This morning I woke up and couldn’t figure out why it felt like someone punched me under my left arm. I started poking and found another new lump under there. It’s about the size of a pencil eraser... It’s been sort of mildly aching on and off today. That makes the new one under there from today, another little one under there from a few months ago, plus the new one I found a week or so ago. Literally “God only knows” what’s going on internally. I don’t have a clue. The only thing that’s clear in terms of physical status is that the cancer is spreading via my lymph system.
Anyway, my moonvines are germinating perfectly, which is awesome. I think the difference was that I only soaked the seeds for a few hours until the hard outer shell on the seed got wrinkly before planting them the next day. That, and I got really good quality seeds this time. The directions always say to soak them for twenty-four hours...
I’m posting this anonymous comment on here because I think a lot of people would find it encouraging. I don’t know who posted it but I have a strong suspicion : ) Here it is:
When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you... do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic before them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.
Remember this... in the big fight, but also in the smaller daily fights of wrestling the unknown. You are never, ever alone and you are never, ever fighting these things by yourself.
-My incision is finally decently healed. The surrounding areas have finally mostly stopped hurting. I found out at my follow up appointment that it was an OR nurse who was supposed to clip the suture... My surgeon and his nurse were perturbed about it too and said they would take care of it. It was a relief to get that resolved.
-I have a new lump that’s been hurting a bit... It’s about the size of a green pea. I don’t like green peas or lumps.
-My nasturtiums are coming up finally. It was beginning to look like they’d never germinate. The moonvines have proven temperamental this year; I’m starting them for the third time after only two came up from the first attempt and all of the second attempt seeds rotted. I have this mental vision of my deck railings covered in moonvines and I’m going to keep trying them until it works.
-At a lot of my more difficult moments recently, God has been giving me my favorite birds to look at—Eastern Towhees. I think He delights in doing this... I delight in seeing them for sure.
-I’m beginning to wonder if Jesus is coming for me any time soon. What if I just end up with little lumps in various places and they never amount to anything serious? What if the internal spots of cancer have somehow disappeared? What if I and everyone else think I’m going to leave soon and I don’t? What if this whole terminal cancer thing is a hoax? What if I’m alive for another ten, or forty, years??? I have to keep reminding myself that I DID just get a pathology report from the infamous underarm lump which reported metastasized ovarian cancer... And, I am a lot more tired than a "healthy" person of the same age, although I've been tired for so long I can't remember what it's like to have an average level of energy. And, I have to keep reminding myself that “God will guide the future as He has the past,” as this hymn says AND as I’ve seen in my own life. Here is a link to the lyrics.
-He’s also been reminding me that He ALWAYS keeps His promises. I’ve had to remind myself of the promises He’s made me a lot recently... At some point when I was beginning to wonder, my bible “fell” open to Jeremiah 33:19-21:
“The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: "This is what the LORD says: 'If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, then my covenant with David my servant—and my covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before me—can be broken...” And verses 25-26, “This is what the LORD says: 'If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed laws of heaven and earth, then I will reject the descendants of Jacob and David my servant..... For I will restore their fortunes and have compassion on them.' "
-One morning this past week I had the disconcerting experience of seeing hair in the sink. It kind of freaked me out because of my chemo/losing hair experience last year... Then I remembered that it is normal for hair to fall out naturally when a person brushes their hair...
-That’s it for now. Thank you for all of your support and prayers.
1. A sudden, strong change or reaction in feeling, especially a feeling of violent disgust or loathing.
I just had surgery a week ago. It was supposed to be easy, quick, and minor. I hoped it would be. I spent the last week with steri strips on a 3x4” area under my arm. Last night, it was time to take them all off. I was told to keep them on for a week, so I did. I had already reinforced the edges where they were loosening with paper tape and I was just hoping to have a semi-normal and healed incision when I took them off. Instead, there was a half inch length of the incision, in the otherwise healed and decent looking 2-3inch incision, where the steri strip tape hadn’t held the sides of the incision together. Instead of being healed, it was open and wet and red and tissuey and gross. Not infected or oozing, just revolting.
Just to add shock to revulsion, about half an inch below the bottom end of the incision, sticking out of otherwise normal skin, there was a plastic suture sticking out of my skin half an inch. No one told me it would be there. I found a pair of scissors and pulled it up the suture just a little bit so it would disappear under the skin after I cut it, and then cut it. I flushed the piece of suture down the toilet; I didn’t want it in my trash can. Then I tried to tape the open part of the incision closed with paper tape as well as I could.
I don’t think there is a way to describe how much physical horror has been involved in this process over the last year and a half. This incision is just the tip of the iceberg and I don’t care to try to list all of the many horrors of exams and chemo and surgeries and blood draws, so you can use your imagination.
I don’t think there is a way to describe how shocking some of the experiences I’ve had with my own body have been. I hear people talking about the beauty of the human body and what a miracle it is and I think about the experiences I’ve had. I know this horror is the result of the curse and it isn’t how we were designed by God. But it is still disgusting right now.
I don’t think there is a way to describe how much of a relief it is to know that I don’t have to deal with this body the way it is right now for too much longer.
I don’t think there is a way to describe how excited I’ll be when Jesus comes for me and makes my body new and whole and healthy again.
I feel within me that future life. I am like a forest that has been razed; the new shoots are stronger and brighter. I shall most certainly rise toward the heavens. … The nearer my approach to the end, the plainer is the sound of immortal symphonies of worlds which invite me. For half a century I have been translating my thoughts into prose and verse: history, philosophy, drama, romance, tradition, satire, ode, and song; all of these I have tried. But I feel I haven't given utterance to the thousandth part of what lies within me. When I go to the grave I can say, as others have said, "My day's work is done." But I cannot say, "My life is done." My work will recommence the next morning. The tomb is not a blind alley; it is a thoroughfare. It closes upon the twilight, but opens upon the dawn.
I was thinking tonight about my attitude. Mostly I was thinking about it because, as my mother used to tell me, “it leaves a lot to be desired.”
There are plenty of realities in my life, temporary and permanent, which discourage me on an ongoing basis. How much they discourage me and how much power I allow those realities to have seems to depend on how my sense of purpose is doing. When I have a strong and focused sense of purpose, I’m fine. When I’m too busy whining about loose steri strips or a sinus infection to remember my sense of purpose, I have problems.
I’m not saying issues aren’t issues. I’m saying that I need to keep them in their place in the grand scheme of things—the grand scheme of things being my overarching life purpose.
Tonight I was thinking and a question came to me. The question was: What am I doing to make the world a better place?
What specific actions am I taking on an ongoing basis, what have I done today, what will I do tomorrow, to make the world a better place?
Call it what you want.... Call it being a light in darkness, call it enlarging the Kingdom, call it being others focused, it’s the same idea.
I wish I could keep this in the forefront of my thoughts all the time.
It would make my head and the world a better place.
I had an extremely excruciating experience recently. It took hours to sort out why I had such an intense response to it.
Someone(s) (unwittingly) patronized me. They treated me like I'm an invalid. They treated me like my body isn't strong enough to participate in normal activity. They treated me like they are strong and I am frail.
I wanted to curse and swear. I wanted to, so badly. Fortunately God kept my mouth shut. Mostly. I did say, "I used to be a landscaper, I'm FINE." And I did say, "I'm not dying yet."
I know they were trying to help but that didn’t make it un-painful.
My only real limitation right now is not having very much energy. I'm not made of glass, or porcelain; I'm not going to snap in half or shatter into a thousand pieces.
My body is a normal body. The only thing that makes it qualitatively different than yours (most of yours) is that there are some cancerous lymph nodes and implants in it. It's not like my whole body has been infiltrated by cancer yet. It’s not like there’s cancer in my arm or leg muscles and they’ve turned to mush.
What would be really helpful is if people would ask what I can/can’t do instead of assuming that I can't handle something.
It seems safe to guess that many other people with health challenges or age challenges or any other kind of challenges might have similar feelings. That’s why I’m posting this.
If you want to help someone who you think may need help, ask them if they want or need the help first. Don't assume.
And, one other comment which is dangerous to make, but which I’m going to make anyway: Be careful of your motives for helping. If you just want to help, that’s awesome, offer anytime. But I personally get really freaked out when I can tell someone wants to smother me with “help” because of their own needs-whether it be because they are so emotionally needy, because they have an unfulfilled hero complex, or because they need to be constantly mothering someone etc.
I’m not saying I don’t want help, or that I’ll never need help. There have been many times in this process when I’ve needed help, been very grateful for help, or have even (gasp) asked for help... : ) In fact, I just asked for help with something today.
One of my most difficult memories from my chemo experience is from after my first chemo, when I desperately needed help. The pre/post chemo meds weren’t adjusted yet and I basically sat/laid on my parents’ sofa completely out of my mind and confused for three or four days. If I hadn’t had my family’s help I would have been terrified because I couldn’t read a complete sentence or remember which (crucial) post chemo meds I was supposed to be taking when.
It has taken a while to really understand that most people are honored to help and get a great deal of joy from helping, and I still have to remind myself of that. It’s been hard to learn that if I don’t let someone help, I’m depriving them of that joy. It has also been hard to learn how to set healthy boundaries for myself and other people so my introverted self doesn’t go crazy. There have been many hard aspects of this whole helping thing.
But it has the potential to be such an incredible blessing too... I've been so thankful for my support system and all of the help I have had. It has been amazing.
Bottom line: Be available, be supportive, and definitely be praying, but be sensitive to, and respectful of, the need for independence as well.
I have already described how Jesus used John 14 to tell me He is coming for me--both in my JOY post from January 1, 2010 and in the EASTER SUNDAY video.
This post is about the other promise, the one He made me a year ago during my initial several months of learning about living with, being treated for, and dying from, ovarian cancer.
I had been researching how women typically die from ovarian cancer. The most frequent cause of death is a BOWEL OBSTRUCTION and it’s ugly. Ugly is the nicest way to put it because it involves everything from extremely severe pain, and volatile nausea to fecal vomiting. We’ll just leave that at that...
I had been begging God to have mercy on me. At many points, the only thing I knew to pray was, “Lord have mercy on me.” Often I would pray that He would let me die in my sleep that night. Obviously that didn’t happen.
The physical suffering involved in the chemo process, the overwhelming paradigm shifts involved in facing death in a very real and close way, and the emotional aftermath of surgical menopause were insane. (There really is absolutely no way to describe how hellacious that process was on every possible level.)
One day while I was on Facebook (of all places...) I saw a picture my sister posted:
As I looked at it God spoke to me. He said, “Martha, I will take you gently, just like the waves are gently washing away the sand from the edges of the letters.” And at that moment there was peace in the midst of what felt like living hell.
This is the promise that has kept me sane through the last year. This is one of the two promises God has spoken to me that gives me courage in the face of “DEATH.” This is what gives me hope and peace when my mind wanders to bowel obstructions and all things ovarian cancer related and dying from it.
If you’re interested, and for the purpose of demystifying the medical process for those of you who haven’t had to have hospital experiences yet but may (probably will) in the future.... I also like to journal about this stuff in case I want to refer to it in the future...
It’s really long... Sorry : )
-Wake in the dark of night at 5:15am. Remember it’s surgery day and get excited.
-Almost accidentally swallow water after brushing teeth. Remember you’ve been fasting since 12am last night and breathe a sigh of relief that you didn’t accidentally swallow the water. Hope that your surgery is on time so you don’t almost pass out from hunger like you did when you got your port installed.
-Dear saintly mother drives you an hour to the hospital. Dear sweet father wakes up and cleans up the trash can your anxious dog vented her frustration on.
-Arrive at Outpatient Surgery where a really awesome lady checks you in. Have a great conversation with her about her beautiful earrings and ring. Find out that she made these pieces of jewelry herself and loves art.
-Sit and wait for a few minutes and listen to an adult-focused TV behind you on one side of the room and a child-focused TV on the other side of the room. Check out the other surgery patients waiting and wonder what they are there for. Laugh internally about the orange fake tan lady who keeps staring at your tattoos in a semi-hostile manner and note that you’d like to tell her not to be jealous but to go get her own...
-Nice lady receptionist asks you to sign the ubiquitous financial responsibility form. Wonder if your insurance is going to cover it and remind yourself not to be irrational. They’ve taken good care of everything else so far and you don’t need to worry about it. She compliments you on your tattoos and seems genuinely surprised at herself for liking them so much. Secretly delight in knowing that you have just shown one more person that tattoos don’t have to be crass or grotesque.
-A nice lady comes in and calls your name. She takes you back and asks lots of questions about when you last ate, what you’re going to have done today and then takes your vital signs. She gives you a blue shower cap looking hat, a bag for shoes, a bag for jewelry, and a bag for clothes and a (thankfully not pukey green and not falling open in the back) fancy new disposable hospital gown. She leaves and you change clothes.
-Surgeon comes in, makes a funny comment, and writes "YES" in big letters all over your skin next to the surgery spot with a pretty cobalt blue marker. He has to do this while you're still awake to check it.
-A nice nurse comes in and asks lots of questions about when you last ate, what you’re going to have done today, and when you last took any supplements or medications. She shows how to PLUG IN your fancy hospital gown to an air hose and hands you a remote control so you can warm up or air condition your gown to your liking. She makes it too warm and you have a hot flash. You turn it off but are entertained and play with it later when you’re freezing cold. It is really helpful and you stop laughing at it...
-She accesses your POWERPORT and talks about medical history stuff. She turns out to be really nice with a dry sense of humor.
-Dear sweet mother joins you and you both laugh about the fancy gown. She thinks back over her many medical experiences and reflects on all of the much nicer details of medicine that have improved.
-The anesthesiologist comes in, asks all of the same questions about when you last ate, what you’re going to have done today, and then asks about medicine allergies and anesthesia related things like whether you have liver problems, or heart problems, or anything else that will possibly be an issue during anesthesia.
-You tell her you woke up during your port installation surgery and what the medical team was talking about when you woke up and how weird that was and she says to have general anesthesia instead of local anesthesia with sedation as planned. She says the differences in recovery are minimal so you are relieved and go with general.
-Find out she’s from a big family with lots of brothers too and got a 22 gauge shotgun for her tenth birthday. She prays for you and your mother in the most incredibly powerful way without actually sounding like she’s praying. You are excited and note her example to reflect on later. You note that you know exactly to whom she is praying and exactly what she means by each part of her prayer.You note that her prayer is an invocation of blessing and protection and that she uses terms like “entrusting you to a higher authority.”
-The nurse anesthetist comes in. She is nice and asks if you’re ready to get this thing done. You say yes and walk with her back to the operating room. On your way back there you have a nice conversation about her being a nurse anesthetist and your amazing younger brother who is training toward becoming one.
-She opens the door of the operating room where about eight or ten friendly people are working to prepare for your surgery. Three of them help you lie down on the operating table, putting a pillow under your knees, carefully arranging your gown so it opens easily but being careful not to violate your modesty, and then you are out like a light bulb.
-Wake up in another room. This one is the first of two recovery rooms you’ll be in. You look around and see that you’re in a big room with about eight beds, each of which has an attending nurse and someone recovering from surgery. The nurse is really nice and doesn’t make fun of how groggy you are and the fact that you are out cold asleep and then awake for five seconds off and on until the awake periods get longer and longer.
-Get moved to another recovery space, which is sort of like a cubicle with a curtain all around it. Another nurse comes in bringing dear sweet mother. This nurse is also nice with the added bonus of having a great sense of humor. She talks about how all of the nurses in that area are crazy and that’s why the hospital put them in the basement in surgical recovery. The rest of your conversation continues on in that fashion as she talks about how to care for your surgery site. The most disturbing part is when she says you can’t wear deodorant under that arm for a week because they don’t want you coming back with a raging infection in the wound. You imagine students standing next to you while you’re teaching art.... They are passing out and expiring one after the other in slow motion, their knees buckling as they crumple to the floor, dropping like flies... The other teachers who pass by in the hallway are covering their noses with handkerchiefs and cowering over into the wall as they pass by you in the hallway. You notice that their eyes are also running... Then the nurse says that you can use wipes under your arm. Breathe a sigh of relief now that you know won’t be responsible for the unnecessary suffering of innocent students and coworkers.
-Drink one of the Wal-mart brand Ensures that you brought from home. It’s the first nourishment you’ve had since dinner last night and it tastes like nectar harvested from fields of Heaven’s wildflowers...
-After you’re coherent enough and make enough dry comments about the recovery process, the nice nurse decides it’s okay to let you get dressed and leave.
-Another nice lady brings a wheelchair that is big enough for three of you. You argue for second about not needing a wheelchair but realize quickly that your sense of balance isn’t right yet... Sit compliantly in the wheelchair and get all of your and dear sweet mother’s bags piled on your lap.
-Get wheeled out front in the triple-person wheelchair and dear sweet mother goes to get the car. A lady next to you talks about a young woman who she believes is possessed by a demon and says she’s learning about “that stuff” in her Sunday school class. Apparently the young woman was in the hospital lobby with a laceration from her wrist to her elbow and went running out of the hospital to no one knows where. The woman next to you says she wanted to cast the demon out of her but since she didn’t know the young woman no one would let her. Two cops come out to work on the situation, hospital security but with real guns and stuff. You decide they must be real cops, not the kind of security guys that eat bon-bons and act important but don't have any real authority to do anything. The second cop has nice brown eyes and smiles at you.
-Dear sweet mother pulls up with the car and you wobble over to it. People can’t figure out why someone so young is in a wheelchair recovering from surgery, so they stare at you with great curiosity. Later on when you're more coherent you think of all kinds of entertaining things you could have done in that situation...
-Arrive home nine hours after leaving in the morning.
-Communicate with all of the amazing caring people who have been praying for you all day. Make a mental note for the millionth time about how God has blessed you with phenomenal family, work, and church support systems.
-Cover your bed and pillow with a sheet and fold it over you, carefully avoiding the spread of hospital cooties from you and your clothing onto the blankets etc.
-Cut the pain pill in half, take it with water, and sleep for three hours straight. While you're sleeping, dear sweet father takes your dog to the creek so she can play and get worn out so she won't drive you nuts all evening after you wake up.
-When you wake up, you’re already aware of how nice it is to have the piece of junk under your arm gone so your arm can rest normally on your side. You also realize that your muscles under there are going to hurt for a few days.
-In the evening you take a very careful bath of sorts to clean off the hospital cooties. You can then remove the sheet from your bed, put cootied clothes in the laundry, take the other half of the pain pill, and sleep.
-Keep on keeping on with life, with one less stressor in it.
Thank you for your thoughts and prayers.
Home again 9 hours later. Surgery only took about half an hour. Only details from surgeon were something about the piece of junk being on the pectoral muscle and that it's out.
Feeling pretty drugged and slow after general anesthesia. Don't know why anyone would do painkillers for fun. Going to sleep now.
Yeah, so Friday morning, May 7 I get this thing under my arm taken out. I attempted to measure it last night and it was about 1 1/4" inches across in most directions. It's kind of interesting that, like before my initial major surgery, the last week has been the most irritating. I had to prop up my arm last night with a blanket so it wouldn't rest on the piece of junk and make it hurt-which reminded me of having to sleep with a pillow under my side to support my huge abdomen before my initial surgery.
Too much information I'm sure, but it is what it is.
The other thing I find interesting is that I was second guessing whether I should have the surgery when I made the appointment a month ago, but in the last month the thing has grown and become really annoying, so this is another example of God guiding each step and timing everything more than perfectly. I don't care to imagine how big it would be in another month, or three, or five.
Please pray for the medical processes and practitioners and me on Friday... and for wisdom for my interactions.... Fast healing and minimal pain would be great too...