I started this post earlier with many, many paragraphs about myself. I was going to lead into how He does these amazing things to bring me out of the selfish state I’m normally in. Took me hours to realize that I’d done it again. Just the idea of talking about myself for a few paragraphs in light of His miracles shows I’m STILL IN THAT SELFISH STATE. 

James 3:13-15 “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.”

So, more importantly than any lessons I’m learning or struggles I face, God is good. Always. He is good in the bad times. Good in the good times. Funny frequently, not sure why the Bible doesn’t mention that outright. No matter what, He is. And today, He did it again. It’s almost unfathomable and honestly, it was the last thing I expected to hear today. But that’s because no matter how “close” I am to the Holy Spirit, I am not THE Holy Spirit, and really have no idea all the awesome things He’s doing…and just to be clear, neither do you. I don’t care how much intuition you have. It’s still intuition, not truth.
Job 11:7 “Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty?”

(Please note that the original post called this stage 4 cancer but I have edited it to describe it better)
Today, we will rejoice with the rest of our Christian family that Crystal was HEALED of horrendous breast cancer. It was really, really bad. They diagnosed it as stage 3 which is technically curable, but they later said it was all up her spine, which would mean it spread and should have been stage 4. Once it’s spread is when it’s incurable, but I get the impression that the doctors never changed it to Stage 4. Either way, the treatments she was undergoing weren’t working or even tolerable, so it wasn’t the medicine that made the cancer disappear. I didn’t get every little detail but she flew to Chicago for treatments at CTCA and everything bad happened. She was allergic to even mild treatments, there was an oozing tumor, even after all the strongest chemos and double mastectomy the cancer came back, more aggressive than ever. So they tried to radiate most of her torso just to kill off what they could and it caused crazy vomiting, which was so unusual the doctors thought it had spread to her brain. This Christmas she spent the day vomiting and praying that there wasn’t cancer in her brain. But today, January 17, she is praying thanksgiving to the Lord above who healed her entirely. The PET scan showed no cancer at all. Anywhere. Because men can’t. But God can…And God did…And God does…And God WILL…
“The Lord has done great things for us…we are glad” Psalm 126:3

A brief update on my friend–she is a friend of MANY in Tallahassee, and gives of herself lavishly for the name of the Lord– the brain tumor is not cancerous, but it is at the base of her brain stem and she needs immediate brain surgery to get it removed. She’s awaiting the schedule so please keep praying. We are thrilled that it is not cancer but brain surgery is a big, big, big deal for mere humans. Not too big for the trinity though.
Philippians 2:13 “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.”

Please keep praying for Barbara, too. The endometrial cancer attacking her body improved but a mass in her lungs is growing. She is awaiting biopsy results of it today. I’d like to pray that it’s just not even cancer and disappears. But no matter how God chooses to heal her, we just pray that He does it for His glory and so Barbara and the whole family can continue to praise His name for many days to come!

Let’s keep praying, He is LISTENING and MOVING! He cares about His people!

BRCA and Brains

Did you hear Angelina Jolie has the BRCA 1 genetic mutation and had a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction to combat the effects? Because I heard. I have heard about it more than the Boston bombings. I don’t know if it’s actually newsworthy or if my tiny world of breast cancer is highlighting it. I am glad she was tested and is taking it seriously. I’m glad she’s drawing attention to it, because so many women don’t know about it. People don’t usually get tested until they are diagnosed with cancer. Obviously my life would have been very different if I had known. I think about it a lot because there’s a 50/50 chance my kids have it (assuming I still do, I’m still waiting on the results of the study I enrolled in, just to see if God changed my genetic makeup when He healed me. Come on, it’s God, that’s nothing for Him). Anyway, the knowledge of the BRCA test results can create fear and I hate that. I hate that cancer can control us like that, and ESPECIALLY that just the fear of it can affect us for the worse. But I did read her article and liked the positive approach to it. Instead of living in fear, she just got the surgeries.  The ovary removal is another strongly recommended procedure, but that affects us much more, so it’s a bigger deal. They won’t test anyone under 18 so I have about 13 more years of praying for my girls to not have the gene, and that if they do we will know how to handle it. I hate that they might ever be faced with that uncertainty, or the disfigurement, but I know that doing it as a preventive measure is immensely better than the way I had to do it. I know that anyone with that genetic mutation can take a different approach to their future than those without, but that doesn’t mean their actions will control cancer. But God can. He can control every disease, every germ, every multiplication or division of cells. We are all in for a miserable life if we confuse our ability to choose with the ability to control. 

Isaiah 46:9-10, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.'”

BRCA genes and brains don’t exactly go hand-in-hand, BUT BRCA mutations lead to cancer, and cancer treatment messes with your…I lost my train of thought. Oh, right, your brain! People call it chemo brain, and refer to it in a similar way that you would joke about your brain when pregnant. Sadly though, I already went through the memory loss and distraction associated with having little ones, so I feel like chemo did extra damage to me. On a typical day it isn’t that big of a deal because I don’t use the same parts of my brain that seem to have been affected. On a normal day I just trudge through my to-do list, driving here or there, disciplining this one or that one, and trying to make it through the day without yelling. On a day like today though, I needed my brain. Yaacov had to leave town on a last minute business trip, so I had to organize two different babysitters for the monthly consulting meeting I go to. I prepared all yesterday so I would be on time and the kids would be adequately packed. So this morning I’m meandering out of the house when I remember to check which building my meeting is in. Turned out it was in a whole different city (and time zone), so I was terribly late. While sitting in the meeting I tried to speak and realized that the words I was trying to recall were lost. The concept is there, but I don’t have any idea how to label them. Then, at about 4pm Yaacov and I spoke on the phone and he reminded me that Abi had a t-ball game at 6:30. Failed again. At 8 pm it dawned on me that we missed it. So, instead of complaining about it I’m going to research specific brain-improving (see, this is a time I’m quite sure there’s a real term for what I mean) techniques, and I’m going to operationalize and track the improvement so I know what works best for me. If you have any theories, let me know and maybe I’ll include them. Stay tuned!

Genesis 28:15 “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

The two best kept secrets about surgery

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy joy down in my heart. Where? Down in my heart. Where? Down in my heart, I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Down in my heart to stay!

Surgery went great. I am tired but can’t sleep. Not much pain. He was able to do it laparascopically and saw nothing scary in there. The biopsy results should be in Wednesday or so. Because he didn’t have to switch over to the normal cutting type of procedure it was outpatient. I have been home for a few hours.

I have had many surgeries now, so I’m a bit of a pro. Or, the angels have been ministering to me a lot (Heb 1:14). I have two huge secrets I have to share. I’m so excited I can’t even type fast enough. This was the best surgery ever, I think it’s quite possible that I’ve never been this happy before. Seriously. And it doesn’t have to do with the surgery going well or the pain meds, as they haven’t affected my mentally before.

Secret 1: Of course, God. God has given me peace and joy like no other, and I know it’s because I’ve been really disciplined about getting a lot of good time with Him lately. The more I seek Him, the more He shows Himself. Sometimes it is not easy to get myself motivated to really focus on Him, but I push through that and then it gets easier and easier. No matter what your current walk is (or isn’t) like with God, you can always do more. If you’re feeling crummy, focus on praising Him about the good things and reading uplifting scriptures. I think reading straight from the Bible instead of just topically searching for helpful verses enhances the experience more. “But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 4:29)

Secret 2: Beg for a seasick patch. They are only by prescription so the anasthesiologist gives it to you. I never have bad nausea except when getting anasthesia, so it’s not like I just have a sensitive stomach. I normally can’t eat for at least a day because of it, and that makes the recovery much more miserable. Anyway, in Gainesville the anasthesiologist put a patch behind my ear and I was skeptical. But after that 8-hour surgery I didn’t have any nausea at all. None. I mentioned it to the one today and he wasn’t impressed, but my mom pushed for him to give me one. What do you know? No sickness at all. Not even for a second. It makes such a HUGE difference. I want to make sure everyone knows about it so it becomes more standard in Tallahassee. It is completely night and day compared to my other local surgeries. I imagine that you could ask for it during your pre-op appointment and then be more likely to get it, because the anasthesiologist really wasn’t eager to give it today.

Those are my tips. Don’t forget them. They are very important. I want everyone to feel this happy after surgery. And all the time! I love you all for praying and reading!
Remember, Deut 6:5, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” and John 15:11, “These things I have spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”

Ready for Surgery

The part of Christianity that makes our message urgent involves the afterlife–we will all live forever, but whether it is with God in heaven, or an eternity separated from Him in hell remains to be seen. Jesus will stand there on judgment day and say, “I didn’t know you” or He will defend you because He already paid for your sins on the cross.

Some people stop there. They think they have the basics down (“if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”, Romans 10:9) and can live however they want. But they miss out on the part that matters here on earth. Generally, devoted believers aren’t spending their time focusing on getting into heaven or fear of hell, they are nurturing their daily relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. The closer I am to God, the more I am aware of my helper, the Spirit of God. He whispers to us, intercedes for us, and guides us. But the more steeped in sin we are, the less we discern His voice. And the more I am aware of Him, the more I obey and do what He wants. My desires transform to match His.

I first learned about the mass on my ovary over a month ago. I tried hard not to think about. The last time I had a cancer scare (when I was waiting for my primary tumor diagnosis), I indulged the fear. It was sinful, but not in an obvious way. Doubts would creep in, and little by little they would chip away at me. Soon I lost all focus on God and other important things, and was consumed by fears, what-ifs, and imagining the worst. There were times it took over my life, and the more it did, the harder it was to crawl out. It seemed like there was no helpful truth to hold onto or believe. 

While awaiting this biopsy I have been much more aware of those doubts and tendencies. Satan is clever but relatively consistent. He always starts with trying to pull me away from others. Just like he approached Eve when she was alone (Gen 3). He knows we are weaker when we’re away from other believers, so he makes me try and pull away. When I would tell myself that many people have benign masses, he would remind me that my breast cancer journey was not like anyone else’s. No one can relate. He picks at my faith by causing me to doubt whether I really heard from God about not removing my ovaries last year. Just like he asked Eve, “Did God really say…” He does this to get me to doubt whether I can hear God. When He gets me to doubt that, I lose confidence in future decisions that I need to trust God in. He also uses memories I have about other people’s problems to make me doubt that God will take care of me. A few of these are, “You were never healed and this will show that”, “The naysayers will think they were right”, and “You will never be healthy again. You will always be going through some health problems. By  the time you die everyone will just be relieved.” Satan is the father of lies and this is his fruit (John 8:44). But he disguises his words as common sense and gives evidence to back them up. If you aren’t on guard, you will buy into them.

This time around I have been much more aware of the damage it does to everyone around me when I fall for this nonsense. It keeps me from being the best wife, mother, and friend I can be because I’m distracted by fear. So early on, I started rejecting those fears instead of letting myself consider them. The more I refused to indulge them, the less they came. Now I sit here, just one full day before surgery, with no anxiety at all. I am filled with peace and faith. I know God will take care of me and I completely trust that this is not cancer, and that He has a great plan for this. I am actually excited to get this surgery under my belt and see what amazing things He brings out of it. 

Romans 8:9, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. “

1 Peter 5:10, “But may the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while, perfect, establish, strengthen and settle you.”

Surgery Scheduled!

Great things have been going on since my last post. I got test results from the bloodwork Dr. Rassam took on Thursday. Both tumor marker tests came back lower than last time (they’ve stayed in normal ranges for a year now but had increased a bit within that range), and he also checked my thyroid. It came back high, as hypothyroidism. I read that chemo can cause this, and I’m just so glad to have a reason for some of my symptoms that it is a big relief.

I saw Dr. McAlpine yesterday and scheduled the ovary plus fallopian tube removal for April 29. He is going to start laproscopically, and if that works it will be an outpatient procedure with 3-7 day recovery. If he has to switch to normal surgery he’s going to take my uterus too. Then it will be a longer recovery and short hospital stay. Dr. Rassam told me in the past that I would never be able to have hormone replacement therapy, but Dr. McAlpine said today that if things go well for the next decade or so I might be able to take some then. He also told me about some anti-depressants that can decrease hot flashes and such from the menopause I’ll be going through. 
Dr. McAlpine felt around and said there’s no palpable lump on my ovary, which is a good thing. He also said  that is not causing my abdominal pain, but he will poke around there during surgery and fix anything he finds. All in all, I’m happy with the news I’ve received lately and the treatment plan. I wish surgery was a little sooner but trust God, His timing is perfect. Yaacov had to cancel a business trip so he can be there that day, and I’m really grateful for his unconditional support. 
The Lord has really been there for me during this. I am not anxious and trust that I don’t have cancer. I think the Tamoxifen caused the mass and after the surgery get to try a new medication. In the meantime I am praying for and expecting further protection from all the side effects of these drugs and procedures.

Last year I struggled so much with fear that I sometimes had trouble voicing my confidence in the Lord. This time He is very present and I trust Him regardless. This is a great chance to be bold about my God. I am really feeling good, mentally and physically and am praying that I will be a faithful example for my doctors and the other people who will follow my case.

1 Peter 2:15, “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.”

The awesome stranger at the Top Salon Contest

Awhile back I mentioned that I was going to be in a fashion show and a makeover contest, then I never followed up about them. Both events were great. The fashion show was a fundraiser for the Joanna Francis Living Well Foundation, which is a great group that gives funds to local women to help pay for the non-medical costs associated with their treatment.

The makeover was a really big deal that took me way out of my comfort zone. The first thing we did was take before pictures looking dowdy. I wore sweats, which I am not unfamiliar with. Then we made a video where I told the 5-minute version of the story. That was to increase the talk about the show. The model’s story isn’t a publicly judged part of the competition, but they felt that in the past people with good stories did better. I’m not sure if this link will work because it’s through Facebook, but this is an attempt to link to the video. After that we picked out the snazziest outfit we could find because the models would be judged while on the catwalk in front of over 600 people. There were 4 judges and everyone in the audience got to vote too, but it was unclear what percent of the vote the audience comprised. We started the makeover 24 hours before the event and I looked different than I expected. I was surprised that the colors worked for me, but the final product looked good.

The experience was really nerve-wracking. A few weeks before I became very aware that we weren’t going to win. Not to say the judging is a sham, but there were undertones that the event coordinators were really focusing on certain people. Then it happened that one salon was honored with a lifetime achievement award then happened to win the Top Salon Contest too.

When I realized it was very unlikely that we would win I was humbled. I had been on such a roll with God as of late, where I had been shown favoritism time after time that I sort of started to expect it. After a lifetime of being the least favorite, always second place, etc. I really enjoyed the change. I gave Him the credit but deep down there was some sort of pride that I had sort of done something right to deserve it. Like I had finally stumbled upon the magic trick to have an easy life. So, it was really good for me to not win. I found peace beforehand with the concept that while I thought we should win (the winner’s story got published in Tallahassee magazine) to glorify God, God doesn’t need any help being glorified. It’s my job to do it, but not within my constructs of good and bad ideas. Within His.

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”–Prov 16:9

I prayed beforehand and felt that any ways I could draw attention to God’s awesomeness would make that night/experience a success. We didn’t win the contest but it was definitely successful. I got to know a lot of ladies from the salon (if you live in Tallahassee, go to Haute Headz, they are the best!), and had the opportunity to tell one of the other contestants about His miracle. Plus, I was reminded that people still remember me from last year. You might recall that back then I was getting recognized and stopped several times per day by people who were following my blog or praying for me. That has virtually stopped, but one highlight of the night was when it happened as I walked the runway: I was terrified, much more scared than I’ve been in a long time. My dress was sort of damaged so didn’t fit properly so I had to be really cautious about showing my booty, and we had missed the practice and was unable to get any look at the runway before I walked down it. The cheering was so loud I never heard my music, which is what I had used to emphasize my “moves”. Anyway, I couldn’t see anyone because of the lights, and a few steps in someone (I couldn’t get a good look but really think she was a stranger because no one I knew was sitting in that area) shouted some really inspiring words at me about what I’d been through. About how far God has brought me.

That was one of the most memorable moments of the night. I wonder if the woman realized I even heard her, let alone how much it meant to me. There was something intangible about it. It was just LOVE. Straight from above, for that moment I needed it. It takes me back to the days of strangers stopping me when I was bald and telling me I was beautiful. One time three people did it in one trip to the drugstore. Back then I noted it, but it just added a drop to my empty heart. Now I remember that stuff and hold it dearly. God used so many people to show me His love. He practically beat me over the head with it and I couldn’t accept it.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs on your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.”–Lk 12:6-7

It was so personal and timely, utterly encouraging. It also reminds me how amazing it has been for strangers and virtual strangers to support my family and me so much. That they would care so much about and for me. Thank-you to that woman for her devotion and support! Thank-you to the awesome ladies at Haute Headz who made me look amazing (pics below), Ashley Easom (hair), Darcy and Monique plus everyone else there, thanks to my amazing friends Christine Boulos, Caroline Fleischer, Jenni Cox, Jennifer & Justin Menendez, my awesome mom, and to my biggest fan of all, the incomparable Yaacov. He is the best husband I could hope for. We were made for each other and his strengths during this cancer journey bolstered my weaknesses so much, I can’t imagine going through it with anyone else.

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” –Gal 6:2

Yaacov and me. He was grinning all night so I will try to keep at least parts of the makeover up.

                                                             Awesome ladies of Haute Headz

                    Great friends who always support me: Caroline Fleischer, Christine Boulos and Jenni Cox

                                                                My mom is so cute.

Ashley did my hair, styled me, got me a tan and makeup person, and coordinated every part of the makeover.

What I’m Here For

A lot of people are dying of cancer. It is awful. Every day I hear of people who die or are about to die. Sometimes I wonder why I’m not one of them. I’m not the only one, either. You should see the look on people’s faces when they haven’t seen me in awhile. They expect me to look like I’m on death’s door. They ask how I’m doing and are shocked when I tell them I’m healthy. When I complete my medical forms and the only pills I have to report taking are Tamoxifen and a sleeping pill, the doctors prod me, thinking I just refuse to take the others. But it is all true. God has brought me through this, against all odds. 

1 Peter 4:13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

I know my job is to glorify Him. To share the story He blessed me with. But why me? I deserve it less, appreciate it less, report His awesomeness less, than many. Than most. I’m not complaining or anything, just recognizing my futility in this life.
Tonight He reminded me so clearly of three of the reasons: Yaacov and my babies. Day in and day out I am tired and struggle to get through the hours. I am crabby and impatient. I am no one’s version of a perfect mom/wife. But I’m here. And I’m healthy. And I’m climbing a steeply uphill mountain toward perfection. Naomi just woke up screaming. I don’t know what upset her, but I know what she needed. Mommy. She hugged me like a lifeline, so safe and secure. She knows she can count on me and I am so grateful. Because of God’s compassionate nature, she wasn’t ruined by the death of her mother as I feared, and instead has been blessed with my being perfectly healthy.
Every moment is a gift, whether you’re like me and are on borrowed time because you were miraculously healed of a terminal disease, or you’re healthy as a horse with nothing but time on your side. All these moments add up to equal our contributions to this world but we lose sight of that goal sometimes. We focus way too much on events that don’t matter, and forget the impact of each tedious, boring, seemingly unimportant one.  
Matthew 7:7-11 – God is like a loving father who gives what his children need. If we ask, we will receive.

I pray that everyone who reads this will have an “Aha” moment tomorrow. Lord, hit us over the heads with reminders of your presence. Of your love. Your truth. Remind us how you treat us like your precious children or let us see the fruit of the love we have for you and your people.
2 Peter 1:10 Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall,