Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Wonderful Sunday

I had the privilege of seeing my husband Matt perform his first baptism - the baptism of our newborn son, Samuel. As Matt reminded the congregation, baptism is a symbol of belonging to God's covenant community (the Church) and of God's promise to cleanse the hearts of everyone who trusts in Christ alone for their salvation. The name Samuel belonged to my great-grandfather. It is a Hebrew name that means "God heard." While we did not know about my breast cancer when we chose that name for Samuel, it is fitting that over the coming months his name will be a continual reminder that God does hear our prayers. That is always a comforting truth, but it is especially comforting given all of the praying we (and many others) are doing for my health.

Speaking of my health, this will be an important decision-making week for us. I mentioned before that my doctors are recommending that I do my full chemotherapy treatment now and then have surgery to remove the tumor next Spring. Although my BRCA genetic testing came back negative (meaning I do not have a genetic predisposition to breast cancer - making the chances of it returning significantly lower), I will still need about 4-6 months of chemotherapy. So on Tuesday we will meet with Dr. Taylor, my oncologist, to determine what type of chemotherapy treatment I should receive. While I want to be aggressive in doing all I can to treat the cancer, I am also nervous about the various side effects of the chemotherapy. While some of those side effects cannot be avoided, I am praying I will have the strength to care for my children the whole time.

Whatever my chemotherapy brings, I know that every detail of the months ahead is in the hands of God my Savior. He was not surprised when I got breast cancer and He is in full control of every test and treatment of this trial.

This morning in church I sang a hymn during the Offertory called, "All the Way My Savior Leads Me." The text was written by the famous hymn writer Fanny Crosby in 1875. Crosby, who was blind, writes beautifully of the comfort of knowing God is our guide through every trial:

All the way my Savior leads me; what have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy, who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort, here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.

All the way my Savior leads me, cheers each winding path I tread;
Gives me grace for every trial, feeds me with the living Bread.
Though my weary steps may falter, and my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the Rock before me, lo! A spring of joy I see.

All the way my Savior leads me, O the fullness of His love!
Perfect rest to me is promised, in my Father’s house above.
When my spirit, clothed immortal, wings its flight to realms of day
This my song through endless ages—Jesus led me all the way.

In 2003, I wrote a tune to go with this hymn. And in 2009, I recorded it for a collection of hymn arrangements by several members of our former church in San Diego. You can listen to that recording below and, if you are interested, you can read about and download the entire hymns album for free here.

UPDATE: The two links above have been fixed. Thanks.

Friday, October 29, 2010

More from Page CXVI

If you enjoyed the Page CXVI song "Joy" that Erin posted last week, you can listen to more of the band's hymn arrangements using the streaming audio players below. While there are many good arrangements on both albums, I highly recommend "Come Thou Fount" and "In Christ Alone" from Hymns I, and "How Great Thou Art" and "Praise to the Lord" from Hymns II. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Medical Update

Last week's MRI came back with a lot of suspicious areas on it in both breasts and in the lymph nodes, so on Monday I had several areas scanned with ultrasound. The doctors ended up doing a needle biopsy on a 2cm lymph node (which, thankfully, came back negative), but they still have concerns about the other lymph nodes. The doctors are also suspicious of a lump in my right breast. I will have an MRI needle biopsy of that on Monday morning. 

My surgeon and oncologist have discussed my case extensively together as well as with another team of doctors. While the original plan was to do surgery first and then chemotherapy, the MRI and ultrasound scans have been so ambiguous (because of my recent pregnancy) that they are now suggesting that I do the chemotherapy first - probably beginning sometime next week. That will hopefully give my body time to readjust from pregnancy and allow them to get more reliable scan results of everything - and hopefully shrink the tumor as well. So later this week I will be meeting with my oncologist to decide what type of chemo I will have.

A Hard Day

Today I cried for the first time since learning I have breast cancer. I saw a mother nursing her newborn baby and I began to feel the reality of my situation. I had been on such a “high” from Samuel’s birth, but now the practicality of what the next few months will bring is starting to weigh heavy on my heart. It makes me sad that I am not able to feed my newborn. It makes me anxious that I don’t know which surgery is best to have. It makes me scared to think about going through chemo with three young children that I want to give my full attention to. I know in my heart that the Lord is gracious and loving and will provide just what I need when I need it. But humanly speaking I am tired and in need of Christ’s supernatural strength to help me along.

I have been reading some of my dad’s book, Diary of a Cancer. He found out about his cancer in the month of October as well. His diary is filled with his daily thoughts, but is also overflowing with Scriptures that speak to those thoughts. Here are a few verses that have been encouraging to me in the past few days:

Romans 5:3-5, Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Philippians 1:18b-24, Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

Psalm 62:1-2, My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Doctor Day

Today was a big doctor day. This morning I took all three kids to our pediatrician for wellness check-ups and immunizations. Compared to our trip to the library last Friday, this was a breeze.

This afternoon I went down to the Telfair Pavilion for several ultrasound scans of my upper body. Even though getting tests done is not necessarily enjoyable, the nurses there have been extraordinarily kind and helpful to me over the past couple weeks (probably motivated partly by compassion for me and interest in Samuel). The ultrasounds were mostly clear, with the only area of concern being a lymph node on my left side (the same side as the cancerous tumor). I had a needle biopsy done on the lymph node (which was very painful) and we should get those results by the end of the week.

Please pray that God would help me trust in the goodness of His sovereign will, no matter what the test results reveal. As Romans 8:28 promises, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

It's the Little Things

As I fight this disease, my hope and trust is ultimately in God and His promises. He is the one who will sustain me and uphold me. But in His compassion and grace, God also sometimes gives us practical, earthly things that we can be encouraged by and take joy in during the hard seasons of life. One of those practical, earthly things that I know will sustain me through the next several months is the gift of my three precious children. 

Last Friday I ventured out of the house with all three little ones for the first time. I would have never imagined that a simple trip to the library could be so traumatic! After I was in the library for a few minutes I began getting “the look."  The look that says, "Why are your kids making noise!? Can’t you keep them quiet!? How about you try controlling those kids!?" Well, I was doing my best and we finally made it to the front counter to check out our books. I was hopeful we would conclude our trip without making much more of a scene. I was wrong...

Samuel was sleeping peacefully in his stroller when Lydia and Hudson decided to grab a hold of the stroller at the same time. As they did, the stroller toppled over on it’s side and landed on Hudson. Thankfully, Samuel was safely buckled in his seat. But the scene was still bad: Hudson was crying under the stroller, Samuel was crying in the stroller, and Lydia just stood there saying, “I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry!”
Being a mother of three definitely has its challenges, but I would not change a thing. It's always the little things that bring a smile to my face...even when they are hard.

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, 
the fruit of the womb a reward.” 
Psalm 127:3

Friday, October 22, 2010

Thank You!

Though it seems like it has been a lot longer in many ways, it has only been one week since Erin found out she has breast cancer. Yet in the past week we have received an incredible number of encouraging phone calls, e-mails, and Facebook messages. Here in Pooler our church family and friends have provided us with wonderful practical help: meals, childcare, etc. And most importantly, we have had literally hundreds of people begin praying for Erin's healing and our family's perseverance through the coming months.

All we can say is "thank you." We certainly don't deserve such kindness, love, and generosity...but it has certainly been helpful and we are profoundly grateful to God for all of you. In so many ways, we have seen you fulfill Paul's words about the kind of love that should characterize the people of God:
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality (Romans 12:10-13).

Thank you!

In Christ,
Matt and Erin

To God Be the Glory

Here is an incredible testimony from a fellow Christian who is striving to take joy in his journey through cancer. While he is not expected to live through the end of 2010, God has granted him the faith and peace to summarize his situation in this way:

If God chooses to heal me, then God is God and God is good. But if God chooses not to heal me, then God is still God and God is still good. To God be the glory.

Please watch it...and then pray for Zac Smith, his family, and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are dealing with similar situations today.

UPDATE: Just after posting this, I learned that Zac Smith died on May 16, 2010. His battle with cancer is over and he is worshipping His good and loving Savior with the saints in Heaven. To God be the glory.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Matt and I had a long, but very helpful meeting yesterday with an excellent surgical oncologist in Bluffton, South Carolina who will hopefully perform my surgery. When we got home last night we were both physically and emotionally exhausted. So we spent an hour and a half rearranging furniture in our house! After a day which seemed to raise more questions than answers, this gave us something objective and tangible to accomplish. Sometimes it can be harder dealing with unknowns than with having all the facts; even if the facts are not good, at least they are known. Of course, this is the case with more than just health is full of unknowns.

But I as a Christian can have joy in the midst of unknowns because God, my rock, gives me peace as I trust in Him. As Isaiah 26:3-4 says,
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.
Having that God-given peace, I am able to take joy in the unknowns of life...and in the hard things that are known. Joy doesn’t necessarily mean happiness. Joy runs deeper than our circumstances and comes only from knowing Jesus Christ and what He accomplished for us on the cross.

For the past several weeks Matt and I have been listening (almost non-stop) to some hymn CD's by a band called Page CXVI. In fact, I brought my iPod to the hospital and was listening to their song “Joy” both before and after I gave birth to Samuel. The song is beautifully somber, restless, and hopeful in its spirit. It deals with the need for joy even in the midst of life's hardships and uncertainties. These powerful words are sung in the most climactic moments of the song: "I can't understand and I can't pretend that this will be alright in the end. So I'll try my best and lift my chest to sing about this joy, joy, joy." The song then moves into a beautifully simple refrain of "It is Well with My Soul."

As you can imagine, this song became especially applicable to me a few days ago when I found out about my cancer. Could I have the same joy in this cancer that I had when I held my newborn baby? Can I have joy even when I don't understand God's ways? Can I have joy even when things might not be "alright" in the end? YES. But as I read Isaiah 26:3-4 I am reminded, this joy is not just being optimistic or denying reality. This joy can only come from God as I trust in Him.

I e-mailed Page CXVI to tell them about how this song has encouraged me in the past week and to see if I could post this song on my blog. They kindly agreed. Tisha, the vocalist, replied saying,
Thank you for your email and for sharing your story. I will be praying for comfort, healing, and that you will continue to have joy in this time. I would be honored if you used "Joy" in your blog!
Click here to listen to "Joy." Thanks Page CXVI!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Control Issues

I like to be in control. This has always been a part of my personality and it has only been magnified by having children. In fact, Lydia also seems to share my desire to be in control (as you can tell from the picture)!

But with each child, I have increasingly realized the need to "let go." I should not worry so much about what they will eat, when they will sleep, if their hands are washed, etc. Not only are my children very flexible, but God is ultimately in control of their lives. My protective motherly instincts are nothing compared to His steadfast Fatherly care. This has been on my mind since I had to leave Lydia and Hudson for two nights when I had Samuel. I was worried that they would be scared or miss me. Ha! Just the opposite - when Lydia came to the hospital to visit she was very excited to see baby Samuel at first. But after a few minutes she turned to the mother who was keeping her and said, "Can we go now?"  I tried not to take too much offense at that...

But as I prepare for my surgery and chemotherapy I am not only going to have to give up my "control" of Lydia and Hudson (which gets easier every day as they grow older), but I will have to give up my "control" of my newborn baby boy Samuel. I feel like he needs me and I have a hard time thinking about being away from him for even one night. I have no choice but to trust and rely on God’s grace for both me and him. As Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Medical Update

I'm sure several of you are wondering about what is going with my cancer itself this week. Not too much has changed since the weekend, but here's a brief medical update to catch everyone up to speed.

The major medical events (surgery, chemotherapy) will not begin until early November. So for now, I am doing the preliminary work of finalizing which doctors I will be working with and getting a few more tests done. Tomorrow afternoon Matt and I will have a consultation with a cancer surgeon in Bluffton, SC who my dad's cancer surgeon recommended. Then on Thursday afternoon I will go to the hospital for an MRI. The last time I had an MRI I had a panic attack and nearly blacked out because I was so claustrophobic and uncomfortable, so I begged the nurse for sedation this time...and she agreed. So no matter what else happens in the next 36 hours, I know I will at least get an hour-long nap on Thursday afternoon!

We are also waiting for some test results to come back. The most important test that we are waiting to hear about is the BRCA genetic screening test which evaluates whether I have a genetic mutation that makes me susceptible to cancer. If that test comes back positive it would be very likely that I could have cancer again in the future, so my surgery and chemotherapy would need to be much more aggressive. Also, a positive result would mean that my close relatives could also be susceptible to cancer. So it would be very positive if the test comes back negative, and very negative if the test comes back positive. How's that for confusing?! Anyway, you can just pray that the test shows I am not genetically susceptible to getting cancer again in the future.

Thank you for all your prayers and encouragement.

Don't "Waste" Your Cancer

While many people see cancer as a curse to be endured, the Christian must see it as a gift from God designed to grow our faith and glorify Him. Thinking about cancer (or any of life’s struggles) this way isn’t natural or easy, but it is right and good.

In 2006 a well-known Baptist pastor named John Piper was diagnosed with prostate cancer. One of Piper’s books (a book, in fact, that the youth of our church are currently studying) is called “Don’t Waste Your Life.” It is about living our lives for the glory of God, rather than “wasting” our lives on selfish, worldly, or meaningless pursuits. On the eve of his prostate surgery, John Piper wrote an article entitled, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer,” in which he gives a list of ten ways cancer can be “wasted.” Piper argues that the Christian can “waste” their cancer if they do not understand it for what it is (a gift designed for you by God) and if you and others do not grow from it spiritually. Here is his list of the ten ways a Christian can “waste” their cancer:

1. You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God.

2. You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift.

3. You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God.

4. You will waste your cancer if you refuse to think about death.

5. You will waste your cancer if you think that “beating” cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.

6. You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God.

7. You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepen your relationships with manifest affection.

8. You will waste your cancer if you grieve as those who have no hope.

9. You will waste your cancer if you treat sin as casually as before.

10. You will waste your cancer if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.

As Erin begins her journey through breast cancer, my great hope and prayer is that she would not “waste” her cancer. Knowing the maturity of her faith and the resilience of her character, I do not think she will waste her cancer. But there are many hard days before her and Satan would love nothing more than for her cancer to fracture her faith and weaken her witness. So if you are wondering how you can pray for Erin today – as she stands at the beginning of her journey through cancer – perhaps you could pray these things for her:

1. O God, help Erin to believe her cancer is designed for her by You.

2. O God, help Erin to believe her cancer is a gift, not a curse.

3. O God, help Erin to seek comfort from You rather than from her odds.

4. O God, help Erin to think about death.

5. O God, help Erin to “beat” her cancer by cherishing Christ, not simply by staying alive.

6. O God, help Erin to spend more time reading about You than reading about cancer.

7. O God, help Erin to deepen her relationships during this time rather than be driven into solitude.

8. O God, help Erin to grieve as one with hope in You.

9. O God, help Erin to treat her sin less casually than she did before.

10. O God, help Erin to use her cancer as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.


Monday, October 18, 2010

What a Week!

What a week this has been! On Tuesday I gave birth to my third child, Samuel David Fray. On Friday I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I woke up on Friday morning with a long morning of doctors appointments ahead of me. The first appointment was with Samuel's pediatrician, Dr. Stone. My oldest child, Lydia, is 3 and she has never seen Dr. Stone. But this was going to be Samuel's third time to see Dr. Stone...and he was only three days old! He had been having some trouble with vomiting - not a great thing for a newborn - and we were trying to determine the cause.

The second appointment was with my OBGYN, Dr. Smith. I had a biopsy done on a lump in my left breast two days earlier (the day after Samuel was born) and I needed to go to his office to get the results. As I waited in Dr. Smith's office the only thing on my mind was how thankful I was for Samuel. He was there with me in the office and I could not keep my eyes off him! God had blessed me with a beautiful, healthy, adorable baby boy only three day’s earlier and nothing could take that joy away from me. But a few minutes later Dr. Smith came into his office with a very upset look on his face. He was struggling to figure out what his next words should be. He said, "Erin, there is no easy way to say this, but your biopsy came back positive for breast cancer." I felt slightly like I was in another world. The “c” word tends to send chills up the spine. I looked at him and said, “Okay.” Despite the chills, I had an amazing calm over me when he told me. This was probably partly naivety about what was to come, but I think it was mostly God giving me the simple trust and assurance that this was His plan for me right now and He will be glorified through it.

Well, my "long day" of doctors appointments got a good bit longer. After he called Matt to tell him the news, Dr. Smith set up an appointment for me to meet with a surgeon. Matt dropped off Lydia and Hudson at a friend's house and met-up with me at the surgeon's office. After giving us a fairly lengthy summary of my situation and the basic "plan of attack" I was sent off for a couple tests and then to a meeting with an oncologist. Like the surgeon, the oncologist was very good in helping Matt and I understand all the details of my situation and what the next steps would be. Matt and I were both very thankful for all the doctors we met with - they were incredibly informative, compassionate, encouraging, and proactive in helping us through those first few hours of dealing with the diagnosis.

Some people might turn away from God in resentment when they learn they have cancer (or when anything particularly difficult happens to them). But I have no greater comfort than being able to turn towards God in the simple faith that I am His child and He cares for me...always. My life never has been and never will be my own; I am God’s child and I trust that He does everything in order to bring glory to Himself.


About Me
I assume most of you who are reading this already know me, but in case you do not here is a little bit about me. My name is Erin Fray. I am 30 years old and live with my family in a suburb of Savannah, Georgia called Pooler. I have three young children: Lydia (3 and ½), Hudson (2), and Samuel (6 days). My husband is Matt, a pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Pooler and part-time teacher at Savannah Christian Preparatory School.

About My Cancer
Three days ago (exactly one month after my 30th birthday) I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ll give some more background to this in a future post, but for now here are the basics: (1) I have Stage One invasive ductal breast cancer, (2) I will have surgery to remove the cancer in about 2-3 weeks, and (3) I will have several months of chemotherapy after that.

About My Blog
Seven years ago my dad (who also happened to be a pastor and part-time teacher) died of liver cancer. Throughout his battle with cancer he kept a diary to record the details of his illness as well as his personal reflections on all that was happening. As a pastor, he was able to understand and speak about his cancer with biblical wisdom and model his deep faith in God during the hardest moments of his life. After he died his diary was published and has been a source of encouragement to many people. While I don’t have nearly the wisdom, influence, or maturity of faith as my father did, I thought it would be helpful to keep a diary while I fight my cancer. And while people could not read my dad’s diary until after it was published, my blog can be something of a “live” diary that friends and family can follow to keep track of what is happening with me day-by-day. And maybe my three children – who are too young understand what is happening to me now – will someday be able to read this diary and have a little bit better understanding of this period of our family’s life. While I will try to write entries as often as possible, my husband will probably write the majority of the entries since there will be many days when I am either too sick, tired, or busy to write. As you may have noticed, my blog is entitled "Joy in the Journey," which is the title of a beautiful song by Michael Card (you can see a video of him singing it below). I thought "Joy in the Journey" was a fitting title because even though my journey through cancer will be incredibly hard at times, I am trusting God to sustain me with the joy only He can give - joy that is not dependent on my circumstances, but that is dependent on His promises to me as His child. In the end, my hope and prayer is that this blog would simply bring glory to God as I – and we – see how He provides for me, sustains me, and strengthens me in every way.