Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Medical Update: One More Surgery

Yesterday I had my final post-operative appointment with my surgeon at MUSC in Charleston. Overall, he was pleased with my body's recovery from my surgery in October. However, he did recommend that I have one more surgery in the coming weeks. I am not necessarily excited about going through another surgery, but this surgery will accomplish some good things and will not cost us anything since it will happen before the end of the calendar year.

Compared to my previous surgeries, this one should be relatively minor. The surgeon will do four things: (1) repair some scarring on my abdomen, (2) remove my chest port (the device that was used to administer my chemotherapy), (3) examine a painful lump in my lower abdomen, and (4) reconstruct a breast on my left side. Based on my previous consultations with my surgeon, I did not think I had any good reconstruction options available (the options were either too invasive or too complicated). But in my appointment yesterday my surgeon said I did have one more option: he could perform a TAP (or TDAP) Flap, a basic but reliable reconstructive procedure. I am very glad that I have this reconstructive option, and am thankful that my surgeon took the time to come up with a solution that is right for my particular situation.

My surgery is scheduled for December 30th. Please pray that God will give me peace as I prepare, one more time (hopefully one last time), for surgery and the recovery to follow. And please pray that the surgery itself would go smoothly and be successful in every way.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Encouragement of Jesus' Suffering and Sympathy

As we enter this Christmas season, I have found myself continually reminding my children what Christmas means and why we celebrate it for a whole month. All of us, especially our children, are surrounded by wrong ideas about Christmas, and so it is so important to keep the real meaning of Christmas in the forefront of our minds. Christmas is the celebration of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, becoming a human being in order to save us from our sin.

Sometimes I forget the fact that Jesus’ life as a human being was a life very much like ours. I was reminded of this recently from something I read as a part of my daily Bible reading. [By the way, if you are looking for an easy and organized approach to reading the Bible and you have an Apple device, I highly recommend the Reading Plan app.] In Hebrews 4:14-16 we are reminded that Jesus lived a life of weakness, suffering, and temptation, just like us. The only difference is that Jesus never sinned.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Reflecting on the details of the life Jesus lived on this earth is both humbling and encouraging. It is humbling because it reminds us that our sin was the reason he came to earth and experienced weakness, suffering, temptation, and ultimately, death. And it is encouraging because, as the verses above tell us, Jesus’ experience on earth makes him able to sympathize with us as we deal with our weaknesses, sufferings, and temptations. And as we go struggle with those things, we can look to Jesus not only for sympathy, but also for mercy and grace. None of us can deal with something like suffering without sinning. In fact, suffering usually reveals more of our sins to us, forcing us to see our need for Jesus’ mercy and grace.

As we enter this Christmas season, I am praying that I will keep the realities of Jesus’ birth and life in the forefront of my mind. And I am praying that Jesus’ sympathy, mercy, and grace will continue to be a great comfort and encouragement to me as I continue on in this life of weakness, suffering, and temptation.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Blessings

I was so blessed to be able to spend Thanksgiving with my family this past week. We traveled up to Lookout Mountain, Georgia, to be with my aunt and uncle, my cousins and their families, my grandparents, my mom and her husband, and my sisters and their families; that’s a total of 26 people comprised of 9 family units representing four generations. Needless to say, some of the logistics were a bit crazy (fourteen of us – including six children under the age of five – stayed in one three bedroom house). But to be together, and to be reminded of God’s covenant faithfulness to those four generations, was a fun and beautiful thing. It has been hard for me to live far away from my family, especially during this past year, so I really value the time I am able to spend with them.

It was especially neat to sit down with all 26 people in one room and spend time hearing how the Lord has been working in each family’s life over the past year. I shared about how I have seen God care for my body and my soul in this past year. Last Thanksgiving, I had just started losing my hair because of my chemotherapy treatments, and I was dealing with a harsh allergic reaction to the contrast dye used in a recent MRI. This Thanksgiving, I am cancer free and can point to a multitude of things God has taught me through both good circumstances and hard circumstances. I am so thankful for what God has done in this past year!

During our family’s last meal together my grandfather read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

            For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
            a time to be born, and a time to die;
            a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
            a time to kill, and a time to heal;
            a time to break down, and a time to build up;
            a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
            a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
            a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
            a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
            a time to seek, and a time to lose;
            a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
            a time to tear, and a time to sew;
            a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
            a time to love, and a time to hate;
            a time for war, and a time for peace.

It was neat to reflect on how these verses applied to my year, as well as to those of my other family members. God has given me times to heal, times to weep, times to laugh, times to embrace, times to speak, times to lose, and times to love. Not all of those times have been easy, but they have all been given to me in God’s wisdom and faithfulness. What a comfort it is to know that our times are in His hands (Psalm 31:15)!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hope for Savannah

Over the past few months, I have had the privilege to work together with a wonderful organization here in Savannah called Hope for Savannah. It is a Christian ministry that reaches out to people who are dealing with serious illnesses and to their families. Their goal is to show these families that there can be "hope" even in the midst of hard times by pointing them to Jesus Christ, the only Savior from sin and source of true life. They also work hard to meet a lot of the practical needs of the patients and their families.

There are many ways to learn more about Hope for Savannah and to help them minister to patients and their families. Obviously, you can pray for this ministry and those it is reaching. Another easy thing you can do is to “like” their Facebook page. They regularly send out prayer requests, volunteer updates, and fundraising information. You can also check out their website, which they are currently in the process of updating.

One of the features they are adding to their website is a series of videos about different people’s experiences with major illnesses, and their testimony about finding hope in Christ. A few weeks ago they came to our house to do a video with Matt and me. You can check out the video below.

I pray that God will continue to use Hope for Savannah to show others that our true hope is in Christ!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Stubbornness vs. Steadfast Love

Many times in the past month I have questioned why God has allowed such physical and emotional trials. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in October of 2010, I felt as if God had put this cancer in my life in order draw me closer to Him. He did that as He repeatedly opened my eyes to see and confess my sin, trust in His goodness, and be strengthened by His grace. Every time I “learned my lesson,” I thought the road would end there. But then another physical trial would come and the “trial-confession-trust-strength” cycle would repeat itself in a new set of circumstances.

But after this last surgery my faith was weak. The “trial” phase was painfully long and I was just plain tired of being "strengthened" by God in this way. At times, I was angry and stubbornly resisted any thought that God could strengthen me after such a physically exhausting and emotionally discouraging process.

But sure enough, though it took a little longer, God still pulled me back to him. I was once again reminded that He will not let me go, even when I am pushing Him away. My stubbornness is no match for His steadfast love.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Faithful Husband

I have been feeling better and better over the past several days. This next week will be my first week watching all three kids by myself and I am looking forward to having that quality time with them. My pain from the surgery is lessening and my blood levels are getting higher and higher. Through God's reminders to me in his Word, and through the encouragement and prayers of God's people my heart has been strengthened as well.

I was in to see my oncologist yesterday and everything looked good. They decided to have me get a shot in order to keep me from getting recurring cysts. They also decided to run a genetic test for a blood clotting disorder. If it turns out that I have this gene I will have to stop my Tamoxifen (the cancer medicine that I am taking for 5 years). Please pray that this test would come back with no genetic sign.

As I look back over this past month, I have realized just how thankful I am for my husband. He stayed by my side every day in the hospital. He has taken care of all three kids, and has been the one to coordinate help with childcare if we have needed it. He has cooked meals, cleaned the house, washed clothes, bathed children, and this weekend he even painted part of the house! And he did all this while working at church preparing lessons, planning activities, and shepherding the congregation. Matt has had a lot on his plate in this past year, but he has faithfully taken care of his family and has never stopped encouraging us through God's Word. The only way I know to thank him is to be the best wife I can be and encourage him daily in the same way he has for me. Thanks, Mattie, for being such a wonderful and faithful husband and for reflecting the Bible's command, "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."

I have had fun this week hanging out with my younger sister Bekah. She came in town all the way from Colorado to help me this week. This was a big sacrifice for her because she has two little ones at home about the same ages as Samuel and Hudson. I understand first hand how hard it can be to be away from your children. Little did she know what she was getting herself into when she agreed to come: not only are my kids "slightly" noisy and active, but she got roped into helping paint part of our house as well! Thanks so much Bekah!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Weakness to Strength

These past few weeks have been harder than I had imagined they would be. Along with a painful recovery process, I have been struggling with many emotions, as well, like frustration, sadness, and loneliness. And so many “why questions” have been going through my mind. Why did part of my reconstruction not work? Why has my recovery been so hard? Why do I continue to have more and more painful health issues? And why do I feel so lonely?

After being reminded of the same Scripture passage by a couple different people, I realized God may be trying to show me something. Hard headed as I am, it took me a few times to read it and actually apply it to myself. The passage is Isaiah 40:28-31. 

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted, but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

This passage describes exactly how I have been feeling: faint, weary, and exhausted – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But God is never faint or weary in any way. He is infinite in strength and stands ready to give that strength to those who wait for Him. And so through the strength God supplies, I can mount up with wings like eagles; I can run and not be weary; I can walk and not faint.

Will this happen if I continue to focus on and worry about my weariness? No. Jesus commands me not to worry, and I must look to the strength God supplies. I need to let go of my worries and trust that God will, once again, take my hand and lead me through this season of life. Only He has the power to soften a hard heart and strengthen a weak heart. And so it is my prayer that He will continue to both soften and strengthen my heart so that I will trust that His plan for me is good.

I would appreciate continued prayer for my healing. Most likely, I will not be able to have any reconstruction done in the next few years and I am realizing that my chest might not ever be "normal" again. Those things are hard to deal with, but I know that I am beautiful in God’s sight.

I also want to thank those of you who have been helping Matt and me with the kids. You have been a great blessing to us and we certainly could not go through this recovery process without you!

Hudson, Lydia, and Samuel at our church's Fall Festival with Matt's mom.

Movie night with the kids.