Bad Shark!

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Well, Herman is being difficult. I had my second lumpectomy surgery last Wednesday, but the margins still weren’t clear. That means that there are still some cancer cells in there somewhere. The next steps aren’t completely clear yet, but it is quite possible that we’ve reached the end of the minimally invasive road, and it may take a mastectomy to send Herman packing.

I’m not thrilled about this, and I’m a little bit more scared, well, let’s say respectful of Herman and his destructive potential. I’m frustrated because I thought I knew the plan, and now there are a pile of decisions that must be made and I don’t even understand most of them yet.

Some things haven’t changed, though. I am still blessed by wonderful family and friends who pray for me, give me hugs when I need it, and let me have meltdowns in their offices (you know who you are), or on their shoulders. Wonderful people who make bad jokes (only the women, though – I’ve discovered that men are generally afraid to make breast cancer jokes. This is probably just as well.) God still makes his presence known every day in dozens of ways, and I am never alone.

So, on to the next round of Herman fighting, armed as I have been with love and prayers, humor and hugs, and the power of learning to be still and let God work. Thank you all. We’ll keep shooting at Herman until he gives up and swims away!

Happy New Year.

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Happy New Year everyone!  It’s New Year’s Day, and I do NOT have a pot of black-eyed peas simmering on the stove.  For some of you, that may not seem like a big deal, but the black-eyed peas on New’s Year’s Day is one of those things that comes down to you through generations of family and community culture, and I feel like quite a rebel to not be force-feeding those little legumes to my friends and family.  But, fact is, nobody really wants to eat them, and  so a few years ago we abandoned this little piece of Southern culture.

I feel pretty lucky, anyway.  Sure, the end of 2011 included something anyone would consider to be bad luck.  Finding out I have breast cancer was quite a shock, and I would be a lot happier if it had not happened, but I’m not sure I could be any luckier.  We found it early. It had not spread to my lymph nodes.  It is not a kind of cancer that requires chemotherapy to kill.  After my second surgery on January 11, the surgeon says we can be pretty sure it is gone. Six weeks or so of radiation and some medication for several years will help make sure it stays gone.

Even more than lucky, I am blessed.  My family and friends have been wonderful.  I’ve been surrounded and supported on a wave of prayer.  I’ve been the happy recipient of hugs,  food, flowers, notes, and funny cartoons.  The doctors, nurses, and staff at St. Luke’s and the Goppert Breast Center are amazing, kind, and communicative.  Dr. Clark, my primary care doc and his staff have been caring and supportive.

And, above all God has been good.  I am blessed with healing, but even more, I am learning the blessing of being still.  In one of my earlier postings, I mentioned one of the Scriptures I am relying on is Exodus 14:14: “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.”  I am not very good at being still.  I’m a fixer.  I want an action plan, and I generally would prefer to be in charge of it.  Suddenly I am faced with something I absolutely can’t fix and I have only limited input into the action plan.  The only part of this I am really in charge of is what is going on in my head and my heart.  And though I am far from perfect at it, I have been learning to be still and listen to God’s comforting promises, recognize God’s presence in the good and the bad, and see God’s love and care for me in the love and care I receive from others.  The stillness is a blessing in itself.

This is not some “happy talk” statement.  I am not happy to have cancer.  I don’t enjoy fear, or pain, or being on the receiving end of extensive medical care (or the bills that come with it).  I don’t believe God put me in this position so I would learn to be still, find inner peace and become some glowing example of growth through suffering.  But I do know that God has walked with me, sat by me on sleepless nights, comforted me with his Word and with the prayers and words of others. I know that I have been blessed and continue to be.

So, I am beginning 2012 with no black-eyed peas but with plenty of blessing and that’s all the luck I need.

And, a bit of fun – Sara sent me this, my new favorite cartoon!

I think I might try this!

 

Update on Herman’s Demise

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Lots of good news to share. The doctor called today with the basics of the pathology report. The lymph nodes are clear – that’s a biggie! The “margin” of good cells around the invasive tumor (the heart of Herman) is also good and clear – so most of him is gone. This is all very good news.

One little hitch – the margin around the non-invasive cancer cells – the cells that are not quite right but haven’t actually become part of Herman, was not clear enough. So….in a few weeks Dr. Shook will need to go in and do some more housekeeping. Leave it to me to have messy margins.

We have an appointment with Dr. Shook on the 28th and we’ll schedule that little bit of housekeeping then, and also talk about any other treatment that might be needed according to the full report – radiation for sure in February, don’t know yet about anything else.

I just have to say it again – I am so blessed with friends and prayers.

The Lord will fight for me; I have only to be still. (Exodus 14:14) I’m not very good at it, but I’m learning!

Herman’s Demise, part one accomplished!

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DISCLAIMER:  I am taking painkillers, so please excuse spelling, grammar, any and all goofy statements!

Well, the first step in Herman’s demise has been accomplished!  Surgery yesterday went well.  The surgeon said he got all of Herman, and the lymph nodes were clear. There will be a complete pathology report next week, but things look good.  Next step:  about 6 weeks of radiation, beginning probably sometime in January. Doesn’t sound like much fun, but  by all accounts totally doable and not too disruptive of life in general.  That should help be sure that Herman is history.

Yesterday was  long and hard, and in many ways a lesson in humility.  Nothing like hospital gowns, dozens of people looking at parts of you that “ladies always keep covered,” getting those same parts painted orange, and throwing up to keep you humble!

But it was also an amazing experience of prayer and God’s presence.  I truly felt all of your prayers, and the last thing I remember before the lights went out was hearing Pastor Nancy Paul’s voice in my head reading scripture.  The worst moment of surgery for me is always that point where I have to tell Monty goodby and go through the doors alone.  This time, I really didn’t feel so alone.  I felt God’s presence, and not nearly as afraid. I am so blessed with prayers and friends.  I can’t be thankful enough.

I can’t say enough good things about the doctors, nurses, technicians and everyone at St. Luke’s South and the Goppert Center.  They were so kind, and gentle and skilled.  They were all awesome.

That’s all now.  Time to go be dopey.  – Jen

 

 

Tomorrow’s the Day!

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Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.  I Peter 5:7

The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still Exodus 14:14

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.

Psalm 57:1

By this time tomorrow, Herman should just be a lump on some pathology slide and I should be resting comfortably in recovery at St. Luke’s South, bathed in prayer and incredibly blessed by the people who love and pray for me.

I’m not going to pretend I’m not scared, or anxious.  I am all of those things.  I hate hospitals.  I hate being “put under.”  I am excited to get this over with, and afraid of what comes next. But the closer I get to handing myself over to the surgeon and crew the more I remember I have already done the more important part – handed myself over to God.  I have only to be still!

If you will be praying for me tomorrow, I offer this Caim prayer, an ancient Celtic form of prayer.  You picture the person you are praying for, draw a circle around them in your mind, and then pray:

Circle ___, Lord.

Keep healing in

And cancer afar.

Keep peace within
and fear without.

 

Surround___ above and below,
in front and behind,
to the left and to the right,
with your love and care
and the comfort of your presence.

Amen

See what I mean?

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This comes under the heading of “Things I Am Convinced Do NOT Happen at Other People’s Houses.”  Subheading: “At Least Other People Who Don’t Live in a Swamp.”

John sent this picture out to the family today.  How Christmasy!  Last year Monty nearly wrecked the car turning around to take pictures of a similar setup on the outskirts of Pittsburg, Kansas.  Friends, when I am under anesthesia in couple of weeks, please keep an eye on the men in my life and don’t let them get any brilliant decorating ideas while I am incapacitated!

Disturbing on so many levels...

This is the same bunch who wanted to hang the dismembered head of a Christmas-light reindeer on the side of the house.  And, when they were younger, inserted the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles into the creche and began a war between the turtles and the Holy Family.   Just makes you all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it.  We won’t even discuss their fondness for “Grandma Got Run Over by the Reindeer.”

Maybe they’re just trying to keep me distracted from the Herman Watch.  It’s working 🙂

No easy way to say this…

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There are words we would just as soon never hear, and Tuesday I heard three of them. “Invasive…breast…cancer.”  There were lots of other words, but truthfully, those three were all I really heard.  So, friends, I have breast cancer.  It was found on my mammogram (get those mammograms, ladies), and we hope it was found before it did anything nasty, like spreading around.  It is so small I still can’t feel the lump.  I will have surgery – a lumpectomy – on December 14.  There will definitely be some treatment – radiation, chemo, or both after that.  I have acquired a giant notebook full of information and forms, a blue nylon bag with “CANCER CENTER” printed on it (now there is a fashion statement), and a cute little pillow.  Who knew there would be door prizes?

I have to say, though, that I am blessed beyond measure in family, friends, love and prayers.  The people I have had the opportunity to tell in person or on the phone have been supportive, loving, and full of prayers.   Within an hour or two of a phone call, Nancy Ottinger appeared at my front door with a book that helped her through this experience, and lots of good, practical advice.  The wonderful and crazy people I work with called and texted me all day yesterday while I sat at home calling doctors and trying to get my head together.  I won’t pretend that I am not scared – terrified is more like it.

But I am not alone.  God is with me every minute, and Monty, Sara, John, Sam, Sean, and Alison are all there for me, as are many, many extended family members and friends.  I work with the best, most supportive people on earth.  I know  this is something that can be overcome, can be cured and knocked away, and I believe we will do that.  After a family email confab, we have determined to refer to the cancer as “Herman.”  We are Magnum P.I. fans in this geeky group, and Herman was the shark in the episode with the shark.  If you aren’t a Magnum fan, well, that sounds just crazy, but trust me.  It’s a good name.  Herman does NOT win in the end.

People have asked what they can do.  Pray.  As you might guess from the name of my blog, I am big on prayer.  If you are friends with Monty, Sara, John, Sam, Sean or Alison, please check on them and remember that this is no picnic for them either.  If you know any really, really bad breast cancer jokes (or shark jokes), send them my way.

I will let you know when and if there is any news about Herman and his upcoming demise.

Jen

Things That Never Happen At Other People’s Houses

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Someday I am going to write a book titled, This Never Happens at Other People’s Houses.  I have been saying this for years, usually using the name of one or another of my friends whose houses seem to be always clean, and who have never come home to find a tent set up in their living room.

For instance:

Objects Found in the Bathroom (over the years, not all at once):  rubber snake, extremely lifelike toy flintlock rifle, Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles, a towel from a hotel in Las Vegas that no one who lives here (as far as I know and as far as anyone would admit) has ever stayed in, dog leashes and a can of fishing bait.  None of these match the shower curtain or the guest soaps.

Things you may find in the Living Room on any given day:  tents, set up or not, guns and ammo, fishing rods, enough duffle bags to outfit an entire battalion, rock collections, picnic coolers of all shapes and sizes, enough pairs of hiking boots to cover your average centipede, paper cases, and auto parts.  Lately this list has also included various configurations of mattresses and boxed springs and other furniture.  These all look interesting piled up next to the floor to ceiling book shelves and coordinate nicely with my Irish pottery collection.  I occasionally add fresh flowers to dress the place up a bit.

In our kitchen, there are over 20 travel coffee mugs, and they are usually, for some reason, lined up on the counter waiting for some caffeine deprived army to arrive and carry them away. This morning, hanging among the various family pictures, I found a picture of the Obama family.  I have no idea why, and if you know my husband, you understand this is a pretty odd thing to find on our refrigerator.

It’s not just inside the house.  Our backyard has, at various times in our lives housed a donkey, goats, and sheep waiting to appear in church Christmas and Easter programs (the only reason we didn’t get the camel was he didn’t want to get out of the truck).  For a period of time when John and his cousin Ben were about 5 years old, it was the home of a fully operational Worm Ranch.  Our driveway features a 1959 Chevy Pickup (it’s for sale on craigslist, if you are interested…if you get me alone, I guarantee you a great deal).  I once had to intervene to keep the men in my life from hanging the lighted (with twinkly Christmas lights) head of a lawn decoration reindeer on the side of the house.

Our pets are even, well, different.  At the moment we have no particularly unusual species, but in the past we have been home to the usual cats and dogs (including one cat who literally climbed the walls, and one dog whose favorite snack was underwear), and also various reptiles.  We currently have a cat who alternates between believing he’s a dog and being certain he’s a lion in the jungle, a chocolate labrador retriever who thinks he’s a lapdog, and a half-beagle/half blue heeler who thinks we are all sheep to be herded into one place. The cat leaves ritually-sacrificed rabbits at the back door.  The lab brings frogs in from the back yard to play with.

Our house has never been ready for a Better Homes & Gardens photo shoot, even on its best day.  If the Home Crashers ever come, they are going to have a heck of a time trying to decide whether to update the 1980s kitchen or come up with a living room decorating plan that incorporates camp stoves.

And I don’t care.  We LIVE in our house, and always have.  Sure, we have some unusual interior decoration, but we have fun, and laughter.  You can almost always find a place to stay and something to eat and someone interesting to talk to.  I used to have a wonderful framed picture hanging in the kitchen that showed an eclectically cluttered room like you could find anywhere in our house, with a caption from Proverbs 14:4:  Proverbs 14:4:

Where there are no oxen, the stable is clean, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest.
I love our abundant harvest of activity, friends, love and laughter.  I feel sorry for anyone who lives in a house where that is not the case, no matter how good it looks in the pictures.

 

Back to school

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It seems like not so very long ago, this week would have been filled with shopping and backpacks, and signing forms and trying to move back bed times to school time, and saying good bye to summer…  Strangely enough, this week in my family it’s Back to School time again in a big way.  Student teaching, law school, seminary. But this time, I’m not in charge.  Darn it.

My children amaze me.  They are faithful, grace filled, brave, smart, focused.  Over the next couple of weeks, they all embark on new adventures in their lives, adventures they all feel called to by the God they faithfully serve.  For each of them, this is an exciting time, but for each the adventure calls for sacrifice, tough decisions, and the compromises and accommodations that grown up life tends to ask for.  I have no doubt they are ready for this challenge.  But, to be honest, I would rather be in charge.

All of motherhood has been an education in trusting God, but when they are small, you carry the illusion that you are partnering with God in shaping these little lives and hearts. God has put you in charge of the day to day details, and therefore you can pretend to yourself quite easily that you are in charge of your little universe.  There is nothing like being the mother of adult children to remind you who is REALLY in charge.

Jesus told his disciples that following him meant taking their lives down to the bone and putting it all in his hands.  He told them that their hearts were where their treasure was, and he wanted to be that treasure.  He asked them to give it all over to him.  I realized a few years ago that, knowing my heart, God wasn’t asking me to head off to Africa, or to risk my life, or to change everything around me in an instant just to serve him.  No….knowing my heart, God asked me to give him the one thing I treasured above all else – my kids.  God asked me to let him direct their lives and be happy as long as they were following him to find their way.  There are plenty of days when I would much rather go to Africa.  I have learned more about trusting God and following his plan by daily, hourly, putting these amazing human beings in his hands and trying my best to get out of the way than I could have learned any other way.

So, this week I won’t be packing any backpacks or signing any permission slips or packing any lunches.  I don’t have any carpools and no one is going to let me supervise homework.  I will be doing what all mothers do, and what the mothers of adults learn is the best, and only thing we can really do.

Like the title of the blog says, Mama will be praying.

What Harry Would Say…

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It’s a rare day when I am glad my father isn’t around any more.  He died over 20 years ago and I still miss him.  But today I am glad he’s not here, because what is going on in Washington would give him a stroke.  He was a great believer in the nation he gave the end of his teens and his early young adulthood to defend.  He was an enthusiastic participant in the political system, as was my mother.  They brought up kids who were participants in the system, too, including one who ran for national office.  Dad was a devoted capitalist, cared about the less fortunate among us not as political tools and economic dependents,  but as people to be brought into the capitalist system he loved and respected.  He thought everyone should and could have the opportunity to succeed and that no one should be demeaned by being made a dependent on government handouts.  He believed with all his heart this was possible, and that there were good, strong leaders who would go to Washington and make these important things happen.  He believed that individuals and governments paid their bills on time, avoided extravagance of every kind, and put the interests of many before the interests of a few.

He would be having a stroke if he could see the sorry show our nation’s leaders are putting on right now – on both sides of the aisle.  The posturing and fighting for position, rhetoric, and air time would make him sick.  The self-serving nature of the debate, on each side, would make him crazy.  The lack of leadership and character would break his heart.

I know, because it’s breaking mine.  I’m watching his great-grandchildren’s future wash down the drain in a flood of lies and half-truths from a bunch of millionaires in $2,000 suits.  I am watching the nation he gave his youth to defend, and the rest of his life to supporting with his time and his money crumble under the weight of self-service and political wrangling.

If Dad were here, he would say “throw the bums out, each and every one.”  And I would agree with him.  What has happened in Washington these past few weeks is truly shameful.  Out of respect for my Dad, and for my Mom, and for myself, my kids and my grandchildren, I am contacting all those who purport to represent me and them and letting them know how disgusted I am.  They are just lucky Harry isn’t here to tell them.