry accomplishes nothing and fear can keep us paralyzed. He wants us to enjoy freedom and peace. 

Little things, like my mascara, remind me I can only enhance the beauty God's already given me and even without mascara, He sees me as His beautiful daughter. 

As I slip the tube of mascara back into my makeup bag, I hear a quote in my mind - "Vanity, thy name is woman." And you know, I'd have to agree.

The Bible says, "Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." Proverbs 31:30

I'd much rather be known as a woman who fears the Lord than a woman who looks good on the outside and is hollow on the inside. 

It's always the little things...

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Where do the wounded go?

 

Where Do They Go?

By Bonnie Annis

 

Where do the wounded go when the cut is fresh and deep? 

Where do they hide to keep others from tasting the bleeding?

Where do they go when healing begins, or when it's too slow in coming? 

Where do they go? 

Where do they go when the wound has mended? 

When scars once raw no longer weep? 

Where do they go when the pain has eased but the trauma remains? 

Where do they go? 

And when the scar is old but still reminds, where do they go? 

I'll tell you. 

They go where they've always gone, into that dark, quiet place. 

The deep space inside where warriors live. 

The place of solitude and strength. 

The place of sorrow and tears. 

The place of resilience and hope. 

That's where they go. 

How do I know? 

It's where I live. 

Day in and day out. 

Until cancer came, it was a secret place. 

But then, I received permission to enter. 

That’s when I discovered I was not alone. 

There were others. 

Invisible to me, but they were there. 

Kindred spirits.  

We were the wounded warrior women. 

The ones without choice in the matter.

But we bore our scars with dignity. 

 © Bonnie Annis 2021

On this day, 7 years ago...

  I was just 3 days out from surgery to remove both my breasts when a stranger came to visit me. We'd "found" each other throu...