It’s Cancer Day

One year ago today I waited with phone in hand I wished to hear my nurse’s voice telling me everything was fine, because the nurse always gets to phone with the good news.
Instead somewhere around dinnertime, my doctor called. “I’m sorry,” he said, “It’s cancer.” He proceeded to explain it was rare, aggressive and answers eluded him.
That was the first day of a month that felt more like a year and a year that has felt more like a lifetime. And here, safely on the shore of the other side, I can’t believe it’s only been a year.
But it has. It’s been a year of the greatest of joys and the deepest of heartaches. It’s been a year of struggle and victory. I’ve experienced a gamut of emotions and seen God’s healing, redemption and miracles up close and personal. Last year I only hoped I’d experience Him in this way this side of heaven.
Isn’t it so gracious of God to give me an appointment with my oncologist on today? January 25. It’s Cancer Day. I find myself believing He is taking another shot at His endless redemption in my life.
I’m hopeful It’s Cancer Day will turn into It’s NOT Cancer Day today.
The Lord says, “I will give you back what you lost
      to the [cancer] swarming locusts…
you will praise the Lord your God,
   who does these miracles for you.”
From Joel 2:25-26 NLT

Livin’ on a Prayer

My husband brings me a cute little pink 13.1 magnet signifying to the world, or at least those I pass in my car, that I am a half marathon runner.
Beaming as he holds the pink car magnet, he intends to thrill me. His thoughtful generosity meets my blank stare with a sarcastic sigh.
Why should I be proud of running a half marathon, I ask aloud. Completing a half marathon is bittersweet as I had planned to run a full marathon this year until cancer interrupted my training.
My husband launches into the stats: Based on the fact that 1% of the population has run a marathon and twice as many running the half on our race day, maybe 2% of the population has completed a half marathon. I should be proud to be among 2% of the population. The pep talk bandages my wound as I savor the pre-race moment; we both know I’ll finish.
His report stirs something deep in my soul. No matter how much I accomplish, it is never enough. The thought twirls through my mind as I bee bop the first mile of the race, Bon Jovi crooning in my head. Whooah we’re halfway there…
Never satisfied with my own accomplishments, I always expect more even when at mile three I think I might freeze to death. The thought permeates my sweat-soaked head at mile six when I’m not sure I even want to finish and as my wind-stiffened knees walk toward my finisher’s medal the thought is still there.
Behind the hype of finishing, I wonder why it isn’t enough.
This revelation shapes my current goals and causes me to lighten up on myself and release grandiose ideals.  Writing for at least an hour a day, completing one organizing project each week or doing anything outside the scope of mothering on any given day even though most of my children are in school are lofty resolutions of the past. Today I mother my children, care for my family and take care of my recovering body as I spend time with my Jesus. Writing, cleaning, training for a marathon are all bonuses. As freeing as the truth can be, it also hurts.
Running a half marathon is hard. I rail at the thought. Being my own harshest critic, I want to not only run a full marathon, I want it to be easy and I want to enjoy it. This thought that the half is not enough and it is so difficult dashes my hope. Hard truth slams into my soul.
Running a marathon is hard.
Recovering from cancer is harder. I want to wake up the day after treatment and start life right where it paused. Since this time last year, trying to get everything back to normal is my goal.  Yet one reality stares me in the face—things are anything but normal.
My goal morphs into creating a new normal. This normal includes a mom who is weary and forgetful, a more relaxed house and some really early bedtimes.
As my car sports my new magnet, I realize something big. I need to lighten up, have realistic expectations, be happy with baby steps and celebrate every mile marker even if I need to rest at one a bit.

A fellow cancer survivor encourages me to give myself an entire year before I expect to feel normal again. This advice inspires me to walk slowly instead of racing toward the future. Now when I think of that half marathon, I get excited because it means I’m half way there. I hear God singing,  Woooah we’re half way there livin’ on a prayer. Take my hand and we’ll make it I swear—livin’ on a prayer.

Guilty Gratitude

The journey to becoming a cancer survivor has been a roller coaster ride with tall swings from high to low and loop-to-loops that have left me feeling exhilarated, joyous, anxious, fearful and deprived all at once.
As I look back over this year I wonder how I ever survived it without an emotional breakdown. And I wonder if maybe I broke down and didn’t realize it.
There have been days over the past few months that find me sitting. I sit and stare at mindless daytime TV, the latest TNT marathon or simply just out the window at nothing. I’ve been frustrated at myself for not writing quality posts but when I try to write the words get all jumbled up with emotions I can’t identify.
I’ve carried tremendous guilt because of all the time I’ve spent just sitting. I’ve grown weary of feeling guilty for the way things turned out and tired of the hurt I’ve seen cancer bring to those around me.
I’ve carried a load of guilt for the fatigue. And although it’s getting better there have been nights I have been too tired to get up and comfort my children in their nightmares. Those nights have left me ragged. They come to me at night, sometimes I get up with them and sometimes I hug them in a semi-conscious state, mumble an incoherent prayer and send them on their way.
I was given a new lease on life and I feel there are minutes and days that I’m squandering it by doing nothing but staring at the ticking clock.
But maybe it’s not nothing, maybe it’s something and something important. Maybe it’s a phase of the grief that cancer brought this way because hard times bring grief. Even hard times with happy endings bring loss and emotional weariness.
Maybe the sitting, letting my mind wander without entertaining a heavy thought is therapeutic. Maybe I’m in emotional recovery.
Yesterday I realized what I was feeling was probably normal and that other people who have had stressful years full of hard and shocking circumstances must sit too. And I thought that my emotions weren’t really all that unidentifiable anymore.
Today these crazy unfamiliar emotions I’ve been wrestling with seem more like old friends than new enemies. Today I look forward to what I will learn and uncover in the process. I look forward to those I will meet along the way and I hope to bring comfort to those who are hurting. Today I embrace the freedom to change and the energy to begin. Again.
“let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:22-23 NIV

Surprise! My First Vlog

Today is a very special day. In honor of you, some very special people, my first vlog. Join our celebration!
I love you my bloggy friends and family!
With birthday love and 40 hugs!

PS Special thanks to Andrew’s ability to get turn this video into a vlog!!! Sorry for the uncenteredness of this vlog and sorry that me talking is not half as exciting as a 5th Smith baby would be (see previous post’s comments). Smiles to you all tonight!

Equipment Shopping

It was something that needed to be done. A celebration of its own sort, an excursion of its own category, an undercover event of epic (or not so epic proportion) some might say.
Last week I went post-cancer-removing-surgery-breast equipment shopping. The last time I enjoyed this type of shopping, I was a perky twenty-something eager for marriage and spending vast amounts of gift cards at that secret fancy pajama shop in the mall. 
Then I got married, got pregnant, had babies, nursed babies, gained weight, lost weight and somewhere in the middle of babies and weight gain I learned that driving down a grocery aisle and throwing lingerie in the cart faster than a toddler can throw it right back out is an art form. I’m serious, y’all, because if a toddler throws it right back out but you’re already talking to a salesman in electronics about where the batteries for the camcorder are located, you’ve been seriously embarrassed!
I’m not too picky about such garments because there’s not that big of a job to do. You know what I mean? It’s okay guys, even the first surgeon I met with kindly let me know there wasn’t much there… but he could fix that. But since I opted to not get rid of what little I had, I have had this day in the back of mind for many months. But just because you know something’s coming and just because you’re thankful it is coming and you’re going to the local JC Penney and not to the hospital’s “Appearances” department, doesn’t mean you look forward to it or are excited about it. Because I wasn’t, excited that is. I was and still am thankful, very.
Anyway, the post-surgery me has worn a sports bra every day. Actually, the post-cancer diagnosis me has worn a sports bra every day. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until my radiation oncologist forced me to remove the sports bra for a few hours each day that I even felt like taking it off. Ever. 
The cute sports bra has become a staple in my wardrobe. I now own one in every color. And I’m all about color coordinating and comfort, however, a few weeks ago I got in the mood to go just one day without the uni-boob. Just one day. Just one outfit. Just once this year I wanted to be a little more proud that I still had my girls, if you know what I mean. But I got a bit nervous when I drove my cart straight down that aisle at the neighborhood Walmart and couldn’t find me a piece of comfortable looking equipment. The surgical scar is in a really tender spot, okay,
Then and there I decided this type shopping would have to be scheduled into my calendar and worked around a schedule full of others. So last week, I had me a day. I drove to the fancy local JCPenney where they have these plush and purple-y ladies only dressing rooms. And lo and behold they were having a Veterans’ Day sale. I saw bright lights and heard loud music as I slyly grabbed a few items off the rack and ducked into the fancy little room.

I left a doubly happy and doubly blessed lady because comfort and practicality at a price that can’t be beat makes a girl all happy. So as I stood in a long line and handed said items to a man behind the counter (who has never seen this blog), I secretly celebrated this personal event that every one of your prayers made possible.

To you, O God, belong the greatness and the might,
      the glory, the victory, the majesty, the splendor;
   Yes! Everything in heaven, everything on earth;
      the kingdom all yours! You’ve raised yourself high over all.
   Riches and glory come from you,
      you’re ruler over all;
   You hold strength and power in the palm of your hand
      to build up and strengthen all.
   And here we are, O God, our God, giving thanks to you,
      praising your splendid Name.
1 Chronicles 29:11-13 The Message

What the Doctor Said

Here it is Thursday afternoon and I still haven’t given you any news here and for that I’m sorry. I truly am. The week has been a whirlwind that didn’t slow down to let me off for two days!
I endured the tests, iv’s, drinks and tubes. I endured the probing and prodding and even more radiation. I anxiously awaited my appointment with the doctor trying to cling to the promise a friend boldly sent me saying was the “perfect prayer.”
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21
When I received her text I just started repeating the words, “Lord, more than we can ask or imagine.” I didn’t really think much of it honestly. I was just trying to not let my mind run wild with all the possibilities. The doctor had already said they were narrow possibilities but the reality is that having sarcoma at all is a narrow possibility.
Because that thought was the boundary of where I wanted my mind to go, I kept repeating the words, “Lord, more than we can ask or imagine.”
When the doctor came in he was all smiles and handshakes. He was totally what I expected last time and didn’t get. He was what I thought was impossible. He answered the very few questions I had. He informed me that one of his current areas of study is radiation-induced sarcomas and I was glad. He said he would like to start spreading my scans out a bit in order to reduce my radiation exposure. I liked the idea of that from the standpoint of reducing exposure and practically. This week was super hard.
Then the best news came. I asked him if I could ever be considered “cured.” He said it was a poor word but if it was a word he might dare to use at all, he would maybe one day possibly use it in my case. He reinforced the gravity of my situation by telling me he gets to tell one, maybe two patients per year they don’t have to have chemo and I was that statistic for him this year.
I left feeling very positive and yes, relieved. I felt every part the survivor.
Some of you have asked if I’ve been declared “cancer-free.” I’ve been declared “no evidence of active disease” and I’ve been declared “no evidence of reoccurrence.” I’ve received the best report I can at this point. The doctor was extremely pleased and he left me feeling at ease.
My next scans will be beginning to mid-January.
As I’ve said before even the best news at MD Anderson leaves you emotionally drained. I am drained! Like I summed it up on Facebook, “tired and good.”
Your comments blessed the mess out of me and your prayers continue to carry us as they did through the hardest of days and longest of nights. I count it all joy to serve a mighty and loving God with you.
God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
   Glory to God in the church!
   Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
   Glory down all the generations!
   Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!
Ephesians 3:20-21 The Msg

Prayer for You

Lately I’ve had a hard time hearing God’s voice. It’s been more difficult than usual to see Him in everyday life. I don’t know if it’s because I feel like I’m in the land of survival. Most days I’m so tired I move robotically through my day and instead of seeing in living color, I see in shades of black, white and gray.
This is frustrating to me. Last Monday I thought I would write this glorious post about how much energy I’d started having and I finally feel like “cancer” is behind me. And then Tuesday happened. Tuesday I could hardly get out of bed or go where I needed to go or do what I needed to do.
That’s how life after radiation is. Some days are great. Some days I actually feel like I did before my diagnosis. Most days I operate in a state of terrible brain fog, exhaustion and fatigue. My doctor is hopeful that this will decrease and in a few more months I will have my old energy and focus back. Others living life after cancer say it is a continual challenge.
I can’t really explain how I feel except to say it’s like I just climbed out of bed. All day long.
What I don’t want is for this to be an excuse to not get the things done that God has called me to do. I feel very strongly that He has given me just a couple of assignments here lately.  I want to get started I just need extra strength, energy and a big, fat push from God! Do you ever feel that way?
Today I read how Jesus prayed before His death and resurrection. He reminds God the Father how He had glorified Him on earth by completing His own assignments down to the last detail. As I read that, my heart cried out for strength to be able to complete down the last detail all God has called me to here on this earth.
Listen to what He prayed over me. And you.
“Holy Father, guard them as they pursue this life… I’m saying these things… so my people can experience my joy completed in them… They are no more defined by the world than I am defined by the world…In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world…I want [them] to be with me… so they can see my glory the splendor you gave me… I have made your very being known to them—who you are and what you do—and continue to make it known to them.”
This is just a sample of the prayer found in John 17 from The Message. I love that He’s given me a mission and that He is continuing to reveal God’s character to me. That is encouragement that I need today. I am asking God for a special revelation of Him today since Jesus says He is doing it!
Won’t you join me on our mission? God, please give fresh revelations of who You are  and what You are doing today. Give us eyes and ears like Jesus’ as He walked on earth that we would see You and hear You and join You. Amen
Then come share your experience with me.
PS Don’t forget about tomorrow morning’s blogtalk radio show. See the post below for details.

Sweating Small Stuff

Hearing the word cancer is never easy. Fighting an insurance company is never easy. Moving the family is never easy. Living after cancer is welcomed but hardly easy.
I wonder how I can stare cancer and all the past eight months brought into my life in the face, claim victory and keep perspective, yet; piles of unfolded laundry, piles of unfiled papers and piles of unread how-to-write-a-book-proposal books totally stress me.
It’s like the big things stole nothing but the little things are robbing me blind. Ever feel that way?
As I ponder this juxtaposition in my life, I think of my little dog Foxy. I tend to lose my little Pomeranian here in my new house. Searching inside, outside and even in the car only to find her tucked away in some little nook or crevice I didn’t know existed.
Frantic searching steals my peace because my pet hides easily and sleeps soundly. Take my old dog Wolf, he is too big to hide; he might be in the way but at least we could all see him. Fear may keep me from rousing his sleep but at l know his location and mood.
I’ve always seen Satan more like Wolf; the Bible calls him “a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 NIV)
Lately I’ve seen another side of the enemy and his cohorts. I see him more like Foxy hiding in crannies of my life I didn’t even know existed.
Song of Solomon says, “Catch for us the foxes,
       the little foxes
       that ruin the vineyards,
       our vineyards that are in bloom.” (2:15 NIV)
The enemy and his little “foxes” sneak in and ruin us. They take the love from our marriage, the life from our ministry and the laughter from our parenting. The little distractions and deceptions lurk in life’s smallest and darkest of places. These are places we’ve never had to look before but places God is calling us to examine. The seemingly insignificant hollows in our life beckon to be filled. God calls us to fill all the places in our life with Him, even the small places.
Lately I am frustrated at how I sweat the small stuff. Today I am examining the small places and catching little foxes because I want the vineyard of my life to produce fruit.
Let’s guard against the foxes with the same vigilance we stand against the lion.
“Catch all the foxes,
      those little foxes,
   before they ruin the vineyard of love,
      for the grapevines are blossoming! … Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” Song of Solomon 2:15 & 1 Peter 5:8 NLT

Far Away

We’ve been far away. The six of us just spent five long, luxurious and wonderful days in the sunny, hot Florida Keys. A tropical getaway singing island songs and sipping boat drinks is my idea of a perfect vacay.
My husband and ten-year-old daughter scuba dived for the first time. All six of us parasailed. And we are all deliciously sun-browned and tired.

Thank you for all of your sweet and concerned emails wondering if I’m okay and encouraging me to take as much time away from the blog as I need to. I love you all and it warms my heart to feel your love.
Honestly I’ve been far away in other ways too. I’m in a season of asking God where are you?
I know that He’s here. I know that His presence and very being fills me. I know that when I draw near to Him, He comes near to me. I know. I know. I know. What I don’t feel is God’s presence. What I don’t hear is God’s voice. And that makes me sad. I ask is there a secret to drawing near that I don’t yet know?
Even as I sit for hours and ponder His greatness, character and promises, His voice has remained silent for a bit. I know that sometimes in His silence He stretches us. Sometimes His silence is working to build our faith. Sometimes His silence really isn’t silence at all but a result of my faulty ears and heart. Sometimes His silence is an invitation to wait. And I know from experience waiting does not disappoint us.
And so I wait.
I am reading this book by Ed Underwood, When God Breaks Your Heart. It is a raw and real book about his terrible cancer experience. The lessons are deep and intimate.  The truth speaking to me today is Psalm 34:18. “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted.
Underwood says one of the surest ways to draw near to Jesus is find someone with a broken heart and follow Him there.
“It’s one of the surest ways I know to draw near to God: Find someone with a shattered life and go to him in the name of Jesus.” (p. 76)
So I pray. God, send someone to me with a broken heart. Help me draw near to you.
On the way to the bus stop this morning, I meet Mary. Mary is looking for her granddaughter’s lap dog. The granddaughter is frantic; the dog is her baby. Mary is upset because her granddaughter is upset.

She searches for over an hour as I wait for two buses and walk three children to meet the bus. As I walk home from the bus stop, Mary abandons her car and begins searching on foot.
She stops. We talk. I pray.
She thanks me, asks me my name and tells me she appreciates my concern.
There is no drama. No tears. No little white dog appearing from Heaven. But a new friendship is formed and genuine concern rests there. My heart is full from practicing one of God’s truths in a new way. I walk home thanking God for the opportunity and asking for more.
Twenty minutes later Mary knocked my door. The dog is home.
“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted … Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” Psalm 34:18 & James 4:8 (NASB)

The End

I read in a couple of different spots this morning that waiting on God always results in others coming to know Him.
This thought made me happy. Actually, so happy I wept real tears.
You can peruse almost any post from January 18 to April 30 on this blog and see how I waited on God. Every. Single. Day. I waited for a diagnosis. I waited for a complete pathology. I waited for surgery approval. I waited for staging. I waited for a treatment plan. I waited for treatment. I waited to see if it worked. I wait to see if it’s still working.
During this time I also waited for my house to sell, waited to buy another one and waited to move.
Since we moved, waiting hasn’t been as time consuming. While we still wait, we also happen to be hurriedly living life. Returning from She Speaks marked a new phase of ministry for me. It seems to be a hurry-up-and-wait phase.
I know these things that I am to do. Yet, I must wait to hear God’s voice before completing them. This has been difficult for me. I don’t like to jump into something new without a total vision package. I like to begin with the end in mind.
This morning God set me straight. The end will always be others coming to know Him. If waiting produces a greater reach for the gospel. And if waiting on God’s perfect time always works out well, perfectly. Then waiting isn’t such a bad thing.
And in the translations I was reading today, waiting and patience are used interchangeably. So, I think it’s safe to say that practicing waiting is essentially exercising patience. And that, my friends, is a very good thing.
The Message says that God waits to deliver us so that He can give us space and time to change. That got me to thinking. Maybe all this craziness in my head is an indication that something needs to change. So today I will quiet the crazies in my head and focus on waiting strong while asking God if there is any way I need to change. And in the waiting, I’ll thank Him for giving me the time to do it.
Are there any circumstances in your life that God is using to cultivate patience? Share here and I would love to pray for you today.
“God isn’t late with His promise. . . He is restraining himself on account of you. . . because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change. . . Interpret our Master’s patient restraint for what it is: salvation.” 1 Peter 3:9 &15 The Msg